Saturday, April 15, 2006


1100 hours. Debtor's Square Mall.
When you're a mercenary, you can't afford to pick and choose your missions. You go where the work takes you, whether that means a stinking jungle in Paraguay or a cramped and filthy storage room in your local mall. My current mission found me in the latter.
There were seven of us in the makeshift staging area, a closet-sized box in the rear of a now-defunct Victoria's Secret for Fat Chicks. Good concept, just never took off. Should have located it closer to the food court. I wasn't thinking about that at the time, of course. Like the other hard, silent men struggling into their gear around me, I was focused on one thing. The mission.
I pulled on my over-boots, clearing my mind of all distractions. Could Ollie North kick G. Gordon Liddy's ass? Damnit. It would have to wait. The other men began checking each other's gear out, making sure everything was strapped down and secure. They were pros all right, and I was proud to be leading them. I looked them over, and nodded my approval. The ancillary players were ready. That just left me.
I re-checked my zippers and velcro, and finally put the headgear on. It was heavy, and the eyepieces limited my vision. I would have to keep that in mind in case of trouble. I let the men check me over then turned to face the dingy mirror hung on the wall. Bucked teeth grinned back at me from a huge cartoon smile, and two giant blue eyes shone out of a mass of pink fur. I straightened my ears. I was ready. I was the Easter Bunny.

The assignment had started with a visit to a local temp agency. My subscription to Guns and Ammo was running out, and my mom said she wouldn't renew it for another five years unless I found some sort of work. I could tell she was serious this time, because she didn't even hold me while I cried.
Thus motivated, I found myself in the lobby of Temp Juice, Inc. Because you wouldn't want to hire these people permanently, their slogan read, and looking around at the others waiting to be interviewed, I had to agree. Most of them looked like winos, and I'm sure at least one of them was, because he asked me to be his A.A. sponsor. No one there was dressed properly for a job interview--except me, of course.
"Mr. McFab?" the receptionist called. I stood up, taking a moment to hitch up my desert-pattern camo trousers and adjust my necktie, the nice silk one with the hand-stitched collage of skeletons having sex in various positions. If you want to look like a million bucks, you've got to know how to shop the flea markets.
I followed the receptionist into an office, where a gaunt, grim-faced man sat behind a metal desk, paperwork and file folders spread out before him.
"Felonies?" he asked, not looking up from his papers.
"Er...Convictions, or indictments?"
"Convictions," he said. "Traffic-related is fine."
"None, sir. Randy McFab believes in law and order."
"Ever been charged with an act of terrorism and held at Gitmo?"
"Well...Yes," I admitted, "but--"
"That's fine. Just wondered." He scribbled something on a sheet of paper and handed it to me. "They need someone to play the Easter Bunny at the mall. It's a three day job, they call it 'Eggs-Travaganza,' or something like that. Right, we're done. Get a pay slip from--"
"Excuse me, " I said, "I'm more of a security type. Maybe--"
"It pays six bucks an hour. You pose for pictures with kids. Or would you rather be one of the Bunny's helpers?"
"Christ, no! I'll be the Bunny." I had my dignity.

1200 hours. Debtor's Square Mall. Eggs-Travaganza.
Showtime. I strode confidently out into the area around the fountain, my six helpers following in an infantry formation made popular by the Byzantines. Though dressed like elves, my men were behaving as disciplined soldiers thanks to the bottle of Jameson's I had shared with them to cure their collective DT's. I called them to a halt briefly with the signal I had arranged, two waggles of my bunny tail, while I checked the area for threats.
Impatient parents and grinning children surrounded the velvet rope around the astro-turfed Eggs-Stravaganza area, many of the youngsters already pointing and waving at me in their excitement. None of the soccer moms were obviously packing heat, so I waved my men forward, stepped onto the turf, and took my throne.
My Bunny's helpers began herding the children into various lines--egg-dyeing, egg-hunting, and the most popular attraction, pictures with the Easter Bunny. The photographer adjusted his tripod as I waited for our first client.
"Hey man," he said, "can you sit up a little straighter?" Like most photographers, he was obviously a drug addict, so I humoured him out of pity and sat up in my throne.
"One more thing," he said. "The P.O.W.-M.I.A. headband...Can we lose that?"
"No, we can't," I yelled from under my heavy bunny head. "These kids deserve a positive message. Besides, I can't untie it with these paws." I held them up to make my point.
"Whatever." He turned to one of my helpers, who was steadying himself on the velvet rope. "Let 'em in to see the Bunny."
The first kid was a darling lad of four or so, all decked out in his Easter best, and his young mother looked pretty damned good, too.
"You're mom's hot," I said, as he settled on my lap. "Any problems with Daddy? He out of the house a lot?"
"You smell funny," the kid said.
"That smell is cordite, you little commie. Now smile at the camera and get the hell out of my perimeter."

