I KILL RICH PEOPLE 2, page 2
The biggest billy goat sniffed along the edge of the cover tarp only inches from his face. Jesus. Don’t fucking chew my cover. He tested his regular grip on the Barrett and tried to ignore the animal. No good. The finger was worse. He was forced to roll his left shoulder and cup with his thumb and middle finger to keep the painful index finger out and away, clear from touching anything. Breaking routine.
He could hear the mantras of a dozen trainers: “Improvisation is overrated. Routine methods produce intended results. Routine brings you back alive.”
Two clicks might bring in the Strykers. Play the percentages. Abort!
Outside the main village walls, scrawny dogs yawned awake and moved carefully around the periphery of bearded men wearing pakols and lungees on their heads who squatted drinking tea by the morning fire with their baggy pants hiked up along their thighs. Spencer raised the bipod and drew in a deep breath of air before putting his eye to the scope. The billy goat straddled the Barrett’s long rifle barrel.
His second target, a middle-aged Pashtun wearing a dirt-white lungee around his head, a long red-haired beard hanging down to his chest, strolled out to greet the others.
“Walikom Wa Salam.”
The men shook hands. Red-beard thanked them but waved away the offer of tea.
Ten o’clock position. He looked left as a gaggle of women with their heads wrapped in chador passed deep red and rich blue rugs over a stiff clothesline then smacked at them, raising puffs of dust off their forked sticks with each strike.
Ahead of him lay open furrows of red soil tilled by donkey and by hand. He saw concrete culverts and steel water gates along the irrigation channels. Somebody had to have brought those in. Without reliable diesel supplies, the work was done by hand; tractors were of little use, even if the village might have afforded to buy one. Helmand Province, ground zero for the world’s opium supply.
Get out of here, Goat!
Spencer reached out to thwack at the back of the goat’s leg. Instead of retreating, the creature bleated and turned toward the hide, angrily trusting its horns beneath the tarp until Spencer finally punched its nose. That sent it running.
Provided that his Comsys worked and the Predator was where it was supposed to be and his extraction vehicles didn’t run into an ambush or an IED and intel was correct that there were no mortars in the village, provided that all of it was perfect, then he was home free. Cake. The Strykers should be waiting in the wadis and gullies four miles to the north and west to come in and extract him. Upon confirmation of target, he was to contact them by sat-phone. Three targets, and then hold off whatever firepower that the 200-person mud village could muster from behind the walls, wrap it up and hop into an air-conditioned rig. Piece of cake. Only, he and anyone else with half a brain knew that one man and a Barrett 50 weren’t going to hold off that whole village. These were people who had already lasted through two generations of continuous warfare. This ground had seen three thousand years of violence between families and villages and tribes. Piece of cake? Piece of shit, just as likely. But thinking you’re dead and living is only a short vacation makes the work easier.
Lifting his mini-scope to his right eyeball, he scanned the fields outside the walls in search for his primary target, the bomber. Miller had briefed him that Red beard and the mother, the whacko parents, were helping their son plan to blow himself apart. Something there should have tipped him off; no parents help their children commit suicide. But he wasn’t questioning, not on that level.
Despite the cover cloth, the Barrett’s tan muzzle was radiating heat up the barrel. His palms slowly baked; he had to lift his face away from the rifle to wipe sweat out of his eyes. Spencer began his micro-exercises as both a discipline and a distraction; starting from his toes and working all the way up to his neck and out to each arm, he tensed every muscle once, followed by four quick contractions, and repeated the routine another two dozen times.
The finger hurt like a motherfucker. Spencer stored it and moved past the pain. His right hand touched the ammunition. Picking up one of the nearly five-inch-long bullets, he imagined the warm heft of the cylinder in his palm before thumbing it into the magazine. Without looking, he touched again up and right, adding the physical memory for exactly where the next round was awaiting his fingers, and continued loading until his primary mag was filled. He always loaded his one-mag immediately prior to mission-fire. That routine was as important for centering himself as his breathing. His one break from standard was using his opposite hand to open first the end cap on the Leupold Mark 4 scope and then the eye-cap, avoiding touching anything with the tender finger. Balancing right and left hemispheres was important and it was too often overlooked, but this time he had his left shoulder rolled uncomfortably to compensate for the fucked-up index finger.
