Loading...
Menu
Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Horror  ➡  Adventure  ➡  Weird fiction  ➡  Men’s adventure

Graveyard (KILL KILL KILL book 1)

  

 

Copyright 2012, 2013 by Mike Leon

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Author, except where permitted by law.

 

Cover art by Paul Bohart

 

Additional illustrations by Rachel Lang

 

PLEASE SEND ALL COMMENTS, QUESTIONS AND DEATH THREATS TO:

 

PROFESSIONAL[email protected]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now we are all sons of bitches.

 

Kenneth Bainbridge

July 16, 1945

 

  

LITTLE GIRL LOST

 

“It’s a fucking bloodbath in there,” Shelly says.

The skinny blond is holding a Milkor multiple grenade launcher over her shoulder as she radios to Echo Team that Walter is here. Back when Walter was in the shit, the army still had a no girls allowed policy. Shelly makes him wish they didn’t.

“Where’s Spears?” Walter asks. He stands with his boots three inches deep in the un-shoveled snow of the driveway in front of Van Duyn Manor. His brown trench coat nearly scrapes the white powder and flakes of it land on his head and melt into his short silver hair.

“Through that side door there into the kitchen. Just go straight through into the dining hall. The Lieutenant should be in there.”

The sky is dark and choked with white fuzz. Walter can barely make out the lights high atop the colossal mansion as dim balls of blur in the snowy gloom.

“Good. You stay here with the big guy.”

“The big guy?” Shelly says, peering at Walter over the mirror lenses of her sunglasses.

Walter waves his hand and the Ghoul steps out of the rental car behind him. The shocks creak and the car raises almost a foot.

Seven feet tall and weighing four hundred pounds fully armored, the creature known only as Ghoul speaks rarely when not excited by the promise of violence or the sight of blood. Its black Kevlar armor reminds Walter of the suits worn by bomb disposal technicians. The obvious difference is the skull faced rubber Halloween mask the Ghoul wears over his helmet. Walter hates that stupid mask, though it is a huge improvement over the hideous face underneath.

“Um. Okay…” Shelly says. She stares up at the monstrous butcher beside her with obvious unease as Walter walks away and into the house. Walter doesn’t need the monster stomping around inside messing up the scene. It is notoriously careless with its size and strength.

His way through the kitchen is unremarkable, although the kitchen is notably immaculate and stocked with industrial cooking equipment rather than the common housewares. It looks like the grill line at a five star restaurant – all except for the handful of soldiers standing guard with MP5 submachine guns and body armor. They wear black uniform fatigues under their vests, unmarked except for the fanged skull and crossbones patch on the left shoulder which marks them as operators of Graveyard. The patch, which is plain white and lacks any numbers or rank insignias, has existed for almost a century, and was designed specifically to be ambiguous as well as unnerving. One man nods solemnly as Walter walks past them into the dining room. The sight that greets him there is a terrible one.

Dangling upside down from the dining hall chandelier is the corpse of Mrs. Victoria Van Duyn, the lady of the house. Walter cannot confirm that entirely, as her head is missing, but her vibrant pink bubble hem dress hangs down exposing her jade lace underwear, which is a telling feature considering Eli Van Duyn’s well known taste for young trophy wives – this being the last in a long series. The chandelier is elaborate and huge. Silver arms and branches extend in many directions and the tiny white lights number at least a hundred by Walter’s estimation. Lady Van Duyn’s ankle is caught somehow in the crisscross of silver so that one bar acts as a fulcrum beneath her knee and the weight of her dangling body levers her shin upwards against another bar to keep her suspended. This will remain until they take her down or her shin breaks – whichever happens first. A dark puddle of blood has collected on the long and ornately carved wooden dining table below her. A few thick lines extend out from the main puddle and onto the surrounding chairs and tile floor. Those were left by the swinging of the chandelier.

Walter is so transfixed that he nearly trips on another body. A man wearing a gray Armani suit lies face down on the tile at his feet. The suit is perforated with so many bullet holes that they almost make one big hole in the back of the suit coat. His gun, an Ingram MAC-10, juts out from the open wound as if he was stabbed with the muzzle, and the fingers at the end of his twisted and broken right arm are still caught in the trigger guard. Dozens of shell casings litter the floor. So much blood has pooled around the cadaver that the casings are half sunk in it. Walter leans to get a look at the face and he recognizes the man as William Travers. That surprises him. He knew Travers years ago, when they were in Delta together. He was with Travers on an operation in Burma that went completely to shit. Travers, Walter and two others made their way through thirty miles of dense bush with a whole division of guerillas right on their asses. Walter saw Travers gruelingly force his thumbs through the eyeballs of a Burmese militia man in that jungle. Bill Travers was a killer – one of the best. Now it looks like someone stomped him against the floor and emptied his own subgun magazine into his spine. Travers had kids, a boy and a girl, and an ex-wife somewhere. Someone will need to go talk to them.

For the first time since he entered, Walter takes note of the personnel snapping photos and examining the scene. He vaguely recognizes a few of the dozen people there. He doesn’t fraternize much with the labcoat set.

Lieutenant Jim ‘KillCrazy’ Spears enters through a wooden door on the other side of the room with two other Echo members. He gives a grim nod of recognition when he sees Walter leaning to get a better look at the body hanging from the chandelier. Spears is a younger man. His hair is sandy blond and if there are any gray strands they don’t stand out. His rifle is slung over his shoulder and he wears the solid black fatigues of a Graveyard operator.

“They were at a fund raiser for the gun lobby. He left before she did,” Spears says, eyeing toward the hanging body. “Best we can figure, she came home and walked in on the killer.”

“Where’s Van Duyn?” Walter says.

“On the back veranda,” Spears answers stone faced. He shakes his head slightly as he does so. “You think this is a freak show? This is just the beginning.”

Walter follows Spears and another man through the wooden door into the den, which Walter assumes is one of many. They pass another dead bodyguard, this one eviscerated over a glass coffee table which has spider webbed, but not shattered, under his weight. Walter doesn’t know him.

“There were three guards,” Spears says. “We found another one on the third floor with the butler and a member of the kitchen staff. It looks like they were trying to make a phone call, but all the lines were cut. Power too.”

Spears opens a glass door from the den to the outside, and as Walter steps out onto the wooden planks of the back veranda, what he sees is even more mind boggling than the scene in the dining hall.

Eli Van Duyn lies face up on the veranda floor, vacant eyes gazing up at the ceiling in terror. He wears a black tuxedo with a white shirt and black tie that streams from his neck and over his right shoulder until it ends in a tattered tear. His body ends in a similar way just above his waist. His tuxedo top is a shredded mess and the flesh underneath comes to a jagged conclusion as well. Bloody guts pour from the gaping hole. Walter can make out a lower rib pointing skyward and a splintered spine resting against the floor. His lower half is nowhere to be seen.

“Where’s the rest of him?” Walter demands in an uncharacteristically shrill tone.

“We can’t find it,” Spears answers. “I’ve seen guys look like that after they stepped on an IED, but there’s no damage here from explosives and well…” He trails off as if purposely omitting something.

Walter leans closer to the body and happens upon the same bizarre observation. There is a serrated, saw-like pattern to the massive wound.

“This looks like a shark bite,” Walter says.

“We know,” Spears answers.

“What can do that?”

Spears shakes his head. “A shark, I guess.”

“A shark doesn’t climb out of the ocean and walk a hundred miles onto dry land through a snow storm, cut the power to the house, shoot Bill Travers in the god damned back with his own gun and hang some bitch from a chandelier. Not any kind of shark I’ve ever seen.”

Walter is still examining the corpse with grim fascination when Operator Morgan steps out onto the veranda. Morgan is a short man, thick and muscular – the kind of man Van Hansen would say was built like a brick shithouse. He stuffs a heavily padded Blackberry cell phone into a shirt pocket and he displays a look of urgency.

“I just had Van Duyn’s ex-wife on the phone,” Morgan reports. “His daughter was supposed to be here for the weekend.”

Spears’ eyes widen. Walter grunts. Echo Team did not find any children during the initial clearing, dead or alive. Both men jump into action.

“Get Shelly,” Spears barks at Morgan. “I want a fire team on this veranda in two minutes, and bring the dogs.”

Walter raises a radio and calls a dog of his own. “Ghoul. Follow operator Baum to the back deck.” The Ghoul doesn’t know what veranda means. Walter finds it best to keep his commands simple.

Two minutes later, Shelly Baum is on the veranda with the Ghoul, four operators, and two German shepherds. Morgan finds a doll, upstairs in the girl’s bed, which the handler gives the dogs to pick up a scent. They hit on something almost immediately, but the trail takes them away from the house – out into the biting cold. Spears leaves Morgan in charge at the house as the dogs guide them into the woods outside. Walter, The Ghoul, Shelly Baum, and the fire team follow.

Walter figures the girl will be frozen solid if they find her. No one could survive in this for long. The Ghoul stomps through the snow ahead of them with only the dogs to show the way. The cold has little effect on the giant barbarian. It annoys Walter, who pulls his beret down low and covers half his face with the scarf. Spears and his operators are stone faced and cover all directions as they hustle to keep up with the vicious engine of destruction ahead of them. The woods are thick and the sun has been blotted out by the clouds and snow. None of them can see far and some of them are scared, but Walter is confident. He doesn’t care if a fucking T-Rex is waiting for them out there. They will show it straight to the hurt locker.

A half mile into the woods, the dogs hit on something ahead. Walter can just barely make out the Ghoul as it halts and draws a wicked black cleaver from a sheath on its back. This knife is one of many strapped to the big butcher and is big enough to be a full sized sword for a smaller man. Walter crouches behind a tree as Spears and the fire team converge on the position.

“What is it?” Shelly Baum asks, her sight and that of her grenade launcher never pointing away from the scene ahead. Spears looks to Walter silently.

“Wait and see what he does,” Walter answers.

They all watch as the Ghoul creeps forward into some snow covered bushes at the base of a great oak tree. After a good look into the bushes, the Ghoul turns back toward Walter and the fire team. It cocks its head to the side and shrugs one shoulder. Walter has seen this motion before and he thinks it is the most human one the Ghoul can make. The dogs at his feet continue to bark up at the sky notifying them all that they have reached the end of their search.

“It’s clear,” Walter says.

“Alright,” Spears responds. “Let’s move in.”

Walter draws his 1911 and pulls back the hammer with his thumb. He follows Spears forward as Shelly and the fire team cover them from behind.

The two men only make it a few feet before they see what the dogs have found. Behind the bushes at the Ghoul’s feet, huddled in a large recess in the roots of the great oak tree, is Van Duyn’s young daughter. The girl couldn’t be more than eleven or twelve. Her skin is pale white and her eyes are blank and motionless. She wears nothing but a sweater and blue jeans. Walter can see that her fingers are black with frostbite. He holsters his gun and rushes forward.

He removes his right glove and touches the girl’s throat. Her skin is like ice, but she isn’t dead just yet. He can feel a slight pulse and something else. She’s saying something. She’s talking.

Walter leans forward into the hollow and puts his ear to her mouth. He can barely make out the feint words over the wind blowing through the trees.

“…the bad man…the bad man…the bad man…”

Spears already has his jacket off and he’s wrapping it around the girl and yelling into her face to try and wake her up as Shelly screams into a radio for a medic back at the house. The dogs continue to bark. Walter hears none of it as he steps backward away from the oak tree.

He can feel his hair stand on end as he scans the gloomy woodland around them for anything – anything at all that might explain this insanity. There is nothing.

“What the hell happened out here?” he asks. Spears is too busy hoisting the girl off the ground and barking commands at Shelly to hear, but it doesn’t matter. Walter knows he doesn’t have an answer. Nobody does.

 

  

A CHILD DOESN’T KNOW

WHAT TERRIBLE IS

 

Helicopter blades chop through the chill night. The bulky headphones Sid wears block out most of the noise. Only two colors exist under the dome light of the chopper. His black fatigues and gloves stand out against the blood red world around him.

His father’s voice rumbles over his headset, deep and gravelly, with the tiniest hint left over from Eastern Europe. A shade of his former fearsome self, his father was once the mighty Kill Team One. It is said that he decimated small armies with no help from anyone. He killed warlords, champions and supermen with nothing but his wits and steel.

One day, Sid will be a great warrior like his father, but first he must pass his father’s test.

“We are dropping you in right here,” his father says, jabbing his finger into a spot on a topographical map, unfolded messily in his lap. Sid notes the terrain. He needs little more than a glance. His memory is almost eidetic, the product of constant beatings over mistaken or misremembered minutiae during the last decade.

“That’s only a mile from the objective point.”

“That is right. This is a milk run. In and out. You cannot handle that?”

“I can, sir.”

“Good. That is why you have a time limit. Forty-five minutes for the whole op. You hit the ground. Make your way to the target zone. Terminate. Make your way to…” he scans the map briefly before poking another spot “…here for pick up.”

“I won’t let you down.”

“And no guns.”

“What?”

“No guns,” the old man repeats, grabbing Sid’s M4 rifle. He throws the gun from the open door of the helicopter. This jars Sid slightly. It is a waste of a perfectly good rifle. Neither of them looks to see where it lands. He turns back to his father.

“You’re going in with just a knife. Leave those grenades here,” he says, pointing to two HE grenades clipped to Sid’s belt. “We want to send a message. The best way is quiet and ugly. Quiet and ugly is best done with a knife.”

“I’ll make it ugly,” Sid says.

“This is a picture of the target,” the old man says, leaning over next to him with a manila file drawer folder in his hands. He flips it open in front of Sid. “He is eight.”

“You want me to kill a kid?” Sid says, not upset, but a little surprised. He eyes the photograph in the folder. It is just a mug shot of a sandy-haired young boy, maybe a little plump for his age, holding a basketball in some unknown park.

“You are a kid,” the old man answers with a sly grin. “What is the problem?”

“None, sir.” It is true. Sid is only fifteen.

“Are you sure you can handle it? You sound afraid, boy.”

“I’ll make it ugly,” he repeats. His voice is harsh and angry now. He will.

“Good. Fear is for the weak. A warrior has no fear.”

In just minutes, Sid is making his way through the dark woodlands on his way to the target. He is light on his feet without his guns and explosives. He is almost thankful not to have them, as he feels perfectly comfortable with his KA-BAR knife for this mission – this test – and the other equipment would have only tired him faster.

Only twenty minutes have passed by the time Sid is outside the wall of the mini-mansion where his target sleeps. Sid has no concept of high society and only a rudimentary understanding of social class. He notices that this house is bigger than others he has seen, but in his mind that simply means more people must live there, or perhaps a powerful warlord constructed it to offer more protection than a smaller house without a wall.

The wall around the mansion is stone and nearly ten feet tall. Sid finds a place where a tree has been allowed to grow too near it and he dashes up the tree trunk before bounding off and gripping the top of the wall. He pulls himself over and drops down to the ground on the other side without a sound.

He draws his knife and scans the grounds in front of him. The KA-BAR knife is made from high carbon steel, heat tempered and stained black to keep it from glimmering in the night. Sometimes Sid thinks it is his favorite weapon. He tries not to play favorites because his father always taught him not to rely on any piece of equipment. A real warrior can pick up any object and make it a weapon. Still, this one is familiar and simple and he likes those things.

On his way to the house he meets no resistance. He expected a walled compound to have at least some guards patrolling the area, but he sees none. This does not bode well. Despite his father’s insistence, he does not expect this mission to be easy. The old man’s tests are never easy. Something is going to trip him up somewhere. If it wasn’t outside the house then it must be inside the house.

He peeks in through all the windows he can, checking for signs of an ambush. When he has circled around the mansion once and developed a quick floor plan in his head, he moves to a large, mostly glass, double door leading in from the swimming pool to the kitchen. The other entryway opened into a wide open living room which was overlooked by part of the second floor. Going in there would be stupid. He tries the door. It is unlocked.

None of this adds up. There should be guards, remote sentries, something. But as the door creaks open into the house, Sid can only stare befuddled at the empty room ahead. He listens for the sounds of breathing, footsteps, or rustling clothes and he hears nothing. This is impossible. His hearing is perfect. He thinks he could hear the sound of a heartbeat in this quiet house, and still nothing. He steps inside.

No one leaps out to ambush him. There is no unit of commandos. No alarm sirens sound. As he moves farther inside he still detects nothing. He stalks through the living room quickly and without a sound. He makes his way to the stairs. Stairs are difficult to traverse stealthily. Sid uses a technique that involves planting his feet against the edges where each step meets the wall and stabilizing with a free hand to spread out the distribution of his weight. A ninja taught his father this and his father taught him.

He reaches the top of the stairs and readies his knife. He moves slower than he did downstairs because second floors are often creakier and he is closer to his target. He can’t risk any mistakes here. Tripping on some clutter or stepping on a loose floorboard will ruin everything.

He passes two rooms on his way to the target. One is occupied by a single young woman. She sleeps with a shaggy mess of hair in her face and a fan blowing on her. This is foolish because the noise of the fan provides cover for intruders like him. Sid does not know what function she serves. The second room is larger and he spies the parents asleep in bed, both of them completely unprotected and their door left wide open. He continues to the next room and sees his target for the first time.

The room is dimly lit by a small plug-in night light adorned with some kind of bear decoration. Stuffed animals clutter the floor and Sid must step over several. The eight-year-old enemy lies bundled under thick covers wrapped around him and over his head. Sid finds this ridiculous. The best way to sleep is on your back with a gun in your hand and your eyes open – and behind locked doors or hidden in a closet. His father taught him this. He almost laughs at the absurdity he sees in front of him. As if a woolen blanket with patchwork teddy bears on it will stop him or his seven inch blade. He flips the knife into a downward pointing position and prepares to strike his enemy. Then he stops.

How can this be his enemy? This child has done nothing to harm him. The pathetic little shit can’t even defend himself. He lowers his knife. Sid has killed hundreds of men in his training. He and his brother used live prisoners for target practice since they were old enough to talk. Later, his father staked men to the ground behind the house and had the boys stab and hack at them with knives and swords and clubs. The first lesson of armed close combat, he said, is to feel these things. Nothing, no text, no training video, can prepare a person for the feeling of driving sharpened steel through human flesh. It is a sawing, grinding process that often comes to a jarring halt when the blade hits bone. For a long time, Sid felt a vile screech in his inner ears as he drove the knife deeper. This he learned to put aside by drawing on his inner anger. If he felt rage enough to tear into them with his teeth, then that nails-on-the-chalkboard feeling wasn’t there. But this one is different. This one is not some murdering bomber who curses and spits at him. He finds difficulty summoning the hate.

This is the test. His father sent him here to this insecure rabbits’ nest to see not if he could, but if he would murder this baby.

He cringes as the reality of his predicament sets in. For the first time in a long time, killing a person bothers him. This is harder than anything else the old man could have devised. Ninjas, commandos, battle tanks, even the chupacabra – he was ready for all those things, but this he came unprepared for.

He stands over the bed locked in turmoil he doesn’t understand. This should mean nothing to him. He should stab this thing and be done with it. But he cannot bring himself to do it. Maybe that is the correct solution. Maybe his father wants him to leave.

No. A warrior completes his mission. The old man told him that too many times. He clenches his teeth and prepares for that old hideous screeching feeling as he raises his knife. He growls like a vicious dog in his mind because that will numb the sensations in his hands. He will do this. He will follow his orders.

He drives the blade ferociously, aiming to pierce lung and heart, because when he chooses to do a thing, he does it the right way. He turns the blade to slide between the ribs. A punctured lung will keep the target from screaming and a knife through the heart will ensure a quick death. What greets him is not the feeling of steel tearing through sinew and entrails, but a fluffy, soft puncturing that breaks the fall of his knife like a cushion. A second later, he realizes he has stabbed a collection of pillows. A decoy.

The creak of hinges alerts him with only milliseconds to spare. Sid spins as the tiny child leaps from the closet behind him dressed in colorful pajamas and hoisting an UZI submachine gun that appears like a full sized rifle in his tiny hands.

“Eat hot lead ya fucking cunt!” the murderous little tyke screams as he squeezes down the trigger and unleashes a stuttering blast of .45 caliber bullets at a rate of five hundred per minute. The gun kicks hard and he struggles to hang on like a champion bull rider.

Sid has no gun and the smallest possible fraction of time to react. He should be dead, but the room is small, the moppet’s aim is poor, and Sid is very, very fast. He stomps one foot onto the twin mattress in front of him and plants it hard to leap back against the wall behind him and out of the way of a volley of bullets. With his other foot, he kicks off the wall and up over the little gunman’s line of fire to deliver a face-smashing flying kick that knocks little teeth scattering across the floor. He comes down on top of the midget with his enemy’s hand locked between his legs – the uzi still grasped in tiny fingers. Sid strips away the Uzi with one hand as he drives his knife through the throat of his target. The last of the empty .45 caliber casings tumbles to the ground as he withdraws his knife and bright red blood begins to pool on the carpet, so much of it that it does not sink into the fabric, but actually puddles on top of it. Only fourteen shots were fired.

Sid checks for more threats. The parents he saw sleeping before have come running. The father wears a maroon bathrobe and points a drum-fed tommygun at Sid. The shotgun toting mother follows behind him in a nightshirt and fuzzy bunny slippers. Sid mows them both down with the UZI before they ever get a shot off.

It takes him thirteen minutes to make his way through the woods back to the landing zone. He brings with him the severed head of the little target and he dumps it at his father’s feet on the floor of the chopper when he climbs up into the cabin one minute before the forty-five minute cutoff his father gave him.

“I am surprised you came out of there,” his father says, showing genuine surprise for the first time Sid can recall. He yells over the roar of the helicopter blades in the chopper as it lifts off from the extraction zone. Sid stares blankly up at him from the floor. Another manila file folder plops down in his lap – the real file on his target, this one much thicker.

“Little Timmy was one of the top hatchet men on the global market,” he continues. “The ploy was fucking old, but it never stops working. Little boy lost waits until he has your back and then whips out a hand cannon. He killed a UN official last week with a polonium dart gun hidden in a Tickle Me Elmo. Clever. Of course he was really thirty-five. He paid Columbian mercenaries to play his parents.”

“So you passed the test. You were sloppy, but you passed,” the old man tells him.

Sid nods. This is what he wanted, but something nags at him still. He must know.

“What made you pick this? Why this test?” Sid asks.

“To make sure you’re always prepared for the unexpected.”

“That was all?”

The old man lowers one eyebrow and purses his lips slightly. He is taken aback just a little. He answers condescendingly, uncertain why Sid would even ask a question so stupid.

