It’s the end of the world….A short story.

The rain falls from the broken clouds turning my yard into a small marsh. I am at my stove cooking eggs to go with my biscuit and bacon. In the living room, my television is set to the local news. “In other news, the Speaker of the House has called for a proxy vote, which would allow one representative to cast numerous votes on behalf of others.”

I can feel my frustration growing. I reach for a glass, and slam it down on the counter. Shards of glass fly in every direction. Pain throbs in my right hand, I turn it over and look at it. Glass protrudes from my palm. 

“You okay, uncle. I thought I would come by and check on you.” I never heard the front door open. My niece Sara, standing behind me, has a look of shock that covers her face.

“Yeah,” I grunt as I pull the shards out of my hand with tweezers. “Why doesn’t that idiot just tear up the Constitution and use it to wipe her butt?”

“Why don’t you like her uncle?”

“Besides the fact she is nuttier than a fruitcake?”

“Yes, besides the fact you think she is insane.”

“Well, there is the fact she does all she can to tear apart the Constitution and Bill of Rights at all turns. Granted, most of the idiots in Washington are egotistical, whiny, thieving pieces of garbage but she makes it an art form.”

“You ever think maybe you’re just old and crotchety?”

“I know I am old and crotchety. It’s a perk of being older. It doesn’t excuse these out of control lunatics running our country into the ground.”

“I don’t see it that way uncle. If she is so horrible, why do people keep electing her to office?”

“Are you trying to get me in trouble? Votes can be added to or taken away. With the constant evolution of technology, it is a simple process to cheat an election.”

“So, you think she is going to cheat the upcoming election?”

“I don’t know anything definitive, but, I’ve lived long enough not to put anything past anyone. The problem with power is that once you get a taste, you will do anything to keep it.”

“Well uncle, I guess we will have to agree to disagree. I think she is just doing her job.”

“Sweetheart, we can disagree and still love one another. Just because we disagree politically doesn’t mean that we can’t be friends. Nothing in life is so drastic that a disagreement should sever the ties that bind. Hand me that iodine and bandage, please.”

I pour the iodine on my palm, the sting causes me to wince. I wrap the palm and turn off my oven, my eggs are burnt beyond edible. 

“Will you please make your old, grumpy uncle a cup of Joe?”

“Talk to me, unc.”

“What do you want me to say, Sara?”

“Tell me how you feel. You worry me when you get like this.” Her green eyes bore into mine, finally I relent to her request.

“Sara, when I went to war America was this great place. Sure, we had our problems but we still knew right from wrong. When I came home in 2005, I didn’t recognize the place. I had my own problems, and I was barely keeping it together. Then I went back to the Middle East. I left Europe, and came home. I felt like a stranger lost in time, I was the redneck version of Doctor Who. Now, all I can do is watch while these idiots destroy everything that I love.”

“Maybe things will turn around.”

“No, this the end. All we can do is hope we land on our feet.”

It’s a mad, mad world…A short story.

“BANG! SLAM!”

I roll over in my bed and crack my eyelids open. “What in the world is going on out there?” Hurried footsteps cross my porch and I hear a key get inserted into my door. Quietly, I exit my bed and reach for the handgun lying on my nightstand.

“Hey, unc! Are you in here?”

I resume breathing. It’s only my nephew. Turning around, I put the weapon on the nightstand. I put on my jeans and smooth down my t-shirt. 

“Yeah, I’ll be right out.”

My nephew is sitting on the couch when I come out of my bedroom. He rubs his hands together, and every once in a while runs his hand through his thick hair. His hair is unkempt, heck, his whole appearance could be filed under unkempt.

“What’s going on?”

Thom looks at me and shrugs. “I need to borrow five grand.”

“Dang, son. You don’t even start off with a good morning, you just go straight for the wallet. Have you ever considered a career as a politician?”

“You heard about that man that the police killed?”

“No.”

“It’s all over…”

“Stop,” I put my hand up to shush him. “I heard about the killing, it’s all people are talking about. The no was me telling you, I won’t loan you the money to go out there.”

Thom stops and looks at me. Fury shines in his eyes. He shakes his head and stands up, he towers over me.

“Why not? It was racially motivated. You of all people should know that injustices must be corrected.”

“Sit down.”

Thom throws himself back onto my couch. Angrily, he stares at the wall, and I take a moment to let the tension die down between us.

“Do you know all the facts concerning this case, Thom?”

“No, but I know a man is dead at the hands of the police.”

I chuckle and shake my head.

