David Healey: Winter Sniper

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David Healey Winter Sniper
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    Winter Sniper
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Winter Sniper: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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During World War II, a legendary German sniper is sent to assassinate General Eisenhower when Ike makes a top-secret trip to Washington as planning begins for the D-Day invasion.

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“Come on, let’s have a cup of tea and warm up.”

“Ugh. You English think tea is the answer to everything,” Ty said. “What I really want is a shot of bourbon.”

Kay smiled. “Oh, I believe that can be arranged.”

• • •

Hess kept his rifle trained on the bullet-scarred buildings three hundred feet away. He knew that Russian snipers preferred working from high places. They would be crouched in a blown-out window frame, still as a cat outside a mouse hole, waiting for Hess to show his nose. In turn, he hoped one of the Russian cats might twitch its tail, or that he might get lucky and see the dull winter sun reflect off the lens of a telescopic sight. Then he could kill the Russian. On the battleground between them, machine guns chirped, grenades exploded, but the snipers played a deadly game of cat and mouse that ignored the other fighting like so much background noise.

Hess knew that the Russians wanted him badly. For months now he had shot them down and taken his prizes. There was even a reward for the Russian sniper who killed him — a week in Moscow, a case of vodka, a new rifle. Last summer, some Russian had come close to taking the prize with a lucky shot that left a bloody furrow across Hess’s ribs. Since he had worked this same section yesterday, they would be looking for him here.

The Russians often used their own soldiers as bait to catch snipers. Hess wasn’t sure if that was a sign of desperation or stupidity, or only that the Russians valued their own lives even less than the Germans might have expected. All morning, he had watched their soldiers, usually unarmed and fully exposed, scramble between buildings. He knew they were taunting him when one soldier finally stood up like a winter hare on its hind legs

After hours of doing nothing, his body nearly frozen into position, it was true that he wanted nothing more than to pull the trigger. Still, Hess resisted the urge to shoot. It was Russian snipers he was after, not some fool they were using for bait. To kill a sniper required patience. He just hoped he wouldn’t freeze to death first. It was true that the sun was out and the sky was a crystalline blue, but the bright air held no warmth. Breath evaporated, chimney smoke shot straight up to the heavens, the water in a dead man’s eye froze into a crust of ice within minutes. Hess’s bladder ached and he had long since lost contact with his feet, but he did not move. If he so much as let out too much breath at once, Hess knew he would give himself away and a Russian sniper would put a bullet between his eyes.

Hess had crawled out across no-man’s land and set his trap long before dawn. He was hiding now in a shallow scoop of frozen dirt and snow beside the burned hulk of a car.

He had scouted this area carefully the day before and knew that this car was missing its back seat — either blown out or pulled out to haul cargo before German artillery had left it charred wreckage. Machine gun fire had poked holes in the trunk. Slithering across the killing zone on his elbows and belly before dawn, Hess had finally reached the car and crawled inside. He wedged himself into the trunk, then took a length of pipe from his pocket. He slid the pipe through a bullet hole, then tied a string around the other end. He ran the string back out and hooked it through the steering wheel, then crawled out of the car, trailing the string behind him. Hess kept crawling until he reached a shallow scoop several feet away that was partially covered by the hood of the car. He crept into the hole. Working quietly as he could, Hess pulled the hood completely over him and settled down to wait.

That had been hours ago. He was certain that a Russian sniper was waiting for him, just as he was sure that the sun was sinking in the sky behind him as the short winter’s day came to an end. The passage of time would weigh on the Russian too, fraying the enemy sniper’s nerves.

Hess put his eye closer to the rim of the sight. His finger tightened slightly on the trigger. With his other hand, he took up the last of the tension on the string he had set up hours ago in the darkness, the strand that stretched into the ruined car. At the other end, the pipe stuck through the hole in the trunk disappeared into the car. It was such a slight flicker of movement that only a hunter who had been watching painstakingly could have seen it.

Instantly, a shot struck the trunk, then another. If he had been hiding inside the car, he would be dead.

Hess saw the muzzle flash in the building across from him and settled the crosshairs on the space. He was shooting at a shadow but Hess relied on instinct to know just where the sniper was hiding a few feet back from the window. He was so intent on the shadows that when the Mosin-Nagant kicked his shoulder he was almost surprised. He braced himself for return fire but no shot came.

Foolishly, the other Russians did not seem to realize that they were no longer needed as bait. He shot five before darkness fell, then one more at twilight, a soldier whose face was illuminated for a moment as he lit a cigarette.

Stiff with cold, Hess strapped his rifle across his back and made his way back to the German lines. He always made sure to come and go from the same point, like a ship might use a port of call. It was not the best strategy for a sniper, he knew, but at night he was more worried about being shot by his own men than he was of being shot by the Russians. The sentries at that place knew he was out there and were expecting his return.

But tonight, it was not a sentry who greeted him. This man was better dressed, wearing a full black SS overcoat with a silk scarf, leather gloves and the rank of colonel. Quite a target, Hess couldn’t help thinking. Despite the fine winter clothes, the colonel was shivering. Hess’s own body had long since passed that point and given up the futility of shivering. His blood felt thick as slush.

“You are Hess?” the colonel asked.

“Yes, Herr Obersturmbahnfuhrer.” His stiff arm managed some semblance of a salute. Hess was in no mood for officers, but even he was not cavalier enough to slight a full SS colonel.

“Get yourself together, Hess. We are flying to Berlin tonight.”

Hess hadn’t thought it was possible for his blood to run colder. “What is this about?”

“Everything will be explained. I will be waiting for you at General Paulus’ headquarters. Be there in an hour.” The colonel turned to go. He took a few steps, then stopped. Hess noticed that the man’s boots were very shiny. “Oh. Make sure that you bring your rifle, Hess. You will be needing it.”


“Looks like I’m going home,” Ike announced, a letter on official stationery flapping in one hand. His expressive face was bunched up in a scowl. Not for the first time, Ty had the thought that Ike would make a lousy poker player because his every reaction was plain to see.

“Excuse me, sir?” Ty was the first of General Eisenhower’s staff to speak up, even though more than a dozen others were within earshot. “What’s this about going home?”

“I’ve been ordered to Washington for a two-week vacation,” Ike said. “How about that.”

Ty knew that there were just two people who outranked Ike — General George C. Marshall and the president of the United States. The orders must have come from one of them. “Are you going home for good, sir?”

The general shook his head. “Hell no, son. This is what amounts to a two-week working vacation.”

He handed Ty the letter. One glance at the signature line told him it was from Marshall. The commanding general was direct as always. “You will be under terrific strain from now on,” Marshall wrote. “I am not interested in the usual rejoinder that you can take it. It is of vast importance that you be fresh mentally and you certainly will not be if you go straight from one great problem to another. Now come on home and see your wife and trust somebody else for 20 minutes in England.”

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