Vengeance Burn Brightly

 

1.

 

Jimmy hated hot dog franks. Just the mere sight or smell of them made him nauseous. So for this part of the operation, he had obtained some mint cream (the same kind that morticians and coroners used) to place under his nose to mask the smell and had invited his old platoon buddy, Gunnery Sgt. Bud Regette, over to help. “So tell me again, why do hot dog wieners make you sick?” Bud asked, unwrapping a package of franks and then cutting them into small pieces. “Well like most things, it began as a kid. We grew up really poor as you know and when we did not have enough money for meat, mom would ask the butcher for expired packages of hot dog wieners.” Jimmy took a cut piece of frank and with gloved hands, carefully injected it with 3 Tablespoons of anti-freeze and then placed it in a small plastic sandwich bag. “Shit man I bet you got tired of eating hot dog wieners all the time!” Bud exclaimed. “Oh no man, my mom was creative. She would make different dishes out of them. Just substitute the wieners for the meat.” Jimmy replied.  “What kind of dishes would she make with them?” Bud asked, intrigued. “Oh shit man, casseroles, chili, stews, tacos, you name it.” Jimmy replied. “Weiner tacos huh? Sounds interesting!” Bud said smiling as he finished cutting up the last package of franks.

Thirty-minutes later they had cut up, poisoned and bagged six packages of hot dog wieners. “So tell me again what you plan to do with these.” Bud asked washing his hands at the kitchen sink. “Well he walks that little bastard dog of his every other day along this path out in the woods near his house. I figure to throw these out about an hour before he begins his walk.” Jimmy carefully placed the bags of poisoned franks in a black gym bag. “What about other animals? Aren’t you afraid of poisoning other people’s pets?” Bud asked, a concerned look on his face. “I have scouted this place for two weeks. Nobody else walks or runs at that time. Once he walks the dog and it has taken the bait, I will go behind him and collect any franks that have not been eaten.” Jimmy smiled. “Don’t worry bud, I have thought this through.” Bud walked over to the refrigerator and got a beer. “It just concerns me you are taking this a little too far Jimmy, I mean I understand the guy killed your dog, but me and you both saw what happened; it was an accident.” Jimmy spun around to face Bud. “An Accident! You really believe that shit? The asshole never braked until AFTER he hit my dog man! Who does that kind of shit!” Bud noticed that crazy glare in Jimmy’s eye and decided not to push the subject. He knew what Jimmy was capable of. He had seen it with his own two eyes in Iraq. “OK man, an eye for an eye, I get it. But promise me after this, no more plots against him, OK?” Bud extended his hand, hoping Jimmy would cool down and be reasonable.  Jimmy smiled and shook it. “Of course Bud, you have my word.” Bud smiled back, relieved to finally hear some civility in Jimmy’s voice, but in the back of his mind he knew Jimmy was not done with this. Not by a long shot.

Of course all this would not be taking place if Jimmy’s dog, Bullet, had not escaped the fenced in yard and got run over. Bullet was what they called a Chi-Weenie, a Chihuahua and dachshund mix.  It had belonged to Jimmy’s ex-wife, Patty, and when they had divorced two years ago, Jimmy got the dog because Patty could not have pets in her new condo in Florida. Jimmy was happy to take the dog because in his mind, Bullet was a definite companionship upgrade to Patty.  The day Bullet escaped Jimmy and Bud were working on building some PVC Target stands in his garage. They both liked to shoot and would often go out to Bud’s dad’s place who lived thirty miles out-of-town. When they finished up the stands both men grabbed a cold beer and sat down in some lounge chairs Jimmy had out front. “Got a call from Stevens the other day. Remember him, Corporal Stevens?” Bud asked. Jimmy nodded. “Stevens, yeah, didn’t he get wounded in Ramadi?” Jimmy replied taking a swig of beer. “Yep, That’s the one. He got full disability and is living down in New Orleans. Wants us to come visit around Mardi Gras time in February…” Bud replied shaking his head. Jimmy just smiled back. “Mardi Gras? Not a good ideal……” Jimmy’s words trailed off as he saw something up the street. “Oh shit, that’s bullet man, how the fuck did he get out!” In a flash, Jimmy was out of his chair and running down the street with Bud close behind. “Go right and try to head him off, we can’t let him get out to Third Street!” Jimmy yelled to Bud. Bud nodded and adjusted course, cutting through a small park. Third street was a major four lane artery than ran right through the middle of town and Bullet was hauling ass right for it. As Bud slowed down to catch his breath, he saw the dog sprint out in front of an oncoming car going fifty-miles an hour in the fast lane. “Nooooooo!” was all he heard Jimmy scream as the Truck made impact with the dog, splashing its intestines and brains all over the street in a gush. The guy never braked or swerved.

“You stupid motherfucker!” Jimmy cried from the sidewalk at the top of his lungs, his hands on his head and his face red with anger and tears. After the impact, the driver slammed on his brakes and pulled over to the curb. Out of breath, Bud tried to get Jimmy to stay put on the sidewalk, but it was no use.  Jimmy darted out into oncoming traffic, with Bud waving his arms like a retarded chicken trying to slow everybody down. Coming back to the sidewalk, Bud helped Jimmy wrap the dog’s remains in an old newspaper that had been laying on a park bench. Jimmy was crying now, his face red and puffy with snot coming out of his nose and running down on his shirt. The man was a mess. “Just calm down bro, let me talk to this guy.” Jimmy did not answer, he just clutched the bloody newspaper, his eyes wide and angry. As Bud turned around to walk over to the car, the driver had already gotten out and met him halfway. He was a tall, skinny banker looking dude in a grey suit with blonde hair in his early thirties. He was driving a new Mercedes C-Class Coupe with the license plate “MNYMAKR.” Before Bud could say anything the guy popped off. “That fucking mutt of yours just ran out in front of my car. I’ll have you know you are paying for the damages…”

