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17

The sound of my breathing fills the MICH helmet, echoing loudly in my ears as it rolled off the ballistic faceguard. You would be forgiven for thinking I had just sprinted more than a thousand yards. My heart was racing now and my clothes were drenched in sweat.

“Breathe, Shan.” Drill offered as he slowly made his way out of the parking space and into traffic.

Breathing was all I could do; that and try not to throw up as I fumbled at the strap that kept my headgear in place. Deep breaths, in through the nose out through the mouth.

“It’s just adrenaline. It’ll go away, just try and keep it together for a few minutes. You hungry? Thirsty? There’s a convenience store up the block . . . ” Drill was chattier than usual. I guess everyone responds to stress differently.  A line of police and other emergency vehicles raced past us as they crossed at an intersection. Not so much as a second glance spared from any of them.

I looked at Drill as he watched the receding line of cars and as I began to speak, my body took advantage of the opening, bringing up the dregs of my stomach contents.

“Fuck’s sake, Shan, do that shit outside with the rest of the animals, will you?” He was grinning.

It briefly worried me that I might begin to react like Drill did, but the thought quickly left my mind as the sound of more sirens filled the air. We were moving now, part of the regular flow of traffic and as seemingly oblivious as the rest of the people around us. I kept an eye on what was going on behind us, but the sirens were heading to the bank. We were free.

—-

It’s not all fun and games this life. Someone in my position you’d expect knows his shit cold, but even I have to keep sharp. A handgun, inside the waistband of my pants, carried at about the 1-2 o’clock position. Appendix carry it’s called. I draw the gun, drive it forward letting the sights settle on an imaginary opponent. A quick look around and reholster. The room is dark and cool as I continue this exercise. Something is buzzing in my head though and I can’t figure out what it is. I start to fumble. My shirt gets caught around the grip. I try to clear my head and carry on. Now the handle of my knife, a small fixed blade I carry at the 3 -4 o’clock is suddenly catching the hem of my shirt as I try to grip the pistol.

I take a breath and reholster. I close my eyes for a moment and try to sort out what’s dropping all the flies in my mental ointment. I’m casting around mentally, but everything I land on comes up aces. Left hand pushes my shirt up, right hand is on the grip and pulling the gun out of the holster and suddenly my feet are moving adding a new step to the drill that didn’t exist before. Swearing and shaking my head I shove my pistol back into the holster and give up. Something has gotten into my loop and I’ve gotten the yips.

Where the hell is Shan? Sweet mother of fuck it’s like I’m his sitter. Try to do a guy a solid…

The TV is on and some news reporter is babbling about the latest outbreak of Swine-SARS or whatever the new disease-rumor is that’s being floated to keep people in their homes is being played up for the masses.

“Shan?”  the new apartment is echo-y and still unfamiliar enough that I feel slightly on edge here.  Movement! I see something at the periphery of my vision moving faster than water down a hill; muscle memory takes over faster than I can process and I’m driving my pistol out toward a reflection of myself in a mirror, pointing a gun back at me.

I smile and flick the safety back on as I wink at my reflection “you almost had me that time” I tell mirror me and we smile at ourselves. Damn we’re handsome. Talented, too, but I digress. I call out for Shan again and still no answer. Now the flags are starting to be unfurled. Those little red flags I keep wound up in my mind, the ones I bring out when shit is about to get bad; the little red flags are starting to be raised.

The apartment has five doors, four of which are closed. For some people it would be the height of paranoia to have to clear their own home, but it’s just the price of doing business for me.

I move past the first door which is the exit–if Shan has left the apartment– shaking my head I tell myself I’ll deal with it later.  Keeping my pistol at low ready I cat foot my way to the next door, Shan’s bedroom and test the knob. The door swings open without so much as a peep.  I can see two corners of the room are empty as is Shan’s bed. I pie the doorway until I’m sure that he’s not playing with me. I give the door a tentative push with the muzzle of my pistol and take a step back keeping the gun centered on the door until it swings all the way back.

I make a careful exit and consider which of the two remaining doors to try next when I hear a strange settling sound coming from the tiny bathroom. There’s a familiarity to the sound that I can’t put my finger on, but it instantly sets the hairs on my neck on full-spook alert.

Approaching the door I hold my breath for just a second when I think I hear someone talking. I hold the breath for a couple of beats; definitely a voice but the words aren’t audible. I let my breath out quietly and wait a few more seconds and let my body take up the natural rhythm of breathing.

I test the knob and find it locked.

“Shan?” I ask to the impassive face of the door. Nothing. Drawing my sidearm to my chest, I take a step back and try again. “Shan, buddy? You in there?” Still no response, but the susurrant voice kept repeating its same few words.

I smiled as I stopped the flashback from washing over me and put my foot to the door then jumping back as I looked  for the source of the sound.

I pushed the front blade sight forward with all my strength, like Samson and his pillars. The sights settled on Shan, in the bathtub, hunched over on all fours. Beneath him in the tub was a plate carrier laid out like a sajjāda-a Muslim prayer rug as he performed what could only be described as some sort of prayer ritual.

I flicked the safety on my pistol as I set it down on the sink. “Shan, what the fuck? Are you–”

I didn’t get a chance to finish my question as his eyes slowly made their way up to my face. I would never have described Shan’s eyes as lively or twinkling but now they were positively dead.

“I’m worshipping at the temple of the trigger-puller, brother.” He said in a dry rasp “My metamorphosis is complete.”

16

 

                                                                                               

 

The line to the bank stretched around the corner for almost two blocks, making it shorter than most of the lines I had seen since the government announced the new currency regulations that requiring people that wanted to continue to use ‘old-fashioned’ paper money to turn in their old dollars for a new interim currency.

