Someone threw up on my combat boots but it still couldn’t tear me away from the bodies laid out and putrefying in the Brazilian sun. The youngest girl still had the pink ribbon in her hair I had tied on yesterday afternoon. It was the only tangible evidence of who I was looking at. Cheetoh came to my side silently. His breath was rasping from the smoke near the incinerator, the smell of blood and old sweat mixing with the char.
“How about it, Sorrow or revenge.” I said quietly so that the others jostling me wouldn’t hear. Cheetoh alone had the choice I wouldn’t do it for anyone else.
“Leave the women and children out of it.” He replied staring at the girl who begged him for marriage. Her arms were too disfigured to allow her hands to properly rest on her chest.
“Gather all who are willing to fight. I’ll get the local Tanakas here for support.” I said softly and turned to go. Cheetoh grabbed my arm. I stopped waiting for his words but he only gave me a gentle squeeze that let me feel his gratitude. The wailing started when the women were allowed forward.
Code named “The Leprechaun,” otherwise known as the Leper, was droning on about the project I had authorized but was now beginning to regret. I fought to keep my eyes from glassing over or rolling as he started showing the first signs of passion. It was always the same, he would come in and rattle off his numbers in his status reports and then start in on what he wanted to do going forward. That’s when the cocoon shattered and the psycho-nerd butterfly emerged and he didn’t stop flapping until I squashed him. I smacked the desk and he cut off and stared apprehensively.
“The game is up right?”
“Yes sir,” he said blinking rapidly. I really hoped he didn’t start crying this time.
“Is it functional for the money laundering scam?”
“So why are you going on about it. You did as instructed and you’ll get your share. Why are you still talking about added content to the online game?” He slid a one page report across to me. It had a long column of numbers on it and it was the beginnings of a profit/loss statement. The final tallies were missing and I looked at him inquiringly. I must have had a severe expression because he flinched and actually brought his hands up as if I would strike him. He gave me a sheepish turning over gesture. I flipped the page and glanced down and then bent over the paper in shock.
The stupid multiplayer online game in one month had exceeded the projections for the money laundering for the entire year. I looked up at the Leper with a big smile. I almost declared him clean for the public on the spot, but then I would have to explain; this was no time to make fun of my little genius who might turn me almost legitimate.
“You can use forty percent of the profits for redevelopment. The rest will be spread around in profit sharing for the team working on it. Bring in as many as you need that aren’t already busy.”
“How much is your cut sir?” The Leper asked dejectedly. He probably wanted all the profits for generating new content.
“The same as everyone else. I want it standard across the board.” The Leper looked up in surprise at that. “Of course the money laundering part of it won’t change.” I said hurriedly. It didn’t seem to affect him. My scramble phone rang and I looked at it nervously. Nothing good ever came from that phone and I didn’t want to ruin my good mood.
“I have to take this. Thanks for your hard work.” I said in dismissal. The Leper gathered his stuff and fled. He probably thought that his evil cousin might change his mind if he had a chance to reconsider. I dug the phone out of the locked drawer and opened it and only dimly registered that the number was unfamiliar.
“It’s me,” Nina said. I nearly dropped the phone. I hadn’t seen her since the last day of school and wasn’t even sure if she was alive. Relief flooded through me and muscles I didn’t know I had started to relax. Part of the evil cousin mystique bandied about was in large part due to my irritation that I didn’t know what happened to Nina that day.
“Why the hell did you wait so long to call me?” I shouted before I remembered who I was talking to. There was a long silence on the other end. I opened my mouth ready to apologize.
“I was busy. The guys that gave me a lift from school have some family problems. I need a favor to help resolve the issue.”
“Sure, what do you need?” I asked and silently swelled that she actually called me for help. Nina wasn’t the kind of girl that liked relying on anyone for anything.
“Pretty standard stuff really. I need assault rifles, grenades, mortars if you can get some, and plenty of napalm. It doesn’t have to be the good stuff just make sure the delivery system is idiot proof as you can manage. Oh yeah and some high grade sniper rifles would be great and make sure all the guns have fire suppression.”
“I’d have thought you wouldn’t get involved in another family feud. You’re already elbow deep in that sort of trouble.” I said trying to lighten the mood. Her brooding tone was starting to freak me out and the hardware wasn’t something you took to a family picnic.
“Not that kind of issue. He is out of family members and that’s the issue. Check your email.” As if on cue my computer bleeped at me and I opened the email. There was no subject and no body but there was a picture. I only glanced at it so I wouldn’t spend the next minute or so rediscovering what I had for lunch.
