He placed the cold steel barrel to his temple, feeling it press against bone. The scarred right wrist was steady, the shoulder relaxed, as he’d been trained. Standing in front of the mirror, his dry brown eyes burned with concentration. The muscles of his right hand contracted. The trigger began to move. His cracked lips curled to one side. The same sly, crooked half smile so many girls and women found appealing.
A muffled thump startled him from his sleep. Rubbing his eyes, the boy slipped from his bed and wandered into his parent’s bedroom. His father lay on the floor clutching at his chest. Sweat beaded his strained forehead. The man looked up at his young son.
“Get your mother,” he moaned through contorted gasps for breath. “Hurry…”
The boy stood there in his cotton pajamas smiling affectionately at his father. At last he turned and started down the hallway. Pausing on the carpeted stairs, he returned to his room and flicked the light switch.
“Daddy gets mad when I leave the lights on,” he reminded himself.
He made his way through the living and dining rooms of the modern split level home. In the kitchen the boy stopped to look in the refrigerator but changed his mind. Silently he padded down the six steps to the paneled den.
His mother looked up from her reading. “What are you doing out of bed?”
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“You should be in bed… it’s late.”
The black and white TV set flickered. Two men faced each other in the middle of a dusty street. Spitting tobacco into the dirt, one man made a sudden move with his hand. The other, wearing a white hat and a silver start shaped badge, deftly slipped the Colt Peacemaker from its leather holster, thumbing back the hammer. In one swift, lethal motion he pointed the pearl handled revolver and pulled the trigger. Twenty paces away the first man jerked back a step. This time he spat blood, then fell forward.
The boy smiled.
“Did you hear me?”
“Daddy said he needs you.”
“What does he want?”
Still smiling, the boy looked up from the TV to his mother. “I don’t know.”
When his mother reached the bedroom it was too late.
That was the first time he killed.
A warm shaft of sunlight filtered in through the open window. It was accompanied by a cool breeze. It smelled of honeysuckle. He squeezed the trigger tighter, feeling the tension on his index finger.
“You missed me, stupid.”
“I did not, you’re dead!”
The ten year old pointed his index finger at his friend. He cocked his thumb back. “You couldn’t shoot straight if your life depended on it, Chris.”
The one named Chris laughed aloud then took off running across the spacious back yard.
His friend took off after him.
The two boys chased each other through the swing set, around the plastic above ground pool, over a metal jungle jim. Still laughing, Chris scrambled up a tall old oak tree, followed closely by the other boy.
Fifteen feet up, Chris spun around and shimmied backwards, onto a long, sturdy branch.
“You can’t kill me,” he taunted.
The other boy watched his friend move further away. Chris’ right ankle came to rest inches beneath an electrical power line.
Chris froze in place, “Why not?”
A warm shaft of sunlight filtered through the leaves. It was accompanied by a cool breeze. It smelled of honeysuckle.
A crooked half smile crept across the boy’s face, “Because… there’s a snake crawling up your right leg.”
The arc of white light blinded the ten year old momentarily. When his vision returned, he saw Chris’ face twisted in pain. The mouth was frozen open in a silent scream.
The acrid scent of ozone filled his lungs. He thought it smelled like burnt chocolate.
He was fixated on the image in the mirror. The odd juxtaposition of chrome and flesh fascinated him. Intently staring at the reflection caused his eyes to begin to water. A single drop rolled down his cheek, landing on his bare chest.
The cold, unexpected drops of water brought chill bumps to his tanned skin. Startled, the teen jumped from the blanket which lay sprawled under a friendly shade tree.
Jenny giggled and side stepped his lumbering grasp. She continued to laugh at the prank, her young, firm breasts straining the material of her two piece swim suit. This time he managed to get a muscular arm around her tiny waist.
“What am I gonna do with you?” he said, pulling her close.
“That’s what you get for falling asleep on me. I thought we came out here for some fun.”
Sun bleached locks trailed down her back like fine Spanish moss. He ran his fingers through them. He loved the way she felt in his arms. “So… fun is what you want, huh? Ok…”
Pushing at his taut stomach, she laughed again and broke free of his embrace. “Not your kind of fun,” she teased.
He watched as she ran to the edge of the lake. Pausing only long enough to turn and stick her tongue out at him, she splashed a few steps into the water, then jumped and dove in head first.
The teen waited. Seconds passed. Where was she?
The surface of the water erupted. A tangle of arms and screams and matted blonde hair shattered the tranquil summer day.
Something was wrong.
