March 21, 2015
The jet streaked through the sky, over—well, heaven only knew. Probably Kansas. Which I definitely didn’t think I was in anymore. The yellow-brick road through Oz, so often traveled by me in my career, once again stretched out before me—this time through the wild blue yonder, instead of on land. Other than that, it was pretty much the same old insane journey.
I was plenty tired, but sleep evaded me nonetheless. I never had gotten back to bed the night before. Maggie decided that the kitchen was a safer place for our talk, and on reflection, I had to agree. Besides, the kitchen had ice cream. We talked for hours. She mostly listened—posing only a very few well thought out questions. The really incredible thing was that she didn’t ask me if I were insane. Matter of fact, she didn’t even look at me that way. A truly amazing woman. I silently thanked my lucky stars for the day I had met her.
Finally morning light found its way through the windows, and we knew it was time to part. She asked that I call a taxi for her as she was aware I would barely have enough time to drive her home and then return to pack.
“Maggie,” I started—but she shushed me.
“Johnny,” she replied, “I’m going to need a little time to think about all this. And I’m going to need to get sleep some too. It’s all a lot to take in. I’m not a fool, and I know that your assignment in Detroit is no small deal either—and I know it’s a dangerous thing too. I’ve spent a lot of sleepless nights in my first marriage, wondering if Bobby Moran were going to be coming home in one piece from his latest deployment, where ever it was. I’m not altogether sure I’m ready to start worrying all over again about another man that I’m in love with. I’m not quite as young as I used to be, Johnny—and I don’t know that I can handle that much heartbreak twice.”
“I understand,” I said. I meant it too.
“Call me when you get into Detroit, will you Johnny? We’ll talk some more then.”
She went upstairs then, to get ready. By the time she came down, the taxi was just pulling into the drive. I walked her out. Her eyes were dry, but sad. I was sorry I was the one that had made them that way.
“I love you Maggie.”
“I love you too Johnny,” she said, giving me a quick kiss on the cheek. Take care of yourself. Okay? I want you coming back to me. All safe and sound—if you would. If you and I are going to have any kind of a future together, that’s the first step. The first item of business. You get back here safe and whole. Then we’ll go from there.”
“I will Maggie. I promise I will.”
“Don’t be too quick to make a promise that you just might not be able to keep,” she said, getting into the cab and closing the door behind her.
The taxi pulled out of the drive and onto the street. And then she was gone too. I was left standing in the middle of the drive, feeling more lost and alone than I had in a long, long time.
I went inside to pack. I had about two hours before my own cab was due to appear—just time enough for me to throw a few things into a bag, grab a bite or two, and then take a look at the material on Howard’s thumb drive. Both he and Matt had told me to watch it before I left. It was my ISIS tutorial. My crash course in madness and insanity 101. It was my wake-up call.
I wasn’t ready for what I saw. I don’t know how anyone ever could be. Had I guessed what would be on that drive, I would have skipped the breakfast. It kept wanting to leave my body again as the horrid images flashed across my computer screen. I was no rookie—either to law enforcement—or life. I had seen plenty of blood and gore. And as Matt had pointed out, I had also waded through my fair share of it. But nothing like this—nothing. I knew by the time the video was finished, I would never get those pictures out of my head. Not if I lived to be a thousand years old.
Not if I lived to be a million.
It started out simply enough. A helpless man, soaked in gasoline, burning to death in a cage. A drum-beat strain of Arabic music accompanied it. It was the latest feature from ISIS—The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. They were quickly becoming the world’s largest purveyor of high quality snuff-films.
The poor bastard was a Jordanian pilot, unlucky enough to have ejected in enemy territory and captured alive. A trail of gasoline led to his cage, thus keeping his cowardly captors from the possibility of being burned themselves as they executed him. As they light it and the flames rush toward the poor helpless man, you can see him take a step or two back, as though there were a way to escape his own personal holocaust. In a moment he is engulfed in flames, and shrieking in his death throes, wildly and hopelessly thrashing and trying to brush the flames away.
The only good news was that it was over quickly—the pilot killed more rapidly by the super-heated and poisonous vapors pouring into his lungs than the flames themselves. In a matter of perhaps ten or fifteen seconds, he falls to his knees and expires. The monsters continue to let his corpse burn for perhaps ten minutes—it literally falling apart, like an overdone roasted chicken. Then a backhoe operator drops several scoops of large rocks and dirt onto the top of the cage, crushing the cage and burying the dead man, and putting out the remaining flames all at the same time.
The spectacle is over. The blood-lust of the crowd is not. The jungle-beat of the Arabic music and the infernal chanting continue for some time, before the final fade to black.
These were certainly not human beings I was watching. They simply couldn’t be. I would have liked to have called them animals, but there was no animal on the face of the earth that I would care to insult that badly. I settled for Orcs and Death-Eaters in my mind instead, deciding that Tolkien and Rowling had it very, very correct indeed. I also didn’t know what kind of a god they could possibly be claiming to follow—except for Satan himself.