“Yes. Why?” his father says.

“No reason.”

Sid knows it better not to say, and he never will.

 

  

THE OTHER YELLOW MEAT

 

“You ever hear of the Nanking massacre?” says that terrible man – the man with one ear. The words still bite into him from ten years past. He hears the voice, but he does not see yet. He has not entered the room yet. He does not want to. Not again.

His father says nothing.

“Well, turns out you Japs are some twisted fucks,” One-ear continues. “See, when you guys took Nanking, China in thirty-seven, the Jap army raped eighty-thousand women in six weeks. Eighty-thousand! True story.”

“What is this?” he hears his father say. “Revenge for what the Japanese army did before I was born?”

“Let me get to the good part,” One-ear says, dismissively. “See, when the Jap soldiers were done raping some poor peasant girl, they would take one of these and ram it up her cunt until she was dead. Terrible, terrible way to die.”

Again. Nothing from his father.

“I think you need a demonstration,” One-ear says.

And then Yoshida enters the room. Then he sees.

The room is empty of furniture. On the open floor, his father, Katsuhiro Tanaka, master of the Tanaka ninja clan, stands helpless. His hand rests on the hilt of his sword, as if it could do him any good…

On a very large flat panel television mounted on the wall ahead of them, the terrible one-eared man violently stabs Yoshida’s family katana into Mitsuko’s crotch. His wife screams and flails her feet trying to kick the sword away. She tries fruitlessly to pull herself higher toward the ceiling she dangles from on metal shackles, away from the razor edge of the sword. More and more blood runs down the shining steel blade as her quaking body swallows it inch by agonizing inch. Yoshida turns away as the pointed end of the blade erupts from her gurgling mouth, an act which requires despicable precision on the part of the one-eared man. She continues to sputter and cough blood, somehow not quite dead yet, and the one-eared man leaves her like this as he turns back to face the camera and angrily reprimands the ninja.

“You fucked with the wrong people this time, Tanaka,” the one-eared man growls into the camera.

“I am unimpressed,” the ninja feigns coldly.

“Fuck you, squinch eye,” the murderer responds cynically. “You look like you might shit yourself – You and your friend there.”

Katsuhiro turns and sees Yoshida standing in the room beside him. Tears stream from his face. This is the first time he has ever startled his father. The old ninja hides it well, but he must be shaken to the core to have not noticed.

“Father…”

Katsuhiro stares back at Yoshida and maintains composure, but he says nothing.

“Now that you know I mean business, let’s move on to round two,” says One-ear, as he moves off camera where the Tanaka men cannot see him. He continues to speak, nonetheless, shouting to register on the camera’s cheap microphone from some distance away. “See, I got a question I need answered, and I think you’re gonna answer it.”

When he reappears in front of the camera, he is dragging a rusted, black, charcoal grill. It stands waist high on him and must have no wheels because Yoshida hears it grating against the floor.

“It’s easy,” One-ear says. “Who were you working for when you broke into the vault?”

“Coward!” Katsuhiro barks. “Face me!”

“I ain’t Alexander Hamilton, ya fuck,” One-ear grimaces. “And I’m not retarded. I know about ninjas. I’m not within a hundred miles of that house. How do you like the setup, by the way? It’s called streaming video. Some kind of internet thing. Very high tech. Now answer the question.”

Katsuhiro narrows his death glare. Yoshida cries like a baby now, curled in a heap on the floor beside him.

“Fine,” One-ear responds. “Have it your way.”

He reaches for the handle of the dome shaped grill lid and uncovers it, revealing the Tanaka baby resting on the blackened grating underneath. The baby begins to wail loudly at the sight of Mitusko’s dripping corpse hanging overhead.

Yoshida stands. “Shintaro!” he shouts, as he grasps at his father’s leg and points wildly to the television screen.

“I got a butane lighter and a taste for the other yellow meat,” One-ear says as he displays his grill lighter in front of the camera. “You gonna tell me what I want to know?”

“Tell him!” Yoshida says.

Katsuhiro remains stone faced. He refuses to give in. Yoshida curses his father’s cruel sense of honor.

“When you return the child!” Katsuhiro offers.

“No deal,” One-ear responds. “You have ten seconds. Tell me what I want to know and you get the baby back alive.”

“Answer his question!” Yoshida screams, crying, thrashing at the old ninja’s leg.

Katsuhiro holds steadfast.

One-ear lights the grill. Smoke begins to drift upward from the charcoal. The baby cries harder. So does Yoshida.

“We’re just warming up,” One-ear says. “How do you like yours done? I like mine well-done. I mean like shoe leather.”

“Tell him! Tell him!” Yoshida cries.

Yoshida stands and punches his father in the chest. “Don’t let him do this! Please!” He hits him again, but the old ninja doesn’t care. He isn’t there anymore. He is outside the experience. It is an old ninja trick that even Yoshida recognizes. Yoshida slaps him across the face. “Wake up!”

In this moment, he hates his father more than anything in the world, except the man with one ear. He hopes his father dies. He hopes the awful smoking carcass of the baby will haunt him until he finally guts himself over his jisei.

“No!” roars Katsuhiro Tanaka. He draws his sword and points it at the television screen. “You coward! You monster! I will hunt you until I have murdered everyone you hold dear and destroyed everything of value to you. Then I will kill you and when I am done I will go down to hell and kill your spirit there as well, so that not even the afterlife will grant you reprieve!”

One-ear rolls his eyes. “I can see I’m not getting anywhere with this,” he says as he reaches off camera and picks up something heavy and oddly shaped with a trigger like a gun and wire antennas. It looks like a radio controlled car remote to Yoshida, but Katsuhiro recognizes it immediately – a remote detonator.

“Sayonara, shitheads,” the spook says as he pulls back the trigger.

The empty house around them erupts in an explosion too immense for them to feel. One-hundred pounds of C4 is enough to kill Death himself if he comes in too close. The acrid black plume of smoke reaches up toward the heavens, but doesn’t quite make it…

…and the ninja awakens. Again, the ninja awakens. Ten years and the nightmare persists. No detail fades. Not the burning baby. Not the tortured dead face of his wife. Not the fury in his father’s eyes. They remain even clearer than the scars he still has from that terrible night, returning every time he rests his eyes. Sometimes he wonders if he died in that blast and was sent to this hell as punishment for the disrespect he showed them in life. That is his nightly hell.

Then he wakes up and returns to his daily hell, one of beatings and bloodshed, running and climbing until he throws up from exhaustion, forcing himself far past the limits of normal men and well into the realm of the impossible.

Two hells for one man. Two hells – and still nowhere near the level of suffering he will bring to the man who murdered his family.

 

  

GRAVEYARD

 

“Judy is looking for you,” Frank Overton says. The tall black operator stands at the lobby doors waiting for Walter. He handles most of the day-to-day administrative duties at the company. “She says Lucy maxed out your VISA.”

“Christ on a crutch!” Walter says. “That card has a fifty thousand dollar limit.”

The building is an unmarked block of solid concrete with a few windows. It stands ten storeys tall somewhere in a remote part of Arizona, surrounded by miles of fence and warning signs. Trespassers will be shot. That’s not what the signs say, but it’s true.

“That’s kids, man,” Frank says. “I paid for two weddings. Wish I had every penny back. Just make sure there’s an open bar.”

An open bar was the only thing Walter insisted on when he handed his daughter the credit card. He has three girls, and Lucy is the oldest by almost ten years. He offered to pay for her wedding mostly out of guilt for not being around much, but partly to shit on his first wife.

The lobby is an open area with a railed stairway leading up to an overlooking second floor. At the bottom of this stairway is a walk-through metal detector and a desk manned at all times by two guards dressed in rent-a-cop outfits. Walter waves them off as he and Frank walk through the metal detector.

These men have only two jobs: to direct authorized visitors to the second floor, and hit the button if anyone unauthorized attempts to get past them. If they are killed, a dead man’s switch hits the button for them. The button floods the lobby with CR gas and sets off a building-wide alarm. Then operators in chem-war suits show up with heavy machine guns to see what the problem is. Pushing the button is a bad thing.

“Status on the girl?” Walter says as he stomps up the stairs ahead of Frank.

“Still catatonic,” Frank says. “Echo is all over that hospital. They have Shelly Baum in the room acting like the kid’s mom.”

“We need that kid up and talking.”

In the movies, the hidden base of the super secret commando agents always has a gauntlet of high tech scanner gadgets. The secret agents have to walk through it, or stand on a conveyor belt that carries them through while red lights and blue laser beams scan them, a guy watching an X-ray monitor looks at their skeleton, another guy watching a different screen looks at them naked, and a retinal scanner ensures they have the correct eyeballs. The Graveyard building has all these things at the top of the stairs, flanking the path to the elevator. All of them are turned off and sit unmanned and unused. A guy named Randy occasionally comes through with a feather duster to make sure all of it still looks nice.

They used to use that stuff, but it just became impractical. The building is crawling with guys in body armor carrying bombs and automatic weapons in and out at all times. What use is an x-ray viewer when everyone walking through it is supposed to have three or four guns on them anyway? At least one person/creature that visits the building has only black voids instead of eyes. There goes the whole reason for a retinal scanner. For a while all of this equipment was a daily nuisance to everyone in the building. Then, when Elkan Rothschild visited for the first time, he refused to walk through any of it, saying it was an invasion of his privacy. Walter said fuck it and from that day forth the extraneous scanning equipment was used no more. The guys at the fence turn away any occasional vagrant or conspiracy loon, sometimes with bullets, and it all works out.

It works because Graveyard is small. They aren’t fighting a full scale war here. They just do the odd dirty jobs that come up now and again. A political assassination here, a false flag attack there – these things don’t require a thousand men. They require five or ten at a time. The whole company only has a few hundred operators in total. Small operations stay under the radar easily. To play that advantage even further, steps are taken to ensure that the left hand never knows what the right hand is doing, so to speak. Contracting at Graveyard means being told nothing. Every mission is on a need to know basis. Operators are paid very well not to ask questions. Most of them don’t even know who pays them – only that it was twice as much as Blackwater would offer.

“Can I ask you something?” Frank says, not pausing to hear Walter’s preference. “It true the guy got bitten in half?

“He was in half,” Walter says. “I can’t really say how he got that way.”

“I bet he got chainsawed. I saw a body got chainsawed when I was a cop.”

“You were a cop?”

“On off when I was in the reserves. Anyway, I always thought that looked like a shark bite.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, Frank.”

Walter pushes the up arrow to summon the right side elevator. The Graveyard building has two elevators and a stairwell between them, both accessible from the balcony overlooking the lobby. The lobby is occupied only by the two guards at the front desk and the rest of the first floor is used for nothing.

The second floor has a waiting area with a receptionist and a housing area where the on-site tactical team stays in three day long shifts prepared to gear up and invade the first floor lobby.

The third, fourth and fifth floors all are for temporary housing and include sixty dorm rooms with bunk beds. Most operators are so well compensated that they own several houses, but simple logistics demands a place for them to stay when conducting extended contracts and operations from the building.

Floors six, seven, and eight are administrative. Most of the fire team leaders have offices, or at least cubicles on those floors. The payroll department is on the sixth floor. The communications center is up there too.

The vault is on floor nine.

Walter’s office is on the tenth floor, along with roof access, offices belonging to Frank and a few other supervisors, conference rooms and a war room complete with one of those neat glass maps of the world you can look at from either side. That thing is useless. One day Walter is going to throw it off the roof.

“I want all priority two and lower assigned fire teams called back to the building,” Walter says. “We’re going to need a few more security details than usual.”

“Even the team in Libya?”

“Uh, no. Those guys can stay put.”

“Can I ask you something? Who was this guy?”

Walter pauses momentarily as he decides how to answer the question. He can’t tell the truth, but Frank deserves some sort of answer.

“He owns the company,” Walter says.

“Oh,” Frank says. His face shifts into a look of concern. “So who owns the company now?”

“His business partners,” Walter says. He winks at Frank, not sure what he means by that himself.

This is not a lie, but there is a significant omission: Eli Van Duyn’s business partners own a lot more than just Graveyard.

“Okay. I’m on it,” Frank says. He steps off the elevator and walks down the hallway. Walter turns the opposite direction toward his office.

Judy is waiting for him at her desk outside his office door. A chunky mess of frump, Judy has been Walter’s secretary for many years.

“Mr. Stedman, there’s a message from Kill Team One. He says Sid is ready to be assigned to Kill Team Three.”

“That’s just peachy,” Walter says. Truthfully, Van Hansen’s scary kids freak him the fuck out. He met the last one when Van showed up insisting the boy be assigned to one of the kill teams. There wasn’t much of an argument. Nobody says no to Kill Team One.

“And someone from the Rothschild estate called inviting you to a funeral visitation tomorrow.”

“At the estate?”

“Yes.”

Walter was afraid of that. He had hoped that the remaining members of the group would be smart enough to keep a low profile. They still have no idea who killed Eli Van Duyn, and there’s a decent possibility that same person wants more of them dead. Rothschild opening up that palace he calls a house for a lavish send-off is a terrible plan. Unfortunately, Walter isn’t in a position to tell these people what to do. They run most of the western world.

 

  

KILL TEAM THREE

 

The chopper doesn’t even touch down all the way before Sid’s feet are on the ground. Behind him, Kill Team One slides himself into position on the chopper skid. He has trouble with things like this because of his bad leg. Sid holds an M4 rifle at ready even though there is no threat here. He wants badly to impress the old man.

Dust blows across the helipad in thick sheets from the chopper blades. Kill Team One steps off the chopper and surveys the helipad around them. They’re in an encampment somewhere in the Rigestan Desert. Sid knows the place only as a dot in the middle of a lot of nothing on a map the old man showed him. American soldiers stand guard in front of tents and temporary structures built with thin steel and aluminum. His father puts his hand on Sid’s shoulder, which makes Sid uneasy. He doesn’t like anyone touching him.

“Ready?” the old man says.

“Ready,” Sid replies dryly.

“Better be. We got work to do,” a tall man with silvery hair growls as he approaches, cutting his way through a small group of soldiers milling about. He wears a gray hoodie and cargo pants. In his right hand, he carries a small black satellite phone with a long cylindrical antenna. Several handguns are strapped to his thighs with plastic and nylon military issue holsters. His stubby little Punch Rothschild cigar burns like a hot coal in the blue hour of twilight.

“Long time, Ashley,” his father says, poorly masking disdain for the Kill Team leader.

“A year,” Ashley responds. “Felt like a week. You know what they say. Time flies when you’re killing sand niggers.” Ashley crouches down to Sid’s eye level.

“The old man bring you here to work with my team?”

Sid nods.

“You know what our mission is?”

“The Twelfth Imam,” Sid answers.

“Damn straight. And you know what I’m gonna do when I find him?”

“Terminate.”

“Yeah. What else?”

Sid has no idea. Everyone knows the Imam has been assigned priority-one target status since Sid was in diapers. Priority-one is a standing order to kill on sight. There is no higher status. What else is there to do but kill him? He delays a response. Ashley answers the question for him.

“I’m gonna run his dick through a grinder. Then I’m gonna roll it up and smoke it,” he says, holding out his cigar for Sid to see.

Ashley has a calm sincerity that says he means it. He’s going to do it. Not because he wants a dick in his mouth. Not because a dick will smoke well. No. He’ll do it just because it’s the most sickening idea he had at the time and he wants to make people sick.

“Come on, kid,” Ashley motions with his cigar. “You can meet the team.”

He begins to walk back the way he came, intentionally going through the group of gawkers again. Sid turns back to look for his father and spots the old man already sitting onboard the chopper as it lifts off. Sid thinks he sees the old man nod at him slightly, but he isn’t sure.

“Kill Team Three is an eight man crew,” Ashley coughs out as he leads Sid to a giant airplane with four propellers and a collection of cannons pointing out the port side of the fuselage. It is black and unmarked, like all the equipment Graveyard uses. The presence of the guns leads Sid to classify the plane as an AC-130, rather than a C-130, which would be an unarmed cargo plane of the same type. Beyond that, this plane defies his designation. It looks old and the weapons load, consisting of just two rotary miniguns linked together, is not quite like any of the modern configurations he knows. He had to study hundreds of common military vehicles as part of his training – but he spent far more time learning rifles and sidearms. “We’ve been out in the desert since nine-eleven. We don’t like it here, but we’re soldiers. The best place for a soldier to be is someplace he hates.”

As they walk around to the back of the plane, Sid looks up the open ramp. Inside, the members of Kill Team Three are waiting. They are not what he expected. The first he sees is a tall, wiry black skinned man with a thick and bushy beard, bald-headed, his eyes dark and the whites of them brown tinted with blood. He wears only some tattered brown shorts and an assortment of knives hang around his neck on a rope. His face is smeared with a few lines of red tribal war paint and his right hand is gloved by an odd looking mitt with an antenna running along the length of his forearm. Across his lap sits a device unlike any Sid has ever seen. It is a thick metal sliver the length of a man, but bent nearly into an L shape at the middle. The edges are sharp and in at least one spot Sid can make out a panel of copper circuitry. It is a giant boomerang.

The next is a burly white man with a handlebar mustache and wearing a monocle over his right eye. The monocle man rests his head against the inside of the fuselage and snores loudly. His elephant gun is propped against his shoulder.

Sitting across from them is a man who looks like a man. When Sid looks at him, he finds that he is unable to define any details of his face or his person. He is dark brownish blond haired and plain. His eyes are not quite blue, but not quite green or brown. His clothes are nondescript and neutral in color.

“These three are Abo, Safari and John Q,” Ashley tells him. “Safari can track anybody through anything. Jungle. Desert. Sewage. You name it. John Q is the ultimate nobody. Born with a rare combination of features that makes him impossible to describe, difficult to recognize and easy to forget, he’s the ultimate mole. He’s also a master of disguise.”

“Understatement of the century,” John Q says, standing up from his seat on the floor of the plane. “You might actually be me right now, and you don’t even know it.”

Ashley rolls his eyes. He stops and puffs his cigar as he sits down on the edge of the ramp looking out. Sid waits for him to say more, but he doesn’t. So Sid asks.

“What does Abo do?”

Ashley looks at him with a raised eyebrow of disbelief.

“He’s holding a giant fucking boomerang. What do you think?”

Ashley is still chuckling at him when three others approach from around the side of the plane. The first is the most peculiar in Sid’s reckoning. He wears his dyed black hair in a shaggy Mohawk that hangs to one side and covers either of his eyes depending on which way he happens to be tilting his head that moment. He tilts his head from side to side a lot and sticks out his tongue to lick his pointy teeth. He wears no shirt and his skin is pale yellow. He is scrawny by comparison to the professional soldiers around him. His pants are skin tight black leather and have slices cut out of them horizontally to give the impression of many straps or belts wrapped around his legs. He has not one, but two, 240-Bravo machine guns slung over his shoulders and a hefty set of studio headphones much too big for his head hangs loosely around his neck. Bracelets of wolf teeth dangle from his wrists. He wears lipstick and eyeliner, and this is something Sid finds unnerving. Men do not wear lipstick. Warriors do not have long hair. Of this he is certain.

The second is short and has his blond hair buzzed down to a length Sid considers appropriate. He has a collection of throwing knives clipped, strapped, and velcroed all over his body armor and combat fatigues. His eyes are hidden behind expensive sunglasses.

The third is his brother. Victor Hansen is a tall and impressive specimen. Two years older than Sid, he is already almost a foot taller. His frame is thin but muscular. His hair is dark like Sid’s, but other than that, he bears little resemblance. His face is alive with a rictus grin that Sid knows all too well. He wears a green duster that stretches down to his black combat boots. Like Sid, he wears no jewelry and keeps his hair buzzed short. These things could only serve to impede him in a fight.

“They sent the runt here already?” Victor says with obvious disdain.

Sid only glares back at him. He learned a long time ago that to escalate any sort of fight with his brother is a suicidal mistake. It is likely that everyone stationed here knows that by now.

“This is Úlfhednar,” Ashley says of the man in the leather pants, wisely ignoring Victor. “He’s our heavy weapons specialist. The guy’s a world class expert on anything that goes bang. And he’s a werewolf.”

Sid disregards that last bit as some sort of inside joke.

“The one in the shades is,” Ashley pauses. He can’t remember. “The knife guy.”

“My name’s Jim,” the knife guy interjects, annoyed.

“I don’t care,” Ashley blows smoke in the knife guy’s face. “Who’s ready to go for a ride?”

“I want to shoot the twenties,” Victor eagerly demands, referring to the aft pair of twin M61 Vulcan cannons mounted on the port side of the plane – rotary cannons that each fire seventy-two-hundred rounds per minute. These guns can put a bullet in every square yard of a football field in three seconds. They are primarily used as anti-personnel weapons.

“We don’t have a hundred grand to spend on shells again,” Ashley answers.

Sid has never used money for anything before, but he infers that a hundred grand must be a lot of it. He holds to his earlier resolution to keep his mouth shut and doesn’t ask about it. He follows the rest of them up the ramp into the plane. It is unfurnished, spartan and mechanical inside. There is no place to sit but the floor.

“Welcome aboard The Apocalypse, kid,” John Q says as he sits back down on the floor. He pats the wall behind him. “We call it that because if you see it coming, it’s gonna be the end of your world.”

“Is that why?” the knife guy interjects. “I thought it was because the damn thing is falling apart.”

“No. It’s the world ending thing.”

“Huh. I guess that works.”

“But it is fucking old. Seriously, though. They were still using cubits when they built this shit.”

But it still flies. In an hour they are in the air over the target site. Only the green glow of targeting instruments illuminates the cabin. Sid watches as Victor huddles over one of them, occasionally looking up to glare at his brother in the darkness.

The target is a water treatment facility which they believe to be somewhat heavily guarded. Ashley explains it rather tersely on the ride.

“We got some intel the Imam might have been spotted here,” he says, shouting over the plane’s engine. “We’re going to hit the place hard, and if we see the cocksucker, we’re gonna fill him with bullets.”

“Yeah,” John laughs. “That’ll happen.”

Sid doesn’t understand what he means.

In a few minutes, they are diving out of the back of the plane. Sid hits the ground behind Úlfhednar and Abo. The two of them approach the target with almost no discretion. Sid tries to stay low behind them. There is hardly any cover at all in the flat sands that surround the facility. Up ahead, Sid can see the treatment plant through the darkness; a grouping of sixteen vats about the size of an above-ground pool stand surrounded by a simple chain-link fence. They are guarded by a dozen men.

