Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Just Another Night in the Burbs

There was an ugly crunch as the rifle butte crushed the man's nose. Martinez had worked in a slaughterhouse one summer, before the army, and the way the cattle collapsed after getting hit in the head with an air hammer, it was like that, sudden and brutal. One second the guy's standing there, all nervous belligerence, scared but standing his ground. The next, he's laid out flat, unconscious and probably concussed, blood pouring from a broken nose.

"Throw 'em on the bus with the rest," said the sergeant, replacing the butte in his shoulder as he stepped over the body and into the house, his wide, compact body proceeding with the steady implacability of a main battle tank.

Martinez shouldered his weapon and knelt down to throw an arm under the fat citizen who'd been dumb enough to demand a search warrant in the midst of a general house-to-house search. He grunted but the guy barely budged. "Fuck, he's heavy. Hey, some help over here!" he called. A private, one of the new guys, Blackstone or Blackwell or something like that, peeled off from the chaotic milling surrounding the small convoy of hummers and buses on the street and came over on the double. Together the two of them were just able to get the guy up off the ground and carry him, feet dragging, over to the bus. With only a modicum of grunting and cursing they manhandled him up the stairs, and plopped him in a seat.

"Heavy motherfucker, eh Martinez?" said the private, pausing to catch his breath. BLACKHORN, he read on the kid's nametag. Right, Blackhorn, that was it.

Martinez chuckled. "Won't be for long. This gringo just won an all-expenses-paid trip to the world's finest fat camp." The private laughed. Martinez jerked his head and they went back to work.

All up and down the street small teams of crunchies decked out in full battle-rattle were hitting the near-identical rowhouses, the air full of tense shouted orders, startled screams, the percussive noise of running feet and slamming doors. The excitement was palpable, like the scent of blood in the air, an electric tingling in his bones. No gunfire yet, and god willing there wouldn't be. Though if there was, well, Martinez knew who it was would be doing the shooting.

Word had come down through the local DHS office, a tipoff about a bomb-making facility somewhere in the neighborhood ... Sunny Acres or Shady Vale or some shit, Martinez hadn't really been paying attention and to be quite honest didn't really care. It was just another Jersey suburb, same as the rest. Bunch of same-old, same-old, crappy little houses with pretensions to taste filled with fat whining suburbanites. Of course, not all of them were fat and stupid; some, Martinez knew very well, were radicalized, with too much time on their hands to read bullshit propaganda on the internet and sit around in their basements making pipe-bombs. They needed jobs to keep those hands busy and since they weren't inclined to get one, well, the army always had room in the work brigades.

Some of the guys in the briefing room had rolled their eyes when the DHS attache, a cold little bitch with a slit mouth and watery eyes, had admitted that the informant didn't know which house, precisely, the bomb factory was in. A couple of guys had openly mouthed off. Not Martinez, though, and not just 'cause those lifeless eyes of hers gave him the creeps. What those other idiots didn't realize was that a full-on, house-to-house search meant you got that many more interesting opportunities. No telling what might happen behind closed doors.

Well, that was the difference between Baghdad veterans and newbs like Blackhorn. Guys who'd been in the shit and come out swinging knew all about fighting terrorism for fun and profit.

Martinez trotted up the front steps and into the house, Blackhorn following in his wake. The inside was nothing special, white walls decorated with a few anonymous nature prints, hardwood floors, a couple of couches and an easy-chair all upholstered in fake leather arranged around a plasma screen TV. Everything neat and squared away, but it had seen better days: the hardwood floors were stained, the paint on the walls peeling, the upholstery abraded.

A muffled sound came from the kitchen, and Martinez followed it to find Sergeant Jenkins standing before a middle-aged woman and a teenage girl, both of them sitting with their hands flat on the dinner table. The woman looked frayed, careworn; like the furniture, she was past her sell-by date. Martinez barely glanced at her: he had eyes only for the girl he figured for her daughter. She was staring straight ahead, face empty of any emotion save sheer terror. She was a hot little number, with pert little breasts and an innocent face, her womanhood in full bloom but unspoilt by life and experience.

