Pogo’s Very Long Day: Love’s Strange Forms and The Perils of Hunting Monsters
There’s an old saying about playing poker “If you look around the table and can’t figure out who the sucker is, you’re it”.
It was pretty obvious that I was the sucker here.
It wasn’t just that everybody seemed to be in on the game plan but me. The kicker was the .45 automatic leveled at my center mass.
By a girl I’d never have dreamed would point a weapon at me.
It hadn’t been a very good day to start with. Spooky had headed out the night before on another “business trip”. Where, or for how long, we never knew. It’s the nature of the business. And we accepted that, accepted the risk that she might not come back.
But her leaving in the evening always left us out of sorts.
She usually flew out in the morning; that gave us a chance to say goodbye properly, wear each other out as if it were the last time we would see each other. And that’s possible. Like I said, it’s the nature of the business.
But her leaving in the evening left us both out of sorts all day, and left me with a sleepless night wondering if I would see her again.
Wondering what we really had.
We’d been “an item” since she’d come stalking into my life two years ago, twelve years after we’d met. I’d assumed it was an unresolved infatuation on her part; that it would burn out, so I tried my best not to take it too seriously.
But, whatever it started as, it became something else. I just wasn’t sure what it was.
I couldn’t call it love, and neither would she – we were both too wary, maybe too broken, to admit to something as prosaic as that. We weren’t exclusive, we’d agreed to that – she was gone too often and too long; we had no schedule, no possibility of anything normal or sane. At least not for now.
But the divorcee tourists in hot pursuit of their mid-life crises held little attraction for me now. And it was rarer and rarer that I had to throw one out when I got the message from Spooky letting me know she’d be arriving in a day or so. In fact, last night, I’d realized I hadn’t bothered with one of them in over a year.
Although she never said anything, from the look of relief on her face when she found her closet clear and her robe still hung neatly on the bathroom door, Spooky had feelings about that too.
It was a hypnotic attraction of some type. Something neither of us, perennial loners both, could resist. Something I don’t think either of us wanted to resist. I was her comfort, her safe haven. She was my could-have-been, the normal I couldn’t have, didn’t deserve after the life I’d led.
Whatever it was, we clung like magnets when we could be together, even though I was far too old for her, and she was far too feral for anyone.
She’d been a little off for the last couple weeks, moody and a bit sullen, but even in that mood, I wanted her near. And she seemed clingy despite it.
Being apart was disconcerting, even more disconcerting than being together.
I’d been feeling more unsettled than ever lately. My older sister, Danika, had been chiding me about skipping family time at Christmas for the last few years. Maybe I needed to go, reconnect. I could find someone to watch The Shack for a couple weeks.
So the day had led off with a sense of loss, disappointment, and fitful sleep. I was ten minutes late opening The Shack, which got me a scowl from Grease. He had to pick up box lunches for his fishing charter. I was behind, but he helped me slap them together, thrusting them a little haphazardly into a cooler. They didn’t have to be perfect, over half his guests didn’t eat anything substantial while they were out anyway due to seasickness.
He didn’t say much, probably sensing my mood.
It was the Friday charters, so I’d have the big grill set up on the beach in front of The Shack so his fishermen could grill their swordfish or tuna or -if they’d had a poor catch – steaks. They’d swap lies around the bonfires and try to convince unexcited wives it was worth the cost. We’d just feed the wives Margaritas, Mojitos and other drinks until they either enjoyed themselves or just wouldn’t remember not enjoying themselves in the morning. Whatever works.
I’d always loved doing the beach bonfire thing, as challenging as it can be. We’d had to pick up the pace since I cut the deal with Grease and Angel a few years ago. The tips alone made it worth ten times the trouble it took. A lot of the locals attended, and wandering tourists would pay the party fee and join in. When she was in, Spooky looked forward to the Friday bonfires; they were the kind of fun and friendship she’d never had as a kid. She’d been a wallflower at first, not believing things like this could exist. And when Spooky wanted to be a wallflower, she was truly invisible. But after a few times she tentatively joined in, then with more and more eagerness.