Sid stops to wait for Ashley’s orders. He turns to check for the rest of the team behind him and that is when he sees Victor sauntering forward with John Q behind him packing an old M60 machine gun. His brother continues past him as if he isn’t even there.

“What’s on the iPod now?” John Q asks the Norwegian. “ABBA?”

“Ke$ha,” Úlfhednar says as he pulls his gigantic headphones up onto his head.

“Jesus Christ. You gotta be kidding me…”

“Let’s rock,” Victor says as he raises a Squad Automatic Weapon.

The skinny Norwegian’s body gains bulk quickly and, at first, Sid thinks something is terribly wrong. Then he sees the fur, the claws, and the teeth – long canine fangs that jut out along a wolfish maw. Long and pointy ears stick out from under the black foam cups of the headphones. Yellow eyes glow in the darkness a full four feet higher than Sid stands. It is less like a wolf and more like a giant man with a wolf’s head. Úlfhednar lifts the two machine guns that now look like mere pistols in his giant talon-hands and opens fire on the facility. It is a sight that is terrifying to behold and it nearly freezes Sid, but he shakes it off and does the only thing that makes sense – he starts shooting. All of them do.

Sid chooses to fire more conservatively than the others because he brought a more practical rifle and because his father taught him to be accurate. He kills one guard with a shot to the head, but he cannot compete with the firepower of the others, especially after the rest of the team catches up and begins unloading their fully automatic weapons at the facility. At one point, Abo throws his humongous boomerang and Sid watches as it cleaves a sentry in half and then continues all the way through one of the water treatment silos. A flood of muddy brown water spills out like a tidal wave and washes another sentry out from behind another silo. Victor quickly mows him down with the SAW. Sid swears he can hear the werewolf laughing over all the gunfire. This isn’t a battle – it’s a massacre.

When the shooting finally stops, the facility is falling apart. Water springs and squirts from all of the silos and washes gallons of blood along with it down into the sands below. The knife guy is dead. He caught a bullet in the chest when he ran up ahead of the team and tried to throw a knife at a guard.

Ashley walks out ahead of them to survey the damage. He offers hardly a cursory glance at any of the wrecked bodies before them. Then he turns around and shrugs.

“Guess he wasn’t here,” he says. Then he throws back his head and laughs. “Let’s get on with it.”

“We’re gonna need a new knife guy,” John says.

“What else is new?”

Safari dashes forward and throws three large satchel charges into the leaking mess. Then he rejoins the team.

“How’s it feel to kick ass with Kill Team Three, son?” Ashley asks him as he lights his next cigar with a matchstick.

In truth, Sid isn’t sure. These men do not act like true warriors – not the way his father taught him. They are careless and wasteful. They make a mockery of their work. One of them appears to be a mythological creature. He doesn’t know what to think.

“Optimal,” he says, just a little shell-shocked.

As they are all walking away from the facility, Safari detonates the charges. Not one of them turns to look at the explosion. For six, it is simply because of apathy. For one, it is because of other worries on his mind.

 

  

ZEN WISDOM

FOR THE WALKING DEAD

 

Not long ago, blood stained the floor of the tea house where Yoshida Tanaka sits now. Not long before that, his katana was wet with it. The blood belonged to Ryunosuke Masashige. Masashige was a master of the naginata, a polearm consisting of a long rod topped by a curved sword blade, and an enemy of the Tanaka clan. Tanaka slew him with a clean strike that gracefully cleft him in twain just below the shoulders as he as twirled his naginata low to the floor. His arms fell by themselves, still gripping the polearm, as the upper half of him slowly toppled. Tanaka hadn’t seen a man fall apart like that since his father was alive. It is much different when the killing hands are his hands.

He does not feel remorse for this killing. No. This was a clean kill, and honorable. Masashige had challenged the Tanaka clan in front of other rivals, thinking them weak. Yoshida came forward to meet him for the honor of the entire clan and for himself. He slew a great warrior today in honorable combat in front of many witnesses. Now no one will call him weak.

So now he sits on the floor drinking tea. He wears a black kimono with his daisho belted to his side. Once a symbol of the samurai class, it is much more to Tanaka. They are the tools of vengeance.

His uncle Tetsuo enters the house wearing a white business suit. His black hair is slicked back with grease and his eyes hide behind dark sunglasses. He does not look like Yoshida or his father, but in these last ten years he has been more of a father to the ninja than his real one ever had been.

“They tell me you killed him with a masterful stroke,” his uncle says as he sits down next to the black clad Tanaka, a perfect contrast.

“His death was a vision, but the art of it does not interest me much,” Yoshida tells the old man. “You know what does interest me.”

And his uncle does. For a decade now, the older Tanaka has trained Yoshida in the ways of his clan. He taught him to fight with a sword, to blend into the shadows, to cloud the minds of men with illusions, and to do other things – things thought impossible by the common man. For that same length of time, Yoshida has waited for any clue that might lead him to his revenge. There have been none.

“I have something that may interest you,” his uncle says in careful response, as if he only speaks out of obligation. He stops.

“Do you?” Yoshida goads politely.

“It is a story I heard yesterday,” his uncle continues quietly. “From a Chinese agent I know well. His name is Wong.”

Yoshida only listens, waiting for his uncle to continue.

“Long ago, during the cold war between the Russians and the Americans, Wong worked closely with some members of the Russian KGB. He knew a spy there named Marina Golikova. A highly trained KGB operative, she was quite skilled and very well favored by her superiors. They selected her for a very dangerous mission posing as a secretary inside the American Central Intelligence Agency. For years, she remained undetected inside the agency, sending secret information back to the Soviets. No one suspected a thing. She even married an American agent. And that would prove to be her downfall. You see, this agent, he was very well known for his patriotism, and also his ruthlessness. Years into their marriage, he discovered her deception and he became like a madman. He fell upon her with his fists in their home and beat her until she was dead. Then he cut off her head and sent it to the KGB in a box. When her superior opened the box and took out her head, it exploded and killed him. Her body was found skewered and cooked over an open flame. They say he made the children…”

“They had children?”

“Yes. Two boys. He made them eat the meat.”

“That is… terribly unfortunate.”

“It is said that during the struggle, Marina Golikova cut off her husband’s left ear with a belt sander.”

“I see,” Yoshida says, attempting to keep his composure. He keeps himself seated, even though he wants to stand. He wants to run out that door this very second and hunt down this man. “And where is he now?”

“That is where the matter becomes… complicated. Wong has an old KGB friend named Fradkov. He has known this man well for many years. Fradkov says he saw that man three nights ago at an American encampment in Afghanistan. He was with men Fradkov believes are agents of Bochi.”

Uncle Tetsuo pauses with Bochi. He gives Yoshida a look like he expects him to be disturbed by that last part, but the younger Tanaka doesn’t know what he means.

“Agents of Bochi? What is that?”

“A black shadow of death,” Tetsuo responds. “They are mercenaries employed by the secret clans that control the west. In the 80s, your father had some dealings with them, but I know not much of that, only that they are a force of terror and destruction the likes of which has never been matched. They should best be avoided.”

“So you say.”

“So I say.”

“You cannot stand in my way.”

“I do not wish to. But I implore you. Do not follow this man into the desert.”

“Have you forgotten already? Have you forgotten what he did?”

“No, but I am not as hot blooded and my thoughts are clear. Surely you must recognize how unlikely this is. The man who killed Mitsuko and Shintaro has been vanished ten years now. He was a hired cutthroat. Such men seldom outlive their usefulness and this one was an old man even then. Surely he is dead and gone now.”

“Have you grown so cold with age that you no longer care?”

“No. I do care. I care too much to let you run to your death. This man you seek, if he is the man who did these things, and if he still lives, then he serves the most deadly forces in the west. To meet them with accusations is folly. To attack them means certain doom.”

“You did not see them. You did not see Mitsuko’s face as he… mutilated her. You did not have to watch little Shintaro’s skin begin to boil.”

Tetsuo did not see these things, but he grows quiet with the mention of them.

Yoshida stands after a few moments of waiting through his uncle’s silence. He makes for the door. He has already resolved to go find this man with one ear and kill him. Then he will kill his masters. Then he will kill their masters. He will not stop until every man responsible is dead and gone.

He stops when he feels his uncle’s hand on his shoulder. He turns around expecting a struggle from Tetsuo, attempting to stop him on his way out the door, but the expression on his uncle’s face is not that cold.

“Their sign is a fanged skull and bones,” the old ninja tells him. “You will know them by it.”

 

  

HIGH SOCIETY

 

The Rothschild estate is crawling with security when Walter pulls up. With all these details in one place, bodyguards are bouncing off each other like bumper cars. He expected that. He didn’t expect to see Victoria Russell standing outside.

She is leaning on the railing at the top of the wide stone steps to the tall and decorative double doors leading into Rothschild’s ballroom. She wears a green Vera Wang dress that matches her eyes and outlines her slender figure. She brushes a red highlighted lock of her dark hair seductively as she converses with a soldier holding a Steyr AUG. She’s always had a thing for soldiers – even the ones she owns.

“It’s awfully stuffy in there,” Vicky says as Walter approaches. “You’re going to hate it.”

“Are you all here?”

“All si-,” she stops herself. “No. Five of us.”

It sounds so strange not to refer to the six of them. There have been six as long as Walter has worked for the company.

“I hear you saw the body,” Vicky says, more of a question than a statement.

“Yeah. All of the bodies,” Walter reaffirms.

“Did it really look like something bit him in half?”

Walter nods. He hopes the casket will be open just so that no one here will have to ask him that question, but he knows that won’t be the case.

“What do you think could have done that?”

Walter frowns as he presents the same dry response he has given the last five people to ask. “Shark, killer whale, dinosaur,” he answers.

“You know, it’s so strange. I saw him only last week. He was talking about…”

“Talking about what?”

She looks at him for a moment, and then away. He can sense her backtracking already.

“Nothing. Just something very daft and silly. Shall we go inside?”

An operator pulls back the double doors and Walter follows her into the grey stone structure. The gauntlet of guards and pat-downs to get in is unreal. Walter waves most of them off, but the personal bodyguards aren’t under his command and most of them are overzealous dicks. It takes them a few minutes to work their way inside.

They enter the ballroom next to a mahogany table with lathed claw-foot legs. On top of that is a five foot tall ice sculpture of an owl perched on top of an open book.

Walter pans across the room and past a dozen familiar faces; the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Samsung Group, El Malo Grande (leader of the Global Crime League), a few key members of parliament, and one of the Rockefellers. There are only twenty or so guests by his count. Anyone he doesn’t recognize he assumes to be with security.

Eli Carrington’s casket is a silvery one with little flower details around the edges. The top half of the lid is open, to Walter’s surprise, but some blankets conceal the fact that the lower half of the body is not in there with him. Walter has no interest in joining the long line of people in formal wear waiting to hover over it. He knows he won’t be able to look without seeing anything more than the mess they found on the veranda that night.

They’re barely in the room for two seconds when they are accosted by Barack Obama. He’s always cordial to Walter, but that’s probably because somebody showed him that photo of Walter smacking George W in the face during that mess back in ’03. He brings it up every time Walter runs into him.

“Hey, Walter. You just missed Dubya,” Obama says. He smiles. “This time.”

Walter fakes a chuckle. The President needs better writers.

He manages to feign his way through a minute of small talk about golf clubs and LeBron James while Obama maneuvers himself into asking Vicky for something – probably money. Walter doesn’t actively participate in any of the politicking. He doesn’t even vote anymore since he learned the whole thing is rigged anyway. The President is, for all intents and purposes, a carefully selected sock puppet for his employers.

Walter politely excuses himself and then makes his way to the other side of the room and the lavish table of hors d’oeuvres that no one seems to be eating. He stops and wonders why, as he looks over the selection of meat topped bread slices.

“I see you’re ogling the delicacies,” someone says over his shoulder. It’s Elkan Rothschild – the man who owns this mansion. “You really should try some. It’s roast panda.”

Elkan is a tall man with sharp features and dark hair. He wears a black tux that Walter can’t identify, but knows is ridiculously expensive. He’ll probably wear it this once, and then throw it in the trash just because he can. This thing with the panda is par for the course with Rothschild. He wallows in excess every minute of every day.

“That sounds…” Walter struggles to come up with the word. He actually can’t make up his mind. On one hand, it’s just so wrong, but on the other, he’d really like to try panda. There won’t ever be another chance. “Interesting.”

He picks up a piece and tries it. Calling it gamey would be an understatement. It tastes like the worst steak Walter has ever had, and then some. He conceals his distaste well.

“Not bad,” Walter says.

“You’re patronizing me, Mr. Stedman,” Elkan says. “It’s absolutely unpalatable. You’re the first guest to choke the whole thing down without dry heaving.”

“Well, nobody else here did two tours in Southeast Asia.”

“That,” Elkan says, actually scanning the room to make sure, “they did not.”

“You got quite a soiree going,” Walter says.

“I do. It’s a shame the circumstance is so glum.”

“I haven’t seen the others yet.”

“They’ve confined themselves to my study. The politicians can be so crass at a time like this. Follow me.”

Rothschild rescues Victoria from a conversation about the debt ceiling with two senators and the three of them are off to his study down the hall.

Elkan’s study is an Art Deco labyrinth. It isn’t a single small room. It is a mass of aisles and cages containing rare tomes and artifacts displayed in big bulletproof glass cases. Walter can’t tell how far it goes on. It could be the whole east wing of the mansion from where he stands.

Just inside the study, Anton Reynolds is sitting on an oak reading table with his feet on that table’s matching chair. He is a tanned man, in his forties, short and dark. He is balding on the top of his head. He wears a black pinstriped suit.

A few feet away, Henry Krupp is drinking red wine from an unusually large piece of stemware. He is a tall, gangly old man with a bald head and a bit of a horse face. He has large hands with eerily long fingers which he tends to carry in front of him as he walks – like some sort of prowling creature. For years, Walter has privately referred to him as Nosferatu. The movie scared Walter as a boy.

The last of them is Eric Du Pont, a sharp contrast to the decrepit Krupp. His features are chiseled and so is his frame. His hair cut cost him the average fry cook’s entire paycheck. The guy used to model for Calvin Klein when he was in high school, which was only eight or nine years ago. Eric is technically not the head of the Du Pont family, as his father is still alive but in a vegetative state after suffering a massive stroke when Eric was twenty.

“There’s the man of the hour,” says Reynolds. “We’ve got lots of questions for you, buddy.”

“What chopped him in half?” Eric Du Pont asks.

“Oy vey, Du Pont,” Reynolds says. “We’ve been over this.”

Walter is glad Reynolds inserted himself there. He’s done with that question.

“Here’s what I want to know,” Reynolds says. “What are you doing to insure what happened to Eli doesn’t happen to the rest of us?”

“You’ve all been assigned extra security while we figure out what this is,” Walter says. “Except for Mr. Krupp, who insisted on only his own people.”

“I trust no one but my own men aboard the Condor,” Krupp says. He’s referring to his supersonic jet fortress, a vehicle which is almost perpetually in flight around the globe and serves as Krupp’s place of residence.

“That’s real comforting, Stedman,” Anton says. “Eli’s guards did him a lot of good.”

“I have full confidence in my operators, Mr. Reynolds,” Walter says.

“Could it have been Bilderberg?” Elkan asks.

“I don’t think so. They would have been more precise; used a bomb or sent a tactical team. We didn’t find any bullets or casings there except our own.”

“You’re telling me they didn’t even bring a gun?” Elkan says.

Walter shakes his head. “If he did, he didn’t use it.”

“What makes you think one person did this?”

“Something the girl said.”

“I thought the young lady was found in a stupor.”

“Yeah, but she said one thing. She kept whispering ‘the bad man’ over and over.”

Victoria Russell, noticeably silent for the whole discussion, expresses a quickly fleeting look of dismay. “What do you think that means, Walter?” she says.

“I’m not sure,” he responds.

“Sounds pretty clear cut to me,” Anton says. “Who’s on our radar that could pull a job like that?”

“A ninja maybe?” Walter says with uncertainty. “The Imam for sure. That freak show, Entropy, is death incarnate, but this doesn’t fit his M.O. at all.”

“Kill Team One.”

Walter should have seen this coming. Anton has had some kind of beef with Kill Team One for years. Walter still doesn’t know why. The way Anton is, it could be over a game of checkers that didn’t go the way he wanted.

“Kill Team One works for us,” Walter says.

“Are you sure about that?” Anton says. “Does anybody even know what he’s been doing for the past how many years?”

“I have a pretty good idea.”

“A pretty good idea doesn’t sound good enough to me. Last I heard, he was hiding in the pine barrens, teaching his kids to be barbarians, writing on the walls with his own shit for all we know.”

“Language,” Elkan says.

“He didn’t do this,” Walter says. But he isn’t really sure. The old man is undoubtedly capable of making the mess they had to clean up the other night.

“How do we know he didn’t crack all the way up and decide to kill us all?” Anton says.

“Because I know him.”

“Oh. Okay. That’s good. You know him. That means there’s no way he’s gone psychotic.”

“Enough, Anton,” Elkan says. “You’re being crass. I’m sure Walter isn’t ruling out any possibilities yet.”

Damn straight he’s not.

“What of the girl, Walter?” Elkan asks. “Where is she now?”

“Echo Team took her to the local hospital ER. When she’s well enough to move, we’ll take her to someplace more secure.”

“You had better,” Elkan says. “That girl is now the head of the Van Duyn family.”

 

  

PAGING DOCTOR

KILLCRAZY

 

Shelly Baum brushes her blond hair in front of a mirror. Her long and smooth golden locks shine just like the girl on the Pantene Pro-V commercial. Shelly probably could have been that girl, she thinks, as she pushes her hair back over her shoulders and sighs. It’s the only thing that still makes her feel like one of the girls. The IDF made her cut it, and she always hated that about them, but Graveyard doesn’t really care. The first thing she did when she signed up was let it grow all the way down to her butt. That was too long though, and she settled on chopping it off half way. It looks good. It looks damn good. If it weren’t for all the scars then she could be… She stops herself. It isn’t the scars people can see that made her what she is.

A clicking noise in the adjoining room snaps her back to awareness.

To avoid attention, and possibly a clash with the local PD, Shelly has been posing as the girl’s mother under a fake name. She initially objected because she’s only twenty-nine, but Spears was quick to point out that lots of floozies get knocked up in high school – the kind of floozies that let their kids wander out in the snow while they’re out doing cocaine and couch dances. She agreed, and she dressed the part. Selling a lie is often in the details.

She grabs her hefty handbag from the floor behind her and hoists it onto her shoulder. She slips one hand into the bag to clutch the handle of a MAC-10 she stuffed inside. Shelly isn’t crazy about subguns. She’s much more at home with her grenade launcher, but bringing it into the hospital seemed like insanity for a lot of reasons. She could fit a vast array of smaller weapons into her handbag and just look like any other bimbo with a big purse. For that reason she often got stuck with jobs like this one.

She leans to her left, using the doorway into the next room as cover. By leaning this way, she can slowly scan the room and place any enemies before they can draw a line of sight to her. This is an old trick gunfighters use. As she tips sideways the objects in the next room gradually come into her line of sight. Window. Curtain. Pulse machine thingy. Hospital bed. Then she sees something she doesn’t like.

In the hospital room, standing at the foot of the bed, is a man wearing a black trench coat and a bowler hat. He leans over the Van Duyn girl with his back to Shelly. He is silent as he reaches into his coat pocket and draws a tiny plastic syringe along with a glass pharmaceutical bottle. He holds them up to the light as he sticks the syringe into the bottle. Whatever this is, it doesn’t look good.

Shelly steps out of the bathroom aiming her subgun at his back through her purse.

“Sign says no visitors, asshole,” she barks. “What’s your story?”

He doesn’t turn. He says nothing. Instead, his head spins around one-hundred-eighty degrees – completely backward. He stares at her blankly like an animal.

“What the fu-,” she starts to say, but she’s seen enough already. She squeezes down the trigger of the MAC-10 and annihilates the motherfucker in the face with bullets. He falls backwards against the bed and then rolls forward down to the floor where the gaping hole that used to be his nose empties a gallon of runny red mess all over the waxed tile floor.

She tears a police style walkie talkie from the handbag and barks into the microphone while mashing down the talk button.

“Spears! This is Shelly. Code red! I need extraction!”

Shelly wants the girl out of here now. The whole hospital had to have heard her subgun and it won’t be long before nurses, doctors and (most importantly) security guards come storming into the room. The girl remains in the same catatonic state as they found her out in that blizzard. The freezing storm took its toll on the child and the doctors had to amputate three of her left fingers, though they managed to bring her temperature up and had since downgraded her status from critical. Shelly doesn’t like children, but she still feels bad for this one.

Shelly snatches hold of the little girl by the arm and lifts her from the bed, throwing her over her shoulder and hanging onto the radio with her left hand. The kid wears nothing but a green hospital gown which leaves her bare butt exposed to everyone in front of Shelly, but she doesn’t have time to worry about covering her up. She pulls the MAC-10 from the handbag as she kicks the swinging hospital door open and charges out into the hallway.

She is greeted by the sight of a nurse in her fifties, with curly brown hair and scrubs; and a black security guard wearing a blue uniform from some kind of private firm. He has a gun on his belt. Shelly’s eyes move to it while his brain is still chewing to explain the sudden emergence of a tall and topless sexpot carrying a preteen and pointing a full-auto death spewer at his brain pan.

“Reach motherfucker! Reach!” She screams. “Let me see those hands!”

The security guard’s eyes widen with fear. This guy has obviously never had the muzzle of an automatic weapon at the end of his nose. He puts his hands up. Shelly glances over her shoulder lightning quick to check her rear. She backs away from the guard in a hurry. He isn’t planning to be a hero. She’s been in this business long enough to know.

She backs off down the hall and just as she’s about to take a corner and lose sight of the guard and nurse, she sees them – the enemy. Two men in trench coats and bowler hats enter the hospital corridor through a set of double doors far at the end of the hallway, behind the security guard. These men are dressed in nearly identical fashion and match the one in the girl’s room too. They are too far for her to make out their faces or expressions, but she knows what they want from the sawed-off shotgun one of them holds to his hip. He takes a shot and hundreds of tiny lead pellets flood the hallway accompanied by an echoing blast. A piece of buckshot buries itself in Shelly’s shoulder as she escapes around the corner. She doesn’t have to look back to know that the nurse and that security guard are dead. The sound of another shot confirms that a second later. Whoever these guys are, they play dirty.

