Dedicated to all the men and women who have had the courage to down the uniform, forsaking their own self wants in defense of those they love, country and the innocent.
'I saw, and beheld, a white horse and he who was sitting on it had a bow, and there was given him a crown, and he went forth as a conqueror to conquer.' Apocalypse 6:2
Chapter 1: The Calling.
No one really knew Joseph's background after he had turned twenty, for nearly ten years it seemed that he had fell off the face of the earth. Then six months ago he had returned to his hometown of Helena, Montana. His fellow parishioners had now and then inquired about those missing ten years in which Joe would only reply, 'Intelligence'. Most people in his community understood what that meant and let the subject fade away.
It was like every other morning for Joe, five am wake-up, cup of coffee and two bowls of cereal before going out to the garage to have a cigarette. Refraining from smoking in the house was a habit he had developed several years ago when he had been married. After his routine was over he washed his face, combed his now shoulder length hair and turned on the TV to catch the day's weather. Of course that was his only use for a TV, always the weather and always on mute.
Once the weather was over he put on his boots, refilled his coffee cup and went out on the porch for a breath of the cool crisp March, Montana morning air. Since returning home, Joe spent most of his life reading and occasionally writing this or that, some short stories here and there. Life was slow for him, but he didn't mind, it was what he wanted, what he needed. He had no wife, no children and very few friends. Sometimes though he found himself lonely and depressed, at these moments in his life he always found something to take his mind off those types of thought by taking a walk or hiking, now and then he would paint. Still he would feel as if his home, like his life was empty, void of any and all existence.
When he reenter the house he heard his computer ping, signaling that he had received an e-mail. Slowly he made his way to his computer, he knew who the message was from. One of the only emotional thrills in his life. It was from a woman he had met five years back while he was in Japan. They had become close friends and had stayed in contact. Their relationship had been slowly building and now she was planning to come and visit him in a couple of month.
He clicked the cursor to open the message.
Thank you so much for your letter and pictures. I got them last night when I got home from work. I hope you are doing fine. I have decided that I would like to come to see you next month, if that is okay? I miss you and hope to talk to you soon. Take care.
Of course it was alright Joe thought to himself. Several times in the past he had entertained thoughts of being with her. Even though he wasn't sure of how to reply at the moment. So he just sat there in his chair smiling to himself. This woman had been the monkey wrench in his life. After ten years working in Intelligence and two failed marriages Joe had promised himself that he would forget women and go cold turkey in a sense. On the day he left Japan, he had checked his bags in and when he turned around there she was waiting for him. In the little time they had she expressed her feelings for him. They had had a rocky relationship over the years because of his work, but they always seemed to come back together. For now, Joe just sat there considering with a smile all the possibilities.
Looking out the window toward the lake and the mountains he was brought back to the present, glancing at the clock over his computer he got up and threw on his jacket. Outside he lit up a cigarette and walked down the street to the mail boxes at the end of the street. Living the simple, nearly Spartan life as he does, Joe rarely gets any mail, but there again it was just another daily routine that he takes a pleasure in. Pulling out his keys, he unlocked the box, inside sat an envelope with no stamp and only the name Virgil written in bold type on it's center. Joe stood there for what seemed like hours staring at it as a chill crawled up his back. Finally he took the envelope and stuffed it into his pocket. His mind swirled, his right hand started to shake as memories of the life he had left behind flooded his mind.
He walked around the sub-division as he tried to push the concerns, worries and memories out of his mind. To no avail he returned home, deep down he knew he would have to accept the contents of the messages. He could see the life that he had entertained in his mind with Chisako slipping away. How life could be so cruel, he would never know, but he also knew he could do nothing to change it. In the kitchen he took out a steak knife, opened the envelope and slowly read the contents.
'Dante's Company is being reinstated. Assignment is extraction of an Intelligence officer from Japan. This officer has in her possession documents vital to the Department of Defense. Familiar yourself and your team with Operation Serpent's Fire. In forty eight hours you will report to Malmstrom AFB's Legal Department.
Now Joe's mind started to swim as he tired to make sense of the letter that now laid on his counter. Why was his former team being reinstated for an evac mission? Sure vital documents are involved, but any agency from the State Department to Military Intel could respond a lot faster to this problem. Not only that the men of his unit were now spread out between three countries, America, Korea and Japan. Three of them had wives and children. Whatever these documents were they must be really important to the DoD.
He picked up the letter and places it into the shredder and then takes the results to the garage where he burns them. After burning another cigarette he goes to his guest room closet, pulled out his duffel bag, returned to his room's closet where he opens a false floor. Under the house he opens a muntion's box and starts packing it's contents into the duffel bag. He zipped up the bag he placed it next to the steps and returns to his living room. Sitting in his chair he closed his eyes and lets the memories flood his being.
* * *
Drying himself off Alex took care not to look at his own haunting image in the mirror Grabbing his tags hanging from the towel rack, he held them in clinched fists for his routine silent prayer to the unknown before putting them around his neck. Throwing on his t-shirt and grabbing a fresh pair of starched Dickies from his duffel, he suited up and laced his boots.
