The concert was fabulous. Music filled heads with euphoric feelings of invincibility, standing alone in front of a huge tidal wave as high as the Empire State Building. Notes, together with a thousand firecrackers, burst like strong streams of water. They told a fast-paced story of past heroism, inspired the audience to participate in an awesome, suspenseful, romantic adventure. A voice, sweeter than a siren's invitation, cleared minds of all the previous glory and kept them captive as a slave, forcing them to an eternal dance with burning love.
He couldn't enjoy it. He was there to kill the lead singer of the band.
He was deaf to the invigorating melody, the rhythmic guitar riffs, the high notes reached by the female singer, the cheers of a thousand people that surrounded him and kept him invisible. He couldn't hear any of it; he had to prepare for final hit. The last hit of his life.
Ten million dollars. It would change everything for him.
He had killed hundreds of people. Famous people, not so famous people, important people in the world of business, a lot of politicians - for some of those he had granted a discount - and some people, he had no idea who they were, what they did, or why they had to die. He seldom knew why his victims had to die. But he didn't care. He had seen hundreds of people killed for a reason he didn't believe in. Friends slaughtered in front of him while he was still hiding in the bushes, too scared to run and cross the open field toward the rescue chopper.
An ambush, surrounded by Charlie, blood blurring his eyesight, horrific screams calling for his help, fingers of nearly dead companions stretching out for him, for safety, for life.
Then, the grenade.
He had never worked a day in his life. He couldn't, not without a social security number. Officially, he was KIA, killed in action, hit by that grenade like six others in his platoon. But he survived.
Those damn bushes! They provided such easy shelter, impossible for him to ignore, to not take advantage of them. After the chopper left with zero rescues, he stayed still for over twenty-four hours, hoping Charlie wouldn't comb the place, hoping to survive. When the night had come and gone, he climbed out and wove his way through the slashed bodies of his mates.
Suddenly, a sound to the left! Charlie?
No, a moan! Private Stremble was calling him, not remembering his name: "Dude! Over here! Help me!" The poor private, ignored during their stay in Vietnam due to his cocky attitude and total disrespect of almost everything in the world, was now calling on him. The private's left hand was missing, but somehow the kid - only nineteen - had managed to lay a bandage and stop the bleeding. 'I burnt the wound with a torch. I'm surprised you didn't hear me scream tonight...'
He realized he should've heard Private Stremble's screams, but he hadn't. He had made himself deaf to all possible sounds.
Carrying Stremble on his shoulders, he'd gotten them out of the jungle and built a raft. They went downstream on the river just a couple of hundred yards to the west and floated out to sea. They didn't see any American troops, nor - very luckily - any Vietcong. The world was deserted. At least, that part of it was.
A couple of days went by. Private Stremble died in his arms. Perhaps it was due to the intense heat, a plague from the sun. Perhaps he went into shock, endured more pain than he had realized. Probably it was the fever caused by malaria. The private was doomed to die; there was no medical kit to repair his wounds.
Two weeks lost at sea, he was forced to eat parts of Stremble's body. The meat had gone bad, but he cooked it as well as he could. He used his helmet as a cooking pot, filled it with seawater and held a torch underneath. He cut bits from Stremble's leg, shaved it as much as he could with his knife, placed it in his helmet and watched it sparkle in the boiling water. He'd empty the helmet in the ocean, holding his hand in front of it to keep the human flesh from falling out. Then he'd use the top of the helmet to fry the meat, the metal hot over the torch.
His cooking was a complete failure. He was hardly able to chew the meat; he couldn't stand the taste. So he swallowed it whole. His stomach protested against the strange substance and he almost threw up. Luckily, he was able to fight the feeling of nausea, keep the food inside and keep on drifting on the ocean toward an unknown destination. The sun during the day and the moon and stars at night were his only companions.
For three weeks he floated around on that huge, never-ending ocean, thinking of the future, trying to forget the past. It was hard with Private Stremble's remains still lying there beside him. He was lying on his back, watching the clouds drift by when a sharp-pointed rock came up behind him and broke the raft apart.
