Holiday Work (a Max Chrome Christmas Story)

     December is always cold in Ar Raqqah, Syria. Tom’s two winters in Iraq prepared him for this mission by choosing warm, comfortable clothes, and he would have thought he was Elk hunting in New Mexico is not for the calls to prayer from the nearby mosque’s loud speakers at their appointed times of the day. Sitting in the gold corduroy upholstered armchair next to him was his friend Max, who peered through his tripod-mounted spotter’s scope at the set of three industrial buildings inside the walled compound on the other side of the highway. The scope was fitted with a night vision extension and laser range-finder allowing him to switch between visual and thermal imaging to keep an eye on their target.

Tom sat back rubbing his eyes and said, “You ever think about the ethics of killing a guy on Christmas Eve?”

“No, these clowns think their Muslims,” Max said, without looking away from his viewfinder.

“But we’re not; we’re a couple of Episcopalians who happened to be armed to the teeth, waiting to drop so shitbag while our butts are parked a few hundred miles from Bethlehem.”

“When was the last time you went to church?”

“That’s not the point.”

“I haven’t seen the inside of a church since my parent’s funeral forty years ago, and you told me you haven’t hit the pews since junior high. So give me a break.”

Tom sighed and leaned forward into the scope of his .338 Remington MSR rifle. A large garage door rolled open revealing a trio of Toyota pickup trucks now packed with high explosives, and he counted twenty-one men, three of which were receiving their final blessings before driving into the last night of their lives as suicide bombers.

“Got him, our man is at your ten,” Max said. Their man was Abdul Khan Amadi, a colonel in the Intelligence Organization of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (IOIRGC), specifically in command of this Quds unit in I.S.I.L.- controlled city. The car bombs are not going to target ISIL locations, but instead will be used on Syrian rebel units opposing the Assad regime.

“Do you see anyone who looks Russian?” Tom said, locating Amadi and setting his crosshairs on him.

“No, not that I give a shit.”

“See, that’s what I’m talking about. What if there’s a Russian Episcopalian down there, and we wax him on Christmas Eve. Do they have Episcopalians in Russia?”

“Fuck if I know, besides – a good Episcopalian wouldn’t be in this town anyway.”

Tom snickered and said, “Fuck you.”

“And to all a good night,” Max said. In his scope he saw the men gathering around the drivers taking turns hugging and kissing their cheeks. “Is this really bothering you that much?”

“Not really, I’m just wondering if one day I get to heaven, and the J-Meister is waiting there and says, ‘You killed some mother fucker on my birthday, not cool.’”

“I don’t think he’d be upset. Judas was an assassin.”

“Say what?”

“Iscariot evolved from the name Sicarii, a cadre of assassins in Judea who took out Romans.”

Tom looked away from his scope to Max, and said, “Dude, the Sicarii weren’t a thing for another ten years after the crucifixion. The name Iscariot comes from the Hebrew meaning ‘Man of Kerioth’ which was somewhere in Judah.”

“Yeah, but that’s the Greek translation of the Hebrew, and they were busy fucking up the New Testament. And who’s to say that the Sacrii weren’t around a century before? Maybe they were just that good at their job,” Max said, re checking the range from their window to the garage – 215 meters.

“Okay, fine, but did Judas ever kill anybody on Jesus’s birthday?”

“I don’t think so, but I don’t think the opportunity came up. Come on, are you telling me that none of the guys who killed S.S. troop during the Battle of the Bulge never got into heaven? Bullshit. It’s not like it was their idea.”

“True, but in our case this was our choice,” Tom said, looking back through his telescopic sight. He and Max were private military contractors working for Drummel Security Options based out of Connecticut. Ar Raqqah was in ISIL control, inside Syria (a country hostile to the United States), and they were there to kill an Iranian national. The CIA and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) wanted nothing to do with this operation due to the potential fallout if things went south…but they wanted Amadi dead bad enough to order out.

“We’re getting paid way more than thirty pieces of silver, Bro.”

“Like you need the money.”

“I love the Holy Land during the holidays.”

“Holy Land…now you have me hearing Burt Ward in my head.”

“Burt Ward? Christ you’re old. You probably fart rust,” Max said. Burt Ward portrayed Robin in the 1966 Batman T.V. series.

“Holy Geritol, Batman!” Tom said, his grin nudged the butt of his rifle, and threw the sight off for a second until he eased it back onto Amadi’s head.

“Well, Robin, you can take the shot any time.”

“I’m Batman.”

“Whatever.”

“Are you going straight home, or are you going to hang out, and bring in the New Year on the continent?”

“As a matter of fact, I’m thinking of doing New Years at Loch Ness.”

Tom shook his head but maintained his view on Amadi, “Loch Ness, can you even get laid there?”

Max chucked and said, “Probably, Scottish women might feel sorry for a pair of lost black sheep like us, take us back to their place, and mother us…so are you coming with me?”

“Fuck yes, at least I can load up on good Scotch, and hit the Glasgow library.”