“Spears!” She yells into the radio. “Where are you?”

There is no response.

Her shoulder stings, but she doesn’t have time to worry about a pellet. Fuck that. She’s to the stairwell door already when she sees the bowler hats come around the corner. She was hoping to lose them in the hallway, but they’re fast. They’re fast and she’s slow, weighed down by this pesky brat. She needs to do something to slow them down.

She drops the subgun in her purse and pulls a hand grenade at the same time. She tosses it blindly behind her. Another blast of buckshot bombards the door as she charges into the stairwell. The stairwell is a big one and there is a good length of flat floor space between the door and the actual stairs.

She hears the blast from the grenade out in the hallway as she reaches for the real diversion – a stick of C4 plastic explosive. Shelly loves the stuff. Shelly loves anything that explodes really. She likes bombs because they’re so impersonal. There’s no other weapon that allows her to kill without being anywhere nearby. Some would call her cowardly for that, but it’s just too easy.

She drops the explosive charge to the stairs going down and then fires on the door with the MAC-10 to keep the bowler hat men at bay. She empties the whole magazine into the door as she backs up the stairs. When she reaches the landing where the stairs switch directions, she reloads and waits silently for a moment. She needs them to see her going up. She can’t have them see the bomb and turn back.

She sees a black bowler hat in the tiny porthole window on the stairwell door and she takes a single shot. Then another. She wants them to think she will fight them here. That will serve her purpose.

She fires two quick bursts at the door as she sticks another explosive to the stairs leading up. She’s planted her bombs in such a way that the enemy can’t see them until he’s between them both. This is a trick she’s used before. She takes one more shot and then scrambles up the stairs.

When she’s made it up two flights, she leans over the railing next to her to see if she can spot them coming up behind her. She can’t. She doesn’t expect to. She detonates the bombs anyway. The stairs rattle and the noise of the blast is deafening. It does not bother her, although she does wish she had her hands free to cover her ears.

Her ears are still ringing when she reaches the next floor and sees the door opening from the corridor. Black trench coats and bowler hats. They’re everywhere. She doesn’t count before she opens fire. The subgun is a wicked killing machine and it cuts them down like blades of grass, but one gets a shot off. Shelly doesn’t feel it at all. She’s too busy finishing off the last of the trench coat assailants. There are three bodies when she’s done.

Then the pain shoots up her left side like a jackhammer pounding her in the chest. She can’t carry the girl anymore. She’s about to collapse. Shelly drops the girl on the stairs and flops down next to her. She looks down and sees blood gushing from her side. It looks bad.

There are three floors left to the roof. She can’t carry the little bint up all of them. She crawls up to the next landing and grabs the kid by her hair. She drags the girl up to the landing with her. She pulls another Mac-10 from her purse and sets it down on the floor next to her. She mashes down the talk key on the walkie talkie.

“I’m hit!” she yells. “Stairwell. Fifth floor. Multiple targets.”

The Van Duyn girl remains motionless. She hasn’t been hit, but she’s still unconscious or catatonic, Shelly isn’t sure which. She tries slapping the girl awake. She smacks her face and tells her to run, but it does no good.

The sound of someone yelling in the hallway makes her drop the radio and pick up the other subgun. She trains her guns down the stairs and to the door. One of the men she killed lies in the doorway, holding it open like a big doorstop. She can hear shuffling outside. More of them. They’re coming.

She sees the muzzle of a shotgun come through the door and she opens fire. She’s firing two guns. Bullets hail down on the door like a vicious storm. She’s shooting blind. She needs something to cut through the door and hit these assholes. She holds the triggers down until the guns run dry and the stairwell is silent. Out of rage and hate she tries to pull the triggers again but they don’t budge. She knew they wouldn’t, but she couldn’t stop herself.

She has nothing left in her purse now except for a single grenade and an immense can of pepper spray. She pulls the grenade and waits.

Nothing.

She hears the sound of a door swinging open somewhere, floors above her. They’re coming down after her. She can’t hold this spot from two directions at once. She only has one thing left to do. The dead man’s switch. She plucks the pin from the grenade and squeezes down on the spring loaded handle. She waits.

She can hear them coming for her. The rustling of their long coats gives them away. It is loud – far too loud. It fills her ears and threatens to deafen her. She’s losing it. She can’t keep her eyes open anymore.

Then something happens. Gunshots. Just above her. A trench coated body falls down the center of the stairwell from floors above to wrap around the center railing in front of her. Blood drools from his mouth. His hands dangle.

“Spears?” she yells up into the stairwell.

But it is not Spears. The man who leans over the railing above to look down on her is someone she has seen, but she can’t quite place him. He’s old and haggard. He has a thick dark beard with grey stripes in it.

“They shot me, Spears. They’re in the door. By the door. With the thing. Grenade.”

She realizes she’s not making any sense just before she blacks out.

 

  

OZARKS

 

It has happened again.

Walter thought Eli Van Duyn’s murder might be an isolated incident. Perhaps he had upset an East Asian cabal or had invoked the wrath of some exotic assassin. People like that are out there. He thought maybe that was the whole story – that no other attacks would follow and eventually they would find the guy who did it, fill him with machine gun rounds, and get on with life.

Not after today.

Hours ago, someone assaulted the hospital where the Van Duyn’s girl was sleeping. They killed several members of the hospital staff and engaged in an extended gun battle with Shelly Baum which demolished a good chunk of the hospital and put Shelly in critical condition. They took the Van Duyn girl.

Now Walter is standing in the large living room of Anton Reynolds’ compound in the Ozarks. It was started in the early 2000s, after 9/11 made Reynolds paranoid about the possibility of economic collapse. He built a damn castle out here, complete with a crenellated parapet and a moat, to ride out the years of lawlessness that might follow.

Walter stares up at the impaled corpse of Anton Reynolds pinned to the ceiling. The man’s limbs dangle beneath him and drips of blood still trickle to the floor from the end of the object run through his guts. It is a teak cane topped with a fanged skull that had to be custom carved because all of the ones at the store had animal heads that were not appropriate. Walter knows this because, many years ago, he gave this very cane to Ivan Hansen.

Walter is one of the few people who know Kill Team One’s real name – or what passes for one. They used to drink and smoke sometimes, always alone at the same lounge bar. He liked scotch and the jazz – particularly Coltrane. He didn’t talk much, and when he did, it was always about his work or something impersonal – news, politics, history. Walter didn’t know where he came from or if he had a family somewhere – or a woman. There was probably a woman. Nobody likes Coltrane unless there was a woman.

That all changed around the same time Reynolds built this place.

“At least there’s a weapon this time,” says Frank Overton. A dozen other operators stand watch just within sight.

There are more bodies all around them and scattered all over the castle grounds. Walter had assigned Alpha Team to guard Reynolds after Van Duyn, and the man had beefed up his own private security as well. Now, all of them are dead. Some of them appear to have been shot, others knifed and a few blown to scattered bits. It is difficult to go from room to room without tripping on a cadaver.

“What do you make of this?” Frank asks. “It looks like a Graveyard patch.”

“Totenkopf, sir,” says Sergeant Holman. Holman is a little man with buzzed blond hair and wire rim glasses.

“A what?”

“A death’s head. It’s actually a very common military symbol going all the way back to the Hussars of Frederick the Great.”

“Do they all have vampire fangs?”

“They don’t,” Walter says, before Holman has a chance to respond. “The Duke added those in the fifties because he thought they made it more frightening.”

He cringes before he tells them the next bit.

“The cane belongs to Kill Team One.”

“Shit,” Frank says. “You think Kill Team One did this?”

“It looks like it. Frank, call up all the security teams and let them know we’re on high alert.”

Walter’s cell phone rings. He pulls it from his belt holster and looks at the number display on the outside before flipping it open. It is a number he doesn’t recognize. He walks away from the others as he answers.

“Hello?”

“So, a little birdy told me that my multimillion dollar fortified mansion has been redecorated with carcasses and bullet holes.”

The sound of Anton Reynolds’ voice is a shock to Walter.

“Who is this?”

“You don’t recognize my voice? I’m real fucking insulted.”

“I just saw you in there. You’re dead.”

“Well that answers my next question, which would be what the fuck happened to my decoy and the small army of mercenaries I paid to guard him?”

“Dead. They’re all dead.”

“That’s real shitty news, Walt. Would you believe people laugh at me for being so paranoid all the time? Good thing I don’t listen to them. Good thing I don’t listen to you when you say you’re totally confident in your operators.”

“I’m still confident,” Walter says. He is.

“I don’t know why. From where I stand, it looks like you have two massive fuck-ups, one dead employer, a bunch more bodies, and you still don’t have a fucking clue who you’re fighting.”

“That’s not true anymore.”

“Oh yeah? Then who did it?”

Walter dreads telling Reynolds he was right, because Reynolds is a douchebag, but he’s going to hear about it anyway.

“It looks like it might have been Kill Team One.”

“Oh. What’s that? Say it again?”

Walter doesn’t say it again.

“Man, Walter. Hate to say I told you so, buddy. So now what? You gonna sit around with your dick in your hands wondering if you got the right guy while he kills Elkan and Vicky and does who knows what else?”

“I’m going to do my job.”

“Do your job? You fucking send in the troops! Call the Marines, the Air Force, drop cluster bombs, poison gas, napalm. I want a fucking mushroom cloud over that motherfucker! Do you hear me? A mushroom cloud!”

 

  

GOD OF WAR

 

Victor Hansen glares down at the face of a cowering Afghani as he stomps down on the terrified bastard’s chest with his dusty brown boot. He squeezes the trigger of his Sig P220 and feels the recoil in his right hand as a .45 ACP cartridge empties its charge. The steel slide kicks the hammer back to the ready position and then rocks forward again on the heels of a ball of steaming hot lead that rockets forward into the forehead of his enemy. Blood jets upward and splashes his boot and the bottom of his pale green duster. He loves it.

He is the greatest warrior the world has ever known. Each bullet he fires chips at the granite that is his masterpiece. Each body he leaves behind is a small monument to his fury.

Annoyingly so, his brother does not seem to feel the same way.

“That one didn’t have a weapon,” Sid says, standing beside him holding an FN-P90 in a ready position. He wears a tight black t-shirt and cargo pants that he scrounged from the camp.

“Too bad,” Victor answers. Sid fights well but does not have the heart of a true warrior, not like Victor. He doesn’t thirst for blood. He doesn’t feel the fury. He never did.

As children, Kill Team One made them fight each other with knives, usually wooden, but sometimes real. A knife fight is like a whirling tornado to all but the quickest humans. Hands slap. Steel blades swish the air. Only a master of the art can even come close to following the movements. In the early days it was an endurance contest more than anything else. Whoever could bleed the most and still hang on to the blade would win. Victor always won. The dozens of scars on his hands are still there to prove it.

In the weeks since Sid arrived, Kill Team Three has been out on fourteen separate search and destroy missions. All of them were launched with the goal of finding the Imam. All of them ended in the glorious slaughter of a many pathetic ragheads, with no Imam to be found. Each time, Sid seemed reluctant, often shooting only when a civilian attempted to fight back. The others did not notice or did not care, but Victor did. He took offense even. Empathy is for the weak. A warrior has no empathy.

Victor doesn’t really understand the why of his mission here. He knows the rags killed a bunch of Americans on 9/11. That’s why Ashley and most of the others hate them. Victor was just a baby then and doesn’t remember that. He hates the rags simply because he was told to.

And he certainly does hate them. He hates their stupid beards. He hates their little head scarves. He hates the way they kneel and sing all fucking day. He hates the way they cover their women so he can’t tell which ones are worth keeping alive to fuck, and which he can kill right off. He hates them. He hates them and he wants to kill them all.

To his left and a few meters ahead of him, a group of raghead fighters appear around the corner of a pieced-together hut constructed with everything from refrigerator doors to rummaged drywall. There are two, both wearing dirty common rags patched together in a jumble of tan shades and holding battered AK-47s, a gun that is absolutely ubiquitous in this part of the world. It is not uncommon to see young children walking around with them. Victor has killed quite a few like that.

Before either of them can raise their rifles, Sid has shot them both through the eyes. His mastery of the P90 is so great that he actually left the gun switched to full auto and fired both shots with a single trigger pull, acquiring his second target during the recoil from the first shot. Victor notices this, and despite how much he resents the little shit, he can’t help but be impressed.

“Nice trick,” he says.

“I can only do it within fifteen feet…” Sid replies modestly.

That is when something strange occurs. Victor’s radio crackles alive with the sound of the knife guy’s voice. Victor can’t remember his name. This is the third one since they landed in this hell hole.

“I got something weird over by this little mussallah. Th…” And then they hear a loud scream without the assistance of the radio.

“What’s a musallah?” Sid says.

“I have no idea,” Victor tells him. “It came from that way.”

Neither of them needs to say anything more to communicate the next step. Victor makes the first advance and Sid covers him from behind a beat up old truck. He takes cover behind a stone outcropping and Sid advances past him to a flipped fruit cart. In this way they make their way down the street until they reach their destination.

The musallah is really an old store front and has room only for thirty or forty people to fit comfortably. Victor steps out from behind a pickup truck packed with squawking chickens and sees something very strange in the sandy brown road. Holstering his pistol and raising a P90 from the concealment of his duster, he approaches a wide red splatter in the street.

He already knows what it is without any need to be this close. It is the demolished cadaver of the knife guy. He can tell from the stylized throwing knives scattered in the soupy mess of gore. However, there is something very strange here. At first glance it looked like the knife guy stepped on a mine or was blasted to bits by some other explosive, but Victor heard no explosion and he was just down the street. As he steps closer, he can see that the pieces of the knife guy are not burnt or shredded, but sliced and diced with laser precision. It looks like the knife guy was thrown head first into a spinning jet engine blade and chopped into two dozen near perfect discs of human chum. It happened so quickly that many of the discs stacked in a neat pile at the center of the mess with bands of sliced clothing wrapped around them like a tower of fillet mignon wrapped in bacon strips.

“Ashley is gonna be mad,” Sid says from behind the pickup truck.

“It’s just a knife guy,” Victor replies. “They’re a dime a dozen.”

“What do you think did this?”

Victor is fairly certain he knows, but the location doesn’t make any sense… unless they’ve come specifically looking for him and his team.

“I think a ninja master could do this.”

“Correct you are, young Graveyard soldier,” speaks the whispering shinobi.

Victor spins to look upon the black form of the ninja standing on top of the chicken cages in the back of the truck. His clothes are tight like a second skin and jet like the darkest ocean. Only his eyes are visible through the slit in his mask. In his right hand is a blood dripping sword that gleams in the bright desert sun. The ninja flicks the sword in a lightning fast motion and all of the blood flies from the blade to rain down on the caged chickens beneath him. The spotless blade is remarkable for its hand forged hamon – a pattern of discoloration that marks the change from softer, shock-absorbing steel that forms the spine of the blade to denser, hardened steel that forms the razor sharp cutting edge. Only a world-class artisan can forge a blade of this caliber. Victor knows he is dealing with a real ninja.

“I seek the man with one ear,” the ninja rasps. “Take me to him and I will spare your lives.”

Victor has killed many thousands of people and half as many animals. None stood a chance against him. He has never killed a ninja. This could be his first challenge yet.

“Take him!” the older Hansen shouts to his younger brother.

Both of them blast away at the ninja with the P90s. They hit nothing. The ninja is gone.

Then, like the wind, he strikes. From behind Sid, he swings his sword in a massive downward arc as if to slice the boy in half. Even with his nearly superhuman reflexes, Sid barely turns in time. He pushes his weapon up to block the strike, but the sword continues through the gun like it was made from gelatin. The point misses his face by so little that the flat side of the blade actually rubs against the side of Sid’s nose. Sid leaps backward and away from the ninja as Victor fires his P90 in full-auto rock and roll mode at the ninja, but again the ninja vanishes.

Victor tires of this already. He shrugs off the harness of his P90. This gun will do him little good. He draws a foot-long knife from a polycarbonate holster on his thigh. The blade is silver and wavy like a serpent. The handle is bone. Knives of this type were used for war by the people of early Indonesia because the wavy curves of the blade caused more extensive bleeding than straight bladed counterparts. Or that’s what some knife crazy soldier told Victor anyway. He decided to put the theory to the test. He likes to cause more extensive bleeding.

He stands with his arms straight and his hands at his hips. His chest is puffed out like a gorilla and he roars at the sky, baring a killer’s teeth.

“Come get some,” he shouts as he searches all directions. This is a terrible idea.

A ninja, at least a real ninja, is something hardly ever seen outside of Japan and even there rarely. Victor has never seen one in person. Graveyard employs none, and he has been given to understand that they are utilized only by the mysterious cults that control East Asia. His old man had dealings with some in the 80s and is one of a few westerners who has any knowledge of them. Kill Team One described them as great warriors capable of strange magic and unbelievable feats of swordsmanship.

Victor does not care. He is angry and he has death in his eyes. Magic tricks and shiny swords are nothing to him. He is the God of War today and he will spill the blood of this enemy all across this dusty wasteland if he wishes.

The ninja tries to surprise him from the side, this time with a wide arcing lateral strike. Fighting a sword with a knife is a daunting task, but it is far from hopeless and in some ways the knife has an advantage. Swords are made from soft springy metals to absorb impacts without breaking, but a good knife is made from dense high carbon steel – comparatively brittle, but much harder than a sword. Additionally, a knife is more maneuverable in extreme close quarters, if one is quick enough to entangle themselves with the sword wielder. Victor knows these things. He is also fast like a demon.

He catches the sword on the flat of his knife, near the tip of the sword blade where it moves fastest in its arc. This is the worst place to catch a sword, as it hits hardest here. Samurai consider it to be the sweet spot for cutting. But Victor’s knife is a good knife and his grip is strong as iron. His gamble pays off. The knife holds, and the ninja is overcommitted to his swing. With his free hand, Victor grabs hold of the sword hilt and then grinds his knife down the sword edge, badly damaging it. As it reaches the end, he smashes the butt of the knife handle into the ninja’s face.

The ninja leaps away, leaving his sword in Victor’s hands and putting a good twenty feet between them. Victor snaps the sword over his knee and tosses it to the ground. The ninja tosses a trio of razor sharp shuriken, but Victor stands his ground. Without a flinch, he swats the middle shuriken from the air and allows the other two to whiz past his ears on either side. He glares at the ninja. He does not blink. He does not feel. He has nothing in his mind but hate, and it is so strong in that second that his gaze alone would have killed a lesser opponent.

The ninja flees in a puff of acrid black smoke.

Victor turns his attention to Sid, who remains where he stood when the ninja sliced his gun in half. He stares at Victor with uncertainty.

“Pick up the knife guy’s gear and let’s get the fuck out of here.”

 

  

ROOFTOP

 

Yoshida punches the rooftop in frustration. His knuckles begin to bleed seconds after they contact the stone. Somewhere in the streets below, the children that defeated him must be laughing. Children.

His ancient and priceless sword is broken. His skills were no match for a mere boy. He has no more clue to the identity of the one eared man than when he came here. His fury builds to a breaking point. The hot air burns at him. Sweat soaks through his clothes. His mask is choking him.

He tears off the mask and sucks in as much air as he can. It isn’t enough. He reaches into his shirt and grasps for a cheap flip phone he had tucked into a secret pocket. At first he can’t find it and he digs with growing desperation. When he finds it, he tears it free and flips it open. He searches through the phone’s simple menu for the music player. He finds it and mashes the enter key to open the list of files stored there. There is only one. He mashes the key again and holds the phone to his ear so he can hear it.

Mitsuko’s voice greets his ears. A wave of soothing comfort washes over him as she speaks in a silky whisper like she always did.

“Yoshida, what time will you be home? I will make noodles for you. What kind would you like?”

He hears the last part in his head again. What kind would you like? The complete lack of tension in her voice is what makes him like that particular part the best. What kind would you like? What kind would you like?

He met Mitsuko back home in Japan, during the years when he defied his father’s wishes and went to school. They were both studying Biology and she had taken the library’s only copy of a book Yoshida needed for an exam the next day. He was aggravated because it meant he would have to ask for an extension from the instructor – a man who was not known for his patience. On his way from the library information desk, he spotted Mitsuko and her friend Akiko looking through the book at a study table near the door.

Brashly, for a Japanese man, he asked if they might share the book with him.

He remembers the quiet, but hardly shy, Mitsuko eyeing him as he took notes from the text. He remembers her taking a pink marker from her backpack and using it to write her name and phone number on another book he was looking at. As she was facing him, and so was the book, the phone number appeared upside down on the page. He thought that was cute.

He remembers how Akiko did not like him. She told Mitsuko to stay away from him, but Mitsuko was not that easily dissuaded. She was the type of girl who sees what she wants and goes and gets it. She loudly accused Akiko of being a jealous lesbian in the school cafeteria.

He remembers the sex. No. He tries to force that away. It cheapens her memory.

The baby came somewhat unexpectedly. They had argued about it much. Yoshida told her they had no money for a child, but Mitsuko insisted on keeping the baby. She wanted him to go to his family for money, but he refused to even tell them about the pregnancy. Mitsuko came from liberal parents who grew up going back and forth to the west. She did not understand how the Tanaka clan would look down on him for this oversight. Already, they disapproved of his choice to stray from the warrior path. Of course, Mitsuko knew not of this. She had only been told that his family was involved in dangerous dealings and all references to them were intentionally vague – another point of contention between them – but she knew they had money.

Finally, with no other options available, Yoshida did go to his father and ask for help. Katsuhiro Tanaka, surprisingly, did not admonish him. In fact, he offered his support whole-heartedly. Yoshida accepted, even in disgust. He knew his father only hoped that his grandson would carry on the family name and tradition where his own son had failed him.

It matters no longer. All of that is gone now. All of them are gone. He has nothing to remind him but this recording of Mitsuko’s voice. What kind would you like? It clears his mind, but it also drives him on.

He stares up at the sky and collects his thoughts. He has made progress, even if it was just a little. He has located agents of Bochi, which is more than he could have said yesterday. After witnessing their massacre of women and children here this day, he is even more certain these are the men responsible for the death of his wife and child. Tetsuo’s warning was well stated. These are truly terrifying warriors, and he will need a better plan if he is to proceed.

The ninja will proceed.

 

  

BOMBSHELL

 

Shelly awakens to a reality far worse than any nightmare. Spears is singing the theme from Baywatch to her.

“Shut up,” Shelly grumbles under her breath.

He doesn’t stop. His David Hasselhoff impression sounds slightly worse than the cries of a baby seal choking to death on plastic ocean litter.

