Still, you gotta figure that this joint, being a secure military hospital and all, they'd take the extra precaution of stashing the doc's keys someplace safe. Like, maybe in a locked drawer? Nope, the keys are right there in open view, hanging from a nail on his office door frame. Not real bright. Sometimes when there were more of us here, we'd spend a fair bit of time wondering just how it was that these particular assholes even won the war. Not that it really matters anymore, as they did and we're just what's left of the sorry bastards who lost.
Now, once inside the doc's office, I know what I'm going to find. The stoop-shouldered old hack smokes a pipe, so there's got to be tobacco. I can't count the times where he and I stared each other out through a haze of sweet smelling smoke. He'd suck down hard on that shit-colored piece of cob, his watery eyes as steady as stone while he watched his orderlies increase the torture he called my rehabilitation session. I guess he figured the pipe made him look cool, or that it made him look the part of the concerned and wise old doctor. Too bad his stinky pipe couldn't help him hide the bulge he got in his pants as he watched my body convulse against the rubber straps. He doesn't think that I know my pain makes him hard, but then there's a lot of things he doesn't think I know.
But right now, with my skinny ass sitting in his cracked leather chair, I know I'd like the dude just a tad more if he smoked Players, or one of those American brands. But what the hell, his faggoty pipe tobacco is better than nothing. And nothing is exactly what we're used to getting in here. No TV, no coffee, no booze and no smokes. As far as drugs go, the only ones we get come off the med-cart that rolls through here three times a day. As far as getting anything to read, nothing but moldy paperbacks with some of the pages missing. All pre-war of course, but that goes without saying. I haven't seen a magazine since I got here, and newspapers? Yea, right. Though, sometimes the flat-faced Canadian guards like to leave old newspapers lying around, just so they can get a charge in watching us fight over the scraps of old news. The fights give them a good laugh and an excuse to bend our heads with their riot sticks. I got myself a sprained wrist and a missing tooth for the tattered piece of news I got stashed right here in my shirt pocket. But if I play my cards right, that lost broken tooth will turn out to be a small price to pay for the revenge I'm going to get. Even things up; that's what the Sarge always said. Even things up. This big old chair is pretty comfortable. Squeaks a bit when I spin around to face the window, but that's okay. I feel kind of happy that they lodged us in such an old building. The windows are the old-fashioned kind; opening easy and lifting up, letting in some of that clean mountain air. Just past the windows are the bars, but that's okay too. It's the ventilation that I'm after if I'm going to roll a toilet-paper joint using the doc's tobacco.
Besides the tobacco, I know the old coot's got some booze in here somewhere. Christ knows I used to smell it on him every time he yarded me in here for one of his little chats. All his talk about acceptance and denial. Like he was one to talk. Ah, right here where I figured it would be; in his bottom drawer. A nice long heel of bourbon. Now, don't get me wrong, I am going to enjoy myself all right, but my main mission isn't to sit here and cadge a free smoke, or get all light-headed off of a booze buzz. What I'm really after is right here on his desk. It's the doc's phone. His phone is my link to the outside world, and for me that link is going to be my tool to get rid of the devils in my head, to finally end the war.
Yea I know, so you don't have to tell me. The war between the Cascadian Free State and the rest of Canada is old news. Officially the fighting has been over for more than four years. I've heard all the pretty speeches about a re-invented Canada; vigorous, prosperous and united like never before. I guess all that's fine. But for me, and a few of the others there are scores to settle. I'm one guy who needs to even things up. And Hardy, my old Sarge is another.
The first drag off the smoke is making my head spin. It's been a long time; too fucking long, I figure. But that's okay, as the first sip of mash makes me feel golden and warm in the pit of my stomach. Feels good, but not as good as it's going to feel when I get to hear Hardy's voice over the phone. The Sarge is one of those guys who somehow survived without having to get his ass busted into a rehab camp, or a psyche ward. I'm not so sure how he managed that, but knowing the Sarge he figured something out. I know he's out there, licking his wounds and remembering. I'm sure that Canada must think he's all happy and sane, living peacefully within their great new dominion. Yea, right. Canada's got it wrong. You see, me and Hardy are Cobras. And nobody who ever served with the Cobra Squad was ever sane. Ever. Cobra Squad? Don't bother poring over any of the war records; we don't get a single mention. We were one of those unofficial, shadowy units that didn't exist; not on paper anyway. Both sides had them, but like I said, it's something nobody mentions, nobody talks about. Our guys were mean- nuts and fierce. We got the job done using some pretty ugly tools. Plague gas, toxic bacterial bombs as well as our trademark weapons-Colt 45's and piano wire. We were tough, but I guess, thanks to Doyle Dillon, the Canadian side proved tougher.
