Roger had been my spotter for almost two years. He was a good man and did all the right things. He watched my back while I was in the void and he was damn good with the range. I never had to second-guess him when he called out a target. Together he and I had hunted fourteen targets and collected thirty-one confirmed kills. It should have only been fourteen kills, but the shit really hit the fan during that Bosnian fiasco.
Anyway, he was a good friend and I'm gonna miss him something awful. Two weeks ago he fell off a second floor balcony of a shitty hotel. He fell fourteen feet and landed on his head not more than a foot from the edge of the pool. Fourteen, huh, I wonder it that's a coincidence? The official report said he lost his footing while drunk and tripped. It's close enough to the real story to print in the paper. The Sheriff told me Roger was crouched up on the railing, drilling a cheap whore when he "Got all excited, lost his bearings and fell backwards." The sheer irony of a hardened combat veteran loosing it in such a ridiculous manner would make me laugh, if it hadn't been my partner that got wasted.
Roger's ol lady made it clear that I wasn't welcome at the funeral. She always seemed to blame me for their time apart and the problems they had keeping in touch, like it was my fault he volunteered and was forced to traipse all over the world doing someone else's dirty work. Her resentment made me feel like an embittered old fuck as I watched the ceremony through binoculars. In a way, I'm glad she forced me to watch the ceremony this way. Lying on my belly in my dress blues, staring through the lenses from a nearby rooftop almost seemed the best way to honor Roger's service to me. When they raised the scarlet, white and blue from his coffin, I stood, saluted and put it all behind me. Roger was a good spotter, but he had been my fifth. They come and they go, but they don't always die.
Ten days of mandatory leave, a full physical and a psych evaluation later I was standing tall in the Directors office listening to the most exquisite fucking shit load I'd ever heard. I was bubbling at the collar and probably beat red with veins popping out like a handful of night crawlers.
"I can tell you aren't really pleased about this Major," the director had never really impressed me as observant, "I know this may sound unfair, and in light of your service I'd like to hear your objections."
When I spoke I had to clench my teeth. "Permission to speak freely?"
"Of course, of course. I wouldn't have asked if..."
"You're a dick." Out of the corner of my eye I could see Colonel Carlile. His eyes bugged out and the corners of his mouth twisted up. I could almost hear him choking. "I ain't no goddamn babysitter and I don't have the patience to coddle a bunch of needle dick, over zealous tits, straight out of Quantico! So, with all due respect you cock knocking puppy lover, I want another spotter, I want another field assignment, and I want them right fucking now! Sir."
Say what you will about the Director, one thing he does do well is deal with pricks like me. Without even batting an eye at my insults he coolly leveled his attention towards my eyes. "I understand your reluctance to train green soldiers, but these kids are good recruits, otherwise we wouldn't have asked them to participate in the program. You know that. As for not having enough patience, I don't buy that for a second. I have it on good authority that you once lay in a refuse pile behind a soy bean refinery, covered to your nose in other peoples filth for twenty eight hours, because it offered the best vantage point when the target exited his vehicle and because it was the last place anybody wanted to look for an assassin."
I ground my teeth and was about to let him have the Assassin/Sniper speech, "I'm not an ass..."
"Shut your goddamn trap Major! Your permission to speak is revoked. We've had this argument before and I'm losing my patience with you! The military uses snipers, but you don't work for the military anymore. You work for me and I need assassins. Now you're the best damn shooter we've got and I can't risk you in the field anymore without getting some of that skill out of your thick skull and into some fresh meat. Now, I realize this isn't what you had in mind, so I'll make you a deal. Train these kids for eighteen months. At the end of that time, choose one as a spotter, and I'll let you back in the field."
I gritted my teeth and thought about it. It wasn't a bad deal really. And he was right about my patience, although I recall that at the time all it got me was three days worth of shots and a miserable rash. While I quietly mulled it over, the Director moved from behind his desk and moved around the front, sitting on the edge.
