"Fortune Favors The Bold"
– 101st LRRP Brigades motto
Since his discharge is on his record, he has been unable to get gainful employment. The note on his psychological profile doesn’t help matters any.
He’s been arrested many times over the years, never able to stay at one thing long enough before memories drive him over the edge once again. Robbery/theft is his old stand-by. He feels justified since he’s tried to enter working society and they won’t have anything to do with him.
Then again, if Maureen knew the kind of man he was, she probably wouldn’t have anything to do with him.
One last job – that’s all they need. This will set him up for life. He’ll be able to provide her with a house and a future. He can even buy the kind of ID that will get him a respectable job. He smiled as he rubbed an oil smudge from the fender. It’d be nice to be the kind of guy that could walk out in public with his head up. He’d get a good job, too – not from a place that ‘didn’t ask too many questions’ about their employees. He could be a real person again.
Wet leaves slapped his face, ignored like the rain above and the gunfire below. High position offered better coverage than the men in his unit – offered them a chance they wouldn't have had otherwise. Finding a spot to kneel behind a fallen truck, he rested his arms across the rough bark – sighting through the scope at the face twelve-hundred meters away. One inhale to settle his breath. One more to steady his aim. Barely a squeeze of the trigger and the face vanished under the explosion of sound.
Most of the killing was done from afar. The objective was to get close enough to the target to take them out and then retreat into the jungle, unseen. A well placed bullet, a distraction from his team to create confusion and chaos and their work was done. They’d slip back into the depths of the jungle. It was his duty and he performed his duty to the best of his abilities. He’d believed that he was doing good work. He was just following orders. It wasn’t murder, his superiors had drilled that into his head over and over. These were enemies of the state. Their own actions had made them an unacceptable risk – his unit was simply administering consequences, after all.
He wasn’t lying either, there were guys who did get really good at it. They liked it; perhaps a little too much. They’d stick around and watch for a bit as the body cooled. Sometimes, they’d deliberately withhold a killing shot, allowing for a longer, though still inevitable, death. He was a peace-loving guy. In the deliverance of his duty, he also felt a duty to his target. He’d aim for a head shot or a straight nick dead-center in the heart. It was quick and merciful. If he did his job right (and he always did his job right), the target would never see it coming and would never have time to feel their demise before they hit the ground. An honorable death. It was a job, just like on the farm. That was something his uncle drilled into him over and over… don’t get attached to your food. He’d had to learn the hard way when a calf was born with a bum leg that the kindest thing to do was to quietly put them down. Nothing more. Kill or be killed. Maybe his target didn’t know who he was, but he knew that if they ever had met face to face, his target wouldn’t have the slightest hesitancy to take him out either.
It helped, to be able to distance himself from it.
It worked for a long time, telling himself that. Trusting those above him. Carrying out their orders.
He dropped the wrench and clenched his eyes, the attack drowned out the kid’s prattle. He gripped the fender well of the muscle car as his mind transported him unwillingly him back to Ecuador – the sounds of native birds sounding panicked alarm calls as the peaceful jungle was transformed with the thunder of his sniper rifle.
He was separated from his team. Alone. Intel had this area clean of unfriendlies. They had reconnaissance aerial photographs and their guide insisted that the target would be here alone for a personal journey, whatever that meant. They’d used him before and his info was always reliable. Then again, he'd started to wonder just what reliable really meant. This wasn’t the first time they'd had conflicting reports from heads above.
His job wasn’t to meddle with local politics – he just did what he was told, when he was told. Smarter people made decisions. Big heads ran the show. Grunts did all the work and took none of the credit. He was fine with that.
It’s just that it was getting harder and harder to convince himself that the good guys were all good and the bad guys were all bad.
Running through the jungle being chased by unfriendlies who weren’t supposed to be there and ready for them was simply the last clue to be dropped onto the heaping pile of mistrust and doubt. He ducked into a crevice in a nearby rock formation, catching his breath, trying to get his bearings.
He could see the peak of the established evac point; he just had to get there. He huffed clearing breaths, desperately trying to think of a way to get there from here. He wasn’t a strategist as he’d been told before. Muscle, not brains. This time, though, he needed to think on his feet. It was a big risk as he’d have to cut back close to the operation field where there was no doubt lots of activity.
Then again, there wasn’t supposed to be ANY activity.
