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Mercenaries, Misfits, Miscreants and Misanthropes

October 14, 2011

“If you’re on an island at the end of the line and you weren’t born there, you’re either a mercenary, a misfit, a miscreant or a misanthrope.”

I was nursing a beer at a seaside bar when one of the patrons uttered this gem.  I thought about it for some time;  as a way to describe people living on the fringe, it’s absolutely accurate.

There are writers who bemoan the loss of Key West’s character; they say it’s been hijacked by fat cruise ship tourists and tacky T-shirt shops.  They yearn for the days of Hemingway’s Key West, where characters could be found on (and often falling off) every barstool.

Let’s get this straight.  I’m no Hemingway, nor do I purport to follow in his footsteps.  At the same time, I’m a student of human nature, and I love that Key West is populated with “people of texture”.  It beats the hell out of living the homogenized wasteland life of Anytown, USA, replete with its Anystores and its Anyrestaurants patronized by folks living in McMansions.

After a few years, I’ve managed to meet and catalog some folks who lend the catalyst of a story .  Their exploits are the stuff of legend, debunking the theory all the interesting folks disappeared when Papa set sail for Cuba over 70 years ago.  What follows over the next week or so (depending on discipline and output) are a series of four short stories, stories based on encounters with “people of texture”.

The first installment is that of the Mercenary.  Everything in the story is true, save for a slight change in location.  The dialog of the Mercenary is verbatim.  Once experienced,  one does not easily dismiss such things.

I hope you like it.

******************

He enters the open-air bar quietly, no one notices.  He scans the space, cataloging exits, blind spots and potential areas where the less observant would be at a disadvantage if the something went sour.  He chooses his seat carefully; off to the side yet facing the entrances, clear sight lines and a straight shot to either exit.

He folds his six foot, two inch frame with deliberation, placing himself in the seat instead of plopping down as a sunburnt flabby tourist would.  He’s lean, muscled, sinewy; an older man’s craggy head atop a young body.

He sits erect.  Relaxed, but not quite.  “Whaddya havin’, hon?”  The waitress, a slightly paunchy forty something bottle blond in a tank top and shorts asks sweetly.  She plays this game in her head, guessing in advance what each patron orders.

“Sweet tea”.  His response direct, polite, yet slightly curt.  Guessing correctly,  she heads off to the bar to enter the order.

He scans the area again.  Shoulders droop slightly as if to signal all is clear and the area secure.  His tea comes.  He nurses it, listening absentmindedly to the gravelly voice of a wizened guitarist working through a song list memorized a quarter-century earlier.  The entertainment is always new when the faces change every day; no need to fix what ain’t broke.  A musician on autopilot,  the man with his back to the wall notes as he affects a thousand yard stare. His body here, his mind elsewhere.

“BITCH!”

Two tables away, a wiry man in his early 20’s.  Close cropped hair, sunburned skin and bloodshot eyes, his short fuse of a temper made shorter with drink.  He’s with a girl.  Auburn hair, pretty face; her frame carries an extra 30 pounds.  Downcast eyes and slouch tell a story of limited self-esteem.

“I SAID NO!  LOOK AT ME WHEN I’M TALKING TO YOU, BITCH!”  The man rises from his chair, the girl cowers.  He stand over her for a moment, then cocks his right arm.  She raises her arms to protect herself, exposing bruises.

“PUT YOUR FUCKING ARMS DOWN!”

The musician stops, the bar quiets.  It’s just past lunch, security staff not due until four.   A group of college students at a nearby table freeze, uncertain of what to do while mesmerized by the meltdown.

The cocked arm tightens, then strikes the girl in a vicious backhand.  She’s nearly knocked from the chair.  She’s half crying, half mewing.

“PUT ‘EM DOWN!”  He recocks for another blow.

Click.

The sound of a resin chair scrabbling across coral gravel.  Snapped from his reverie by the sound coming from the girl, the man with his back to the wall uncoils.  He closes the distance between his table and the girl’s attacker in a heartbeat – a long jump lunge.

He’s silent.  He grabs the attacker’s left wrist, pulling him backwards and off-balance while placing him an an armlock.  With his other arm, he places the man in a headlock, burying the knuckle of his thumb deep in the ganglion of nerves behind the left earlobe.  The trapped man’s eyes go first wide with surprise, then wild with pain.

“It’s time for you to leave.” The voice is low, measured.  In another place, another situation, it would have been the tone used to answer a question, like, “What time is it?”  In this context it was the sound of a man clearly in control, and capable of much more than subduing an assailant.  Still in armlock/headlock, he escorts the now-compliant attacker outside and around the corner of the kitchen, out of sight.  A single dull thud is heard.  Moments later, the man returns, collects his chair and takes a sip of his ice tea.

“Call the police and let them know what happened”, he tells the college group in the same even voice.  “Tell them the girl’s attacker is behind the kitchen, resting.”  The beaten girl’s eyes grow wide with fear and surprise.  She runs out to check on her abuser.

“Wow! That was AMAZING!  Where did you learn to do that?”  The group’s collective expression is that of shock and awe.

“Marines.”

“Did you serve?” A young girl at the table asks, clearly impressed.

“Yes.”

“Where?  What did you do?”  She presses on, admiring the tanned, muscled forearms of the man.

“Vietnam.  Mekong Delta.  Special operations.”  His tightly controlled expression softens, replaced by a mixture of friendliness and unease.

“Special operations?  What did you do?”  She is a girl-child, firing questions as fast as she can pull the trigger.

He recalls his actions, shifting in his seat with the memory, a memory vivid after 30 years, a memory defining his existence.

“Umm…I did stuff behind the lines.”  He knows where the questions are going; a dark place kept locked up during the day.

She chews on the general nonspecific response for a minute.  Slow realization of his orders and their impact creep across her face as she asks,

“Did you kill anyone?”

He is looking down at his ice tea through the questioning.  As her last syllable fades away, he looks up, takes a deep breath and exhales, releasing tension in his body.  It was an exercise he’d learned a lifetime ago.  “Yes”, in the flat tone used on the girlfriend beater.

“How many?”  Her question the crack of a rifle.   He is unprepared, startled by its directness.  Her friends stiffen and push away from the table, looking at the man with more fear than awe.

He sits for several moments, silent.  The door on the dark place openes, releasing faces, replaying scenes from long ago.  He twitches once and responds.

“I…I don’t know.”

He slumps slightly, the first time he’s let his guard down.  The flashes in his head grow more intense, scenes spinning.  He looks up, eyes focused on something only he can see.

The group at the table slowly digests his answer, first disappointed with the lack of an actuarial accounting of Death, as if the numbers impart a quality to the deed.  The realization he’d lost count of his kills takes hold, as evidenced by the collective widening of eyes.  The man speaks again.

“I killed eight people one afternoon”, he volunteers, the statement cathartic.  He continues.

“With a shovel.”

He gulps his tea, stands up and drops a five dollar bill on the table.  “Excuse me, I have to go”.  He leaves as silently as he came, passing a table of motionless, ashen students on his way out.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 15, 2011 6:38 am

    Wow…Just Wow! This story alone could fill a book if you chose to continue……”The Mercenary”.

    Pheebs

  2. October 16, 2011 8:05 pm

    Powerful stuff.

    • dangerboyandpixie permalink*
      October 16, 2011 10:50 pm

      Thanks.

      I’m still composing the misanthrope piece – although I have a tremendous amount of material.

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