I'm letting the second shot of bourbon wash around my mouth and counting the rings, when on the nineteenth try someone picked up. I knew it was Hardy, because after I said my name, I could hear his breath catch. "You're dead!" He said. "Go away. I've got nothing I want to say, or need to hear."
"Sure, Sarge. But remember, sir, whatever it is it is." He always hated my dumb expressions, and this one with a real passion. And knowing that was always a good enough reason to keep trying to hang it on him. Besides, I needed him to know it was really me.
We went back a long time, me and the Sarge. Seen a lot of action together. Hell, I remember one time, after we come out of a situation in Saskatchewan. We had gone in three dozen strong, and we were the only two to come out alive. Yea, I remember that mission. It was just before the collapse of Alberta and right about the time Canada decided to storm-bomb Calgary into a glowing pile of rubble. We got three days off before Victoria shipped us right back to the front with a new gang of crazy recruits. When we got to the forward point, we weren't none too pleased. The point regiment being not exactly what you'd call motivated. Not by a fucking long shot. Those snot-nosed college kids cum soldiers were good at only one thing-keeping the status quo. Whatever that was supposed to mean in a shooting war, I didn't know, but soon found out. Their idea of a perimeter check was sending a detail over the first hill and hooking up with their Canadian counterparts for the express purpose of smoking up some good old Free State skunk weed. The way I had it put to me, was that if the Canadians were bent enough to vaporize Calgary, they'd probably win the war anyway. So, no point in pissing them off any more than necessary. Might as well wait it out, until the Canuck naval blockade that was strangling Vancouver and Victoria choked the whole idea of separation to death. Well, talk about pissing guys off! I guess me and Hardy got the pot-heads on both sides of the line real upset when we blasted hell right out of the Canadian's forward position.
Right now, I'm kind of listening to Hardy breathe into my ear as the same time the voices in my head are whispering to me about that raid. Yes, it was one cool mother-fucker all right! It was a good thing that the regiment wasn't completely one-hundred percent weaklings and pussies. We put a squad together with a few guys who could still carry the can and had some fight left in them-some pride. We waited until the first overcast night and in we went. Silently, we crept over the hill, crossed the small stream both sides used for drinking water and moved undetected past their forward watch. Well, most of us did anyway. Me? I hung back and got to gut the assholes right where they slept. Then, before anyone even realized it, we were staring into their compound. No guards, no perimeter checkpoints; nothing separating us except a dull gray frost fence.
The only tense bit came when I stood poised to make the first snip in the fence. But that moment passed without event, as the fence wasn't even wired. No alarms sounded and no lights. We were in, just like that. And once inside the Canadian compound it was like a fucking tea-party. We got to do some serious damage; silencing their communication center, torching their barracks and blowing up their over-stocked ammunition dumps. As the camp lay burning around us, half dressed Canadian soldier boys staggered out of their beds, grabbed their rifles and lurched out of their smoke-filled barracks; right into our gun sights. They never had a chance. Then just as I figured it couldn't get any sweeter, it did. We hit the jackpot! Or so I thought at the time. The big prize stumbled out the door in the form of a pompous prick of a senior officer. Coughing and sputtering, the guy's jaw dropped to his chest when he saw the carnage out in the yard. I snarled to Hardy and was just about to blow the dude's head off when the glint of brass stopped me cold. Hardy must have noticed too, because next thing I knew he was hissing in my ear to hold up. The next thing you know, the Sarge was in there like a dirty shirt, capturing the dickhead before he could even think about going for his side arm. We had a good catch here, and we knew it. But it wasn't until later that the whole thing turned to poison on us.
