Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Mind in the Gutter

McFab compound. Recently. 1400 hrs.
I had just finished my daily PT--38 jumping jacks, five minutes of Jazzercise, and a long cool-down--when I got the call.
"Randy," my Mom yelled. "Pick up in there, it's Josh."
"Damnit, Mom--opsec! Call him The Falcon." Some people never learn. I didn't chastise her further--she had never lived at the sharp end, and God willing, she never would.
"You have the wrong number," I answered in my usual manner.
"Hey, dude," the voice at the other end said, "it's Josh--I mean, the falcon, or whatever. How's it goin'?"
I waited.
"Hello? Randy? You there?"
I waited.
"This line isn't secure," I finally reminded him. "Use my call-sign. And you didn't say 'over'. Over."
"Oh, yeah, right, uh, Darth Spock. Listen, I heard you got fired at Taco Bell, and I might have a job for you. It's--"
"Not over the phone! What's your location, Falcon? Over."
"I'm home, but, look, it's just--"
"I'll be there in twenty. Over." I hung up. Long goodbyes just mean a better chance for the NSA to run a trace.
The Falcon--Josh--and I went back a long way. We had met at a karaoke bar shortly after our wives left us and shortly before I moved back in with my Mom to protect her from potential terrorist threats. We found we had a lot in common--as it turned out, both of our wives had been cheating on us for years. We were also both hard drinkers when the mood struck us, and after a long night of wine coolers and Zima, a friendship had been formed. The Falcon wasn't a man of action, like me, but he had read Andy McNab's first two novels, so I trusted him just as I would a fellow warrior.
As I changed out of my PT gear, I wondered where the job was. Afghanistan? Maybe. I knew it was only a matter of time before I got the call to take down OBL, and this could be it. Then again, the commie rebels in Columbia had been making a lot of noise, and my experience in that region--I once took a cruise to Cozumel--might prove invaluable in that volatile situation.
Really, it didn't matter. As long as I spent the day wading knee-deep in blood and spent the night picking enemy skull-bone out of my teeth, I'd be in my element.
I dressed in normal civvy gear--black BDU trousers, tactical boots, and my "Mercenaries Do It Cuz You Paid Them To" tee-shirt. I wasn't expecting trouble on the short drive to Josh's apartment, so I carried only my light weapons load--two knives, a garrote, pepper spray and mace (one can each), and a water pistol filled with my own urine.
It took five minutes to convince my Mom to let me borrow the war wagon, or "car," as she calls it, which meant I had to comb my mustache in a hurry. Another six minutes, and I was on my way.
The Falcon's compound. 1425 hrs.
I knocked on his door in morse code. "Tap tap TAP...tap tap tap-- tap tap tap..." I tapped out our code phrase: "It is with heavy heart, dear Rebecca, that I write to you. Young Strawthorne has perished with the scurvy, and..." I continued tapping. "...I have little hope for our salvation. The camels are sick as well, and of an evil disposition--"
The door opened.
"Damnit!" I pushed him back inside. "Are you crazy, Josh? I wasn't finished with the code-phrase. It could have been anyone out here!"
"Oh, yeah, sorry, dude," he said, oblivious to the danger, as usual.
I slammed the door behind us.
"Have you swept for bugs recently?" I asked as Josh settled his 280-pound frame on the sofa and bit into what I knew was his third or fourth pork roll sandwich of the day.
"Mmm. Yeah. Say, that reminds me," he said, setting the sandwich aside. He pushed his thick glasses up and cleared his throat. "It's none of my business, Randy, but..."
"Five inches," I said. "But any chick'll tell you, it ain't the size of your pencil, it's how you sign your name."
"Actually, I was gonna ask if you had been to see know, the psychiatrist dude...are you still seeing him?"
"Negative. He was working for the chi-coms. I saw a package of green tea in his office. Besides, I only went because my Mom made me. She's better now."
"Ah. Good, okay. Anyway, about this job...They asked me to do it, but, I'm a little heavy right now and I can't really climb a ladder. I'm on a diet, though," he added, and went back at the pork roll.
"Ladder? So is it a covert entry, or just sniping?"
"Mmm..." He chewed. "It's gutters. The landlord wants the gutters cleaned on all of these buildings. There's five of 'em, fifty bucks a piece."
"Gutters cleaned? You're saying he wants someone killed?"
He chewed, swallowed.
"No, dude. Just gutters."
"Ah, gotcha. Stabbed. I can do it, but I can't guarantee it'll be quiet if there's five of 'em."
"Mmm..." He finished off the sandwich and licked his fingers. "No, Randy. It's really just cleaning the gutters. That's it."
I almost laughed.
"You're gonna hire a professional mercenary to clean gutters? What, are you kidding me?"
"Well, uh...They're three stories up, you know. Kinda dangerous. A lot of people, you know--afraid of heights and all."
I thought about it. Sure, I specialize in military action, but when you're packin' ten pounds of cajones you get asked to tackle all sorts of dangerous jobs, and if you don't take 'em--if you don't take 'em, some amatuer might, and that amatuer might get a one-way ticket to Toe-Tag Town for his efforts. I didn't need that on my conscience.
"I'll need rapelling gear," I said finally.
"No, dude, there's a ladder. It's no sweat."
"I'll need rapelling gear."
"Well, uh, okay, sure. I've got some rope, I think."
"And assuming I make it down alive...I'm gonna need a Zima. Hell, make it three Zimas. We haven't gotten shit-faced in a while."
"You're on," Josh smiled, and just like that I was on another job...
When Danger places a "help wanted" ad in the Deadly Daily News, it's men like me who answer them--our resumes written in blood, and our references so many cold corpses. Nice work if you can get it.