I KILL RICH PEOPLE 2, page 3
Spencer’s assignment was to support Miller, but there were no rules dictating that Spencer had to like the man or his behavior. MSJS trained, maintained, sustained; he achieved the stated objectives again and again. That was the job. The three bloating bodies spoke for themselves. Whatever decisions or policy choices his army or his Commander-in-Chief set forth, he was there to execute on them. The information and the knowledge to evaluate was beyond his pay grade.
Spencer moved outside into the sunlight to examine the damaged finger. It remained double its normal size. Not ballooned like before, but it could not go without repair. Still, that could wait until after a hot shower and a trip to the mess tent. Other than a cold MRE with the Strykers and one granola bar, he hadn’t eaten since 18:30 the night before.
He climbed the metal steps in his flip-flops, opened the shower stall inside the portable trailer, and glanced around, feeling good that the first shower stall he picked was freshly cleaned. He left the hot water splashing against his eyelids for minutes, then lifted his head and felt the spray against his throat and neck, all the time forcing the images that passed inward through his scope to wash past. One direction. When you look through your scope you locate targets. You dispatch targets. It’s a one-way baffle. The shit goes out, never in. The black-covered mother he dispatched was only the third woman he had ever shot. A mother playing with her kid. Fucking war.
You shouldn’t have done it, shooting both together. It didn’t matter that the fresh Afghan recruits were shot down one by one by the roadside; there was no excuse. He scrubbed hard, but no amount of scrubbing would clean away how he had made a game out of it, how he killed them with one bullet.
Full soap dispenser. That was good. Plenty of hot water, red dirt flowing down the white shower walls, swirling, past the stainless steel screen, and down the drain. But the one finger ached at even the slightest touch. Spencer shampooed his scalp then turned off the hot water and left the water on cold, or, rather, the lukewarm temperature that was as cold as the water ever got at midday. Running along his back and shoulders, he lifted his arm up into the spray to scrub his armpit. Spencer felt a tiny, penetrating burn running along the latts. He made a mental note of it, turning just enough to check whether there was a tear. No. Just a pull. He recalled thinking that he had landed poorly when he jumped; the Barrett added thirty-one pounds and it was his fault for not front-balancing it during descent. He had no excuse for allowing an injury that was preventable.
He walked in his underwear straight to the medical tent after the long shower. He learned something there; who knew about Plant Thorn Synovitis? Puncturing the knuckle could easily have left him with a localized form of arthritis if he had ignored maintenance and toughed it out instead. A shot of antibiotics later, along with a bottle of naproxen, and Spencer felt satisfied that he had made good decisions. He entered the mess tent having missed the regular lunch so instead of pulled pork and a French roll, he got a PB&J and an apple. Fair tradeoff. Maintain the hands, the tools of the trade.
Inside Spencer’s tent, Miller was flopped-out; a snoring ball of drunken sweat, half on Spencer’s cot and halfway out. Spencer looked on and wished that he could have turned in Miller to the Duty Officer for drunkenness. Miller was an asshole, but Spencer was no rat. For better or for worse, he and Miller were an autonomous operation. Once a week, on average, Miller appeared with a translator in tow. Miller arrived by helicopter when he could, by convoy when he had to. IEDs scared the shit out of him.
Miller’s stomach heaved, his throat swelled, and his mouth opened wide, looking like he was about to puke. Right on Spencer’s cot. It looked painful as he choked it back, but then he rested and went back to snoring.
Spencer stripped and cleaned the Barrett while Miller snored. Right after he finished, he looked at his cot with Miller still on it and his bullshit alarm went off.
“Hey. Wake the fuck up.” Spencer lifted his boot heel and rattled the cot. “Miller!”
Miller awakened contorting his dried-out mouth and tongue, initially looking for the Scotch before squinting to see Spencer across the tent seated on the floor.
“Enough! I earned so down time! This is my place. Get off my bed!”