She throws one of the Graveyard infirmary’s ugly green pillows at him. It hits him in the face and he stops singing.

“I can’t help it. You’re a bombshell, baby.”

She’s only been awake for seven hours, and Morgan is already making her life miserable. He noticed that her name, Baum Michelle, on her chart sounds like bombshell. Somehow, that evolved (devolved?) into Pam Anderson jokes, then just Baywatch in general. Morgan is a good man to have in a gun fight, but he has a terrible sense of humor.

“I hate it. And your singing makes me wish I died in that stairwell.” Her voice is the deep grumble of someone who has been sleeping for a long time.

“Harsh.”

“Spears should be here by now,” she says looking at the clock. “It’s not like him to be late.”

“You know, you should just go with it,” Morgan says. “You’re blond. You look great. You have a grenade launcher most of the time. It’s a good nickname.”

Like a savior from the heavens, Spears walks through the door holding a bottle of Dom Pérignon.

“I brought the bubbly,” Spears says, smiling wide. “It’s not every day you have a gun fight with the specter of death himself.”

“What are you talking about?”

“She doesn’t know?” Spears says to Morgan, who shrugs in response.

“Honey, while you were sleeping, the shit hit the fan big time.”

“Big time,” Morgan interjects.

“It was Kill Team One. He killed the Van Duyns. He’s gone rogue. He took the girl after your shootout and dropped completely off the grid.”

“Vanished like the fucking Loch Ness monster,” Morgan adds.

“It was him in the stairwell,” Shelly says. “I thought he looked familiar. I saw him last year when he came to see Walter about something.”

“He shows up later at this fucking huge fortress house in the Ozarks. Walter has Alpha Team guarding the house – all ten of them, with enough firepower to shatter an armored cavalry division. KTO gets into the house anyway. A firefight starts and he just WRECKS everything that moves. I saw the place. It was, uh… It was bad.”

“Rambo would cry and piss himself.”

“Anyway, we found the client, Anton Reynolds, nailed to the ceiling with a wooden cane, only it’s not really Reynolds. It’s his double; a look-alike. You know, like Saddam Hussein or some shit. The real Reynolds was in hiding the whole time. Apparently this guy is a major player of some kind. I don’t know. Nobody knows where he is now. Graveyard is on high alert. Walter issued a seek and destroy order on Kill Team One. He’s out there with Kill Team Two and Charlie Team chasing him down.”

“Who were the trench coat guys?” Shelly asks.

“Who?”

“The guys who shot me.”

“Kill Team One shot you.”

“No. What?”

“You said Kill Team One shot you.”

“No. He was there, but what about the guys in black trench coats. They were trying to kill the girl.”

Spears gives Morgan a confounded glance.

“We only missed Kill Team One by a minute or so. We didn’t see anybody else.”

“What about the bodies?”

“There were no bodies there. It was just you.”

“They were there, these weird guys in trench coats and bowler hats. They all looked the same. I killed at least three. I saw the first one in the girl’s room. He had a needle with poison. He was gonna kill her, but I got the jump on him. His head spun backwards.”

“You broke his neck?”

“No. His head spun around backwards to look at me. Like an owl or something.”

“Shelly, they’ve been giving you a lot of medication.”

“Get the security tapes from the building.”

Spears gives Morgan a look of grim realization, then turns back to Shelly.

“Shelly,” he says. “The tapes are toast. He burned the whole video bank. The guard on camera duty too. Burned him alive.”

“I know what I saw. This was real.”

“I think you’ve been through a lot.”

“It doesn’t add up, Spears. What would Kill Team One want with that girl? If he wanted her dead why didn’t he just kill her there?”

“I don’t know…”

“I think he was trying to protect her.”

“Why would he save the girl and then go kill the shit out of a bunch of our people?”

“I want to talk to Walter Stedman.”

“He’s gone with Kill Team Two. And I don’t think that’s a good idea right now.”

“Why not?”

“You’re kinda sounding like one of these people that says spooky black helicopter guys are after them.”

“Spears, we are the spooky black helicopter guys,” she says cynically. “We even have the helicopters.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I never really made that connection,” Morgan says.

Shelly has worked with Spears for two years now. They have been through gunfights together, and he doesn’t believe her.

“I think you need to stay here and rest up,” Spears says. “Chill out. Take a few days to get better. Echo will need their Bombshell back.”

“Fine,” she agrees, begrudgingly.

But staying here and resting is the last thing she plans to do.

 

  

KILL TEAM TWO

 

The Ghoul bashes through the rusted steel door with the strength of a wrecking ball. The flashbangs fly in over his shoulders and explode a tenth of a second before the other six charge in, covered behind the unstoppable moving giant with guns to their flanks. The vast inky blackness of the warehouse is assaulted by the light of Walter’s hefty flashlight and the little bit of daylight that comes in through the broken door behind them. Swinging chains are silhouetted by the moving beam of brightness and the steel hooks dangling from the ends of them create giant claw shadows that pendulum back and forth along the aluminium wall. This is the stuff of nightmares.

“What the fuck is this place?” grumbles Jackson ‘Deadeye’ Kimble, emphasizing the word fuck immensely in his thick southern drawl. His cigarette nearly falls out of his mouth. The sharpshooter is a husky man with a thick blond moustache that turns downward at the corners of his mouth and moves down his chin. His hair is covered by a maroon Texas A&M ball cap turned backwards.

“He was here. I have his scent,” says Tracker. He is a tall, red-skinned and chiseled masterpiece of warrior might. Long, straight, black hair parted down the center of his head bounces as he sniffs the air. A collection of stone tomahawks adorn his leather belt on either side of a big bold buckle that displays the fanged skull logo of Graveyard.

“Fresh meat!” says the Ghoul, his gravel voice a muffled echo in that latex skull mask. He points his humongous cleaver ahead to a swinging shadow that Walter thinks is probably a body. The Ghoul only gets that excited when he smells blood.

The Arsonist stands at Walter’s shoulder in his heavy fire coat. He unleashes a torrent from his flamethrower that sets fire to a patch of concrete to the right of them, the fire further lighting the room, but also adding to the terror of the shifting shadows on the walls. The way the Arsonist slings fire always makes Walter uneasy. He just likes it too much.

“I’m scared. Will one of you boys hold me?” Vixen says. Her skin tight black leather cat suit makes her a woman-shaped shadow behind him. Her voice is high pitched and child-like – filled with innocence. Walter knows better. Innocence is a lie, and in this case it is a big fat lie. Vixen follows the comment with a crazy laugh that can only come from a killer.

Zap follows them all with his big black bag. He is silent and cold. His expression remains a complete blank. It only changes when he’s working on somebody with the things in that bag. The rest of them are freaks, but this one is worse somehow. Every time Walter lies to his daughters about his job, or drinks himself to sleep, or sits alone in the dark trying to convince himself that all of it is for a greater good, he’s thinking about the things Zap does. Every time.

This is Kill Team Two.

The team moves in the direction of the Ghoul’s pointed cleaver. A closer inspection leads to the conclusion Walter had already supposed. There is a body suspended from one of the dozens of chains that hang from fifteen foot tall industrial cranes placed throughout the darkened warehouse. It is a man, mid-thirties, brown hair and pale skin. A blackened steel hook jutting out from his sternum connects him to the lengthy chain. His legs are gone. Flies buzz around the corpse. It has been here for days, maybe a week. Walter doesn’t recognize him.

“Hello there,” Zap says, leaning in to look the corpse in the eyes. “What’s your name?”

“Something tells me he’s not real chatty,” Walter says.

“I can make anyone talk,” Zap answers, rooting a black leather wallet from the body’s pants pocket. He tosses it to Vixen, the only other one of them with a free hand, and he continues looking over the body.

Vixen holds the wallet up near Walter’s flashlight and flips through it. It contains a picture of a chubby girl, a MUFON Membership card, two dollars and eighty one cents American, and an Indiana driver’s license for Darryl Potts. She remarks about the height listed on the license.

“He’s not five ten anymore.”

“Cute,” Walter says, holstering his pistol.

“What is this thing anyway?” she asks, pointing at the crane.

“It’s a crane for lifting up ’eavy engines when you work on ’em,” the Arsonist answers. “Me dad used to have ’em in his machine shop.”

Deadeye shuffles something around with his boot in the darkness.

“Is that shell casings?” he says.

Walter shines the flashlight on the floor and the shiny twinkle of hundreds of tiny copper cylinders verifies Deadeye’s guess.

“Damn,” Walter says. “Somebody had a hell of a firefight in here.”

“He was here three, maybe four days ago,” the Tracker tells him. “There was a gunfight, and blood, over there and there,” Tracker points to spots on the floor. Walter shines his flashlight to expose more crimson puddled on the floor – too much to come from one person.

“Zap, I want all that blood checked against the FBI database,” Walter says.

“They bleached it all,” Tracker says. He snorts. “Even you can smell that.”

The Indian is right. He can.

“Fuck. What about Kill Team One? Where did he go?”

“He’s gone. He’s just gone.”

Walter has never seen the Tracker this stumped, but he isn’t surprised. The whole world has been upside down since this thing started. He takes a moment to consider the possibilities. One thing is certain: This was a cluster fuck. Bits of it he can piece together. Kill Team One doesn’t start fights he can’t win. That means somebody tried to ambush him here. It all went to shit. Van had to pull out fast. So did the other guys, but they took their dead with them.

“They used a chainsaw to take his legs,” Zap says, still examining the cadaver on the hook. He shows absolutely no emotion whatsoever, his voice a dry monotone.

“Take them where?” Vixen asks, looking disgusted.

“Same place they took the bottom of the last guy,” Deadeye answers.

“Meat!” The Ghoul rumbles.

“This just keeps getting more fucked up.”

“Potts might be the key to this mess,” Walter says, looking back at the body.

In an hour, the whole team is in front of the address listed on Potts’ driver’s license. It is a tiny aluminum trailer with no flowers or decorations on the outside, except for a small satellite dish mounted over the only door. From the looks of things, Darryl Potts was not living the dream.

As always, the Ghoul is the first to go in, and he smashes the door down like it is made of paper. Walter and the Tracker move in behind him while the others cover them from the outside. Walter never worries when Deadeye has his back. That hick could hit a dime at two miles with a big enough gun, and today he has a big enough gun. Unfortunately, some threats are not stopped by bullets.

The Ghoul has barely poked his head inside the trailer when the Tracker shouts “Bomb!”

Walter doesn’t need to hear it again. The Tracker is already bolting away from the trailer ahead of him, but Walter is an old man and can’t run like he used to. The Ghoul turns ponderously as the two of them run away.

As always, Walter doesn’t actually see the explosion. He feels it take him off his feet, but his eyes are closed and his hands are covering his head. It feels like he’s in an industrial size laundry dryer for a few seconds. When he stands, he’s dizzy. He feels around to make sure all of his limbs are still attached, including his head, which sounds stupid to anyone who hasn’t lived to see men walking around for minutes after a blast with no idea their arm is missing or their jaw is no longer attached. Fortunately Walter is still all there.

He looks back at the smoking heap of aluminum that used to be Darryl Potts’ residence. The Ghoul is on fire. This is not the first time the Ghoul has been on fire. In an ironic change of roles, the Arsonist rushes to put him out with a fire extinguisher from their van. In front of him Vixen screams as she pulls a piece of shrapnel from her calf. Tracker helps him to his feet and he realizes he was never actually standing at all, but still on the ground. The world finally ends its spin dry cycle and he gives the Indian a thumb up.

It was a setup. Somebody wanted that body found. Somebody knew they would come here next and somebody tried to blow them up. It could have been Kill Team One, but Walter knows bombs are not Van Hansen’s style.

Now Walter is angry. No. He’s usually angry. Now he’s tired and angry. There’s another player in this game; one nobody told him about. He’s sick of this shit, and he plans to get some answers.

 

  

CRY HAVOC

 

“A ninja?” Ashley Marjorie parrots back at Victor. “That ain’t good.”

He sets his cigar down on the brown vinyl top of the fold-up card table in front of him. Specs of black ash dust the table where he sets it and scatter in the gentle wind. He has forgone his normal sweat clothes for a brown and grey track suit and he sits in a collapsible wooden and fabric chair at the bottom of the rear ramp leading up into the Apocalypse. Several large columns of US Army rangers do calisthenics behind him. To his left, seated at the table in a metal folding chair, is an Army Colonel who looks on somewhat skeptically at the conversation.

“I soundly defeated him,” Victor says cockishly. Sid lets Victor do as much of the talking as possible in these situations. To take any chance of making his brother feel inferior is always a mistake.

“You killed him?”

“No. I broke his sword and he vanished in a cloud of smoke.”

“That some kind of joke?”

“He’s telling the truth,” Sid speaks up sheepishly from over Victor’s shoulder. He is still wearing the same clothes from the fight and blood smears his pants legs from picking over the knife guy’s splattered cadaver.

“He was looking for a man with one ear,” Victor says.

“One ear?”

“Are you running child soldiers?” says the Colonel to Ashley. “The State Department might have something to say about that.”

“The State Department can suck my dick,” Ashley informs him as he picks up his cigar from the table and takes a puff. He waves Victor and Sid off with his free hand. “Carry on boys.”

The two of them walk off together toward the building where Kill Team Three has been staying. It is a bright day and warm. Sid could use a shower.

The barracks, or what they call their barracks, is an aluminum temporary structure with no windows. There is only one large room and a stack of bunk beds against one of the walls. A fold-up table in the center of the room hosts a perpetual card game which players join and leave constantly as long as the team is not deployed. Safari, Abo and John Q have already beaten them back here and are restarting the game or picking up the one the left before they had to go burn a village. Sid does not understand card games. He had no time for such things as a child and still has no appreciation of them. The only others he has not seen join the game are his brother, who disappears to his own unknown devices for long periods of time, and the werewolf, who rarely leaves the Apocalypse and mixes industrial dance music on a laptop whenever he is not sleeping. He played some of it for Sid once. Sid didn’t understand it.

“Hey, there’s the ninja slayers!” John Q says laughingly as he sees Victor pull back the tan cloth they keep draped over the only door.

“Why are you all so obsessed about ninjas?” Safari says as he lights an ivory pipe with a shiny zippo lighter. He wears a drab pair of slacks and suspenders but no shirt and sits opposite Abo, who says nothing. Sid has still never heard the giant speak.

“They flip out and kill people,” John Q responds, chuckling to himself. No one else laughs. “Nobody? Seriously? Do you even know what the internet is?”

Abo shakes his head at both of them.

“Abo don’t believe in ninjas,” Safari says, speaking for the dark-skinned giant. “Can’t say I think much different. It sounds like a crock of shit.”

“You don’t know that,” John answers, suddenly becoming more serious. “Asia’s a mystery. You ever notice Graveyard runs no ops in Japan? And we have standing orders never ever to cross the Chinese border. It’s like a brick wall. You don’t know what’s going on in there. Nobody does.”

“Little straw hat chinks is growing rice and making with cheap electronics for lazy Americans. That’s what’s on in China. There’s no ninjas there.”

“It was real,” Victor tells them smugly. He scrapes a tiny black plastic sharpener along the razor edge of his wavy kris knife. The sharpener is a black rectangle with two slits marked coarse and fine. Victor runs his knife through the fine side and it emits a grating sound that is really very quiet, but still grinds away at the nerves of everyone present. Sid has a sharpener just like this in his pocket, but he couldn’t use his to elicit this much fear in a group of such grizzly men. “He was looking for a man with one ear.”

“Who do we know with one ear?” Safari says, more of a skeptical dismissal of the issue than an actual question.

“No one that I can think of,” John answers. “Well there’s that guy in the mess.”

“No, he has an ear,” Safari interrupts. “That’s just shrapnel cuts on his head.”

“I don’t know. I think his ear’s pretty much gone.”

They continue arguing, but Sid slips away unnoticed. He has no interest in this, and something more engaging awaits. He takes to the showers in another building nearby, never leaving his rifle more than ten feet away, even as he rinses off, and actually holding his KA-BAR knife the whole time. His father taught him this.

Afterward, he puts on another black shirt and some fatigue pants and straps his knife to his belt. He traverses the length of the encampment, passing more barracks, a communications tent, helicopters and more soldiers he doesn’t know. He does catch awkward glances from some of them. He is younger than even the youngest American troops operating out of this place. Now that the sun has cooked away his formerly pasty complexion, they sometimes mistake him for an Afghani child set loose on the base, and there have been one or two minor incidents. One MP stopped him and interrogated him with a series of bizarre questions to confirm his identity; What did Beyonce and Jay-Z name their baby? Can you name a TV show Miley Cyrus was on? How many points did Gretzky score in the Lakers game last night? Sid reacted to all of this with a jaw shattering flying knee strike to the MP’s chin. Afterward, Ashley told him to please tell anyone with questions that he is quote, with the scary guys and fuck off, end quote.

Without any incident, he reaches his destination. It is bazaar day here at the camp, a strange tradition started by the American commanders several weeks ago. Every Friday, the Afghan merchants are allowed into the encampment to peddle wares to the soldiers. Each of the merchants has their belongings thoroughly searched for weapons and explosives upon entering the encampment. After the searches, they unfold tables and form booths and stalls over which they display the items they have for sale.

Most of the things the vendors offer seem useless to Sid; shiny baubles and colored carpets. Some things are useful; knives and swords, boots, and cooking utensils. Other things simply elude his classification. It is these strange things which occupy his thoughts most.

At one table, a soldier hovers over hundreds of colorful little rectangular boxes, flipping his fingers through them. There is a simple cardboard sign nearby with the words “DVD $10” scrawled in black marker. Sid plucks a box from the stacks and examines it. The front of the box says THE HANGOVER: PART III. It looks nothing like the videos his father showed him as a child, always marked CONFIDENTIAL or BURN AFTER VIEWING and containing images of executions or gun battles. The old man insisted they watch these things, especially in the years before the boys were big enough to hold a rifle properly. He puts the video back on the table. These things are not the reason he is here.

He is interested in the people selling these items. These are people like he has never seen before. None of them are warriors and he doubts any of them have even killed a man. Certainly none have taught their children like Kill Team One taught him. How then can they be expected to survive?

They do other strange things besides selling these useless trinkets. Twice each afternoon, all of the rags cease all other activities and fall to their knees. They place their heads against the ground in silence whilst their commander recites some sort of mantra. This goes on for seven to ten minutes each time, and seems to accomplish nothing of consequence. Each time Sid sees this, he is more confused than the last.

A boy nearly his age waves something at him from another table. It is a CD in a plastic case with a hand written label. His clothes are a collection of rags, most tan but some colored vibrantly, and his hair is a shade of reddish brown.

“Very good rap music,” says the boy. He smiles brightly at Sid. “Gangsta gangsta. Five dollar. Gangsta Gangsta.”

Sid walks away from the makeshift bazaar and on to what really interests him. Outside the six-foot HESCO barrier separating the encampment from open desert, the young children of the peddlers roam in the dust, talking and playing games amongst themselves near the rows of rusted old pick-up trucks parked there by their parents in the early morning. Many of them are involved in a game in which they kick a white and black ball along the ground while refusing to touch it with their hands. This is a very peculiar thing. He and his brother never played games like this as children. Where are the knives and rifles?

As he stands observing this strange phenomenon of kickball, his warrior’s eyes instinctively zero in on something none of the others have noticed. Far off from the others, half a mile by his judgment, a child runs screaming toward the rest of the group. Sid watches as a pack of snarling dogs emerge over the crest of the dune behind her – four of them, hungry and vicious.

He glances up at the nearest watch tower and sees two Americans engaged in idle chit chat, one laughing as the other gestures emphatically, the heavy machine gun next to them unmanned. As if it matters. The way the Americans shoot they would kill the child in trying to put down the dogs.

He ponders briefly if he should take any action at all. This screaming girl was unwise to wander so far from the others with no weapons of her own. He has no allegiance to her. Perhaps it is best to let the dogs tear her apart. She is a rag, after all.

The girl did nothing to threaten him, and he has no specific orders to kill her. It would hardly be an inconvenience to assist…

The other children begin to take notice when one of them points at the girl in the distance. They begin running for the encampment, some of them shrieking. By the time any of the adults react, it will likely be too late for the girl.

Sid rushes forward. In seconds, he reaches the girl. As the lead dog leaps to sink its teeth in, Sid stabs his knife through its throat and up into its brain. He swings the impaled dog around to bat another one away and then flicks it from the blade like a clump of garbage. The other two pounce for him at the same time, but they are no match. One gets the KA-BAR through its heart and the other Sid catches by the maw. He brutally twists its head completely backward, breaking both its jaw and its neck. This is not clean and painless, but a slow and gruesome process filled with the sounds of animal yelping and cracking bone and tearing ligaments.

When he is done, he looks to the last remaining dog as it crawls out from under its dead pack mate. The dog growls at Sid. Sid growls back. He bears his teeth and leans forward with his head down. The dog whimpers and runs off. From behind him, Sid can hear the boy at the video table shouting to him in Pashto, but he doesn’t understand any of it.

Sid only speaks two languages; English and Violence. Everybody speaks one of them.

Sid feels something tugging at his leg and turns expecting to see that one of the dogs is not quite dead yet and is gnawing on him. Instead, he finds himself looking into the bright blue eyes of the tiny girl as she clasps around his ankle. Tears and runoff from her nose drip down her face. She cries out something in Pashto over and over between sniffles.

“She says Allah sent you to save her,” says John Q, coming out from the encampment and chuckling at the scene in front of him.

“You speak their language?” Sid asks the master of disguise.

“You want to impersonate everybody you have to speak every language.”

The red-haired video vendor grabs hold of the girl and pries her off of Sid. He succeeds and then falls to his knees in the dirt at Sid’s feet. They both prattle on and Sid cannot understand any of it.

“Looks like you made some new friends, kid,” John Q says and then he bellows with laughter.

“What are they saying?”

“Mostly Praise be to Allah, Allah is great, the usual sand nigger shit,” John tells him. “The red-head says you can have all the videos you want.”

“Can you talk to them for me?” Sid requests.

“Yeah. I guess.”

Sid crouches down to meet the children face to face. By now the other vendors have gathered around to gawk and a small crowd has formed.

“Why do you pray?”

The boy answers.

“We pray to Allah and he shows us his mercy,” John says.

“Who is Allah?” he asks.

The boy answers.

“He says Allah is the one true God. Praise be his name.”

“Where is he?”

John interprets the question and the boy laughs briefly before he stifles himself.

