People of the internet: how are you? Well that’s good. So, I have something for you. Gotta slip into pimp-mode for a minute and throw up the first chapter of my new story, which just came out, which you can get right here.
Without any further ado:
A Few Years from Now
I only drink after I kill. Which made this beer my first in five weeks. The bartender noticed the bandage sticking out from under my left sleeve; my arm was sliced up from the wrist to the elbow. He didn’t say anything about it.
I took the tall glass and drifted loose from the bar. Laid claim to a marble two-top in the back. This bar was really dim, like all the five-star joints tended to be. I studied the cast of characters populating the place. All of them foreigners, like me. Lacquer-haired Japanese men doing business over trays of shots. A chubby American couple gnawing steaks. A fit Spanish man in a slim suit in the corner booth, blowing smoke into a woman’s mouth. They were both giggling.
Everyone together, with me alone on the periphery. Just how it always was. I took a pull from my glass. Some hazy blonde brew. It wasn’t that great. I’d try something else after this. My rule is one drink per kill, period. Usually that only affords me a single beer, but with this job I’d earned more than one. Significantly more. Things had gone sideways, and then they went sideways again, and I had to stay busy on the trigger to get myself out of dodge.
The one-drink limit is because I like beer and discipline in almost equal measure. And it’s also to give myself something to do when I’m sitting alone after the action stops. If you want to do my job, then you can’t really have any friends.
I was drinking with my right hand because my left hand was too hurt to curl. Not ideal, because I’m like most people and the right hand is the one I shoot with. Not ideal, because I had to shoot a guy in a bar once, and there’s a second time for everything.
The wallscreen above the bar showed war. Or at least the aftermath of it. An embedded reporter stood on a muddy road, wearing a practiced look of concern and a stupid floppy hat. Smoke pillars blotted out the cityscape behind him. Every few sentences he’d duck low as he heard the spit of faraway gunfire. I could see him thinking that his ducking would look really cool in a highlight reel. Anyway, I knew the city in the video very well. It was called Juba, and it was the old capital of South Sudan. I was the only one in the bar watching.
“Now this one,” said a voice, “has the Blue Berets stumped.”
Someone had snuck up next to me. And no one is supposed to be able to do that to me.
If you want my job then you have to be the kind of guy who sees everything. The guys who don’t or can’t do that are the ones who get mopped off the floor after the shooting.
The newcomer’s voice was American and it belonged to a woman. She’d come from the far end of the bar and approached from my three o’clock. And she’d gotten all the way to my table before I saw her.
I looked at her and tried to affect nonchalance. She was in a boardroom-issue black blazer. Mid-thirties and loose auburn hair. She carried a neat whiskey in her left hand. A left hand with no ring, and no tan line that would indicate that a hypothetical ring was taking the night off.
“Twelve days after Bosem Deng takes Juba, he loses it again,” she told me. “There was smoke, there was fire, there was shooting. And then Deng disappears. That’s all well and good, but then we have to wonder: who started all the smoke and fire and shooting?”
Probably the most important part of my job is not letting anyone find out about it. So I lowered my eyebrows and bobbed my head around a bit. Like dumb guys do when they’re trying to look smart.
“Good question. Maybe the government?” I said. I was a smart guy, trying to look dumb, and I was finding it kind of hard.
“That’s what everyone thought at first,” she told me. “But government forces didn’t arrive until the morning after.”
This woman had proven herself a thousand times more interesting than any of the other nine billion people on this planet. Because she was pretty smart: She knew that “Blue Berets” was a nickname for UN Peacekeepers and she knew that Colonel Bosem Deng was the rebel leader hell-bent on completing a coup of South Sudan. She also seemed to have a sense of how these things worked: that warlords don’t go down easy. They clamp on to power like a pit bull and usually the only way to send them to hell is to burn the whole city down around them.
She looked straight at me for the first time. “Overnight, a complete reversal of power,” she said. “I see an effect without a cause.”
I liked her eyes. They were deep blue and there was something eager in them. She was using them the same way I use mine. To vacuum up information.
So I turned my head back to the screen. “Well, maybe our friend with the hat can solve the mystery.”
She set down her glass on my table. A definitive move. Like she was colonizing it. “Maybe you don’t need him to,” she said.
I did a few things at the same time. I took my hand off my beer as I shifted to face her. And I did a sweep of the exits. There were two. At a dead sprint I could get to either one of them in three seconds.
She was right. I didn’t need anyone to tell me what happened. Because I had been in Juba two days ago, and I was the one who started all the smoke and fire and shooting.