"Higher Education"

by Gina Gallo


Gina Gallo is a 17 year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, now writing professionally. She is the author of two books, CRIME SCENES and ARMED AND DANGEROUS, and is at work on her third. Her short stories have appeared in numerous online and print magazines. She can be reached at:


This story previously appeared in the May/June 2002 issue of PLOTS WITH GUNS.


Some might call it a numbers game. Numbers that were not so much a counting measure as a way of reading signs. There was a significance about them, secret messages that directed you on your way. Devlin Bliss knew all about reading signs. His survival depended on it, something he'd learned long before Marine boot camp, years before sniper school, a lifetime before now. The numbers game was part of the process of learning but this time, he'd be the teacher.

His earlier recon had located this building. Deserted for more than a year, surrounded on all sides by empty lots and steeping garbage, it was the perfect site for his mission. From the roof, visibility would be perfect, and from the street, detection unlikely. Hefting the sleek aluminum case, he began to climb.

There were sixty-eight steps leading up to the rooftop. Sixty-eight, the year his Marine sergeant daddy was killed in 'Nam. Although his mama never talked about it, Dev knew he'd died an artless death. There was no technique or symmetry in the random shrapnel that sliced through his brain, no precision or skill that sent another body bag stateside. A casualty before he even got to witness Devlin's June birth. Baby boy Bliss, born 6/8/68. More numbers. More signs.

Dev's backpack carried sixty-eight rounds of match-grade rifle rounds- 168 grains of jacketed hollowpoints. Numbers that swam in his head as he trudged up the stairs. An earlier call to the weather bureau told him it was sixty-eight degrees today with a five knot northwest wind. Details important to any tactical sniper who knows that distance shooting is an art and a science. You had to check the wind direction and velocity - all critical factors in 'doping' - adjusting your shot for windage and drop. Thanks to a stint at Camp Lejeune's Sniper School, Dev was a master at his craft. Daddy would've been proud of how he'd toughed out boot camp, went from Parris Island to the USMC's Designated Marksman's Course. It was in Sniper School that he finally understood his mission. Devlin had been born with a talent for killing. Today, if the signs were true and his numbers played out, he'd have sixty eight confirmed kills.

At the third floor landing he stopped to stare through the soot-filmed window. There was a clear view of the high school from here. Not the panoramic access the roof provided, but enough to get off a few warm-up shots if he chose. But it wasn't time yet. Devlin stroked the aluminum case reverently. The sleek finish was warm as a woman's flesh, a bitch who'd shriek on his command. But not yet...

The kids were out there, clustered in groups or lounging on the school steps. From this distance they looked like droopy puppets, laughing and posing in their big-legged jeans, flipping the occasional gang signs. Adolescent poser thugs, pretenders in the numbers game.

Clenching his case, Dev watched them. They were little gangster wannabes who talked tough and hadn't a clue about the art of death. They strutted in packs and used punk-ass handguns that, as far as he was concerned, were sacrilege. They had no rights, had paid no dues. Their shootings were acts of ignorance, committed by the unenlightened. There was no discipline or beauty to the killing, no artistry...just like Daddy's.

He knew such ignorance was remedied only with lessons learned by example. Dev considered himself both teacher and a disciple meant to deliver the word. Something he planned to do from the rooftop with sixty eighty hollowpoint rounds.

One more flight to go and the case was getting heavier. It weighed twenty pounds in all, a burden he carried gladly. Inside the case was the wet dream of snipers everywhere, the Heckler-Koch PSG-1. Initials that abbreviated the yard-long German name for the world renowned state-of-the-art stock rifle. At sniper school they'd talked of it reverently, claiming the name translated to English as: “shoot the balls off a flea at 100 yards.” Its only purpose was precision shooting, and with an eleven thousand dollar price tag, was a weapon most military personnel only dreamed of. After Devlin's discharge, he'd gladly spent his life savings for this holiest of gunmetal grail. He considered it a business investment. What better way to instruct the ignorant? The rusted lock on the rooftop door gave way with one sharp kick. Squinting in the sudden light, he dropped into a crouch. The wind was stronger here, blasting around him in fitful gusts, but it wouldn't affect his shot. Although his weapon came with a standard Gambini tripod, he'd brought a bipod for more precise swiveling action while he acquired his sight picture. The metal legs snapped open with a distinctive click, a sound that aroused Dev as much as a moaning woman. Funny how the protocol of killing was so much like fucking. So many people who attempted it didn't have a clue. What they thought was a great performance was usually quick and mechanical with no style at all.

Stroking the rifle's barrel, he felt himself stiffen. There were twenty-five and a half inches of cold forged rifling, enough to fuck the life - literally - out of anyone he chose. No sharp internal edges on this baby, only rounded surfaces to create the twist of the projectile, increasing its velocity by 300 feet per second. More numbers to ponder, but all it meant was that he shot his wad as soon as he pulled the trigger. Firing this bitch was the best sex he'd ever had - a double handful of hell he cradled in his arms.

Like a sacred ritual, Dev adjusted the bipod and settled the weapon in carefully. The scope was permanently mounted with a lighted range recticle for distances up to 600 meters. Peering through it, he focused on the students below. This time, he could see their faces, their cheesy tattoos, the goddamn pimples on their stupid faces. And soon, the blood that would cleanse them of past sins and teach them the ways of righteous killing.

Squinting again, he noticed one of the kids wore an Army field jacket. Little bastard still wet behind the ears had no right to wear a combat officer's clothes. He thought of his own father's Marine dress blues, the jungle camos that must have been drenched with his blood. The numbers stenciled on the kid's jacket pocket read, “92068.” An interesting coincidence, he thought. Like the nine months his daddy had been in country, the last twenty hours Dev had lain awake waiting for this moment, and the sixty eight lives that would be sacrificed today in the name of higher education. More numbers. He had to teach them. Life was cheap but the art of killing, the skill and precision and sheer beauty of a master's touch was its own kind of immortality. He reached for the hollowpoints. The kid in the army jacket would be the first one down.

It might have been the wind that whipped around him, or Devlin's own admiring grunts as he fondled the heavy butt stock. He never heard the footsteps behind him, a quick approach on worn sneakers that had followed him up those four flights. And while he muttered numbers and adjusted the scope of his $11,000 killing machine, the hand that rose and fell behind him delivered death in one swift blow. There was no artistry to the brick that crushed Dev's skull, no particular precision required for such a close range target. But his fourteen year old assassin knew plenty about numbers games. Eyeing the sniper rifle, the kid figured he could fence it on the street for fifty bucks easy. Enough to buy an eight ball, a few cold forties, and maybe a dozen donuts for later on when his sugar jones kicked in.

Shouldering the weapon, the kid started back down the stairs. It was too bad the guy got whacked, but it served him right comin' to the hood. Some people just never learned.

Gina Gallo©2004


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