Then he spotted his primary. His muscles clenched, on point from jaw to toes, before he steadied his breathing, leaned into the Leupold scope, and relaxed his finger along the trigger. The intel coming from Miller, Spencer’s “lead”, proved to be on point. The teenager had on the same red Manchester United FC t-shirt he was wearing in the briefing photos. His features were caved-in all down the right side; no jaw or cheekbone, one side ghoulish and on the other a handsome kid. The whole of Afghanistan, captured in a face.
Even without the distinctive red beard, the elder man’s hooked nose and deeply set green eyes would have been a clear match. The woman with them was covered entirely in her chadri; Spencer had to identify her by association with Manchester United and Red-beard.
He made one subtle sweep until the targets were in frame, and then adjusted the sight to clarity. Three-hundred-sixty meters.
He switched his sat-phone on and popped twice, waited, and then popped twice more. He could already have taken the targets—one by one he ranged them in the crosshairs. At this easy range he had no need to compensate for wind or distance—but he held to the discipline, waiting for the response chirps. Forty solo missions. You respect the routine.
Where the hell was his counter? Strykers need to get their thumbs out of their asses. Respond already!
One chirp. Two chirps. Right. They had the signal.
“OK boys, let’s wrap this up and get on home.”
The three, father, son, and the black-clothed specter, routinely strolled out into the field, straddling the furrows out toward the irrigation culvert’s water gate. The elder walked first, followed by the primary, with the mother hopping her way along. The kid stopped and used his toe to flip up a donkey turd, then soccer-dribbled it on his Pumas a half-dozen times. Spencer popped twice, waited, and popped the sat-phone three times, signaling the Strykers to move in fast.
The mother lifted her burqa, exposing her sandaled feet, and mimicked soccer-boy’s dribbling skills before she side-kicked a pass toward her son. The turd broke into dry bits when he caught it on the toe of his shoe. The father held his head down and walked fast, both hands folded behind his back. He forced soccer-boy out of his path atop the furrow until they turned, moving out perpendicular to the farm rows. Every time the woman leapt from one furrow to the next, she passed in front of the soccer kid, bringing both of their heads into a single crossing frame. Spencer considered the pattern. It brought a little challenge into his routine. Could he take out the bomber and the woman with one bullet?
The three were well out into the field, 200 meters beyond the brown mud walls. Looking back later, he would see how none of it added up, but at the time he couldn’t add right. He was thinking on some level about two busloads of Afghan Army recruits. Gunmen kneeled them down in rows and blew their brains blown out. Why was he thinking about this? Why did his brain go there? Mission drift…it was like closing your eyes just for a second when you’re dog-tired behind the car wheel. That’s the second that gets
Three quick chirps back from the Strykers. Three minutes out. Thank Christ for that.
Spencer locked onto his targets, framing his focus like Olympic ski-jumpers melding minds and bodies to their skis in facing down the 100 meter jump. He became an extension of the Barrett.
The weapon is perfect. Be at one. Make perfection.
He inhaled from his fingertips, his eyes, from the ridges along the tops of his ears. His right eye caressed the hot rubber fitting of the Leupold.
The kid zigged and zagged, dancing his feet around imaginary opponents. Spencer centered upon the bright red cloth between the bomber’s shoulder blades, but held, timing his fire to the woman’s leap. BRASS. Breathe. Relax. Aim. Slack. SQUEEZE. Her feet landing on top the next furrow and his shot converged just as Spencer had choreographed it within his mind’s eye. The dime-round fifty-caliber bullet burst through her skull, lifting her body off the ground and sandwiching the woman to her dead son. One strike. Both. Spencer enjoyed a moment before shifting slightly to bring the turban and beard to center sight. The man turned and immediately roared his pain and anger. Spencer let him live a minute longer.
