What’s The Worst That Could Happen?
“Pablo,” the voice was a whisper and barely escaped the mouth it came from. A boy in the corner of the small hut looked up from his prayers, to the bed and the frail figure who had called his name.
“Do you need something mother?” he asked.
“Water,” was all she could choke out before her body gave in to a coughing fit. Pablo quickly stood up and poured his mother a cup of water. The shaking hand that took the cup was speckled with blood. Pablo’s mother had become sick some months ago, it had started innocently enough, fatigue, dizzy spells, and the occasional coughing fit. Then the blood had started showing up on her handkerchiefs and she could barely stand for more then a few minutes without fainting.
The woman sipped at the water, and then, her energy reserves expended, closed her eyes and returned to her fevered sleep. Sweat glistened off her nut-brown skin in the dim candle light. Pablo dabbed at her brow with a small cloth and then soaked it in water and placed it on her forehead. She was getting worse and he was afraid she would not live long enough to take the medicines they would buy with the harvest money. With his mother asleep Pablo was left alone, even at such a late hour his father worked. During the day he would tend to the wheat crop doing what farmers do, but at night he would take his small kerosene lantern and his shotgun and walk the fields waiting for any banditos who would be foolish enough to try and steal from a desperate man. It would be Pablo’s turn soon to walk the fields with the lantern and shotgun so that his father might get three or four hours of sleep before dawn forced him to repeat his daily ritual. Pablo returned to the small stool where he had been praying. “Our Father, who art in Heaven…”
* * *
The next day after getting a few hours of sleep and ensuring that his mother was taken care of, Pablo met his father in the fields. “Papa, mother is getting worse. When will we get her the medicines she needs?”
The deep voice of Manuel Escobar replied, “Do not worry my son. By the end of the week we will begin the harvest. As soon as we can load it onto a truck and drive it to the market we will, and once we get to town and sell what we have, we will be able to buy the medicines.”
Pablo fought to keep the whine from his voice, “But what if it is too late by then? What if she dies?” The hand caught his face before the sound of the question had faded.
“IT WILL NOT BE TOO LATE!” Manuel shouted. Tears swelled in his father’s eyes and just as Pablo was readying himself for another attack his father looked up to the horizon and listened. “Quiet,” he commanded in a whispered voice. Pablo had not realized that he had begun sobbing, and loudly too. Taking a deep breath and wiping the tears from his eyes he looked to where his fathers gaze lie. Slowly, very slowly, a sound was growing from the north. A few moments later a glint in the sky told Pablo that the sound was coming from some kind of flying machine, probably an army helicopter. His father squinted and put his hand to his forehead to shade his eyes.
“What is it father, a helicopter?”
Manuel squinted even harder and then pronounced, “No, it is an airplane.” Pablo began to grow nervous. He had never seen an airplane, but he knew of them from the picture books his father had given him.
What business did an airplane have here, deep in the agricultural heart of Columbia? The plane was larger now and the symbols painted on its skin could clearly be seen.
Pablo’s father gave a snort and said, “Poor Ricardo, he will lose everything.”
“What do you mean father?” Pablo asked.
“I have seen this kind of plane before. Ricardo has been growing coca for the cartels. It seems that the government has found him out and is going to destroy his fields.”
Pablo gasped, Beto, Ricardo’s son, was Pablo’s friend, and if his families’ fields were destroyed they would probably have to move and become workers in the city, or worse.
“Go inside and see if your mother needs anything.” Pablo looked to his father and nodded. As he made his way back to the hut Pablo continued to watch as the plane grew larger and larger in the sky.
“What is that sound Pablo?” his mother asked as he stepped over the dirt threshold into the one room domicile.
“A government plane, come to destroy Ricardo’s coca crop.” The whine of the plane’s engines grew louder.
“How very sad for his family.” His mother began to cough then, louder and more violently then ever. The roar of the plane was deafening, it sounded like it was right on top of the hut. Pablo rushed to his mother’s side with a cup of water. She tried to drink but instead spit it all up as her chest spasmed with pain. A few minutes later the coughing fit had ended and the sound of the plane was fading into the distance. But now there was a new noise, a person shouting. A moment later the door to the hut burst open and standing in the door frame, covered in some kind of sticky liquid, was Pablo’s father.
