Tuesday, February 07, 2006


The jumbo jet banked steeply, affording me a straight-down view of the desert below. The rugged terrain looked like the surface of Mars, incapable of supporting human life. Which was true in a way. There were enemy personel down there, yes, but they sure as hell weren't human in my book. They were tangos, targets, and I was determined to eliminate every last one of them.
I felt sorry for the other passengers flying into the war zone. Most of them looked clueless, dressed more for a holiday in the sun than a trial at the sharp end. I noticed more than a few envious eyes checking out my desert BDU's, aviator sunglasses, and the limited-edition Dukes of Hazzard shamag I had bought off an Arab dude on E-Bay. I felt a little lonely with no other men of action to talk to. Then I spotted one.
He was a young buck, decked out in an impeccable uniform and heading down the aisle aft, towards me. His short, razor-cut hair, neatly-trimmed mustache, and perfect posture would have given him away with or without the uni, and I felt an instant bond with my fellow soldier. I elbowed my way past the old woman in the seat beside me and stood at attention in the aisle, saluting him.
"Can I help you?" he asked, stopping just short of me.
"You already have, dogface," I said. "I just wanted to thank you for keeping us free."
"Um...I don't..." He was modest, like all professional fighting men.
"I support you, soldier," I said. "You'll notice, I have two American-flag lapel pins. Most people just have one. And I have this ribbon thing..." I indicated the yellow ribbon I keep on my belt, ready to whip out and brandish at hippies at a moment's notice.
The soldier seemed confused, no doubt more comfortable with ammunition than adulation. "Sir, I think...I think you're mistaken, I--"
I noticed the wings on his chest. "Airborne, huh? I knew it! I haven't jumped yet, but I rode that thing at Six Flags where they take you up in a chair with a fake chute on top. Pretty much the same. I didn't have all my gear, of course, but--"
He cut me off. "Sir. I'm a steward. I work for the airline." He grabbed something off the cart he was pushing. "Would you like some complimentary almonds?"
I eyed his tailored uniform, his fit physique, and his impossibly-precise mustache. Suddenly it dawned on me. "OOH...Right, of course."
He winked at me. "I like you, too, though. I noticed the mustache. Maybe we could hook up after we land?"
It was obvious now, just who and what he was. Special Forces for sure, and he was travelling incognito. I couldn't hang with him, though, until both our missions were accomplished. Opsec always comes first.
"I'd love to get together," I said, "but I'm on the job as soon as we land. Maybe in a week or so?"
"Sounds good," he said. He winked and patted my ass as he walked past, just as macho guys do everywhere. I chuckled to myself as I sat back down. A bad-ass like him, posing as a male stewardess. You'd think the C.I.A. could come up with a better cover. I was thinking how fun it would be to enjoy a hard wrestling match and a man-only steam afterwards with my fellow tough guy when the plane began its final approach.

The job had come as a surprise. I'd been out of work since that FUBAR body-guarding gig a few months back. The client had clearly said, don't let anyone in the hotel room. Three rounds of 000-buckshot later, and all of a sudden he's clarifying, saying he himself was allowed in. Not only did the cheap bastard not pay me, he also failed to thank me for amputating his legs when even the paramedics said it wasn't necessary. You go the extra mile, you get screwed. That's the life of the merc. I had almost decided to go back to work at Taco Bell when I got the call.
The voice on my answering machine had that air of boozy incoherence that we fighting men have learned to respect. The guy who left the message sounded sort of like how my dad sounded when he would put on the Def Leppard tape and explain the intricacies of run-blocking to his four-year-old son. Dad gave up eventually, of course. He was too macho for family life, and while I missed him, I understood why he had to go on that secret mission to Zanzibar. If it hadn't been for my dad and his fellow fighting men, the U.S. would have run out of ice cream. My mom told me all about it when I was only five. I grew up missing my dad, and wishing I could correct all the locals who had been told he'd gone to prison for sodomizing local goats. Opsec comes first, though, so I just thanked him silently every time I passed a Baskin Robbins. Anyway...
The voice on the answering machine gave me a reason to keep fighting.
"Randy McFab," the message said, "we need you. Insurgents are crossing the border, and Uncle Sam is short of nephews. We read your ad in Vogue. We know you're the best. Help us, Randy one. You're our only hope." There was some other stuff--contact info, an offer of money, etc...But honestly they had me at "need you." I hadn't felt needed since the high school baseball team needed someone to test the effects of toilet water on athletic performance. That it was the U.S. of Fuckin' A that needed me just sealed the deal. They had their mercenary.