Out of the corner of his eye Bud saw Jimmy get up. Bud quickly grabbed the asshole by the elbow to try to get him out of there but it was too late, Jimmy had already closed the gap. Jimmy’s first punch was a solid right jab. Bud heard the wind break from the snap of it next to his ear and then heard the guy’s nose break as the punch connected solidly. Bud instinctively ducked and felt Jimmy come over the top of him. By the time Bud was back on his feet, Jimmy was on top of the guy, pummeling him with wicked combinations that were turning this guy’s face to hamburger quickly. “Jimmy! Stop!” Bud yelled. But Jimmy didn’t stop. If anything he picked up the pace of the beating, throwing in nasty hammer fist just for fun. Bud knew it was no use, he had seen him like this before. There was only one thing to do or else Jimmy would kill this guy. Bud got a running start and threw his entire 215 pounds into an open field tackle to knock Jimmy off the guy. With a thud, Bud’s body made contact with Jimmy’s and both men flew through the air, crashing into the dirt and weeds a few feet away. The Mercedes man just laid there, bleeding and unconscious, looking like he had just been in a terrible car accident. Before Jimmy could get his feet underneath him, Bud got him into a rear naked choke hold. “Now, Jimmy, Dammitt, settle down man, its me, Bud…” Out of the corner of his eye Bud saw two cop cars pull up, somebody driving by must have called 911 and told the operator about two men on the side of the road beating the shit out of each other, Bud thought to himself. As Bud felt the Cops grab his arms to cuff him he let go.”Jimmy, don’t fight these guys” was all Bud could say before Jimmy raised up and tried to throw a punch. Bud heard the tazer deploy and saw Jimmy go down like a sack of potatoes, wiggling like a fish out of water on the ground. “Two in custody and we need Paramedics for a third, ASAP.” the cop said as he led Bud to the back of the patrol car.

That was not the first time Bud and Jimmy had tangled with the Cops. Six months after they had rotated back to the world from their third and final deployment in Iraq, the Cops got called to Jimmy’s house. Neighbors complained about a couple screaming and fighting and possibly hearing a gunshot. One of the cops at the precinct was Bud’s cousin and had heard the call go out and called him. Bud dropped what he was doing and just made it over to Jimmy’s house before the cops did. “Where is the fucking gun?” was the first question he asked Jimmy walking though the door. Jimmy promptly handed over the Beretta 9mm which Bud stuck in his pants. “You got Ammo and mags lying around?” Jimmy went to the closet and handed over an extra mag and a box of Remington 9mm shells. Bud shook his head and headed for the back door. “Paula got any bruises?” he asked while walking through he kitchen.”No, we were just arguing man.” Jimmy replied calmly. “Arguing! Jimmy, neighbors reported a fucking gunshot man! The cops are gonna roll in here hard and heavy!” Jimmy just gave Bud a look of desperation that he had seen so many times in their friendship. “Yeah I shot into the ceiling to scare her.” Jimmy replied sheepishly. Bud just looked down at the ground and shook his head in disbelief. “You owe me one man…again.” And with that Bud opened the back door, ran across the back yard, scaled the fence, hit the back alley and disappeared into the summer night. Two minutes later the cops were beating on Jimmy front door with guns drawn.

Bud and Jimmy spent the night in jail and in the morning heard the guard call their names. As per usual Bud’s dad, Gerald, had bailed them out. “What the hell was it this time?”Gerald asked, lighting a cigarette on the way to the car. “Oh Jimmy beat the shit out of the guy who ran over his dog.” Bud answered. That one stopped Gerald in his tracks. “You mean Bullet? Somebody ran over Bullet?” Gerald shook his head in disbelief and put his arm around Jimmy. “Well, now this one I understand boys…” Gerald mumbled. Bud smiled. “I hope the judge is as understanding pop, our hearing is in a week.” Once in the car, Gerald hands Jimmy a flask of Crown Royal and they both take a long pull between sobs. Bud just stares at both of them amazed. Two grown men crying  like babies over a fucking dog! Gerald Regette was 67 years old, a former US Army Ranger, a Veteran of two tours in Vietnam and an alcoholic of epic proportions. Gerald came back home from Vietnam in 1972, and Bud was born three years later. Bud’s childhood was littered with memories of three and four-day benders where he and his inebriated father would take off into the mountains camping, often almost freezing or starving to death because Gerald forgot to bring basic camping gear like sleeping bags or food. One time Gerald had forgotten to tell Bud’s mom they were going camping and ended up getting a nationwide kidnapping APB issued. Bud still remembers the cops pointing their rifles at Gerald and making him lay face down on the ground as they arrested him. Good Times.

 

2.

 

Bud asked his dad to drop him off at his house because he could tell where this day was already heading; An All Day and Night Drinking Session with his dad as the conductor and Jimmy as his faithful soloist. Jimmy and Gerald shared a strange kinship Bud never quite understood. For a long time he just thought they were both tortured souls who soothed their demons with booze, but it was never quite that simple. War had done things to both of them that it had not done to Bud. It had literally re-wired them as human beings. Changed them from the inside out. It wasn’t until Bud got back from Iraq that his dad confided in him the war stories he would never tell him when he asked him as a teenager. “War is not natural.” He would mumble as he passed out after a two-hour long story. “War is not natural.”

