Plastic Soldiers by Portugal. The Man
He was still in the cab of his pick-up, the trained stillness of someone whose life once depended on remaining still, silent, hidden. His gaze was purposeful, eyes scanning from one end of the property to the other. The two-story house sat on a double lot. A concrete path bisected an unnaturally green front lawn. Dueling oak trees vied for supremacy on either side. An immaculate wooden fence corralled the back yard. The gate on its north end was open, and swaying with the puffs of breeze.
Otis sat in his pickup on the street in front of the house. The bed on it had been replaced with a large white box. On either side were doors that swung up to open. Behind those doors were his tools. Otis needed his tools.
In the silent cab, he reached his right forearm to his face to wipe the tobacco spittle from his lips. His spitter rested between his legs on the seat. With dry lips, he reached for it, brought it to his mouth, pressed the rim of the Styrofoam cup to his bottom lip, and spat, thick and brown, into the convenience store napkins below. With the spitter returned between his legs, he repeated his earlier maneuver and wiped his lip dry.
As he came back to rest, a wiggle in the corner of his eye drew his attention. His head turned slowly to bring it under his gaze, which then focused to the north of the house, through the barbed wire, and into the small field that lay beyond. Up and down he searched, but couldn’t locate what had stirred his vision. But his quarry was in that field; he felt it.
He forced himself to exhale. To his right, across the seat, lay his weapon, powerful and purposeful. A brief gust of wind forced its way through the cab of his pick-up, and he felt it tickle his unkempt mustache. The display on his dash reported it as 11:45 a.m. This he already knew. He had awoken well before dawn with only this on his mind. That he could silently prepare himself and exit the house without her stirring was unquestioned. Silence was his strength. He had begun his patrol of the streets in a deliberate manner, canvassing for hours, but knowing where he would end.
His quarry teased him, spurned on, no doubt, by those who would flaunt his authority, his newest purpose even for being. But this was the day, this brisk Saturday, when his efforts would be rewarded, that he would be victorious.
His position had subjected her to much ridicule, and, he assumed himself as well. He had neither the time nor the inclination to give either much thought. The fucking people in this town and their meddling. They had spat on at least two of his boys at the fucking airport. Good, strong, and broken boys who had the misfortune of flying in from Pearl to San Francisco, taking few days to collect themselves, sitting on the beach in Hawaii, and trying to forget. Jackson had called him when he finally got home. Jackson didn’t say anything, but Otis new it was him. It was quiet. Then he hung up.
Otis learned from Sanchez what had happened in a letter with pictures of Sanchez’s Mexican kids, and their Mexican mother. He said he’d seen Jackson at a park in Fremont, their hometown, standing in the grass with no shoes on. Jackson didn’t recognize him until Sanchez told him “it’s Bean…it’s Bean.” They called him “Bean” because he was Mexican. Otis had been “The Knife” because of the buck knife he’d smuggled in country and kept strapped to his thigh. Jackson told Sanchez he missed it, and started crying. Sanchez didn’t think he’d hack it.
Otis had gotten a parade, a fucking parade. They’d put him, Joe Dunagan, and that Ferguson, the bartender’s daddy, on top of the fire truck and drove through town, waved flags at them, and acted like they were heroes. So they could feel good about themselves. But he knew they were out there, those people that didn’t give a shit about what they did. They figured he killed babies. That’s what the hippies said. He could handle more fucking ridicule than these fucking people could ever understand. Otis had been entrusted to do a job. These fucking people could think whatever they wished.
His son returned from the road intermittently anymore. He’d return to the places that felt familiar, breakfast at Biscuit Hill, dominos at the VFW, where he was always allowed some latitude because of the things Otis had done, and that bar with the Eddleston kid. Nothing he’d earned on his own.
Once, and only once, had his son questioned Otis’ position. It was brief, and Otis remembered it well.
Pop, Harlan Esser said you shot one of his blueticks with a tranquilizer gun.
Mind your fucking business.
On Wednesday, Otis had placed a note on the front door of the Smiths’ house with Scotch tape.
Resident, I have observed an animal in violation of city ordinance 12-3-5 (Unattended Animals) three times in the last two weeks. Please govern your affairs accordingly.