I stepped out of the air-conditioned terminal into the desert heat. I needed to find a fixer to get me into the hot zone safely, so I headed for the row of taxis parked up outside. I approached a small, dark man standing next to what was apparently called a "yellow" cab in this part of the world.
"Macarena," I said. Every good merc has language skills. "Fallujah kalishnikov?"
"Do you speak English?" the driver asked, with no trace of an accent.
"Yes. Wow. I'm impressed." I noticed his ID badge on the dash. Porfirio Gonzales. "Guten allah," I said, praising his clothing in his native tongue.
"Get in," he said. "And welcome to Tucson."

We drove south throught the Arizona desert, heading towards the border. We passed a place called Sierra Vista, and I knew by the Arabic name that the insurgents had had their way around here for a while. The entire state of Arizona had belonged to Mexico at one time, and I was damned sure not gonna let a bunch of Arabs take it away from the patriots who had annexed it for the U.S.
"Driver!" I said. "You speekee good eng-a-lush. Where terrorists? Bad men here? Bang bang?"
"Jesus Christ, dude," he said, again concealing his accent. "What the hell's wrong with you? I went to Pima High School. I speak better english than you do. You sound like a hick."
"Well, that there might not be not right," I said, bristling. "I didn't have Bin Laden himself to teach me grammar. I asked you a question, Akbar. Where are the terrorists?"

So I was on foot, walking beside the empty desert highway. That Arab cabbie was a touchy guy. I was alone and abandoned, my only companions the distant mountains and the porno mags I thumb through on long walks. The saguaro cactus, standing straight and tall like so many silent sentries, became less prevelant as we had travelled south from Tucson, replaced by thick stands of mesquite and the occassional cholla cactus, a ground-hugging variety with an arsenal of long thorns. I didn't know what the crazy plants were at the time, of course--I checked later in my December issue of Cactus Fancy. For now, everything looked alien and desolate, the only signs of life being the sparse vegetation, the long, empty highway, and the jackrabbits that would dart out from a clump of mesquite or ocatillo now and then to scare the crap out of me. I looked at my watch, the Casio Baby G, available from fine retailers such as Circuit City. It's a rugged, reliable timekeeper with the sleek good looks you've come to expect from a Casio product.
Fifteen minutes. I had been walking the seemingly-abandoned highway for a quarter hour, the relentless sun glaring down at me as if angry I'd intruded on the scene. Dehydration would set in soon if I wasn't careful, so I took a long swig of chocolate milk from my canteen. I knew it wouldn't last long. Soon I would be without any liquid other than my own urine, and I'd drunk too much of that the night before in the course of winning a bar bet. I looked up and down the road, straining to hear the approach of a vehicle. There was nothing. I patted the Crossman Wankmaster 5000 air-pistol in my shoulder rig. If it came to it, I'd choose a quick and easy thirty pellets to the head before I'd just lay down and dry up.