When Bud got home he took a shower, fixed himself something to eat and crashed. You never really sleep in jail, and he was exhausted. As always, when he drifted off, Bud dreamed of Iraq. Dust, Sand, gunfire, screaming. This time it was about Ramadi. The fucking meat grinder. Fighting had been fierce for three days straight. Nasty, street-to-street and house-to-house shit where death lurked around every corner like a shadowy ghoul. On the evening of the fourth day of fighting, Marquez, one of Jimmy’s closest friends in the squad, was killed by a sniper. Bud tried to console Jimmy, but as usual his rage was too powerful, too all-encompassing. The Company Commander had offered to pull Jimmy off the line for a couple of days of rest, but intel had reported a possible arms cache in an apartment building close to where Marquez was killed and Jimmy was the first to volunteer to go find it. The search of the building was uneventful until they reached the fifth floor. There the squad found two women in their twenties, three children below the age of eight and one male around nineteen. After turning the place upside down, Bud managed to find a “spider hole” under a dresser in one of the bedrooms. Two AK’s, ten magazines, couple hundred rounds of 7.62 ammo, some RPG-7 rockets, some bomb making materials and a Romanian Dragunov sniper rifle, complete with a new American made scope. Bud laid it all out on the floor and had it photographed. He then got the GSR test kit out and applied it to all the adult’s hands. Only the 19-year-old male came back positive for recently firing a weapon. As Bud was getting on the radio to command to have all the adults transferred out for interrogation, Jimmy stopped him. “Give me five minutes with this guy before you have them shipped off to Abu Ghraib.” Jimmy asked Bud. “Man you know the protocol, we gotta turn them over.” Bud replied in a hushed tone. Jimmy’s eyes flashed with anger. “This bastard is the one who killed Marquez and you are gonna just give him a pass?” Bud took a deep breath. “You don’t know that Jimmy.” Bud replied. Jimmy just stared at him with those cold grey eyes. Bud outranked Jimmy, which meant this could be as easy as giving him an order to stand down, but Jimmy was his best friend, and he understood the pain about Marquez. Bud told the other three Marines in the squad to set up a perimeter to get them out of the apartment. “You cannot hurt him too bad or they will ask questions.” Bud warned Jimmy. Jimmy nodded as he grabbed the kid off the floor and dragged him up to the roof. It seemed like time slowed down after that. Suddenly there was a blood curdling scream. Bud bounded up the stairs to the roof to find Jimmy peering over the edge. Bud walked over and looked down, knowing exactly what he would find. There, five stories below them on the dirty Ramadi street was the crumpled body of the kid. “Little motherfucker attacked me.” Jimmy said looking down at the street as if he were admiring his handiwork. Bud just stared at him in disbelief. Before the MP’s came Bud walked down and cut the plastic restraints off the kid’s wrist to reinforce Jimmy’s alibi. As they were loading up in the humvees to go back to base, Bud saw the three other Marines in the squad congratulating Jimmy, all of them with huge smiles on their faces. “War is not Natural.” Fuckin’ A Right it’s not.

Bud woke around five that evening in a cold sweat to his cell phone ringing. It was Jimmy. “You busy?” he asked. “Come on over.” Bud sleepily replied. He and Jimmy had a system. They both would call each other before coming over so in the event they had a female guest, nothing was spoiled. It was the ultimate show of respect as far as single dude etiquette went. Twenty minutes later Jimmy walked in the back door, sober, rested and refreshed. “So, what did you and my dad do?” Bud asked as he made himself a ham sandwich. “Oh he wanted to get drunk but I just wanted to sleep, so he dropped me off at the house and I crashed all day.” Bud shook his head. “Me too, man, I was so tired.” Jimmy pulled out his phone and began scrolling through some pictures. “What you looking at?” Bud asked as he sat down on the couch with Jimmy and began to eat.”I got a pic of that assholes front license plate.” Jimmy said smiling. Bud’s heart dropped. “Why Jimmy?” Bud asked. “I was gonna send it to that hacker kid PJ and see if he could get me an address off the DMV server.” Jimmy replied. “Why Jimmy?” Bud asked again. Jimmy crooked an eyebrow. “You know damn well why.” Bud got up off the couch and took his plate into the kitchen. He then grabbed two beers. Opening them, he sat back down on the couch and handed Jimmy one. “Listen man, we got a court date in a week and we can’t be fucking around with this guy. If the cops find out they could get you for intimidation on top of the assault.” Jimmy smirked and took a long drink of the beer. “No one is going to find out anything man, relax.” Bud just shook his head. He did not like this one bit.

The next day after work, Jimmy was waiting for Bud at his truck. “PJ came through. Got the asshole’s address. Wanna do a little recon with me?” Bud got an annoyed look on his face and got in his truck. Jimmy walked around and got in the passenger side. “I cannot believe you man! I mean don’t you think we are both in enough trouble as it is?” Bud exclaimed, looking at Jimmy wide-eyed. Jimmy just smiled. “You worry too damn much. Here, something to take the edge off.” Jimmy handed him a silver flask with their USMC 2nd Division logo embossed on the front. Bud reluctantly took a long swig. The whiskey burned going down but settled in his stomach nicely. Bud started up the truck. “OK, where does this asshole live?” Jimmy smiled. “Now there the old Bud I remember! But first, here, put this on.” Jimmy handed Bud a ball cap. “Just a precaution.” Jimmy said as he put one on too. Bud’s windows were tinted dark so he was not that worried about the asshole making them. Bud drove across town to the gated community of Spring Hill. “Average house here is $300K man. Talk about asshole central.” Jimmy mumbled as he stared out the window. There may have been assholes living in them, but these houses were beautiful, Bud thought to himself. Spanish brick, manicured lawns, hell, some of them even had palm trees in the backyard by the pool! As they made a left on to the street where the guy lived, Jimmy perked up. “Oh shit, there the guy is out in his yard! Keep driving normal and make the block.” Jimmy hissed. Bud casually drove past, keeping his eyes straight ahead on the road, resisting the urge to turn and look.. “Jesus, the guy looks like he was in a fucking airplane crash!” Jimmy exclaimed. The man was sporting two swollen black eyes, a neck collar and also had a cast on his left arm. “Did I really beat his ass that good?” Jimmy replied, looking over at Bud smiling with pride. As they made the block and came to a stop sign, Bud’s looked over and watched the guy. Bud’s heart sank when the man went into his house and brought out a small dog on a leash. “Well, well, what have we here!” Jimmy said, his grey eyes glaring with hatred.

