The Monster Before Monster
Katie looked drawn and pale, not the buoyant cheerful girl I’d married ten years ago. She’d lost a few pounds lately. She’d always carried a few extra and I never had a problem with it. It suited her bubbly cheerful personality. I hadn’t seen that Katie in a while.
“When, Kurt? When?”
“I don’t know, Babe. I can’t just walk out, it’s too important.”
I saw a whole series of angry expressions flash over her face. “Don’t ‘Babe’ me Kurt. This is bullshit. You promised them four years and it’s been six. Six damn years of this...” she gestured at my A bag sitting next to the door, a black velcro’d strip hanging off it, staring at us with blood red eyes “ ... this shit.”
“Katie, look, as soon as I can get out of it, I will. I’d be doing deployments almost anywhere we went anyway...”
Her expression changed to shocked disbelief.
“Seriously? You’re going to compare this to a normal unit? One where they schedule deployments months in advance instead of hours, and one where I can at least know where you’re going or at least find out where it was after you get back?”
The unspoken word was “if”. Katie wasn’t as naïve as some of the wives – she knew that many of the “training missions” weren’t really training missions. Her best friend, Tina with the ever changing hair, was a nurse at the facility where some of ours got patched up when things went wrong.
The van out front in our cul de sac revved it’s engine; two more team member were waiting for pick up. At the Bachelors quarters. Where she was threatening to send me, if something didn’t change.
“It’ll just be a few days, maybe a couple weeks, Katie. We’ll talk as soon as I get back.”
Her anger was palpable, as real and solid as the handle of my A bag as I hefted it up. In some ways I was surprised she even let me kiss her and the little girl in her arms – our little girl - goodbye.
I felt trapped and bitter on the ride to the airfield. Hell, I couldn’t tell her where we were headed, I didn’t even know. The unit “Spouse liaison”, Sergeant Wendy O’Connell would let them know periodically that we were fine.
But none of the wives liked or trusted her. She was young, cute, and earnest and all too obviously didn’t know much, if anything, more than they did.
I needed to find some way to calm her when I got back or I’d be the next on “the block”. The divorce rate in the unit was over 60 percent, which, given the stress, the long absences and near constant training seemed low.
Katie, like most of the wives, just didn’t understand how important this was. That it was bigger than us.
She was close to done. She’d been sending all the signals that the life was too stressful, that I wasn’t around enough to even qualify as a Dad to our little girl.
But letting go of the job ... well, it was hard. Giving up the most important thing you’d ever seen or done, or even heard of? It’s so damn hard. I was sure we’d get through it.
I was the best – the absolute best. I was the close quarters specialist – the Monster. I led the Stack through the target zone. Nobody, nothing was faster or deadlier than I was.
I had talent.
We named that talent, called it by the old warning from the training shoothouse: Gun. Gun. Teddy Bear.
Enter a room with a dozen potential threats - some were hostages, some were gunmen. And you had to eliminate the bad guys without killing hostages. As you entered, they moved, ducked and screamed.
Some were holding guns or grenades, and those were the ones you had to eliminate.
In one scenario, a woman would pull a small dark object from their coat. She was almost invariably shot. And as she fell, the object would bounce free. A small, dark blue Teddy Bear.
The hard part was pulling the trigger during the next scenario.
That teddy bear was legendary.
I didn’t have a problem pulling the trigger the next time, because I was the reason for the ‘almost’ in almost invariably. I’d identified the bear as harmless and moved on to the next target. And in the next scenario, when she pulled a gun, I shot her without hesitation.
I kept that Teddy Bear on my desk.
I was that damn good and proud of it.
The mission was in Asia – we’d been loaned to an international police effort against “white slavery” – what would later be called human trafficking. Girls, teenage and younger, sold across international boundaries as part of the sex trade. An FBI agent investigating the murder of three young girls in Texas had made a personal crusade, found the links and found a local government official who was clean enough and ambitious enough to trust. He’d arranged to invite us in on a “training exercise”. So we could do what he didn’t trust his own police to do.
Break the back of the largest Chinese organized crime slave trade ring in the world.
We’d brought the full compliment, enough operators for two full teams. That way we’d have back up for everyone, and could increase the team size as necessary. Even the backup Monster was with us. He was new, but he was fast as hell and endlessly aggressive – he’d passed the “Gun Gun Teddy Bear” test just like I had. He didn’t have the experience I did, but that would come with time.
He’d run on a couple of relatively low threat missions, and done just fine, even when things had gone sideways on one of them.
Maybe he was the reason I really didn’t want to quit – professional jealousy, the desire not to be replaced.
The FBI agent met us in a side room of the hanger. She wasn’t what we expected.
The tall, slender, brown-haired woman had her back to us as we filed in and sat down, sketching out building diagrams on the board.
Of course the first things we noticed were her long legs in that skirt. There was, to be honest, a not-too-subtle murmur of appreciation rippling through the team, and Hollywood – our Team One sniper and resident lady’s man – made a show of slicking his hair back, grinning and waggling his eyebrows.
She turned around and glanced over us with a piercing gaze.
“If you’re all done staring at my ass, we’ll get this briefing started.”
The “don’t fuck with this one” light kicked on in my brain. She was serious as hell. The rest of the team – even Hollywood – settled in at once. They’d all registered the same warning light.
“I’m Special Agent Hawthorne. And this mission rolls in less than three hours, a full day early, so we don’t have time to screw around here. You all read the briefing packets on the plane, I assume. I’ll cover what we’ve learned since they were sent.”
She covered the changes and updates in detail. There were twice as many potential gunmen as had been there previously, and nearly four times as many hostages.
