Soft Target: A Thriller (Ray Cruz)
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Another action-packed thriller from Stephen Hunter, this time starring Ray Cruz, the son of ex-Marine sniper Bob Lee Swagger, who was introduced in Hunter’s previous bestseller, Dead Zero.
Ten thousand people jam the aisles, the corridors, the elevators, and the escalators of America, the Mall—a giant Rubik’s Cube of a structure with its own amusement park located in the spacious center atrium. Of those people, 9,988 have come to shop. The other twelve have come to kill.
Ray Cruz, one of the heroes of Hunter’s last bestseller, Dead Zero, is in the mall with his fiancée and her family. The retired Marine sniper thought he was done with stalking and killing—but among the trapped thousands, he’s the only one with a plan and the guts to confront the self-proclaimed “Brigade Mumbai.” Now all he needs is a gun.
Now. ” He poked her with the muzzle of the Kalash. Then he poked her again, this time hard enough to bruise. “Want to die, sister? I kill, no problem. Bangbang, shoot dead black sister, then take babies. Maybe I kill a baby. No problem, no problem. ” He poked her again but did not see the thing in her hand that now flew at him and struck him with a sword’s cut across the face and drove a flash of light and pain up through his head, and he stepped back, feeling the tremendous hurt of it, the gun muzzle dropping as he pivoted, and then his pain alchemized into rage and he flew on her, wanting to kill her with his hands and the two grappled awkwardly, spinning this way or that and she cracked him another time in the head with her weapon, another slicing gouge that shot off lights behind his eyes.
He lay, looking up at the lake-shaped spread of skylights four stories up. He was not a religious man, for driving eight hundred miles a day in the cab of an eighteen-wheeler for forty years does not incline one toward the more spiritual things in life, nor was he ever in any one place long enough for church to present itself as an option. If he worshipped anything, it was a goddess: his wife. “You must fight,” he told her. He knew about fighting: 1st Marine Division, An Loc, RVN, ’65–’66, Purple Heart, Silver Star.
You watch, bud. ” He selected the biggest, unslung the AK, and wedged the vegetable over the muzzle, feeling the flash hider and sight blade cut into the crunchy fiber of the thing as he slid it over, until a good two inches of potato embraced the weapon. The potato was stoutly mounted. He set himself up in prone, brought rifle to shoulder, slipped the big prong safety off by pressing it down on the right side of the receiver. Ancient memories came back, associated with the weapon. Some firefight in the sand—Afghanistan, Iraq?
Thank God,” said Sally. “Sally, do not let yourself believe until it is true. Guard against feelings of gratitude and relief. It may still be a long, tragic day and you might still have to use all your skills to survive it. ” Suddenly a shadow crossed them. Both looked up. The black man who’d shot the hostages and who’d bought Sally as his bride stood there, all insolence, pride, glee, his weapon resting casually on his shoulder. He smiled, white teeth showing brightly. Then he knelt down. “I will have my wedding night,” he said, “when the time is right.
Troubles me immensely, in fact. But the truth is, you have to take some risks in operations. I decided to take this one. I think the Muslims will be content with their propaganda victory, hollow though it is. I mean, these are basically thirteenth-century minds we’re dealing with, and they’re easily distracted. The glory that awaits them in this life, the chance to be heroes to their coreligionists, that’s too much for them to give up on. ” “Sir, it’s not them I’m worried about. It’s this goddamned white kid, with his crazy nihilism and bloodlust, his love for Eric Harris and Seung-Hui Cho, he could do anything, anything.