"This everyone?" Martinez asked.

"Watcher says there's an 18 year old son," Jenkins replied, a little distantly, his attention half on the room, half on the data being piped into his optic nerve by way of his helmet's eyepiece.

"He's not home," the woman answered the implied question in a monotone. She looked up at Martinez. "My husband ... is he.... ?"

"He'll be just fine, ma'am," Martinez answered soothingly. "We'll have to take him in for some questioning, though." He didn't even bother returning her imploring gaze, instead letting his eyes linger over the daughter, at those wonderful titties of hers poking through her tight t-shirt.

"Oh. I, ah, I see. When will he.... ?"

Martinez shrugged. "I'm sure it won't be long," he lied.

Jenkins grunted. "According to Watcher your son's right here at home Mrs. Wilson."

"What? I...."

"Save it. Martinez, Blackhorn, search the house, get the kid in here."

"Sir," they answered in unison. As they left the room Martinez overheard Jenkins saying in that unsettlingly calm tone of his, "Don't lie to us again, ma'am, or we'll be forced to charge you as well as your husband. It won't go well for you."

Martinez replaced the butte of his rifle in his shoulder and proceeded up the stairs, Blackhorn bringing up the rear. "Hey!" he called up. "We know you're in here, kid. There's no point hiding. Come out and show yourself like a good citizen and maybe I won't fuck that pretty little sister of yours in front of you." Blackhorn laughed, a little nervously. Kid wasn't sure if he was joking, Martinez reflected, amused. Well, that was fair enough, Martinez wasn't sure if he was joking, either.

No response. He reached out a hand, flicked on a light switch. "Well, if that won't motivate you, how about I just offer you seconds? Eh, gringo? We got a deal?"

Still nothing. He kicked open a door, into an empty bedroom, walls plastered over with garish crunk posters, the only light coming from a screen saver. Behind him he heard another crash as Blackhorn kicked open another door. He walked in, poked around in the closest, looked under the bed. Nothing. "Clear!" he called.

"Clear!" Blackhorn answered.

They went through the rest of the upper floor, but every room was empty. "Shit," Martinez mumbled to himself, staring at a mess of stuffed elephants he'd scattered on the floor in what was obviously the daughter's room. Keying his radio, he said, "Foxtrot Two Zero this is Foxtrot Two Five. Target is not on second floor. There a basement in this dump? Over."

"Foxtrot Two Five this is Foxtrot Two Zero, affirmative, there is a basement in this model, over." Jenkins' tone was mildly disgusted, communicating the sentiment, 'why the hell can't you pay attention in briefings, fuckwit?' without actually having to say it.

"Roger that, Foxtrot Two Zero. Proceeding to basement. Out."

He held up a hand at the top of the basement stairs, halting the private. "Hey, kid!" he called out. "We know you've gotta be down there. Save us the trouble of dragging your ass up and the deal stands." He waited a moment, listening. Again, nothing. "All right, asshole, have it your way," Martinez said, stepping down the staircase. "Tell the truth, I'm happier for it. Give me an excuse to fuck your sister, shit, she's pretty hot, you know?"

He got halfway down and the lights went out. "What the fuck ... ?" he murmured. There was a scuffling sound in the kitchen, but he didn't have time to think about that because all of a sudden he was deaf and a feeling like he'd been rabbit punched by God knocked him from his feet. He tumbled down the stairs, his helmet whacking hard against another hardwood floor, and above him, a long long way away he was aware of someone shouting "Oh fuck!" and the familiar strobelight illumination of automatic weapon fire. Bullets bounced around the room, ripping up furniture and shattering a screen somewhere, and ahead of him someone went down, an object skittering across the floor, and he had just enough time to think, shit, pipe bomb, I'm a dead man, and then hot blood showered his ungloved fingers.

