They did all the things they couldn't do at home, played music from the sixties the Doors, Cream, Hendrix, Blind Faith, the Airplane loud. They drank way too much beer and bourbon while they grilled thick porterhouse steaks that they ate with fresh corn, Vidalia onions, tomatoes, and baked potatoes slathered with butter and sour cream. They smoked expensive Cuban cigars. They had a hell of a lot of fun in what they did.
"What was the line in that old beer commercial? You know the one I'm talking about," Harris asked as they sat out on the front porch after dinner.
"It doesn't get any better than this," Starkey said as he flicked the thick ash from his cigar onto the wide-planked floor. "I think it was a shit beer, though. Can't even remember the name. Course, I'm a little drunk and a lot stoned." Neither of the others believed that. Thomas Starkey was never completely out of control, and especially not when he committed murder, or ordered it done.
"We've paid our dues, gentlemen. We've earned this," Starkey said, and extended his mug to clink with his friends. "What's happening now is well deserved."
"Bet your ass we earned it. Couple or three foreign wars. Our other exploits over the past few years," said Harris. "Families. Eleven kids between us. Plus we did pretty good out in the big, bad civilian world too. I sure never figured I'd be knocking down a hundred and a half a year."
They clinked the heavy beer glasses again. "We did good, boys. And believe it or not, it can only get better," said Starkey.
As they always did, they retold old war stories Grenada, Mogadishu, the Gulf War, but mostly Vietnam.
Starkey recounted the time they had made a Vietnamese woman "ride the submarine." The woman a VC sympathizer, of course had been stripped naked, then tied to a wooden plank, face upward. Harris had tied a towel around her face. Water from a barrel was slowly sprinkled onto the towel. As the towel eventually became soaked, the woman was forced to inhale water to breathe. Her lungs and stomach soon swelled with the water. Then Harris pounded on her chest to expel the water. The woman talked, but of course she didn't tell them anything they didn't already know. So they dragged her out to a kaki tree, which produced a sweet fruit and was always covered with large yellow ants. They tied the mama-san to the tree, lit up marijuana cigars, and watched as her body swelled beyond recognition. When it was close to bursting, they "wired" her with a field telephone and electrocuted her. Starkey always said that was about the most creative kill ever. "And the VC terrorist bitch deserved it."
Brownley Harris started to talk about "mad minutes" in Vietnam. If there were answering shots from a village, even one, they would have a "mad minute." All hell would break loose because the answering shots proved that the whole village was VC. After the "mad minute," the village, or what remained of it, would be burned to the ground.
"Let's go into the den, boys," Starkey said. "I'm in the mood for a movie. And I know just the one."
"Any good?" Brownley Harris asked, and grinned. "Scary as hell, I'll tell you that. Makes Hannibal look like a popcorn fart. Scary as any movie you ever saw."
THE THREE OF them headed for the den, their favorite place in the cabin. A long time ago in Vietnam, the trio had been given the code name Three Blind Mice. They had been elite military assassins did what they were told, never asked embarrassing questions, executed their orders. It was still pretty much that way. And they were the best at what they did.
Starkey was the leader, just as he had been in Vietnam. He was the smartest and the toughest. Starkey hadn't changed much physically over the years. He was six-one, had a thirty-three-inch waist and a tan, weathered face, appropriate for his fifty-five years. His blond hair was now peppered with gray. He didn't laugh easily, but when he did, everybody usually laughed with him.
Copyright © 2002 by James Patterson
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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