“I am sorry Maricella. I could not stop them.” Pablo’s father was crying now and quickly washing his hands and face. When he finished he knelt down next to his wife and took her hand in his. “I am so sorry, mi amor. They must have thought my field was Ricardo’s.” Maricella Escobar looked into her husband’s eyes then and knew what it was he was telling her. Pablo saw his mother bring his fathers head to hers and kiss his cheek. She whispered something into his ear then and his father stopped crying. Manuel nodded and said, “I promise.”
Pablo ran outside unable to stand being in that room one minute more. When he got to the fields he saw that everything was covered in a thick slime and that most of the plants were turning black, some had already fallen to the ground and begun to shrivel. The tears came quick and hard. Hopelessness washed over Pablo, he knew that there was nothing that could be done now. His mother would die without the medicine she needed and without a crop to sell there would be no money for that medicine. Pablo issued a desperate cry never meant to come from the mouth of a boy. He stood up and with his hands balled into fists began to scream at the sky, “I HATE YOU! DO YOU HEAR ME? I HATE YOU! I’LL KILL ALL OF YOU! ALL OF YOU!”
Pablo felt a hand touch his shoulder and whirled away from it. His father stood there with a look of understanding on his face and his hand out. Pablo looked into his eyes and was ashamed. Turning, he ran into the dying field, away from his mother and father, away from his pain and anguish. Away…
* * *
Juan Velez loved the army. He loved it so much that he had forged birth papers so that he could join up when he was seventeen instead of waiting to turn eighteen. Fresh out of basic training he sported a new uniform with hand sewn private’s stripes and a sharp crease running down his sleeves. Sitting in the open air bed of his fire squad’s deuce-and-a-half he smiled to himself and cradled his AK-47 machine gun like a newborn.
The rest of his squad mates sat with him and were engaged in the normal displays of bravado and overt insinuations as to who was the biggest sexual tyrannosaur among them. Carlos Munez was launching into a story about the woman he had bedded the night before, who was, judging by the way he was holding his hands in front of himself as if grasping two enormous melons, quite well endowed in the chest region, when the large army truck began to slow down. All of the men became instantly alert and brought their weapons to the ready, prepared for whatever it was that might be in their way.
“Hold your fire!” his squad leader shouted. “It’s just some kid.” Juan stood up and leaned over the wooden railing to get a better look. There, right in the middle of the road was a boy no more then ten or eleven years, and judging by the glare in his eyes and the way his little fist were balled up, he wasn’t there to beg for food or money.
“Hey you, little guy! Get out of the road, huh?” shouted Carlos.
“Screw you government pig!” the boy spat. A loud chorus of laughter erupted at this which only made the boy angrier. Carlos looked to Juan and shrugged.
Juan stood up and walked forward to the back of the cab and shouted down in a serious sounding voice to the mini-road block, “Get out of the road boy. We’re soldiers and we are on important army business.” Juan grinned as he looked back at his squad mates and gave them a wink. He’d take care of this problem and look like a real pro while he did it too. As he was turning back to see if the boy had followed his command his head snapped to the side as a rock struck his helmet and bounced harmlessly away. “HEY!” he roared and brought his weapon to the ready. “I thought I told you…” CRACK! The thunder of the shot was so loud that it echoed for thousands of yards in every direction, but the silence that followed it was deafening. Juan stood, dumbfounded, as he watched a whiff of smoke curling up from the barrel of his assault rifle. He couldn’t tell you to this day how long that silence lasted, but he can recall in vivid detail what broke it, the deep, guttural, inhuman cry of raw anguish.
“Drive, DRIVE!” someone next to him shouted and pounded on the top of the cab. The engine came to life and then they were moving again. The truck was high and wide enough that Juan knew there was no danger of running over…and then the truck was twenty feet away from the scene and picking up speed.
From a small fruit stand to the south a man came running. He dropped to his knees in the middle of the road and clutched the broken lifeless body of the small boy to his chest. Again that inhuman cry could be heard and it came from the man on his knees. Carlos tried to look away but found that he had lost all control over his body or maybe somewhere in his mind he knew that he should not look away. That this would be his punishment, to never forget what he had done. To have this image seared into his mind for the rest of his days. And then the man looked up at him and Carlos saw it, El Diablo, the devil had taken the man and through him was letting Carlos know that a special place had just been reserved for him in hell.