Blackhorn was at his side, helping him up. "Fuck. You OK? Fuck, fuck, fuck...." His hands were groping him, looking for wounds. He cringed as they found the spot where he'd been hit.

Martinez grunted. "M'I bleeding?"

"Uh ... no, no blood."

"Fuck," Martinez stated, picking himself up to his knees. His hands made the sign of the cross involuntarily, the trauma activating an old and deeply buried program. Thank you Jesus, he thought, for giving me the common sense to buy my own body armor. "The fuck was that?" He said aloud.

Blackhorn fumbled in his webbing, found a flashlight. The beam scanned around the room, passing over the kid's dead body and stopping when it found an old, mean-looking sawed-off shotgun. "That," he stated redundantly.

"Christ. That's gonna leave a mark." Martinez shook his head. "What the fuck happened to the lights?"

"I dunno, they just went off and then...."

"Foxtrot Two Zero this is Foxtrot Two Five, over," Martinez said over the radio, and waited for a response.

None was forthcoming.

"Foxtrot Two Zero this is Foxtrot Two Five, over," he repeated, a little more insistently.


"Where's the sergeant?" Blackhorn asked, suddenly a scared kid in the darkness.

Martinez stood up. "Don't know," he said, "Let's find out." Shouldering his weapon again, he clipped a flashlight to the barrel, switched it on, and headed back up the stairs.

The lights were out throughout the house. There was no ambient light coming through the windows, either. "Looks like a power outage," he observed. Blackhorn grunted agreement.

Jenkins was in the kitchen, more or less where he'd been. Except that he was lying on the floor with his throat slashed wide open in the middle of a pool of blood. Martinez bent down, checked his pupils, shook his head slightly and ran his hand down the man's face, closing his eyelids.

"Is he....?"

Martinez just nodded. Who would have thought it? A tour in Iraq, another in Afghanistan, facing down hordes of battle-hardened hajjis, and he got taken out by a girl with a fucking kitchen knife.

It was hard to say what tipped him off next. His ears were still ringing from the shotgun blast, and he certainly didn't see anything in the darkness. Maybe it was just a hunch born of years in the shit, maybe it was divine intervention; whatever it was, he quickly stepped out of the way just as the woman lunged out of the shadows behind him, swinging a chopping knife in front of her like she was trying to dice the biggest carrot of her life.

Once she didn't have the drop on him, it wasn't much work to subdue her, disarm her, get her on the ground. "Where's your daughter, gringo bitch?" he hissed at her.

She spat at him. He replied to her argument with the back of his hand, and ordered Blackhorn to throw her on the bus.

Why, then, should you run away? And how can you resist right then? After all,
you’ll only make your situation worse; you’ll make it more
difficult for them to sort out the mistake. And it isn’t just that you
don’t put up any resistance; you even walk down the stairs on tiptoe,
as you are ordered to do, so your neighbors won’t hear.

And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been
like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest,
had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-​bye to
his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in
Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not
simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the
downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood that
they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an
ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else
was at hand? After all, you knew ahead of time that those bluecaps were out
at night for no good purpose. And you could be sure ahead of time that
you’d be cracking the skull of a cutthroat. Or what about the
Black Maria
sitting out there on the street with one lonely chauffeur — what if it
had been driven off or its tires spiked? The Organs would very quickly have
suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of
Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt!

If… If… We didn’t love freedom enough.

Alexander Solhzenitsyn
The Gulag Archipelago


  1. Blackthorn - Blackwater.
    Liked the sisters ability with the knife.
    Sweet justice as we say on the volleyball court.

  2. OK, so shoot me, it wasn't the most original name ;)

    Actually, it was the mother who cut up the sergeant. You'll note the daughter was nowhere to be seen....

  3. This is what confused me:
    "Martinez just nodded. Who would have thought it? A tour in Iraq, another in Afghanistan, facing down hordes of battle-hardened hajjis, and he got taken out by a girl with a fucking kitchen knife".

  4. d'oh! sloppy editing, gets me every time.


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