“That’s all it takes, huh. You’re ready to go up there and burn down the town because the police killed someone. What? Y’all going to go up there and tear down all the small businesses and harass the police? One for all, and all for one? Let me ask you something. Where was this guy’s parents? Why didn’t they teach their son not to screw with the police? If you put yourself in a position to be man-handled, you are taking all the risk.”

“You don’t understand…”

I put my hand up to stop him.

“Listen to me, son. If you go up there and pick a fight with law enforcement, they are going to hurt you. They will use non-lethal means to subdue a riot, right up until the first idiot throws a Molotov cocktail, or a police officer is injured. When that happens, you are looking at lethal means. You will be put down. Then I will have to go comfort your mother, because her son was an idiot.”

“So, we just let them get away with murder?”

“They didn’t get away with it. Their names are ruined. They will never be able to out-run the shame of what they’ve done. For the rest of their lives they will be known as racists.”

“A man is dead…”

“Fifty people were killed this weekend in a city with the strictest gun laws in this country. You know what the police were doing? Kicking down doors of churches and filming people, who were just trying to find some peace in the chaos. Why aren’t you upset about that issue?”

“I…”

“The man’s death is tragic. All needless deaths are a tragedy, however, if you’re going to fight, fight for the right cause. Going to a neighborhood and burning down their businesses is no help to anyone. It causes more problems. Use your zeal for justice to help the right cause. Torching a town doesn’t bring the dead back. Stand for equality by being a friend to all races. Stand together in the trenches. Be there for each other, protect one another. Don’t be an idiot.”

Thom leans back and crosses his arms. After some time, he leans forward and pushes himself to his feet.

“I’ll get the money somewhere else. I can’t let this go, the police need to pay for what they’ve done.”

I nod my head and shrug.

“Well, I tried. Good luck. Be safe.”

Thom walks out to his truck and pulls out of my driveway. I stand in the doorway and watch him leave.

Two days later, I see him again. He is on television lying dead in the street. A victim of a riot gone wrong.

“Another needless death taken by the chaos of a world gone mad.”

Oops…A short story…

“Good morning, sir. I hate to interrupt your morning, but we’ve been called to check a domestic disturbance at this address. Is everything alright?”

I stare at the police on my lawn and shove my hands into my pajama pockets. “What in the world?”

“Morning, officers. Are you sure you’ve got the right address? I live by myself. There is no one here but me and my dog.”

“We can’t just take your word for it, sir. May we come in?”

“Not unless you have a warrant.”

The short officer laughs. He reminds me of a roly-poly. He is about 5’3, 260 lbs, and has a shifty look about him. Greasy, that’s the word I’m looking for. He turns to his partner and smirks. 

“This hillbilly thinks he has us over a barrel.”

His partner, equally shifty looking, grins at me. He nods his head, as if contemplating what comes next.

“Then, I guess we better go get the warrant. We will be back, soon. Don’t go nowhere.”

“I’ll be right here.”

I watched their vehicle until it disappeared from view. I dial the police station and ask if they’ve dispatched a car to my address. 

“Sir, no car has been dispatched to your address for any reason. Did these two men say why they were there?”

“A domestic disturbance is the reason they gave me.”

“Can you describe them for me?”

“Sure, one was about 6 ft, about 165, skin tone was pale, sickly looking. His hair color was brown, with a thin mustache. The other was 5’3, 260 if he was a pound, brown hair, dark skin. He had no beard or mustache. They drove a beat up Chevy Nova.”

“Okay, sir. If they come back, call us immediately. We will keep an eye out for them.”

“Thank you.”

I walk back into my house and pull out my dad’s shotgun. I eject the birdshot and reload the weapon with buckshot. Satisfied that the weapon’s lethality is up to par, I check my handguns. “If those boys come back, I’m going down fighting.”

My Queen Anne chair sits next to the corner, so I drag it out. I changed out of my pajamas and checked my bug out bag. Then, I plop down into my chair and wait. Hours pass but finally, I hear the rumble of the Nova. I glance at my watch, 0418.

I creep to the shotgun and move to the corner away from the door. Heavy footsteps mark their position on my porch. The doorknob is tried, it’s locked. In the silence, I hear a lockpick being inserted, I use the noise to conceal my switching the shotgun from safe to fire.

Two shadows creep into my dimly lit house, and I wait until they’re standing in front of my television before I introduce myself.

“You take the bedroom on the left, I’ll take the right.” 