Much to her own surprise, Spooky loved helping with the grill, but I was on my own today. Howard was back in the States visiting relatives. Maybe I could convince Ex and Monster to help. Monster cooked steaks with the same precision he applied to everything.
They’d probably be there anyway; they seemed to be on babysitting duty with Grease and Angel’s two girls all the time lately.
I needed to talk with Ex anyway.
Loud Howard – Colonel Howard, United States Army, Retired – had caught me before he left, whispering that she looked a little under the weather. We worried about Ex.
If you’re in the Military for any length of time, you find out that obligations don’t end just because you move on. A former soldier who used to be in your squad twenty or even thirty years ago still has a place to sleep on your couch if he needs it. You’re still responsible for your people, for the things you’ve done, or in our case, created.
We’d been the ones who trained Monster and built him to be what he was. We were responsible if he ended up going off the rails.
Monster and Ex don’t have any idea we’ve figured out what is going on. Not everything. But enough.
The injuries from his last mission had done something to him. Something very bad. From what we can tell he’s stuck in what we call “Trigger Mode”. Some guys call it “the Zone”, some call it “going Red”. It’s just how we train team members to handle combat. Suppress emotion, engage targets based on capability, intention and immediacy, surviving through a running threat matrix. Deal with secondary issues later or not at all. Monster was seeing everything, everyone through that running threat matrix.
Howard figured it out. Something felt off when he saw Monster in the hospital so he looked into it. Broke every privacy law ever written; stole medical records, psych evals, and hospital surveillance footage. He called in favors from years ago, got a few people working on it. Autopsies, news reports, an accident report, some crime statistics. It all added up. Monster was fully operational in the tactical sense. Eliminating threats.
When Monster and Ex started coming out on vacation, it all got a little clearer. He was using the techniques we’d taught him to work undercover. He was using them to pretend to be himself.
Monster was pretending to be Monster.
Somehow Ex had become his handler; we have no idea how it happened, but that isn’t really important. But somehow she became his interface with humanity. And that is important.
Very, very, important. If anything happened to Ex, Monster would have no guidance, no restrictions. He’d just start working his way through his threat matrix in descending order.
That idea was truly terrifying. Especially since we only had a vague idea of how he was classifying threats and weren’t certain what he was trying to protect.
So Howard and I sat down over a bottle of very good cognac and designed a plan. We called it the Very Bad Plan. It wasn’t likely to end well for anyone, and might be worse than doing nothing.
We’d use a four-wheel drive truck and 20 plastic buckets. We’d fill each bucket with 5 gallons of an enhanced version of Ammonium Nitrate Fuel Oil explosive. It would be rigged with an impact detonator, a dead man switch and a remote detonator – a “chicken switch”. All on different, redundant, circuits. The plan was to drive into the big patio doors of his walk out basement at the back of his house, while he was home, and detonate nearly half a ton of high explosive as close to him as possible. If he survived, he’d likely be injured and moving slow enough for a sniper to take out.
It sounds insane, excessive. But Monster really was that dangerous. He was a true natural; he was gifted in the same sense, and at the same level that a gold medal Olympic athlete is gifted. Reflexes, speed, precision, focus. Imagine the average guy using a lap pool suddenly dropping into a race with Michael Phelps. That’s the difference. Except his “event”, his skill set was very, very anti-social.
One of the team snipers had given the iconic description of Monster: “Shooting Monster between the eyes at 500 meters would show good aim. In the back of the head at 1200 meters would show better judgment.”
Howard was a better long rang shot than me, so he’d be the sniper and manage the remote detonator. He’d also have a suicide vest with a dead man switch in case Monster got loose. Monster tended to work up close and personal, so that was a pretty decent option.
I’d be driving the truck, so I’d never even know if it worked.
I hoped Spooky would understand.
.... There is more of this story ...