“Admit it, you just want to kill somebody with a garrote,” I asked. It had been a personal goal of his for at least two years. Ro just gave me the shit eating chin tuck and grin, winked, poured whatever booze was left in the plastic flask in his mouth, and made his way down the darkened sidewalk. The rest of the booze had been poured down the front of his shirt. In case he needed a cover story. I checked my watch, and turned to make my own way around the block.
The bag slung over my shoulder seemed heavier than it was. It didn’t contain much. Zip ties, rope, and duct tape to bind the wife and daughter, ski masks and gloves so we wouldn’t have to kill them, what little first aid we could gather, just in case, and a short handled five pound sledge in case we needed to break something. It was also serving as my primary weapon, because I didn’t trust the shitty little pocket knife clipped to the pocket of my cargo pants. It was a rush job, and we were going to have to acquire more meaningful armament as we went along.
There was a nice breeze coming off the ocean, a relief from the night’s ridiculous heat. It felt cool on my skin, and the salt air smelled fresh, pure, and from mother earth. When I turned down the narrow alley, the only thing I could feel was my skin, leaking like a sieve. The only thing I could smell was the baked in stench of piss and refuse. It hovered over the pavement at chest height.
I came to the brick and wrought iron fence that marked the target’s house, and the low hanging branch of the nara tree that hovered across the alley in the middle of it. I stopped for a minute, checked my watch, and tried to listen through the neighborhood rustle of late evening in a middle class neighborhood in the outskirts of Manila.
I scanned the house through the fence, no lights coming from the windows on this side of it. I looked over the house next door, but their fence was stucco, and taller. I checked my six, grabbed the overhanging limb with one hand and the fence with the other. I pulled myself up, and over, and let myself down gently on the other side. I squatted beside a large AC unit offset from the house, and pulled my mask and gloves out of the bag.
I heard the car park at the curb, the engine shut off, and two doors open and close. I pulled the hammer from the bag. The handle was coated in rubber, and between the tropical heat and my priming adrenal glands, it felt like it might melt through the gloves. I took as deep a breath as I dared, tried to slow down my heart rate, and waited.
I peeked over the AC unit, but I couldn’t see the street through the trees planted just inside fence. There was only a short driveway to the street, and the gate, though heavily constructed it, swung on automatic doors, but only the wife used it. It took them forever, until finally, I heard the sound of the iron gate swing open, and both men, a local police Captain and his driver, walked up the path toward the house. That was the ritual. Every night, whoever was standing guard for the Captain would come in with him, say his hello to the family, and the Captain’s wife would hand him his dinner in a Tupperware container, so that he could have a nice, hot meal while he kept watch from the car parked at the curb. Whatever genius thought that was security, I don’t know, but it’s always good news when the enemy’s perimeter is lax.
The door opened and closed without the sound of locks being turned, something I made a mental note of. The moments dragged. I begin to think my mind was going to boil inside the mask. A dull ache spread through my knees. The hammer in my hand got heavier and heavier. I had to piss in the worst way. I checked my watch. Only a few minutes had passed. I told myself to stop being a pussy, but it didn’t work all that well.
Eventually, the front door opened and closed, there were good-byes, and then the sound of steps away from the house. I risked a peak over the AC unit, and saw the driver’s back as he opened the gate and walked through, his dinner in his hand. I stood, and moved closer to edge of the house. If things got loud, and the target ran out, I’d have to take him by myself.
In my mind’s eyes, I could see the driver step outside the gate, the garrote sliding over his head and around his throat, Ro pulling it tight, cutting and choking at once. I could see Ro, turning back to back with the driver, and throwing the driver over his shoulder, snapping the man’s neck. I thought I could hear the dull thud of the body hit the ground.
Then, I heard a car turn at the corner, and saw headlights flicker through the trees, and I brought the hammer up and ready, like I could do a goddamn thing with it from my corner. The headlights passed without slowing down, and then the night returned to its relative silence. And then, I heard, for real, the trunk open and close, and a few moments later Ro slipped over the fence, grinning. He’d gotten his wish.