Twenty minutes later. I was laying down beside the highway, waiting for death, when I heard a faint sound in the distance. Sound carries in the empty desert, and even from miles away I recognized the approach of a 1973 Chevy truck with "Sweet Home Alabama" blaring out of the eight-track. It got closer, and as my salvation neared, my highly-trained ears focused more clearly. The pitch of the engine told me it was actually a 1986 Ford Escort, and the driver was listening to the soundtrack of "Grease." I stood up and brushed the desert sand off my BDUS, extending my thumb in the classic hitchhiker pose.
The vehicle finally arrived and, much to my relief, stopped a few feet past me. As it turned out, it was a Dodge minivan, and the Rush Limbaugh radio show blared out of the interior. I noted the yellow ribbon, American flag, and "Support Our Trooops or Go Back to Russia" bumper stickers. I smiled. This was my kinda guy.
"Need a lift?" He leaned over and opened the door, grinning to reveal two or three crooked teeth.
"Fuckin' A," I said, and tossed my rucksack on the floorboard before sitting down.
The driver and I studied each other as we sped away. He was skinny and tanned brown by the desert sun, a long ponytail hanging out from his "Free Mustache Rides" baseball cap. He didn't have a mustache, but I still appreciated the sophisticated wit of the sentiment. He turned down the radio.
"I'm Peter," he said, extending a thin, grimy hand. "My friends call me 'Peter Puller.' You get it? Peter Puller, like jerkin' yer meat, you know?" He laughed. "See, you know, Peter, that's like--"
"I get it," I said, wiping my hand on my trousers.
"That's cuz that time I was poundin' it, and then they all go, 'dang, dude, this is a funeral, what are you doin'?' And I'm all, 'shit, she still looks good, and--'" He stopped, eyeing my camo fatigues as if he'd just noticed. "Are you a soldier?"
"Something like that." I thought back to all the battles, all the death, all the scars. I had read about so much, it was hard not to be bitter. "I'm a mercenary, friend."
"A merc! Shit, bro that's awesome!"
"Is it?" I wanted to tell him, but what was the point? He hadn't been there, he'd never sat through fifteen viewings of Rambo, he'd never read every Andy McNab novel aloud to his cat. If he wanted to think war was easy, glamorous, I'd let him keep his illusions. I wouldn't wish what I've read about and discussed on the internet on anyone. "Yeah, it's awesome," I said finally.
"We got us a merc, you know," he said, his voice lowering conspiratorily. "He's gonna come down and take this shit to the next level, and like I said to Choad, I was all like, 'man, this dang ol' merc gonna come down and--"
I came to full alert. "What merc? What do you mean?" If there were other operators about, I needed to know about it.
"Choad's all, 'dang, man, get yer hand out yer pants, we're in a restaurant,' and I'm all..." He paused. "Shit, sorry, dude, I'm amped as a mofo. So yeah, this merc comin' down and all..." He trailed off.
"What's his name?" Damn, this guy was hard to talk to.
"Choad!" He laughed again. "See, choad is like--"
"No, goddamnit, the mercenary. What's his name? And what are you hiring a merc for?"
He seemed surprised that I didn't know. "I'm a Borderliner, bro! And the guy we hired is the deadliest man on earth...McFag, or something like that."
Holy shit. He continued, but I was almost too stunned to listen.
"McFin...Fal...Something. Hell, I don't know, I'm amped as a mofo, bro! But he's the best for sure, he even has an ad in Vogue!"

I was happy to be working for the Borderliners, though I was shocked to find myself hitching a ride with one. The Borderliners were a group of American patriots who had gotten together voluntarily to defend the U.S.-Mexico border from incoming Muslim terrorists. They parked their R.V.s in the desert and monitored the area, helping the hopelessy-inept Border Patrol perform their duties. The communists at CNN often portrayed these patriots as drunken racists, bent on stopping poor, desperate Mexicans from crossing over and supporting their families by taking jobs we Yanks won't fill. It wasn't true, though. Fox News has made it quite clear that islamic extremists are pouring into this country from the south, using their darker-than-white skin to pose as Mexicans until the time comes to throw down the Coronas and pick up their guns. The Borderliners were the only thing keeping southwestern cities like Los Angeles free of the violence and crime the tangos were determined to bring with them. I was honored, therefore, to be hired by the group and lend a hand, but I expected something a little different from the guy I was riding with.