Bud did not hear from Jimmy all of the next day. When he tried to call it went straight to voicemail. He hardly ever turned his phone off. That evening, curiosity and worry got the better of Bud and he decided to drive over to Jimmy’s house. Seeing his truck in the driveway and a couple of lights on, he took a deep breath of relief. Bud knew Jimmy had CCTV and motion detector alarms all over the outside of the house, so by the time Bud had got five feet from the front door, Jimmy was ahead of him. As Jimmy opened the door, Bud noticed right away he had his Glock .45 in an Appendix Holster. “I’ve been trying to reach you all day but you turned your cell off…” Bud said walking in. “Yeah, I was busy doing something and did not wanna be disturbed.” Jimmy replied, leading Bud into the kitchen. As Bud followed Jimmy through the living room he noticed all types of gear lying around on the couch: Black Fatigues, Combat Boots, A digital camera with a zoom lens, Several trail cameras and a Night Vision Monocular. As Bud walked into the kitchen he noticed a bottle of Prestone Anti-Freeze and six packages of hot dog franks laying on the counter. “Interesting choices for Dinner.” Bud smiled looking at the Anti-Freeze. Jimmy smiled back. “Yeah, it’s definitely an acquired taste. Hey, I am glad you came by, I need your help with something.” Jimmy reached over and got the packages of Franks. “You mind cutting these up into two-inch pieces for me? You know how I hate the smell of hot dogs!” Bud smiled and started unwrapping the franks.

Two days later Bud is sitting at home watching the Cowboys game when his cell rings. “Got something really cool to show you…” Jimmy said excited. Before Bud could say anything his doorbell rings. “Come on!” he yelled, not feeling like getting up to answer the door. Jimmy comes bounding into the living room like a ten-year old on Christmas morning. “Wait until you see this, you are gonna shit!” Jimmy exclaims. He opens up his laptop case,and inserts the SD card from the trail cameras. “OK, so I set up three trail cams, two on the path he walks the dog on, and one looking into his backyard.” Bud watches as the video begins to roll. “OK, so here the asshole is with the dog.” Jimmy points to the top of the screen. “Now watch this, I could not believe my luck. I threw out a piece of frank about every 20 feet or so along this path.. Because the guy was on his phone the whole time, like 10 minutes, he never noticed the dog gobbling them up!” Jimmy laughed hysterically, slapping Bud on the back. “And let me guess, you had something to do with him being on the phone at this exact time?” Jimmy asked cocking an eyebrow. Jimmy have a sly smile. “You remember PJ? He got the guy’s cell number and when I called and gave him the cue, he called him up and pretended to be from AT&T offering him a free upgrade to the I-Phone 8. Worked like a charm!” Bud shook his head in disbelief. “But wait, you have not even seen the best part!”Jimmy takes out the SD card and replaces it with another. “This is about thirty minutes later in the assholes backyard.” Bud watched in horror as the dog began to run in circles around the yard, sometimes stumbling and crashing in the dirt. “I figured with as many pieces as the dog ate he got about triple the regular killing dose…” Jimmy said, his eyes glued to the screen. After a few more minutes Jimmy slaps Bud on the back in excitement. “Look at that little fucker! He is dying a slow, painful death!” Bud continued to watch as the dog finally collapsed and stop moving. “Oh and for the coup de’ grace, watch this!” Jimmy said, smiling. Bud watched as the owner comes walking out into the backyard to find the dog’s lifeless body. Bud want’s to look away as the man appears to break down and cry hysterically for several minutes. The footage ends as the owner picks up the dog’s lifeless body and carries it inside the house.

Bud glances over at Jimmy who is still smiling, his eyes glued to the monitor. “Isn’t that fucking awesome!” Jimmy asked looking at Bud with wild, wide eyes. “You wanna see him burying it later that night?” Jimmy asked. “No Jimmy, I have seen enough man.” Bud said as he got up from his recliner and walked into the kitchen for a beer. Jimmy closed the laptop and followed behind him. “What? Don’t tell me you don’t like what I did!” Jimmy asked as Bud handed him a beer. “It’s not that man. I understand why you did it, but now that it’s over and you got your revenge, you gotta promise me you are going to leave this guy alone.” Jimmy took a long drink of beer and smiled. “Yeah, I guess we are even.” Bud shook his head and walked closer and looked Jimmy in the eye. “No Jimmy, that won’t cut it. You gotta promise me. No More.” Bud stared at Jimmy for what seemed like two minutes before Jimmy answered. “You got it Gunny. I will stand down.” Bud smiled and both men shook hands. “Good deal. Now do me a favor and get rid of anything and everything incriminating because you know this guy is gonna go whining to the cops.” Bud asked. Jimmy smiled. “Already ahead of you. It’s all taken care of.” Bud nodded his head and both men went back into the living room with their beers and watched a middleweight boxing match on ESPN 2.

 

3.

 

A week passed and Jimmy nor Bud heard a peep from the asshole or the cops about the dog. At their court date, the judge dismissed all charges against Bud and gave Jimmy one year probation and a thousand dollar fine, which Jimmy could pay out over time. In closing he told both Jimmy and Bud that their service to their country played a huge role in his decision but if he ever saw them again they would not get off so easy.  “What did I tell you!” Jimmy asked smiling. It was the weekend and they had decided to drive up to Bud’s dad’s place to do some celebratory shooting, fishing and Bar-B-Q.   “I know, I know. I worry too much.” Bud replied smiling back. It was a beautiful sunny autumn day. The kind of day that just makes you feel good about being alive. Gerald’s cabin sat about half a mile from the highway. “The longest driveway in the county.” Jimmy often joked. About halfway down you passed two huge fishing ponds Gerald had dug out  when he first bought the place back in the seventies. He had stocked them with perch, bass and catfish. Bud saw the head of a turtle quickly duck under the water as he passed. The only really good memories he had of his childhood were fishing in these ponds. Bud would often spend all day in the summer camped out on the bank with a cane pole, a sack lunch and his single-shot .22 in the event he ran across a snake.  Driving back down here and feeling the sun on his face and the smell of the woods and water brought it all back in a rush. Jimmy snapped Bud out of his daydream. “Looks like your old man has fallen behind on the mowing, might have to crank up the bush hog and take care of that for him.” Bud nodded in agreement as they pulled up to the cabin.