I don’t give them time to switch on the lights much less search my house. From the darkness, I pull the trigger. The buckshot rips through the night and shreds everything in front of it. Wordlessly, both shadows fall to the floor. I move to the front and sweep the area. It’s the same knuckleheads from earlier. Both are still greasy looking, the only difference is the shredded flesh ripped apart by the buckshot.

I am partially deafened from the blast, but finally I pull out my phone. Dialing 911, I wait for the operator to pick up.

“911, what is the nature of your emergency?”

“Hi, my home was invaded. Two greasy men, who posed as police, are dead in my living room. Could you send a meat wagon to my address?”

“Yes, sir. I have dispatched police and an ambulance.”

“Thanks.”

In the distance, the flash of lights and the noise of sirens fill the air. I lean back in my rocking chair and wait. The ambulance is the first to arrive, followed soon by two police cruisers. The paramedics ask me to show them the bodies, I lead them to the living room. 

“Jeez, man. You did a number on these boys.”

“No, man. It wasn’t me. It was the buckshot.”

They start loading them on stretchers, and I walk out on the porch. 

“Excuse me, sir. Could you fill me in on the details of what happened here this morning?” I turn and see an officer sitting on the bench outside my house.

“Who are you?”

“Detective Rosie Hernandez. You’re the one who called 911?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

I lean back into my rocker and recount the story, making sure not to leave out any of the detail. Rosie nods her head and scratches some notes in her ledger. 

“Do you know what they wanted?”

“No ma’am.”

“Did you identify yourself to them prior to pulling the trigger?”

“No ma’am.”

“You didn’t?”

I look at Detective Hernandez. She peers at me with those icy blue eyes. I take a deep breath and answer her query.

“No, I didn’t identify myself. They broke into my house. I shot them. They’re dead, and I’m alive. End of story.”

“Okay, we will be in touch.”

The medics are removing the bodies from my house when I go to walk in. As one of the bodies is being wheeled by me, I catch a glance at his badge and I’m filled with dread.

“Why in the world would the federal government break into my house?”

Tainted…A short story.

“Why are you so mean? Would it kill you to be nicer to people?”

I haven’t been up long, and already, I am being lectured by a 16-year old. Angie, my niece, sits across from me and watches me drink coffee. My preference is to start the morning with coffee and quiet. It appears, I am not going to get any quiet.

Yesterday, Angie introduced me to her new ‘boyfriend.’ Jody Nelson, the local football star, is a bit of a diva. Jody is 6’2, 225 lbs, and has movie star good looks. He is  the richest kid in the neighborhood. Daddy and Mommy buy him whatever he wants. Jody loves to show off his sensitive side. 

Yesterday, he asked me about a lost tribe of pygmies and their increasing death toll. Apparently, they are dying from consuming hogs which are being poisoned by algae growing in their wells. I cracked wise about tainted meat.

You get it? Tainted meat? Pygmies worried about pork?

Anyway, cue the hysterics. Angie switches gears, while I sip my coffee. Apparently, yelling isn’t working. I must be immune to the screams or the hearing loss working to my advantage.

“You could’ve said you weren’t aware of the pygmy situation, but no, you gotta be a smartie. Now, he probably thinks I’m a loser like my uncle.”

“Are you going to cry all day?”

“See, that’s exactly what I mean!”

“You would be the luckiest girl in the world if Jody brushed you off today. His family is a stain on the soul of this town.”

“He loves me.”

“Un-huh. I’m sure.”

I walk over to my coffee machine and insert a donut flavored coffee K-cup. “Just let her win.” 

“You will apologize to Jody. Here are a couple of articles on the death of the pygmies.” The black liquid pours into my steel Yeti coffee cup. Angie stands from the island in the kitchen and puts her hands on her hips. 

“Sweetie, there is no way I’m going to apologize for having a sense of humor.”

“We’ll see.”

Angie spins around and walks out. The front door slams shut and I add sugar to my coffee. “Maybe I should apologize. NAH, the kid needs to toughen up.” Sipping my coffee, I walk to my computer to work on my blog post.

Yearning for inspiration, I stare at my pencil drawings of two samurai warriors and their wives and crack my knuckles. “Well, it’s time to get to writing. Maybe Angie will calm down while in school. I would hate for her to be angry with me.”

My day passes without incident. Well, somewhat without incident, I am having a difficult time writing about non-lethal techniques used to incapacitate rowdy hillbillies. I walk into my library but it appears I don’t have anything on the subject. “Fine, I will Google it.” As I walk into the kitchen, the front door bangs shut.

