Authors: Rex Miller
Tags: #Horror, #Espionage, #Fiction - Espionage, #Fiction, #Intrigue, #Thriller, #Suspense, #Horror - General, #Crime & Thriller, #Horror & Ghost Stories, #Espionage & spy thriller, #Serial murderers, #Fiction-Espionage
One piece of information computes: his mouth is dry. Two: he is hurt. How badly? This fails to compute.
There was an op in the mangrove swamps of the Rung Sat, where even angels feared to tread UC123Bs defoliating the trails with Agent Orange, poisoning all who traversed them, an equal opportunity toxic agent, entering the bloodstreams of the Ranchhands and Charlie alike
. His mind fed him the fringes of a ‘60s arc light strike, when he'd been concussed in the blast pattern of the B52 Superforts.
For no reason his wobbly mind locks onto a line of errant poetry. Something he'd read in a stolen library book, something that caused him to smile his fierce parody of a human grin, tear the page from the book and eat it, which he sometimes did to things that pleased him.
. A pharmaceutical trade name. He knew that it was Xanadu reversed, and his shaky brain reached out for the poem:
In San Antone did Keebler's can,
A tasty weatherdrome puree,
Where Alice Sager's reefer band,
Played taverns’ pleasureless Duran,
Into a funhouse free
He tried to shake it off and saw the word cauterization imprinted, like a sign, above his thoughts. Twelve letters ... no, thirteen in cauterization: to make insensible, dead; to sear, burn, or destroy tissue. Had he undergone cauterization? The number of the beast was thirteen.
Bunkowski tried to focus, searching for memory of cauterizations past, as a caustic envelope of sunrays, reflected or refracted by the curved surface of his broken computer screen, catoptrically mirrored the reflected light.
A catalyzed cataplexy had left him catabolized, catastrophically catatonic on the catafalque of his categorically catadioptric catechism.
What this cat wouldn't give for a mouse!
he is beautifully slender. Her skin is perfect. Flawless. Only under magnification will one see the microscopic imperfections. A tiny curlicue against the skin, a single wispy tendril. She is so lovely. Run your hand down her length and feel the pleasure of her shape. Smooth, sleek, and shapely. She is a work of art. He labors over her, moving back and forth, grunting with effort, and a drop of his sweat falls onto her skin.
Her skin glows with a thin sheen of oil. She is his ... and soon he will take her and hold her as he screws her, and she will hardly make a sound.
The tiny silver curlicue is gone now as he removes her from the metal lathe. She is delicate and he caresses her silvery skin, removing invisible metallic hairs. He will look at her again now, closely, in the strongest light, searching for anything that might interfere with her perfection.
Her insides are already mounted on the receiver of the piece in one of his heavy-duty workbench vises, turned carefully, meticulously, her inner core true to the thousandth of an inch, and soon her strange innards will be covered by this beautifully shiny tube of skin.
She is baffled, double-walled, packed, stacked, mounted, milled, fastidiously turned, scrupulously calibrated, and now it is his pleasure to slide her outer body over this intimacy of washers, one-eighth-inch space expanders, and coiled steel wool.
Slowly he eases her skin into place and screws her tight. She is a perfect fit with her insides. Both of her parts have been cut from the same block of aluminum. Her metal curls litter the floor like the shorn hair of a silver-tressed woman, and at last she is in place. Silver and slick and streamlined—a perfect creation that looks like a glistening extension of the barrel. Her tiny, dangerous mouth is open and ready. The exquisitely shaped lips form a hard permanent
His income tax returns do not read “Raymond Meara, gunsmith.” Meara is a farmer by occupation. But there are four perfectly turned suppressors to belie this, and under his hand-hewn cedar barn, packed in their original Cosmoline sheaths, wrapped and sealed in four-mil plastic, then sealed again in a watertight, airtight coffin, are ten assault rifles.
Tonight he will sell some of these pieces—these collector's items. It is not something Meara looks forward to with any degree of pleasure. The man who buys is extremely dangerous, and of a disposition that at best might be called tricky. Meara has promised to deliver a half dozen of these illegal weapons, for which he will receive nine thousand dollars in cash. Raymond Meara is what the jargon terms a runner. He runs guns.
