BY JEREMY RIDDLE
About the author
He was thinking over the events of the last few days, and the grunt seemed appropriate. He had been hanging around in this-and-that region of Guatemala, ducking a murder squad that may or may not have existed, and that may or may not have been seeking revenge on him for an assassination he may or may not have committed. Actually, he had committed the assassination, but the rest he didnít know about. No sense in taking any chances, though. Two days ago, right out of the blue, comes an emissary from a General Alejandro Rojas, knew Oscarís name, and his reputation, and wanted him to put it at stake for a million bucks.
All he had to do was kill some guy, and thatís what heíd done all his life. Who? Thatís where it got weird. They donít really know who. Some guy, they call him the Reaper. Donít know him by any other name. Where is he? Donít know that either, but heís going to show up at the Generalís estate on the first of the month. How do you know? We donít. He said he would. What does he want? To slice off a piece of some gringo mobster whose poppa was a friend of the Generalís. Slice off a piece of him? They gave him the details, and he thought it sounded funny. Oscar had sliced many pieces off many people in his time. He laughed and took the job and promised that Johnny Fabrizzi could slice off whatever part of the Reaper he wanted when Oscar got through with him.
Oscar liked to work alone, but the General told him on this job there would be others involved, people like himself. Mercenaries. Killers. Four others besides Oscar, and the pay will be $5 million distributed equally between them. This was a cynical move on the Generalís part, or so Oscar thought; after the Reaper was taken care of, Rojas probably figured they would kill each other hoping to get a bigger share. He only promised them $1 million, but the implication was unmistakable. He fronted nothing (they got $10,000 in the event of a Reaper no-show). They all took the job under that condition because the bounty was so high, and they would all get their share if any one of them did the job.
A bastard, this Rojas, Oscar thought. I like him.
So here was Oscar, sitting in a tree with a rifle on his lap waiting for someone who may or may not show up, who may or may not even exist.
From his perch, Oscar had a good view of the front of the Generalís compound. It was a full moon, and his night vision equipment was working top shelf. The Generalís other hirelings had positioned themselves here and there about the grounds, but no movement betrayed any of them as Oscar scanned the area again and again. He knew where they were; they had set up a defensive perimeter, each covering a ring of an ever-widening series of circles, with the mansion as its center. Oscar was in the ďGodĒ position, the final ring before the mansion, the highest tree in the immediate area. By simply turning a bit to either side, he had a view of nearly the entire perimeter. And, whether he could see them or not, he knew where the others were.
So here we are, the highest paid security guards on the planet, Oscar thought. What the hell was this really all about, anyway? The General could have hired anyone to do what they were doing tonight, at a fraction of the cost.
ďMr. Fabrizzi wants to make sure he has your full cooperation,Ē Rojas had said.
Oscar scanned the area again for movement, and this time he caught some. It might be nothing, but it looked like something had emerged from the tree-line at the edge of the lawn, then moved quickly back into the shadows. Oscar put down his night-peepers, replaced them with his rifle, its starlight scope making night into day. Scanned the tree-line around the area back and forth, back and forth. Nothing.
Then he saw it.
He couldnít believe it, but there it was, seemingly having appeared from nowhere. It was a man, a big man. Oscar tracked in on him from toe to head. He was wearing a longcoat or a cloak or something like that. Jesus, itís hot as hell out here! Apparently gloves.
He got to the face and froze. It was a blank, no ears, no mouth, and no eyes, though it seemed to be staring right at Oscar, which sent a chill down the killerís spine. Eerie! Oscar found he had trouble focusing on the target. Night vision equipment didnít always offer a clear view, but this was something different entirely, like what he was looking at wasnít really there at all.
Get hold of yourself, asshole. He backed his head away from the scope a bit, rubbed his eye, thumbed the rifleís safety off and looked again. Letís have a million-dollar shot, here.
But the target was gone. Vanished.
He looked this way and that, find him, no luck.
He lowered the rifle, picked up the peepers again. On the ground, someone else had apparently seen something and was crawling toward the treeline. Oscar saw it was Jericho, who must have been hidden very close to the spot where the Reaper had appeared, though Oscar hadnít noticed him.
Jericho was from somewhere on the horn of Africa, a huge brute of a man, at least 320 pounds, Oscar guessed. It was impossible to tell how old he was, and it seemed that every inch of his body was covered with either a tattoo or a scar. He was also easily the most intelligent of Rojasí high-dollar security force and he had become something of a representative for the group in its dealings with the General as a consequence.