* * *
“He says his wife died from Malaria a month ago after the government destroyed his fields and he couldn’t buy her medicine, and his son was murdered just last week by army soldiers.” Miguel looked over the shoulder of the soldier giving him this information to the farmer with no farm and the father and husband with no family. There was something strange about this man that Miguel had not seen for sometime but he couldn’t put his finger on it. He looked normal enough, just like a farmer should look with denim overalls, a wide brimmed hat, and a bandana sticking out of his back pocket. The only thing mildly out of place was the shot gun that leaned against his right leg. Even that though was not so strange in these troubled times. No, Miguel thought, it’s something about his face or his eyes. Yes, that was it, his eyes! They looked dead. It had been awhile since Miguel had killed a man and so he had forgotten the far off look that a corpse had.
“Assign him to Carlito’s squad and get him a proper weapon.”
“But sir, Carlito’s squad is full of screw-ups and cowards.”
“I know,” Miguel said, “but sometimes a sheep is really a wolf in disguise who has forgotten how to be a wolf, and you must send a wolf among the flock to remind them.”
“I don’t understand,” said the soldier.
“And that is why I am Capitan and you are not. Now do as I say, I am busy and have much work to do before the raid tomorrow.” The soldier came to attention and saluted. Miguel returned the salute and turned back to his map, smiling to himself.
* * *
“Darkstar, Roundup1, we are approaching the target area.”
“Roundup1, Darkstar copies. You are cleared to deploy your ordinance.”
“Roundup1 copies I am clear to deploy ordinance, approaching initial point, beginning my run.”
United States Air Force Major Ronald Montgomery scanned his instruments for the fiftieth time to ensure everything was as it was supposed to be. After satisfying himself that all was in order he looked to his co-pilot, Captain Arthur Sanderson, and waited.
“Everything is green sir,” Sanderson said without looking up from his instrument panel, “ready to deploy on your command.”
Major Montgomery scanned his readouts once again. Looking out over the nose of the aircraft he could see his target less then a mile away. He closed his eyes for a moment and conjured up the image of his little cabana and its ice chest full of brew and the mamacita that waited for him there. Flying, woman, and beer, the real holy trinity as far as he was concerned. Breaking his reverie Major Montgomery opened his eyes, looked down at his instruments and said, “Deploy in 5…4…3…2…1” Captain Sanderson pressed the red button labeled “Deploy Ordinance” and a mechanical whir could be heard.
“Ordinance is deploying sir,” Sanderson said.
“Copy,” Major Montgomery replied. Ten seconds later he was banking the aircraft into a tight right hand turn one-hundred-eighty degrees. Another ten seconds went by and then an orange light began to flash.
“That’s it, we’re dry,” pronounced Captain Sanderson. Major Montgomery nodded and keyed the transmit button on his radio.
“Darkstar, Roundup1, we are Miller Time, RTB.”
“Roundup1, Darkstar copies Miller Time, you are cleared to Return To Base.” After setting a heading that would take them directly back to their home airfield Major Montgomery hit the auto-pilot and leaned back in his seat. He closed his eyes and returned to his little cabana, I’ll be home soon baby, he thought to no one or thing in his fantasy in particular.
Major Montgomery keyed his mike without opening his eyes. “Go ahead Darkstar.”
“Roundup1, Darkstar, confirm that you have deployed your ordinance.”
“Affirmative Darkstar, ordinance deployed we are Returning To Base,” he said slightly annoyed. He hated when these new guys were always re-confirming everything, it was bad radio discipline as far as he was concerned.
“Roundup1, this is Darkstar Senior Director.”
“Go ahead Darkstar.”
“Roundup1, our telemetry shows that you never actually entered the target area. You were two miles south of it.”
“What?” Montgomery said to himself.
He turned to Sanderson to ask him what the hell Darkstar was talking about when the Captain cut him off and said, “I’m checking it now.” Sanderson was typing away with one hand and pulling out mission documents from a folder with the other. After a minute he looked up and said, “Sonofabitch! He’s right. The target area was north of the initial point and we went south. We dropped on the wrong field!” Major Montgomery’s cabana fantasy would have to wait he supposed, there would be a lot of paper work and explaining to do because of this. Luckily this happened every so often and because the farmers that owned the fields they mis-dropped on lived in such remote parts of Columbia and were so poor, there was never any political backlash. No, this would ruin his night but that was about it.
“Shit happens,” he said to himself as much as to Captain Sanderson, “besides; the field wasn’t even that big; no one is even going to care. You want to take over Sandy? I want to catch a few winks before we land since I’m going to be up into the wee hours explaining this mess.”
Sanderson shrugged, “Sure,” he said and took hold of the co-pilots steering instrument. Major Montgomery sat back in his seat and closed his eyes. Before drifting off into flying, women, and beer land he reminded himself that it was after all just one field, what’s the worst that could happen?