 

The exchanges had been met with a mostly positive response from the average citizen, happy to have the ability to buy food and cigarettes. Most had already made the switch to ‘e-money’– for the payment of monthly bills or larger expenses– which allowed the use of a small identification chip attached to a fob that would fit on a key ring to be swiped at local retailers.  There were always a few ‘stubborn die-hards’ as the pundits had taken to saying that would always want a physical currency to make them feel secure in their transactions.

 

People that had a clue had figured out that the switch to ‘e-Money’ or “emo’s” as most people were calling the system actually allowed the government a freer hand to regulate currency and change the exchange rates at a whim. Not that they hadn’t been doing that with the old dollar; every time the Chairman of the Federal Reserve sneezed we lost another few cents off the dollars’ worth. Now though, the Fed didn’t even bother to make announcements, instead an email would be sent to emo account holders telling them of the impending change and letting them know their options (‘shit and fall back in it’ and ‘fuck all’ being the two main options available) to address the situation.

 

Drill and I had been scouting local currency exchanges for a week now before picking this one, Fidelity Union Trust or FU as its customers referred to it. FU had only one thing to recommend it, according to Drill; it was the most heavily guarded due to the fact that politicians were seen making their exchanges at this branch of FU. Of course the politico’s making their exchanges here were doing so strictly to give the impression of solidarity with the commoners; most of the wealthy had already transferred their wealth into precious metals and durable goods, having been tipped off well in advance of the implementation of the e-Money system.

 

“Tell me again why more armed guards are a good thing?” I asked as I fumbled nervously with the release of my holster.

 

“More attention, more chances to cause mayhem.” Drill said as he glanced at the driver’s side mirror, checking out people crossing the street to join the queue. “Two guys walk in, put down a bunch of armed guards.  .  .it’s going to be televised. People will start to think twice about going to their local bank to get hard money. They want as many people as possible using emo’s.

 

“Right, I get that part, but why not another branch with a little less security? I mean it would be easier to pull off, right?”

 

“Exactly that” Drill replied. “We don’t want it to appear easy. We want to inspire our fellow citizens to consider taking the same course of action. The bigger the target taken down by a two man team, people start thinking they can do the same and then they do it.  Drill glanced at his watch “Two minute warning. Get ready.”

 

I didn’t have much to do to prepare for my part. Drill and I had been to a private range, where I practiced relentlessly with several weapons in preparation for this. Now all I had to do was remember to change magazines when my pistol ran dry. His insistence that I be as prepared as possible meant having my body armor on ahead of time and as many extra magazines and spare rounds for the little revolver he’d given me, as I could carry without having odd bulges appear beneath my shirt.

 

“Get your bag and get out.” Drill said, as he secured his own gear and made ready.

 

The sedan we had been given for this op was as non-descript as possible as were the clothes we had chosen. We had rehearsed the plan numerous times since we began scouting locations, but one thing Drill had driven into me was that no plan survives first contact. I played my part in my head as I took the bag from the back seat and made my way to the exchange.

 

The faded red bag was threadbare and hanging on to its purpose in life literally by a thread. I wanted to reinforce the bag so that my part of the plan wouldn’t occur too quickly, but Drill maintained that if I had to fidget with the bag in order to produce the malfunction it would add orders of complication that might cause all manner of hiccups in the op.

 

Since this was my first time ever to intentionally commit any sort of criminal act, I rolled with Drill’s advice and gripped the bag tightly. I made my way toward the front of the line drawing suspicious stares from those queued up and the occasional comment about the location of the line for newcomer’s; attempting to cut into the line was going to cause the wrong kind of disturbance.

 

The distracted looking guards were standing on either side of the line, spaced about ten yards apart. A quick headcount revealed six guards outside the bank and at least two more visible just inside the doors. I knew all the guards were armed, but the ones I could see inside appeared to have rifles in addition to the pistols their colleagues wore in funky looking plastic holsters at their waist.

 

The guards seemed well distracted watching the throng of people shuffling closer to the bank entrance, except for one that noticed my unimpeded movement and signaled one of his comrades to intercept me.

 

The guard must have been in some kind of disagreement with his razor sporting a hefty weeks’ worth of stubble.

 

“Sir, I’m going to need you to head to the end of the line.” He began, pointing with a gloved hand at some point behind me. I was close enough now to guess what he’d had for breakfast, which if I had to guess, I would say was a combination of coffee, Dorito’s and onions.

 

“I’m not going in to get emo’s” I said, holding up the bag for him to see “I just need to access my safety deposit box.”

 

Years working in my field had given me the ability to smile without meaning and almost by default present a tired, beaten down aspect of myself when dealing with people.

 

The guard nodded and continued to point behind me “I understand that sir, but we still can’t allow you to go ahead of all these people here. You either get to the end of the line or try and get here earlier.” I held up the bag again and began to shake it slightly “I just wanna use my safety deposit box! I don’t want any of the government funny-money!”

 

The guard, having exhausted his repertoire of conflict management skills waved over another guard and the two began to talk. This made my part in the op easier, but I couldn’t risk the other guard deciding to escort me into the bank. I began to shake the bag vigorously now holding it up to the guards face and yelling “Let me use my safety deposit box!”

 

People in the crowd were starting to get involved, some yelling at me to go home, others telling the guards to just take me inside causing a small knot of people to form near the three of us. From the corner of my eye I saw Drill waiting patiently just around the corner and knew without seeing his face that he was giving me ‘the look’, but no matter how hard I shook the bag the seam seemed determined to hold on.

 

No plan survives first contact, I thought as the two guards continued their debate. Time for Plan B. I unzipped the bag and pulled out a handful of loose cash. “Here! Take my money! You want a bribe just so I can use my own property?!” I shouted as I held the crumpled bills in my hand waving them at the guards “Here! Take it! Take my money! Take it!”

 

I finally felt the sensation I was waiting for as the bottom of the bag gave way and loose bills poured out only to be picked up by the slight breeze. The crowd took the bait like champs, diving for the loose bills, knocking one another over and more importantly pulling the line closer to the guards. I used the distraction as an opportunity to grab the only other item in the bag, a ballistic helmet and face protector and hurriedly put it on.