He has paid seven thousand dollars for the ten pieces. Why, you might well ask, would he put himself at risk for two thousand dollars? There are two reasons, three really. He needs money. The farm from which he derives his main livelihood is located in a floodway that may some day be dynamited. Meara owes money, and must have more money still to operate.
But he does not make this move for the two-thousand-dollar immediate profit, but for the four pieces he will keep. For these four pieces, with their custom-made sound suppressors, he will net another eight to ten thousand dollars. He will probably move three. Take a quick six thousand dollars. Keep one for hard times.
In theory the math supports Raymond Meara's venture. The problem, the unknown element, is always the point of exchange. Meara gambles.
Raymond has some degree of trust for the man
buys from. But for his supplier perhaps he is a potentially dangerous, necessary risk the seller must take. Similarly, the man tonight is a calculated risk.
Meara will concentrate on the eight-thousand-plus that will be his profit on an investment of seven thousand dollars and a bit of his time, skill, and expertise.
He will concentrate on wiping out his debts with this money that he has not yet earned. This is what Raymond Meara, farmer, will think about until it is time to exchange the iron for the butter.
He will not think about the possibilities of being ripped off or arrested and jailed or hurt or killed, and certainly he will not think about Jesus SanDiego.
Meara will save all of this for tonight, when he will think of nothing else beyond staying alive.
For now he turns off all the equipment and the lights, and returns to the house. He picks up the paper to kill some time and there is his horoscope, the first thing he reads. It says: “SCORPIO (Oct. 24—Nov. 22) If you deal with the wrong kinds of people you are going to be left at a disadvantage."
ight came with a buzzing presence. Meara waited, as instructed, at the top of the steep ravine leading down into Blue Hole. The air was alive with biting flies, mosquitoes, and vicious, microscopic sub-gnat annoyances that kept a man wiping, slapping, and fanning at his face. They went for the mouth and eyes and ears and nostrils, and they thought mosquito repellent tasted like Coors.
He'd dug worms up here at the top of the barrow pit at sundown on a bad bug night and gone home a solid, red mass of angry welts; a festering, itching nightmare.
It reminded him of a time back in-country, when he and another dude walked into some picturesque bug-tussle that instantly covered them in everything from leeches to unknown entomological mutants. They hit like iron filings clinging to a bar magnet. Stuck to skin the way ice cubes stick to a wet sponge. Meshed to flesh the way maggots are drawn to freshly-spilled intestine. It had been a bloodsucker of a nightime ambush and now this word ripped out at him—Ambush!
He fanned micrognats as he moved toward the stand of willows, automatically thinking in terms of broken silhouettes and target opportunities. Moving into the terrain, thinking about possibilities.
He had a chance to save this big boy nine thousand bucks. All he had to do right now was get real stupid. Or be careless.
A man could put a sniper down in these woods a ways. A patient man who could wait under netting and camouflage until the boss wipes his forehead or adjusts his package just so and the shooter takes his first clean head shot.
Somebody very good. Put them up on that knoll over there, or deep in the darkening woods. Give ‘em a thou. You could still save eight.
The imagination was a terrible thing.
Jesus “Sandy” SanDiego was a very bad boy and he played on a tough court. But Meara discounted half of the stories. Sandy had an extremely unfortunate reputation. They said he liked to hurt people. He had been in Farmington once, and they let him out and not long afterward he was dealing in various things. There was talk of a dope burn that had gone sour. A torture death. A pair of corpses left incinerated down by the junction of two old county roads was said to have been Sandy's work.
But would he take a man off for guns he hadn't seen? Raymond slapped at a mosquito, mashing it against his neck and flicking off dead insect and blood. Damn. Another hungry devil bored into his scalp and he scratched at his head.
That night of the bad ambush the leeches had been the worst he'd ever known all the time he'd been overseas. Aggressive and as lethal as you can imagine.
Wisdom: the ultimate catheter nightmare is a hungry, hemophilic worm threading the eye of the penis, or a leech penetrating the puckered anal rosebud.
He felt his neck crawl and his hand was moving when a voice behind him said, “Yo,” and he almost let a burst of pee loose in his britches.
“S'matter?” SanDiego, moving quietly out of the woods, something in his hand, coming from the direction of the river. Meara a perfect silhouette against the top of the pit.