“Goddamn man, you already geared up? You’re lucky you haven’t boiled your brain with this shit on,” he asked, smiling at me. I handed him his mask, and he slipped it over his head. He handed me a set of keys. The driver would have a set to the house, in case of emergency. I pulled the carabineer from the bag, sets of zip ties premade and ready dangling from it, and hooked it over the bag's strap, for immediate use. Once inside we wouldn’t have time to fuck about.
“Got your hammer ready? Bam-Bam, Bam-Bam,” he said, grinning at me through the mask. Fucker had been calling me that since jump school.
We moved around to the front of the house. Ro was in the lead, the driver’s 9mm Beretta forward. We’d wanted to go through the back door, which was closer to where the family should be, but it was a large sliding glass door, well lit, and next to the kitchen. They’d see us coming before we had a chance to breech and overwhelm them. This was a laugh, in and of itself. We were going to overwhelm our target with a battered 9mm handgun and a hammer. Fucking super.
He stood guard while put I my hand on the knob. Somehow, it wasn’t locked, and I didn’t have to knock it out the other side with the hammer. I gave him the nod, he took his first step forward, and I threw open the door, stepping back out of the way just far enough to let him rush in.
I was right behind him, but he was so goddamn quick. He was through the little foyer, past a little sitting room and into the dining room where the family was seated at the table. At the head of the table, the Captain was rising out of his seat, his eyes darting to his pistol belt curled up on the coffee table in front of the tv. Ro hit him in the temple with the Beretta. Then the yelling started.
The wife darted from the dinner table to the living area, and her husband’s pistol lying on the table. I took two steps and tossed the hammer, underhanded, hitting her in the stomach and knocking her down, away from it. The daughter, about maybe 14, yelled a war cry, and ran at me with a steak knife.
I managed to grab the wrist holding the knife, and turn her around. I wrapped her up, and we fell, knocking over an end table beside the sofa. I put my hand over her mouth, and she bit it. I was afraid she was going to make me do something I’d regret, when I felt the serrations of the steak knife begin to rip open the flesh on my arm.
I latched on to the wrist with both hands, hoping I could keep her from doing any more damage without having to go to the next level. I didn’t want to do permanent damage to either her or her mother, but I had to get her to shut the fuck up, and I wasn’t going to sacrifice an arm to do it.
And then Ro leaned over us, the Beretta held by the barrel, and gave her a love tap right between the eyes. She went limp, the knife dropped out of her hand, and she rolled right off me. Ro helped me up, looked at the gash on my arm, and shook his head. The look in his eyes was almost comical, like he had to do everything.
The Captain’s wife was moaning from the floor, and Ro stood over her and told her in Tagalog to keep her mouth shut and do what she was told, or else. She was clutching her stomach where the hammer had hit her, but she wasn’t spitting blood so we didn’t worry about it.
We put the zip ties over their ankles and wrists, and duct taped their mouths shut. We zip tied the Captain’s hands behind his back, taped his mouth shut, and I took the pistol and spare magazines from his duty belt. With Ro in the lead, the three of us walked out to his car, put him in the trunk with his driver, and drove away.
A light rain rattled off the tin roof of the tiny auto shop we were using. It helped muffle the cries coming from the wash closet and the electric zapping behind the door. I adjusted the dim desk lamp and tried to concentrate on sewing up my wound.
The shop was Ro’s cousin's. Or his uncle's. I never could remember which. That side of his family was big, and they all looked alike. It was just our good fortune to have the use of it. We had absolutely no idea how short our time table was.
We’d been in the region gearing up for another job that had fallen through. When it had, everyone else moved on, either to their respective homes of origin, and in some cases their families, while others took contracts elsewhere. We needed some R and R, and Ro hadn’t seen that part of his family in years, so we took the next month off to bum around, stay drunk, and see who could bang more chicks. Since he insisted prostitutes didn’t count, he was currently in the lead, but only slightly.