 

The second guard had been trying to usher people back, but must have known something was up. Just as the face-protector was clearing my eyes I saw him looking up at me, realization dawning in his eyes that something was seriously amiss. I confirmed his suspicion when I drew the S&W 1911 and fired two shots into his buddy, the first guard before taking aim at him.

 

Something happened to me then. I can’t describe it–a feeling between fear and exhilaration–never in my wildest dreams had I seriously contemplated harm to another human being, much less taking a life. My brain was on fire with new knowledge and sensations. I knew that the first guard was still alive since my two shots had impacted in his chest and no doubt been turned aside by his body armor. The second guard hadn’t been so lucky, my shot catching him in the head since he’d been kneeling at the time.

 

I had only a second to decide. I saw Drill moving, drawing the MP7 from under his sport jacket opening fire on the still confused guards further up the line. I had the attention of all the guards focused on me, the rush of adrenaline they were experiencing making them believe the sounds of gunfire were coming from me alone. My decision was made: I wasn’t the cold blooded killer Drill was or needed me to be. I let the downed guard that had been my first target live, choosing to focus my attention on the guards closest to me. Unable to remember how many shots I’d already fired, I dropped the magazine and reached for a new one. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast–Drill’s words echoed in my head–I forced myself to take a deep breath through my mouth before taking aim once more.

 

In the time it had taken me to reload, Drill had permanently dispatched the rest of the guards, which probably explained why I wasn’t currently full of holes. Pulling the slide of the 1911 to release it after changing magazines seemed to be taking forever, but I had been warned about this. Drill had told me that under extreme stress time seemed to either slow way down or speed up so fast that you didn’t feel you had time to react. For me, it was like swimming through Jell-O.

 

Drill had already focused his attention on the guards inside the bank, the ones with the rifles and there now appeared to be far more of them than I had seen. Drill remained crouched behind the cement embankment of the wheelchair ramp, occasionally peeking up to return fire. Surprisingly, to me, the glass entryway of the bank was regular glass, most of which had been shattered allowing for the exchange of fire.

 

The crowd was still scurrying to pick up the bills I had dropped making the guards in the bank reluctant to return fire without being able to identify their targets. Drill waved at me to join him, which I did, running in a half crouch.

 

“How’d it go?” Drill asked a slightly cockeyed grin on his face. I opened my mouth to answer and instead vomited all over the sidewalk leading to the wheelchair ramp. “That good, huh?” Drill laughed “well first one’s done and that’s usually the bitch. Here, I brought this for you–cover me.”

 

Drill’s bag contained the AK-47 I had used previously, this time sporting a round magazine with two spares still in the bag. I pushed the safety down and looked to Drill who had sprinted across the way, preparing to try and catch the bank guards in crossfire. I set the rifle Drill handed me on top of the embankment and squeezed off a few shots, looking up every few seconds to see where the bullets were impacting.

 

From the corner of my eye I could see Drill waving frantically at me to duck down. I lowered my head, but kept pulling the trigger.  Drill stood up and threw something into the bank and then quickly ducked down and clapped his hands over his ears. I followed suit and seconds later felt a loud explosion. I kept my place and remained there with my head down, while Drill sprinted to the bank entrance. The sound of gunshots followed Drill’s disappearance. I stood frozen, waiting for something to tell me to move. Moments passed before Drill reappeared grabbing the bag with the magazines in it and tapped me on the shoulder.

 

“Time to move!”

 

 

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15

“The revolver is awesome. I can’t decide which one I want though. ” I said as I looked at the weapons laid out before me.

“Get the .45″ Drill said, as he idly fumbled with some small weird looking gun with a long barrel and a folding stock that made it just small enough to fit under a sport coat with relative ease.

“Which one’s the .45?” I asked, knowing he was going to give me ‘the look’. We had been doing this for a while, so I had gotten to know ‘the look’ pretty well; it said get your shit together and quit fucking around. I hated ‘the look’.

Drill gave me the look and reached across in front of me, picking up a semi-auto pistol and showing me where it was marked ‘.45 ACP’.

“Tell me again why I want this instead of the revolver? Revolvers are cool…” I knew the reasons why, but I was really still learning the how and why of handguns.

“Last time. Won’t tell you again.” Drill began, his tone making it clear that I had pushed him to the limit. Drill grabbed the revolver, pushing forward the cylinder release  and looking into the empty cylinder. “Smith and Wesson, Model 627 V-Comp. Very nice gun. Eight rounds of .357 magnum. Great man-stopper this cartridge.” Drill closed the cylinder and set the revolver aside, picking up the .45. “This is the Smith and Wesson E series 1911 in .45 ACP. Shorter barrel, slightly less weight a nice rail, because you will need a laser until you become proficient with the weapon.” Drill turned the weapon over in his hand running a finger along the serrations on the slide. “This weapon is an icon among icons. ” He smiled as he handed the gun over to me “Most importantly though you can carry several magazines and reload faster.” Drill returned to the little machine pistol he had been looking at  “More death, faster. Definitely a plus for beginners.”

“What about that?” I asked, pointing at the weapon he was holding.

“This? No. This weapon is for professionals.” Drill held up one of the rounds he had been feeding into the weapons magazine. They looked like bullets for children to me especially compared to the squat, fat cartridges that fed into the 1911 I was holding. “This is Heckler and Koch’s MP7. Not meant for the likes of you.” he smiled as he folded the stock on the little pistol. “PDW’s are meant for ‘operators’. You, you have to look like Joe Average. Same as me, of course, but I’ll be wearing a jacket.”

I snorted indignantly “So the definition of an ‘operator’ is wears a jacket?”