1600 hours. Eggs-Stravaganza.
Christ, this was getting old. I love kids, but it's hard to find something to talk about with them. I had just finished telling a little girl how a worm-infected rabbit can be safe to eat if cooked properly, and once again was met with inexplicable crying. I decided to try again with my anecdote about using an injured rabbit to draw coyotes to shoot, but lost my train of thought when I heard a commotion coming towards my area of operations. Even in Easter Bunny mode, a merc is always alert, and my highly-tuned senses keyed in on a guy in a tracksuit who was running full-tilt towards us, a package in his hand.
"Stop! Thief!" someone yelled. That was all I needed to hear.
"Time to go, sweetie," I whispered to the little girl, sitting her down. "Easter Bunny has to send a scumbag to hell." Damn, that one was sure a cryer. I focused back on the suspect as he slowed, trying to push his way through the Eggs-Travaganza crowd.
He was young, in his twenties. Strike one. He appeared to be something other than American. Strike two. The item he had stolen, I could now see, was a Chef Boy-al-Zwahiri Magic Falafel Maker. You're out, I thought, and lept into action.
"Freeze, motherfucker!" The crowd stood statue-still. "Not ya'll, damnit!" I added, pointing. "That guy. The terrorist!" That woke 'em up. Mothers began screaming, setting off an answering cacophony from the children. I briefly lost the thief in the chaos, my bunny head obscuring my vision, then spotted the guy again as he lept over the velvet rope to short-cut through our exhibition towards the exits. He was coming right towards me.
I looked frantically around for a weapon. There! An infant--maybe I could throw it at the guy. No, won't work. Soft head. Shit, the thief would pass right by me in seconds, and I doubted I could take him down what with the bunny suit and the fact that I was fairly drunk after the Jameson's. I needed...At the last moment, I found it, and pulled a large wooden cross from the astroturf. The thief crossed right in front of me, and I swung the cross towards the back of his head like Barry Bonds after fifty CC's of the good stuff.
There was a loud crack as it shattered--the perp's skull, that is. My weapon was miraculously still intact. "Now that's an old, rugged cross," I said, as the thief hit the floor face-first. He started crawling towards the egg-dyeing table, still not unconcious. I could fix that.
I cocked the cross and took another swing. Fuck! My shoulder exploded in pain as the cross struck the egg-dying table. Red dye splashed everywhere, and suddenly the Eggs-Travaganza took on the appearance of a slaughterhouse as dye-soaked children and a few of my helpers did their best imitation of murder victims. Some of the onlookers obviously mistook the dye for blood, based on the increased pitch of their screams. I staggered away from the table, my shoulder throbbing and my vision blurred by the dye. I ripped one of the large plastic eyes from my bunny face, leaving it hanging by a thread, so I could see better. The thief was staggering to his feet. Injured shoulder or not, I had to act before he got away. Please, Lord, I prayed silently. The only thing I've ever prayed for, you didn't give me, and frankly I don't think an extra inch is too much to ask. Please, give me the strength to take this sunovabitch out. The children need you. I swung without even opening my eyes.

"The bunny's bleedy!" a child cried. I snapped back to reality, and found myself standing over the inert form of the thief. I had done it. Now it was time to calm the children. They shrank back as I approached the velvet rope, my fur splashed with red dye, one eye dangling from a string.
"It's okay, kids," I said. "This isn't real blood." I looked down at the perp. "Well, the stuff on my head isn't real. Besides, we've learned a valuable lesson today--"
"Yes," someone said. My God, it was the thief, still lucid though unable to move. "I am not worthy of your love, Easter Bunny," he groaned. "I have been a bad person, and--"
"Fuckin' A, " I said, and gave him another whack with the cross to shut him up.

Easter Sunday. The McFab compound.
I sat in the living room with my mama, she finishing her third chocolate bunny of the morning and me working on a Slim Jim and a bottle of Zima.
"It's a shame, Randy," Mama said between bites. "Them firing you when you were trying to be a good samaritan."
"Oh, that's not why they fired me. They said parents complained about me giving presents to the kids."
"Why?" Mama asked. "What'd you give 'em?"
"Tear gas grenades, just like on Halloween. I don't see the--"
"It's okay, honey," she said. "You tried."
We sat in silence a few moments.
"Mama," I finally said, "about that Guns and Ammo subscription..."
"I already renewed it, honey."
I didn't know what to say. "Jesus Christ. Thank you."
"Happy Easter, Randy."
"Happy Easter, Mama."