In the past when they visited, Bud could always count on Skipper, Gerald’s Golden Retriever running out to greet them and typically, unless he was on a bender, Gerald would be following close behind. This time though, nothing. No Skipper. No Gerald. Both Bud and Jimmy stood there for a second taking stock of the situation. “His truck is here. You think he’s working in the back forty or something?” Jimmy asked. “No, he said he was going to be getting stuff ready for the Bar-B-Q.” Bud replied.  Bud slid out his phone and called Gerald’s cell. As soon as it started ringing they heard his ringtone coming from inside the barn beside the house. It was Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary”. Bud had downloaded it for him when he first got the phone. They both ran to the barn as fast as they could.

Jimmy was the first one through the door and Bud could tell by the way he skidded to a stop something was wrong. There, nailed to the barn wall was the head of Skipper, Gerald’s beloved Golden Retriever. The dog had been decapitated, it’s body nowhere to be found. Flies had already started to gather around the eyes and the blood dripping from the severed neck had turned a dull brownish color in the hay. “What the fuck!” Jimmy said in anger. Before Bud could say anything, Proud Mary began playing again on Gerald’s phone. Bud looked behind him in the direction of the sound and found the phone sitting neatly on a bale of hay. Bud quickly grabbed up the phone. “Dad?” Bud answered in a rush. “No, this is not Daddy.” a man’s voice replied. “Who the fuck is this!” Bud growled. The man laughed on the other end. He laughed! Bud could not fucking believe it. “This is the man you should not have fucked with Bud.” the man’s voice was cool and calm. “Where is my father, Who are you!” Bud yelled into the phone. By this time Jimmy had walked over, his eyes beaming with curiosity, anger and hate. Bud put the phone on speaker. “Oh, Daddy is with me right now. We are just hanging out, talking….” Bud was getting so angry his lips began to quiver. Jimmy put his hands over his head. “Let me tell you something motherfucker, you lay one hand on my dad and I will end you….” The man cut him off. “Enough with the threats Buddy. You are in no position to threaten. You and your asshole friend Jimmy started all of this when first he attacked me and second when he poisoned my fucking dog with anti-freeze.” The man’s voice was angry now, quivering. “What has any of this got to do with my dad?” Bud asked.  “Me and Jimmy are the ones you want! Let him go and we will take his place!” Bud was pacing around the barn now with Jimmy watching and listening intently. The man took a breath. “You know Bud, you are not the only one with connections in the Police Department. It only took me ten minutes to find out who bailed you out last week and to be honest, I was ready to let all this shit go until your buddy killed my dog, then I decided I could not let it go…” The man’s voice trailed off. “Hello! Are you there?” Bud screamed. “Oh yes, I am here Bud. You want to talk to your daddy?” Bud and Jimmy could hear the phone being moved around. “Bud? Is that you?” Gerald weakly asked. “Dad! Are you OK? Listen Dad, we are gonna come get you, don’t worry…” Bud began to cry, his voice breaking. Gerald’s voice was calm and even. “Bud, Bud, listen to me. You remember when you were a kid I used to take you camping? Remember that? You remember that campground where we saw the bear eating out of the garbage can?…” Suddenly Gerald’s voice trailed off and the man’s voice came back. “OK, that is enough reminiscing for now…” he said angrily. “Look, you still have not told us what it is you want.” Bud replied. The man laughed again. “What do I want? Well Bud that should be fairly fucking obvious! I want you and your scumbag friend to suffer like I have suffered the past two weeks.” Bud put his head in his hands while Jimmy paced. “I’ll be in touch soon and oh yeah, if I get one whiff of the Cops, your Dad’s head will be the next thing going up on your Barn Wall.” the line went dead.

Bud just sat there, his lips still trembling with anger. “I cannot fucking believe this Jimmy. We gotta call the cops.”  Jimmy walked over and put his hands on Bud’s Shoulders. His voice was calm and measured. “Bud, listen to me bro. You heard the guy. We cannot call the cop’s or your Dad will die. Now normally I would call bullshit on that threat but seeing what the asshole has done so far…” Jimmy’s voice trailed off looking at the barn wall.  “Well what are we going to do then? Wait for him to kill him for Christ sake!” Spittle flew from Bud’s mouth. His face red with anger and frustration. Jimmy grabbed Gerald’s phone and led Bud out of the Barn and into the house. Before walking in, Jimmy grabbed his laptop case out of the truck and both men walked into the kitchen. As Bud sat down Jimmy opened a cabinet and retrieved two glasses and a bottle of single malt scotch Gerald kept hidden behind the spice rack. Pouring each of them a finger Jimmy made a quick toast. “To Gerald, we are going to find you.” They both drained their glasses. “Now listen to me Bud. Your dad is smart and has had training for hostage situations while in the Rangers. You remember when he was talking to you about going camping and the bear and the garbage can?” Jimmy asked while pouring himself another small snort. Bud cocked an eyebrow. “Yeah, what about it?” Jimmy drained his glass. “Where was that?” Bud thought a minute and his eyes suddenly lit up. “Eagle Lake Park, about an hour up the road.” Jimmy nodded slowly and opened his laptop. After a few keystrokes he turned the screen around so Bud could see. “Is this the place?” Bud leaned in so he could closely examine the screen. “Yep, that is it.” Jimmy nodded and turned the screen back towards him. He took a few minutes examining the terrain and features. “The place is huge, but if I were guessing, I would think he would be holed up in one of these six cabins along the main trail.” Bud got up from the kitchen table and walked to the window. “Shouldn’t we wait for his call?” Bud asked, staring at Gerald’s homemade bird feeder outside the window. “No. We can’t take the chance, This guy is unstable and we need to get Gerald out of there now.” Jimmy replied still studying the map. Bud took a deep breath and continued staring outside for a few moments. He then turned around to face Jimmy at the table. “OK then, let’s go get him!” Jimmy closed the laptop and nodded. Bud noticed Jimmy’s cold grey eyes beamed with what their old Company Commander termed “War Lust”.

