Freddy Fender was playing on the jukebox, and a tear rolled down Hank’s cheek as he waited for the police to show up. “Wasted days and wasted nights, I have left behind for you…” The juke-joint was a mess. Hank sat at the bar; his right hand covered the wound on his left side. Outside, he heard the crunch of gravel and the wail of sirens. Then, the doors burst open.
“Get on the ground! Do it, do it now!”
Hank slid from the bar stool and slowly got to his knees with his hands lifted. His wound kept him from moving quickly. Hank grunted when he was shoved face down into the bloody floor. A knee was placed on his back, and he was handcuffed.
“Hank Thompson, you are hereby placed under arrest for murder. Anything you say can and will be used…”
“Yeah, alright already. You have read me my rights. Can I get off the floor?” Hank was lifted to his feet and pushed toward the car. The flash of camera bulbs took pictures of him being escorted to the vehicle. Several reporters shouted questions at him, while cameramen followed his every step for the local news.
“Look, hoss. You are famous,” said a chubby deputy. He sucked in his gut and smiled for the cameras. “We got him. The infamous Bandit Killer has been brought to justice.” Then, he pushed Hank into the back of the car. Mere moments later, the vehicle peeled out onto the highway, and Hank was driven to the police station. The two officers chatted about the arrest. “It is the most brutal thing to ever happen in our town in decades,” whispered the driver. Officer Porko as Hank mentally called him chimed in, “yeah, but now he is done. The crimes are over, and the good guys won!”
The Sheriff of Warble County stood on the steps when the car pulled up. The media had somehow beaten the police vehicle back to the station. Officer Porko got out and sucked in his gut. He smiled a brilliant smile and pulled Hank from the car. “We got him, Sheriff.” The Sheriff, T.D Johnson was his name, motioned for Porko to take him inside. Then, he addressed the media.
“Folks, a statement will be issued when we know for certain what is going on. You will be kept informed of any progress. Please, let us do our jobs. Thank you.”
“What do you know right now, Sheriff?”
“We have a suspect in custody. We should know more in a couple of hours.”
“Did Hank Thompson kill those boys?”
“That is what we hope to find out. Excuse me.”
T.D Johnson turned and went inside. “Jesus, what a circus.” Then, he made his way to the interrogation room where his best friend from his time in the military was handcuffed to the table.
Porko was reading Hank the riot act when T.D. walked in. “Listen here, boy. You are going away for a long time for what you did. You ain’t going to do well in prison.” Hank smiled at Porko, and the room went quiet when T.D. entered.
“Let me have the room,” T.D. said. Porko nodded and meekly left the room. T.D. sat across from Hank and forced a smile.
“Hank, I am sorry about Lindsey and the kids. They deserved to die in their beds, not butchered like cattle.”
“Yeah, thanks brother.”
“You should have come to me, Hank. We could have handled this quietly.”
“I didn’t want it to be handled quietly, T.D. I wanted them to know hell was coming. I wanted them to be consumed with fear.”
“Brother, there is no way out of this. You are going to be charged with the murder of four men. The judge is going to make sure you never see the outside of Parchman again.”
“I am okay with that.”
“Don’t you want to live? To have some semblance of normality?”
“T.D. when have we ever had a ‘normal’ life? We went to war for our country. We did horrible things, and then we came home. Lindsey, Christi, and Chance was my normal. In the blink of an eye, they were taken from me. You know who did it.”
“Yes. We arrested them.”
“Yeah,” Hank guffawed. “You arrested them, and the DA let them go. The punks who blew my son in half with a shotgun, and then raped and murdered my wife and daughter. She let them walk.”
“That does not excuse what you did, Hank. DA Marica is under investigation for corruption.”
“And who will try her in a court of law? Who will hold her responsible for the blood that has been spilled? Will you do it? You know as well as I that she will play the system as she always has.”
T.D. sighed and sat down on a bench. He could not deny the truth of his friend’s words. Marcia would face a minimum sentence if she faced any type of charge at all. She was to well-connected. From the top of the judicial system to the bottom of the smallest criminal enterprise, she had her filthy hands in every pie.
They sat quietly in the interrogation room each consumed with their own thoughts. Hank’s mind drifted off to the day he met his wife.
Hank Thompson, 34, walked into a local eatery and sat with his back to the wall. A tall, well-built waitress brought him a menu and took his drink order. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She towered above him in flats, she had to be almost six feet tall. The eatery uniform did nothing to hide her figure.
“Can I take your order, hon?”
“Sure, I’ll make you a deal. If you tell me your name, and what you are doing after you get off, I will give you my order and get dessert. Deal?”
“Deal. I am Lindsey. I have no plans for after I get off.” She smiled and Hank was swept up in the moment. It was love, and no one had to tell him that it was true.
“I will have a ribeye steak, a baked potato with no sour cream, and bread pudding, Lindsey. I would like to see you if you aren’t involved with someone else.”
“I am not seeing anyone, and I want to see you to.”
