Today's Reading

The shot rang loud in the small bedroom, echoing from the MacBook speakers. Harwood was caught in between Monisha's horrified stare and the explosion of blood spraying onto Samuelson's screen.

Through the pink haze of the Facebook Live feed, Samuelson's head—what was left of it—hung loosely to the side, blood draining over the ragged edges of his destroyed skull like red wine over a jagged goblet.

As soon as he could refocus, Harwood heard a noise at the back door. It was the slightest tick of a lockpick set. He removed his Beretta pistol from its holster—he always kept the handgun within five feet of him—and whispered to Monisha, "Get in the closet, now. You know where to go."

"I heard it, too," Monisha said. She had excellent instincts and had proven to be an able assistant and spotter on the range. He had taken Monisha to shoot pistols and rifles so that she would be comfortable with his lifestyle as an expert sniper. Still on active duty, Harwood was required to have a "Family Care Plan" for Monisha in the event he was deployed. He had chosen the parents of Command Sergeant Major Murdoch to care for her, and they had gladly accepted the duty, doting on Monisha from the outset.

Glass shattered in the hallway as Harwood locked the closet door behind Monisha. She would take the hidden stairway into the basement as they had rehearsed.

Harwood moved toward the noise, leading with his Beretta. A shadow crossed the floor to his front. Pushing his back against the wall, he heard the intruder snap off two shots. If Harwood had not insulated the house with sheets of metal between the wooden studs and plasterboard, he would be dead or seriously wounded right now. But he had designed their home in Columbus, Georgia, primarily to protect Monisha against the hazards of his life as a renowned army sniper with many enemies.

Swiping his thumb up on his smartphone, he pressed the Kitchen button on his security system. The camera showed a compact man looking directly at the fiber optic camera. Two more shots and the picture went blank on Harwood's phone. He was dealing with a professional marksman if not assassin. Harwood's specialty was as a sniper, earning him the nickname Reaper, for his thirty-three kills in ninety days. A record for the U.S. Army Rangers.

Still, he was more than competent with the basic handgun of the U.S. Army, the Beretta nine-millimeter pistol. He needed to move though, because he could sense the intruder coming toward him.

Harwood did a running baseball slide across the kitchen doorway, firing upward from his back as he slid across the opening. The attacker had closed the distance so that they were less than ten feet apart. Using the kitchen island as cover, the man ducked as Harwood laid down suppressive fire. His intent was to give Monisha time to evacuate and draw the attacker away from her.

Ultimately, he intended to kill the son of a b itch, which would buy them both all the time in the world. Easy fix. No time for that, though. He pushed the images of Samuelson to a compartment in his mind where he stored all the painful memories of his young life. In full combat action mode, Harwood pushed up to one knee, raced through the dining room, dodged the dinner table, and raced headlong into the kitchen.

The attacker's back was facing Harwood. He waited until the man heard him, looked in his direction.

Then the Reaper snapped off three rounds in the center mass of the man's face. Checking to make sure he was accurate, Harwood's concern shifted to the potential for backup intruders and ultimately the mess he was going to have to clean up from this guy's exploded head. He inspected the body for forms of identification or any intelligence. Black pants, black shirt, and black outer tactical vest were all devoid of any helpful information save a small radio connected to a fiber optic earbud stuck in the man's left ear canal.

Harwood removed the earbud, wiped off the blood and wax, and stuck it in his ear, listening. For a few seconds static carried through the small device.

Then: "Zero Five, confirm kill."

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