Many of these same videos had been available on the Internet for some time for public viewing—but largely sanitized. Not mine—mine was the full unedited version.
The pilot was only the warm-up act, sick pun unintended, by the way. Next up was scene after scene of total, abject, and complete villainy, misery, and despair. A visual catalog of man’s inhumanity to man—in widescreen, high-definition, and full Technicolor horror. Helpless men, their hands tied behind their backs, while ISIS creatures cruelly sawed off their heads with belt knives. It wasn’t over for these poor bastards, nearly as quickly as it was for the pilot. The blood gushed from their horrible wounds, and their legs kicked in a hopeless struggle for life for several minutes as the butchery went on.
In most of the cases, it required a twisting of the nearly decapitated head to separate it from the body. Then, proudly, like a hunter displaying his trophy, the head was placed on the chest of the body, as the blood continued to run in rivers through the desert sand.
I had no idea there was so much blood inside a human body.
Another section of the video showed execution after execution by pistol and rifle shot. Usually administered to the back of the head. But sometimes to the face as well. Hands of the victims firmly tied in all cases. These monsters didn’t much like the idea of someone who might fight back. Sometimes they were single executions. Others, long lines of kneeling bound men, machine gunned all at once—the bullets kicking up sand, at the same time they spread blood and brain matter.
Women weren’t faring too well either, in this part of the world. Rapes, beatings, and mutilations of all sorts and description. Many were murdered as well. Horrid, base, and despicable acts worthy of the worst of Hitler’s Third-Reich monsters from the middle of the twentieth century. It brought a scene to my mind from a movie based on a Stephen King novel called The Dead Zone.
The movie came out in 1983, and starred Christopher Walken as an ordinary guy who has survived a coma and awoken with special psychic abilities. In one of the movie’s most telling scene, he asks a Jewish doctor, played by the late great British actor Herbert Lom, if he had a time machine, and could go back to the nursery room of Adolf Hitler—would he kill the child.
The good doctor considers for a long moment, and then answers—saying that it has been his lifelong desire to help people, to do good in the world. To heal the sick and the lame, save lives, and try to relieve pain where ever possible. It is his mission in life, he explains, to build up and not destroy. To look for and find the good and divine in the human race, and not the base, vile and horrible. In short—to bring light to the world, and not darkness.
For all those reasons, he explains, “I could do only one thing if I were faced with the situation you describe. I would strangle the son-of-a-bitch to death in his cradle.”
Now I knew how he felt.
The worst of the video was saved for the last. The children. Hundreds of them, all Christian children, and nearly all with brown and black skin. It made no difference. This was not a racial or ethnic thing. This was the universal struggle between good and evil—and in this case, good was losing very badly. In one gut wrenching scene, a screaming father nearly out of his mind, holds his dead son—the boy no older than a year or two. Only a small hole in the forehead of the child, but the entire back of his head blown away. A small cantaloupe could easily have been inserted where the child’s brain had been.
Last was the little girl. I would remember it forever—the image burned into my brain and memory until the end of time. She couldn’t have been much more than six, or maybe seven years old, at most. Dressed in a pretty blue dress. White leggings. Black little-girl shoes—with buckle straps. She is lying on her back, dead on the concrete. There is little damage to the body itself. Except for the head. Which is missing entirely. All that is left is a bloody stump—and a life that was—and a life that never would be.
That was it—I couldn’t take any more. I couldn’t watch another second. The sound of a horn blowing in my driveway jerked me out of my stupor and back into the moment. It was my cab—it had arrived, right on time.
Jerking the drive out of the computer and throwing my overnight bag strap over my left shoulder and picking up my suitcase with my right, I made my way to the front door. Opening it up, I held up a single forefinger, signaling that I needed another minute. The cabbie nodded his head affirmatively.
Turning back and walking into my study, I quickly removed the picture covering my safe, and dialed in the combination. In a second, I tossed in the computer thumb-drive. Just as quickly I extracted Howard’s forty caliber Glock—and the special ammo. I carefully placed it all into my bag. Then, reaching once more into the safe, I picked up Matthew Mason McCabe’s golden magic pocket-watch, and deposited it into my left inside sport-coat breast pocket.
Like the famous monkey’s paw—I could have sworn it squirmed in my hand.
I slammed the safe door shut, spun the dial, and replaced the picture. Then I walked out to my cab, dressed at last, to kill—and, as Matt McCabe, Howard Carter and the President of the United States knew I would, at last be—the perfect killing machine.
Thanks so much for reading. Up next time, an Indie Author Profile from the world of Romance . . . Felix Alexander.
Until then – Goodnight.
Dumb Joke of the Day . . .