He shook his head and gave me ‘the look’. “No, Shan. The definition of ‘operator’ is has a fucking clue about which end of the gun goes bang and knows when to make that happen.”  Drill began fitting himself with extra magazines for the MP7 “don’t kid yourself, Shan. This is the big time. After today you make the jump. It’s no fucking around–you’re not ‘experimenting with your sexuality’ like it’s college–okay? You can’t just get back on the vag train after this like nothing ever happened. Once you take a life, your life is changed.”

“Who says . . . ” I began to protest but Drill cut me off.

“I say. You go with me on this and you will kill someone or you will die. It’s really that simple. Killer instinct isn’t something you either have or don’t, it’s something you use or don’t.”

I relented and laid the revolver down, holding my hand out for the smaller semi-auto pistol. Drill was right about one thing at least–if I went through with his plan–there would be no turning back.

I had done things to save my life when Drill pulled me out of the county lockup where I was being held on fictitious charges–charges that were in reality the result of his actions–while the police or whoever concocted enough evidence to have me put in prison for the rest of my life. The things I had done that night though, had been what lawyers like to call in extremis.

Sitting in the front seat of Drill’s car, firing the AK-47 wildly, not really aiming, was a totally different matter than putting a gun to someone’s forehead and pulling the trigger, but as I had discovered that night I am willing to do a lot to keep breathing.

“You ready?” Drill asked as he finished concealing an arsenal on his person.

I put the 1911 in inside the waistband or iwb holster and stood up. My nerves were starting to chatter and even in the cool of the air conditioned hotel room I was sweating. I nodded and smiled uncertainly as I looked Drill in the eye “let’s do this”.

He returned my smile “Easy now. You’re not quite there.”  Drill reached down and grabbed a plate-carrier and handed it to me. “Put that on, underneath your shirt. . . ” he looked me over once more “here, take this too. Backup.” he said as he handed me a small dull-silver revolver. “Toss it in your front pocket. Remember to keep track of your shots if you have to use it. It holds 5 rounds, so make ‘em count.”

I stood in front of the bathroom mirror looking myself over. The plate carrier I wore beneath my shirt was fairly obvious if you were looking. I made a quick decision and swapped the plain t-shirt for a long sleeved button down shirt that was a little more loose fitting and rolled up the sleeves. I looked again, satisfied now that I wouldn’t draw as much attention as we walked through the crowds of the city.

Our plan, as it had been explained to me was just an extension of what Drill did on a daily basis, just done up close. It was now our job to create chaos so real change could be enacted through various means. Drill had explained several times that the things he did forced change either through political action or the switching of financial support and public opinion. I still wasn’t sure how an isolated incident of violence could cause that much change, but Drill assured me that his employers were adept at handling these matters.

They just needed legmen to get the ball rolling.

 

14

“Who are you killing now?” Drill’s voice drifted in from the other room.

“Secretary of Commerce and some foreign trade weenie.” I responded as the hammer fell on the dummy round inside the Sig P226 Drill had given me a couple of weeks ago.

“Killed all the Brady’s? It’s not even noon yet.”

I could tell from the sound of his voice, Drill was probably on the gun looking for a new “friend of the cause” through the fixed 10 power scope.  It had been getting more difficult to find the right kind of “friend” lately; Drill was doing his job too well and word had apparently gotten out that it wasn’t safe to be OTC–other than Caucasian– in this neighborhood.

We were in the second hide since Drill broke me out of jail. We cleaned out the first hide that night taking all the ammunition and Drill’s essentials, his rifle and optics–while limiting the rest of the gear to some protein bars and a small wad of bills in case we had to drop out of sight for a while.

“The Brady Bunch was on the pirate station. We don’t get it anymore; just FedTV, your home for propaganda and sports!” I replied, swinging the Sig’s sights around at the appearance of a new head on the screen. The Secretary of Commerce had opened the press conference up to questions from the government approved queue of reporters and the television cameras were aiding my dry-fire practice by swinging wildly from audience to stage providing me with new targets.

“Oh yeah. Huh. What’s she saying?” Drill asked. “What’s who saying?” I frowned slightly as I tried to concentrate on stopping the Sig’s sights directly on a target and firing before rapidly moving to the next available face in the digital crowd. “The Secretary of Commerce? What’s she saying?” he said, a note of irritation creeping into his voice. “How should I know? I’m just practicing target acquisition. Anyway you’re my propaganda teacher; I don’t listen to these amateurs.”

“Gathering intel is part of the job, Shan. My contact only tells me what they want me to know; that’s why we have a TV, so you can tell me what’s going on in the outside world while I’m at work.”

I muttered a reply about how gathering intel was a part of his job, whereas I was just an alleged murderer on the run from the law all thanks to him.

Shan?” he replied, the note of irritation turning to anger.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m turning it up!” I replied as I ejected the dummy round from the Sig and laid the pistol on the table. “My hand was starting to hurt anyway.” I muttered afterward.

I found it hard to focus on what the Secretary was saying; ever since Drill had broken me out of jail the only things that could hold my attention for more than a few seconds involved shooting and anything that looked like it might be attached to the police.

About a week after I had been liberated as Drill liked to say, the President had passed NDAA II granting the authorities even broader powers to indefinitely detain anyone based on the appearance of providing support to or carrying out a terrorist act. Killing policemen was one of those acts that got you disappeared permanently.

Drill assured me that his employers had no intention of coming after me, but the same could not be said of the local police. For a little while I read everything I could get my hands on about the murders I was supposed to have committed. I was watching history be revised right in front of me; the people on the bus had changed their statements (or the media had changed it for them) so that I was the only one implicated and Drill wasn’t even mentioned. That was no big deal, but reading the accounts of my neighbors who identified me very specifically as the individual who had murdered a policeman during a blackout and stolen his squad car–I have to admit that hurt a little.

“Hey Shan?”

“Hmm?” I continued to stare glassy-eyed at the TV.

“You think an Asian would be okay?” he asked semi-jokingly “I mean she could be Asian anyway. Or tired. Either way.”

“Funny.” I said and tried to focus on the talking heads on the TV.

