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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Kenneth James Crist: The Long Shot

ym_91_longshot_kduncan.jpg
Art by Kevin Duncan 2022

The Long Shot

 

Kenneth James Crist

 

The Contract

 

I never shot a single person when I was a cop. Like most cops, I just never happened to be in the right place at the right time, with the right set of circumstances. Came close a few times, but no joy. Or maybe that’s too harsh. Cops are supposed to be like everyone else. If a cop has to kill someone in a line-of-duty shooting, they’re supposed to agonize over it for months and go through therapy and have millions of sleepless nights.

I’ve known cops who shot some vicious asshole and never went to the shrink and never lost a minute’s sleep over it. And couldn’t wait for a chance to do it again. Myself—I never started killing people until after I retired from police work. My name is Kerry Howland, but you can call me Crank. Six years ago, I retired. And then I found my calling. I do what the cops can’t and I never see a shrink, either. And I sleep just fine.

Long before I ever thought about a career in law enforcement, I was military. Vietnam was my war and I set foot in South Vietnam exactly twice. And yet, I fought in the war and got my kills just like everyone else.

When I went through boot camp, they noticed I could shoot way better than average and flagged my files. Later, during Ranger school I was taken to several thousand-yard rifle ranges and given some rudimentary instruction and tested. After that, I went to the Army’s elite sniper school and that’s how I spent my war.

I would be choppered to an area along with my spotter and we would spend many hours, sometimes days getting into position to make a shot and leave. Only twice was I ever detailed to make a shot inside South Vietnam. The rest of the missions were in the north and in countries we were not technically at war with.

But long-range rifle work is a perishable skill and when the call came, along with a sizeable retainer, I had to find a private range where I could reacquire the skills that had deteriorated over the years. There are such places in Kansas, mostly hidden on farms well away from populated areas. You locate them by the old grapevine method, through a friend of a friend and certain vows are taken and promises made, not to mention the exchange of money and favors. There were six families who had pooled their resources to make this happen, families of victims who knew that without me or someone like me, justice for their loved ones would never be served. They were also aware that if we were caught, they could well be charged with conspiracy to commit murder. We did not have a meeting. There were no discussions. The decisions were made long before I was ever contacted.

Kansas is a death penalty state, but there would be no state-sanctioned execution for this guy. During the time he was active, Kansas had abolished its death penalty, only to once again reinstate it after he was through destroying lives. Ten life sentences to run consecutively was the worst the state could do with him. I was pretty sure I could do much worse.

 

The Tools

 

Purchasing a rifle such as the Barrett .50 caliber long-range sniper rifle is a tricky proposition because there are so few of them in use. At the same time, they are imminently available, but damned expensive. I started making the rounds of the gun shows, both in Kansas and Oklahoma. I had an advantage of a sort. The asshole wasn’t going anywhere and there was no time limitation to get the job done. The families would just as soon not know when it was going to happen. The money had already been set aside in a blind trust which could not be accessed by me or anyone else until the performance was over.

It took ten months to find the rifle and buy it for cash out of the back of an old rattletrap van in the parking lot of a venue in Kansas City. It had been fired a few times and the owner had gotten over the novelty and realized he had a lot of money tied up in a toy he was unlikely to ever use for what it was intended. I took it off his hands for $6,800 and no questions either way. It might have even been stolen. If I got caught, that would be the least of my problems.

I spent another thousand dollars on ammunition, and didn’t get that much. It’s damned expensive to buy and when you’re practicing at one of those hidden ranges, you don’t leave any expended brass lying around when you leave. What I purchased was the standard, military-grade .50 caliber machine gun round. After it was all fired, the brass would be perfectly expanded to microscopically fit the chamber of my rifle. As “once-fired” brass, it was actually worth more than new stuff.

Next, it went to a friend I have been using to reload match-grade ammo for years. All I had to tell him was what I wanted and how much I could afford to spend. He loves the phrase, “Money is no object…” Special bullets, designed for maximum range with a special load and primer in use behind them would add as much as 500 yards to the range of the gun, just by increasing the velocity and flattening the trajectory. I might not need it, but I wouldn’t know for sure until I found my nest.