Creeping along, he made his way through the depths of vegetation, running parallel along the established trail but taking advantage of the green cover of overgrowth. Just a little farther to go, past point zero and he’d be home free.
He must have misjudged his position as he found himself breaking into the clearing and looking down at his target. He could have sworn he’d hit the vital heart. Stiff breezes down in the valley must have thrown off his mark because here was his target.
Not much younger than himself, perhaps…but far too young to be the dangerous political mastermind. He knelt down, unable to run away despite the intensely driven need to escape.
“Papa!” The kid clutched at his wound, desperate to hold back the tide of blood even as it slipped through fingers to pool into the jungle floor. Blood spattered his lips, adding a lisp to his already compromised speech. He could call out for his papa all he wanted, but no one would be able to hear him. Despite the breathy scream that lacked the strength to carry for more than a few feet, it resounded loudly in his ears
“Shhhhh…hey-hey-hey kid…you’re gonna be fine.”
Nervously, he looked around. He was confused and scared. This scenario wasn’t in the manual. The sniper isn’t supposed to meet the target. The kid writhing on the ground was very much alive, though not much longer at the rate he was bleeding out. And he was crying. Crying for his dad.
Political insurgents don’t cry for their dads...do they?
He gently lay his gun down and placed a hand on the kid’s shoulder. He had to leave. Had to leave now. But how could he leave this? Coming face to face with his handiwork for the first time, he looked down at shaking hands and rose on equally trembling legs, pushing himself up from the ground with his rifle in hand.
“Hey! Hey kid…it’s gonna be alright? Ok? We’ll f-fix it, you’ll see.”
He couldn’t fix it – he could never take back the bullet and the kid was too far gone. It was too late for anything else than the best mercy he could offer.
“I’m really sorry, kid. I’m so sorry,” he stammered even as he brought up the gun to level the site. Evening out his breath, forcing shaking fingers into submission, tuning out the tortured pleas for a papa that would never come, he carried out his duty.
Slowly, he came back to himself, not sure how much time had passed since the wrench had slipped from his hands to land on his steel-toed boot. He blinked and released the grip on the yellow fin, frowning at the oily smudges left in the wake of his grip.
“…you have to know that, right? I mean c-come on!”
MacQuarrie looked up, confused. Had the kid really been talking the whole time? Who was he kidding? Of course he had – he hadn’t shut up since waking up bound hand and foot. Regardless, the kid didn’t seem to pick up on his lack of awareness that he’d been away.
He tossed the rag into a nearby receptacle, brushing past the bound hostage even as he yapped away. He heard a gasp of pain and a sharp intake of breath. It took every ounce of depleted self control to keep from turning around. When no more words poured forth, he almost turned around then. Instead, he decided to soak in the rare silence for a few more minutes.
“Okay moron, we got company – you keep that one quiet while I take care of them. You got it? You think you can handle that?”
“I got it, alright? I got it,” MacQuarrie shoved his fists in his pockets as he walked behind the chair out of his charge’s line of sight.
“Wh-what you doing? You’re not going to t-guuk-”
He wrapped an arm around the kid’s chest holding him still, not allowing him to move his chair and make suspicious sounds that would draw attention. His free hand cut off protest as he pinched vocal chords. It wouldn’t take much to crush the kid’s windpipe. If his hand was forced, he could kill in this manner just as easily. It had been a long time since he’d been required to take such measures, but these were extreme circumstances.
He could just make out the silhouettes of two men as they stepped into the field of vision offered by the dirty window. The kid noticed too as he suddenly bucked futilely under his arms. Pressing against the movement, he added pressure to the windpipe, further restricting the kid’s airway.
Strangled sounds squeezed out – aborted words reduced to clicks and gasps. He could feel the shivers under his arm, shaking the chair. He could smell the sharp sweat of the kid's fear.
“Hey! Hey kid…it’s gonna be alright? Ok?”
He kept a lock on the choke hold until his partner gave a nod, signaling that all was clear. He released his fingers and slowly straightened up.
Wheezing ensued and he thought the kid was headed straight into hyperventilation.
“Dad! Dad! Th-that’s my dad…Daaaaaaaaad!!!”
“Shut him up and get over here!”
“Hey, hey, hey, you gotta be quiet, don’t you get it?”
