Thursday, August 27, 2020


     [It’s been a while since my last short story, and something about the title word stirred a few molecules at the back of my brain. It’s a sort of counterpoint to the story told in Deliverance. Tell me what you think. – FWP]

     “Hard livin’s my pleasure,
     “My money’s my own,
     “And them that don’t like me,
     “Can leave me alone.”

     “Why do you keep singing that inane song?” Lyle Worthing grumped.
     Jason Horrocks grinned. “It’s my song, champ.”
     Lyle shook his head, returned his attention to the grill, and flipped the chicken breasts over. He made to do the same for the sirloin steak he’d purchased for Jason when the mercenary said “Don’t bother. I’ll take it as it is.”
     “But it’s still—”
     Jason chuckled. “I know.”
     Lyle shrugged, forked up the unusually rare steak, and plopped it onto the serving platter.
     I could probably serve it to him raw, and he’d smack his lips over it.
     How much of this is just posturing? The soldier for hire reminding us over-civilized types how tough he is?
     Gemma Worthing shouldered the screen door aside and stepped out onto the deck. She set a large platter loaded with sautéed vegetables and a large bowl of teriyaki rice at the center of their glass and wicker dining table, smiled fleetingly at Jason, and returned to the house to fetch the beverages. Jason awarded her backside his customary leer. Lyle strove to restrain his temper.
     “Can’t figure how you bagged a woman that fine, buddy.”
     Lyle grinned. “Just lucky, I guess.”
     “Had to be.” Jason continued to leer toward the screen door as it shut behind Lyle’s wife. “‘Course, in Venezuela—”
     “Yeah, I know,” Lyle said. “They grow ‘em in bunches.”
     “Damn right, buddy. You can pick your own off a tree.” The mercenary settled back in his lawn chair and set his folded hands on his belly.
     So where’s yours?
     Lyle judged the chicken cooked through and loaded it onto a serving platter as Gemma returned with three stemmed glasses, a bottle of Dry Riesling, and Jason’s six-pack of beer.
     Lyle set the platter of meat next to the one with the vegetables. “Dinner is served.” The Worthings seated themselves at their places, steepled their hands, and bowed their heads in prayer.
     Jason groaned mockingly, clambered to his feet with exaggerated difficulty, and joined them.

     Gemma frowned at the receding shape of Jason’s four-by-four.
     “What on Earth moved you to invite him to dinner?”
     Lyle grimaced. “I didn’t. He just...showed up.”
     Gemma’s eyes widened. “Seriously?”
     “He’s been doing it since we were in school.”
     And nobody ever shoos him away.
     “That takes a lot of brass.”
     “He’s got a lot. Always has.”
     “Do you think the stories he was telling—”
     “Are true?” Lyle shrugged. “Probably. It’s what mercenary soldiers do. Some of them anyway, if there’s anything to the accounts I’ve read. And it’s the sort of thing he’d be proud of.”
     I’m just glad you didn’t catch him ogling you.
     She grunted her disapproval. “He certainly kept us up late enough with them.”
     “Are we cleaned up, sweetie?” he said.
     “The dishes are done. Have you covered the grill?”
     “Uh, no. I’ll do that now. And then?”
     “Then,” she said as she encircled his waist with an arm, “I think it will be time for bed.”
     He smiled. “What a good idea.”

     “Fall back!”
     Jason didn’t wait for the lieutenant to repeat himself. The Chavista armor was approaching fast, and his platoon had expended the last of its anti-armor munitions hours before. He scrambled to his feet, slung his rifle across his back, and hightailed it for the relative safety of the jungle. The rest of the unit was close behind him. They kept moving fast until there was a solid quarter mile of densely spaced trees and heavy brush between them and the road command had tasked them to hold.
     That was too fucking close.
     We’re likely to catch a ton of shit from upper...if there’s any upper left after that column hits it. It was headed straight for the main base, and I don’t think that was by chance.
     Maybe we’ll be de-mobed now. No point in hanging around if the folks who sign the paychecks are all dead. Hell, we haven’t seen a penny for more than a year, anyway.
     It wasn’t long before the lieutenant announced that command had been overrun, the rebellion had been quenched, and Jason’s wish had come true. Presently the unit was up and headed to their exfil point and the river craft that awaited them. There were no long faces to be seen among them.      At least I didn’t catch a bullet. Would have been for nothing.

     The pounding on the front door had a familiar quality. Gemma squeezed Lyle’s hand, laid it gently beside him, and went to answer the knock. She opened the door and frowned at the presence of Jason Horrocks.
     The mercenary grinned insolently. “Good to see you, babe. I’m just back from—”
     “From Venezuela?” she murmured. “I understand the rebellion has been crushed and its political figures are all in prison.”
     He grimaced. “Yeah. Won’t be going back there any time soon. Is hubby gonna be grilling tonight?”
     She looked him full in the eyes. The half step backward he took nearly toppled him off the landing.
     “I’m afraid not, Jason. He hasn’t done any grilling for four months.” She produced her coldest smile. “Would you like to see why?”
     Jason’s face clouded. “Well, sure, lead the way.”
     She ushered him in with a wave and led him to the master bedroom. His eyes went wide when his gaze landed on Lyle’s unconscious form and the intravenous lines and monitoring devices attached to it.
     “What the—is he sick?”
     She shook her head. “Not in the usual sense, Jason. He was badly hurt in fighting off a pair of carjackers. Multiple fractures, including one to his skull. The surgeons had to remove his spleen and one of his kidneys, as well.”
     Jason paled. “Holy—but why? Why didn’t he just back away and let them have the car? It’s a piece of shit!”
     “Because,” she murmured, “they wanted what was in the car.”
     “Huh? What was in the car?”
     “Me, Jason. His wife.”
     The mercenary was struck dumb. Gemma noted his stupefaction and nodded.
     “He killed one of them, Jason,” she said pleasantly. “He managed to rip the brute’s throat open with his car keys. But the second one beat him half to death with a length of pipe before he fled.”
     She seated herself next to the bed and took Lyle’s hand in hers again.
     “His fractures have mostly healed, but his coma has persisted. The surgeons don’t know if he’ll ever regain consciousness. They’ve told me not to...hope for too much. All the same, I’m not going to let him go. ‘In sickness and in health,’ you know?”
     She caressed her husband’s hand. “So no, I don’t think we’ll be grilling tonight, the way we used to on Fridays. He gets his nutrition intravenously, and I prefer to bring my dinner in here and sit with him while I eat. Perhaps in a year or so—or do you expect you’ll have gone off to some other war by then?”
     “We go where the action is,” he croaked. “It’s what mercenaries do.”
     She nodded again. “He told me about the ways of your chosen trade. Well, Jason, he did what husbands do. The good ones, anyway. If he ever comes to, I’ll tell him you stopped by, but for now, I think you know the way out.”


     Copyright © 2020 Francis W. Porretto. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

1 comment:

daniel_day said...

I'm looking forward to reading the novel.