“Aww. You mad because I won’t let you use the big gun?” Drill teased.

“Classic overcompensatory statement, Drill.” I replied distractedly, now finally getting the gist of what was being discussed by the Secretary and the foreign trade-weenie standing next to her.

“Your face is a classic overcompensatory statement.” he laughed at his own joke “Besides, you’re the one always bugging me about getting to try it out. Si vis pacem, para bellum, right?” he said quoting the Latin if you wish for peace, prepare for war to me. “Well, acta non verba, Shan. I need to use the bathroom anyway. . .”

“Yeah, just a sec . . .” The Secretary of Commerce left the stage and introduced the Secretary of the Treasury as a new backdrop appeared on the stage behind the new man.

A large digital whiteboard behind the Secretary of Treasury displayed the title ‘current conversion rates’ with a picture of a type of currency I’d never seen before.

“Drill?!” I said excitedly as it finally occurred to me what was transpiring.

I heard him call out “You know there’s no talking while I’m in the bathroom!”

Drill appeared a few seconds later and sat next to me on the couch “Okay, what’s got you so excited you broke the bathroom-chatter rule?”
I pointed at the newest talking head who was busy yammering away about how this was going to effect overseas trade in the short-term “They’re getting rid of the dollar! “

Drill looked at me. “Really? You called me in here for this?” he shook his head and stood up to stretch out a bit while he was off the gun. “Old news, Shan. Thanks though. . .I suppose.” Drill yawned and went into the kitchen.

“You knew about this?” I asked trying to maintain my indoor-voice volume.

“My family is crazy-rich, Shan. Like private islands and ownership in countries rich, remember?  Of course I knew about this.” Drill looked at me as if I’d suddenly discovered after several decades of life that water was wet and fire was hot.

“Well excuse the new guy, okay? I’m not privy to all this government-conspiracy-backroom-deal shit like you, all right?” I snapped.

“Relax, Shan. I just mean that in the broad scope of things this isn’t anything for us to worry about.” He smiled and cracked open a bottle of water “And my family converted all their paper dollars into hard currency years ago. They only left a little bit out there in digital form so they could keep doing business.” he shrugged “It’s sort of how I got to where I am after all.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, Shan, when a private citizen especially one from a wealthy old-money family gets bored and decides to go off and inject himself into a war–like yours truly did so many years ago–the government gets a bit concerned. Especially when that individual knows a bunch of things the government would rather be kept private.” he smiled like he was telling a first grader about coloring inside the lines “They pulled me out of a cafe in Iraq and brought me home, because they thought I’d made an ideological switch because I was helping the locals fight the mighty Joint Task Force troops.”

Drill retook his place at the rifle, laying his cheek against the adjustable rest and looking out through the scope as he continued “It wasn’t true, you know. I don’t care about the Iraqi’s anymore than I care about the campers down at the Reflecting Pool. I was bored and looking for some entertainment.” Drill began his process of checking out sectors for potential targets, slowly moving the rifle left to right, hesitating briefly in spots before moving on once more.

Drill had fallen silent for several moments leading me to think our conversation was concluded, when he suddenly began to speak again “Anyway, when they brought me home they debriefed me –that was what they told my parents anyway; it’s bad PR you know, for a rich kid to go off and kill American’s in a foreign country in the middle of a war–the debriefing lasted for about a month with several different interrogators. I’d imagine most, if not all of those men are dead now, by the way.”

He winked at me “I know a couple are for sure.” he patted the rifle fondly “the shit I told them, the government couldn’t have regular people learning about. Anyway, turns out I’m not at all fond of torture so they got everything I knew–the biggest bit of which was about the NAC–North American Confederation and the plans for the new monetary system.”

Drill raised his head and made a notation in a small notebook.

“So,” he smiled “not really news for me. When the government finally turned me over to my family, it was with the caveat that I be watched very closely because of what I knew. I made them a counteroffer and . . .” he gestured to the urban hide sight we’d been living in for the past few months “Viola.”

I crashed down onto the floor next to his rifle and tried to digest his revelation.

“That’s–that’s great, Drill. Is there anything else I should know?” I said hoping he would laugh at the disequilibrium he had caused me.

“Yeah.” he paused for several seconds with his finger on the trigger of his rifle before finally continuing “Don’t drink the water.”

13

“Yes, I’ve been in contact with him recently.” The blue glow of the monitor highlighted her features which remained impassive as she spoke. “Yes, we spoke of his concerns, but he was advised to take no action.” She rolled her eyes slightly as the verbal battering continued

“I understand.” she said opening a message window on her computer to send another message to the field agents investigating the killings at the police station, advising those in positions to do so to slow the investigation and if possible keep it from pointing at their operative. “Sir, allow me to suggest that this in fact serves our purposes as well as anything else he’s done; people understand now that no one is safe, not even the police.”

She smiled at her monitor. Her employer doubtless realized that very fact, but it was an unwritten rule that a verbal reprimand be delivered for such things. The assistant director was simply following agency protocols.

“Yes sir. I understand, sir.”  she let out a silent sigh wondering when they would be able to move on to new business. “Very well, sir. Consider it handled as of now. Nothing further off script–and if he does, he will be sent down to the minor leagues.”

‘Minor Leagues’ was agency code for making some disappear with a note of finality. It was a shame that they were forced to speak in such a fashion but they never knew who might be listening these days. Even with a supposedly secure telephone line and other electronic countermeasures there was always the chance that one of their sister agencies had developed a new technology that could defeat all their security. Worst of all was the constant fear that someone in one of the sister agencies would go low-tech and use some old trick that all their sophisticated sweeping devices would be unable to counter.

“Yes, sir” she said for what seemed the millionth time since her phone rang an hour ago. She was sure that the dressing down had ended and that she could move on to discuss the rest of the planned activities. “There’s also the matter of party planning to discuss, sir.”