As finicky as love could be, these crazy kids somehow made it work. Day after day, Hank and Lindsey fell deeper into the pools of love. Eight months later, they chose to tie the knot and settle down. A year later, they became parents to Chance Lowell Thompson.
Their love grew and it seemed that it would never be eclipsed.
The memory of falling for Lindsey made Hank smile. She had never been a spiteful individual. Down here people would not use the word spiteful, they would say she had not been hateful. There was not a mean bone in her body. Lindsey had smiled often, she had a kind word for everyone, and was full of compassion. Her death had terrified the small community that Hank and his family lived in.
T.D. knew his friend had a temper, and he knew that Hank would not let the law handle the case. They had fought together in the longest running war in recent history. Right and wrong had nothing to do with the war. Hank was fierce on the battlefield. War had not toned down his temper. It amped it up.
Lindsey, Chance and Christi had been his refuge. His humanity had been stripped from him, all that was left upon the death of his family was the monster war had created. Back before the war, old men would sit around a checkerboard and talk about their hell-raising days. If they still lived, they would say Hank had walked into hell and took over.
“Look at this, Hank. What these four men did to your family was horrible, but brother, what you did to them was worse.” T. D. tossed the crime scene photos onto the metal table. Hank shrugged.
“They chose the wrong family to screw with T.D.”
“Dude. You cut their eyes out and cut off their hands and feet. This one guy doesn’t even have a nose. You disemboweled them while they lived. You took a torch to one guy’s face.”
“I know, T.D. I was there.”
“You took a hammer to their bones, man.”
“They should have died from shock.”
“Yeah, but I was trained to treat for shock.”
“Do you think that this is funny? The judge is going to sentence you to death. They are going to fry you. What do you think Lindsey would say?”
“Lind’s can’t say anything, T.D. Those pricks raped her multiple times. They cut her. They scarred her beautiful face. My house is covered in blood. They raped my baby girl…”
“I’m sorry, brother.”
“My boy was blown in half, and that piece of garbage let them go. If you want to blame someone for what I did, blame her. She let them out. I was not going to let you and the justice system get another shot.”
There was a knock at the door, T.D yelled for them to enter. Porko walked in and whispered in T.D.’s ear. He nodded and stood.
“Someone from the Department of Defense is here to see you, Hank. We will be outside.” Hank shrugged and leaned back in his seat.
In walked a woman, about 50, and she sat across from Hank. She never removed her black trench coat. Her eyes were black and dead. She had thin lips, and they seemed to be etched into a permanent frown. Her blond hair fell to her shoulders.
“I am Angela Blackheart. I have an offer for you.”
“I’m not entertaining offers.”
“You will entertain this one.”
Hank chuckled. Ms. Frowns-A-Lot was not amused. Hank motioned with his hands and Angela opened a folder.
“You massacred those four men, yes?”
“That’s what they said.”
“You spent most of your adult years killing and being trained to kill.”
“You did not get them all. There are several people within the government who sanctioned this action.”
Hank sighed. “Look, lady. The four men who took my family from me are dead. In pieces. Why would anyone want to harm my family? I did my duty. Period.”
Hank’s mouth tightened. His breathing became shallow as he glared across the table at Angela. Hank’s pulse raced.
“You heard me. You do remember the objective, right?”
“Yes, and according to you douche canoes we achieved it.”
“Have you kept up with those involved?”
“No. We were sworn to secrecy. Why would we stay in touch?”
“They are all dead. This was a message to you. We have decided to bring you back into the fold. Help us rid the system of these shadowy figures who wreaked havoc on you and so many others.”
“Right, never mind the dead bodies I piled up. Or the death sentence I am about to face. What time should I show up Monday? Is it suits and ties or business casual? Is stubble allowed?”
“You will be released by five this evening. A car will be parked at the gate. Get in it, and you will be brought to our headquarters.”
“Sure thing. See you soon.” Angela Blackheart stood and walked out. Hank laughed. “Where do they find these loons?”
T.D. and a well-dressed young man walked in the interrogation room at 1530. T.D. unlocked the handcuffs and the young man sat across from him.
“I am Aiden Walker. You have been released into my custody. We should leave before the media shows up.”
“Un-huh. Sure, Aiden.”
“It’s no joke, Hank. Aiden works for the DOD. They signed for your release,” T.D. chimed in.
“Sure. I walk out, you guys scream that I’ve escaped, then you shoot me in the back. I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night.”
Aiden pushed the release paperwork across the desk to Hank. “I cannot stress the urgency of our departure enough. We must leave, now.”
“Okay. Let’s go.”
Aiden and T.D. escorted Hank to the limo parked at the gate. T.D. nodded to Hank.
“Wherever you are going, be safe brother.”
“Safe don’t get it done, brother.”
“Ain’t that the truth. I will see you on the flip side.”