 

The Objective

 

Locating that one spot where I could ingress and egress without being seen and get within range of the facility would not be easy. The Supermax at El Dorado, Kansas was designed not only to hold the inmates in maximum security, but to protect them from all manner of guys like me who would like to kill them. The fuck-stick I was going to kill was locked down in solitary confinement 23 out of every 24 hours. He got one hour per day in the exercise yard by himself and the time he got to go outside was constantly changed by the staff.

Unlike many older facilities, it had no walls as such. It has lots of chain-link fence and rolled razor wire and an observation tower and cameras. And guys with rifles who would do the exact same thing I was going to do, if an inmate was stupid enough to try and climb or cut their way out. I knew that among inmates at that facility there was no doubt about what would happen. In short, they would just fill you full of lead and call it a day.

My problem was that, when they planned the facility, they didn’t want anything for anyone to be able to hide behind anywhere near the facility. If you approached it from any direction, you were in plain sight for a half mile or more.

U.S. Highway 54 passed within a half mile and was in fact the only road that could be used to access the prison. Part of their protocol was to investigate any vehicle that should happen to stop within sight of the place without turning in and coming to the gate. They had their own patrol vehicles. They also had instant contact with the Kansas Highway Patrol, the Butler County Sheriff's Office, and the El Dorado Police Department. And for all I knew, the FBI, KBI, DEA and Department of Homeland Security. I might get one shot, then it was escape and evade. No second chances.

If I never got my shot, there was no loser. I wouldn’t get paid and the families would eventually get their money back after the murdering asshole died of natural causes. I had heard he had cancer, so that could very well happen. He would be just as dead. It just wouldn’t be nearly as dramatic. Or satisfying.

In the end, it was the landscape planner who became my greatest ally in fulfilling my mission, for that’s what it became. I would not let it become an obsession, because that’s how mistakes are made. I could not afford mistakes. Not unless I wanted to wind up right in there in that same prison. At my age, a life sentence wouldn’t really be that long, but still…

When in the planning stage, the architect apparently decided early on that this would not be just another ugly-ass prison. And in fact he, or they, had done a good job. From a distance, if one chose to ignore the signs out front, it really looked like a college campus, or maybe a high-end industrial park. There were no walls as I said before, and the one large guard tower looked more like a control tower at an airport. Security was accomplished by keeping inmates inside buildings except when they had access to the exercise yard, which sat directly below that control tower, well with sight and gun range of the guards.

In their anxiety over making it look like anything but a prison, they had planted a number of trees, which were now about half-grown. I hiked the area every day for a week, with a rifle and a deer tag. I started on opening day of deer season and stayed far enough away from the facility not to arouse suspicion, but near enough to be able to use a hand-held spotting scope to check out details. On day three, it dawned on me that they had planted their trees in straight rows. Far enough apart that it wasn’t obvious to the casual observer, but there it was. If I parked my ass in just the right place, I could line the trees up and use them to break up my outline, and muzzle flash, while shooting right past the nicely lined-up trunks.

The only fly in the ointment was all that chain-link fence. While a .50 caliber machine gun bullet had a lot of weight and muzzle energy, I had no idea how badly one of those bullets might be deflected by hitting a wire of that gauge and strength. Back to the firing range for more testing. Some of my expended brass were going to be reloaded for the second or third time.

After setting up and stretching chain-link fence in front of my targets and shooting from various distances I found that over half the time I could shoot through the fencing without hitting a wire. When I did hit a wire, a square hit did not deflect any noticeable amount and a grazing hit deflected so little I stopped worrying about it. Well, almost.

 

The Plan

 

I next spent two weeks hiding and observing the routine of the prison. Using my spotting scope from a spot I had picked as a nest, I watched the exercise yard at various times of day. During nighttime hours, the place was floodlighted to the max and objects and people actually were more starkly highlighted than during daylight hours. In natural sunlight, the sun moved across the sky, so highlighting and shadows were constantly changing. At night, nothing changed unless there was fog or smoke. The prison is located on the western edge of the Kansas Flint Hills and in the spring, pasture burning is a common practice. Hopefully, the deed would be done before spring.