The sound of Hardy lighting up another smoke brought me out of the past. "Hey Sarge, I thought you were going to quit when the war ended."
All I got was silence. He didn't have to answer me, I knew where his head was at. But the Sarge exhaled hard and decided to surprise me with an answer. "Yea, and once it's over I will quit. You must know what it's like-every night in my head, he's there. I--." He couldn't finish and he didn't have to. I knew what was in his head, or rather who. The same fucking monster who was in mine-the man without a face. Then he asked me a question. "They're still not finished with you?"
"No, sir. They're not, and I don't think they ever will." All the bourbon in the world couldn't get the taste of their oak bit out of my mouth. "They're using shock treatment, but fuck 'em, sir. I can take it."
"I'm sorry." His voice went hollow. "What about the others I guess you wouldn't really know." I just listened to hollow turning into haunted.
My smoke went out and I didn't bother to re-light it. Instead, I took another pull from the bottle. "Dead, sir-most of them anyway." I wanted another smoke, but couldn't afford to lose the moment. "As far as apologizing, sir-forget it. That's not why I'm calling."
Sure, I knew he'd be wondering, but I just let him. I knew what I had to say, and wanted to get it out just right. Between the torture sessions and the pills, things had a habit of getting fuzzy. Sipping on the bourbon, I listened to Hardy dragging off of his cigarette. "Sarge," slowly, keeping it all straight, I picked my words carefully. "I know where they are. I know where you can find him. Dillon, I mean." I felt myself turning red, it wasn't coming out like I planned, like I wanted it to.
But suddenly, I stopped worrying because I realized that Hardy had stopped breathing. He was silent, but that didn't stop me from feeling his rage. "What!! What'd you mean? What could you possibly know about that bastard?" There was some steel in that voice, but a lot of rust too.
"Sarge," I said softly, "I know a lot more than most folks give me credit for. Like, I figure what I know in this case is kind of what you'd call a deal-breaking piece of news."
"Say what, soldier?" His voice went low and as hard as steel, icy as death.
I kind of hated myself for putting it to him so cold like that. I could feel his old wounds ripping open. At the same time, I needed the anger in his voice. He still had his balls, and after I told him my little story, he would certainly need them. I figured the botched deal with Dillon over Eileen might still have a hold of him; hearing the pain in his voice just confirmed it.
I knew that if I could see him now, he'd be sitting alone in some darkened room staring at his ex-wife's picture. Looking at Eileen, but thinking about Dillon. You see, Doyle Dillon was the Canadian operative that Hardy tried to do a trade with. A deal where he would exchange the captured officer for his kidnapped wife, Eileen. Sure it was a desperate move, but so what? The war wasn't going to last much longer, and besides we all knew what went on in those internment camps. When I first caught wind of the proposed trade, my only surprise was why would Hardy pick a snake like Dillon to try and do the deal with. But later, when I had time to think it through, who better to try and deal with than the mysterious 'Doctor Death'. He was evil, pure and pure, but if anyone could make something happen it was Doyle Dillon.
I don't know who tagged him with Doctor Death, but it sure did fit. Here was a guy that no one knew what he looked like, who he was, or where he would strike next. Dillon and his special unit of terrorists made the Cobra's look like boy scout troop. He was a master of deception and destruction who didn't stop at bombing military targets or disrupting transportation lines. Hell no, not Dillon. He was one of those people that you find in every war; a guy who finds his inner demon and while doing so also finds nothing wrong in blowing up civilian hospitals, or even the odd day-care center full of innocent kids. He shocked us and set us back on our heels. Victoria put up a reward of one million dollars in gold for his head, and then doubled it a month later. We thought we had seen it all, but when Dillon started abducting the wives and families of our enlisted men we knew we had a real special monster on our hands. It didn't take us long to see what he did to the women and some of the children; especially the pretty ones. The bastard made sure we knew. He took the time to have video-tapes made of the rape and torture scenes, and then made sure enough copies made it back to us.
A week before capturing the Canadian officer, word came to Hardy that his wife had been disappeared. She had been taken off a busy Vancouver street, right in broad daylight. The men new it grated hard on him, but he never said squat about it. I guess even then, he was wondering what or who he could trade for Eileen's freedom.