A dangerous enemy, he would be, Oscar thought, then sat back hoping to get to see how dangerous.
Jericho apparently wasnít liking getting too close to a darkened treeline that may conceal an enemy. He had dropped back to a slothlike pace, barely even perceptible. He went so far, then stopped completely.
Did he see something?
Then a scream. High-pitched, filled with horror, surprise, agony. It broke the night, rose over the chatter of the jungle in a crescendo, ceased. Abruptly. Oscar turned, scanned the darkness, looking for its source. It had come from the front of the estate, at least a hundred yards from where Jericho was laying. Where Sven was supposed to be.
The idea that the scream may be his sent another chill down Oscarís spine. Oscar had only met him a few days ago, but Sven wasnít one Oscar would ever expect to scream like that. He was quiet, methodical, cold. Grim, thatís the word, Oscar thought. Something in him hinted at a degree of cruelty Oscar had never experienced (and scarcely imagined possible). It gave you the creeps to be in the same room with him.
Wonít have to worry about that any more, I guess, but search as he might he was unable to find Sven, a trace of what may be left of him or the Reaper. Anywhere.
He let out his breath, frustrated, saw Jericho facing the direction of the scream, waiting, watching for something, anything.
It came almost immediately. Gunfire, fully automatic, the muzzle-blasts lighting up the night on the downward slope of the hill from Oscarís post. This would be Robertoís position. Roberto was oddly chosen for this job; he was as deadly as any of the high-dollar security force, but he preferred to bring a more personal touch to his murdersóhe killed with blades. Specifically, he had told Oscar he ďonly carried guns for emergenciesĒ and that ďif you ever hear me use one, itíll be because itís that or be dead.Ē Bluff bullshit, what anybody would regard it as, but it shook up Oscar to remember the words now. Especially after hearing grim Sven scream like a little girl.
The downward slope of the hill was too extreme for Oscar to see what was going on down there, so he just listened. The gunfire was from a single source; it lasted until that source went dry, then a low hiss, a loud grunt, and an apparent clash of steel.
Clash of steel?
Something of a groan, then nothing at all. Oscar scanned around, found Jericho who might be able to see some of the goings-on from his position. He was trying, anyway, looking back and forth with his night peepers, didnít seem to be having any more luck than Oscar.
Then Oscarís luck changed, though he didnít know if it was for the better. Stepping out of the forest behind Jericho was the same black-clad figure he had seen earlier. This was the one they were after, and if Oscar had entertained any doubts, he did so no longer. This was the Reaper.
The Reaper was just standing there, seeming to look down at Jericho. Oscar raised his rifle, sized up the target for a killshot, then stopped.
What the hell is he doing?
Looking through his scope, he saw the Reaper, same unreal distortion as before, drop a blade (a reaper blade) on the ground. The sound of it hitting made Jericho jump, turn, bring his own rifle around, aim it at the ghostly figure. He didnít shoot, though. The Reaper had his hands outstretched from his body, open palmsÖ
A gesture of surrender?
The Reaper seemed to be talking to Jericho, then carefully moved his hand down to open his longcoat, show Jericho the pistols there. Slowly, he pulled them out, dropped them on the ground. He stood there, unmoving.
Jericho lowered his own gun, threw it down.
Oscar thought he understood now. The Reaper was challenging Jericho. He wanted to fight, and Jericho had obliged. Oscar eased off his trigger, settled back to watch the show.
The two moved in a semi-circle, facing one another. Jericho lashed out with a left almost immediately, lightning speed entirely belied by his size. The Reaper took it square on the chin, staggered back a bit, and Jericho threw a right that sent him tumbling to the earth. Give him credit though, the Reaper kept it together enough to roll when he hit, a sort of martial arts move that brought him back to his feet, though a bit wobbly. Jericho stayed at range and fired a vicious kick to the Reaperís chest that sent the apparition to the ground again, this time flat on his ass.
Not so tough as we thought, Oscar mumbled to himself, enjoying the battle.
Jericho offered no quarter, stepped forward and kicked the seated Reaper right in the face, snapping his head back into a vicious collision with the earth. He laughed, a loud, gruff laugh Oscar heard from the distance. The Reaper was unmoving, and Jericho moved in to kick him in the head again, but he rolled away from the big African, staggered to his feet.
Oscar was impressed. No, he was very impressed. The Reaper was a big man, but Jericho had over 100 pounds on him, and any one of the blows Jericho had so far landed could have been fatal, but the smaller man was still trying. It will be a shame to kill this one, Oscar thought.