Both men began collecting gear and weapons. “Luckily your dad let me use his garage and spare bedroom as my personal storage unit so we should have everything we need.” Jimmy said half-smiling, laying out an assortment of fatigues, gear and weapons. “Especially this beauty.” Jimmy pulled out a black hard rifle case with his last name stenciled on the front. Popping the latches Jimmy took out a M40-A5,  the USMC issue .308 Sniper Rifle. It still had its custom desert paint job, even down to the AAR Suppressor on the end. Jimmy had added a few personal modifications recently including a better trigger, lightweight bipod, new Killflash glare filter for the scope and a new Schmidt and Bender 3-27×56  scope. Bud walked over and swallowed hard while looking at the rifle. It was an amazing piece of weaponry. “Let’s hope you don’t have to use this Jimbo.” Jimmy grinned as he opened the bolt and examined the action. “Yeah, well, from the sound of things your Dad is in extreme danger Bud and since all this is essentially my fault, I intend to bring him back in one piece.” Jimmy reached into a small black bag and removed a box of .308 Ammo and began loading the rifle’s magazine. Bud read the description out loud: “Black Hills Match Grade 168 grain Boat Tail Hollow Point.” After loading the magazine Jimmy slammed it home into the rifle. “Yep, Only the best for this asshole!”

Bud walked over to the bed and examined the assortment of fatigues and chose a pair of green MARPAT’s that were his size and put them on. He then eyed the assortment of handguns Jimmy had laid out. Immediately he gravitated to a Colt Lightweight Commander. Ejecting the magazine, Bud began to load it with some Winchester Black Talon Hollow Points. When he was done he slammed the mag home and holstered it in a black leather hip slide and let his t-shirt fall over to cover it. “Just in case things go really sideways, I want you to have this also…” Jimmy said walking over to the closet and pulling out a CMMG Mid-Length AR-15. “I take it you remember how to run one?” Jimmy said smiling handing him the carbine and a bandolier of mags. “Absolutely.” Bud replied, admiring the weapon. It was a flat-top with a Aimpoint H1 Red Dot. “OK then, let’s roll.” Jimmy said picking up the rifle case and heading for the door.

Ten minutes into the ride to the park Gerald’s phone rang. Jimmy pulled over and answered it on speaker. “Yeah asshole whatta you want?” The man was silent on the other end for a long moment. “This must be Jimmy.” The man said. “Yep. This is Jimmy, the guy who kicked you ass about a week ago.” The man was silent again. “OK Jimmy, if this is how you want to play it, listen to this and then check your text messages…” the phone went silent for a minute and a shuffling noise could be heard. “No! No! You don’t have to do this!” it was Gerald’s voice pleading with the man. Suddenly there were two loud pounding noises with Gerald screaming out in pain. “You Motherfucker!” Bud cried out. The line went dead. A minute later Gerald’s phone chimed with a text and Bud snatched it up. Opening up the attachment photo Bud cried out again. “That sorry son-of-a-bitch!” Jimmy took the phone and looked at the picture. It was Gerald’s mangled hand, his pinky and ring finger smashed to hamburger with a bloody hammer setting beside it. The caption below it read “#PAYBACKISABITCH.” Jimmy put the truck in Drive and got back on the highway. “We gotta get to him soon or the bastard will kill him.” Jimmy said as he hammered down on the gas, pushing the truck past eighty miles an hour.

 

4.

 

They made the hour drive to the park in just under forty minutes. The day was sunny with not a cloud to be seen. As he was admiring the tall pine trees and fir’s, Bud saw a fox squirrel dart out in front of them with a pine nut in his mouth and for a brief moment he forgot about the shit storm he was in. Jimmy slowly rolled into the park. The first small parking lot was empty. “Shit, maybe we were wrong Jimmy.” Bud said, frustrated. “Hang on, there is another parking lot further up.” Jimmy pulled past a Ranger station that was empty and continued around a wide right turn. As soon as they made the turn they saw that the parking lot was empty and parked down at the end was the Mercedes Coupe with the license plate “MNYMAKR”.  “What did I tell you.” Jimmy smiled as he pulled around and parked. “A Ranger never forgets his training!” Jimmy said looking at Bud still smiling. “Gerald is gonna be fine.”  Both men got out and walked around to the back of the truck. “The first cabin is about quarter-mile up the trail to the east. Let’s gear up and we will make our approach from the south.” Bud looked around and was thankful they were all alone in the park. There was no hunting in this park and if people saw two guy in camo with guns they might get nervous and call the cops. “How do we know which cabin he will be in?” Bud asked while slinging his rifle. “We don’t. Process of elimination I am afraid partner. Before I forget, remember sound discipline. Let’s put all the cell’s on vibrate.” Both men took out their phones and switched them to vibrate only and then set off up the trail.

After about a hundred yards on the trail they turned south through the woods, dipping down into a high bank creek and following it for about three hundred yards. The day was warm, but not too hot. Blue Jays and robins hopped and skirted through the trees as a slight breeze rustled the tops of the tall pines.  “The first cabin sits right down there in that draw.” Jimmy whispered and motioned with his hand. “I am gonna  go set up and see what I can see. You pull security. If I see anything I will text you.” Bud gave Jimmy the thumbs up and un-slung the AR and found a place under a huge oak that had good fields of vision in both directions and squatted in the shade. He watched as Jimmy bounded down into the draw and disappeared into the undergrowth. Five minutes later Bud’s cell vibrated. “This is the cabin.” the text read. “I had to maneuver around to the back where there is a big picture window looking into the living room and kitchen. I can see Gerald’s leg’s tied up, but nothing more.” Bud gave a sigh of relief. A moment later another text came through. “No sign of asshole yet. Waiting game.” Bud put his phone back in his pocket and took a deep, cleansing breath as his anxiety level cranked down a few notches. This called for a celebratory drink. Reaching behind him, he grabbed the camelback hose and took a long, cool drink of lemon-lime gatorade. He then reached into a side pocket on his pack and found a peanut butter granola bar. Suddenly he felt a phone buzz. It was Gerald’s. “Yes” Bud answered. “So, how do you want your dear old dad sent back to you Bud?” the man asked. Bud could tell from his slurred words and tone the man had been drinking. “I want him back whole and unharmed.” Bud replied. The man laughed. “Wishful thinking my friend, wishful thinking.” Just then Bud’s phone vibrated. “He is in Kitchen, No clear shot” Jimmy’s text read. Shit! Bud thought to himself, what to do? Keep him talking is the only option Bud had. “So why is that wishful thinking? Don’t you think me and you can come to some amicable agreement?” The man breathed heavily into the phone and laughed. “Amicable agreement, huh?” Bud could hear ice cubes in a glass and him taking a drink. He also heard the faint noise of a television. Bud quickly texted Jimmy. “Maybe in living room?” Suddenly the man hung up. Bud could not stand it any longer. He got to his feet, slung his pack and rifle and began making his way to Jimmy.

