Sunday, December 14, 2008

Lead Thoughts and Lost Horizons, Part 4

"So what do we do now?" she asked quietly as she pulled in to the spot next to Rob's gifted Acura.

"What do we do about what?"

"You know," she turned the car off, "Us. Um, assuming there is an us to talk about."

"Well," he said, hitting the seat belt button and opening the door, "Since there is a you and a me, that technically means there's an us." He got out of the car.

"You know that's not what I mean," she replied, head popping up over the roof of the car. "You really can't be that dense, can you?"

He didn't respond immediately, far more focused on checking the RSX to make sure nothing had been disturbed. He'd left a small arsenal in a parking lot for a week, and even though it was hidden and the car didn't look like it had been disturbed he wanted to be sure. "No," he finally said, peering through the back window, "I'm not that dense. I just don't see what the big deal is here."


"Yeah." He looked back at her. She was standing behind her car, hands crossed over her chest, waiting. "This might not be the ideal way to start a relationship, but it's what we've got. Hell," he laughed, "This might be the most sensible beginning to a relationship I've had yet."

"That's pathetic."

"I don't know," he shrugged, "I've picked up my fair share of girls in bars. That's pathetic, really."

"So you're saying I'm better than a bar skank? Thanks. That's a high compliment."

He walked over to her and gently gripped her shoulders. "That's not what I'm saying at all, Dawn. I'm saying," he sighed, "Hell, I don't know what I'm saying. It's just that you're focused too much on the fact that this whole thing is pretty unconventional. I'm trying to say not to worry about it too much."

"Okay." She put her hand behind his head and pulled it down. "Thank you," she whispered right before their lips met.

"You're, uh, you're welcome?" he replied when he could finally speak again.

She laughed, then turned and lead him in to her building. "So am I allowed to ask you about your past now?" she asked over her shoulder.

"Yeah. I don't know that you'll like the answers, though."

"Try me."

"I enlisted right out of high school. There was nothing for me at home and no money for college, so it was the only way to escape from my shitty life." He stopped as she opened the door of her apartment.

"Keep talking," she said, pointing at the couch, "I'm hungry."

"What's on the menu?"

"I can make you anything you want as long as it's a turkey sandwich."

"Guess I'll take a turkey sandwich, then," he said, flopping down on the couch. "Anyway, I signed up, then I went for the Rangers as soon as I got the chance. I spent some time in Iraq and some time in Afghanistan. I got a reputation as the guy who worked the hardest, shot the straightest, and had the biggest pair in one of the most elite fighting units in the world. That got me some attention and I was given the chance to take a new, special assignment. I took it without asking too many questions. Turns out that Delta Force was knocking on my door."

"What's Delta Force?"

"It's one of the most elite special forces units in the world. If the United States needs someone killed or something destroyed and it has to be done with the minimum possible force and the maximum amount of deniability, Delta Force gets the job."

"Oh. So you were a good soldier, then?"

"Uh, yeah."

"So what happened?" she came out of the kitchen with two sandwiches on a plate.

"I was in some backwater town down in some backwater country where the United States officially had no military presence and, according to official records, I've never actually been."

"That's a neat trick."

"I know," he smiled. "Anyway, some local warlord was apparently getting small arms and ammo to nearby Al Qaeda cells in the area. They, in turn, were going to topple the America-friendly government, install the warlord as the supreme ruler, start perpetual Jihad and do all that junk. It was our job to make sure that this didn't happen."


"Indeed." He took a bite of his sandwich and chewed thoughtfully for a moment. "We went in at midnight. The warlord, his family, and some of his top lieutenants were in a walled compound at the center of a little town. We weren't officially there, so we had to get in and get out before any police or army units could respond and do it with the minimum possible collateral damage.

"Everything went smoothly until my buddy Garb and I hit one of the rooms. I went high, Garb went low. I swept the room and stopped when I found a young woman clutching two kids. If I'd tracked about three more feet I would have found the guy with the AK-74 hiding in the corner, ready to spray me with bullets."


Rob nodded. "Fortunately, Garb was more on top of it than I was. He dropped the bastard.

"It, uh, it shook me up a little bit. But I figured I'd shrug it off. I hesitated once, I wasn't going to make the same mistake twice.

"About six months later we were in Africa, acting as military advisers to some insurgent group. Me and Garb and a couple other guys were riding herd on a group of guys who were making a quick attack on an ammo dump. They fucked it up real bad and we ended up in a running firefight against some militia unit."

He squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed them hard. "I, uh," he opened his eyes again and sighed heavily. "I came around a corner and found a couple of kids. They couldn't have been more than 12 and I swear they were smaller than the AK-47s they had pointed at me."

"I just stopped." He looked down at the couch and bit his lower lip. "All I could see were kids. It was like they weren't carrying AKs. They were just fucking kids. I forgot my job, I forgot my training, I forgot that they could kill me. And then one pulled the trigger."

He waved his hand over his right shoulder. "The shots went wide. That was when my training kicked in. The kid was tiny, probably didn't get enough food, and the gun's kick nearly knocked him over. I put three rounds in to his buddy, then killed the first kid. Then I turned around.

"Garb was there. He'd been following me, watching my back. He'd come around the corner at the wrong time. One of the kid's bullets hit him in the elbow, the next blew his jaw off, and the third took off the top of his head."

Rob chewed on his lower lip for a moment, blinking back tears. "I had to carry my best friend back to camp, bleeding all over my uniform. Then I accompanied the body back to the States. I had to stand there and lie to his mother and his wife about where we'd been and how he'd died. Admitting we'd been in Nowhere, Africa destabilizing some pissant government for the enduring glory of Uncle Sam would have been bad PR."

"I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault." He shook his head. "It just pisses me off. I was watching some commercial right before the funeral. Some fucking organization or another had trucked out the mother of a soldier who died in Iraq so she could beg people to keep fighting over there to make sure her son hadn't died in vain. I stood up and shouted, 'Samuel Joseph Garber died in vain, you stupid shit. Shut the fuck up!' then stormed out of the room.

"Garb's brother followed me out of the room. He had this look like he was going to beat the shit out of me for daring to say such a thing. I told him that if he really wanted to honor his brother's memory he'd best think about what sort of insane system justifies the death of one person by sending in another one to die.

"Then, just to add insult to injury, that damn church that protests at all the military funerals showed up. That motorcycle group that protests the protesters showed up, too. Then the media showed up and it was just this big circus. I had to stand in front of that casket, next to Garb's wife and mother and father with some dipshit screeching about god hating fags outside and cameras waiting to capture all the grief for the six o'clock news." He sighed.

"I just couldn't take it any more. I was given leave and recommended for psychiatric evaluation. But I just disappeared. The government couldn't let a guy with my skills and knowledge run free, so they chased pretty hard. I stayed one step ahead until, well, until you."

"Oh." She squeezed his knee. "I'm sorry."

He shook his head. "It had to happen eventually. And I guess it worked out. That Smith guy didn't want to lock me up, he wanted to offer me a job."

"Are you going to take it?"

"Hell, no."

"Good," she smiled, "Stay here with me."

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