“Hey unc, Jody and I stopped by before heading to his house to study. What are you doing?” Both Jody and Angie sit at my island, a smug grin stretches across their faces. I grin back. “Out of the frying pan and into the fire, here I go!”

“Hey, kiddo. Jody was it? You’re the great pygmy savior, right? I’m sorry Angie, but I haven’t had time to read the articles you left. I’ve been researching non-lethal ways to stop people.”

Her eyes narrow and nostrils flare, as she glares at me. Jody nods his head and decides to speak. Running his hand through his thick black hair, he smiles. 

“Yep, just doing my part to make the world a better place.”

This kid irks me. I put another coffee into the machine and press the button to make the magical formula which helps me deal with idiots of such magnitude.

“Un-huh. Well, the homeless population of our town has increased by 400%, the crime rate has increased by 600%. When you pick up your cape from the cleaners, why don’t you work on a local issue before trying to change the world?”

“You just can’t be nice can you? Come on, Jody. We are out of here.”

Angie leaps to her feet and grabs Jody by the arm. They storm out of my house and I walk to the door and watch them stride to his Corvette.

“Don’t be mad, it’s just something to think about!”

Jody slams the car into reverse and peels out of my driveway. I am beginning to sense a bit of hostility between the three of us. 

“Great, now who’s gonna save the pygmies?”

Ashes….Part II…A short story.

Pooter aka Oku,

Home. It’s more than a point on the map. To me, it was where I felt alive, safe and relaxed. Through the lens of yesterday, I see ‘me’ before the war. I was a ‘good’ guy. I held a variety of jobs. Lawn care, roofer, construction, and retail are just a few of  potential careers I could have pursued.

For a while, I did.

Nothing satisfied me. I went to work, went to church and paid bills. I wasn’t living, I existed. Then terrorists came calling on September 11, 2001. Two weeks later, I joined the Army.

Home became wherever I laid my head at night. For four years, home was Ft. Hood, Texas. I was honored to serve in the Seventh US Cavalry. Another four was spent in Illesheim, Germany. Assigned to a reconnaissance battalion, I enjoyed my time in Europe. I spent over two years in Iraq, and even it felt like home after I adjusted to the radical change. Eventually, I returned to the States. I landed at Ft. Carson, Colorado. Between the majestic mountain ranges and nice people, I thought I had hit upon my home away from home.

I moved back to Mississippi in 2016.

You know that saying about not being able to go home? Well, I did. I liked it here, life went by slowly. People are nice and the food is great. It’s not that you can’t go home, it’s just your horizons have expanded. In my case, my perspective expanded and was tinted by the horror I’ve seen.

Some people’s memories are so intense, they melt the person they once were. The mind became this veteran’s battleground when I returned home. I tried to replicate the ‘high’ of combat, but nothing came close to it. Alcohol, drugs, unnecessary risk, nothing was off the table.

And because of that, I can’t go home.

War changed me. “Sure, everyone says that.” Yeah, but it didn’t change just the physical, it changed the way I viewed the world. Prior to war, I would look for the good in folks. Now, I don’t see the good. I am focused on the negative attributes of the person. Everyone and everything are considered a threat until proven otherwise.

That brings us to tonight.

I’m dying. I’ve known it for a while. Maybe it’s the  toll of too many years, fighting too many wars, in too many places, where we were unwanted. I tried to do the best I could by you. I found you sitting on a pile of ashes. Looks like soot will be all you have of me, when I’m gone. I set you up a fund. Your university is paid in full. It’s all detailed in the will.

I never had a kid, but you were the best thing to happen to me. Good-bye.”

Memorial Day Blues…A short story.

“You know, sometimes the burden of being a veteran becomes overwhelming. It’s a strange thing to give yourself to the pursuit of higher ideals, only to see those who swear upon the Bible tear down all your hard work.”

I look out my window and dark clouds loom on the eastern horizon. “The clouds are at their limits. Don’t look like they will be able to hold much more. Kinda like our society.” My dog, Chunk 2.0, grows agitated as the clouds draw ever closer to the house. His head is tilted back as he sniffs the air.

The Speaker of the House comes on television to host her weekly brief with the press. Per usual, she stumbles across the floor like the drunken idiot she is. “I guess Chunk can smell her crap out there on the porch.” As usual, the Speaker lays the inefficiency of the government squarely at the feet of the President of the United States.

“He is a buffoon. The man is rude, crude, and an example of all things wrong in this country. He has to go!”