The city had requisitioned him funds in addition to his part-time salary for purchase of a non-lethal means of restraining or tranquilizing wild animals or animals in violation of city ordinance. With these funds he’d purchased a Pneu-Dart Model 389 Rifle, composite black, and cartridge loaded. He had forgone ordering a scope and had instead attached a Leupold Mark 4 4.5-14x40mm target scope from his personal collection. The weapon had shipped with five .5 CC Type ‘C’ Darts with 19-gauge hypodermic needles filled with marginally effective doses of Azaperone.
To supplement, Otis had ordered five more specially formulated “Bear Scare” darts, scored along the sides, milled, and tapped with a screw that blew apart upon impact while delivering a vastly superior dose of Etorphine Hydrochloride, a semi-synthetic opioid possessing an analgesic potency approximately 1,000-3,000 times that of morphine, called “M-99” and made by Novartis.
When the equipment was delivered, Otis had opened it with a lust he hadn’t felt in some time, his love of cool gun-metal and the sating of the unknowable (to these people) despair of insufficient arms to complete the mission, a warm comfort that had kept him alive when a jungle full of gooks wanted nothing more than to be the one to stand over the Knife’s body, speaking gobbled chatter, and pissing on his soldier’s body. No chance that would have ever happened, because the Knife could smell them coming. A 7.62 mm from his XM21 between their slanty eyes exploded their smashed heads. Every time. He was the Knife, and he could kill.
The 389 was powerful and could throw one of its bear killers through the windshield of a car if needed. The Knife’s .45 would do that too. If needed. The 389 had also shipped with five practice darts. Otis had spent an afternoon finding his effective range on three watermelons on Dean Pancratz’s east section. After his first three cycles through the five darts, he was ready to throw the weapon away as he unable to compensate for the darts’ drag compared to the crisp brilliance of rounds from his XM21. But as the mature blue of dusk filled the sky, his persistence left him feeling serviceable from 100 yards, and lethal from 60.
Range wouldn’t be an issue this morning. The animal was untethered in the front yard, a mere forty yards away. It was an un-groomed and uncared for Australian Shepherd to which the Smiths’ fat son paid only cursory attention after no doubt begging for it within an inch of his life. This morning, the fat son had again forgotten to close the gate on north side of the house, and the animal ventured out it and to the front yard where it now lazily strolled.
Otis had no doubt the animal would eventually be in the street and thus be in violation of city ordinance. He began his move outside of the pick-up to a firing position. With his left hand he reached to the door handle at his left knee, not wanting to startle the animal or anyone else in the vicinity. He raised the door handle with a muffled click and began his left leg’s slide to the ground. The animal had noticed an early season butterfly in the front yard and appeared to be devoting attention to it and not to the Knife’s exit from the cab. He’d considered parking his pick-up in the alley across the vacant lot from the Smiths’ house with the reasoning that subduing this animal would appear more reasonable if the range were greater as opposed to terminating it as they were both in street in front of the Smith’s home. But there was no time for it now.
The Knife drug the 389 from the seat next to him as he walked around the pick-up to position himself across the hood on the opposite side. As he emerged from behind the box on the back, his eyes found the animal now precipitously near the curb his attention focused on the butterfly taunting him with an irreverent pattern just out of reach. The Knife lay the 389 across the hood of the pick-up and positioned himself behind it, brining the scope to his eye. In it, the animal’s front paws were placed on the curbstone, its head swiveling in pursuit of the fluttering insect. The Knife’s index finger rested on the trigger guard as the calm of the kill lay over him. The animal’s forelegs made it to the asphalt below the curb. With imperceptible adjustments of arm, shoulder, and wrist The Knife centered the crosshairs of the Leupold in the white tuft of fur on the animal’s chest. The animal froze and stuck its snout in the air as if smelling the wind, sensing danger. The Knife waited only for the rules of engagement to permit him to fire. He and the weapon were one, tracking the animal, drawing its essence into them as the kill awaited. The animals concern over the mood in the air yielded back to the butterfly, who now, as if it and The Knife worked in concert, coaxed the animal to road. With a wagging tail, the animal obliged.
It was in the street.