The other day someone asked me “who’s the real you?” I didn’t know what to say to that, scoffed Sip. How do you answer such nonsense? Who’s the real you? “I’m the guy that sleeps better in the fetal position on his side than on his back, with one leg and a naked foot poked out from under the cover, one arm behind his neck and the other bracing his face. I go commando most days, except for the days when I wear underwear. My socks are inside out. Most days I read for pleasure, not education. I like the notion of love, but prefer solitude and isolation.”
“The real me detests fishing, hunting, and trapping. I hate spoiled, bratty, entitled people, politicians, liars, and frauds. I’ve seen all kind, ergo I know of which I speak. As such, I love places of long shadows, churches, libraries, my cabin.”
“Who’s the real you? I wanna punch the person who asked me in the face. Does that solve the matter? You’re bleeding, leaking fluid from your nose. Do you have any other stupid questions? The real me doesn’t like the real world. It’s full of horrors, warlords, and bloodthirsty psychopaths, and on the good days, it’s filled with just enough light to illuminate microscopic truths. When all else fades away, the truth stands alone, like a naked foot poked out the end of a frazzled checkerboard blanket.”
“Jesus,” laughed Tenney. “I’m glad they didn’t ask me.” Sip glared at his friend, his unasked question written on his face. Tenney shook his head and said, “I’m the opposite of you. I sleep on my back and hate sleeping on my side like a beached whale. I wear underwear every day in case of an accident, and my socks are worn as intended. Love is my watchword, I can’t stand solitude and isolation. I’ve hunted, fished and trapped my whole life and can’t imagine not doing it. I’m neither a liar nor a fraud, but I do like spending time with those who are. The world is an amazing place, filled with treats, good people, better food and drink, and a wide array of music for the soul. I do agree with your bit about the truth though.”
Tenney knew Sip was only jawing this nonsense to stay awake. Three days they’d been stuck out here in this ramshackle building, in this abandoned town, waiting on the precise moment when the transaction would go down. Three days of minimal sleep, hunger, and frustration. One could only watch the tumbleweeds blowing across the sandy streets for so long without going mad.
Sip’s scowl voiced his unsaid verbiage. Get here now so we can kill you and have dinner. Of the two friends, Sip was the more simple of the two, and his philosophy consisted of three rules: Take the job, do the job, get paid.
At 50, Sip was uncomplicated. He worked to buy food, pay bills, and leave just enough money for his children so when he passed, they could buy themselves something nice as a reminder of his failure as a father. He lived a simple life out in the woods, went to town just enough to maintain a ‘presence of sociability’, and spent the bulk of his time at home in his library.
Tenney on the other hand, lived life as well as he could. He preferred order in place of chaos, except for when it was time to fight. He hated to read, loved movies and television and music of all sorts, and loved the idea of world peace, true tolerance, and compassion for humankind.
And like Sip, he lived his life by three rules: Take the job, do the job, get paid.
True to form, they had taken the job, done the job, and the money hadn’t arrived. Now, they waited to deal with an imbecile who thought he could welch on his debt.
“Look”, snapped Sip. “Here comes the idiot now. “ He handed the binoculars to Tenney and flipped the safety off the .458 Winchester Magnum. “Shoulda just paid, hoss. Now, we gotta dead you.”
Tenney watched as the Mercedes hatchback pulled into an open parking space, and a figure stepped from the vehicle. The man wore a tan fedora and a sandy, beige suit, and carried a briefcase.
“Hold up, Sip. Something’s screwy here.”
In the distance another Mercedes drove toward the lot. Tenney watched the vehicle approach and whispered, “We’ve got more company. Tell me you’ve got a plan, Sip.”
“I’ve got a plan.”
Sip chuckled and pulled the rifle tight into his shoulder. He took aim at Danny Figueroa, the man who had set them up. Two other figures stepped from the second vehicle, one of them a small black girl, whose tears seemed to pool at her chin and then succumbed to the pull of gravity. She clutched a dirty Teddy Bear and stared at Danny Figueroa. Danny put the briefcase down and opened it.
Tenney let out a soft whistle, and whispered, “Gold, he’s exchanging bricks of gold for the girl, Sip. Take the shot when you’re ready, but give me a ten count to get into position.”
“Roger, brother. Go now.”
Tenney picked up his M-16 and slid into the shadows. Sip let out a long breath, aimed at the shoulders of Danny and began to count backwards, “Ten…nine…eight…” At the count of one, Sip fired and the roar of Death echoed between the buildings. The 500-grain soft point round blew open the chest of Danny Figueroa at 100 yards, his heart and lungs landing in the sand. The figure and girl turned toward Sip’s vantage point, and fired a 9mm as they moved toward the vehicle.
Sip chambered another round, and Tenney stepped from the shadows. He unleashed a three-round burst into the chest of the unknown figure. The rounds stopped them and knocked the person to the ground. Tenney walked up to the girl and held up both hands.
“You’re okay, I’m not gonna hurt you.”
The girl screamed and shirked back from Tenney. She looked around her, her eyes wide with fright, and Sip came down from the building. He walked over to Danny Figueroa and kicked the dead man’s feet.
“I don’t think he’s going anywhere,” Sip hollered at Tenney.
Tenney laughed and shook his head. “Probably not, Sip. His heart and lungs went flying when you shot him.”
“That’s what you get scumbag! Ripping us off and making us come out here to kill you.”
Sip shut the briefcase and picked it up. The day hadn’t been a total loss, but there was still the matter of the kid. She kept looking at Tenney and then Sip and back again.
“What’s wrong with her? Is she hungry or what?”
“I don’t know, Sip. She won’t speak.”
“Well give her a piece of candy, dummy. See if she’ll take it.”
While Sip and Tenney had waited, Tenney had opened a MRE and it had a bag of Skittles in it. They had eaten a single piece each when tiredness had overwhelmed them, the sugar in the candy providing a surge of alertness for a few minutes more of awareness.
Tenney took out the bag of Skittles and extended a piece to the girl. She looked at him with her big brown eyes, doe-eyes he believed they were called, and the radio squawked.
“DeathDealer-Alpha, this is Carriage.”
“Go for Alpha, Carriage.”
“Roger, Alpha. Two mikes out.”
“We copy. Marking now.”
Sip pulled a smoke grenade and tossed it toward the center of the abandoned town. The girl took the candy from Tenney and scooted closer to him. He gave her another piece.
“Alpha, Carriage. I see green smoke.”
The chopper hovered and sat down in the smoke. Tenney, the girl, and Sip boarded the chopper, and the whirling of the blades propelled them from the earth. The mission was done, Sip and Tenney had received their pay, and then some.
Now it was time to go home.