A WOLF ON THE LOOSE
A WOLF ON THE LOOSE
by Dan Straka
EPISODE 1: TWO MARINES
"Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men." –George S. Patton
Most days, Andrew St George was just another Marine, sweating his balls off in a humvee with his M4A1 carbine hanging out the window, rolling through the Afghani countryside.
Not today. Not anymore.
Your war's over, son.
Andrew gave his cigarette a long drag as he fingered the scar that cut through his left eyebrow and hooked towards his temple.
"How'd you get that scar?" the woman gently asked.
The answer Andrew gave depended on who asked.
A motorcycle crash.
A bar fight.
An accident when he was a kid.
He gave that one out the most–made it a colorful tale too. "Two words: Blood everywhere."
Andrew rarely told the truth about the puckered scar that divided his left eyebrow.
His attention had been trained on the horizon as the humvee drove down a dusty road. Afghanistan had been a whole goddamn country of gravel
"Hey, sergeant, what's the difference between a black guy and a pretty white boy like me?" Pfc. Peter Cummings asked.
"Right now, I like the black guy more. Watch the road."
"I hear you, sarge, but take a guess. Come on. Take a guess."
"Shut the fuck up Pete and watch the fucking road."
Andrew hated saying Cummings all the time so he just called Pete, Pete. The other enlisted called him "Cum Bucket." They gave each other such names of endearment. They weren't the cleverest bunch, but Andrew loved each one of the little turds.
Earlier that morning, a local reported seeing Taliban movements in their sector. The lack of an Afghan National Army presence meant the Marines mounted up to investigate the lead.
As they neared the destination, Andrew ordered Pete to hold up. An abandoned jingle truck lay ahead painted up like the cover of a Grateful Dead album. The colorful rig had been nailed by an RPG some weeks before.
"The informant said he saw the insurgents congregating around a knocked out jingle truck," Andrew informed the crew. His eyes looked past the truck to the rocky terrain beyond. A lot of places to hide out there.
"What's the ROE, sarge?" called down Cpl. Tyler, the topside .50 cal gunner.
"Same as always. Only fire if fired upon. Oncoming cars get a warning shot."
"Do we go forward, sarge?" Pete asked, gripping the wheel like he was Speed Racer. "I say we rush in there and fuck 'em up! GET SOME!"
"Thanks for the tactical assessment, private. Jackson!" Andrew yelled to the rear passenger. "Go check out the reverse of the truck. We'll cover you."
Jackson muttered, "Ah fuck. Yes sir."
Andrew stepped onto the pavement with his M4 sighted on the truck as Jackson tentatively approached it with his SAW light machine gun at the ready.
Sometimes, after weeks of inactivity and boredom, the boys almost wished something would happen. As a sergeant, Andrew never hoped for that.
Andrew looked up startled.
"What the fuck?" he snapped.
The woman jumped back. "I'm sorry Mr. Andrew... I didn't mean to upset you by asking about your scar. Please forgive me."
Andrew blinked, as if seeing her for the first time. The short woman wore the black housekeeping uniform, complete with the white V-apron his father insisted upon.
Andrew looked past her. Long Island Sound stretched out before him on a hazy, calm day. He was lounging on the deck of the second guest house down by the beach.
Before the maid spoke again, Andrew abandoned his deck chair for the railing.
"Sorry," he said distractedly. "For startling you."
"My fault for asking something so personal."
The maid took a hesitant step closer.
"Mr. Andrew... forgive me. Mr. John has been trying to reach you. He says he needs to speak..."
"Excuse me," Andrew said curtly and strolled out onto the beach. He was in no mood to entertain anything his father had to say.
"Fuck my life," he muttered when he was alone again. He couldn't remember how the conversation started with the maid. At the water's edge, he crouched down and splashed his face.
Out of the corner of his eye he could see the 12,000 square foot monstrosity that haunted the horizon; a mansion with a monthly mortgage higher than the median income of most American families. White plastered walls. Vaulted ceilings. Barrel chandelier. Top it off with imported wood from some defunct European castle.
Even within the fabled One Percent, there were layers of wealth. Wealthy. Old money. Mega rich.
Celebrity rich–before the drug problems–and technocrat rich.
The latter two could be defined by the scope of their whims.
Celebrities bought islands for their girlfriends, pretty vistas with beautiful views of the Adriatic. A real panty dropper.
Technocrats bought private islands for go-kart racing with their friends.
On that scale, Andrew's father, John St George, was a mega rich American capitalist that married old Southern money.
Music and laughter echoed down from the infinity pool near the main house and caught Andrew's attention. He walked up the long stone steps from the beach towards the pool.
Lining the edge of the pool was a squad of twenty-something blondes in Daisy Dukes cutoffs and aviator glasses. Between sips of their vodka and sodas, they chatted about where they were yachting on holiday, the new wardrobe they'd just bought, and the hottest DJs. Their laughter was filled with stories about the forty-year-old rich guy that wanted to marry them and how that girl they all knew was totally a hot mess. When these ladies weren't drinking their lunches, they were tanning, or strolling into a late lunch. Their lives consisted of partying and recovering from the party. Memories of the actual party were blurred by cocaine and vodka.
Circling the pool like sharks was the male rank-and-file of thirty-year old former frat boys in standard issue wear: neon Ray-Bans, pastel Bermuda shorts, popped Polos and Sperrys. They chugged beers, made crass jokes, and high-fived one another.
There were the odd balls. The hot chick with the half shaved head and purposefully nerdy glasses who made a living as a "photographer." There was the ex-model turned handbag maker. The artist. The writer with the hipster stash who lived in the village and spent weekends in the Hamptons.
Andrew walked past a pair of dudes, insisting on high-fives, while on his way to the booze table manned by a girl in a bikini with a pair of tongs in her hand.