Then, the man from Champaign called. He knew we were still in the area. He knew everyone there was to know, and it seemed, everything. And he needed a favor. And in our business, when a man like that asks you a favor, it’s an honor. Since the job revolves around reputation and availability, it means you’re better than you ever thought you could be.
A friend of his, a well respected physician who spent half his time and considerable fortune in shit holes most people can’t find on a map, had been kidnapped. He’d been helping organize relief efforts for an earthquake that had shaken a couple of the smaller islands pretty bad, as well as donating his skill as a physician to the injured. He’d been taken prisoner, and was being held for ransom, by a local NPA cell.
He was supposed to be moved to a base in the mountains, but the army had gone all Apocalypse Now on it before he could be moved. The cell was small, closer to a street gang than a hardened and disciplined terrorist organization, and they’d stepped up their ransom demands. For proof of life, they streamed a video of someone chopping off the good doctor’s pinky.
At that moment, the man from Champaign was in a private jet with money, shooters, and medical gear. With him also was a deep, awful blade of fear that cut through his chakras; and it went against his spiritual practice not listen to it. So he called us, and gave us the Captain’s name. The Captain was also acting as the group’s negotiator, and his electronic security was actually worse than his physical security, so tracking and confirming him had been easier than eating ice cream on a hot day for the man from Champaign.
Ro walked out of the wash closet, letting the door slip closed behind him. He leaned over and inspected my dental floss stitches. He sat down, shaking his head.
“That’s going to be a nasty fucking scar,” he said. I shrugged.
“Captain fucking Save a Ho. You should’ve just knocked that bitch the fuck out. What if she’d cut you for real? What use would you be then?” He picked up the small bottle of vodka I’d used to disinfect the wound, and took a swig. He normally didn’t drink while working; and I knew he wouldn’t let himself get drunk, but nobody liked this part of the job. Not the part he’d been doing in the wash closet.
“Having to do the shit part alone, while you sew yourself up,” he said, his shit eating grin at full beam. Joking about it, so he could disengage a bit from what he’d been doing.
“It was your turn anyway,” I said. He flipped me off.
“Last time doesn’t count. You enjoyed that too much,” he said. I shrugged again.
The last time we’d had to do that, we’d been in one of those little Eastern European countries that seem to change hands every other day. It had been a Russian mobster, somebody who bought and sold girls into slavery. I’d be lying if I said some part of me hadn’t enjoyed it.
“He break?” I asked.
“Course he broke. Should be four guys, one in a chair right outside the door,” he said. We’d known they were holding him in a little compound with a square two story house, we just didn’t know how many there were, or which room he was in.
“Handle your business, bro, and I’ll tell you the floor plan on the way,” he said. I nodded, tied the last stitch, and left him at the table. It was only fair. He’d done the hard part while I was fixing myself, and that’s always a bitch to live with.
We’d debated leaving him alive, but decided against it. We didn’t like leaving enemies behind. We didn’t want to have to worry about him, should either one of us find ourselves back in Manila. More importantly, after that night, people he worked with would be looking for a snitch. If they knew he was dead, there was less of a risk of blow back on his family. At least, in theory. You never can be sure with psychotics.
His head was down, a thick, steady stream of blood dripping from his face to the plastic tarp below. He didn’t look at me, just cried softly and muttered something about a dead child.
“Your daughter is fine,” I told him, and cut his feet loose from the chair. “You’ll see her soon enough,” I lied. If we’d have thought his family would be safe from reprisal, we might’ve taken our chances leaving him alive
He didn’t believe me. He muttered something else about me being a monster, and killing his baby, and then he started to sing a lullaby.
I picked the hammer up off the sink, and felt the bones in my hand crack around the handle as I realized what he meant.
I took position against the stucco wall, my hands formed in a cradle between my thighs. Ro placed his foot in my hands, and I lifted. At the top, he turned, and helped me up. We dropped over the side, and lay where we were, the battered Berettas in our hands.
