Galda Vera. A cesspool of tropical islands off the coast of it doesn’t matter where. Sunlight invades my putrid shack, waking me for another hangover. Time to patrol paradise, I guess.
Paradise, that’s what it looks like. Endless sun, sparkling water and just enough palm trees to make fresh coconut juice. Sure, that’s what I thought my first day coming off that sea plane, telling myself, “Hey, it looks just like the brochures!” I was being hopeful, but looking back it seems I was just naïve. Did I mention the malaria and hair-splitting boredom?
For my condition of stay in “Paradise” I’m tied to my employer’s rather overwhelming need to keep his business operations off the grid. The global media and several international agencies have been on his back for years now, sticking their noses where they shouldn’t. They brand him many things; unethical, diabolical. Unethical? I think not. Free dental and medical. No annual-leave, of course, but I can’t complain too much about that.
There’s not much for entertainment around here. A few island girls make the rounds, but it’s not worth the crabs. We used to take to terrorising the wildlife, and for a couple of weeks it was fun; wrangling up crocodiles and hunting Bambi, but some of my co-workers just take it too far. Speaking of, where did they get these guys? Not a decent brain among them. The only one who can pass for conversation-worthy spends most of his thought capacity raving on about Jack Bradshaw; some globetrotting international secret agent, and all of Jack’s daring adventures of bringing down criminal operations and bedding all the lovely ladies of the world. Pablo Estobar, Ivan Chavez and Mandibles; all these notable business partners of my employer now just rotting away in jail cells thanks to everybody’s favourite super spy. My friend speaks of Jack like a boy bragging about his cool best friend, and he believes Jack will be coming this way soon; Jack has publicly singled out my employer as his next target. My friend, let’s just call him “Idiot” gets all giddy at this news like a fanatical Japanese schoolgirl.
There’s also a lot of time in Galda Vera to think, but that only leads to regret. I remember laughing at the kids who signed up for military adventures in recruitment stalls they had set up in malls I used to linger in, worlds ago. “Be all you can be!” their war cry pathetically stammered. Give me a break buzz-cut, that’s what I thought at the time. But time’s got a funny way of tipping you over, sending that old moral compass you used to hold onto for dear life free from your grasp, and then what? What do you latch onto then? I eventually ended up enlisting, and yeah, I did learn a few skills, but then after that it became, where to from here? The only skills I had on paper served no purpose in the civ world, and I certainly wasn’t going to grind something out of jarhead pay. So I decided to cut all ties and make for the money. That’s how I ended up here. That’s how I ended up surrounded by brainless Neanderthals for company. I’m not a bad guy. I mean, sure, I’m no saint; I look the other way when they ship the goods off, mostly dragging and screaming, but you’ve got to realise I need to earn a living as well…
My employer is on the island now, seeking shelter in his large, monolithic cement compound (really the only blight on the aesthetically pleasing island). According to Idiot, Jack’s ten-year-old son accidentally received the explosive gift intended for Jack and now the lovely Mr. Bradshaw is on his way to return the favour…
I watch the small waves kiss the sand over and over from my guard post, high up on the Vera’s largest ridge. A snaking restlessness runs through me and I start to miss those idle days of boredom in the endless sun.
Well, Jack came. The radio sparked to life as I lay in my chair, trying to read the only piece of literature available to me: The Model Mercenary, our quarterly newsletter. It was sometime between the shrieks of my co-workers and the ballistic fireworks echoing from the lit-up shipping yard when I began to feel an imminent foresight of my future prospects: absolutely grim. That was last night. Today I wake up drenched in sweat, clutching at my own body if only just to know I was still all there. The radio chatter is dead and the winds continue their peaceful dance across the Vera. With no one to give me orders, I figure I’ll just stay up here till it’s all over. I’m sure Jack won’t mind.
Idiot always talked about the style with which Jack put away his foes, always the classy one, that’s what set him apart from all the others. Tonight I saw the second round of the Jack Bradshaw festivities through shaky binoculars, and I have carefully decided Jack has shed that classy part of himself, instead preferring the old head-on-a-pike routine.
I’ve got all my belongings on me now, and in the back of my mind, away from the sight of Idiot’s smiling head lodged on a stick, I feebly add up the paychecks and tell myself it’s going to be worth it.
The inside of the compound is new to me, it’s cold, industrial manner seeping in and chilling my bones, icing my soul. I wouldn’t normally enter this sanctuary for the wicked, but these are trying times, and we are now desperately understaffed. My superior pats me on the back; he’s just promoted me and wants to tell me about all the new opportunities I’ll be given in my new position—a truly exciting time to work in the industry! This means I’m in the inner circle now, no chance to look the other way anymore. I once thought I could walk away clean with only the money, but the way my superior smiles at me, giving me the thumbs up on doing a great job, I’m beginning to realise they see me as one of their own. Soon they may be right.
Charity, that’s what I’ll do when I get out. Humanitarian missions in Africa, help the needy, stop kids from doing smack, all that shit. There was a man-child in high school I used to pick on. He was a notorious bully, so one day I decided to teach him a real lesson, over and over again until his face was all shades of purple and yellow. At the time, I thought he deserved it, but I was the one who was ultimately punished, I was the one who got kicked out of school. And when I look at where that whole business has led me now, I’m starting to wonder if any of it was worth it.
Please, just let me get out of her alive and I’ll change I swear! I swear!
I carry the cumbersome cage with another fool in uniform and pass our employer in the hall. My Employer yells at me to make sure it all goes down the way he wants it to while he watches on safely from a platform suspended above us. Bastard doesn’t even know my name. I nod forcefully and walk backwards while carrying the cage into the cold grey room with my fellow fool as we exchange a glance of petrified terror before I turn to face Jack Bradshaw, his arms tied up above his head. His face has been beaten, yet I still see those movie star looks that Idiot used to remind me of too many times to count. Standing so close to the harbinger of justice, I weigh up my options: Free Jack and pray he has mercy, go through with this overly elaborate death sequence I’ve seen too many times before in the movies to know it will backfire, or shoot him where he dangles. I linger on the last choice, but the crazed yelling of my maniacal employer suggests I’d face his full wrath if things weren’t done to the letter. “Come on! Let’s just do this,” my fellow fool pleads, his hands shaking as he films it all through a handheld. I bend down and find myself face-to-face with the eternal black eyes of a hissing cobra, poised to kill. I loosen the cage door facing me then make for the other side of the cage to push the snake to its meal. The metal frame scrapes against the floor, grating my ears.
Jack calmly spits blood, and then fixes his own savage eyes upon me. “A cobra, huh. I’ve seen on of those before in Bangladesh. The locals there have this saying…” And in a mix of Bangladesh and god knows what else, the cobra’s head does a complete 180 and joins Jack as they now both stare at me. “Lovely folks taught me how to talk to snakes…”