“My d-dad, I...I need-”
“You need to calm down and shut your yap,” MacQuarrie hissed through clenched teeth, looking nervously over his shoulder at his partner who clearly gave all inclinations of shutting him up permanently. The kid followed his gaze to the crowbar wielding man in the corner. Then, he dragged in a deep breath and, wincing, bobbed his head in understanding.
MacQuarrie slowed down his efforts to put a few random tools away. Not that he needed to, he was still using them after all, but it gave him a reason to keep on one eye the kid; to make sure he didn’t do anything stupid. He’d meant what he said, he would shoot him if he had to. The kid continued to breathe deeply in through his nose, sporadically coughing out tension. He’d probably done a number on his breathing and vocal chords for a while, but it just couldn’t be helped; not with the way he had kept struggling. He wouldn’t have had to use that much pressure if they kid had just kept quiet.
Then again, MacQuarrie hadn’t expected the kid’s old man to be out there. He suddenly felt uncomfortable; old memories dragged to the surface just like before. But this time…so much harder to push back down.
He looked over to the kid, catching a glimpse of the dipping head, hearing a groan as he jerked himself back to full consciousness. Maybe it was just a flesh wound, but it still hurt. MacQuarrie flipped the oil rag against his leg in frustration. Maybe it would have been better for the kid to just kill him outright. He’d have been dead before he had a chance to feel anything. He wouldn’t have had to call after his pops like that. Maybe his partner had been right all along. He was weak. He was not only jeopardizing their one last chance, but in his haste to put his jungle days behind him, maybe he was no better than some of the others he’d served with. His partner was very clear that the kid was gonna die no matter what. Maybe he should have spared him from all of this?
He could still fix it… it wasn’t too late…
“Come on…whaddya waiting for? Them to come back with reinforcements?” His partner slammed down the crowbar into a filing cabinet. The show of temper was nothing new to him but the kid jerked suddenly then hissed as the movement assaulted his wound and, no doubt, his head.
Walking over to the chair, he crossed his arms and looked down. “You’re gonna sit here, be quiet and don’t make a move. Got it?”
“I got it,” Shawn rasped. “I got it man. You go do what you gotta do and I’ll just sit here and you won’t even hear me. It’ll be like I’m a fly on the wall. A bug under the rug. Not a peep. Nothing. It’ll be like I’m not even he-”
“Okay.” The kid made a show of pressing his lips tightly together. No sooner than he did and his thigh began moving, a nervous gesture or a show of rebellion it was hard to tell.
MacQuarrie just shook his head. This was the best he could do. Short of hog tying and duct taping his mouth, it would have to be enough.
“I don't understand!”
Maureen had been crying, tying to block his way with her slender body. He'd explained his past to her, though not all of it. She'd known that he'd fought but not who he'd killed. Some things he could barely allow into his own head without putting them in hers. She wouldn't have forgiven him that.
“This is the last time. I keep my promises to you, right?”
She knew that he did. She couldn't do anything but nod, no longer blocking as he brushed past her, towards the bag sitting on the bed. Cutting torch, and related equipment was already in the bag. He threw in a change of clothes and a few extra clips for his .45, the weapon itself hidden beneath his denim.
He zipped the bag while behind him, Maureen sniffed. He'd never been good at comforting her, but she'd never held that against him. She knew what his strengths were.
Pulling the bag to his shoulder, he turned to see a tear glide down her cheek. He shifted on his feet, hating that this was his fault. He knew what she wanted to hear from him. It caught in his throat with his need to apologize.
“I'll call you in a few days.”
She understood. He knew she understood.
He left her in the room and went out to meet his partner.
“What the hell do you think you're doing!?”
“It's not what you think!”
Loss of control. He'd let the memories take over the present and now the whole mission was at risk. Why hadn't he smashed the phone? They had no use for it and with GPS intact it could bring the cops right to them. Again. They'd been lucky before but MacQuarrie didn't hang his life on luck. Guys that placed their chances on rabbit feet and clovers were usually the first ones to eat it in the field. They got cocky. And then they got dead.
He snatched the phone from the kid, trying to read the screen while the young man pleaded with him – most of the words lost in the rambled stammer.
The call had been disconnected already, if he'd even managed to make one yet.
He knelt as the words slowed, keeping his voice low while listening for his partner. Rollins would be pissed if he found out – rightfully so. MacQuarrie had dropped the ball on this one and it was his job to make it right.