She got the signal, little more than a grunt from the other end of the telephone that indicated she should continue. “I’ve been looking into the entertainment and I’ve found that a couple of the selections previously discussed should be acceptable. However there was at least one case of insufficient funds that was never rectified to the customers satisfaction–” She broke off while the A.D.’s assistant explained to him that  entertainment referred to local television stations that had either refused or complied with their unofficial “requests” to leave certain things out of their news coverage.

One of the local networks –had insufficient funds– outright refused to go along with the plan.

“At present sir, the plan is to refer the matter to their creditors for resolution. We believe that in order for the party to be successful and for everyone to have a good time, that it’s absolutely essential to allow the creditors to handle matters.”

The plan for the entertainment involved having individuals planted within the Occupy movement and a few minor organizations that promoted “social change”, people who appeared to be nothing more than average citizens disrupt the holdout stations ability to broadcast by either burning the station buildings to the ground or to destroy their ability to transmit. She knew it would be much easier by far to allow those embedded in the groups burn down the buildings.  It only took one angry voice with a Molotov in hand to spur a mob to levels of destruction most army’s could only dream about.

She listened to the A.D. as he spoke her brow furrowing slightly in concern, the first time since the call had begun that any emotion had registered on her face without her expressed consent.

“Yes sir, if you think that the best way to proceed.” The A.D. had been, until now willing to allow her and her associates to dictate not only the pace of operations but the direction as well. Apparently having one of her operatives go John Wayne at the police station had prompted the director to take a more active interest. “Understood sir. I’ll contact the delivery company in the morning and have them deliver the paperwork . . .”

The idea of calling in a drone strike to destroy the station’s transmitters was far enough off script that it signaled a potentially dangerous turn for her personally. Being removed from such a prestigious operation would be a career-killer and she had firm plans to be sitting at the top of her little heap when the dust settled.

“I think sir, that perhaps the best way to get our entertainment back on schedule is to combine our efforts. I can have the delivery company produce the paperwork immediately after the creditors have had a chance to voice their grievances.” She allowed her self to frown briefly as she attempted to gauge where she stood in the power elite’s rankings. “Yes sir, I think that would be, by far the most efficacious route.” her face returned to its usual measured neutral. She had lost some standing because of her operatives antics, but it didn’t seem like her place was unrecoverable.

“Will end of business Friday be soon enough? I’ll need time to contact the creditors and update them on our attempt to resolve the dispute. . .” she listened as the A.D. droned on a bit about time tables–all of which she thought she was fully aware of–before he finally consented to the joint strike.

She was ready for the conversation to be over so she could get back to her truly important duties, serving the boss of the man she was speaking to. Dealing with middlemen was such a bore.

“Yes sir. I believe we have the resources and pending agreements with the other entertainers . . . however, we could always have a strongly worded letter delivered to them as well, if you think it’s necessary.” She chewed her lip briefly as she summoned a map from her computer’s memory that showed the geographic locations of all the local television stations transmitters. “Well, from what I’m seeing, sir, it wouldn’t be impossible to get both the creditors and the delivery company to handle them all simultaneously.” She paused hoping the emphasis she placed on the word impossible might convince the A.D. to change his mind.

She hesitated briefly before responding, very uncharacteristic for her she thought. “Yes sir. I’ll get the letter written and have it delivered to all the entertainers by Friday. Thank you, sir. You have a good day as well.”

She hung up the phone and began to mark the locations the drones would need to strike on her computer, recording the coordinates so the drone pilots would know where to put ordnance.

Before making it final and sending out the instructions she decided to put in a call to her true employer or at least one of his more trustworthy assistants and get word to him of the operations change in direction. She picked up the phone and began to dial hoping that she would get a response before Friday.

12

It didn’t take long for me to find what I needed, but in order for me to get the quantities I wanted I had to make a few trips. My contact had been pretty clear that they would not accept me obliterating a police station. I was cool with that since my knowledge of explosives was limited to det cord and a handful of Semtex; that and I had no delusions about my utter non-resemblance to Chuck Norris.

The important thing in dealing with my contact was–as ever–listening to what wasn’t said. They didn’t tell me no. Only do it somewhat quietly. I could handle quietly. Sort of.

By the end of a day’s shopping I had collected several pounds of tannerite, a compound used to make a lovely big explosion without doing any real damage. The fun part for me was finding a box that said ‘potentially dangerous’ without being attractive enough for the local homeless population to drag off. I selected a moving company’s box that was large enough to contain the tannerite and the remote device that would detonate my little toy.

I planted the first device about 5 miles away from the police station and to make it obvious that this box was special I left nearly in the middle of an intersection. Having several boxes all the same planted throughout the city should be enough to keep the local police as well as the state and any feds that stream across the bridges busy for a while. I’d never really tried anything quite this extensive, so all I could do was cross my fingers and hope that I’d set everything up right.

I drove toward the police station and found a place to park about a block away. I’d been sitting there for about ten minutes when I realized that I didn’t have a police scanner and unlike cops in the movies, the police were unlikely to rush out of the station in a large group to get to the scene.  Maybe if I’d strapped a baby to the box. . .

A half hour passed before things really got rolling. From where I was I could see several units light out one after the other and begin to hear helicopters flying toward the area where the first device was.

—-

I waited another thirty minutes in the sweltering heat.  I had only seen a few more of the local police moving out, but compared to my previous visit it looked practically deserted.  I checked my gear again hoping the Kel-Tec Sub 2000 I had broken down and hidden under my sport coat wasn’t terribly obvious.

Looking at my reflection in the cars window as I stood outside it looked like I had a piece of surveying equipment concealed under my jacket. I moved the little carbine around to make it less obvious. What stood out to my eye however, were the magazines I had tucked into a web belt riding on my lower back. Hopefully people would think I was wearing a back brace or something.