Fuck with the U.S. Army. This is what you get. Take it in.
The older man dove down into the shallow furrow, but he remained ludicrously exposed. Spencer centered on the eyes, watching the rage bulging out from red, burning burning eyeballs. Then he did something that Spencer appreciated. He didn’t try to run. Instead, he managed to pull the AK out from under the kid and rose up screaming, wildly spitting a spray of bullets on full-automatic until he emptied the full mag. When he was out, he shook his fists above his head and screamed.
Spencer let him empty the weapon, let him rage, all the while breathing in, centering his shot. Hindu love-tap. Right between his bulging red eyes.
Three kills. Confirmed. A day’s work done. Exhale.
The goats stood entirely still, every one of their heads twisted with eyes locked onto him when he stood. Spencer turned and glanced behind him. The Strykers looked to be about two miles out, hauling ass and kicking up a dust cloud.
A return round coming from the mud walls popped up dust a foot in front of him. He lifted the heavy rifle and shifted his eye back to the Leupold while, typical to amateur shooting, two more bullets hit wide, landing way off center at a ten-foot spread. The shooter’s ragged head showed eight inches above the village wall to compensate for the AK-47’s long, curved magazine. Spencer squeezed the trigger and the head disappeared concurrent to the stiff recoil. Two more dark shapes showed over the wall. Spencer dispatched them in quick succession, and then scanned the village and the top of the lone minaret. Nothing more moved, except for the goats hustling back to their pen, complaining noisily.
Spencer scanned. Not a dog or person in his sights. He replaced the barrel-cover, dropped flaps on the Leupold scope, removed the magazine, cleared the chamber, and slung his weapon across his back with practiced efficiency. He had already accounted for his supplies, checking and double-checking ammunition, binoculars, mini-scope, night vision goggles, sidearm, and the obvious, his Barrett.
When the Strykers came in the firing from the village was already over with, but that didn’t stop them from coming in hot, strafing cover-fire that sent chunks of mud exploding off the village walls.
Spencer towed his pack down low and walked out, keeping the thorn tree between his back and the village walls and swaggering forward with casual nonchalance through the thick dust they kicked up as the incoming Strykers slowed. An extended arm reached out to him. He locked his grip around the other soldier’s wrist and felt a tight grip wrap around his own wrist, and then he was pulled inside the cool, air-conditioned cavity.
Spencer looked over the swollen finger. A black line showed through his fingernail, surrounded by deep reds and purples where the thorn had penetrated a full inch under the nail and into his knuckle. A corporal riding with him in the back reached over, taking hold of Spencer’s hand, and turned it up and down again to get a decent view inside the dim compartment. He didn’t like the look of it. Reaching down beneath the bench he was seated upon, the corporal retrieved a field emergency medical kit, opened it and fished inside until he located lidocaine. He motioned for Spencer to stick out his left hand and sprayed it wetly on all sides. He put back the kit and closed his eyes afterward.
With their turret gunners working fifty caliber guns in tandem, the Strykers drove out to the fields to the bodies Spencer had dispatched just minutes before. Two-man relays jumped from the vehicles, quickly snapping black body bags lengthwise on the ground and rolling in bodies while the gunners loosed short bursts that put out the clear message that anybody who wanted to keep his head had better stay off the walls. Spencer and the corporal lifted their own legs clear when they heaved the first heavy sack into their Stryker, landing the contents with enough momentum to slide the woman’s body over the metal floor. The next one was bagged and shucked in by a second pair of hands. The first pair dropped in the third and lightest bag, then slammed the rear gate shut again. The corporal stuck in ear buds and closed his eyes, seeming unbothered as his helmet banged off the steel wall behind him. Neither one of them said a word. Their Stryker, on point, moved out instantly. The trailer, the second Stryker watching their backs, loosed a last burst from the fifties as the unit jerked through gears, making distance from the village.
Spencer’s heels thumped against the body bags for the next forty minutes while they bounced across twenty rough miles. Tears dripped over his cheeks; he attributed them to the adrenaline dissipating through his system.