And four times as much area to cover, forcing us to use both teams. I guess we’d find out how the new kid would do as the Monster for team two in a real potential goat fuck.
I have no idea what triggered the early launch; she never explained it and I’m a hammer, not the carpenter, so it didn’t even really matter to me, except the ways it’d impacted the tactical situation.
It went smoothly, flawlessly, a textbook example of what operations should look like.
The Special Agent had, with unspoken words, made it clear that we weren’t there to capture criminals. Our only priority was to rescue as many of the girls as we could. Any resistance – any effort to slow us down from achieving that objective - was to be eliminated immediately.
We waited in two unmarked panel vans. We relaxed as best we could in the heat and confinement – I pulled the velcro-backed patch from a cargo pocket and centered the blood red demon eyes on my chest. It was my ritual, my transition from Kurt to the Monster.
One hour after nightfall, her man killed the power to the entire block, blanketing it with blackness. We clicked on our night vision goggles and moved in through rows of the gold painted cars favored by the gunmen of this organization.
The entry on our end was soundless – the lock on the door didn’t resist at all. The gunmen did. As I think the Special Agent both hoped and expected they would.
They didn’t have a chance in the darkness and chaos. Most of them never even really identified the odd mechanical stuttering cough of the silenced MP5SDs as gunfire.
There wasn’t time for hesitation in the race to the holding cells; every man who came into my sight with a gun in hand took two rounds center mass.
And I kept moving through the tangled rat warren, the rest of the stack followed, finishing any who continued to show resistance. Resistance included breathing. We wouldn’t risk getting attacked from the rear, even by a wounded man. When we eventually saw the state of the girls in the holding cell, it was clear there’d be no lost sleep over any of those men.
We certainly missed some in the tangle of rooms – but if they fled armed, Hollywood and his counterpart were waiting outside for them.
In the back of my mind, I wondered if Team Two had encountered the same level of resistance.
We broke into the entry room to the holding area, at almost exactly the same moment as the lead element from Team Two.
The guys in the room were a bit more prepared for us – a lantern was on, and they at least already had their guns in their hands. Not that it helped. One got off a shot – but it was up into the ceiling.
An old lady huddled in the corner of the room watching almost expressionless as we swept the area and began extracting the badly abused girls from filthy cramped cells that were built more like dog kennels than anything else.
The Team Two Monster and I stood in the entry way staring outward in case anything went sideways. I’d met him at a barbeque a couple months ago. The Sergeant Major made sure we had a barbeque every month or so if we weren’t on a training cycle, he really loved firing up the grill. The new guy seemed okay. A little too eager, a little too young – we all ran a bit older than usual for the Army, but for us he was pretty young. I hadn’t met his wife, but Katie had, and she said his wife seemed nice enough – a bit naïve, but pleasant.
I shot a sideway looks at him, but didn’t say anything. It felt like a million years ago that I’d joined the unit. I could barely remember it anymore.
So we stood. The old lady sat stone-faced in the corner watching us, a distant look in her eyes, as if she was really miles away.
She suddenly smiled a bit, and began to pull something from her jacket. The new kid raised his hand toward her to tell her to freeze.
My MP5 coughed twice, both rounds entering just above the bridge of her nose.
He looked at me in shock as she slumped sideways. Her hand fell free showing that she hadn’t had a chance to pull the pin on the grenade.
His expression changed from shock to awe.
He might have even said something, but I couldn’t hear anything. The hollow roaring in my head was too loud.
I was the best. But that hadn’t been why I’d shot her. I hadn’t even seen what was in her hand.
I’m sure somebody could make the case that I’d detected something in her manner, but that’d be bullshit. How the hell could a farm boy from Iowa have any understanding of what a woman from halfway around the world, a completely different culture, would do from her smile?
No. I’d shot her because I was afraid the new kid would beat me to it.
That hit me like an electric shock. My life was one long game of “Gun. Gun. Teddy Bear.”
And I wasn’t even looking anymore.
The crowd outside was immense by the time we finished bringing the girls out. Hawthorne had had her own problems. While the operation was going on, the district police chief had shown up with a hastily assembled force and every intention of attempting to arrest us all. He was in on the take, and had gotten a panicky phone call from somebody in the hellish prison.
She’d listened to him screaming at her, checked her card, found his name and picture, then simply shot him in the face, while calling for the snipers to pin down his men. She then called every international news organization, NGO and Embassy on the planet. The fact that she had the phone numbers on her probably meant something.
So we emerged into a sea of reporters, Red Cross personnel and embassy officials from nearly every embassy in the city.
The girls were terrified of us, apparently believing we were some kind of robots, so, against all wisdom we’d pulled our masks off to show we were human. That helped a little – nobody would ever mistake us for Chinese, and that was at least some comfort for them. We herded the girls on to busses with embassy representatives from every major embassy.
Special Agent Hawthorne was ecstatic to find out about the old lady. Turned out she’d been one of the top leaders for this particular crime family. Nobody knew where she was hiding, and she was on more “most wanted” lists than they could count. They were still trying to figure out how many counts of murder, torture and kidnapping she was wanted for. Why that mattered anymore was beyond me. She must have known her identity would be discovered and decided to take a few of us with her.
That didn’t help. I still knew.
Maybe Katie should run.
We were back at home in less than a week. I called the house, but there was no answer. Not surprising in the middle of the day. Katie spent a lot of time at the community center at the usual “Mommy and Me” activities. That’s where I usually found them. I’d head over there after I got my gear in the house.
The van dropped me off and I trudged up the steps under an iron grey sky, past our minivan.