"I asked you a question, soldier."
There! That's what I needed to hear hard metal had found its way into his voice. I fingered the hole in my smile and fished the piece of newspaper out of my pocket. Carefully, I smoothed the wrinkles out on the doc's desk. "Sarge, there's this guy in Vancouver who's making quite the name for himself. Seems he's got some kind of progressive politician, who's got some interesting--."
"Get the fuck to the point!" Hardy's clipped tone reminded me of a grenade that just had its pin pulled.
"I'm getting there, sir hold up." I put the empty bottle on the floor beside me. "Besides, the story, there's a picture two of them actually. And sir, I know the guy in the picture is Dillon its got to be."
I could hear the sound of a cigarette being trampled to death in a cheap tin ashtray. "Now son, just how in hell do you figure that some cheap politician is really Doyle Dillon? You know that none of us ever caught so much as a glimpse of him, and anyone that did turned up dead. Hell, boy we didn't even know if Dillon was his real name."
"He wasn't," I said quickly. "Or maybe it was and he changed it later, I dunno. He's going under the name of Sherman-Robert Sherman."
"Okay, fine." Hardy's rage had turned to to what? Pity? "Now, just take it easy. How exactly do you figure that this guy in the picture is Dillon? Take your time--."
"It's who else is in the damn picture, sir!" It was my turn to interrupt. "It's Eileen. She's got her arms all around this guy, and beside her are a pair of kids I mean, two twins. I mean never mind. They can't be more than two years old, maybe younger."
"You're sure it's her?"
"Don't even ask, Sarge. Of course I'd know Eileen. It's her all right. And it's gotta be him. I just know it."
"Easy, soldier. Seeing as you're the guy who introduced me to the cunt, you don't have to convince me." I could feel his anger shouldering its way back into the conversation. "Now, I can't bust you out of there, and nothing I can do will bring the others back ", his voice cracked. I could hear him lighting up another smoke. "But, I'll tell you this. I've got enough explosive buried in my back yard to blow up five city blocks. I'll find them, and I'll do what has to be done .or I'll die trying."
"Even us up, Sarge. Just even us up. There are too many ghosts in my head, sir. I can't get away from them, sir." I could smell the rubber, and taste the wooden plug between my teeth.
"You did good, son." Hardy said in a kind voice. "Leave the rest to me. You want justice, and so do I. I'll even it up for all of us."
"I know you will, Sarge. I know you will." For a brief moment it felt like old times, but the feeling slid away as soon as I realized it. "There's something he says near the end of the article that you might want to hear. A way to hurt Dillon, to hurt him bad."
"Oh, just the part below the picture of him standing in front of the twins, his arm around Eileen's waist .he says that his family has changed him for the better, and that their happiness and safety mean more to him than life itself."
I stopped talking and waited for Hardy to say something, but he never did. I nodded to myself and knew I had done the right thing. Or did I? Well, whatever I had done my job, gathered the information needed and passed that information on to my senior officer. "Okay Sarge, I'll hang up now, but I'll keep my ear to the ground. I'll keep fighting for the old newspapers and hope that you are able to do your job, sir." He still didn't answer, so I put the receiver down.
Even up, he had said that. I know he did. That wasn't just a voice in my head. No. No way! I'm a Cobra and so is Hardy. I did the right thing! I know I did. The Sarge would do the right thing too, or die trying. So the war had cost Hardy his soul, and would now cost me mine. But so be it.
About the writer in his own words:
"I'm fifty years old and have written a few short stories, one play and a sorry, sorry attempt at something larger. I can't in all honesty call it a novel, but... This story is part of a short story collection all about the last city on Earth. For convenience, I've used Vancouver, B.C. There isn't much of an order to the various stories. Something along the lines of 'Martian Chronicles' if I could be so bold as to use that as a guide.
Oh..I guess I could tell you that my very first story ever written found a home on the second submission. "Harsh Mistress" in Illinois bought my 1992 near-future story and also did me the honor of making it their cover story. I've only recently re-read that story and blush at how incredibly klunky it is. I'd like to re-write it (for my own satisfaction) and see what I can do with it."
Larry can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
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