The Strykers removed Manchester United and the old man and woman from their vehicles before they ripened. Spencer waited through five long hours, resting his head on his knees with the body bags fifteen feet away from him until somebody finally boxed in a helicopter to lift him and his stinky cargo back to base from 2nd Bridge 2nd Division Stryker’s forward position. The bags were left stewing in the heat, where they had ballooned with gasses by the time they were loaded into the chopper. Even with his head stuck out the open doorway, the sickly sweet stench was inescapable.
Right after landing Spencer made straight for his tent. Towel and shower first, then shuteye.
Outside Spencer’s tent, Miller’s “translator” sat squatting on his heels, his chin low beneath his pakol, the Afghan cap he wore pulled down over his eyebrows. Spencer instinctively loathed the man. The Afghan would never look him in the eye. He was a snake, not a fighter. The man’s loyalty was to the money Miller represented, period.
A half-emptied bottle dangled from Miller’s loose wrist. The drinking was nothing new, but this was the first time that Miller was flopped inside Spencer’s tent drunk before noon. He had his muddy canvas boots on, too, one on Spencer’s sack, the other rested on top of Spencer’s guitar case. Spencer kicked Miller’s boot to the side and toed his guitar case deeper beneath the cot.
Miller wasn’t Army, which made for a loose, undisciplined hierarchy. Their relationship was tentative at best.
“Take a drink,” Miller slurred. He reached out the bottle and sloshed a long splash of the Johnnie Walker Blue Label onto the tarp floor. Spencer stared as the whisky soaked into the canvas, leaving concentric rings of wet dust on the floor of the tent that was more home to him than anyplace else that came to mind.
Spencer pulled his shirt off over his head. Ripples defined every movement across his taut, lean musculature. Miller thrust the amber liquid toward him again. Spencer turned away before peeling himself out from his pants. In his skivvies, he stared down at Miller, who remained kicking back on the one place where Spencer might have sat down to unlace his boots.
Miller rested the whisky bottle against the receding hairline on his forehead. “Boy Scout,” Miller gri
Between the swollen finger and close to thirty hours without any shuteye, Spencer’s only reaction was to shift his stance, bringing the fifty caliber’s long barrel hanging from his shoulder to point straight at Miller’s face. The weapon was covered; safety and scope caps on, chamber cleared, but Miller’s eye followed the menacing line of the weapon. Spencer’s silhouette stood outlined against the intense daylight outside the tent.
Miller drew back the outstretched Scotch whisky, followed, after a pause, by Spencer racking his weapon.
“Fine,” Miller agreed. “Fuck it.” Miller swung his boot off Spencer’s cot. “Debrief at 4 o’clock, back here,” Miller ordered, then he rolled out from the cot with his bottle in one hand, cup in the other.
That’s 16:00, asshole, Spencer thought.
There was a written zero-tolerance policy for alcohol on base. That was one more thing Spencer disliked about his handler; the way Miller treated rules like they were all a joke that didn’t apply to him. Miller didn’t even bother to hide the bottle inside a bag. Every time Miller got into a bottle, he was bound to mouth off and cynically snark at everything. Always acting like he was something special, like he knew the score while everyone else around him were order-taking idiots.
Poisonous loser bullshit. Real soldiers were giving sweat and blood to handle tough duty and Miller talked like they were all chumps. But Miller moved through debriefs faster than any intelligence officer Master Sergeant Jonathan Spencer, MSJS, had ever seen. Drunk or sober, Miller synthesized ground photos and aerials, troop movements, supply chains, tactical models, and complex scenarios on the first pass, holding them inside his head in a three-dimensional picture that he was able to examine from every angle. He knew every technology, he knew the personnel, and he knew topography and weather data even and what outpost was going to get a fly-in from a visiting congressman. If a local Afghan Government official was killed anywhere in his district, Miller knew who would be taking his place. Well before any announcement was made, he was already shifting chess pieces in his head.