“Where do you want the stuff and when?” It was all I could manage.
“You’ll get another email with details tomorrow along with payment.”
“I can bankroll you if you need. How about mercs? I can send you some guys.” Nina’s cavalier attitude did a number on a boy’s machismo.
“Mercenaries would bring down CIA heat, and I don’t want to burn this place as a refuge.” She said neatly without mentioning that the Smith’s would burn her haven to the ground to find her. I knew for a fact that several of the aggressive family were given high clearance in the CIA.
“Watch yourself Fritz. It was easy to get this number and your email.” She said and the phone went dead. I leaned back in my chair and struggled not to trace the call. Nina would have taken care of that but the desire to have a solid point of contact was strong. I grabbed my desk phone to call in the only two family members I trusted to give them the good news.
The virgin jungle was cleared in a matter of days and the men and women were already being trained by the Tanakas. I would have left the villagers out of it all together but it seemed unfair. It was their own country after all and I couldn’t deny them their revenge. Not for the first time I marveled at how quick and efficient the Tanaka members were. Even exiled to Brazil they had kept up their traditions and still served me as well as their ancestors served mine.
My uncle Shiro was supposed to have called by now and he was behaving rather squirrelly on the phone last we chatted. I knew he was up to something to safeguard me in the upcoming attack but I couldn’t imagine what it was. The main Tanaka force in Japan would stick out like a polar bear in the Sahara. I didn’t have time to worry about it but I hoped he wouldn’t do something stupid like use Fritz to help me in a blind email. I would just have to stay in constant contact with him to make sure. The jungle suddenly felt a little warmer and I fought down the butterflies in my stomach. I should have eaten more at lunch. Guerilla work always required more energy.
Cheetoh jogged by with a newly formed squad and I fought down the urge to tell him to cut off those orange dreadlocks again. Of course if he did I wouldn’t be sure what to call him anymore and I had forgotten his real name. An image of Fritz with orange hair came unbidden into my mind and I fought to keep the severe expression on my face. A young woman who had been staring at me in adoration screwed up her face in concern. I glared at her until she scurried off with food and water for the troops.
My office door slammed open and my hand slid under my desk to the pistol I had there and brought it up. Grace advanced on me and I angled the gun to one side in relief. Grace was one of few I wouldn’t shoot on sight if they entered my office that way. Grace reached over the desk and pulled me out of my chair and she casually disarmed me in my shock.
“Why did you send Hans to Central America with two teams of mercenaries and enough firepower to attract the attention of every sovereign nation with an itch to hit the big red button?” I squirmed in her grip but gave up and did my best to look innocent. I really was, but I wasn’t used to it.
“The mercenaries were supposed to be in reserve for Nina. I told Hans about it but I didn’t give him orders to do anything with them.” Grace slapped her hand down on the table and released me and marched around the desk. She was casually carrying my gun in her hand and all my concentration was focused on not getting shot with my own gun. Grace started banging on my computer and I had enough time to wonder if there was a backup keyboard and mouse in the office before she pointed at the screen imperiously. Confused I peered at the screen while trying to keep an eye on Grace’s gun hand. Sure enough there was my authorization for Hans to use the forces I had allocated on standby.
“I didn’t do it. You know Hans has my clearance to expedite stuff. You do too come to think of it. He’s acting on his own initiative and I want to know why.” Grace relaxed and her face took on a worried expression.
“I tried calling him but he’s not answering either phone.” I nodded and was going to have a long hard talk with Grace and Hans about professionalism. I didn’t mind that they started dating but if it was going to get me shot every time things got sticky I would have to reconsider my position.
“I’ll contact him and let you know what I find out.”
“The hell you will,” She said in challenge. I sighed and started going through the complicated coded system me and Hans communicated in. Several text messages later Hans rang my phone.
“Your girlfriend nearly shot me because of you.” I said without preamble. A snort of laughter was my reply. “Tell me what I want to know before I have to label my own brother as a rogue.”
“Nina’s uncle contacted me through a blind. He must have hacked your email and pulled my contact info. I’m going to run interference for Nina during her operation. When I am done, nobody will care what she is up to.” I thought about this for a minute but Grace had veins pulsing dangerously.
“What if you get caught in the open?” I asked pointedly.