“That’s actually a great place to meet women.”

“See? Good thing I’m going, or else you’d be all alone with your Yule Log.”

“But none of that happens until after we put this guy down,” Max said.

“And escape,” Tom said.

“That too.”

Tom was measuring his breathing as he slid his finger onto the trigger. Amadi stood back from the clusters of Jihadi fighters while talking on his cell phone. At this range the round would blast through his skull and pass through the cinderblock wall five feet behind him. When the trigger was squeezed, the round would fly, and he would see the impact clearly through the scope. Amadi’s head seemed as big as a pumpkin. The other men would first drop to the floor, or behind cover, and he and Max would use these seconds to exfil from this two-story house once owned by a dentist. They had a 2007 Honda Civic waiting to drive to the safe house a few miles away.

“You gotta be kidding me,” Max said.

“What do you have?”

“Check the rooftop at your one.”

Tom swung the rifle up to the One O’Clock position and said, “No way, is this a joke?”

“Are you seeing what I’m seeing?”

“I’m looking Corporal Tandy dressed in full battle-rattle.”

“Good, I see that too. At least we’re not batshit crazy.”

On the roof of the building stood an American soldier wearing the dark green, olive, brown, and black woodland camouflage  uniform of the 1980s, complete with flack vest, ammo vest, and the distinctive rag-topped helmet of the 7th Infantry Division (Light). His face was painted in dark green and black, but Max and Tom recognized him.

Tom said, “Okay, what the hell does this mean?”

“Wait, maybe he’ll let us know.” On cue, Corporal Tandy raised his arms and waved them over his head. “He’s telling us to get out of here.”

“Do you think we should?”

“You know what? I do. Why else would he be here?”

Corporal Dan “Dandy” Tandy was killed on Christmas Eve in Colon, Panama, by a negligent discharge from an M-249 machine gun. He was in Max and Tom’s platoon in Alpha Company, 2-27.

Tom looked Max in the eyes and said, “We might not get another chance.”

Max pointed out the window. “Take another look, dude. Do you still see him?”

“Yes, he’s still there waving us off.”

“Okay, so how long does a dead man have to tell you something before you listen to him?”

“Point taken.” Tom picked up his rifle, collapsed the bipod legs into the stalk of the rifle, and stood. Max was already up putting on his pack. They went downstairs and locked the door on their way out. Tossing their packs into the back seat, Max got behind the wheel while Tom opened the steel courtyard gate. Max drove out onto the street and waited for Tom to get in the car.

“What do we tell Ops?” Tom said, buckling his seatbelt.

“No clue yet, I’ll think of something,” Max said. He drove down the narrow street watching the road, and the dentist’s house shrink in the rearview mirror. A bright flash, then a shockwave shook the car hard enough the crack the rear windshield, and break the windows of the houses on both sides of the street. In the rearview mirror all Max saw was brown-gray dust mix with the red from his break lights, and then a mushroom-shaped orange and yellow fireball boiled into the sky from the other side of the highway.

“Fuck a duck, that was more than three car bombs,” Max said.

“Way more. Bro, we gotta go back and do B.D.A,” Tom said, referring to Bomb Damage Assessment. Max made a U-turn, and went back to the house, but could only get to within a block. The blast had leveled the house they had been sitting in for the past six days along with three neighboring homes. Their occupants had long ago fled the I.S.I.L occupation and all there was to do now was get infrared footage of the compound across the street.

“I don’t see anything over there now,” Max said.

“No buildings, no walls, notta. They must have shot their whole wad.” Tom said.

“Let’s get out of here. Satellites can take this.” Max and Tom got back into the car. Tom called the Drummel operations center to report the blast, but they already knew about it. The drive to the safe house would take twenty minutes. There they would stash their weapons before heading to the Turkish border.

They were silent for a while and then Tom said, “Nice to see Tandy again.”

“He was a good guy,” Max said.

“Still is, apparently.”

“God loves us, but a Wolfhound will always have your back.” 2-27’s nickname is Wolfhounds.

“Amen…so, do you think the Loch Ness Monster is real?” Tom said.

“Sure, I mean it’s not a dinosaur, and it’s only about fifteen feet long but it’s a real thing.”

“What is it?”

“A giant lake salamander.”

“Bullshit.”

“Tell you what, I’ll rent a boat, and we’ll go fishing, and I’ll bet you fifty bucks I catch one.”

“Oh it’s so on. Easiest fifty bucks I’ll ever make,” Tom said, suddenly not so sure. If the Loch Ness Monster was real, Max was the one guy who’d know how to catch one.

Max laughed, “We will see. Besides, we have a week of pub-crawling ahead of us.”

“We owe Tandy that much.” Tom looked out of his window trying to imagine the bright star that led the three wise men to Bethlehem, but mostly he thought about how Dan Tandy had been laughing as he waved them away from the roof of that building, knowing he and Max would get to see another Christmas.

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