"What if I just decide to quit? Pack my bags and spend a couple of years up north, hunting bear, getting drunk and beating up Eskimos?"
"Listen John, none of us are getting any younger. You've been doing this for almost fifteen years. Ten of that has been for us. I'd like to think you'd do this because we asked nicely and because you felt a certain loyalty towards us. Barring that I'm willing to threaten you."
And that was that. Once they made the do or die offer, it was time to either give in, or give up. I told the Director I would do it, but I wanted a couple of days to go review the personnel records before I started training. He agreed, and I left the office with Carlile in close tow, still trying to hold back a little schoolgirl giggle. "Holy crap John," he blurted out, when we were a safe distance down the hall. "I can't believe you. I just about hemorrhaged trying not to laugh in there. I think you really are the most unsociable person I know."
"Screw you Colonel." My reply was half in jest; Carlile and I had been chummy since we met in Recon school. "This is some crazy shit, why now? Why all the sudden pull me out of the field. It's not because of Roger. He isn't the first spotter I've lost. I just don't get it, unless..." A swift glance confirmed that Carlile was having trouble keeping his smile in check again. "You godamned, complicitous bastard! You talked him into this, didn't you?! What the hell did I ever do to you!"
Carlile threw up his hands in mock defense and backed against the wall. His smile burst out into plain sight. "I'm sorry John, we need you back here. The Corps is tying my hands with all these budget cuts. They won't let me keep the men in training long enough to produce quality shooters. Christ, some people are starting to question the validity of a snipers role in modern warfare. I've even heard some lunacy about shutting down the sniper school altogether. I need someone with actual field experience to show these kids which way to point their rifles. You are the best, and we need that here, not out there cutting souvenirs off the head of a pineapple headed, puppet dictator."
"It was a rotten, fucking thing you did. We've been friends, what, twelve, thirteen years? I don't need your backhanded compliments. I don't need your godamned veiled insults or the Directors fucking threats. I was there for you, and now you screw me li..."
"Quit Bullshitting yourself John. You ain't getting any younger and the Company doesn't let people like you finish their contract early. This is what's best for you and for the Company."
"Fuck you, Carlile." He had gotten a little close while he was lecturing me about what was best for me and I really wasn't liking the tone of his voice. "Just fuck off, or I'm likely to break something."
I left him standing there in the hallway. He was probably right, well, about my contract anyways. The whole episode left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. On the way home I stopped and picked up a frozen pizza and some cheap scotch at a conveinient but filthy gas station. When I handed the degenerate teenager behind the counter a twenty, he gave me six bucks back in change. It wasn't till I got back to the truck that I figured it out. Fourteen dollars, I'm not real superstitious, but that was a little weird. That clenched it for me, I didn't feel like going anywhere or doing anything, except drinking.
An hour later and I had drunk half the bottle of scotch. The bottle sat perilously close to the edge of the coffee table right next to the uneaten pizza, teasing me to finish it off. The room flickered to the pale illumination of the television. The sound was turned down real low but I could still hear the Duke dressing down his men, "Out here, due process is a bullet!"
I woke up around three in the morning to the sight of a bearded, smiling man trying to shovel a cleansing chemical on an ignorant audience. "Powered by the air you breath! Activated by the water you drink!" My mouth felt like I'd French kissed a camel's ass and I had a pretty stiff headache coming on. I realized that I had already made my decision. I had made up my mind back in the Directors office. The liquor was just my way of trying to work up the courage to change my life.
I packed my gear and got out of my uniform. It was a light bag. I usually wasn't in garrison long enough to accumulate possessions. Some clothes, a few pieces of field gear and a pistol were about all I kept that I would really miss. The rest of it... the rest of it was just an anchor. I didn't need any of it, I wasn't ever coming back here again. I didn't even bother locking the door as I stepped out of the apartment.
Maybe if I hadn't been hung over, I would have noticed the man on the roof across the street. Maybe I wouldn't have. They do train us to hide pretty well.