Miller opened the bottle then took a sustained swig from the last dregs.
“Ten months going from one shit pile to the next one,” Miller griped. “Pricks won’t even give me a permanent helicopter.”
“Its way past 1600 hours,” Spencer shouted, this time rousting Miller and pulling him into a sitting position then holding him upright, shaking at him until his glazed eyes stayed open.
Miller’s cheeks puffed like a blowfish, and then he exhaled and took in a deep breath, blinking as he centered his focus.
“What time is it?”
“21:15. You slept through third mess.”
“Doesn’t matter. Got Commissary food on dry ice if I want it.” He shook his face to wake up then held his balding skull in both hands. Shaking was bad.
Spencer added, “Commissary food and $200 whisky.”
“You don’t know anything,” Miller wheezed.
“I know that drinking that way the body can’t regulate temperature,” Spencer warned. “You can go from sunstroke to hypothermia in the same day around here.”
“Whisky won’t kill me.” Miller twisted his neck and worked on getting focus. “Out there’s an IED with my name on it. I’m going to get blown to shit. Those mangy fucking mongrels out there will licklittle bits of me off a metal carcass. All for some piece of shit war in this piece of shit place. Fuck.”
Miller’s speech slowed, but beside that and the occasional misstep and quick recovery, Miller generally held his liquor. Not this time. He tipped back another gulp, blew the alcohol out over his tongue and lectured on how “the U.S. is going to leave here and the sand will wipe away our footprints just like that.”
He snapped his fingers. “Another dirty forgotten little war… we shit ourselves until we die and then nobody knows or cares that any of this ever happened.”
The translator, Afif, appeared behind Spencer and began to boil tea. Spencer smelled him before he turned around. Afif had the dank mushroom smell of decay.
Spencer seldom liked the smell of people; gun oil and graphite, sawdust and nitroglycerine were his cologne. Miller’s scent was acrid, a vinegar-sour stench of lies.
“Does he have to be here?” Spencer griped. Outside the wire, they went with the territory, but inside base, Spencer felt he had the right for some relief from these skulking types.
“Don’t worry about this one,” Miller assured. “He does what I tell him. No more Pathans. Done with them. It’s always the same with Pathans… they’ll take the money, but they’re guilty about it. Always on slow boil. One day they blow up and cut your throat.”
“Tell him to stay in front. I don’t want him behind me.”
“I’ve tried Tajiks, Hazzari, too, Miller continued, ignoring Spencer’s comment. “Afif is Ismaili.”
“Ismaili?” Spencer asked.
“Shia, from Badakhshan Province way up in the northeast. Best brand of go-fer. His kind has got no place to run. If he goes into China, the Han kill him, or if they don’t, the Uyghurs will. He can’t run over to Pakistan like any Pathan and hide with his cousins. The Pakis will cut his nuts off then listen to him howl for a couple days before they chop off his head.
“I own his ass.”
Miller pressed the heels of both his palms up to his temples. “Jesus. Let’s get through this. Right now if somebody cut off my head, it wouldn’t be so bad.
“Report, Sergeant. Tell of your mighty accomplishments!”
“Extraction better this time out?” Miller asked. All of Miller’s special assets were at the mercy of other units to get in and, especially, to get out again.
“Yes sir.” Spencer pause
“Correct coordinates. GPS working for a change,” the sergeant continued.
Spencer nodded and began. After nineteen years in, he was usually on autopilot at end-of-mission debriefs. “Successful drop at 03:00 hours, thank you 82nd Airborne.” He held up the swollen finger. “I managed to drop on the one thorny bush for a mile around.
“Dug in at position 400 meters outside the village,” he continued. Routine. “Confirmed Strykers at staging point ahead of extraction. Three targets sighted 06:45. Three targets neutralized 06:58. Extraction 07:05, along with remains. That and waiting around for hours to get me back with the rotting skunks.”