As I approached the front entrance of the police department I witnessed a flurry of activity inside as helmeted police officers scrambled toward an unseen part of the building no doubt ready to go provide crowd control around another of my devices. I entered the building and noticed the desk attendant was the same one I’d spoken to on my last visit. I put on a winning smile and approached trying my best to look puzzled and frightened at all the activity.

“Tad Johnson, here for Thomas Shannon?” I looked at officers behind a glass partition suiting up in riot gear and hoped I was doing a passable job of looking impressed.

“I’m sorry, Mr Johnson, it’s not really a good time . . .”

I arched an eyebrow. “Oh come on, you’re not going to deny me access to my client are you?”

She gave me a tired look and held it for a little longer than I was comfortable with. When she realized I wasn’t going to give up and go away I saw her features soften for just a second. “I don’t have anyone to escort you back.” She reached under counter top that separated us and pushed a button. I heard a buzz at the large door with its safety glass window and smiled at her as I hurried to the door.

I made my way back to the transfer/intake waiting area where a few jail guards were doing a lot to look busy. I hadn’t been here before; instead I’d been shown directly to a consultation area. The intake desk opened out on a bay with enormous roll-up doors large enough to allow a semi to enter the intake area.

“Busy day, guys?” I tried to be jovial hoping the action out front would have them distracted enough they wouldn’t ask a lot of questions, but I was greeted with a single grunt, the other guards didn’t even look my way.

“Right. Anyway, I’m here for my client, Thomas Shannon?”  The grunting guard tossed a clipboard at me, stabbing one thick finger at the page as he muttered “Sign in here.”

“Sure thing.” I said and patted my pockets “Could I trouble you for a pen?”

The guard looked at me and said something impolite, but very audible as he looked around his desk for a pen. I signed my name and handed him the pen back.

I did what I hoped passed for an anxious lawyer impression as I waited, then I suddenly smacked my forehead. “I forgot to ask–sorry, I’m new to this–do you have Mr Shannon’s belongings back here or will we pick them up somewhere else?”

That got the guards attention. “Whaddya mean? We don’t keep anything back here . . .”

I nodded “Oh,sure. Makes sense I suppose. Where will we go to get Mr Shannon’s property? He’s being released and I want to handle this as expediently as possible; I’ve got other clients waiting you know.”

The look the guard gave me pretty clearly intoned ‘why won’t you go away?’ but there was a bit of confusion coloring his anger. “I haven’t received any papers . I’m going to have to call up front.”

I nodded and put on an impatient smile. The other guard brought Shannon up to the desk, his hands cuffed behind his back still.

“Ah, yes. That’ll be fine right there.” I said aloud.

The grunty guard turned to look at his mate “Jimmy,did we get release papers for him?” he said jerking at thumb at Shannon.  Mr Shannon was doing his best not to choke on his surprise at seeing me again, a fact which I appreciated. I gave him a little smile. “Have you out of here in just a second.” I said and shot my finger-gun at him.

I looked over at the guard who was still waiting for an answer from whomever he had called. I leaned forward, across the little counter that separated us only to have him thrust his index finger into my face. He furrowed his brow and mouthed you wait!  at me as he turned back to his phone and then began to punch something into his computer.

“You know, a little kindness goes a long way.” I said reaching behind my back to free one of the 33-round Glock magazines in the web belt under my sport jacket. I turned away from the guard at the desk, reaching into my jacket and giving the Kel-Tec carbine a yank, freeing it from the strap that had kept it looped around my shoulder. I unfolded the gun quickly, inserting a magazine and giving it a solid tap with my left hand. I pulled back the charging handle and shot the grunty guard cleanly in the forehead and then added two more rounds to his chest for good measure.

The other guards began screaming and reaching for their pepper spray. I took several quick steps backward as I fired so I didn’t get dosed. My friend on the other hand was not so lucky.

The smoke from my spent rounds had set off the buildings fire alarm system and the sprinklers had just started to spray. I knew from experience that was just going to spread the pepper spray into Shannon’s eyes, but I hadn’t thought to bring milk with me. I laughed to myself. I hadn’t actually planned to shoot anyone, things just worked out that way.

The guards only weapon having been neutralized by the unexpected downpour made them sitting ducks. I stepped forward again, putting two rounds in their chests, not bothering to check if they were dead.

Along with the sound of the gunshots the klaxon of the fire alarm had rendered me almost deaf so it took several seconds for me to realize Shannon was screaming.

I sighed. Aloud, I said “Try to rescue someone and not even a word of thanks.” I went to where Shannon stood and uncuffed his hands. He started rubbing vigorously at his eyes.  “Stop it!” I said as I grabbed the collar of his jumpsuit. He paused for a second and said something I couldn’t quite make out. “Stop rubbing your eyes! You’re only making it worse!” I shouted at him. His hands dropped to his side and his shoulders slumped forward.

I was struck by how childlike he appeared in that moment, long strings of mucus running from his nose, reddened eyes–the posture just tied it all together.

“Oh for–” I started then realized he probably couldn’t hear me. I lowered myself slightly and picked him up in a fireman’s carry “–fuck’s sake” I said as I strained under the effort of picking him up.  Fortunately once the fire alarm went off the interior door to the garage bay was opened automatically.

We crossed into the bay, standing behind a large yellow guard rail on a raised concrete platform that lead down to the bay’s floor. The giant doors began to roll up, as a fire crew stood waiting a few feet back from the door. I dropped the carbine and kicked it off the side of the concrete platform hoping it went nnoticed.

The waiting fireman waved me on and I stepped lively trying to get outside.

“Ambulance?!” I shouted at one of the nearby firemen. He pointed to a nearly deserted parking lot where emergency crews had just begun to arrive. I nodded and carried my burden in that direction, not stopping to respond to the flurry of questions he tried to ask.

I turned behind one of the firetrucks and set Shannon back down on his feet. His eyes were bright red, just a few shades above the color of his jumpsuit’s muted orange hue.