Bud crawled the last ten yards to Jimmy’s perch, staying in the thick undergrowth. Jimmy was hidden under a sniper’s OD green veil with only the tip of the suppressor peering from the weeds. “What the fuck you doing here?” Jimmy hissed. “The guy called me.” Bud replied, settling down beside Jimmy. Bud relayed the short conversation to Jimmy. “Any sign of him?” Bud asked. “Negative. All I can see is Gerald’s bound-up legs.” Jimmy shifted around and grabbed a pair of high power binoculars and handed them to Bud. “Here make your self useful and be my spotter.” Bud took the nocs and noticed Jimmy had used black electrical tape over the lens to make a homemade killflash. It was an old trick from Iraq. As Bud scanned the house he zoomed in on the kitchen window and examined the bound legs that were visible. It only took him a minute to realize something was wrong.”Uh Jimbo, those are not Gerald’s legs down there.” Bud whispered. Jimmy quickly got up on his scope and dialed in the zoom. “Notice how they are hairless and shapely? That is definitely not Gerald but a woman down there!” Buds heart began to thump as he repeated to Jimmy the last thing the guy said to him. “How do you want your dear old dad sent back to you?” Jimmy quickly folded down the bipod legs on the rifle and slid it back in the case. “We are gonna have to breach and clear that cabin Bud, we don’t have a choice. Time is of the essence.” Bud nodded as he stashed his pack with Jimmy’s and they began making their way down the draw to the backside of the cabin. They both knelt down in the treeline and got ready. Bud unslung his rifle and double-checked that the mag was seated and a round was chambered. Jimmy un-holstered his Glock and did a chamber check as well. Jimmy glanced at the cabin. “I vote we distract him. You go around to the front and knock on the door, and I will come through the back at the same time.” Bud took a moment to consider the plan. “How about we both stack up at the back and I call him, see what we can hear? Worst case he has it on silent and I can distract him while you go in?” Jimmy considered that for a second. “Sounds good, let’s roll.”

Both men broke through the treeline in a jogging crouch. There was about fifty yards of open ground in the backyard with an old wood shed about ten yards from the cabin. When they made it to the shed Jimmy peered around to look through the picture window. No bound-up shapely legs. “Shit! He’s moved her.” Jimmy hissed. Bud stole a glance. “We gotta get in there Jimmy!” Bud replied. His eyes were wide and his heart was pumping like he had just ran a marathon. Jimmy took notice. “OK, but you gotta take a breath man. Remember, slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” Bud nodded and both men peeled around the corner and bounded up and stacked up at the back door. “OK Call him.” Jimmy whispered. Bud took out Gerald’s phone and hit redial. “It’s ringing” Bud whispered. Jimmy listened intently but could not hear a ringtone from inside the house. “Went to voicemail.” Bud whispered. “Fuck it, we are going in.” Jimmy said. After first trying the doorknob to find it locked he rared back and donkey kicked the door, planting his size 12 boot just beside the doorknob. The door was made of flimsy wood and gave a loud cracking sound on the first kick, swinging back violently into the cabin. Jimmy immediately proceeded through the door with his Glock up and as soon as he saw the layout of the cabin called out “Going left”. Bud immediately was right behind him with the AR shouldered, the 3 MOA red dot glowing in front of him as he peered down the sight. “Going right” Bud replied. As Jimmy cleared the kitchen, Bud began to clear the small living room. Nothing. No lights, no sound. Jimmy made a small circle and came back in front of Bud, his Glock aiming left while Bud’s AR aimed right. They moved down a small hallway with a bedroom to the right and a little further down, a bathroom to the left. After both rooms were cleared they backtracked to the living room. “You think he left?” Jimmy asked, confused. Bud’s heart was really pumping now and his mind was running overtime with mental images of his dad’s lifeless body in a casket. Bud shook his head to clear it and when he did he noticed a door on the other side of the kitchen that looked like a pantry. Bud immediately moved toward it with Jimmy following.

When Bud opened the door he immediately caught the smell of wet concrete and mold. It was a basement. A set of old wooden steps descended and the faint glow of a single light bulb could be seen swinging below. Bud nestled his shoulder into the stock of the AR and centered his vision into the red dot sight. Taking one step at a time he descended into the dank basement with Jimmy right behind him. When they got about halfway down they saw the basement was not that big. It has a washing machine and dryer against one wall and the water heater on the other. Reaching the bottom of the stairs Bud swept the room with the AR. As he made a full circle he saw another door under the stairs. Since the basement was dimly lit He could tell a light was on in the room as a faint beam of yellowish light danced around the door frame. Bud motioned to Jimmy and he came around him. As both men came closer to the door they could hear commotion in the room and the buzzing of a motor of some kind. Bud glanced at Jimmy and nodded and then turned the door knob.