She muddled sugar, fresh lime, and mint into a highball glass, then added ice, Diplomatico Blanco Rum, and club soda. For the pièce de résistance, she licked a mint leaf before running it around the rim of the glass.
"Anytime," she said sweetly. "Hey, what happened to your face? Did you do something badass?"
"Motorcycle crash. What's this party for?"
"The guy that lives here."
"John St George?"
"No, it's a welcome home party for Andrew. I think he just got out of the army."
"He was a Marine."
"Oh." She nodded over towards two guys. "They organized it."
Andrew recognized two dudes he had gone to prep school with. Brad was showing off his new Breitling while Chad was flirting with some underage girl. Andrew hadn't talked to those two in years. He used to party hard with them. They'd had some wild nights.
They were thick as thieves as kids. Bros.
The girl continued, "I've heard stories about Andrew St George. He sounds totally wild." She raised an eyebrow. "You know him?"
"He's an asshole." Andrew grinned at her. "Thanks for the drink."
Andrew ducked the crowd and bolted inside. The central air kept the big house too cold, like a hospital trying to slow the spread of illness. The housekeeper stood at the center of a phalanx of servants, all of whom looked anxiously at the partiers outside.
"Mr. Andrew," the housekeeper said through a smile plastered on her face. "We are so happy to have you back. You certainly have many friends who want to celebrate your return. Now your father..."
"Here," he said, handing her the drink. He brushed by the staff, crossed the living room, through the foyer, and out the front door. A brand new Audi sat untouched on the gravel driveway. The car had been his only homecoming acknowledgement. An unopened envelope was still wedged under the windshield wiper. Andrew ripped the envelope open, yanked out the keys and started the car.
He was driving past the town green when his cell rang. It was Brad wondering where the hell he was.
Andrew pulled the car onto Interstate 95, not sure where he was going. They hadn't known that day either.
Andrew covered Jackson as Tyler swiveled the .50 cal around looking for threats. Jackson inspected the abandoned jingle truck and gave the all clear. Three other humvees of the patrol then rolled up, forming a loose perimeter around the ruined truck. From the second hummer emerged a behemoth of a Puerto Rican.
Andrew spit. "Well E, here we are."
At least a head taller than Andrew, Sgt. Emilio Cortez was always the largest man in the room, possibly the gentlest, too. While others moved about, chaotic and careless, Emilio was a well of calm. Ramrod backbone and sporting his 'high and tight' hair cut; if he ate a handful of 5.56mm rounds he'd probably shit out the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor pin.
"I don't like it," Emilio said as he unslung his M4.
"Fuck that, dude," Andrew said pointing a finger. "You love it."
Lt. Richard Jones hopped out of the third hummer looking more like a model doing a photo shoot than a USMC officer leading a combat patrol. Even the straightest, homophobic redneck in their company would call him pretty.
"We need to setup a perimeter and send out a patrol."
"I'll go Lieutenant," Emilio volunteered.
"Me too," Andrew seconded.
"Send out my two best soldiers?" He shook his head.
"Come on, LT," yelled out Jackson. "They need a little alone time. Wink-wink and all that."
"You need something to do, corporal?" Andrew yelled. The Marine shook his head. The LT allowed them to go with four others. Andrew kicked Jackson. "You're coming with."
"Ah, fuck me. Why?"
"We want you to watch, smartass. Now get your ass in gear."
"Boys," the LT said to Andrew and Emilio. "Watch out for booby traps. If you find a campsite, remember, don't pick anything up."
Emilio kissed the plain silver Cross that hung around his neck before taking point on the team. That was the way he did it. He always volunteered; he always led the way.
"I swear shit like this makes your dick hard, E," Andrew said as they crossed a rocky outcropping.
"This place. It's ancient. Raw," Emilio said, scanning the horizon with a grin creeping over his face. "Makes me feel alive."
"Yeah I'd rather go feel alive back at the OP jerking off to pictures of Katy Perry."
They pushed further up, covering one another as they went. Out there, a shot could come from anywhere. There were hundreds of rocks to hide behind or mountains to snipe from.
They found a campsite behind a rough hillside. Emilio put his hand on the fire pit. "Cold," he said. "They've been gone who knows how long. A day maybe, judging by the wind-diminished tracks."
Back at the hummers they told the LT of their findings. "So this intel source is legit," Andrew said.
The LT wasn't convinced. "Or his cell planted the evidence for us to find so we'll trust him next time. Either way, let's get back to the CP. We're Oscar-Mike in five."
They were an hour down the road when Pete became restless. "So, sarge, about the difference between me and a black guy."
"Pete–" Andrew started as a bright glint of light caught on the windshield, blinding him.
Andrew slammed forward against his straps. The explosion tore up the road, shoveling black asphalt into the air and ripping into the humvee. Sparks, fire, shrapnel. Andrew's stomach lurched like he was on a rollercoaster, and he slammed back and forth as the humvee rolled over the side of the road.
He hung there, upside down for what felt like an eternity. The world was dark.
The fear and panic roared up like a kettle on a hot stove. Arms missing, legs gone, balls lost. He had touched his face, so he knew his hands remained. Blood choked his vision.
His nose was broken and gunpowder filled his nostrils. His heart pounded in his ears. The panic roared up again. He allowed it in, only for a few seconds before his training took over.
"Pete! We've been hit. Get the fuck out," he yelled. Andrew kicked at the door and then threw his shoulder into it. He was on the pavement. His hand reached for his sidearm. It wasn't there. "Medic!" he started. "I need a med..."
Andrew looked up.
Green trees, tall pines. He wasn't in Afghanistan, and Pete wasn't alive.
Andrew was back home in Connecticut and had just plowed the brand new Audi into stopped traffic.
Find out what happens next! Download Part 1 on Amazon