It’s my opinion that if the only way you can live with yourself is to stay inebriated, you might be the issue. Of course, this is simply the nature of politics. 

“The sacrifice of my friends lost in the sands of some forgotten landscape is nothing more than a move on some political chess board. If you’re unfortunate enough to survive, the broken husk of war worn flesh is something to be tossed to the side until the next war kicks off.”

I stop writing and rub my eyes. They’re leaking. It seems like only yesterday that I was willing to defend the greatest nation on earth against all enemies foreign and domestic. Today, I am trying to function without going to jail.

Now, Chunk isn’t the only one agitated.

As I try to get back on topic, my mind runs the faces of my lost friends through my mind. They were there one moment, big as life, and the next moment they were gone like a vapor. The one lesson I learned is this: it doesn’t matter how you were killed, dead is dead. There is no filling the void left by your lack of presence. A lone tear trickles down my cheek. 

I spent many years in a bottle of Jameson looking for answers to unanswerable questions. Memorial Day and the Speaker of the House makes me want to go on a three-day bender. Instead, I reach for the Mountain Dew and place my fingers on the keys..

“While certain days I’m angered by the lack of respect shown to my friends’ sacrifice by certain politicians, my service to this country remains a highlight in my life. After all, if it was easy-everyone would do it.It’s not so much a career as it is a calling. Someone must be willing to stand their post and keep the sheep safe from the wolves.”

Otherwise, America the Beautiful will implode from it’s corruption.

Ashes….Part I

“It’s 117 and it isn’t even 0800. I hate this place.” The sun seems to be mocking me, as I stride across the endless sands of another desert. I am conducting a search, but the heat has me ready to call it a day. In the military, lieutenants are mocked constantly for their lack of experience in reading maps. “I know where I am going,” they shout in their own defense. “And here I am out in the middle of this freaking wasteland looking for an entire squad of lost soldiers.”

I wipe at the sweat which dots my face, and, in the distance, I notice a plume of smoke. The body armor has begun to weigh on my shoulders, and I clutch my rifle tight to my body. Lowering my body to make myself a smaller target, I creep over the sand dune. Scattered below me are tents of nomads, their bodies lie between the burnt husks of their possessions. I make my way through the carnage. Stepping over the bodies, I see a child sitting on a pile of ashes. “What in the world?” I kneel and check the area; the baby doesn’t notice me. Satisfied that the area is clear of threats, I walk over to the child.

“Hello, darling. What are you doing?”

Tears mark her face. Ash smears are on her forehead and her brown eyes look at me. We stare at each other for a moment and she goes back to playing in the slag. I sit beside her and she leans against me. She grips my hand and runs it in the soot. Satisfied there is enough ash on my fingers, she takes my hand and smears ash on my face.

“Daddy?”

“No, baby. I’m not your daddy. What happened here?”

“Bad men.”

“Okay. We’ve got to get out of here. I’ll take you with me and my outfit can find someone to help you.”

I stand and extend my hand to her. She takes my hand and stands to her feet. She is a cute child. Her hair is curly and black, her dark eyes seem to smolder, and she is quick to laugh. Her small hand taps mine and I look at her.

“Oku.”

“You can call me Ghost. Come on darling, we gotta get back.”

Slowly, we trudge through the sand until we reach the landing zone where I was dropped off. The radio I had hidden in the nearby shrubbery is still there.

“Hideaway, this is Ghost, over.”

“Go for Hideaway, Ghost.”

“Roger, Ghost requesting pick-up, plus one pax.”

“Roger, Hideaway copies all.”

With the call completed, me and Oku walk behind a dune and stretch out in the shade. Oku snuggles close. An hour passes and, in the distance, I hear the churn of rotors. The radio squelches and then a voice comes over the air.

“Ghost, this is Lighthouse 16, do you copy?”

“Go for Ghost, Lighthouse 16.”

“Is the LZ marked?”

I toss a red smoke grenade over the top of the dune.

“Roger, LZ marked.”

The roar of rotors draws closer, and I take Oku by the hand. “Sweetie hold my hand. Don’t let go.”

Lighthouse 16 comes back over the radio, “Roger, Ghost. I see red smoke.”

“Roger.”

The Huey touches down 100 yards from the dune. Me and Oku run toward the chopper. Inside the whirly bird, the door gunner looks at me.

“Where did you find her?”

“Sitting on a pile of ashes in what was left of a band of nomads.”

“Jesus. I hate this place.”

“Me too, brother. Me too.”

