Thursday, March 09, 2006

A Bucket of Balls

1700 hrs. The McFab compound.
I was on the phone, arguing with the president of my bank.
"Look," I said, trying to be reasonable, "I'll pay the loan off as soon as some more shit flares up in the Balkans...What?... No, your teller mentioned 'rectify.' I ain't no English major, and it sounded like she wanted--"
He replied with some standard banker bullshit, 'lawsuit' this and 'traumatized' that.
"That's a lie, buddy!" I said. "My pants were on virtually the entire time, and the lobby was not full!" He hung up on me. Bastard. That's alright, if they wanted to sue me they'd have to get in line behind my landlord and the Boy Scouts of America. I slammed the phone down and opened a Zima, trying to calm down. It was useless. The only thing that could cheer me up costs twenty bucks an hour even in Thailand, and I had exactly thirty cents to my name. This soldier was sick of losing wars, and even more sick of not participating in them.
I stretched out on my mil-spec cot, sipping my booze and wondering if I'd ever find mercenary work again. The picture of Dick Cheney on my ceiling seemed to be mocking me, grinning at my failures. I shot a guy more recently than you, Randy...And I'm not even a merc! Christ. The very figure of all that is decent had become my enemy. I stared down the barrel of the now-empty Zima, and decided to pull the trigger. Fuck it. Three Zimas tonight, and damn the consequences. I was reaching into my bedside cooler for another one when my mama called out from the living room.
"Randy! Come here, you've gotta see this!" It was probably just another unexplained mole she wanted me to check out, but when my mama calls, I answer. I reluctantly set the Zima back in the cooler, disabled the security devices on my bedroom door, and made my way down our mobile home's one hallway to the living room.
She had our local paper spread out on her lap, and there was plenty of lap left on both sides of the Fort Braggart Herald. "Look Randy," she said, "this job's made for you!" She was pointing at a bold-face headline, Local Paintball Team Seeks Replacement for Jailed Captain. I snatched the paper up and absorbed every word of the article in 3.5 seconds, thanks to the "Speed-Read like a Green Beret" subliminal-learning course I had purchased on the internet.
Apparently, Fort Braggart's champion paintball team still hadn't found a worthy successor to ex-Army Ranger Tab "Not like the soda" Longway, who had led the Massive Hornets to three straight national titles before being convicted and sentenced on various mail fraud and public indecency charges. It seemed both the team and the fans were agreed--it would take one hell of a man to replace Tab Longway. Belay that. It would take a superman.
"I'll accept the job tomorrow," I told my mama, and went back into my bedroom to masturbate.

0800 hours. Bill Hick's Sod Farm and Championship Paintball Arena.
Let's face it--paintballers aren't soldiers, they're amateurs. They may be tactically sound and highly practiced, but they've never bought a blood-flavored sno-cone at that carnival of carnage we call war; they've never shown up for a date with Death wearing nothing but a balaclava and a codpiece. I had read and fantasized about more war than they'd ever see--I was a soldier among play-actors. Knowing that, I was highly confident when I locked up the war wagon and strode onto the practice field where the Massive Hornets were gathered.
There were four of them, their fifth man enjoying the hospitality of the county sheriff. I was a little disappointed that they didn't come to attention as I approached, but chalked that down to nervousness.
"Morning, ladies," I called out. "Your new team captain's here."
"Hey, dude," some blonde guy said. "Good to see ya. We'll be doing tryouts all day, so set your gear down and relax while we--"
"I don't relax," I said. "I'm a mercenary." I began unpacking my gear--sawed-off shotgun, ammo, a few pipe bombs, and the obligatory flash-bang grenades.
"Uh...Dude," Blondie said. "We don't use real guns...this is paintball." The other Massive Hornets, none of whom looked older than twenty, nodded agreement.
"Fine," I said, stowing my gear away. "I've brought a bucket of balls and ten pounds of swinging meat. Am I allowed to use that?"
They only murmured among themselves, unused to dealing with a real warrior.
"Dude," Blondie finally said, "tryouts were scheduled for ten, and you're way early, so...That's good, that's cool. We'll go ahead and cut--I mean--try you out before the rest show up."
"Fuckin' A," I said. "Give me a minute to wax my mustache and I'll be ready."
They all laughed, nervously, some of them pointing at my belly in obvious fear of a man who isn't afraid to ask for seconds. While I combed out my mustache, Blondie approached with a paintball gun, some kind of weird-looking contraption with what looked like a full gumball machine on top.
"Here's your gun, dude," he said. "It's semi-auto so you don't have to pump."
"Range?" I asked, sticking the gun down the front of my Donna Karan NY fatigues.
"Thirty yards or so," Blondie said. "But it's not that accurate."
I laughed. Thirty yards. I could pop a tango's head like an over-ripe melon at that range with a slingshot and a roofing nail. Meet your new captain, pussies.
I finished combing out my mustache and strode into the middle of their group.
"I'm ready," I said. "Are you?"
"Oh, yeah," another said. He was muscular, in the way that communists are muscular. I decided to take him out first.
"Here's the drill," Blondie said. "You get three minutes to position yourself anywhere on this sod farm...I mean, championship paintball arena. We Massive Hornets will be the hunter force, and our only goal will be to take you out. You'll be judged both on how long you can evade us and how many of us you manage to take out."
"Tab got three of us," someone added. "And he was good in bed."
I broke the uncomfortable silence that followed. "Great. When do we start?"