“I need more detail on this one,” Miller insisted. “Full report.”
Spencer continued, still on autopilot. Orders-missions-debriefs and systems-maintenance in between. Manchester United, his mother, his raging father. Bloated body bags all smell the same, sickly sweet repulsion.
“Correct coordinates,” Spencer narrated. “GPS was working correctly for a change.” Targets were located. Mission completed. Remains retrieved, as ordered. Extraction uneventful. Strykers laid down a few short bursts, 60 rounds, estimated. Kept the rest of the village behind walls. They picked up an Apache that kicked up a dust storm over the village while the Strykers moved out. Good packed earth on the return so they kept off the roads on the run back here.
“Like I said, mission accomplished.” Spencer finished speaking and eyed Miller, who pulled a tablet computer from his satchel, turned it on, and squinted with one eye until the photo display came into focus.
“Positive ID? All three?”
“Like I said.
“They’re bagged. In the mobile morgue. Look for yourself. The two males, absolutely. Can’t ID the woman, not with her always covered head-to-toe in chadri and burqa.
“Can I have my bunk now?”
Miller tapped his laptop and opened the video. Taken from ten thousand feet, it keyed on Spencer and all three of his three targets. He sat there, squinting, until suddenly snapping to attention like he was watching the team driving for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“Oh shit! You didn’t!” He ran his finger across the bottom of the screen and held the computer excitedly out to replay it so Spencer could watch with him. The scene showed the soccer player and his mother flopping over simultaneously.
“One shot?” Miller questioned, perking up enthusiastically. “Motherfucker! A two-fer!”
Spencer turned his eyes away. It sickened him now, hearing Miller’s excitement. When he was lying in the dirt alone, with a village of hostiles a few hundred meters away, it wasn’t nearly as bad. Taking a target with one shot is a decent way to kill and a decent way to die. A fair exchange; clean and organized. Not dirty and chaotic, not like a bomb. But he should not have done that, made his duty into a game.
Miller stared down at his courier satchel where it was lying on the floor beside the cot. On a whim, he snatched it and flipped it upside-down, snapping the wire closure and shaking the bag. A cascade of $10,000 stacks of bundled $100 bills tumbled over his chest and around his sides. He patted the pile and began shrieking a hyena-like crazed laughter.
Snatching up a bundle, he flipped it at Spencer to catch and hit Spencer’s midsection. Spencer let it fall on the tent’s canvas floor.
Miller leaned over, looked at the money, and his tone changed. “Take a taste, Sergeant,” he told Spencer aggressively. “You earned it.”
Afif, the translator, instantly poked his head inside the tent. Even in the dimming light, Spencer saw Afif’s eyes lock onto the bills. Afif shifted his yellow jackal eyes up at Spencer, his hard glare communicating volumes—a man who sold out to the invader, a man who turned his back on his tribe, his village, his clan; no translation necessary. Spencer closed the tent flap in front of the Ismaili’s face. Men like Afif needed money; without money the Pathans would chop through his ribcage and tear his heart out the second he was beyond the American protection.
Spencer snarled “You pick that shit up and get it out of here. I’m not touching that. ” The money? That was not OK.
“Evaporation,” Miller insisted. “Lost in transit.”
Miller moved tens of millions in cash money as part of his regular routine. After the first IED rattled him to the core, he pilfered two $10,000 bundles, figuring his life was worth a lot more than that, and then he waited anxiously for four weeks and almost peed himself when he had to stand before that same governor. Nobody even hinted at the missing $20,000. After that, Miller repeated the approach at another drop and then another, and before long his cut was a regular commission. He had funds moved into Luxemburg, in Macau, in Uruguay; he even had amassed $80K in Guinea Bissau. Aid money, capital projects, narco funds… it all spent the same.
“Pick it up and get it the fuck out,” Spencer repeated. His tone made it clear that he wasn’t going to say it again, but that had no effect upon Miller. “That’s none of my business,” Spencer growled. “I do the job, that’s it.”