“All place,” the boy says on his own, motioning around him.

“That’s impossible,” Sid says.

This time the little girl answers after John interprets.

“She says with God, all things are possible,” John tells him.

Sid stands. None of this makes sense. No one is everywhere. Clearly the children are mistaken. He doesn’t understand. He doesn’t understand why his father and Graveyard want to kill these people so badly for believing in something imaginary. He doesn’t understand why these people want to believe so badly. He doesn’t understand the need to have a purpose or a creator. He doesn’t understand, and he probably never will, but he doesn’t need to. It is not his job to understand, only to kill. He nods at the children as he turns to walk away. One might even say he smiles slightly. The little girl smiles back at him.

Victor is waiting for him at the entrance to the encampment. He sneers at Sid as he walks on by. Sid doesn’t know how much he saw, but the look in his brother’s eyes makes him very uneasy.

 

  

ENCRYPTED CHAT LOG 1

 

 

  

HOSPITAL

 

Shelly Baum enters the hospital lobby wearing tight blue skinny jeans and a big gray sweater that hides everything all the way past her butt. Her face is half hidden behind a hefty pair of dark sunglasses and her hair is up in a top knot so she looks like 1985 never ended. The idea is that no one from the hospital will recognize her like this, as the outfit is in stark contrast to the skimpy clothes she wore while she was last here.

She scans the lobby for familiar faces and spots a receptionist she spoke to several times on her last stay. She avoids the receptionist as she makes her way to the elevator. She notices on her way past the nearest stairwell that the door has been blocked off and covered with police tape. No surprise there, given the amount of explosives she tossed on those stairs.

The elevator doors open and reveal five strangers. Shelly gives them a once over; a nurse, a depressed looking couple in the corner, a teenage girl, and a Catholic priest. She steps on to the elevator and pushes the button for her floor.

Spears told her to stay home for a while and rest up. He said she was saying things that didn’t make sense. Spears can be an asshole sometimes, and this is one of them. She has no intention of following his orders.

After they let her out of the infirmary at the Graveyard building, Spears saw to it that she got on a plane back to her apartment in San Diego. Spears has never been there. If he had, he would know that apartment is basically an empty room with an air mattress and a rack of assault weapons hanging next to a TV. Shelly spent just over one hour there, packing some clothes, a few handguns, a duffle bag full of explosives, and a grenade launcher into the back of the rental car she picked up at the airport, and then driving back to where she had the gunfight with the spooky motherfuckers in the trench coats and bowler hats.

She’s determined to figure out who or what those bastards were, but she has exactly zero leads to move on. The only thing she can do is go back there and look at the place again. Maybe she’ll find something the local PD missed. Who knows? Maybe she’ll realize Spears was right and she hallucinated the whole thing.

The elevator doors slide open on the children’s ICU and Shelly steps out. There are few people on this part of this floor. It is night time and visiting hours are over, so the halls are mostly empty, with only the rare nurse happening through. Shelly quietly walks down the hallway past a monitoring station where a desk clerk is playing Candy Crush Saga on a cell phone.

When she nears the room where the Van Duyn girl stayed, she sees the hallway is again roped off with police tape. Shelly ducks under the tape and continues down the hall. Her job should be easy from here, because the hospital has closed off the whole area.

She starts in the room itself. There isn’t much to see except a patch of dried blood where she splattered that first fucker’s brains all over the floor. She didn’t hallucinate that. There’s more blood in the hallway from where the bowler hat guy shot those two people dead with the shotgun.

Shelly goes down the hall to the stairwell entrance where she shot at the bastards the most. The tile floors were decimated by the explosives she trailed behind her and there is at least one spot where she can see straight through to the obstetrics ward below. The intermittent sound of crying babies is the tip off. She hopes no chunks of ceiling collapsed on any infants during the fighting.

“Can I help you with something?”

Shelly looks over her shoulder to see a man in a white lab coat standing behind her. He has a plastic name tag pinned to his brown sweater that identifies him as Dr. Chochran.

“Oh,” Shelly says, feigning stupid. “I’m looking for the bathroom.”

“Past two lines of crime scene tape?” Chochran says.

“Is that what that was? Oh, jeez. Was there a murder or something?”

Chochran gives her the stink eye.

“You’re not supposed to be back here,” he says.

Shelly frowns.

“Neither are you.”

Chochran throws his head back and begins to gargle like he’s having a seizure, but he’s not having a seizure because he’s still standing. Shelly doesn’t like this at all. She starts to back away. Not a good plan to start a gun fight in here right now, with no backup and nobody to bail her out if the police show.

She turns and runs, but something trips her. She smacks into the floor and starts to crawl, but she can’t get away. Something is pulling her. It’s his tongue.

She looks down to see Chochran’s tongue wrapped around her ankle. The prehensile appendage extends out from his mouth at least ten feet, and as she kicks at it, it encircles her other ankle as well. The giant tongue draws her toward him as he drops down on his hands and knees. His jaw comes unhinged and his mouth grows into a gape that could swallow her whole.

Shelly reaches for the M9 and bowie knife stuffed in her sweater. She saws at the tongue with her knife. She severs the slimy red thing from its monstrous body, but that doesn’t stop it from moving on its own. It coils around the rest of her body like a snake, pinning her gun to her, gore spraying from the stump end.

Chochran pounces on top of her, but she drives the bowie knife into his guts. He yelps and leaps straight up to the ceiling, where he sticks like a fucking bug. His arms are bent backward so he can crabwalk on the ceiling looking down at her.

The monster scurries away like that, before she can empty the M9 into his chest. His movement reminds her of a roach darting away when someone flips a light on. The tongue lets go of her and slithers away with him.

Shelly doesn’t plan on letting him escape. She needs that thing dead to bring back to Graveyard and dump on Spears desk.

She dashes after him up the stairwell, but the creature is fast. It spirals up the bottom of the stairs, floor by floor ahead of her, until she can’t even hear it skittering along the plaster anymore. She follows anyway.

Up the first few flights she charges, but then she slows down with caution as she realizes the monster is lost to her and could be lying in ambush on the next floor. Carefully, she climbs the stairs ready to fire off the whole magazine from the pistol in the blink of an eye.

After a few minutes, she reaches the top floor and the monster is not to be seen. Chochran may have opened any of the doors on the way up and walked out into an open section of the hospital. There he would likely blend in with the various patrons and hospital staff, assuming he isn’t bleeding too profusely from his severed tongue and open chest wound.

Shelly goes back down the stairs. She combs over the rest of the stairwell, but finds nothing to prove the monster ever existed.

She spends almost an hour looking for anything she might be able to use, but there’s nothing. Defeated, she walks back to the hospital parking garage and her rental car for the long drive back to San Diego.

She checks the back seat, as always, opens the door, and sits down in the driver’s seat.

A hand clamps down over her mouth and pulls her against the headrest with all the crushing strength of an anaconda. Shelly tries to scream, but she can’t through the smothering grip of her unknown assailant.

Looking in the rearview mirror, she sees two eyes like a blackened void staring back at her.

Kill Team One loosens his grip just slightly.

“I can kill you faster than you can scream,” he says. “Do not scream.”

 

  

THE BIGGEST SECRET

 

Victoria Russell’s apartment in Manhattan’s affluent Upper East Side is sterile and intentionally boring. Walter knows there is a name for this type of decorating, but he can’t recall it. All of the walls are white. The furniture is white or black. There are very few of the nicknacks he would expect in a woman’s apartment. The only colors he has seen so far are in the abstract paintings slung on the walls like a drunk hung them. There are dozens and many of them are crooked.

Having been let in by a servant and left in a parlor near the door, he finds himself staring at a painting of something that looks enough like a vagina for him to call it that in his mind, but not quite enough to tell other people that’s what he sees. He tilts his head to the side to see if it looks like something else that way, but then it just looks like a sideways vagina. He tries to dismiss it.

“It’s a vagina, dear,” says Victoria as she enters the room wearing a robe made from purple silk. “You’re staring like you’ve never seen one.”

Walter turns and nods silently at her. He keeps his hands folded behind his back. He knows she knows firsthand that her comment is untrue. He makes a crooked smile that brings that up without saying anything about it.

“Belong to anyone in particular?” he asks.

“Yes.” Her response is cold and blunt. Walter waits for her to elaborate more as she reaches into a small refrigerated wine cabinet with a glass door. She does not.

Walter never did quite click with Victoria, even if they had slept together a decade ago, but she was by far the closest thing to a respectable human being the group had. If anyone is going to give him straight answers about Van Duyn, it would be her.

Victoria smiles back at him with the wine in her hand. “Would you like a drink?”

“No,” he answers. “I’m working.”

“It hasn’t stopped you before.”

She pops the quark from the unsealed bottle and sniffs at the opening. Then she pours some into a tall piece of stemware she took from a rack above the cooler.

“Back at Rothschild, you knew something you didn’t say. What was it?”

“You don’t waste any time.”

“I’m done wasting time on this one. Good people are dead. Somebody tried to blow me up this afternoon. And I got a feeling this isn’t the end of it. There’s somebody else in this game, and I think the group knows more than they’re letting on.”

“What makes you think I’ll tell you?”

“Survival. If you want me to do my job and keep you alive then you’ll give me what I need to do my job the right way. That and I think you don’t agree with them anyway.”

Victoria grins just slightly and that lets him know he’s right. She sits down with her drink.

“What if I tell you and you don’t believe me?” Victoria says as she swirls the dark red wine in front of her.

“I’ve seen a real live ninja vanish in a puff of smoke, an eight-year-old kill a Spetznatz team with a spork, and the pieces my daddy brought home from the Roswell crash. I believe what I see right in front of me, if that makes any sense to you.”

Victoria smiles. “You saw Van Duyn right in front of you. What do you believe about that?”

“I liked Star Trek when I was a kid. Spock used to say once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains has to be the truth.”

“It’s from Sherlock Holmes,” Victoria interrupts, unintentionally reminding Walter that she has a doctorate in English Literature.

“Huh,” Walter stops, puzzled. “Sorry. I went to a fox hole instead of college.”

Victoria smiles and makes a feint exhale of a laugh that makes Walter think she likes him, but that she pities him at the same time. Walter grows more serious.

“I think something ate Eli Van Duyn’s legs and his wife’s head. Maybe the killer, the bad man, fed them to something. I don’t know. The real question is: why? I think you know why.”

She takes an uncharacteristically large swig and finishes the glass. “No,” she says. “Not really.”

“But you know more than I do, and that’s enough to freak you the fuck out. What is it, Victoria?”

“Van Duyn spent the last few weeks before he was killed trying to convince us that something very strange was conspiring against us,” she stops and sighs. “Specifically, reptilian humanoids from another dimension.”

A tall man in his early twenties walks into the parlor wearing nothing but a leopard print thong. His frosted tip hair is gelled and spiked into a faux hawk. His bulging six-pack is shiny and hairless like the rest of his body. He raises an eyebrow to her last comment. Walter notices him but Victoria has her back turned.

“One of your toys got out of the box,” Walter says quietly.

Victoria turns to see the modelesque youth.

“Charles! Go back in the bedroom. I have business,” she belts out angrily. The boy follows directions.

“Now what was that you were saying?” Walter reminds her.

“Walter, do you know nearly every culture in the world has depictions of dragons in its mythology? Many include serpents in their creation myths. In Indian legend, the Naga passed down knowledge to their human followers. It was a serpent that convinced Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge, Walter. There are ancient Sumerian texts which refer to people from the sky who brought them the divine right of kings. What do you think of that?”

“I think you really did your research for this conversation.”

“My concentration was in folklore, not a fox hole. That and recent events have inspired me to brush up a bit. Van Duyn believed that the creatures came here during the late Neolithic era for uncertain purposes. They used early humans as slaves and may have interbred with them. They eat human flesh and drink blood, a conclusion you seem to have drawn on your own as well, and they can be quite large.”

“Then where did they go?”

“It’s hard to say. Certain Sumerian texts say they were banished to Irkalla – Sumerian hell. Some of the more thick-headed interpretations state they hid underground in subterranean cities. Van Duyn thought they were trapped in an alternate reality. One of the problems with ancient texts is that the writers had very limited comprehension of what they were seeing and we are working through that filter. I’m certain you’re familiar with Clarke’s laws.”

“Not at all.”

“Really, Walter, you should read more often.”

“I read current events.”

She furrows her brow and frowns at him. “There are rumors, urban legends, if you will, that Hitler was secretly in league with the reptilians. Some say he managed to bring some of the creatures back to Earth. Eli was particularly interested in these stories; so much so that he occasionally sent Graveyard operators to collect old Nazi documents by means which were sometimes less than civilized. On our last weekly video conference he mentioned some files he had just obtained which were particularly exciting. Two days later he was dead.”

Walter winces as he thinks. He puts his hand to his face. He does not like the implications of this information.

“You would think a fifteen foot lizard man with a mouth like a killer whale would be easier to find.”

“Oh no, Walter. That’s the worst part of it all. You see, the reptilians are shapeshifters. They can take human form.”

Walter winces with disbelief.

“I don’t buy it,” he says.

“I know it sounds crazy, Walter,” she says, rolling her eyes. That’s why I didn’t tell you before.”

“Somebody probably killed Van Duyn to cover up something, but it wasn’t a reptilian humanoid shapeshifter vampire conspiracy.”

“I’m not saying that, but…” she pauses. “It might have had something to do with why someone killed him. Could you at least keep an open mind?”

Walter considers it for a moment.

“I’ll see what I can do,” he says.

 

  

IT’S AWWWWRIGHT!

 

Sid snaps awake long before anyone else in the room. He sleeps lightly and with a pistol in his hand, just like his father taught him. The pistol levels almost on its own at the source of the commotion. He doesn’t even have to think about it. Around him, other members of Kill Team Three begin to rouse. Abo is up quickly, but Safari is slow and John Q keeps sleeping. Ashley is nowhere to be seen. Sid lowers his pistol a second later when he sees what woke him.

Victor, standing in the doorway to the barracks with that wavy kris knife in his left hand, has a hold of something – a person. She is wearing a dark brown kurti that covers her down to her feet. Her dark hair is a mess in her face from Victor dragging her by it. The room is still dark and Sid can’t be sure. He stands up from the bottom bunk and looks closer. It’s the girl he saved from the dogs.

“Wakey, wakey,” Victor says, dragging the girl over to the card table in the middle of the room.

The girl starts to scream, but he bashes her through the table, knocking it over and scattering playing cards across the floor. He has the knife point at her eye before she can figure out where she is.

“You want a lobotomy, cunt?” He growls. The girl silences herself.

“The hell are you on about?” Safari asks, groggily, from the top bunk next to Sid.

“I caught this little whore in the supply shed trying to steal water bottles.”

“Pesky little waif,” Safari chuckles.

But Victor is wearing body armor and that green duster he likes. He has two guns strapped to his legs and, obviously, his knife. He didn’t put on all that gear just to go to the bathroom. Sid knows right away that he’s lying. He went over the wire and found that girl.

“I think we can have a little fun with her,” Victor says. “Get some, get some.”

He starts by pinning the girl to the floor under his knee. He smacks her face a few times and then clamps his hand down over her mouth as he slides that kris knife into the neckline of her kurti and slices down the length of her clothes like he’s unzipping a jacket.

The sight of her naked body is startling to Sid. She fights to cover herself with a forearm and her crotch with a hand, but her attempts are futile. She is not like the naked children that run in the road sometimes. She has thin fuzz where children do not and little knobby breasts.

Victor bites down on his knife like a high seas pirate as he reaches to explore the unshaven fur between her legs. Sid can tell she doesn’t like it, but it is not like Victor is cutting her or breaking her bones. He’s just touching her. He’s even being gentle about it. Sid doesn’t understand why the girl is so upset.

Then Victor starts to undo his own pants. Sid almost interrupts to ask him why, but then decides better. Abo comes down from his bunk and sits on the floor next to where Sid is standing and simply spectates. The giant black man nudges Sid on the shoulder and nods, smiling with approval.

When Sid turns back from Abo’s face, he sees Victor has his dick out. The girl’s muffled screams intensify. She lets her breasts go exposed, no longer a priority, as she reaches with both hands to shield her genitals. Victor slaps at her defenses briefly. Then he rolls his eyes and punches her hard under the sternum. She stops screaming. She stops doing much of anything except gasping for air. Her shield is down and he begins to stab into her.

That first stab is the worst. Though she cannot scream, the dreadful look on her face, with her mouth hanging and her eyes wide, shakes Sid to understanding that something terrible is happening here even if he doesn’t comprehend it. He steps closer.

“I don’t think she likes this,” he says to Victor, who ignores him. He repeats himself. “I don’t think she likes this.”

Victor halts the fucking for just a second and swivels his head toward his brother. His expression is one of pure glee. This is exactly where he wanted this to end up.

“What are you gonna do about it?” Victor says through the knife in his teeth.

Sid does not have an answer. He turns to the others. Abo and Safari stare back at him waiting anxiously to see how he responds. John Q is still sleeping. The guy could sleep through an artillery shelling. He looks back at Victor. He can’t fight Victor. He has before, and it always ends the same way. He has knife scars all over his body to prove that. He could keep him busy for a while maybe, while the girl escapes. No. Not worth the risk. The others might jump in and subdue her. Victor might just beat him that quickly and chase her down. Worse yet, Victor might just kill him. His brother is prone to fits of rage.

Sid backs down. Victor chuckles. He keeps looking at Sid as he takes the knife from his teeth and presses the point into the girl’s pelvis. Blood runs from her flesh as he begins to carve his name into her waist near her hip. He is remarkably precise considering all of her squirming and thrashing – and that he never takes his eyes off his brother the entire time.

Sid feels more compelled than ever to stop this somehow. He can’t do it by himself. The only other person who might help him is Ashley. Ashley might stop this. It’s his job to keep his soldiers in line. He has to make Victor quit. Sid dashes from the barracks, leaving the rest of the kill team laughing at him.

The night wind blows cool against his skin as he tucks his pistol into the waistband of his boxer shorts, the only clothing he has on. The gun flops loosely in the pants waist. He has to tug at it several times to keep it from falling all the way through and down his leg to the ground.

He thinks he can find Ashley in a trailer behind the com shed. If the kill team commander isn’t with the rest of the team, he’s usually in that trailer. Sid hauls it as fast as he can. He runs into an MP on the way, who remarks about his underwear and tries to get in his way. Sid takes him out with the flying knee and it doesn’t even slow down. He keeps moving.

When he reaches the small aluminum trailer he sees that the small port windows are lit up. The flimsy screen door to the trailer is propped open. He dashes through without thinking about what he might be interrupting.

Inside, Ashley sits at a desk with a laptop computer. He is wearing a gray hoodie and sweat pants. Ashley quickly shuts off the computer monitor.

“Victor is…” Sid belts out before he realizes he doesn’t know the word. He starts over. “Victor is torturing a little girl in there.”

“What?” Ashley says, looking very bothered.

“He went over the wire and kidnapped a little girl. He’s torturing her for fun.”

Ashley furrows his brow and stands up. “We’ll just have to see about that.”

Ashley marches back to the barracks at a steady clip, like a man walking to a fight. Sid feels like he’s just tagging along, awkwardly uncertain whether he should run ahead or lag behind, or keep the exact same pace.

When they reach the barracks, Ashley pounds open the front door and everything stops. Victor is in the same spot, raping the girl, only now he is holding the kris blade underneath one of her breasts and threatening to saw it off. He halts when he sees Ashley.

“What the hell is going on in here?” the commander barks.

Neither Victor, Abo or Safari have an answer, only a puzzled look. Sid stands at Ashley’s side ready to fight in case Victor flies into a rage against them.

The seconds tick by. Even the girl is almost silent, except for a few whimpers.

“I’m raping the shit out of this sand-nigger,” Victor finally says.

Ashley nods slightly. He reaches into the big front pocket of his hoodie and pulls something out. He tosses it down on the floor near Victor. It’s a hundred dollar bill.

“Ben Franklin says I can make her scream the loudest,” Ashley says.

Victor cackles loudly. “You’re on. You’re all on.”

Sid steps back toward the door. Ashley spins to face him. He bends down a bit to meet Sid face to face.

“Son,” he starts. “A long time ago I used to work for the CIA. I had two kids and the most wonderful wife in the world. Then I found out she was a Soviet spy. You know what I did? I murdered the bitch and sent her head to her KGB handler in a box with a nail bomb. Killed him. I roasted the rest of her on a spit. I made the kids eat the meat and I told them ‘this is what communism tastes like.’ You know why?”

Sid shakes his head. He doesn’t know the answer.

“Because the enemy is the enemy. Ain’t nothin’ more.”

Ashley smiles at Sid, pats him on the shoulder and turns around to face the rest of Kill Team Three.

“Alright boys,” he elates. “Let’s get to it.”

Sid takes one last look at his brother. Victor smiles back at him. The girl reaches out for help, but there is nothing else he can do. He can’t fight the whole kill team. He feels defeated. He feels disgusted.

He does the only thing he can do. He walks away.

 

  

Encrypted Chat Log 2

 

 

  

KILL TEAM ONE

 

What makes a man a killer? I mean a killer. A real killer. It isn’t special training or secret weapons. It isn’t a badge or a uniform patch or a scary tattoo. It isn’t a killer instinct. All of that is bullshit. I know what makes a man a killer. It is simply hate.

Men tell stories about me and where I come from. Some of them say I’m a demon from hell or the angel of death. Some say I am part robot or that I descended from Vlad the Impaler or that I was genetically engineered to be a superhuman killing machine. All of that is bullshit too. I am just a man with a lot of hate.

I was born in Norilsk sometime in the fifties. I can’t be sure what year. Things were… difficult then. Do you know Norilsk? No. No one does in this part of the world. Americans can tell you the result of every Super Bowl, but they don’t know what goes on outside. It is okay. People are ignorant everywhere in the world. They’re just ignorant about different things. I promise, there they don’t know anything about you either.

Norilsk was a labor camp once. A gulag, as they say in my native Russian. It is in the northernmost reaches of Siberia, as far north as humans dare to settle on this Earth. My father worked in the mines there, although I don’t know his name or what he did to end up there. My earliest memories are of him beating my mother, which he did often. He died in the mines when I was a small boy. My mother starved and my older sister was eaten. Not by animals.

I escaped into the wilds. That was certain death. The temperature is often twenty below. Birds fall from the sky frozen dead and shatter like glass when they hit the ground. In the winter, the sun does not come up for weeks on end. The air is choked with smog from the smelting ore and there is no escape from the acid snows that killed all of the trees long ago.