“I’ll be miles away. You know I don’t like the front lines. I just like to be close enough to see the carnage.” I looked at Grace and shrugged. I had the phone on speaker but she snatched it out of my hand anyways.
“If you endanger yourself or us I will personally kill you.” She snapped into the phone.
“I love you too honey. Have an apple pie waiting for me when I get back.” Grace broke the connection. Hans was certainly going to pay for that little comment. I suspected he knew it but he was probably hoping that if he did get killed it would dull the pain a little which had me worried. Grace stomped out of the office without looking back. I wondered who was going to be my go between now with the rest of the family. I sighed and started towards the door preparing in my mind how I was going to deal with The Leper when I got to his cubicle.
There was something crawling up my inner-thigh and it really tickled. I sighted down the barrel of my shiny new L96 sniper rifle. This wasn’t easy while gripping the tree branch with my legs and resting the barrel on another branch. The house set a quarter mile from the fence still had the lights on and my target was just sitting down at his desk in the study. I checked the wind one last time and gave my scope an extra click. I fired and was rewarded with a clean hit. It wasn’t in the head like I wanted but shooting a fifty caliber bullet through someone’s neck is just as fatal. I hopped out of the tree and dug in my pants for the offending critter and crushed the life out of it. That was my second target of the night and the security wasn’t too bad. I had about half an hour at least before they would find my firing position. I jogged down the animal track and to the stream where my boat was waiting.
Fritz didn’t like my tactics of picking off the small fries first but he liked only messing with the people at the top. When it came to drugs there was always someone ready to take over. The only way to make sure it stopped was to completely eradicate the supply and everyone involved in distribution or you accomplished nothing.
When I finally arrived back at camp Cheetoh came up at a dead run. He bent over panting as I collected my gear and stared down at him expectantly.
“All the big guys have sent their families out of the country and all the shot callers are gathered at the main house to figure out what to do.” He had a broad grin on his face and a little wonder that my plan came off so well.
“How are the men?”
“They won’t shoot each other.”
“Good enough, tell them to be ready. Tomorrow night we go and get your lives back.”
I went to my hut and took a bath and washed the jungle off of me and only then did I sit and check my phone. I called Shiro first.
“I thought you didn’t like my alliance with the Germans.”
“They were useful.” Shiro said without a trace of concern.
“You disapproved of me dating one readily enough.”
“Business is one thing…”
“Don’t give me that crap. If they are good enough to die for me, they are good enough to date me. If you deal with my contacts one more time without my authorization that’s it. I will cut ties. I’m not a little girl anymore and I think the way the school went down you would appreciate that.” I hung up before I said something worse. I didn’t even really like Hans until now. I thought he wasn’t much more than a pain in the ass and I told Grace she should tell him to take a hike more than once. If he was willing to risk himself in this way though, maybe Grace was on to something. Fritz believed in him but Hans made me nervous and this operation didn’t shake that feeling.
I didn’t reply to Fritz’s email. I didn’t trust myself to. I felt ashamed that his brother was risking his life for one of my obligations. I was paying one debt just to accrue another. The vicious cycle felt like a stain I couldn’t wash away. I went back to the bathroom for another bath. I wasn’t sure if it was just jungle that was making me feel unclean.
I was in my newly finished war room watching my brother giving CNN news anchors fits. The UN was going into special session and the President of the US was declaiming the actions of my brother while parental and religious activists were proclaiming the second coming of Christ. Video streaming sites were trying hell for leather to take down Hans’ homemade documentaries of the wanton destruction. Poppies and coca plants were burning by the thousands and paramilitary troops from the CIA’s bucket list were being slaughtered in dirty inhumane ways that the world powers found distasteful for their citizens to consume.
The true political cannon ball to the crotch was the two CIA agents killed defending the illegal plants. It was broadcast across the world before the NSA could scream national security. As much as I hate my brother’s methods he was truly a visionary when it came to misbehaving. The people were cheering him on and the establishment was creating new adjectives and nouns to describe their utter contempt.
Grace joined me and decided her namesake was inconvenient for the day and alternated between sobs and sacrificing my high dollar electronics to the God of Google in hopes to spare my brother’s life. I tried to keep her fed with small cheap devices that were easily replaced so I wouldn’t lose the news feeds I needed. The bank of televisions and computer monitors had so far escaped her wrath but I was running out of remote controls and pre pay phones. My only solace was the disturbing amount of cash dumped into my account presumably by Nina’s uncle. If it cost me my brother though, our alliance was going to be pretty hazy moving forward.