“I know this doesn't end well for me, okay? I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and... I've made my peace with that.”
“Hey! Hey kid…it’s gonna be alright? Ok? We’ll f-fix it, you’ll see.”
It was uncomfortable, listening to this. No, he wasn't screaming for his father, not this time, but with a gun leveled at his temple that could change. He was saying the words like he was giving up but he was still bargaining. He didn't want to die.
“But recently, I met a girl. Someone special. Just like you did.”
MacQuarrie stiffened. “Just like me?” He hadn't meant to encourage the kid. It was true – this wasn't going to end well for him so why let him continue to think that it would?
“She's beautiful... s-she's got red hair, right?”
Maureen. The only good thing in his life. There should have been something ugly about saying her name in this place – nose filled with blood and terror. But he couldn't stop the smile as he spoke about her. Couldn't help the kinship as he saw a similar smile on the kid's face. So he had someone then. Someone he cherished. Knowing that feeling for himself, MacQuarrie could see that the young man was completely honest when he spoke of his girl. There was honest peace on his face. This wasn't a child screaming in fear and pain. He had a chance to say goodbye.
“Hey! Hey kid…it’s gonna be alright? Ok? We’ll f-fix it, you’ll see.”
He could make this right.
He needed to make this right.
“That's it, it's done! How stupid could you be, letting him use a phone!?”
Rollins had heard after all – furious as he strode from the back office, chambering a round in his gun.
MacQuarrie had intended to finish things after the kid hung up – knowing he could make it fast. Rollins, he suspected, might not be as merciful. But then, they had time constraints and there just wasn't the leisure for torture.
“I'm putting an end to this.”
“I’m really sorry, kid. I’m so sorry,”
The terror was back and he had nothing left to offer the kid. He might not be pulling the trigger this time, but he was the one to bring the man into this situation. He was the one to spare him death only to let him suffer for a day and a half. And for what? For his conscience? And how was this easing it?
Rollins stepped back.
MacQuarrie had a second to think that was odd when he felt pain rip in to his body and a thunderclap set his ears ringing. He fell next to the kid, staring at him and seeing teeth chattering together below widened eyes.
Rollins stepped over him and knelt, a length of rope in hand that he used to tie wrists together, uncaring of the whimpers and grunts, before he pulled out his knife to cut the tape from the kid's ankles and waist. Dragging him to his feet forced a shuddering cry and then the pair headed for the back door – one set of feet dragging and stumbling.
MacQuarrie couldn't move even to hold the wound in his side. His legs felt frozen and he thought his spine might have been hit.
Blood spattered lips, begging. He just wanted to go home. Just wanted his father. Too late for either as MacQuarrie lifted his rifle, no need to sight through the scope at that range...
“Maybe if you could just... mail me to my dad's house now, that'd be... that'd be awesome...”
He should have killed him.
“I know this doesn't end well for me, okay?”
He never should have put him through this.
“I was in the wrong place at the wrong time...”
Rollins wouldn't go easy on him now. He'd want revenge. MacQuarrie knew his type. He'd seen them in the field. The kind that tortured children and women not because they'd been ordered to, but because they knew they could.
He should have killed him.
The flicker of light and shadow – cool and heat as he passed though the trees.
The men in his squad were speaking urgently, radios hissing static as they confirmed their position with base.
His eyes peeled back and were struck by bright sunlight. He'd been hit.
“...I've heard people say, that with gunshot wounds, it's-it's really all about the shock, you know? That at some point, you know, the bullet wound itself just goes numb...”
No, it didn't. Not that he'd ever experienced anyhow.
“Where did he go!?”
Hands shook him – stay awake, gotta stay awake – no way they could hump it back out of there dragging his dead weight.
“Talk dammit! Where's my son!?”
The father. He'd found him – shot him for what he did to his son.
Eyes wide in the muzzle flash – shock whipsawing to pain – a stunted cry clipped off from his throat as his body slammed backward into the dirt.
Not the jungle, not a young child but the eyes were the same. The fear was the same.
The plea was the same.
“You tell me where he is!”
A rough shake snapped away the green leaf cover and the open sky was back above – broken with a furious face. He had the same eyes...
Voices – not his team – shouting that they had to move. Harder voices demanding that he had to stay.
He only looked at the father.
He'd destroyed one family, long ago. He'd thought it was mercy at the time.
It didn't have to be that way again.
He had a chance...