I nestled in the barren forests with a litter of wolf pups for warmth and when the she-wolf returned it let me be. There I remained, following the wolves for food. In time, I became like them. I spent at least a decade out there I think. I think. It is hard to tell when the nights can last months and there are no modern devices to keep time.

What? You don’t believe me? That is perfectly fine. Believe one of the stories the operators tell then. But you have come here to join a fight against monsters from a world outside this one, so you should probably try to have a more open mind.

You can learn much with the wolves that you cannot learn from men. Wolves are like people but not quite. They have more base concerns. They are concerned always with food and safety. Men ignore these things in favor of distractions and imaginings. More than anything the wolves can kill better than men. The wolves have to kill just to eat. Men need to hate to kill. I had to learn to hate just to eat.

I was a young man by the time civilization found me. Oil drillers came across me out there and thought they could make money selling a boy raised by wolves to the circuses. Their plan did not execute well. I killed three of them when I woke up at the drilling station with a tranquilizer dart in my arm. Tore their throats out. Tore their wrists open. Ate some of the pieces. They knocked me out again.

I woke up in a prison, or an insane asylum. They were much the same in that part of the world and in those days. There it was test after test, day after day, and more of the same violence. They did not understand me anymore than the zookeeper understands a wolf. It was weeks before I did not lunge at the glass and months before I did not lunge at them when they came to feed me.

In time, I became manageable and they began to teach me. Scientists are a strange lot. To this day, I still do not understand their need to prod and poke – push the envelope. If I found such a creature as myself, I would simply kill it and continue on my way, but they insisted on speaking to me, showing me words and maps. I could speak some from my days in Norilsk as a small child. They were able to teach me to read some words, but not many, and to this day I do not read Russian, nor do I read for enjoyment.

I spent two years in the prison before the KGB arrived in need of conscripts to fight the war in the east. The Soviet Union, if you did not already know, was never controlled by the group and the KGB acted in many of the same ways as Graveyard, but without such extreme need for secrecy.

They took everyone. The young, the old. It didn’t matter. They emptied that place and sent us all into the mountains to fight the Mujahedeen. In the conscript legions, every mission is a suicide mission. In the mountains they sent us ahead of the trained soldiers to lure out ambushes. Once the trap was sprung and the enemy positions revealed, the regulars would come down in their Hinds and missile everything to death – sometimes that included us. Then there were the trample jobs. The mine clearing operations. I’m sure you’ve read about that.

The rest of them were dead in weeks. More came from other prisons. There were uniforms, but they were often colored to draw attention to us – reverse camouflage. They wanted us as decoys to keep eyes off the real soldiers. They didn’t even give us rifles, because we couldn’t be trusted with them, and because they didn’t care. We usually had sticks to look like rifles, and failing that, we just went barehanded. A whole platoon of soldiers with no guns. You would think it suspect, but it always worked. The Mujahedeen never were that clever, and why would they be? They were not that much different from us.

I survived, of course. No one else lasted more than seventeen days, ever. But I remained. Suicide mission after suicide mission. My platoon blasted away before me. I remained among the pile of corpses every time.

I survived because I was more wolf than man. I was always alert. Always able to spot the enemy coming. Ahead of every move and quicker than every man. More than anything, I had my hate. I could turn it on like flipping a switch. I still can. I can hate you enough to kill you right now if I decide to.

I told you they didn’t give us guns. I didn’t need one. I killed with my hands, my teeth, and when I wanted weapons I took them from the dead. I learned to shoot guns in the midst of battle and I became exceedingly good at it – better than the regular army. I told you about the minefields. I walked through them with ease because I could smell the mines. They stunk like all metal tools of men and the others – they could have smelled it too, but like you they are not fully aware, not fully alert. Their senses are not open like mine and their minds are clouded with distractions. They do not feel the energy, like my ninja friends say.

Yes. I know real ninja. It was a ninja taught me to punch into a man’s chest and rip out his heart with my clenched fist. Mighty warriors and true killers all of them they are. If you survive the coming onslaught, maybe I will introduce you to some.

There were times the Russian regulars arrived to kill the holy warriors, only to find them already dead. I had killed them all. In time, they began sending me on real missions and offering me my choice of weapons. Though a choice of weapons meant little to me and that has not changed. Is it better to kill a man with a pistol or a rocket launcher? It does not matter. He is still dead. I took a knife at least because I knew it would work and a gun usually, but not always. I did not care. And with this attitude, I went out into the night and made a name for myself. They talked about the ghost that comes for men’s souls in the night. Ridiculous.

My duties expanded beyond Afghanistan. They began sending me all over the world. I was rarely shown intelligence reports so I didn’t know why I was doing the things I did and I often was not told where I was either. I was simply unhooded like a trained falcon and sent to kill.

In time, I became restless. The Russians gave me some privileges as long as I was out doing their dirty work, but the rest of the time I was cleaning floors and scrubbing toilets, confined to quarters while the officers went to see whores in town. So one night I killed them and left.

I spent a year trying to find mundane work in Norway. I taught myself to speak Norwegian like a native out of necessity. It took me several weeks of constant struggle and I am still proud of that over many of my flashier and more legendary achievements. Unfortunately, there is more to fitting in than speaking the language. You cannot, when punched by the town drunk in a bar, kill everyone in the bar. When a man yells at you for spilling coffee on his lap, you are not supposed to tear his face off and feed it to him. Also, war rape is reserved for war. These are just some of the things I learned before I grew frustrated and returned to soldiering – this time on my own as a mercenary.

I was freelance for two years and I made more money than I knew what to do with. Literally. I didn’t know what to do with money. I had no taste for expensive clothes or cars or boats. I didn’t understand investing or capital. I still do not. My lodgings were simple and I could not possibly spend all of it on whores, although I tried. That was where The Duke found me – in a whore house.

He was amazing. He was an old man by then. Died long ago of course. You never met him. He fought in the war. Fought the Nazis. That was the greatest generation. Fighting on the ground face to face in bunkers and trenches with guns and bayonets. Flying high in rickety pieces of steel that might fall out of the sky any minute from anti-aircraft fire or bad maintenance and dropping bombs by sight. The west doesn’t make soldiers like that anymore. They don’t even put bayonets on rifles anymore. They do all the killing from miles away now. It’s a shame.

He looked like an American cowboy. He was an American cowboy – the last of them perhaps. I remember that gun hanging around his waist just dangling. I thought it was some kind of joke. He walked in on me smoking a cigar after I had finished fucking this little Swedish girl. She looked like you, but shorter. Don’t look at me like that. It isn’t a come on. I don’t come on with that much subtlety. She wasn’t that good anyway.

After I decided it wasn’t a joke, I thought he wanted to kill me. You see many odd people with exotic methods at that level of the mercenary trade. There are French maids with hidden knives and blow gun snipers and such. A cowboy was not a big leap to make.

I was completely naked and lying on the bed still when he walked in. I had a gun hanging from the lamp shade next to me and a bowie knife under the pillow. I had a plan to kill him where he stood and a back-up if that failed. I had a plan to kill the girl too. I have a plan to kill you right now. I always have a plan to kill everyone in the room. Looking back, I know the Duke had a plan to kill me if necessary and at least a backup plan or two. He was the only man I ever met who was as prepared and alert as me.

He told me what he was there for, to ask me to join Graveyard, and I didn’t believe him. I made a move for the gun and he shot the gun to pieces right there before I could grab it. I had never seen anyone shoot like that. I wouldn’t again for twenty years. God, he was fast. That was enough to make me come along for the ride. That and the pay. Graveyard has always paid top dollar.

The Duke left just after I joined Kill Team One. It sounds funny now to say it and not mean me. Most of you probably don’t realize it was something else once. It was. The original team was all gone by then, old geezers, and they could not quite find adequate replacements. What is the expression? They just don’t make them like they used to. It was never more true than then. The ones I worked with were nothing compared to the original set that fought in the big one. Piece by piece they were blasted away or scared away around me and replaced over and over, until again, like with the Russians, only I remained.

It was in those years that I truly made the legend what it is today. I defeated the mad Doctor Mekanikal on his island of terror. I helped the Tanaka clan fight the Dark Shogun. I assassinated the master of the Hashashiyyin. I destroyed the AOL supercomputer before it could nuke California. I had many more adventures as well. Those were glorious times.

It was like that until the day the world changed. You remember that day. Everyone beyond a certain age remembers that day. I lost someone important in the Pentagon when the Mujahedeen crashed the plane into it. From that moment forward, I became dedicated to a new cause.

In a rage, I went to the desert to seek out the master of that worldwide cult of death, the Twelfth Imam, Mahdi to his followers, the Twelver sect. I drew him from his occultation by slaying hundreds of his kin, village after village, each with one left maimed but alive to pass the message on to the demi-god.

You have heard of him? Perhaps mentioned by the Iranian President on your Fox News Channel? He is real. His quickness is beyond human and he makes use of strange magic that cannot be explained by our science. Our most sophisticated laser guided bombs miss him by miles and our bullets blow away in the wind when we shoot at him. He knows when we are coming and he knows when we have left. It as if he truly is the presence of God here on Earth.

Undaunted, I met him in combat with guns and knives. For hours I battled him, unable to strike him down. I did make him bleed, and no other man has done that since, but in the end I could not defeat him. It was the Imam who left me with this limp.

Graveyard began their operations in the desert then with the Americans. Kill Team Three is there now. They are looking for him out in the caves and wastes, trying to learn his location from informants and kill him with bombs or guns. They will fail. I know what they refuse to believe – that their toys and tricks are useless. Mahdi can only be defeated by a true warrior with the will to look him in the face with hate as he dies.

When I could walk again, I built a cabin in the pine barrens of New Jersey, far from any prying eyes. There I lived alone with the boys. My boys. I taught them everything I know the same way I learned it – with the cold gaze of death on me. I taught them to hate as I hate and kill as I kill. I would not allow my boys to grow weak in a world of modern luxuries and entertainment. No. They lived with me as I lived with the wolves out there in Siberia, only with my knowledge and experience I could make them better. I could teach them to be the greatest warriors. I could make them strong enough to defeat even Mahdi. Only my old friend Walter knew what I was doing in the Pine Barrens, and he did not approve. But I did not care.

Now the boys are strong. They fight with knives like no man I have ever seen and they shoot at least as well as the Duke in his youth. They are fast and strong and I taught them what the ninja taught me about vanishing in the shadows. There is also something else – something special I cannot speak of. They are better than I ever was and I have sent them into the desert to finish what I could not. And now I realize I have made a terrible mistake.

I was too concerned with the obvious threat to notice the one lurking in the shadows. You have seen it. You have seen them.

Now we face an enemy which has infiltrated our highest ranks. Eli Van Duyn learned their secret and they killed him. Van Duyn’s girl saw something that night, and they will stop at nothing until she is dead too.

They attacked me soon after Van Duyn was killed. They tried to kill you twice and they led Kill Team Two into a trap. Their agents are everywhere.

If we are to win this war against these monsters, then I need my boys at my side. I need you to go into the desert and retrieve them for me.

 

  

THELIZARDSWALKAMONGUS.COM

 

The website name is simultaneously funny and spooky. It stares back at Walter from the array of monitors on the desk in front of him in Graveyard’s com room, as an analyst named Dodson takes him through the details. Most of them are well beyond the few hip tech terms Walter barely understands, like tweet and handle.

“We got in using an NSA backdoor in Apache which was, like, so easy,” Dodson says. Dodson is a well-manicured man; thin, smooth-skinned, flamboyantly, obnoxiously, flaming-hotter-than-the-sun gay. “We downloaded everything he had on his FTP in like two hours. He used the same password for his Gmail and Twitter, so we got into those too.”

“I thought they blew up Potts’ computers.”

“Oh honey, nothing is really on anybody’s computer anymore. It’s on the cloud.”

Walter doesn’t understand the cloud. He laments the days before all of this – the days when men actually had to break into buildings to steal paper documents. Now all that snooping is done from a swivel chair by sissies like Dodson. Dodson couldn’t even have had a security clearance in those days.

“So here are all the threads where he’s talking to Van Duyn,” Dodson says. “The conversation stops abruptly, surprise, when Van Duyn is killed.”

“Wait. Eli knew this guy?” Walter says.

“Well, I’m not sure he met him, like met him met him, but they talked on the internet a lot.”

“What did they talk about?”

“Oh, mostly the stuff that’s on Potts’ website. Or, was on Potts’ website. Somebody burned the servers after we got in and copied everything.”

“Burned them? I don’t know that. What does that mean?”

“They burned them, like physically burned them. Somebody poured gas on them and struck a match.”

“Where are these servers?”

“India.”

“That’s spooky.”

“Trust me. You haven’t even seen anything yet.”

“Alright, show me what you got.”

“Okay, well Potts is like this UFO NWO conspiracy website guru. He did an interview on Coast-to-Coast AM a few years ago. I have it on MP3 if you want to listen. Anywho, his whole thing is that there are basically lizard people and they look like us, and they’re hiding all over the world secretly controlling us. They’re in the government, like the president is a lizard person, and the congress are lizard people, and a bunch of celebrities he says are lizards. He says Selena Gomez is a lizard.”

“My daughter likes Selena Gomez.”

“When you’re ready come and get it, nah nah nah nah,” Dodson sings. “It’s so catchy. Who doesn’t like that?”

Walter doesn’t like it.

“You think any of this is true?” he asks.

“No,” Dodson says. “These people are all crazy. You should read some of the stuff that’s in the message board. They’re like freeze framing Fox News to try and get a screen grab of Sean Hannity shape shifting for a tenth of a second. There’s one guy that says he was married to a lizard woman for ten years.”

“I know how he feels.”

“Ha ha. He really means it though.”

“And Van Duyn went for all this crap?”

“Yeah. The emails are pretty serious. And then you get to the lawyer. See, Van Duyn dies, and the next day Potts gets an email from Leonard Berryman – Eli Van Duyn’s attorney. He says Van Duyn has died and he has instructions to deliver a parcel to Potts as part of the Van Duyn estate.”

Where’s Berryman now?”

“Nobody has seen him for weeks.”

“Uh oh.”

“Yeah. And then, days later, like way after Potts was already dead, this shows up in his inbox.”

Dodson double clicks on an email in a list of messages in front of them. A window opens showing a strange message with the subject line URGENT: You are in danger.

The message body reads:

 

Mr Potts,

 

You are in real danger. They are watching. Meet me at the same place we used to go. Supply the time. 

 

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Dodson says. “His obituary was printed the day before. All the UFO crazies were talking about it already.”

It makes sense to Walter. He doesn’t tell Dodson, but the message header tells him everything he needs to know. It was sent by Coltrane784. 784 is the street number of a place where Walter used to drink with a man who liked Coltrane. The message wasn’t really for Potts at all.

Kill Team One is talking to him.

 

  

POINTY WHITE HATS AND

SWASTIKAS

 

“It’s like this, boys,” Ashley says. “Command wants the bloodbath brothers dead.”

He stands in the aft section of the Apocalypse at the top of the open ramp. Safari, Abo, the Knife Guy, Úlfhednar and John Q are all there. The kill team members sit along the benches lining the hull of the craft, except for Abo, who sits on the floor, and Úlfhednar, who has a fruit crate to sit on behind his laptop computer. This last bit has made the werewolf excited.

“In the morning we roll out on seek and destroy orders,” Ashley continues. “Our cover is this intel sheet saying the ninja that killed our last knife guy has been spotted at a hotel in Kandahar.”

“What about the last knife guy?” asks the knife guy.

“Nothing,” John reassures him dismissively. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Our actual mission objective is the termination of Sid Hansen and Victor Hansen.”

“With extreme prejudice?” asks John.

“Pointy white hats, swastikas, sowin’ the ground with salt and the whole lot it sounds like,” Safari interjects.

“That’s exactly right,” Ashley answers. “When we move, I want you, Abo, John, the knife guy and both targets with me. The werewolf is in the air. Knife guy, you lead them in the front of the hotel while Safari covers the outside with the fifties and I take the others around back. Once the knife guy is clear, I give the signal to the werewolf and we unload everything, including those Vulcans, on the building.”

Yes. Yes. This is what the werewolf wants. Death spitting artillery in his hands. Loud music in his ears. What shall he select for this particular outing? What will be the killing music?

“There won’t be a cockroach left alive in there,” John remarks.

“I hope so,” Ashley says. “Kill Team One’s boys remind me too much of their old man. I’m not taking any chances.”

Will it be house or techno? Perhaps something more classical. Pachelbel’s Canon or Air on the G String may provide an interesting counterpoint to the murdering chaos, but they are already so overused in pop culture. He has several times used Helter Skelter during a machine gun attack, and he considers it briefly but then decides against it. No. He wants to do something more modern. Then he has an idea.

“Hey, werewolf,” someone interrupts his thinking. It is John Q. “You okay there? You look totally zoned out.”

“He looks like he might be wankin’ it behind that laptop,” Safari says. Squinting through a monocled eye at Úlfhednar.

Abo nods his head and smiles. Giant white teeth are a strange and funny contrast against the naked blackness of his form. He makes a jerking motion with his hand.

“I am… quite excited for this mission,” the werewolf answers in his thick Norwegian accent.

“Guy’s so creepy,” John whispers to Safari next to him. Of course, the werewolf hears. But the werewolf says nothing. The rest of Kill Team Three has not his appreciation for art.

The werewolf is only thinking about tomorrow’s bloodshed. He has thought of something so perfect. Something he has always wanted to do. He will use Wake Up, from Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled album. He will listen to that song. Yes. He will listen through it without so much as wiggling a toe. He will listen until the song grows quiet, like a whisper, and then… and then…just as Zack de le Rocha screams that he heard a shot and Tom Morello unleashes the alternate picking beast all over his six-string, the werewolf too will unleash the beast. It will be his greatest act – his masterpiece. He will be like a living music video.

The timing must be uncanny to do this correctly. He must research the travel time for all of them. He will need to know the precise moment in the song that he wants to start shooting, but that is easy. There must be no delays. If all goes well, he will squeeze those triggers just as Ashley gives the order. If it does not go well, then he will be squeezing the triggers early or even a bit late. It does not matter. Sometimes sacrifices must be made for such brilliance.

It begins at dawn.

 

  

DEATH OR REVELATION

IN BACK OF

THE BLACK OMEN

 

Walter is in the last place he ever saw Van Hansen – a blues bar where they used to drink scotch and tell old war stories. Only they don’t play the blues here anymore…

The girl on the small rear stage bends over on all fours and spreads her business wide open for Walter to see, her clear plastic heels pointing at him like accusing fingers. He doesn’t want the DJ to call attention to him so he sets a five on the stage before he returns to his scotch. The Black Omen, he wonders, what kind of name is that for a strip club anyway?

When he looks up again, he sees him. Ivan. Kill Team One. Death incarnate. The old man is already seated at a table across the bar. He has a drink in his hand, and he’s glaring Walter’s direction with those soulless black eyes. Walter glares right back at him and takes a sip of scotch. He knew it would happen like this. The old man has a tendency to materialize out of thin air. No one ever sees him coming. One minute you’re alone and the next he’s there as if he simply grew out of some shadowy corner in the room. He motions to the back door and Walter nods. This is it.

Ivan makes the first move. He stands and makes his way for the door. He passes Walter’s table on the way out but he looks straight ahead, keeping Walter just in the edge of focus. Walter stays at the table to finish his scotch. The whole time, he’s reminding himself how stupid this is. That guy waiting out there for him is a killing machine. No. Not just a killing machine. He deals with killing machines every day. That man is a death god, and Walter is scared.

He mashes the send button on his cell phone, to shoot off a pre-typed text message to each of his girls that just says “Love you – Dad.”

He reminds himself that everybody has to go sometime. Maybe this is it. Fuck it. Better this than cancer. Under the table, he stuffs his pistol in the waist of his pants. Then he downs the last sip of scotch and stands up. It’s time to man up and head out there.

Outside, Ivan stands with his back to the door gazing out into the blackened field behind the club. Smoke drifts upward from his face. Walter doesn’t like this at all. He expected things to be more tense. This could be some kind of trick. He won’t be taking any chances, and he’s not going to lose the initiative while he has it. He draws his gun and points it at the Kill Team’s back.

“Put that away, Walter,” the old man says calmly. He doesn’t turn around.

“Not a chance,” Walter says. He keeps his gun trained on Van Hansen’s back. “I may be younger than you but I wasn’t born yesterday.”

“I can take that gun from you and kill you ten times before your body hits the ground.”

“I don’t believe that. Not anymore. You’re old, Kill Team. You’re falling apart and you got a bum leg.”

“I think you would be surprised.”

“Why did you kill Reynolds?”

“That was not me. It was Blood Drinker. How much do you know?”

“I’m asking the questions here! What the fuck happened to Darryl Potts?”

“They got to Van Duyn’s lawyer. They were monitoring Potts’ lines. They were waiting for us. It got bad.”

“Why? What did he have?”

“He had proof, Walter. I saw it.”

And then something clangs to the ground around the corner. It sounds like a trash can lid, or it might be a waitress dropping a steel pan. It doesn’t matter. The nanosecond Walter isn’t completely focused on Kill Team One, the old man pulls a Sig 9 and now they’re staring down each other’s barrels.

“Who followed you here?” Ivan shouts.

“Drop it!” Walter screams.

“You drop it!” Kill Team One shouts back.

“I don’t want to kill you, Van!”

“Did you bring them with you, Walter? Whose side are you on?”

“What are you talking about?”

Then there is a single gunshot.

 

  

COLD VENGEANCE IS THE WARM BLOOD OF MY

ENEMY ON MY HANDS

 

Yoshida Tanaka waits in the darkness outside the American army base. He has come in the shadows to visit these men of Bochi where they sleep and where they least expect him. Quickly he vaults over the wall and into the barracks area, his hand resting on his sword hilt, his arm coiled like the cobra, ready to strike. On the other side there are more lights, but there are more objects, more buildings, more trucks, more shadows…

He slides through them like a brisk wind looking for the first sign of the skull and bones, but he sees none. He needs better cover if he is to walk among them in the open where he can inspect this place more easily.

A sentry. His name is Horrowitz. The ninja creeps up behind him while he is pissing behind a barracks. Usually he would use his sword, but this time he needs it to be clean. He pricks Horrowitz with the edge of a shuriken coated in blowfish toxin and the sentry is dead before he ever knows what hit him.

