Short Story: One Last Job

Tropical sun met azure blue and granulated beige along the island coast. It was one of the Caribbean islands, but he was no longer sure which. All that mattered was his presence there, beach-bumming beneath a frosty glass of something more fruity and liquored than an uptown gay bar on pride-day.

He’d been lost a week now, and figured civilization was due to rear its ugly head again. That was how vacations had always been, no matter where they were taken. Why would retirement be any different? A few days in a paradise, or a shit hole, depending on his mood at booking, then back to the grindstone of life, love, and the pursuit of flabbiness… or however that old adage went.

Americans, he’d never understood them. Being born one should’ve helped, but he was more a man of the world these days, without country, than anything specific really. Government work had a way of doing that. All the while, missing the irony.

He raised the drink to his lips and basked in the warm, tropical sun that gleamed across tanned limbs. He’d been sunburned the first few days he’d been on the island. It had since faded into the milieu of a tan, like so many bygone memories. Like them, he was glad to see it go. To take on the near-bronze of the islanders was to shed the moniker of main-lander and obscure himself all the more.

He’d never be an islander himself, but so few were these days. He didn’t mind. Didn’t have enough of the flexibility to his spine anymore anyhow. He’d just take on one of the million other adjectives expats like him got. What his would be, he wasn’t sure yet. It would come in time. That was just fine by him.

He settled back against the chaise lounge-chair, fruity drink resting on its arm. Left hand wrapped around it and cooled from slick condensation, it felt real, tangible. Not like the twenty years of government work, nor the bulk spent at a desk writing, re-writing, or redacting information in reports.

Sure, he’d taken in the sights, but mostly state-side and never long– and always during work hours. On those rare excursions, he’d do the job, do it well, then return for the paper-work. He’d only ever seen the world on his own time and dime. The other agents were on Uncle Sam’s. Not him. “The drag of a quiet life,” he’d always joked.

Now he had all the time in the world and all the dimes he’d ever need.

A shadow fell over his closed eyes. Some pompous bastard hoped to steal his sunlight. A near-silent rustle of polyester depressed his lungs in a sigh. There was only one type of creature around that had the gall to steal a man’s sun and don polyester rags on paradise’s beach; a US government worker. As far as he knew, he was the only one around. They’d found him for another, damned-fool reason.

“I’m retired. Go away.”

The shadow over his eyes remained in place, but he sensed its squirming. Great, a twitchy suit. They couldn’t even send a vet to bug me. He cleared his throat with an audible sternness, but the creature before him began to speak anyhow.

“Agent Frank Marshall?” A man’s voice asked.

“I said “go away.”

“Sir, I’m here to inform you your expertise is required state-side.”

Go. A. Way.

“Sir, I’ve been authorized to take you in, with force if necessary,” the kid said.

Marshall chewed on the corner of his mouth, pulled away his sunglasses and sat upright to view the kid in all his passive aggressive, be-ragged glory. “Listen when I say, boy, that you couldn’t if you tried. That being said, I’m comfortable where I am, and I’m not moving from this seat unless I have to piss. The resort staff will even bring me another drink if I wish.”

“Sir, I’m authorized to inform you that you have one more chance to comply before you are forced along.”

“Good luck, kid,” Marshall said, sinking back and slipping on his sunglasses to sip his drink.

The kid’s wrist flicked. Something bit Marshall’s neck. A moment later he was squinting against blurry eyes at a pink-feathered dart. The capsule in its center was an auto-injector, tip red from a lone drop of blood.

Probably one of Monty’s. Bastard.

He cast an upward look at the kid, “Damn.”

He went limp against the chair, fruity drink spilled off the arm of it. He woke to the obvious sounds of a dual-engine plane infecting his foggy head. He shook off the last of the drug, and blinked through semi-darkness to grasp his surroundings. The private jet took shape. It dissolved into bright light flooding his vision.

He blinked away water, rubbing a throbbing temple, “Could’a warned me first.”

The kid moved to sit before him. “Agent Marshall, I’m here to brief you.”

He rubbed his eyes “No shit.” He held a file-folder toward Marshall. “Just give me the cliff-notes, kid. I don’t care about your book report.”

The kid cleared his throat, clearly unhappy with his diminutive title. “You’re to enter the Royal Oakton Arms Hotel in Oakton, Ohio. There, you will retrieve a key for a fifth-floor room. Inside, you will find your equipment. You will then proceed to the roof to await the arrival of a certain, political figure, who will be taking residence in a hotel across the street. You must be ready to complete your mission as soon as your target arrives or–”

He rolled his eyes, “The agency will disavow, blah, blah, blah. Just give me the name, kid. This isn’t my first rodeo.”

Instead of speaking it, the kid opened the file-folder to the first page. Paper-clipped to a dossier and itinerary was a photo of a political figure. A big one. One with few rivals, in fact. The guy had made a name for himself in the media as a windbag. He had a big head and less bright ideas than a dead-light bulb. The former was good for Marshall, easier target. The latter was bad for everyone, making the former more important.

Still, Marshall winced at the image, surveyed the kid for any deception mistake. He found none. The kid was more stone-faced than he’d have thought him possible. Something in the kid’s face said this outcome was obvious to all involved. Straight up through the chain of command the little pissant clung to, decisions and agreements had been made: this one needed to be dealt with.

Marshall cleared his throat, resigned to his do his duty. “Alright. Fine.”

“One last job until retirement, sir. The agency has agreed never to contact you again provided you complete this mission,” he stated officially, unblinking.

My ass.

“Why would they want to?” Marshall said. The kid looked as if about to speak. He put his hand out, “That was rhetorical, kid. No-one’s gonna’ wanna’ touch this with a thirty foot cattle-prod. But I expect compensation, and a one way ticket back to my island.”

The kid nodded. The briefing ended; Marshall’s last, if Uncle Sam kept his promise. Of course, that was never a certainty in this day and age. Come to think of it, that was the reason the problem existed at all. The reason he was ever needed. Uncle Sam and promises were never quite what they seemed.

When the plane finally landed, the taxi took him to Oakton. Evidently, boredom remained a constant despite most believing it had been eradicated. When he found himself standing in his room, bag of gear on the bed, he remembered his first time offing someone for good ol’ Uncle Sam. That guy’d been a windbag too. But all of ‘em were. Difference was, the agency didn’t like the anti-war and peace talk he was spewing. This one was just a pain in the ass for all involved.

Marshall sneaked his way to the roof. Although the more he thought of it, the less he felt he had to. Hell, he’d probably be a national hero this time tomorrow. He arrived top-side, unpacked his gear, checked the wind, the time, and adjusted his scope to wait.

A few, short hours later, he found himself once more on a beach with a fruity drink. This one was even more colorful than the last, and sweeter. He liked it. The rest of the world was still reeling, or perhaps rejoicing was the better word. But Marshall didn’t think about it once, he merely deflated into his chair, doing his best to become as liquid as his drink. Maybe he’d get up, sooner or later, take a piss in the ocean. Or maybe he’d drift off, dreaming about the few melon-popping sessions between ungodly bouts of paper-work. So long as he remained island-bound, he couldn’t have cared less.

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