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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David Healey


A World War II Novel

A Note to Readers

If you have read Sharpshooter, this book requires some explanation. Winter Sniper is a reimagining of the same story set during World War II rather than the Civil War. The basic “blueprint” of the plot and many of the characters are similar. That said, they are certainly two different books. If you have read one, you may enjoy the other in the same spirit that you enjoy different versions of a movie or different productions of a favorite play. If you are looking for something altogether different with a World War II theme, you might try my new novel Ghost Sniper, in which two snipers duel across the hedgerow country in the wake of D Day. Thanks so much, and here’s hoping you enjoy Winter Sniper.

— DH




Bruno Hess woke but did not move. Anyone watching would have seen only two pale eyes reflecting the starlight. He had learned a long time ago that moving too quickly meant death on a battlefield. In the distance he could hear the pop pop of gunfire, but nothing in his sector. Hess had slept all night with a pistol gripped in his right hand. He shook a thin layer of snow off his blanket and reached for his rifle the way some men might have felt in the darkness for their wives or lovers. It had been a long time since Hess had touched anything softer than the polished brass of a shell casing.

He stood up, safe in the knowledge that he was cloaked in midnight darkness. All around him, snow-covered blankets made lumps of sleeping soldiers. No one so much as stirred in their sleep and for a moment Hess wondered if they all might, in fact, be dead. It would not have been the first time that he had slept among dead men. Then a lump near him groaned and twitched as if from a bad dream. He did not know these particular men. As a sniper, he was free to roam the battlefield so long as he reported in once every few days. Hess would have preferred some solitary sleeping place, but in Stalingrad he had learned that there was safety in numbers at night, when the Russians crept out to kill whatever Germans they could.

Reassured now that he was not the only German soldier still alive in Stalingrad, Hess tilted up his canteen and took a long drink of vodka, feeling the greasy liquor burn down into his belly. He had given up carrying water because it froze in the winter air. When he was thirsty, Hess ate snow.

The Russian night was bone-cracking cold. And it wasn’t even deep winter, when horses froze to death standing up and wounded men became riveted to the ground by their own icy blood. When the snows came, the soldiers huddled together at night to keep from freezing. Hess worked his hands, clenching and unclenching them in the darkness as if he were gripping an imaginary throat. Then he pulled on wool gloves with the fingertips cut out so that he could work the bolt action of his sniper rifle. Finally, he tugged on mittens to keep his fingers from becoming frostbitten.

Time to hunt.

Hess favored the hours before dawn when Stalingrad lay blanketed in snow and it felt as if he had the Russian city to himself. In the starlight, the fresh white landscape and the quiet made the battleground seem pure and gentle, no more threatening than the winter woods at the Tiergarten in Berlin. In the gray Russian morning, the city revealed itself as nothing more than piles of rubble, burned cars and rusted trucks, barbed wire, red stains in the snow.

Dawn was always best for hunting. He had stalked wolves in Poland and elk in the Hartz mountains. The best shooting was always at first light when the animals were on the move. Hess had found that the same held true for war, where, as a sniper, he simply hunted another sort of prey. Men were groggy at dawn, reluctant to let go of their dreams and embrace a new day of war. They were careless. Since June 1941 he had shot three hundred and eighty-two Russian soldiers. As a general rule, he avoided shooting women and children, but in Russia, he had found that some of the best enemy snipers were those you might least expect to shoot back.

Hess quietly threaded his way through the tangle of barbed wire that formed the unit’s defensive line. His feet made no more noise than a cat’s and none of the sleeping men heard him go. He nodded at the sentry, making sure that the man got a good look at the rifle with its telescopic sight. He was acutely aware of how for a moment the muzzle of the sentry’s submachine gun lingered on him, then slid away. The number of deserters had increased with the cold, though Hess thought a man must be a fool to take his chances with the Russians.

“Kill some for me,” whispered the sentry, whose cheek was covered by a gauze bandage thick with crusted blood. “Kill as many of these Ivans as you can.”

Hess slipped into a trench, moving ever closer to Russian territory, confident that he could not be seen in the darkness. His heart beat faster, but not with fear. Hess sometimes wondered if there was something wrong with him, if that was why he found excitement where other men had the good sense to be afraid. Still, he was cautious, because the Ivans had their sentries and snipers, too. He reached the limit of the trench and settled himself as low as he could into the snow as he studied the frozen no-man’s-land before him.

At twilight the night before, he had studied this territory and now, under the starlight, he could pick out a few landmarks. Nearly one hundred meters away, he saw the bomb crater where he would hide near the shattered hulk of an Opel sedan that must have served as a staff car. He slung the rifle securely across his back. He slid onto his belly in the snow like a swimmer setting out across a frozen sea and began to crawl toward the car. He moved slowly, stopping to listen and watch before creeping a few more centimeters toward the truck. The cold seeped up through the earth to embrace him. Hess ignored it and kept moving. Any sudden movement might give him away, even at night, and invite a Russian sniper to put a bullet in him. The damned Ivans were always watching, cunning as feral dogs. The danger increased the closer he came to the Russian lines. Hess pressed himself harder against the frozen mud and thin snow as he slithered ahead. When he came to the bomb crater he had chosen in the last of the daylight last evening, he slid down into the icy bottom. Hess unslung his rifle and settled down to wait.

He dared not sleep. In this cold, he might never wake up again. Instead, he took a pull of vodka from time to time to keep his blood from turning to sludge. He worried that his tracks in the snow might give away his hiding place, or that the battle might sweep over him during the day, leaving him stranded like those crabs one sometimes found on their backs above the high tide line. His trick with the pipe and string would work just once. Would it be enough? Hess felt better when it clouded over and began to snow again, hiding him like a seed in the earth. He wrapped the muzzle in a white rag and waited for dawn.

The Russians closest to Hess would be too wary to show themselves. Maybe a foolish boy would pop his head above a trench, but that was too much to hope. He knew the Russians farther back from the fighting wouldn’t be so careful.

As the light grew in the east, Hess spotted what he was looking for through the powerful Leopold telescopic sight mounted on his rifle. A Russian officer in a gray-green greatcoat and red shoulder boards that flashed like a bird’s plumage stepped out of a doorway and brought his hand to his face as if lighting a morning cigarette. At this range it was hard to tell. The Russian was nearly one thousand meters from where Bruno Hess had hidden himself.

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