Tanaka stuffs the body under a parked hummer and walks out into plain sight dressed as Private Horrowitz, complete with M4 carbine. The gun feels strange in his hands. Foreign. Alien. Surprisingly heavy. He never uses these things and he is irked by its weight in comparison to the tools he usually carries.

Out in the open, he passes poorly for an actual American soldier, and he worries that anyone asking him any questions will immediately see through the ruse because of his accent. He speaks Engrish berry good, but not like a Horrowitz. He knows Horrowitz is probably a Jewish name, but he doesn’t know if Jews sound like other Americans or different somehow. In any case, he has a back-up plan: Kill the witnesses and smoke bomb away.

He gets through thirty minutes of patrolling by keeping his head down and nodding at anybody who looks his way. He’s beginning to feel frustrated when he sees what he has been looking for: a fanged skull and bones.

It is a tattoo, simple black with no fill, on the bicep of a skinny little man wearing tight leather pants and gothic make-up. He runs his hand through a flowing length of black hair as he walks excitedly from a small building. Yoshida peers in a window to see if there are more of them where he came from, but he sees only an empty room with bunk beds and a card table, all unoccupied. He follows the little man.

The little gothic man makes one stop at a larger building which Yoshida realizes is an armory or depot. He goes in and comes out a few minutes later driving a forklift that carries a crate the size of a small car. Yoshida picks up his pace to follow the forklift.

He’s sure the little man can’t hear him, but he runs into another problem when the forklift passes another sentry. This one is a tall black American dressed in a regular army uniform like the one Yoshida has. The sentry looks him over and Yoshida nods and smiles.

“Sup,” he says, channeling every rapper he ever saw on American TV while he was in college. It comes out harshly, which works in his favor he thinks, and the sentry keeps on walking. He continues after the forklift.

After some time, he realizes the forklift is headed for a small airstrip where a large military plane awaits. Airmen check the underside of the plane and the little gothic man drives the forklift up to the side of the fuselage and sets the crate down on the ground. He jumps out and motions to a mechanic, who then takes control of the forklift.

Yoshida leans into a door frame as he watches the dark man walk away from the forklift toward another man, this one wearing camouflage army pants and a hooded sweatshirt with the hood up. Yoshida can’t see his face.

He can’t hear what they are saying over the noise from the plane, but he tries to read the lips of the little man from his hiding place in the doorframe. He concentrates on that pale, skinny face, but then something happens to break his concentration.

A helicopter passes hardly a hundred feet overhead and slows to hover over the airstrip. The man in the hooded sweatshirt turns up to look at the chopper and he pulls his hood down. The ninja’s stomach nearly erupts from his throat. It is the man with one ear.

He looks exactly like Yoshida remembers him from that day ten years ago – except he has both ears. This is an odd development, but the ninja hasn’t the faculties to ponder why. The little gothic man walks away to board the plane and leaves the man with two ears standing alone on the airstrip. Though there are soldiers on the airstrip, the ninja knows he can strike from behind and end this before any of them ever notice him – especially in this guise. He will have to act quickly, even though he wishes the opposite. Luckily, he has just the technique for such a situation.

The secret ninja death touch is not a thing of fiction. The Tanaka clan has passed it down for centuries. It is, in reality, a technique of limited application considering the decades of meditation required to learn it. The death touch only does what a sword or poisoned kunai will do much faster and without any of the training. Still, with proper focus, one can master the art of killing a man with a finger. One can even specialize it – make it a swift death or one that goes on for weeks of bleeding, searing, bone splintering pain. Yoshida’s death touch is not of the swift variety.

Then something happens that has not happened in nearly a decade. Someone sneaks up on the ninja.

“Hey man,” calls someone behind him.

Yoshida turns to see the tall black sentry he passed earlier, apparently returned to inspect him further.

“Hey man, what’s your name?” he says through his gritted teeth, which Yoshida can now see are wired together, probably because of some sort of jaw injury.

“Uh, Horrowitz,” the ninja answers. He stutters. All he can think is that he’s losing his chance to strike at the two-eared man.

“You sure?” the sentry asks him. “I don’t know too many Chinese Horrowitzes.”

Yoshida turns back to the airstrip for a second to see a jeep pulling up next to the two eared man, driven by a huge black man in brown shorts holding some sort of giant metal weapon. The man who murdered his family is escaping.

“Half Japanese. My mother’s side,” Yoshida lies, calmly.

“Yeah. Where you from?”

His mind is on fire with hate. All he can think is the man who murdered his family is escaping.

“New York City.”

“What part?”

The man who murdered his family is escaping and he will murder more, torture more, slaughter more.

“Brooklyn.”

“That don’t sound like a Brooklyn accent.”

“It is.”

The man who murdered his family is escaping and he will murder more, torture more, slaughter more. He will rape more wives and burn more babies.

“Yeah? How many rings did Jordan get when he played for Knicks?”

Yoshida glares back at the sentry.

He will rape more wives and burn more babies.

“Fuck you, man.”

The sentry chuckles.

“Good answer,” the man says. “I’m a Heat fan, myself. And fuck the motherfucker that talks shit about them.”

Yoshida can’t stand this anymore. He lunges upward and delivers a flying knee strike to the sentry’s chin, shattering his jaw again and knocking the man sprawling to the dirt. He turns back to the airstrip just in time to see the two eared man grin and make a mocking salute to some other soldiers as the jeep pulls away.

He will rape more wives and burn more babies.

The ninja clenches his fist around the rifle in his hands so hard that the steel bends.

 

  

DEATHSTORM

 

Sid jumps off a jeep in Kandahar City at fourteen-hundred hours. He’s geared to fight World War Three by himself, which means he has three grenades, two KA-BAR knives coated in neuro-toxin, a .45 USP sidearm and a 240 Bravo machine gun. Victor is at his side and carrying a six-barreled 40mm MGL, two pistols loaded with .40 depleted uranium bullets, a machete, and a small black plastic collapsible shovel commonly known as an entrenchment tool or e tool. Both of them wear black t-shirts and body armor with black fatigue pants. The knife guy, Safari, Abo and Ashley dismount a second jeep behind them.

They stand facing a somewhat modern building compared to what Sid has seen during the rest of his tour here. There is a large glass foyer through which he can see people drinking coffee and talking. These are not the towel headed hill people he is used to, but refined, well dressed, clean people. The rest of the building is tan stone of some kind and it goes up three floors with darkened windows spaced evenly.

“I’ve never killed anyone with an e tool before,” Victor says, licking his teeth. “I plan on fixing that today.”

Sid can’t understand why Victor would think that. The ninja is unfathomably dangerous. They will probably barely kill him with the whole team shooting machine guns and grenades. The idea of Victor stopping him with an e tool is just absurd. But then his brother did fight the ninja with just a knife last time they met. If that didn’t expose his increasingly irrational bloodthirst then what happened in the barracks a few nights ago did. Sid tries to put it out of his mind. He didn’t go back in the barracks that night. He doesn’t know what happened to the girl. He doesn’t want to know. He can’t think about that. He has a job to do.

Personally, Sid is scared. No. He’s not scared. His father would beat him for being scared. Fear is for the weak. A warrior has no fear.

But he is anxious. He is anxious because he’s walking in to face a true warrior and he is now convinced that the men behind him are, at best, unstable and, at worst, terribly psychotic.

“Don’t get cocky in there,” Ashley says. “Katsuhiro Tanaka is a real god damned ninja straight from the land of the rising sun. This ain’t no Chinese knock off.”

“Issat a real thing? A fake ninja?” Safari asks as he sets up a Browning M2 on the back of the second jeep next to a belt fed grenade launcher and the laser designator they will need if they have to call in an air strike.

“A fake ninja is as real as any real ninja, only fake,” Ashley answers as he puts out his cigar on the side of the jeep and saves the remaining stub in his shirt pocket. “Move in two teams. Sid, Victor and, um…”

“Bruce,” says the knife thrower.

“Knife Guy,” Ashley continues. “The three of you go in the front and start clearing out brown people. You see yellow and you smoke that shit so hard it makes Hiroshima look like a firecracker in a Pepsi can. Safari, stay here with the big guns. The rest of you come with me around back. Let’s light this motherfucker up.”

Victor spares no time storming the front of the building. Sid and the knife guy follow behind him. He doesn’t use the door. No. Victor thinks doors are for the weak. He launches a grenade at the plate glass and the front of the building disintegrates into a pile of shattered shards and screaming people.

Victor’s combat boots crunch on broken glass as he steps over the knee high metal window frame and into a little café in the hotel lobby.

“The ninja! Where is the ninja?!” he screams at the small collection of terrified and disoriented hotel patrons. He kicks one man in the guts as he attempts to crawl away through the mess of glass shards leaving a snail trail of bloody streaks behind him.

“I don’t think they have any idea,” Sid says as he steps into the café.

Victor gives his brother an annoyed glance and then screams “Get out!” at the café patrons as he fires a pistol into the ceiling. “Come on, runt. Let’s flush out some game!”

Sid follows Victor further into the building. The knife guy looks almost as scared as the people in the café, but he goes with them. They make it out of the café and into the hotel lobby and then they see something way too strange to continue without further investigation.

Everyone in the lobby is screaming and running from the men with huge guns that just blew up the coffee shop. Men trip over each other scrambling for the front door. Women scoop up babies. A child cries for his missing parents. Someone is being trampled in the front doorway by a hundred shrieking escapees. All of this chaos is going on around them and yet one person sits completely unaffected.

He rests on top of the desk of the hotel concierge, his legs folded and his hands resting in his lap. He is a big man, covered in a white robe. His face is obscured behind a jet black beard which dangles down his chest all the way to his waist and long black hair that hangs past his thick brows. His eyes are closed and he seems entirely undisturbed by the commotion. This is because his god has told him to be here today. His god will protect him.

“What the fuck is this?” Victor says, when he notices the praying Muslim.

Sid had already noticed, but didn’t say anything. He didn’t know what to think.

“Hey, sand nigger, say hello to seventy-two virgins for me!” Victor growls as he draws and raises his pistol again with one hand, the other holding the MGL over his shoulder. He squeezes the trigger and he and Sid both hear the familiar bang they’ve heard millions of times before. The pistol recoils only a tiny fraction in Victor’s perfect grip, as it has millions of times before. There is a flash and a smell of cordite, as there has been millions of times before. Only this time, nothing happens. The bearded man does not die. A spray of blood does not gush from his head. His brains do not leak out all over the floor. Nothing like that happens.

At first, it seems Victor missed, which is ridiculous. He’s only thirty feet away. He can hit a lemon at five times that distance one-handed with that very gun. He shoots again. Again nothing happens. It is as if his bullets just vanish. He pulls the trigger again. And again. He empties the entire magazine into the bearded Arab’s face. This accomplishes nothing.

The knife guy turns heel and runs like a little bitch. He does not make it ten feet through the screaming crowd before a man wearing a turban stabs him to death with a large combat knife.

“My followers number greater than legion,” says the bearded, unshootable man. He speaks perfect English with a slight British accent, like someone who went through elocution classes. “Together we will bring death to you who forsake Allah.”

And then Sid sees them. More turbans all throughout the crowd. Sure. Some of them might be people who just decided to wear a turban today, but maybe they’re with this asshole too. Maybe this is a trap.

“We have a problem,” Sid says to his brother.

“Take care of it, runt,” Victor answers, having noticed the small army surrounding them as well.

The bearded leader of the Mujahedeen stands for the first time and he is quite tall – even more so on top of the desk. His posture is like an angry parent leaning over to scold a rotten child. He throws back his robes to reveal a suit of glimmering medieval plate armor and the hilt of a sheathed scimitar sword. His command is simple. “Kill the infidels!”

Sid turns to open fire on the crowd, the whole crowd, with the 240. He doesn’t have time to be picky about targets. Allah will have to sort them out.

Victor does exactly what Sid would expect from him. He drops his grenade launcher on the floor, whips out that big machete he brought, and points it at the bearded giant.

And then something none of them expected…

 

 

It is as if God screamed fuck you and the heavens opened up to rain bullets and blood. The ceiling simply disintegrates as two-hundred 20mm shells punch through it every second. Time slows to a crawl for Sid as he realizes what is happening. He turns his head and roars as he dives for worthless cover under a café table that will dissolve like a sugar cube in this torrential pour of death. He looks out at the crowd around him as they fall to pieces. A Mujahedeen with his pistol outstretched, the barrel pointed straight at Sid’s face, is unable to pull the trigger because a shell has already severed his arm at the elbow far too quickly for him to have noticed yet. He will never notice because another shell is about to take his head off. A small boy snaps in half at the small of his back. The top part begins to fall freely as he continues to scream. A woman in a burqa has become a crimson soaked throw rug, so riddled with bone shattering lead fragments that she no longer has any human form. Those who survive the first three seconds of gunfire are greeted by a shower of broken glass and metal fragments that used to be the atrium ceiling, now falling like a thousand thousand razors. The table does provide some protection from that, but it is soon obliterated by the Vulcan. Sid sees a steel beam falling his direction and rolls away as it smashes down on the destroyed café table. He lands on the mangled partial cadaver of a clean shaven man in a shredded suit. The limbs are all gone but the horrified face stares up at him, through him, past him, screaming a silent indictment at the sky.

Sid turns over and does the only thing that makes any sense at all to him right now. He shoots at the sky. The plane is thousands of feet above them. It moves so quickly that he needs to lead by hundreds of feet to hit it. He can’t see it. The building is falling on top of him. A dozen bullets miss him by centimeters in each tenth of a second and this would be insanity even if all of those other things were not happening.

But Sid is more than a good shot. He is a living weapon. He is born to kill. His senses are sharper than any man. He can hear the plane. He can hear the shots. He can follow them back to the source. He closes his eyes.

The 240 is a good gun, and for Sid it is more than a weapon. It is an extension of his being. It is an extension of his rage. He squeezes the trigger and roars. “DIE! DIE! DIE!” But he can’t even hear himself over the cacophony around him. He doesn’t let go until the gun cycles through the whole belt of ammo.

If he hit the plane, he has no idea. But the Vulcan stops.

Sid jerks to his feet and looks himself over. Through some miraculous chance, he is completely unharmed. Blood smears his face and stains his clothes. The hotel lobby looks like a mass grave in the middle of some third world genocide. The chipped and battered tile floor is covered in a carpet of mangled bodies and pulverized debris. A coating of grey dust voids the scene of all vibrancy. He thinks nothing could possibly live in this heap of horror, but then he is proven wrong.

Victor stands in the exact same spot. He never moved. And why would he? Nothing here could possibly have sheltered him from the Vulcan. He is covered with dust and broken glass. He pulls a jagged shard from his shoulder and tosses it to the floor without ever displaying anything but his signature twisted glee. Blood runs down his arm from the cut as he raises his machete to point at their enemy.

Yes. The Arab cleric still stands. More disturbing still is that he remains seemingly untouched by the death storm that destroyed everything around them. His armor still shines and his robes are bright white like nothing ever happened. He draws his scimitar from its sheath and exposes the blade for the first time. It is dark like jet, but with a slight green tint. It curves slightly and ends in not one, but two points, giving it the appearance of a serpent’s forked tongue.

“By Zulfiqar, sword of evil’s bane, you meet your doom, infidel!” the cleric screams. Sid has a terrible feeling about this…

And it begins. Victor slashes at the Imam with a broad and powerful overhand strike and the blades clash between them, the Imam catching Victor’s machete between the prongs of his forked tongue tip. The machete slides between them, grinding steel on steel until it is finally free and continues downward to its target. But the Imam is too quick and his armored frame is no longer there for it to strike. So Victor slashes again. This time, the Imam is already behind him before he completes the motion. Victor barely dodges the attack.

Then Sid leaps into the fray. This is the only thing left to do against this enemy who shrugs away bullets like a phantom. Sid’s knives point downward from his raised hands as he flies through the air growling. Maybe now Victor won’t call him a runt anymore.

He slashes with furious hatred at the Imam. By now he recognizes who this is. Every vicious stab of the toxic coated combat knives is a sentence to agonizing death, but his blades meet nothing. The Imam moves like a river and attacking him is like stabbing water. Sid can barely track his movements and he swears he can see a colored trail following the bearded Muslim.

Both of them, slashing like madmen, are just barely keeping the Imam busy. Then he does something unbelievable. He breathes fire. Like a god damned magic fucking dragon, he breathes fire. It erupts from his mouth with a furious and roaring exhalation and projects toward Sid. He leaps away, but the searing heat singes the hair off his left arm. He turns back to see the Imam turning the jet of flame toward Victor, but the older brother ducks under it and stabs up into the Imam’s chest with the tip of his machete. The strike is met by the enemy’s shining white armor – armor that does not give way.

Sid jumps back into the fight hoping to get a knife between the plates of that armor from behind. He thinks if he can just stab the motherfucker in the spine that will put an end to this. He is quickly reminded of just how impossible it is to actually hit this bastard. One of his knives ends up in a wall across the room and the other he barely hangs on to as the Imam smacks the blades with his immense strength and legendary sword.

Sid pulls his .45 and empties a magazine into the back of the Imam’s head while Victor blocks and parries attacks he can hardly keep up with. The bullets do nothing and the Imam kicks Victor to the floor with a mighty foot. He slides his sword back into its sheath and faces Sid with calm serenity.

“You are strong,” the fire breathing monstrosity tells them. “But Allah’s will is stronger than all things.”

Then he holds out his hand and takes Sid’s knife away. He doesn’t grab for it or move even. The knife just rips free of Sid’s grip and sails across the room, into the Imam’s fingers. The Imam looks it over, spinning it curiously. Neither of the boys wants to see what he does with it next. Sid almost turns and runs, but then he thinks it better to keep his eyes on the knife in case he has to move quickly. What the Imam does finally do is perhaps more unsettling than any simple attack he might have envisioned.

He holds the knife up to his face and licks the length of the blade, cutting into his tongue along the way. When he reaches the tip, blood drips from his lips and he discards the knife to the floor like a piece of trash. Sid can’t peel his eyes away. This is impossible. He smeared that blade himself with Revenant TXX, a synthetic nerve agent twelve times more powerful than Novichok-7 and ninety-six times more powerful than VX. This can’t be happening. He stands for another few seconds, waiting to see if the effects were just delayed somehow, but they never come. No seizures. No massive hemorrhaging. No boils. Nothing.

Then the Imam is there. He covers the distance between them faster than Sid can track him. He snatches Sid’s arm and bashes him in the chest with a fist that hits like a carnival mallet. Sid crumples. An imploded skyscraper couldn’t topple so hard. He’s sure his ribs are broken. Maybe his arm too. It feels like he’s on fire.

Victor takes a shot at the Imam with a .40 cal, but the Imam spins to face him and the bullet turns around mid-flight. It makes a complete loop back the way it came and embeds itself in Victor’s shoulder. He snarls like a cornered and wounded animal.

“Allah is great,” the holy warrior says. “Blessed be hi…”

He is interrupted by the giant-sized, radio controlled boomerang that shatters through the wall, spinning at two hundred miles per hour. The boomerang makes it almost to him before he leaps over it, and it continues for Victor and Sid, who both duck under it. The weapon exits the building through the opposite wall and vanishes.

Kill Team Three enters the building through the broken glass café front led by Ashley. The werewolf is noticeably absent. Abo catches his boomerang just outside the building as they continue inside. When Ashley sees the three of them, the Hansen brothers and the Twelfth Imam, he stops in his tracks.

“Holy shit,” he says. “It’s the fuckin’ Imam.”

There is a second that lasts an hour, while everyone in the room tries to decide what to do next. Ashley finally shatters the silence.

“Kill ’em all!” he screams at the top of his lungs as he opens fire with a 240 across the room. All of them open fire. Machine guns blaze. Bullets pierce the walls like paper.

Sid needs to run. He wants to run, but everything hurts. His chest feels like it is completely shattered and his arm is already beginning to swell. He doesn’t know if he can stand on his own. Bullets whiz past him as he throws himself over a marble countertop, flopping like a bar room drunk and grunting like one too. He can’t see Victor. He can’t see the Imam. He doesn’t care. He needs to get out of this place now. Then that massive boomerang comes crashing through the counter top and buzzes his head so close he loses a few hairs. Marble and stone comes down on top of him; every chunk like a punch in the body from a crowd rioting against him. He tries to crawl away, but a lot of it is on top of him. He pushes it off. He can’t stand. He sees two of everything. Fire. Screaming.

 

You can get the rest of KILL KILL KILL all in one nifty volume for about half the price of a Subway sandwich.

 

And don’t forget the bestselling spin-off series, The Postmodern Adventures of Kill Team One. No one called it a bestselling series before I wrote this, but if you buy it because I called it that, and other people do too, won’t it then be a bestselling series? Then doesn’t calling it a bestselling series make it a bestselling series? Is there even such a thing as a bestselling series? Bestselling where? In the world? In my house? And best in what way? Quantity sold? Page count? Number of obscene words?

 

 

 


Graveyard (KILL KILL KILL book 1)

WARNING: THIS BOOK IS TOTALLY METAL. No, it's not made of metal. It's totally metal the same way that electric guitars, ninjas, and hot naked girls riding on dinosaurs are totally metal. If you don't understand, then just put this book down and walk away. Just walk away. But if you do understand… Welcome to Graveyard – an elite private military company employed by the secret society that really controls the world – this world. YOUR WORLD. Graveyard’s commander is the grizzled Walter Stedman, a former Delta Force operator battered by twenty years of secret wars, forbidden knowledge, and abominations of science. Someone has murdered one of Walter’s employers, and that means Graveyard is about to go to war. The enemy is like none Walter has ever encountered – creatures from beyond nightmares. His mission will lead him into direct confrontation with an old friend, the legendary Graveyard operator known as Kill Team One - because his exploits in combat match those of an entire squad of regular men. Now retired, Kill Team One has used a strict regimen of training, beatings, and propaganda to condition his two teenage sons into the ultimate super soldiers – ice cold killers that have known nothing but violence and destruction since birth. One of them may be almost human. Almost. Tracking their every move is the ninja, Yoshida Tanaka – a man consumed by hatred in the decade since Kill Team One needlessly tortured his young family to death. Now he lurks in the shadows, honing his skills and waiting for the perfect moment to strike. All of this has come together as a perfect storm, and by the time the rains subside, all life on Earth may have been washed away. This volume contains chapters 1-23 of KILL KILL KILL.

  • ISBN: 9781310972539
  • Author: Mike Leon
  • Published: 2016-04-17 08:05:15
  • Words: 39312
Graveyard (KILL KILL KILL book 1) Graveyard (KILL KILL KILL book 1)