#SaturdayScenes: Decisive Moment, The Sniper-Photographer

Once you dive headlong into photography and practice it without pause for a while, you start seeing and observing the world differently. Things your mind would filter out or ignore as noise pop into view. Because that’s a big part of photography, seeing what others miss, noticing the little things, the possibilities. Things that don’t matter to people provide you with inspiration to compose and bring about a great image.

I love that about photography. What some might deem a distraction, this penchant for getting lost in finding “the shot,” I see as an asset, a way to enjoy and contemplate the world in ways others don’t appreciate.

As you build up your vision muscles, you form an automatic, almost instinctive process to set up for a good shot. Even if you don’t have a camera with you, as you move about your little slice of the world, your mind constantly frames shots, observes how leading lines would draw attention to a subject. You formulate ways to deal with or altogether exclude elements that would distract or detract from your composition. You see how light and the shadows it projects give dimension and texture to your subject. You’re always devising the next shot, seeing where to stand, deciding what lens or other piece of equipment will make that shot successful.

Though in my experience artistry and inspiration have little to do with it, it isn’t very different with a sniper. Once that training is ingrained in you, once you’ve done it long enough, all you see are possibilities and setups for that perfect, nearly impossible shot, the one people will talk about for years.

I don’t like that, everywhere I look seeing killer shots that mean, well, that I’m a killer. Nonetheless, that’s the way my mind ticked when I visited Jimmy’s hospital over a period of three days. Walking through the parking lot the first time, I saw how open it was, how vulnerable to a number of three to four floor structures around it. As I left that first day, I spotted the perfect shooter’s perch, and I even went and checked it out.

Sick, I know, but by that evening I knew exactly how I could shoot this place, and not in the photographic sense.

As 9 AM approaches, I wait in the shadows at the top level of a rarely used parking structure for three defunct real estate and brokering agencies. I’m sitting on the bed of my truck, a sawhorse before me and my fully assembled sniper’s rifle at my side. My hide stands about half a mile away from the hospital. The wind, what little there is of it, comes in a soft breeze from west to east, more or less in the same direction of any shot I take. Perfect conditions for what won’t be a terribly difficult job.

I check my watch then peer through the binoculars. A sedan far too nice for this neighborhood pulled in a few minutes ago. I’m guessing that’s Nicko’s ride, and when a thick and tall goon gets out looking like he belongs in New Jersey, I’m pretty sure I’ve tagged the right target.

I watch him set up for a smoke. The rest of the parking lot is pretty desolate, a good number of cars, no collateral civilians, as I hoped.

I gently set the rifle’s small tripod atop the sawhorse. It’s a minute before nine, so I go ahead and make the call through my Bluetooth earpiece.

“Roger. We don’t see you,” Nicko says.

“I think I see you. Can you get out of the car and wave?”

Nicko, the very opposite in physical stature and strength from his companion, steps out of the passenger side, pressing his cell against his ear with one hand, waving with the other.

“OK, I see you now. I’m up here in Jimmy’s room.”

“I thought we said we’d meet before you visited him.”

“I don’t recall saying that. Besides, this way I see Jimmy earlier in the day, get things done with you and head out to work earlier. You know, so I can get that other 12.5K for ya.”

Through the scope I see him shaking his head, waving at his goon. The two of them start walking toward the hospital. If I had any concerns about them acting predictably, I shed them now.

“We’re coming your way,” Nicko says.

“To the room?”

“Yeah, to the room, idiot.”

“Nah, man. Let’s do this in the parking lot.”

His voice goes into growl mode. “Just stay there.”

Gently I sweep the rifle until through the scope I can see Jimmy’s room window. As I do this, I have the same thought I had back at Ernesto and Vivian’s love hideout. I can pull out. And this is my last chance to do so, my last opportunity to step back from the edge.

But I can’t do that to Jimmy. Loser brother or not, he’s my brother, the only shred of family I have left aside from a father who can’t stand the sight of me. If I had them before I have no preconceptions of saving him, or helping him clean up his life. But I can’t abandon him either. Call it loyalty. Call it stupidity. Call it pride. Call it inertia or momentum. I am not going to look in the mirror every morning and have that guy telling me I should have done more for Jimmy.

I mute my phone before I spot the red tape, blood red in the bright sunlight. I line up the shot, breathe in, breathe out, stop, squeeze. The explosive round does its job, shattering the tempered glass into several large pieces.

Over the phone Nicko is cursing. “What was that?”

I unmute my phone. With as much panic as I can affect in my voice I say. “Somebody just took a shot at us! Busted Jimmy’s window. Nurses just came in. They’re calling the police.”

Nicko is cursing some more. I’ve retrained my scope on him and his partner, and I watch him gesture wildly. “OK, then you come down here, right now!”

“With all the cops coming?” I ask in my best sheepish tone. “Besides, I’m a witness! They’re gonna want my statement!”

Nicko’s cursing intensifies, mostly in reference to me giving a statement. He and his goon start walking back to the car, and I think the good Lord for Nicko’s continued predictability. Let’s see how predictable he becomes now, I think to myself as I mute my phone and spot the rear window of his sedan to put a single round through it. Splash, it goes, the explosive round having the desired effect.

In the distance I hear the sound of approaching sirens. It could be an ambulance, bearing its emergency room bound cargo, but I’m not banking on that. I disassemble my rifle, stash it in the silver metal tool box attached to the rear of my pickup’s bed and lock it. I then collect the two metal casings, stick them inside a film canister that I drop in my pocket, and finally I collapse the sawhorse before I hop out of the bed and into the cab of my truck.

I unmute my phone so that Nicko and I can continue our conversation as I’m driving away. By the sound on the other side of the phone I can tell Nicko is doing likewise, busted rear window and all.

“What the hell was that?” he asks at the end of a long string of curses and incoherent phrases.

“I don’t know, man,” I say, maintaining my act. I lower my voice. “Any idea who would want to take a shot at Jimmy?”

“Well, it wasn’t me. I got my own window shot out!”

“Jeez, what’s Jimmy into, Nicko?”

“Other than 70 large, I ain’t got a clue.”

“This isn’t a message from you, then?”

He curses again. “Why would I want to draw that much heat?”

“Yeah, about that… I think the cops are here.”

“What about you?” he asks. “Anyone have reason to take a potshot at you?”

I hesitate for a moment, longer than I want given the circumstances and what my hesitation might suggest or confirm to Nicko. “Gotta go.” I hang up.

Thanks for reading!

For this week’s #SaturdayScenes sample, I went back to one of my published novels, Decisive Moment. As always, let me know what you think. And if it piques your interest, the published novel is on sale today!

Originally published at www.eduardosuastegui.com on November 28, 2015.