Two Lost Souls
A tip of the hat to fellow "Wiseguy" fen.
After Krivas shot his bird in the face, Bodie left Africa the next day. He'd wanted to butcher the bastard and almost had until the rest of the group pulled him off. He wanted to kill them all then, but left before he could, knowing he'd regret killing the others, but never Krivas.
So here he was, in a bar on another continent, but still on the edge of a jungle. He'd woken up like everyone else in Southeast Asia, feeling as if someone had sneaked up to him in the middle of the night and poured honey all over him, then turned on some invisible oven. Bodie had learned that all jungles were the same, it didn't matter where they were.
Sitting at the bar drinking what the locals called beer, Bodie swatted at another king-sized fly and decided that after he finished this job he'd go to the Middle East like he'd originally planned. He was sick of jungles.
A voice behind him speaking Vietnamese made him turn his head only slightly so that he could watch him out of the corner of his eye. The newcomer was not terribly tall or muscular and was obviously very young, but there was something unmistakably dangerous about him. Bodie had seen the look before, that deadness of the eyes. That and his American GI uniform could only mean that he'd just come from In Country. He'd have known by the eyes alone, recognizing the look as one he'd seen in his own mirror, his defense mechanism against whatever lay in wait for him out in the jungle. If you were already dead, they couldn't hurt you.
"He's deaf as a board," Bodie told the newcomer, referring to the ancient barman who was currently busy trying to clean dirty glasses with a dirtier rag and had his back to the room. "You're going to have to talk louder."
The red-haired youth came to stand beside the other older man and reached out to snag the barman by his arm. As he was squaring away with the old man what he wanted to drink, Bodie looked past the American. An attractive Vietnamese woman stood just behind the young man. More than likely, she was a hooker, though she looked to be more than a little past her prime. Hookers anywhere didn't keep their looks long, but hookers in a war zone didn't last at all. Men who killed others and barely missed dying themselves every day a thousand miles from home usually weren't too delicate in certain matters.
"Is there a problem, friend?" the American asked him, stepping between Bodie and the woman protectively.
"You her pimp?" he asked, not really caring, but not liking the tone of voice.
The dead eyes seemed to grow even colder. "She's not a hooker." The accented voice would have stopped the fiercest jungle rat cold.
Bodie wasn't afraid of anyone, though. He'd seen too much death and caused too much himself to be afraid of it. But he decided he wasn't in the mood to die in a dump like this, so he backed down. "Whatever," he shrugged.
The newcomer seemed appeased enough to sit down on a barstool several feet from Bodie after motioning his companion to a seat next to his. "So, you're a Limey, huh?"
The kid was definitely an ambassador of goodwill, Bodie thought. "I was English. Once," he corrected with a wry twist to his lips.
The kid smirked, the freckles that must have been a constant bane to him jumping. "What a coincidence. I was human once." He held out his hand. "Roger."
"Bodie," he said, shaking it.
They sat a few minutes, drinking their respective drinks and not continuing the conversation. Roger was waiting for someone, that was obvious to Bodie. Although the kid was good, better than almost anyone else Bodie'd ever seen, he could tell that the younger man was probably Special Forces. And just the fact that he could tell meant that he hadn't been one for long.
"So, you're a Yank," Bodie said with his best baby-killing smile.
The answering smile was just as cold and almost reached the younger man's eyes. "Whenever possible."
New to Special Forces, but not to combat, Bodie judged, giving a nod of acknowledgement. "Just back from combat?" he asked conversationally, knowing the answer.
"Nah," Roger said with the same edge in his voice that wasn't supposed to be there in one so young. "Just got back from Aunt Bee's bake sale. I'd offer you a cupcake, but Opie ate 'em all."
We're all too young, Bodie thought. "Hope you didn't get a tummy ache."
Roger simply smiled, obviously enjoying the banter. Bodie got the feeling that the kid wasn't used to someone joking with him. Like there was something about him that scared everyone away, including the ones in his unit, maybe. I know that feeling, Bodie thought and was chilled by the idea.
"How long you been out here?" Bodie asked, suddenly genuinely curious.
"I'm starting my second tour," Roger said matter-of-factly.
