The night breathed around him, sending cool air rushing over his bare arms. Sweat dripped from his nose, soaking his shirt, coating his hands so that he continually wiped them on the one dry patch on his pants cuffs. Off to his right a stick cracked, followed by a sharp grunt- that would have to be Danner. The guy couldn’t move three feet without tripping over his own boots. Martin clicked his cricket, two fast clicks followed by one slow one. Essentially, shut up and keep still. Mosquitos fluttered and whined around him, eager to drink his blood but not so eager to fly past the repellent he’d coated himself in before takeoff. West Nile virus was no joke in these parts.
A soft stuttering in the east, faint but growing, came their way. As the stutter increased to a roar, a helicopter came in low and fast, circling the area where Danner and Martin lay concealed in the bushes. Martin pulled out his light, snapped on the red filter, and ran to the middle of the clearing where he began flashing the light at the black mass of the chopper. The Huey gently lowered itself, runners barely a foot off the ground. Martin jumped on board, followed by Danner, who nearly slipped off the runner trying to scramble through the door. The chopper pulled up and away, hugging the ground as it wove through the mountains and valleys. Martin took his station in the copilot’s seat next to Felipe, and Danner sat by the mounted M-2. The metal skin of the chopper vibrated in rhythm to the thrum of the engines.
“You get them?” Felipe asked.
Martin nodded tersely. The instruments glowed soft green. Fuel, good. Trim, good. RPMs, normal. Temperature, normal. Martin stared blankly out the window on his right. They had been doing this for what, ten, twelve years now? Fly in, hit the target, fly out, get the money, go home and try to live a normal life until the next job. He was so tired. Three straight missions in as many days. After this one, he was going straight home to a hot shower and bed. Unless, of course, someone had managed to pick them up, in which case they would be halfway around the world by sunup. That was a major disadvantage to carrying out ops close to your home range- if they found you, you had to go somewhere else, whereas attacking further out gave you the option of returning home as a safe base.
The sky was turning soft grey, with tinges of purple and pink brushing the clouds that floated overhead in the early dawn. The chopper landed in a swirling cloud of dust, navigation lights winking. Anderson, the mechanic, strolled out to meet them. As the engines wound down, Martin was the first out of the chopper, knapsack hung over one shoulder, rifle in his arm.
“D’you get them, Martin?”
“Yeah. For what they’re worth. How much are they worth, anyway?”
“For us, that’s two million.”
“Then they’re probably worth at least ten to whoever wants them. Crumbs, that’s what we get, just the leftovers.”
Martin stumbled wearily to the small SUV parked in front of the hidden hangar. Anderson and Felipe cast worried looks at each other. Felipe tossed his flight helmet in a corner of the hidden hangar and walked over to the car. Danner, realizing that now was not the best time to crack a joke, waited silently in the background. At twenty-three, Danner was the youngest guy and a greenhorn compared to the rest of the gang. However, he stayed on because he had a knack for doing something totally incorrect at the right time and saving a mission gone bad. Plus, he was a dead shot with nearly any weapon, not sniper material but definitely deadly, so he stayed on despite his misplaced humor and clumsy gait.
Anderson stayed at the field as usual to check over the chopper and have it ready to go on their next flight, and to cover the entrance to the hangar. From the air, the landing site appeared to be a bare dirt clearing in the middle of the woods, the kind kids might ride out to in the evenings and race their four-wheelers on. Only, the land was private, and no one got past the front gate without a key. The hangar was a tunnel in the side of a nearby hill. Felipe, Danner and Martin drove off, the dust billowing out from under the mud flaps and hanging lazily in the air over the trail. Martin clutched the knapsack tight to his chest. Two million dollars for one dead man and three floppy disks. What a rip-off. He should have bargained for at least five. But what was done was done, and the dead inevitably stayed so.
It was a two-hour drive into the town, and another thirty minutes to the run-down ghetto where they were supposed to meet their client. It was a ghetto in a ghetto, and Martin felt for the reassuring coolness of the pistol strapped on his thigh. Felipe and Danner wore their pistols high up, on their belts, but Martin preferred to have his low, with the tip of the holstered butt just above his wrist. A faster draw, with virtually nil reaction time needed to pull it. The tattered remains of old seats pulled from junk cars and used as porch furniture competed for space with the dogs, the dirty kids, the piles of cans and bottles, building materials brought at some forgotten date to repair buildings beyond repair, and the inevitable collection of fix-up cars. Everyone in suburbs such as these thought of themselves as mechanics, and manifested it in the astounding number of rusted and battered hulks they could cram into their front yards.
What our judges thought:
You’ve set up a very interesting scenario here, and it’s within a genre that sells and creates a career.
This entry surprised me with its mature understanding of character and motivation. I felt like it started and ended in the right place, and maintained the right combination of detail and dialogue. What could have been all action and testosterone was surprisingly full of insight.
There is so much about this entry that I like. I like the MC's voice and the subject matter. The writing flows nicely as well.