The Reaper staggered around, circling Jericho, who now stood stationary and simply turned to face his foe whichever direction he moved. Lots of heavy breathing. The Reaper stopped moving, stepped forward, and Jericho fired his right again, found only air; the Reaper ducked under the blow, came up with a right of his own, straight into Jerichoís side. Jericho grunted, but didnít slow down, threw his left this time, and this time the Reaper jumped back out of range to avoid it, jumped back in reach and slammed another right to the same spot. Jericho yelled in pain, loud. Oscar heard it at the distance, shook his head at the Reaperís speed.
This time it was Jericho staggering backward, grasping his side. The Reaper, still not completely steady on his own feet, nevertheless moved in. Two quick jabs and a hook didnít seem to faze Jericho, but the Reaper stayed in range, now in classic boxerís stance.
Left-handed, Oscar noted.
Jericho tried to match the stance, but kept covering his side. The Reaper was patient. He settled into a routine. When Jericho threw a punch, he parried or dodged, then counterpunched, matched the Africanís efforts two- or three-to-one. Jericho got in a few more good shots here and there, but this was not to be his day. In short order, he was staggering, gasping for breath, still clutching his side. Give him credit, though; he didnít go down even once.
In the end, he saw the writing on the wall and went for a knife he had stashed in his boot. No sooner did he get it drawn than the Reaper descended upon him. Broke his wrist, his arm at the elbow, and wrenched the entire thing out of the shoulder socket. Jericho dropped to one knee, and the Reaper snatched the knife, drove it upward through his neck burying it to the hilt in his brain. Jericho was dead before he hit the ground.
Oscar had been frozen, watched it happen without doing anything. It happened so fast. It was several seconds before he could even move. He looked at the Reaper, who had released the lifeless body, pushed it away and left it in a heap. Oscar sighted in right on his chest, exhaled, squeezed the trigger. The slug tagged the Reaper dead in the sternum, blasted him back to the ground as though hit by a sledgehammer.
Oscar had no more than smiled at the thought of the million bucks that would soon be his than smiles disappeared from his face forever. The Reaper stood up, brushed himself off as though recovering from a minor fall, looked right up at Oscar, though it was absolutely impossible that he could see him at this distance. He does see me! The Reaper raised his hand, clenched, thumb and index finger extended as though it were a gun, and Oscar watched in horror as he pointed it directly at him and dropped the thumb-hammer in a gesture of firing.
Suddenly, Oscarís thoughts were on how far away from this place he could get as quickly as possible.
Johnny Fabrizzi was hiding in his closet when the Reaper strode right through the front door of the mansion and walked to his room. Jackson, Johnnyís last high-dollar security guard, was in Johnnyís bed, dressed as him. At the Reaperís appearance, he raised a shotgun, but the Reaper was faster. Two shots from a longslide sent the shotgun tumbling end over end into the corner of the room. Before Jackson could jump to his feet, the Reaper stepped forward, pistol-whipped him.
Jackson fell back on the bed and his Johnny Fabrizzi look-alike wig came off. The Reaper seemed to take notice of this, cocked his head as though examining the fallen assassin. Then he drew his blade, turned toward the closet, in which the real Johnny crouched, watching in horror.
The voice, like that of a godsí: ďLook upon your past and your future, Jonathan Fabrizzi.Ē
Jackson was dressed as Johnny. The Reaper treated him accordingly. First went the hand, then the arm. Johnny closed his eyes, squeezed them tightly, not wanting to see what came next, hearing it nevertheless. Hideous soundsóblade slicing though tissue and bone, agonized screams that turned to animal-like howls, then tapered off into a kind of piteous mewling as the lesson continued on and on. Then silence. What had been Jackson was now a butchered lump of meat, a portrait of the fate awaiting Johnny Fabrizzi. The Reaper finished him off then jerked open the closet door and had his way with Johnny.
Oscar ran, ran as though being pursued by a devil, all reason having left him, not even knowing where he was running to in the vast jungle. Get away. Put distance between himself and the horror that stalked Johnny Fabrizzi.
Oscar had thrown down his rifle as soon as he had dropped out of the tree, shedding its extra wieght. The Reaper came across it a few minutes after dealing with Johnny. He examined it closely. Was he impressed? Turned it this way and that, sighted, worked the action, saw there was one round left. Nodded. All he would need. He slung the rifle over his shoulder, turned, and hiked into the jungle in the direction Oscar had fled.
Death Deals is copyright Jeremy Riddle. It may not be copied or used
for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews.
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