There was a decided lack of plastic and circuitry genocide for going on fifteen seconds and I spared an eye to check on Grace to make sure she wasn’t picking up anything heavier. She sat sobbing her eyes glued to the television in apparent acceptance. I took a seat beside her and threw an arm around her. She buried her face in my shoulder and I could swear she daintily wiped her nose on my suit coat but I graciously let it pass. We sat and watched and the emotions crossing our faces matched the shifting screens of the news feed.
More domestic policy should be solved with the public at large with a stockpile of mortar rounds and the politicians using the words that got them elected. The compound was close to a mile across and the security had been wiped out in the first half hour. Children were running gleefully across the back of the line with shells and machine gun rounds. I kept them out of range from the opposition’s defenses but it was an effort. Father and daughter reloading together and Mother and son sniper teams were ruling the day.
The house on the hill was now in range of the mortars and we were hitting it hard. Men wielding small arms periodically ran from cover heading to the vehicles and went down in a hail of bullets. The constant barrage of sniper fire over the past week had stripped the defenses bare of the fields and they were ablaze with the smoke curling in almost every direction.
The offensive was only about an hour and a half in and the reserves had come into relieve the first wave. Fresh enthusiastic explosives and bullets went tearing through the main house and waiting vehicles. Two walls of the main house finally buckled and whoops of joy went up. I finally called a cease fire and Cheetoh’s team and the Tanaka’s and I moved forward to clear the area surrounding the main house.
I was just clearing one of the cocaine refineries when a guy in a bloodied suit came out of a back room rushed me and knocked away my weapon and buried his knife in my forearm. He stayed close to keep others from shooting. He had one arm wrapped around my neck and a gun pressed into my neck. I pulled the knife and jammed it in his wrist holding the gun. I did it with enough force to push the gun off my nick but it still went off and the guys head exploded giving Cheetoh a brain and blood facial.
The body still managed to push me to the ground and it took a while to get out from under it. I was tying a bandage around my arm with the help of a Tanaka when I saw the look on Cheetoh’s face. He looked like a murderous clown who went off his meds with the blood and orange dreadlocks.
“That was the guy who took Machita’s wife and kids.” He said somberly but with a vicious smile cracking his lips. The blood was visible on his teeth and the scene made me wish I could be a normal girl that could throw up at such a sight. With my past and friendships it wasn’t even worth a wet burp.
Cheetoh and I clumped outside and let the rest of the team clear the last building. Cheetoh was walking with a limp. Other than us, there was only one other casualty. A boy had ran to a forward position and taken a bullet in the butt on the return trip. Last I had scene he had many of the village girls playing nurse.
“What happened to you?” I asked Cheetoh casually. He adopted a defensive posture and shrugged.
“I twisted my ankle coming through the fence.” He said sheepishly.
“Remind me to never let you train troops again.” I said with a smirk. He snorted and clapped me on the back.
“Remind me to never clear a building with you again.” I gave him a severe look that usually sent people’s skin to crawling but Cheetoh just widened his grin and slapped me on the back again. I signaled the troops forward for clean up and egress before the political puppets sent the army after us.
Hans peeked through the door and gave me a searching look before oozing in and shutting the door quietly. Grace’s office was next door and Hans had a haunted cast to his face but his eyes were shining and I doubted I would get an apology.
“You outdid yourself this time bro.” I said mildly.
“No one knew it was me. Not even the mercenaries.” He said defensively.
“Not true, Nina’s uncle knew you did it and now he’s got something on you. You just put us at a distinct disadvantage with the Souh’s.” Hans looked abashed and penitent which was more than a little shocking. I might get that apology after all.
“So what is your punishment?”
“It’s already been carried out.” I turned the phone around and showed him the light to Grace’s office was on and she had been listening in. It was sheer coincidence that Hans walked in when he did but let him think I had the upper hand. It might even keep me from having to keep too close tabs on him. The only reason Grace had taken so long was she was probably looking for all the weapons she had stashed in her office. I had disarmed her just in case and when she came through the door and launched herself at Hans I was kind of glad I did.
I left the office skirting the walls so I wouldn’t be drawn into the melee. The Leper had a fresh financial report that would probably allow me to use the laundering money to buy out all our families’ financial interests in the next six months. Life was looking up for me. The high pitch squeal told me that Grace had Hans well in hand and the rest of our cousins had some new found respect for us. Now if I could only get my girlfriend out of firefights long enough for a date I could almost be content.