Jenny continued to flail about. He saw her slip beneath the surface. She popped up again, her mouth and eyes wide.
He was a strong swimmer.
He didn’t move.
Fifty feet away Jenny continued to struggle. She repeatedly sank and surfaced. Panic flashed in her pretty blue eyes.
She is beautiful, he thought.
Again she sank. A single hand clutched at the air. Each time she remained under longer.
As he watched, she came up again. Jenny’s expression was pained and puzzled. Her mouth opened for oxygen. Or to scream, he wondered which.
At last she disappeared, the cold beryl water folding over her like a shroud.
A fly buzzed his vision. It distracted him. His grip relaxed. Cursing, he drew a deep breath, releasing it slowly…
He adjusted his hold on the pistol and began to move his finger again.
The flies were almost unbearable. A small squad of men shuffled restlessly in the hip deep swamp. They swiped at the pests, trying to remain as quiet as possible, all except for their leader. The stoic sergeant seemed immune to the insects that buzzed about his face. His eyes were fixed on a path which ran out of a nearby clearing and skirted the swamp.
He didn’t want to be drafted. He was having too much fun playing college ball, drinking beer and barely passing his courses. But then his grades sank even lower from too many parties and too few attended classes. He lost his deferment and his number came up.
During basic, he surprised himself at how readily he took to weapons and hand to hand training.
On the path something moved in the half moonlight. He raised an arm. His men quieted and settled. A line of Viet Cong snaked out of the clearing towards his position. His squad was to remain hidden until the enemy passed. Two squads were deployed up ahead. They would ambush the VC from either side of the trail. His orders were to wait. They’d attack only if the enemy began to fall back.
He hated his orders.
The black clad Viet Cong slinked past. Each carried a deadly Russian made automatic weapon. A large spotted fly landed on the sergeant’s cheek. This time he swatted at it viciously.
The sound of the slap broke the evening. Two dozen VC turned weapons at the ready. The sergeant gave a loud shout and opened fire. Then all hell broke loose.
Startled, the two squads rushed down the trail. By the time they arrived the fighting was fierce; often man to man. In the end only two of the enemy remained alive. The young sergeant counted nine confirmed kills of his own. But the combined US and ARVN forces suffered heavy losses.
With the area secure, the sergeant marched the two bound prisoners deep into the jungle. Twenty minutes later he returned.
In Saigon he received a promotion and a bronze star for the valuable information on enemy installations he gleaned from the captured soldiers.
He squinted his eyes to clear them. He watched as the hammer crept further back. The stiff mechanism squeaked in his ear.
The squeaking continued.
It came from the rear of the comfortable single story ranch house. Returning home early from his job at the tractor supply store, he stood in the entry way listening.
He knew that sound.
He smiled. A sly, crooked half smile.
Retrieving the Winchester from the coat closet, he made his way silently down the hall. The squeaking grew louder. It was now accompanied by muffled laughter. It came from the master bedroom.
He kicked savagely.
Two naked bodies twisted in the pale light as the locked door flew off its hinges. A dark haired man rolled off the bed, landing clumsily on the floor.
“No!” the woman screamed as the rifle was leveled.
Two shots split the early afternoon.
After his wife’s tearful testimony, a Texas grand jury refused to bring charges.
Two months later they divorced.
His tightening hand began to tremble from the tension. The hammer continued to retreat. The cylinder started to rotate. Hi licked his parched lips. They tasted of salt.
The salt rimmed, oversized shot glass left a ring. He threw back his head, draining the Adobe Gold tequila; bit into a wedge of lime, then turned the spent glass upside down. It and fourteen others formed a perfect glass pyramid on the bar.
Almost falling, he staggered off the stool and through the flapping half doors of the tiny border town cantina. Fumbling with his keys, he managed to start the old brown pick-up. Dust and gravel spat from the rear tires as he barreled out onto the narrow two-lane. Three miles later he was doing sixty. The truck swerved and lurched, weaving across the center line.
At the top of a rise it met a sedan head on.
The force of the impact knocked both doors open. He flew from the truck to the soft grass shoulder. The vehicles, locked together, skidded sideways. They violently flipped, rolling several times, before coming to rest in a ditch.
Dragging his bruised body up, he watched the wreck explode in flames. The vacationing
family of five never had a chance.
The last of his breath escaped through clenched teeth. He blinked as the hammer snapped into position.
He stood motionless, sweating, the gun still pressed to his head. He looked down. The clinched left fist opened, revealing six .38 caliber bullets.
His lips curled to one side. The same sly, crooked half smile. Slowly he raised his hand and began to laugh