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The Dead of Jura: Excerpt

Prologue

 A discreet beeping woke the man up. He silenced his watch immediately and checked the time. 6.15 am. There was no rose pink dawn presaging a day of sunshine; instead, thin cloud filled the sky. He smiled – yes, perfect weather. No reflections and shadows to interfere with what could be seen. Time to prepare.

The waterproof sleeping bag had kept him warm and dry throughout the night. Thankfully too the weather was dry. He crawled out of the bag, wiped it dry and clean and rolled it up carefully, then stowed it in his rucksack. Then he rolled up the groundsheet he had lain on. It was damp underneath and needed a good wipe with the dry cloth he had used to wipe the sleeping bag. All of this he did without standing up, keeping as low as he could. The groundsheet’s position helped him in that, as it was set into a rectangular cutting he had made in the heather. As he worked he noticed a couple of deer watching him from further up the hillside. Eventually they lost interest and turned back to grazing.

Now he extracted a long green waterproof fabric bag from his rucksack and from it brought the pieces of the rifle, which he assembled with the smoothness born of much practice. The final piece was the telescopic sight. He fixed one ammunition clip containing eight bullets into the slot below the plastic stock. That would certainly be more than he needed.

His bivouac had been located just below the top of a low ridge. He now crawled forward up to the top. His boots, camouflage trousers and dark green jacket were waterproof and treated with permethrin-based insecticide to deter ticks, which multiplied here thanks to the island’s swollen deer population. He had also sprayed his hands, neck and head with a DEET-based insecticide. Despite these precautions, he would nevertheless have to check himself thoroughly once he got back. He also wore a dark green woolly hat and had smeared his face with brown camouflage paint.

Looking over the edge of the ridge, he could see the big house below him, several hundred yards away. In front of the house was a wide lawn running down to the shore of  the small bay. At a spot about two-thirds of the way from the house to the water, there was a square black patch of tarmac with a large white circle on it and a cross in the middle. The helipad. He reckoned that gave him a frame about fifty yards wide to cover. He opened up the bipod fixed to the rifle’s barrel and set it carefully at a spot where, with the rifle resting on it, he could easily pan the weapon across the space between the house and the helipad. Then he tested the telescopic sight, so that the grey path leading from the front door of the house to the helipad was perfectly in focus.

Now he had to wait. He glanced at his watch again. 6.40. He was in plenty of time. Now he must be patient, and keep as still as possible. Nothing must be out of the ordinary.

At 6.55 he sensed, rather than heard the beating of the rotors on the heavy air of the morning. Then the sound came too, and then he could see the small helicopter coming over from the east, from the mainland. As it neared the edge of the land the helicopter seemed to hesitate and hang back from the shore.

Then his eye caught another movement. The door of the house had opened. A man came out and waved to the helicopter, signalling it to land. It moved noisily forward and gingerly settled itself on the helipad. The man on the ground ran, head bent down, over to the helicopter and pulled open a door in its side. He held the door open. No-one got out. The man seemed to be talking to the pilot. After a couple of minutes, he went back towards the house. As he neared the door, he waved to someone inside.

Now the house-door opened again. More people were coming out. He eased the rifle gently away from the helicopter and focused on the figures.

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