“You’ve overstayed your welcome, Cartwright. Time for you to leave.”
Cartwright opened the door and disappeared into the night. Konan stood at the door and stared into the inky blackness. “After all this time, Cartwright shows up with a warning. I haven’t seen him since…”
Somewhere in the Middle East, 2005:
The bullets Konan fired impacted against the small, thin torso of the boy. His grenade fell to the ground. “One thousand, one. One thousand, two.” The grenade exploded blowing glass onto Konan. When Konan stepped from behind the vehicle, he saw the red mist. He walked over to where the boy had stood, blood soaked the ground. The air smelled of cooper. Hillbilly lay in the ditch. Shrapnel tore his back open. Konan checked his pulse. He was gone. The bodies of the rest lay torn to pieces from the grenade. Konan was alone.
“Tiger X-ray, this is Tiger one.”
“Go, Tiger one.”
“Requesting, pick up at LZ Alpha.”
“Roger, pax 12?”
“One pax, Tiger one out.”
Konan made his way through town and toward the outskirts of the city. Darkness began to fall as he made his way to the LZ. In the distance he heard the sound of rotors approaching. Konan tossed a green smoke grenade onto the plateau.
“Tiger one, this is Deathdealer 19.”
“Go for Tiger one, Deathdealer 19.”
“Roger, green, green, green. We’re green across the board.”
The trip to base took ten minutes. Konan stepped off the chopper when the pilots shut it down. Billy and Cartwright stood on the landing pad. A Humvee was not far from the pad.
“You look like crap,” Billy said.
He wiped at Konan’s shoulder. Blood was smeared on his uniform, his ears still rang from the blasts.
“Come on. You can be debriefed over dinner,” Cartwright said.
“I ain’t hungry,” Konan said.
“I don’t care,” said Cartwright. “I am, and you’re going to tell us what happened out there.”
Konan got into the back of the Humvee. Billy drove them to the dining facility. They unloaded and walked in, Cartwright led them to the back table away from everyone else.
“I’m going to get a plate. When I come back, you best have and explanation.”
Cartwright and Billy came back with heaping plates of food. Konan had found a coffee pot and made a cup of what he called ‘go-go juice.’ He sat across the two men.
“Hillbilly gave a kid some candy,” Konan began. “The kid followed us, chanting and kicking a soccer ball. We got to a blind spot, and he threw a grenade. I dove behind a car, and the guys scattered. The kid came around the corner and pulled the pin on another one. I killed him.”
Cartwright shoved some food in his mouth and washed it down with a hot Mountain Dew. He stared at Konan while he chewed the remnants of his food.
“So, you’re the only survivor.”
“Yeah.” Konan put the dogtags of his friends on the table and shoved them to Cartwright. He looked dispassionately at the bloody tags.
“Aren’t you lucky, Point-and-Click? Go on to your hooch. We’re going out tomorrow.”
“For what? There’s no one left.”
“We’re going to kill every one that birthed that kid. We’re going to merc ‘em and make ‘em regret they ever crossed us.”
“The kid’s dead. He was vaporized when the second grenade blew.”
“We can’t just kill people because we don’t like them!”
“Sure, we can.”
“I’m not doing it.”
“Then, get your gear and get out of my unit. You got my people killed. You cross me, boy, you won’t live to regret it.”
“Screw you and yours, then.”
Konan shut the door, and shut off the lights. He needed to rest. Tomorrow would bring its usual challenges. He and Lilly needed to close this case in a hurry, before the body count grew larger. With Cartwright making personal appearances, time was drawing down.
“It’s now or never.”