We ride in silence, the chopper running the nap of the earth until we reach our base camp. The helicopter touches down and we disembark.

“Oku come with me. I have to go give my report.”

I walk to the tent which houses our headquarters element and operation center. As I walk in, the CO glares at me from the desk.

“Did you find any sign of the lost troops?”

“No sir. I made it about half a mile in and came upon a shot up camp of nomads. This little girl, her name is Oku, was the only survivor.”

“So, you said forget the troops, this little girl is more valuable than the lives of our men?”

My eyes narrow at the accusations which are hurled in my direction. “Don’t hit him, don’t do it. He isn’t worth the jail time.”

“No sir. Our men are highly trained killers, they can hold their own against anyone. This girl is 3, maybe 4 years old, and I wasn’t going to leave her out there by herself.”

“I see.”

Without another word, the CO pulls his sidearm and shoots Oku in the chest. I grab the gun and yank it to the right; with my free hand I pull my blade.

“You piece of filth! My son is leading those soldiers and you bring this garbage back in his place!”

 He swings the weapon toward me, and I slam my blade into his right eye. I pull it out and slam the blade into his armpit puncturing his heart.

“MEDIC!”

Oku lies in the dirt whimpering. I run to her and cradle her in my arms. The medic sprints across the camp to where I hold Oku.

“Put her down, Ghost. Here, press this bandage against her wound.”

“Look at me Oku. It’s gonna be okay.”

“Bad man.”

“Yeah, baby. He can’t hurt you anymore. Just relax, and let Doc take care of you.”

Doc gives her a shot of adrenaline and patches up her wound. Behind me, I hear the officers talking to the police.

“Ghost, you are under arrest for the murder of a superior officer. Interlace you fingers behind your head.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Do it. You will be given an opportunity to tell your side of the story.”

I comply with the order and interlace my fingers. Handcuffs are slipped on my wrists and I am led to the SUV.

“Get in.”

While I struggle to get into the back, Doc runs up to me.

“Hey, Ghost. I just want you to know, the little ‘un is gonna make it. You did a good thing.”

“Thanks, brother.”

I am driven to the main base and escorted into the police station. A wooden bench is bolted to the crumbling wall, and I am led to it.

“Sit down.”

The officers walk over to the desk, and one picks up a phone. Talking in hushed tones, a few words are spoken and then the officer hangs up the phone. He gestures for me to come over, so I push myself to my feet and walk toward him.

“The judge will see you now.”

The officer grabs me by the cuffs and guides me toward the courtroom. Walking down the narrow hall, I notice it is dimly lit and lightly traveled. At the end of the hallway, a lone door is pushed open and I am placed in an aluminum chair.

“Wait here.”

Time drags by, but finally, the judge walks in. He sits and two other men walk into the room. One is the CEO of the military contractors I work for, the other is unknown to me. Bill Wilson is the proprietor of Wilson Solutions. He pulls a chair over to where I sit.

“How are you doing, sport?”

“Better than my CO, sir. So, pretty good.”

He nods his head and chuckles. Then he leaned back in his chair. He scratches his five o’clock shadow and leans toward me.

“You’ve put me in a predicament, Ghost. First, you rescued a kid, when you were supposed to be searching for members of your team. Second, you killed your CO. What am I going to do with you? Or her?”

“Well sir, killing me won’t bring the CO back. Killing the kid would be pointless. I guess you could cut me, and the kid lose, and I will find my own way back home. No harm, no foul.”

“Yeah, but what about the missing troops?”

“I’m not your only tracker, sir.”

“You know that band of nomads you found? Those lost troops killed them, and your CO ordered the hit. He sent you to “find” them, but you weren’t supposed to make it out of the desert. I’m not upset you killed the idiot. I want you to finish the job.”

“Can I get these cuffs off?”

Wilson nods his head, and the officer removes my cuffs. I flex my hands and lean back, taking in what I had just been told. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“So, let me make sure I understand this. You want me to hunt down and kill this five-man team of trained killers. For what purpose would I do this? I can see what you get out of it, but what’s in it for me?”

“You get to live.”

“I’d rather die.”

“Fine, Ghost. What do you want?”

“500 thousand, and clean passports for me and Oku. This is my last job. I will kill them and then I’m done. I also need my gear and their location.”

Wilson nods his head and stands to his feet. He extends his hand, and I shake it. “Deal. Judge, it looks like you aren’t needed.  Ghost, you can pick your gear up at the airfield. Joshua here will make sure you are briefed.”

“Yes, sir.”