“You don’t like me much, do you?” Miller observed offhandedly. He looked around, vaguely remembering how he had a bottle somewhere.
“Get off your high horse,” Miller grumbled. He threw a second bundle in Spencer’s direction. “It’s shrinkage. Goes with the territory.”
Spencer watched Miller patting around, finally locating the bottle between his legs.
“Is this all a joke for you?” Spencer asked Miller. “Do you stand for anything?”
Miller’s bloodshot eyes wandered up to Spencer’s face. “Just what do you think you stand for?” Miller challenged.
“I’m a soldier. I serve this country.”
“Afghanistan?” Miller teased.
“You fucking know what I mean!” Spencer reached out his boot and flicked the bundle soccer-style back at his handler. Something about the physical action made him recoil. Manchester United.
“It’s only money,” Miller chortled. “You think you’re better than me? You’re not better than me.” Miller’s fingers found the bottle. He gulped the last two fingers then wiped the back of his hand across his angry mouth. Miller sat up and grew rigid.
“Sergeant, don’t sit so tall in the saddle. I pass orders to you and a dozen more killers. Not one of you motherfuckers ever said ‘no.’ You want to be here!” Miller griped on. “Do you even know how fucked up that is? No, not you, ’cause you’re the Spear Point, the Warrior.” Miller ran his fingers through his thinning hair, and then swept up handfuls of cash just to let them drop again. “I’m twenty-nine years old. Did you know that? Twenty-nine. I look forty!”
His eyes fixed on the bundles where the two had tumbled to the canvas floor.
Spencer eyed his Barrett but kept it together. “Don’t get me involved,” he warned Miller, who acted like he could care less.
“Nobody trusts an honest man,” Miller scolded. “Oil or no oil, Sergeant, this whole place is a profit center. None of us would ever be here if it wasn’t. Spending trillions on a no-win war for a place where armies had been going to die for two thousand years? Come on. Give me a break.”
Spencer hovered above the cot and Miller, looking down through the comb-over at Miller’s sunburned red scalp. The thought flashed, just for a split second, that he could reach out and snap Miller’s neck.
“I am not involved.”
Miller went back to scrolling through sat footage and
He directed Spencer to “take the money, Sergeant.” This time it sounded more like an order than a request.
Spencer lifted his hands in the air, refusing even to touch it.
Miller’s face twisted. The veins thumped in his neck.
“Everybody takes a taste, Sergeant,” Miller insisted. “It’s the way it is.”
Spencer didn’t budge.
“Spencer, you’re an idiot”, Miller grumbled, rocking forward until he could swing his feet onto the ground.
“Boy Scout,” Miller told Spencer, phrasing it as a toast before taking a last pull from the bottle.
He made an effort to stand then gave up.
“Get me a sandwich,” he yelled out to the translator, who was positioned, kneeling, just outside the tent. Miller was obviously agitated, both at Spencer’s refusal and at having drunkenly run off his mouth. This was more than a contest of wills.
He focused toward Spencer with one eye open. “What do you think you do, Master Sergeant?” Miller asked.
Miller spit up slightly then he spat in Spencer’s direction.
“Your job. And that is?”
“Killing the enemy.”
“Ha!” Miller halted himself, lifted the bottle to his lips, and then looked at the damage he had done to its contents.
Miller’s chin dropped to his chest. He began expostulating with his hands alongside his voice. “Sergeant, there’s you and there’s the real world. Here is how the real world works. Somebody somewhere in this fucked up place pisses off somebody else, and then one names the other as a Taliban insurgent. That’s our first tip. Tip number one. Then that guy, the bastard who pointed first, he goes and he gets one of his thousand cousins to contact us and that cousin names the same person. Tip number two. Next cousin, next tip. Three tips and we have a winner! Three tips, the Haji goes on the list, and you get a target.