Two weeks is a long time to spend alone, sitting in a blind and watching. When I did this in the military, a lot of the planning and intelligence work was done for me, before I ever arrived in the theater of operations. The target will be at so-and-so from such-and-such time to such-and-such time. He is five feet six inches and smokes heavily. He wears his dress uniform exclusively. This is his picture… and so forth. This time I did it all myself, because I learned long ago two people can keep a secret just fine—if one of them is dead. I could not afford to trust anyone.

I soon learned that this would be a night shot. The target was never let out into the exercise yard in daylight. It was always at night because he was not allowed contact with any other inmates. I saw him a number of times, as early as eight PM and as late as four AM. That was acceptable. In fact, that was ideal. It meant it was only an eight-hour shift. I didn’t like the fact that it would be dark. If a single staff member happened to be looking my direction, there was no way they could miss the muzzle flash from the Barrett and that would make egress much more risky. I had no way to access their contingency plan in the case of a sniper, but I had no doubt there was one. How well it would be studied by staff members was another question entirely. How well it might be executed was anybody’s guess.

I drove and timed my egress route and I hated the fact it would be mostly over gravel roads. If it was windy, the dust would dissipate more quickly, but the wind would make the shot more difficult. If it was still, the shot would be easier, but dust would tend to hang in the air longer. I needed a night when it had rained, so the dust would be minimal or absent. What I actually got was snow.

I had planned on using a Ghillie suit, but that changed when we got snow in mid-December. I changed to a white suit and decided to get it done before the snow all disappeared.

 

The Shot

 

10:07 PM. I had been in the nest since 7:40. I had parked my truck and hiked in and got myself set up. No spotting scope tonight. The rifle was set up and ready on a white ground cloth which allowed me to avoid getting wet from the snow. I had white towels wrapped and tied around my boots. Nobody would identify my boot tracks.

The target walked out into the yard, wearing a parka and his prison orange, gloves and a skull cap. I could see his glasses reflecting in the garish overhead lights. The two staff officers spoke with him for a few minutes and then went back inside. Now I had an hour.

Through the scope, I could clearly see his features and the fact he had decided to grow a bit of a beard. His color didn’t look good and I thought about the rumored cancer. But maybe it was just the lighting. The halogen lights tended to wash out color. I loaded the first shell, cycled the bolt shut and released the safety.

The optics of the scope, curiously, caused the chain link wire to virtually disappear. I settled the cross hairs on his head and gave the wind a final check. There was a windsock conveniently located off to the right, at the helipad. I assumed the heliport was probably so they could medivac any injured quickly away. The windsock was limp, so I left my windage adjustments alone. I checked my combination thermometer/hygrometer. I raised my elevation one click for humidity. I looked back through the scope and the asshole was gone.

Scanning, I quickly picked him up again. He was walking briskly around the yard. Well, shit. I never figured he would actually exercise. What the fuck did he need to stay in shape for? This was going to be more difficult. Not impossible. I was pretty good at firing a round and letting the target just walk into it when I was doing this in the military, but that was many years ago. I watched and tracked and waited. He was bound to stop at some point. And after twenty minutes, he did. A model prisoner, he didn’t approach the fence, which would be a violation and might cost him his yard time. He just stopped and stood perfectly still. And I squeezed. The recoil slammed into my shoulder and the sound was tremendous, even with the traffic noise from the highway. I threw a white sheet over the gun and lay perfectly still and waited.

In short order, two staff officers ran out into the yard and looked down at the target. The fact they didn’t bend down and assess him or touch him told me my shot was a good one. There probably wasn’t much left of his head. One of the officers spoke into his radio and in ten seconds, a siren started whooping and it was time for me to leave.

I figured if they’d seen the muzzle flash, they’d be concentrating their efforts immediately in my direction. Three patrol cars pulled out of the compound and headed three directions, beginning what I hoped would be a random search. I eased backward, folding the bipod on the gun, and keeping it wrapped. I moved back through brush, turned and crawled until I was far enough over a slight rise that I could stand and not be obvious. I headed out toward my truck, which was in a field, tucked in behind an old combine that had been left when it finally could harvest no more.