0830. The Sod Farm.
I'm a pretty fast runner, and easily covered an eighth of a mile in the three minutes they had alloted me. I dove into a thicket of bramble, my thick nomex assault suit and kevlar vest protecting me from most of the thorns. Willing myself invisible, I sank into the stinking mud and raised my head mere inches to look around. There! One of them was patrolling not fifty yards away, and I hope I don't sound racist when I say he appeared to be Irish.
He was crouched, weapon at the ready, looking around furtively as Irish people do. I decided to use a little deception against him, and pulled the bait out of my assault vest.
Pop. The mick froze. He looked around even more carefully, then began sniffing the air. Just as I'd predicted. He started towards my hide, but it was obvious he couldn't see me. He was far too interested in something else. My finger tensed on the trigger of my gumball-gun, taking up the slack until a good fart would fire the weapon. The mick kept getting closer, now only ten yards away. I lined the sights up on his face, waiting. Just a little closer, Leprechaun...
He found my bait, mere feet from my hide, and bent to pick it up.
"Ah," he said, "a nice cold can of Guiness! Now that's some good--"
Crack! The paintball caught him in the mouth, splattering his face with what I considered an appropriate shamrock-green color.
"Eireann go Brach," he wheezed, and went down. Knowing the others must have heard the shot, I wasted no time in clearing out and finding a new position.

0845. The Sod Farm.
From twenty feet up, I saw another one. I could just make out his afro above the tall grass as he approached the tree I was hidden in. Now, I like black people. My motto is "kill whitey," after all. But this was war, and in war we don't have time for that "love your brother" bullshit they preach on heavy metal albums. This was about winning, and my knowledge of psychology, gained from years as a merc, would ensure victory. My enemy crept ever closer, and I used the one thing I knew would render him helpless.
"White chicks," I called from the tree-top. "White chicks at twelve o' clock!"
Sure enough, he turned his back to me and began popping the collar of his BDU shirt, trying to look casual as he searched the mist for the women.
"For my dead homies," I whispered, and painted the back of his head with a .30-calibre paintball round.

0900. The Sod Farm.
I didn't wait for the next one to come to me. I stalked him, crawling mere paces behind as he scouted. It was obvious, based on the way he stopped to scratch his crotch every few feet, that he was Italian. I considered using the "white chicks" tactic again, and decided that would be too easy. Instead, I would break his will. I stood up behind him.
"Rocky," I said. He spun around, his gun leveled at me. "Now there's a stupid movie. When's the last time you saw a dago last twelve rounds with a black dude?" Just as I predicted, he set his paintball gun down so he could gesture more frantically as he responded.
"What's-a-your-problem?" he demanded, waving his arms. "That Rocky Balboa, he the Italian Stallion, he--" I shot him three times--once for the game, once for Apollo Creed, and once because I hate the eye-ties. It was almost over.

0900. The Sod Farm.
Blondie was out there, somewhere. He was the one that worried me. He appeared to be German, and since he wasn't dead he obviously wasn't a good German. I didn't plan on ending up in the ashtray of some Nazi's Volkswagen, so I used extra care as I crept through the bush, seeking him.
I knew there was a way to lure any kraut in, but I didn't have two fifteen-year-old girls and a bucket of feces at my disposal, so I'd have to do this the hard way. I patrolled, silently, knowing I could spot him first if I just kept my wits about me.
Suddenly, I smelled cabbage. I couldn't see him, or hear him, but I knew he was close. Where are you, Hans? I re-checked my gumball gun. Ready. A rustling...Nearby. I spun around, and was surprised to hear...
Shit, it couldn't be. But it was. Freebird, played loud and proud. I didn't stop to wonder what Lynyrd Skynyrd would be doing out here, I did what my Southern instinct commanded.
"Freeeeeeeeeeeeebird!" I howled, and threw the paintball gun on the ground so I could hold up my cigarette lighter in tribute.
"Wurfel, motherfucker!" someone shouted, and then there was nothing but pain.

1700. The McFab compound.
"You tried your best, honey," my mama said, applying another ice-pack to my injured groin.
"I didn't know paintballs hurt," I said. "And I sure as hell didn't know they'd use Skynyrd against me! Would've changed my tactics otherwise."
"Well, you ain't got nothin' to be ashamed of, honey. Even them Massive Hornets said you woulda had the job if you hadn't cried."
For Christ's sake, she knew what the problem was. "Mama, I've got over-active tear glands, even the doctor said so."
I sighed, laid back, and tried to put this last defeat behind me. Like a warrior, I'd keep fighting.
"I know, honey," Mama said. "I know."