“Yeah.” Hank grasped T.D.’s hand firmly. The words were not said, they did not need to be. War had tightened the bonds of friendship, the world may be a deadly place, but it was not enough to break the bonds forged in the fires of hell.
Hank entered the car and closed the door. Ms. Frowns-A-Lot sat across from Hank and Aiden. She forced a smile, Hank stared at her.
“Okay. What do you want?”
“We will discuss it in detail once we have arrived. Do you need anything? Water, food, or anything else?”
“Naw. I am okay.”
The rest of the drive was made in silence. Hank peered out the window. Aiden played a game on his phone, and Angela closed her eyes. “I suppose even the devil must sleep every now and then.”
They arrived at the airport hangar and the limo pulled close to the door. Armed personnel was stationed outside the hanger. A roving patrol wandered the perimeter, snipers were hidden in concealed overwatch positions. Angela beckoned for Hank to follow.
“We are in here,” she said. Hank walked into the hanger, rows of computers and numerous monitors showed various forms of data. Angela sat in an oversized chair. Hank wheeled a stool over to where she sat. He plopped down and waited.
“On 5 January of this year, Joe Tagger was killed in a suspicious accident while hunting on his property. A week later, Jonathon Wasser was killed in a hit-and-run incident outside of his house. Both men were with you in Operation Overkill.”
“Yeah, Joe and Jon were good men.”
“Liza Macomb was mugged and murdered a month later. She was also a member of your team, yes?”
“Yeah, Liza was our decoy.”
“Anna Thimble and Waylon Shumpert were killed just last week. The only person left alive is you. What happened in Operation Overkill?”
Hank looked at the floor. “It seems like only yesterday…”
November 9th, 1996:
“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for attending our briefing. You have all been selected to take part in Operation Overkill. The sole purpose of this mission is to eradicate high value targets. If we cannot remove them from the board, we take out what they hold dear. Any questions so far? No? Good.
No one besides the folks in this room has any knowledge of the work we will do. You will not receive credit, promotions, awards, or any other favorable action because of your role here. We are here to kill the existential threats to our country and the security of the host nation. Except for we few, the President and leader of this country is in the know.
We are here to kill our enemies. No quarter will be given. Mercy will not be shown. If they appear on these monitors, they have got to go. If you die, your families will not be told of what you did here.
The document placed in front of you is a non-disclosure agreement. Generally, if you sign one of these and you break your word, you are taken to court. If you break your oath, you will be killed. Period. Your families will be executed as well.
Do you understand what was just said?”
“We removed high value targets.”
Angela sniffed. “Do you smell that Hank?” Hank shook his head no. “That’s bull crap, Hank. Sure, Operation Overkill was passed off as a high-value target removal project. However, that should not have got your entire team killed.”
“I don’t know what you want, Angela. Spell it out for me.”
“Who briefed you?”
“Some tall, goofy looking spook. I called him Loon. He had these wire-rimmed glasses and hawkish nose. He looked like a malnourished supermodel. His teeth were yellow. He always had a cigar in this mouth or hand.”
“Who did Loon work for?”
“He didn’t say but we figured him for The Agency or some derivative of it.”
“Was there anyone else?”
Hank gestured with his hands and sighed. “Man, I don’t remember. There could have been, but I didn’t recognize anyone.”
Angela smirked. “So, you aren’t going to help me. Is that your final answer?”
“Look, I have told you all that I remember. That’s all there is to it.”
“Did you kill your teammates?”
Hank laughed. His eyes grew dark, and his smile was more menacing than humorous. “Who does this broad think she is to ask such a stupid question?”
“No, I did not kill my teammates.”
“What was Operation Overkill, Hank?”
“It was a task force that removed high value targets during the war.”
“And that is it?”
“Then, we are done talking.” Angela pushed back from the table and stretched. She smiled at Hank. “Remember, I warned you. You are the only team member left alive. There are no people left to help you.”
Angela left. Hank was taken to his home. T.D. waited on his door stoop. They walked into Hank’s home. T.D. sat across from Hank. He nodded in direction of the door. “She didn’t seem happy,” he said to Hank.
“I don’t think she is a happy person in general, T.D.”
“Before you walk out, and God forbid I lose another friend, you’re going to tell me what happened after I got discharged from the service.”
Hank laughed, he always laughed when he was cornered. “There is no camera here, Hank. Talk to me.”
“We weren’t soldiers, T.D. We became guns for hire. The entire task force was set up to do the sketchy crap that the military refused to. That’s it in a nutshell.”
“You were killers.”
“Yeah, if that is what it called for.”
“Now you are the only one left.”
“Yeah. Everyone one of us knew it was coming. You can’t do what we did and live a long and normal life.”
“What are you going to do, Hank?”
Hank shrugged. “I am going to do what they trained me to do. Find ‘em and kill ‘em.”
T.D. looked at his friend and frowned. “Isn’t that what they are going to expect you to do?”
“Yeah. They know what is coming, but they still can’t stop it. They drew first blood. It’s time for me to return the favor.”