He fell into the ocean and watched Stremble's body sink into the cold darkness. There were more rocks. A beach! He hadn't been out long enough to reach America yet ... where was he?
The answer came when he crawled onto the sand. He was approached by a black man with long hair and white markings all over his naked body, holding a long and tubular instrument between his legs. He knew what the native was; he had seen photographs taken by old friends - now dead friends - after coming back from a journey to Australia.
An Aboriginal. He felt strangely like Robinson Crusoe and his Friday, but knew this man could lead him to civilization.
Willing to help, the Aboriginal guided him through deserts and jungles to a small town in the south of the country, as if he had done it a dozen times before. The villagers were friendly enough to provide him some new clothes. The Aboriginal had already given him some food and water, but he literally jumped at the meal the townspeople presented him.
All that time on the sea and through the land down under, he had kept his rifle by his side. Once the town was in sight, he hid it and went back for it at night. He didn't want anyone to know who he really was. He had told the townspeople a story about being shipwrecked as a fisherman, and they believed him.
He killed his first victim for a seat in a charter plane heading toward America. He couldn't remember who it had been or why the pilot of the plane wanted that man dead. It just happened, automatically, like being in combat again. Yet this opponent never had a chance.
He should've remembered the man's name. It was his first victim as a hitman, but through the years the identity of the fellow just faded away, a name amongst names, a victim amongst victims.
Back in his homeland, he found his life had vanished. People considered him KIA. He had no family left - his parents were killed in a plane crash. He couldn't get a job, had no place to live, had to get rid of his gun at the border.
So he stole another one and got in touch with the local underworld. Mafia, drug lords, porn kings. He didn't care who he worked for, as long as he got paid.
He was good. Very good. He got famous. Clients called from all over the continent. His military training made him a shadow: the world's deadliest sniper. No bodyguard would get in his way, no cop would catch him. He changed identities as often as he changed his shorts. He started charging more and more for each hit, and made himself a promise: once he had earned 10 million dollars, he would stop, retire, live a luxurious life.
Because he hated to kill.
But he couldn't survive without it.
The female singer sat on a barstool in the middle of the stage, her legs crossed as she held a guitar in her hands.
He couldn't hear her play. Again, he had made himself deaf.
He was fifty-five. For thirty years he had killed people, first all over the American continent, later all over the world. Every hit he did it: made himself deaf to the screams, the cries for help, the whimpers for mercy, the blast from his gun, the thump of the bullet penetrating the body of his victim and creating total chaos inside. He had never heard any last words, never heard the names of the people they loved, yelled out in the seconds before he pulled the trigger. Never heard sirens, neither. He had always been well on his way before the police or an ambulance could arrive.
Suddenly the loud music subsided. The cheers stopped and the people calmed down. Surprised by this change of atmosphere, he lost his deafness as he heard the girl starting a new song. A slow song. A sad song.
A familiar song.
She sang about a war fought before she was born. Her voice told a true story of brave men flying toward their deaths, unaware. She told of guns firing, massive explosions, helicopters leaving, soldiers killed, held captured and tortured. The constant paranoia, being scared, not knowing what to do, following orders.
He stared at her as she sang. The girl caught his gaze.
She smiled to him. Maybe she knew her song had touched him.
But she screamed when his head exploded after he had held his gun to it.
A bit of trivia: this short was Johnny's first attempt at writing English fiction. The idea came to him during an English lit course back in 1998. But it didn't stop there. The question remained who had sent the hitman after the female singer in the first place. Johnny started writing a setting for these characters and a reason for their existence, which eventually led to his novel "The Wishgranter". Over the years this novel has undergone several rewrites, one changing the story's timeframe from somewhere during the late nineties to the year 1979 due to discovered factional errors, but the latest rejection from a publisher proved it still isn't up to par. Johnny now has plans to either leave the novel alone, or start the story over from scratch, using the current manuscript as an outline.