I tuned back in to Peter Puller and the present. "My reverie is over," I said. "Enough background."
He had been talking the whole time, and continued. "...so I say, 'hell, it'll wash out, and you shouldn't have dressed like that if you didn't want to get me excited, Reverend.'"
"I should tell you," I interrupted, "I'm McFab. I'm your merc."
He started hyperventilating. "You're--you're McFag! Holy shit, man! Holy shit! I ain't never met no merc, bro, I...I'm amped as a mofo, bro, I...Holy shit! McFag!"
"Dang man, I gotta shake yer hand again, and this time I ain't never gonna wash it, not even on Sundays like usual." We shook, and a string of goo connected us for a moment as he took his hand away. "Wow. Right here in my van. McFag!"
"McFab. Listen, I'd like to know some more about the organization before I start sniping. I like to get to know the folks I'm killing for."
"Well, it's pretty simple, bro. Here, have a cerveza." He reached beneath his seat and produced a 110-degree can of Tecate. I sipped it, grimacing, while he talked.
"The Borderliners is all about protecting America, bro. We got these Mexicans comin' in, and they're takin' all the good jobs, takin' all the good mobile homes, takin' all the fat white chicks."
"Mexicans?" I asked, astonished. "I thought..."
"Think about it, bro! Mexicans take all the fat white chicks, what are black guys gonna do? They gonna want the skinny ones!" He shook his head sadly, considering the prospect.
"But...Of course Mexicans slip over here," I said. "They're right next door, we have jobs our own labor force won't fill, and technically this part of the country is their homeland. I'm not concerned about Mexicans. I'm here to stop all the terrorists coming across."
Peter Puller laughed, spitting beer. "Goddamn, McFag! They ain't no terrorists comin' across. Those 911 dudes flew in on commercial airliners. We just say that shit about terrorists so Fox News will make us look like we're protecting the country."
"But..." I was confused. "G. Gordon Liddy says that Muslim terrorists pose as Mexicans and cross over all the time, setting up terror cells and all."
"Dude...Duuude..." He was trying to stop laughin. "Half the Border Patrol are Mexican. You think they're gonna be fooled by an Arab trying to speak spanish?"
"I don't know. I can't tell 'em apart."
"Here's the thing," Peter Puller said, tossing his empty beer out the window. "The Borderliners, we're just honest Americans tryin' to make a livin' out here in the desert. We make a little bathtub crank, that kinda thing, but these wetbacks are gettin' all the guvment help, and pretty soon we ain't even gonna be able to get our welfare checks without sayin' 'por favor' first. White people will be left out, it'll all be--"
"What the hell did you just say?" I hoped I had misunderstood.
"These damn wetbacks, beaners, they--"
"No! What was that about the bathtub?"
"Oh." He suddenly looked solemn, guilty. "Shit man, I'm sorry." He pulled a plastic baggie full of white powder out of his soiled jeans. "I'm so amped, I wasn't thinkin'. You need a line, bro?"
I looked at him long and hard before speaking. "People make fun of me," I finally said. "I know that. I've never actually been in the military, never been to war. I read a lot, though. I have heroes. And I've always known I could be just like them if I needed to. I've always known that men like Andy McNab, Duncan Falconer, Dick Marcinko...They served their countries and told their stories so that people like me would be inspired, and fight when we had to. I'm a soldier, pal, just like them." I shifted in my seat. "And I'm going to war."

Walking beside the long, empty highway, the sun even hotter than it had been before. No water, no food, no cellphone, and very little hope of encountering anyone other than the stray jackrabbit or two. Oh, well. I'd left him the pellet gun. Thirty shots or so would end it if he got too dehydrated. I sped north towards Tucson in the minivan, and for the first time in my life I switched the station from talk radio to music. "I get knocked down," some limey was shouting, "but I get up again, and you're never gonna keep me down."
I opened a hotter-than-hell Tecate and took a long swig.
"Here's to you, Dad," I said, one soldier to another. I pulled out my cellphone and dialed. "Is this Cosmopolitan?" I asked. "Yeah, what do you charge for an ad?...Mercenary for hire..."