I smiled at him, but I doubt he saw it. “Are you okay?” I asked. Shannon nodded but said nothing. “Good. Now keep quiet; you’re not free yet.” I looked up and saw one news helicopter flying over the building, smiling up at the camera crew  as they searched for images of bodies being carried out to sell to their slack-jawed viewers at home.

“That was sort of quiet.” I said to no one in particular. I slapped Shannon on the back. “Okay, killer. Let’s get you out of here.” I said, grabbing his elbow and pulling him forward. As we moved I shifted the magazines I had left into my pants pockets and made Shannon put on the sport coat. I tossed the web belt on top of a firetruck and we set off across the parking lot. “Can you run?” I asked Shannon over my shoulder as I continued to pull him forward.

“I can’t see!” he shouted.

“Yes, but are your legs working? Can you run?”

“I-I-I think so.” he stammered out after an eternity.

“Good. Remember to pick your feet up” I said urging him on “We’re almost free.”

11

I push open the door and the heat and humidity hit me before my foot crosses the threshold. It’s just past 10:00 AM and the coolest part of the day is already hours behind us. I step out onto the concrete and I’m in Afghanistan again, breathing hard, sweat covering every intimate inch of me.

I’m lying absolutely still face down in the dirt. My hot breath is blowing in my face, noticeable to me only because my face is shaded; feeling a few degrees cooler than the ambient temperature. Taliban supporters found my hide and had a surprise waiting for me. Unlike them though, I don’t spend my days smoking tobacco that would kill the Marlboro Man and drinking nothing but hot tea; I’ve also familiarized myself pretty well with cardiovascular exercise so running away was pretty easy. I should be worried as I lie here, my breath disturbing the dirt and sand beneath my nose, but I’m having trouble containing a laugh.

I might have been in trouble if I were being chased by seasoned Taliban fighters, but instead I was running from the village headman’s henchman, likely his lesser sons and a few of the villages unmarried men. I ran to the mountains, which in Afghanistan is kind of like being in the ocean and running for the water. There was a small refuse pile in the foothills just before the mountains proper and that’s where I’m lying– behind the pile– listening for the sounds of running feet.

For once I’m glad I haven’t lugged my bolt-action rifle out with me. As much as I love watching what the .300 Winchester Magnum rounds do to a body, all that weight would have gotten me killed as I fled. From behind the refuse pile I poke my head out just slightly, the MK 11 rifle lying over on its left side so I present as small a target as possible. I hear voices echoing up the side of the hills; the fastest runner of the group is well ahead of the rest of them. I can hear him wheezing.

He stops just before the top of the rise behind which is the pile that conceals me and bends over placing his hands on his knees. He’s out of breath and his rifle, a beat up old Mosin-Nagant is slung loosely over one shoulder. The point man stands erect long enough to wave his friends on, calling out to them in Pashto to hurry them along.  Unsurprisingly, the point man pulls out a cigarette and starts smoking as he waits on his comrades.

In seconds I see more heads poke over the top of the rise, faces reddened with effort and their mishmash of weapons all slung uselessly over their shoulders or held one-handed by the strap. I wait a few seconds to see if there will be more men joining them but it looks like only five have come. I let their torso’s come into full view before I send the 7.62×51 rounds their way.

Those not already dead are too exhausted to put up a serious fight and I dispatch them as quickly as possible. Now that their hunter-killer team is handled, I get to go back to the village and explain to everyone there why trying to mess with me is a bad idea; I do this to them over a period of 4 hours, taking my time to enjoy each kill–especially the headman–when he himself comes out of his little shit-shack waving a white flag to surrender. I don’t even need the scope on the MK 11 to explode his head.

—-

The blast of air-conditioning snaps me back to the here and now. Somehow I managed to walk from the police station to a taxi stand, without really planning to do so. Along the way I ditched the briefcase I had been carrying. I smiled knowing that this would probably result in a call to the bomb squad to handle the ‘mysterious package’ left unattended. Relaxing in the cab’s air-conditioned back seat a plan forms in my head stemming from my daydreaming stroll.

The cabby drops me off about a mile from my destination, a small nondescript office building with a clear glass exterior and a brightly lit generic interior. The woman behind the desk acknowledges my presence with a look.

I smile and walk toward the desk “I’m going to need another car.”

She barely blinks. She reaches under her desk and I tense for a moment thinking she’s going to summon security to make me pay for my misdeeds, but instead pulls open a drawer and hands me a set of keys.

“Go out the door, take a left into the alley and the parking lot is just behind the fence. I’ll let the guard know you’re coming.” She tells me.

Her tone of voice suggests she does this fairly often and I know I’m not alone, but I have to wonder how many others like me are operating in the area.

The guard is in a small air-conditioned guard-house. It’s so cold in there, he’s wearing a jacket as he stares blankly at a computer monitor. I can see he’s browsing a social networking site in an attempt to look nonchalant, but the H&K MP5 beside the keyboard destroys this pretext if you look close enough.

He doesn’t look up from his computer screen, but waves me through as he reaches down and presses a button that rolls open the heavy steel gate. I press the button on the key fob and the lights of a small blue Dodge sedan flash back at me.

I slide behind the wheel of the little not-at-all-government-issue looking car and start it up, feeling goosebumps rise on my skin as the air conditioning nearly freezes the me solid by blasting the sweat on my skin. No wonder this car sells so well; all the fat, lazy Americans have to love a car that reminds them of the refrigerator.

The car is equipped with a stand-alone GPS system and it takes me a minute to figure out how to navigate its menus, but eventually I get to a screen that allows me to type in my destination. I type in ‘GUNS’ and in seconds have over twenty options to choose from. I put the car in gear and head out through the gate tossing a wave to the guard as I leave.

A female sounding voice comes out of the GPS and begins giving me directions. My first stop is three miles down the road. I do some quick calculations in my head and figure I shouldn’t need to visit more than five stores to get what I need.

By this time tomorrow, Thomas Shannon will be a free man.

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