Uh-oh, Bodie thought. He hadn't figured the kid for being that gung-ho, but anyone re-upping after his first tour of duty in a war zone was either a potential mercenary or a fanatical patriot. Bodie nearly felt disappointed by the idea. The kid was almost as good as dead.
"Why'd you re-up?" Bodie asked, hoping to hear some answer that would make sense.
"I'm defending America."
Fanatical patriot, Bodie realized. His parents had probably pounded it into the kid that nothing was more sacred than the flag and anyone who threatened "Democracy" anywhere threatened their own backyard. It didn't matter that most of the people in this country didn't care a rat's arse about freedom, too concerned with trying to stay alive through one more day of plowing so that they could put never quite enough food on the table to feed everyone. But someone had told the kid that the people in the fields did care and desperately wanted the Americans to come and blow away some of their northern cousins all over their fields. Ladies and gentlemen, man-made natural selection. The one thing Bodie liked about being a mercenary: no politics.
"I hate to tell you this, but America's a little farther than just down the street," Bodie said, almost sadly.
"Maybe," Roger said, his back stiff. "But freedom should be everywhere."
"Whose freedom?" Bodie asked.
The youth finally gave a self-defeating smirk. "Who knows." He seemed to be thinking about something for a second. "I met this guy in a bar in Tokyo about a year ago," he said in a seeming non-sequitur. "Little Irish guy from New Jersey; tough little son of a bitch, too. Had just started his second tour with the paratroopers and already knew that he wanted to be a cop when he got back. I was a little drunk and was strutting around, talking all big about not being afraid to die to Do What Needed to be Done. Mainly because I was scared shitless because I just managed to keep from getting myself killed In Country by about half a second a couple days before. Anyway, this guy was just sitting real quiet at one of the tables while the rest of his buddies were yelling at me to sit down and shut up. I just got louder and more obnoxious. Then this guy just looks at me through these little round glasses of his and says calmly as you please, 'The only ones who aren't afraid of dying, sport, are the people who are too stupid or the people who don't have anything to care about and no one left to care for them.' I sat down right then and shut up." Roger shrugged. "You just remind me of him for some reason. I don't know why, you don't look a thing like him."
Bodie was shaken by the words. He'd known all that before, had said it himself. But for some reason, it struck home this time.
Just then, the door to the bar opened and a short man in a Special Forces uniform stepped in. Roger saw him and stood up. "Captain."
"Get my drink, Lieutenant," the captain told him and walked towards the back of the room and the booths.
Something about the newcomer, other than the fact that he was obviously an officer, made Bodie's skin crawl. There goes a user in the classic style, Bodie thought to himself, knowing who was being used. "Look out for yourself, Roger," he said in parting to the younger man as the red-haired man waited for the old bartender to get his drinks.
"No one else," Roger said with his shit-eating grin.
"Charming, isn't he?" Bodie said to Roger's companion who had yet to speak. In response, she simply nodded and smiled. Bodie turned back to Roger. "No English?"
Suddenly, all the camaraderie that had entered the young man's face during their conversation faded and his voice became even colder than the first time. "No tongue," he said flatly and led the woman back to the booth where the senior officer was sitting.
Bodie watched the pair go and noted the suspicious look on the officer's face as he saw the woman approaching with Roger. The younger man was obviously placating the captain as he sat down; the woman stood several paces behind Roger.
"...The people who are too stupid or the people who have nothing left to care about and no one left to care about them...." The words wouldn't stop going through his mind and Bodie finally decided that he wanted to care again. About something, anything; needed for someone to care about him. He was tired of being unafraid of dying. Bodie was afraid it was already too late for the kid.
He'd do this one last job, then go back to England. Who knew what he'd do there, fighting being the one thing he'd ever done and his family being long gone. But he figured getting out of this humid excuse for a country--and places like it--was a good start and he'd worry about the rest of it once he stood on British soil again.
With one last look at the three people in the corner, and a very unoptimistic, silent "Good luck," to Roger, Bodie stepped from the bar and started walking out of the jungle.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Chalk and Cheese 14, Whatever You Do, Don't Press! (Agent with Style), March 1996