Alex breathed through the ever-present frustration that had settled upon his life as he strapped on his watch. Already thirty-five and not a damn thing. 'My, how time seems to pass when you’re living in a hell.'
Lighting up a cigarette, he left his apartment to meet a friend at the near by pub. Damn leg was starting to hurt again.” A block away from the joint, Alex stoped to watch a couple of kids race by on their bikes. Memories of his brother and him riding that way gave him a moment of relief from his daily life of drudgery.
Entering the pub, Alex's nerves and bearing tensed from all the human interaction and years of training. Without looking around, he walked over to their usual table in the corner where two full beer glasses sat. The bartender waved at him and bowed, Alex did the same in return. Moments later, a Vietnamese man joined him at the table.
Alex lifted his glass for his first sip. “Tran.”
“Damn bro, you look like crap.” His friend’s voice was far too deep for his small body and quipped with a slight Vietnamese accent.
“Yeah I feel it.” Alex lifted his glass towards his friend. “Cheers to this day finally being over and I haven't maimed or killed anyone, yet.”
They both chuckled and took a celebrated swig and lit up. Besides the noise of laughter, electronic dart board and the blaring TV, Alex and his friend are unnoticed in their own little world.
“Looks like company.” Alex nods in the direction of a man with military stature scanning the bar.
“Maybe we toasted too soon.”
The medium sized man’s eyes stop on them and with quick steady steps, he makes his way to them.
“Excuse me which one of you is Captain Faulkner?”
“That would be me, and I’m retired so you don't need to call me Captain,” Alex said.
“Yes Sir,” he said.
“Don't need to say sir either.”
“Yes... I mean okay.” The stammered response told of this young man's rank, a Petty Officer. For them, there was no structure or order without yes sir. “I have an urgent message for you Mr. Faulkner.”
Tran grinned. “Looks like the Agency lost another one of their tit suckers.”
The young man hands a sealed file to Alex. Alex eyed the red stamp that said 'Eyes Only'. Man, not this again. He opens it and reads it over a couple of times then puts the document back into the envelope and hands it back to the Petty Officer. “Dismissed.”
“Yes... Mr. Faulkner.” The man turned and left.
“What is it Alex?”
“You know the rumors we heard about that Canadian agent getting whacked in Tokyo?”
“Yeah. What about it?”
“He had a partner who squirreled and went into hiding. They want me to get her out.”
“Looks like I’ll need it if I’m going to be babysitting some girl.” Alex raised his hand to signal the bartender. “You know Tran, I really hate this life sometimes.”
“I hear you Alex. I hear you. So did the file say where she might be, or have a photo? Was she good looking?”
“No, just a four line description and maybe in Kansai. The description was so great that it could be a thousand women just in Osaka alone.”
“So in other words you’re screwed.”
They got their scotch and sat there lost in their own thoughts. Alex reviewed what he had memorized from the document. Four lines. Four freakin lines. A slight commotion started on the other side of the bar. A man forcefully took a hold of one of the female customer's arms, yelling at the guy next to him. The two bartenders tried to calm the aggressor but it seems to only fuel his drunken anger.
“Yours or mine?” Stated Alex with a half cocked grin.
“Have at it Alex.”
Alex stood and lit another cigarette. All eyes locked on the loud mouth, Alex moved freely and without notice until he was within one step of the aggressor. In one flawless move, Alex wrapped the individual up like a constrictor until the man went limp. “Good Night knot-head.” Alex snarls, before dropping the unconscious man to the floor and returning to his friend and drink. It was going to be a long night.
Back at the apartment complex around midnight, Tran paused before heading up the stairs to his own rat hole above Alex’s. “Forgot to tell you, you have a new neighbor.”
“Yeah I know, seen her this morning pass by my window. Not too bad.”
Alex made his way to his apartment, mulling over his new assigned problem. So much for retiring and getting a real life. Would’ve probably killed him anyway. Just the boredom alone. Didn’t mean he couldn’t or shouldn’t have a night with a woman. He couldn't even remember the last time he had been with a woman. Didn’t matter either way. He’d never been a one night stander, and he was all but hopeless in the field of love and romance. It all served to paint his mood a dirty, nastier black.
Ten minutes later, he was standing under a spray of hot water, letting the tension release from his body. It would require something a lot stronger for his mind. He stood till even time melted away and no longer existed for him. Closing his eyes, a thousand fragments of his tortured life come flooding back. He braced his hands on the shower as the hell in his soul came to claim him. He didn’t fight it. He let it rip him apart, punishing the devil he’d become. When he trembled from the penance, he gasped for air, and in that one single point, he founds solace and returned to the present. To live.
Laying down on his beat up mattress with a loss spring that pressed into his kidney he closes his eyes. Despite how hard he fixated on the hellish hunting trip that would begin at dawn, he was still sucked back in time to the bloody fields that haunted his every breathing moment.