On my way there, a patrol car came down the gravel road and I dropped flat and held still. Their spotlight swept right across me, once, twice, and then I heard the brakes and the car stopped. I had nothing I could do. Running would be obvious and a dead giveaway. If they had seen enough to arouse their suspicion, I was fucked, because I would not kill a law enforcement officer to get away. The spotlight on the car was not on me, but there was no way I could tell what had caught the officer’s attention. I wasn’t even sure if there was one officer in the car or two. I held my breath so no steam would show in the cold night air and waited to be arrested. In the stillness, I could hear the engine quietly idling and then I heard an electric window motor as the glass on the side of the car nearest me went down.

A voice said, “Look at that big fucker! He’s just standing there! What a shot!”

Another, deeper voice said, “Yeah, ya never see that shit when they’re in season. It’s like they know somehow what day it is and that ya can’t shoot their ass.”

The first voice said, “Fido, man, let’s roll.” The window went up and the car accelerated, gravel crunching under its tires. I breathed at last and slowly raised my head. About forty feet away a twelve-point buck stood, unmoving and a perfect target. The car was almost five hundred yards away now and I stood up. The buck snorted and began to turn to run. I said, quietly, “Thank you, my friend.”

As I walked on to my truck, I thought about the term “Fido.” I was surprised it was still in use. It had been common when I was a cop. It meant, “Fuck it—drive on.”

White on white is some of the best camouflage. At my truck, I stashed everything in the back under the fiberglass cover then started the truck and let it warm up fully. A cold engine will leave a vapor trail that clearly indicates to a law officer that it hasn’t been driven very far. Modern catalytic convertors do a lot to make engines warm up quickly and I was soon on my way. I saw no other law enforcement vehicles on my way out of the area.

I arrived at my home before midnight and left the truck outside on the drive. I spent an hour with an oxygen/acetylene torch, cutting up the Barret into small chunks and dropping them into a 55-gallon drum that was near full of waste oil. I would sell the remainder of my .50 caliber ammo at the next gun show for more than I’d paid for it.

The demise of the aged serial killer was big news for about five days, which is about the normal amount of time for a news story unless leads are developed to give it legs and keep it going. I have heard nothing over the GOBLEN grapevine about much of an investigation going anywhere. GOBLEN? Stands for Good Old Boy Law Enforcement Network. If I had anything to worry about, I’d know.

Someday, when I need it, I might go get the money. Right now, I’m in no hurry. Sometimes, a job well done is its own reward…




Kenneth James Crist is Editor of Black Petals Magazine and is on staff at Yellow Mama ezine. He has been a published writer since 1998, having had almost two hundred short stories and poems in venues ranging from Dark Dossier and The Edge-Tales of Suspense to Kudzu Monthly. He has several books in print, Jariah and the Big Green Booger, and What Really Lives in Loch Ness, both children’s books, and Groaning for Burial, a book of zombie stories, plus A Motorcycle Cop’s Motorcycle Manual, all available through Amazon.

He reads everything he can get his hands on, not just in horror or sci-fi, but in mystery, hardboiled, biographies, westerns and adventure tales. He retired from the Wichita, Kansas police department in 1992 and from the security department at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita in 2016. Now 77, he is an avid motorcyclist and handgun shooter. He is active in the American Legion Riders and the Patriot Guard, helping to honor and look after our military. He is the owner of Fossil Publications, a desktop publishing venture that seems incapable of making any money at all. On June the ninth, 2018, he did his first (and last) parachute jump and crossed that shit off his bucket list.


Kevin D. Duncan was born 1958 in Alton, Illinois where he still resides. He has degrees in Political Science, Classics, and Art & Design. He has been freelancing illustration and cartoons for over 25 years. He has done editorial cartoons and editorial illustration for local and regional newspapers, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. His award-winning work has appeared in numerous small press zines, e-zines, and he has illustrated a few books. 


In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2022