'Happiness is a Warm Gun'

Author: - Lisa Paris

Rating: - PG

Summary: - At the end of the day, life has taught him there's only one thing you can rely on . . .

Part One

14+ 1bs of cold metal weight. 50 inches of sleek efficiency. .338 calibres of deadly intent and 1100+ metre maximum range. Special Agent Ian Edgerton shifted position slightly, and rested the Super Magnum (L115A1) against his cheek.

"Come on, baby," he spoke to it tenderly. Intimately, as though it was a woman. Funny, there was never any question. He always thought of it as 'her.' She was more – so much more - than just the tool of his trade. He knew her better than any lover. He admired and understood her – stroked her and oiled her with care. She was always his number one priority at the end of each working day.

This lady didn't need late night reassurances and she had never let him down yet. He lavished her with anything she needed and treated her with total respect.

She was smooth to the touch and so familiar. An object of exact and deadly British beauty. Built upon precise and slender lines, as she moulded herself compliantly under his hands. He held her against him and caressed her gently, brows knit with absorption. Taut with focus and concentration as he lowered his head and took his time.

It didn't pay to rush a classy lady like this. She needed detail and careful handling. He paid her all the usual tactile compliments, but he knew time was not on their side.

He slid forward slightly on his belly, pulled her closer and shut his left eye. The world shifted and telescoped away from him then, until there was only him and her. The view through the scope swamped his universe. He was so still, he was barely breathing. He watched and assessed for another ten seconds like a hawk suspended over his prey.

Two men, one of them captive. A combat knife held against the base of his ear. One downward slash with a practised hand and the blade would sever his trachea. Not only his trachea, either. It would open up his carotid artery. Inflict probable damage on his spinal cord and slice into his jugular vein. As anatomical feats of engineering went, the neck had a small surface area. There were too many vital structures all compressed into one narrow space.

Edgerton watched grimly. He had no doubt the captor was practised.

He didn't need any Intel to tell him the man was Special Forces trained. It was there in the way he held onto the knife – in the deft, killing position of the blade. Apparent in the sure way he'd immobilised his captive, cutting off his air in a semi-choke hold.

Edgerton zeroed in on the captive. The man was clearly in difficulty. His dark head was drooping forward and his knees had started to sag. There was no doubt he would have fallen if it wasn't for the man holding onto him - no doubt he was finding hard to stand upright – a lack of oxygen will do that to you.

Ian Edgerton didn't have friends. The path he'd taken was solitary. Life had taught him too many salutary lessons and given him a cynical edge. People were fickle, they let you down. In the end, they merely served their own interests. At the close of the day, there was only one thing he could rely on, and she was right here, smooth and sleek in his hands.

He looked at the barely conscious captive again. He was known to him. Not a faceless stranger. No, Ian Edgerton didn't have friends – but if he did, he might have chosen this man.

Time had become encapsulated along with the parameters of his world. Minutes, seconds, nano-seconds, all counting down on the captive's life. Edgerton knew he had to act soon. The clock was running against them. Whether or not he pulled the trigger, they were all running out of time. If he made the kill shot and the captor's hand jerked, the blade would rip home anyway, but he knew if he held out much longer, the hostage would be dead from lack of air.

He didn't even contemplate missing. Missing was not a word in his vocabulary. He'd been doing this for the better part of his life and his target was already good as dead. He gave a wry twitch at his choice of word. No longer a man, but a target. The day he started thinking of his targets as people, he might as well book his room in the asylum.

Distance and de-humanise - the first and most important rule of sniping. Anything else, made you bad at your job. Anything else would screw-up your head.

Oh yeah, he knew what they called him. The bastard son of Clint Eastwood and Yoda. The Clint Eastwood part always got on his nerves, but the Yoda thing he didn't mind so much. Now, there was a dude or whatever he was, who was one hundred per cent, totally focused. Who could channel himself for days at a stretch and concentrate on one object at a time. Single-minded, patient and Zen-like. The epitome of a good sniper.

The situation was rapidly going to hell. The target was getting more agitated. All attempts at striking a deal had failed and the hostage was becoming heavier. Dumb crud – Edgerton was scornful. He should have realised the FBI didn't negotiate. Just because one of their own had swapped himself for a civilian, didn't mean he made a better bargaining chip.