It opened and the cheap wooden door swung back lazily. As Bud stepped into the room the bright flourescent light above blinded him temporarily, but as his eyes adjusted, he saw guy standing there in the corner with a yellow raincoat and yellow trousers, his back to them not six feet away. He had a skill saw in both hands and was in the process of sawing the leg off a human torso. Bud’s heart rate seemed to slow down as did everything else when he saw that. Bud caught movement out of the corner of his right eye and for a split second he saw his dad laying there on the ground squirming and kicking trying to get their attention, his mouth taped over with duct tape and his eyes wide with fear. In this moment Bud’s brain did not have time to compute everything that was happening but in the next moment Bud realized the guy had heard them and turned around to face them. Blood covered his face and the front of the raincoat from top to bottom. He had grown a scraggly beard since Bud has last seen him on the road and what looked like pieces of bone and gore had lodged there. Bud’s eye immediately centered in on the skill saw he was holding in front of him. Suddenly, the man raised the saw above his head and began yelling like a crazed banshee. His eyes were wild and unhinged with a white forth appearing at the edges of his mouth. The man took a step toward Bud, the saw still raised above his head. Bud’s mind re-centered and all he saw before him was the red dot of his carbine scope floating on the man’s chest and in the next instant Bud pulled the trigger three times in quick succession. The 5.56 rounds kicked up small pockets of material of the raincoat in the air and in the same instant the man crumpled to the floor in a heap. The report of the rifle was loud inside the confined space and Bud’s ears begin to ring with a single note harmony. Bud saw the skill saw drop to the floor but did not hear it and for the first time he noticed the concrete was wet with pools of sticky blood.

As time began to move back to its original pace, Bud immediately dropped his AR and let it hang on the sling and kneeled down beside his dad and removed the duct tape from his mouth. Tears were in both of their eyes as Bud turned his dad over and cut loose his bonds. “Are you hurt Dad? Did he hurt you?” Bud choked out, trying to restrain his emotion and at the same time examine his dad’s body for wounds. “No, I am fine son.  I am fine.” Gerald replied. Bud gently lifted his dad upright and let him lean against the wall. Bud noticed Gerald’s color was off and his cheeks were sunken. “You’re dehydrated Dad, here, drink this.” Bud took of his camelback bladder and brought the hose up where his dad could drink. After taking a long drink Gerald took a deep breath. “My God son, you came in the nick of time! That crazy bastard told me he was gonna cut me up and mail me to you in pieces!” Bud’s eyes were still filled with tears as he wiped them away. “It wasn’t just me Dad, Jimmy is the one who figured out where you were…” Both Bud and Gerald turned to look at Jimmy who was examining the body of the woman in the corner. “Who is this poor woman Gerald?” Jimmy asked. “I think it’s the crazy bastard’s wife.” Gerald replied, taking another drink. “From what I overheard on the phone, she was going to turn him in so he went and kidnapped her. Sumabitch’ strangled her right there and then started cutting her up. He was crazy as a shit house rat!” Jimmy shook his head in disbelief as he stood up. “Well, we got a helluva mess to clean up here. Bud you take your dad upstairs and get him comfortable and then come down here so we can get to work.” Bud nodded and helped lift Gerald to his feet. Before leaving Gerald limped over to Jimmy and extended his hand. “Thank you Jimmy for helping to save my life.” Bud noticed a big tear had formed in Gerald’s eye. Jimmy’s eyes softened and very softly he replied “It was my honor Gerald.” Bud helped Gerald up the stairs and sat him down in one of the recliners in the living room. “See if you can find me something to drink son, if you don’t mind.” Gerald said wincing in pain. Bud walked in the kitchen and found half a bottle of Wild Turkey. He brought the bottle and a glass and sat it down on the coffee table. “Hot damn!” Gerald said smiling. Bud just shook his head at his old man. He was so glad he was OK.

When he came back down Jimmy was already laying out a huge sheet of plastic. “You gotta hand it to this guy, he may have been nuts, but he came prepared:  Sheet plastic, sulphuric acid, bleach, skill saws, he brought it all.” Bud shook his head. “Jimmy, you sure this is the direction you want to go man?” Jimmy stopped what he was doing and looked at Bud like he was crazy. “Whatta you mean Man? You just killed a dude! Yeah it may have been in self-defense, but all the circumstances leading up to this are not good! Besides, I am the one that got you in this mess and I am not gonna allow you go to Prison for something I did!” Bud stared at the bloody, gory shitty mess before him. It was too much to handle. He took a deep breath and walked out into the basement. “Bud? Where you going? What’s wrong?” Jimmy got up and followed Bud out. “Bud! Come on dude, we gotta get to work, we have a lot of…” Bud turned around and cut him off mid-sentence. “Why did you have to do it Jimmy? Why did you have to throw that kid off that roof in Ramadi?” Jimmy’s face went blank. “Ramadi? What the hell you talkin’ bout man? Listen, you just killed a man, you are in shock, it’s OK, we all been there, but right now we have to knuckle down and man up…” Bud took two-steps closer to Jimmy. “I am not in fucking shock man. I am thinking as clearly as I ever have.” Bud stared into Jimmy’s eyes without blinking. “Why do you always have to push things too far man? I should have never went along with letting you poison this guy’s dog, that was a mistake. But then again, I should have never covered for you in Ramadi either, but I did. Why did I do it Jim? Why?” Bud turned around and walked to the other side of the room shaking his head. He felt like he was trapped. Trapped in a friendship that was most likely going to send him to prison or the morgue. There was a long pause and the air felt heavy in the dank basement. “You did it because we are brothers and you always gotta back your brother’s play.” Jimmy said. “Now you gonna help me or not?” Jimmy asked. Bud could feel his stare on his back. So many thoughts raced through Bud’s mind. He had a hundred good reasons why he should pick up the phone and call the cops and tell them everything. On the other hand he had only one better reason why he shouldn’t. Jimmy saved Gerald. If Jimmy had not had been with Bud, Gerald would most likely be dead right now. But the irony, and this is what kept repeating in Bud’s mind over and over like a broken fucking record is Jimmy is the reason they were in this spot in the first place! Bud let out a small laugh and shook his head. “Yeah Jim, I’ll help you.” Bud said as he turned around and both he and Jimmy walked into the small basement room and began the arduous process of getting rid of two bodies with a skill-saw and sulphuric acid.

 

The End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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