LEAH HOPED THE ARMED INTRUDERS didn't lose patience. Fat chance the hostages would be released alive when they wore short-sleeved shirts with identifiable tats. On the western side of the empty house, she assembled her rifle while a member of the FBI SWAT team held an H&K submachine gun and surveyed the area. She pried open a window and climbed through. He handed her the rest of her gear. They worked mechanically, like always.
She and the SWAT member, a man she respected, moved through the house to an eastern window where she'd have full view of the Barton home. After opening the window, she cradled her rifle and adjusted the scope to line up with the man wielding a gun in one hand and holding a small, screaming boy in front of his face. The little guy squirmed and twisted. What a coward to use a defenseless toddler. The man closest to Jon waved a gun and wrestled with a little girl.
Leah's sympathies wrapped around the women and children. If only she could send a message that trained people were in place to help.
Was she doing the right thing? Had the negotiator exhausted all means of talking the two men down? A sniper's actions were often described as both personal and impersonal. The men inside the Barton home, no matter how savage their behavior, had family and friends who loved them. Perhaps mothers who held them in their hearts and would grieve their deaths. Leah was about to end any thoughts of their rehabilitation.
She wondered if the same questions darted through Jon's mind. That's who they were—intelligent and caring people who chose to stop killers when all negotiations failed. Someone put her out of her misery if she ever became impervious to taking a life, when squeezing the trigger stopped being a regret. These were human beings, not targets. All the training, mastering skill sets, and psychological hints and helps pointed to her making mental adjustments to survive.
One day, she wanted to be a mother, but she had no idea how she'd explain her FBI roles to loved ones. How did a woman justify such a controversial calling? Her conviction, her life mission to keep people safe, ran through her veins as sure as oxygen.
Leah drew in a few deep breaths and embraced the familiar control of her body. Shoving aside the pressure to free the hostages, she slowed her heart rate and relaxed her body. Expelled all thoughts from her mind. Lined up the shot. Nothing pressed her but the mission.
"Agents Riesel and Colbert, take your shot," the SWAT commander said. This was what she and Jon needed: assurance of their backstop, that no one was behind the targets who might be harmed.
The man at the other end of her scope turned slightly. Clearly he had no intentions of lining up for the perfect kill shot.
She spoke into the microphone to Jon and the SWAT commander. "Ready?"
"Yes." Jon's voice resonated firm.
They needed immediate incapacitation. Some claimed a sniper pulled the trigger between heartbeats. Maybe so. She fired when her mind registered the right moment.
A feeling of now suspended. She gently pulled the trigger back. The explosion. Then impact.
The familiar kickback shook her body.
The man went down, releasing the small boy.
Jon's man also slumped onto the floor, and the little girl he'd been holding broke free. Leah reached for her binoculars. SWAT raced toward the Barton home. She panned her scope to the women, who drew their children close, covering them in tears laced with terror and joy. An intimate moment not meant for Leah's eyes, but if she were there, she'd hold them tightly. She pulled away from viewing the crime scene.
While relief flowed through her body, there was no celebration for two men's deaths. A critical situation had been neutralized.
Scrutinizing the outside area, she spoke into the mic again. "Looks like the hostages are okay. Can you confirm?"
"Affirmative," the SWAT commander's low voice responded. "Riesel, Colbert, SAC Thomas will contact you within fifteen minutes."
"Riesel, I'm heading your way," Jon said.