We moved to the back of the building, and did it over, this time lifting Ro up to a second floor window. He stood on my shoulders while he slipped the lock, and then he lifted himself silently inside. When he reached back down, I was already holding the machete up for him.
When he took it, I followed the side of the house around to the front corner, where the guard sat in his chair. I took the hammer from my bag, and it in my right hand, gun in my left, began my approach. I could shoot better with my left hand than I could swing a hammer, and there would be no room for error.
I could see the guard’s legs, his feet propped up on a generator of some type. I could smell his body odor, and hear him snore. I had to force myself to think of the task at hand, instead of the Captains words, which I knew would haunt me. Goddamn it.
Finally, I heard Ro’s signal, a single bird whistle which I answered by taking three quick steps, and coming around the corner with the hammer like Casey Jones at the plate.
It made possibly the worst sound I ever heard, like a watermelon being struck by a bolt of God’s own lightning. I hit him so hard, not only did his head crack open in the front, it hit the wall behind him hard enough to crack a second time. There was blood and brain everywhere. Ignoring it, focusing on doing each thing as quickly and silently as possible, I dragged the body away from the door, and waited a ten count.
I slipped the Beretta back beneath my belt, checked the load in the ancient M-3A1 Grease Gun he’d been cradling in his sleep, flipped up the dust cover and retracted the bolt until it latched, readying it, and moved forward.
Beside the blood and brain painted wall, the door opened easily. Inside was a little room with a staircase leading up, and an opening that led to what looked like a kitchen, and beyond that, a room where someone was watching television. I could hear laughter, but the television was far too loud for me to make out how many different voices.
At the top of the stairs, Ro and the good doctor were staring down at me. The doc seemed to be in as good a shape as one could expect. Helluva way to be repaid for giving freely of your time, wealth, and skill, I thought.
I brought a thumb across my throat, and then held it up, indicating that I had killed one man. He brought a thumb across his own throat, and then held up his thumb and forefinger, indicating that he hadn’t killed anyone. He was pissed.
It wasn’t that we were serious about the box score, it was the simple fact that everyone we didn’t account for meant one more gun aimed at our backs. Just as they started down the stairs, we heard a car enter the little courtyard outside, and pull to a stop outside.
Ro froze, backing the doctor into a corner, covering him with his body, gun in one hand, machete in the other. I looked out the tiny window in the middle of the door, and saw two men step out of a police car. Inside the house I heard grumbling, and movement as the television was shut off.
Wanting to save our heaviest artillery, I pulled the Beretta, and opened the door. They were staring at the Pollack stain on the wall when I leaned out and double tapped each of them.
Ro was already bounding down the stairs with the doctor as I slipped back, dropping the Beretta’s hammer and pushing the door open for their escape. I jammed the Beretta in my back pocket, brought the M-3 up, and fired through the kitchen as they appeared.
They dropped in a pile as the gun ran dry, and I left it were it was. I ripped the pistol back out and charged out the door as Ro was slamming the door of the cruiser closed. I slipped in the back with the doctor and pushed his head down.
Ro put it in gear, and stomped on it, backing us out in a whirl of dust. Muzzle flashes barked from second floor windows. I returned fire as Ro stood on the accelerator and we rocketed off, the car’s rear fishtailing across the pavement as we turned out of the courtyard, and onto the road.
A minute later we were throttling down the highway without any sign that anyone had followed us out of the little compound, and Ro slowed to a more normal speed as he turned down the road that would take us to the drop car.
I checked the good doctor. Except for the missing digit, broken nose, and some nasty bruising, he was in pretty good goddamn spirits, and then it hit us that we’d made it, so far. Behind us were nightmares, and ahead lay a clean car, a safe house, and the promise of a private jet and the man from Champlain. The three of us laughed that weird, after adrenaline laugh, and Ro asked how he was doing.
“I’m great, thank you boys, so much,” the good doctor answered for himself, nearly in tears.
“That’s good,” Ro said, and held up a blood soaked hand. “Because you're gonna need to look at this shit when we switch cars.”