“Damn, Sandy. I didn't hear you comin'."
“You ain't slowin’ down on me, are ya, chief?” The hand moved out of the shadows into Meara's face. It was a can of Bud Light. “Better have one of these."
“No thanks,” Meara said.
“Okay,” SanDiego said, shrugging. “Let's do the thing."
“Yeah.” Ray moved to the pickup and popped the tailgate latch. He reached in and slid the crate onto the gate. Even on the old piece of slick rug-runner it was all he could do to move it. “There you go.” The huge man tossed the can away from him absent-mindedly.
SanDiego looked around a little. Glanced down into the pit. Back towards the highway. Meara heard the one in the woods before he saw him and eased on around behind the truck, standing at the right side of the vehicle, the pickup between him and the willow trees, as Sandy examined the pieces.
The skinhead came out of the trees with a goofy look on his face, as if he'd just seen something he shouldn't, and kept moving toward the truck.
Meara tucked his hands under his arms and leaned forward against the truck bed, saying softly. “This boy with you?"
“Huh?” SanDiego looked up and then back to the goods. “Um."
“'Spose to be just you ‘n’ me, Sandy. That was what I understood."
“It is. You don't want you ‘n’ me to have to carry these clean across the bar pit, do ya, Ray?"
“Well, there you are."
“Where you parked, Sandy?"
“I'm over yonder.” He nodded in the direction of the farmland to the south of them.
“Oh.” That was another thing about him. He ran with some of these skinhead weirdos. This one was up beside the truck. Saying nothing. Just staring at the guns.
“Nine large,” the big man said, staring down into the unwrapped assault rifles.
“Take a check?” The skinhead kid laughed, a braying mule noise. Meara smiled.
“Maybe another time."
SanDiego laughed mirthlessly and slowly slid his right hand into his hip pocket. Meara was conscious of the stillness. Even the gnats seemed to be holding their breath. He still had his hands tucked under his arms, but he wasn't leaning forward.
“Nine large,” he said, laying the envelope on the tailgate and looking at Meara. Raymond moved over and took the packet with his left hand, steadying it on the side of the truck and fanning it quickly. Ninety hundreds had a nice, thick heft to them.
“Count it, man."
“With you, Sandy? No need. I'll have some more stuff in a couple of weeks."
“Including a couple more of these babies with suppressors.” Ever the salesman.
Jesus SanDiego took hold of the crate and slid it to him as if it were a bushel of apples.
“Grab holt,” he said, and the skinhead took the other handle, the pair of them swinging the heavy crate off the truck and moving toward the river. Meara didn't even shut the tailgate, just came around and opened the door, got in, started the motor, and backed down is the direction from which he'd come, his envelope on the seat beside him.
A hard mothering deuce, he thought, wiping his hand on his Levis. He roared out onto the blacktop and cranked every window open, flailing at the swarm of bugs that had joined him in the cab of the pickup. He took a deep breath of the hot night air. Now he could think about the rest of that easy-spending money he hadn't made yet.
New Madrid Levee
aniel had experienced it all during his hellish life, always on either the giving or taking side of pain. He'd been beaten, burnt, taunted, tortured, squashed, stomped, struck, steamrollered, jumped, jacklit, spat on, suffocated, sledgehammered, and damn near snuffed, but this was something else.
The enormous beast had come to believe that yes, though he could be hurt, he would always bounce back. Not so this time. The human battle cruiser had sunk.
The aftermath of something all-powerful, like an exostosis of impacted bone spur working its way out of the root of a rotten tooth, broken during amateur extraction, tried to make it to the surface of his battered awareness. No dice. He'd been freight-trained, he knew that now. His brain had quit on him.
It had to be the beating. It was the only thing in his experience that approached the level of his present condition, as best as he could assess it. It had convinced him that when it comes to mortality, one could forget size, heft, strength, muscle, resolve, grit, race, religion, or sex. When it came down to it everybody bled. Everybody cried.
The remembered pain of the beating warmed him with encouragement, as it was the first thing that came back with any degree of detail. He'd brought it on himself, coming back from the doctor's office, or on his way, fully jacketed, shackled, restrained, black boxed, cuffed, and locked to steel bars. He could vividly picture the guard.