If he had his way, he would take the shot now. Pull the trigger and get it over with. The air was smooth as glass, almost breathless. It was a hot, hazy morning in LA. Hardly any wind resistance to worry about – hardly any drift to calculate. He could almost make this shot with his eyes closed. All in all, it was a perfect shooting day.

"Are you set?"

It was Reeves. He heard the fear in her voice. So well-controlled, it was barely discernable. Like him, she was aware of the consequences of a hit. Like him, she would not contemplate a miss.

"Have been for awhile."

He didn't move, didn't break any concentration. He was totally focused on the target through the ocular. He flicked off the state of the art built-in elevation adjustment. He preferred to work it out by himself.

"We can't afford to wait any longer. It looks like he's cut off Don's air."

"Only one thing I'm waiting for." He wanted her to give him the order. As soon as she gave him the order, this thing would be over and done.

"Go ahead," she spoke quietly. It was also her friend down there.

The calm diffused through his veins like a drug. Like the cooling spread of iced water. The stillness invaded his whole being as he single-mindedly determined on the kill shot. Not the slightest twitch, not a tremor. His hands and his breathing were steady. His mind sank down and separated into layers, as it divorced from the peripheral world.

The target was swaying slightly, struggling with the dead weight of his hostage. It meant the shot had become a little trickier – meant that Eppes was now out for the count. But the most vital factor remained unchanged. The knife was still positioned and ready. The deadly tip pierced the pale skin just beneath Eppes's ear. A fragile skin's width from inflicting great damage. A mere reflex away from cutting his throat.

A .338 Lapua calibre bullet smashing into the brain was a pretty effective deterrent. The outcome wasn't in question; most targets dropped like a stone. Others flailed and jerked their limbs as their muscles went into spasm. If this target was one of those suckers – then two men would die today.

For the first time in the course of his entire career, Ian Edgerton hesitated. He realised he was in grave danger of humanising his job, way too close to thinking it all through. This was why so few of his kind lasted. Why he belonged to an elite minority. There was no place here for empathy, no room for bleeding hearts. Not ever. Not in his line of work.

No room for bleeding hearts in his line of work - not unless they'd been ripped open by a bullet.

The insidious menace of cause and effect. The consequences of pulling the trigger. Once you placed a foot on that rocky road, it was always the beginning of the end. An experienced veteran once told him it was like gazing into the face of the Medusa.

This was one day when he couldn't afford to freeze-up. One day when he needed to stay sharp. No succumbing to the luxury of personal feelings or the insidious weakness of friendship. He thought briefly of the Professor for a moment. None of his voodoo was gonna save his brother. There was only one source of magic this time, and she was right here, cold and sleek under his hands.

Focus. He had to stay focused. He felt himself sliding under again.

He adjusted the elevation turrets slightly. Not much – there was so little wind. In the greater cosmic scheme of things, at least the elements were on his side today. He sighted up the crosshair for maximum effect, just to the side of the target's head, lining it up with precision, until he settled at point blank range. Not the centre of the forehead like they showed in the movies. As usual, the movies got it wrong. The centre was the toughest, most dense part of the skull. It was better to be one hundred per cent sure. Just a single, well-placed shot was all it took. And Edgerton knew how to place them. A simple shot right above the target's ear and his head would explode like a melon.

Ironic that the centre of the reticle was formed in the shape of a cross.

He put gentle pressure on the trigger. The shot itself would be perfect. Both he and the gun were in rock steady alignment, as if they had fused into one. A good trigger was like a good woman. She would always respond to his touch. A little more pressure and a faultless trigger pull. This much he was in control of. As for the rest - what happened afterwards – well, that was in the lap of the gods.

The squeeze was effortless, as smooth as silk. He knew the second the bullet left the gun. Unerring on its deadly trajectory as his sights remained exactly in alignment. Not a trace of flinch, no kick back. Oh, yeah, it was one hell of a shot. He confirmed his kill, as he always did, by watching the end result through the ocular. And as for the target?

At the end of the day, melon was a pretty good analogy.

The man dropped like a bag of cement but his hand jerked reflexively forward. It was hard to gauge the force of the knife stroke from this distance, impossible to see the damage it might have done. Both target and hostage crashed down to the ground in an ungainly twist of limbs. A blossom of red like a crimson rose was just visible on Don Eppes's skin.