The words hung in my mind like a lynched outlaw hanging from the rafters of an old western mission. I'd heard various two word tall orders since I posted my manifesto on Facebook... since I channeled my pain through my gun.
I think this was the first pair of words that wasn't shouted at me. Somehow, it made his words more threatening. The grizzled Texan channeled Heston-- gritting a cigar in his mouth while he stroked his unshaven chin with his gasoline stained fingers.The mechanic wasn't a native Montanan, a fact made clear by the faded confederate flag plastered across his sweat-soaked wife beater. While I'd faced off with many a fighter on my journey to Canada, this man had a gruff aura about him-- an unbreakable confidence.
"Sh, sh, sh. Baby, please. Listen to mommy. It's gunna be okay. Just stop crying. Everything's gunna be okay."
Huddled with her toddler in the corner, the fear in the woman's eyes betrayed her tender promises. I knew she must have thought I was a 'bad man.' Scared out of her damn mind of me. The other three patrons at the diner were equally afraid, as was the waitress. The skinny little cook cowering in the doorway to the kitchen looked like he was about to crap himself. Funny. No one ever seemed to be scared of me before. The moment you threaten their status quo and disrupt their perceived peace; that's when the world starts seeing you as a threat. I'd been called many things in my life... Warrior. Patriot. Hero. It was only till I got my first kill on American soil did I finally get called the names that truly fit my character.
When I sniped under Uncle Sam's payroll, nobody batted an eye when I watched head after unsuspecting head explode in my cross-hairs. Murder becomes justice when you give it a cause. I'm still committing justified homicide; it's just a cause they don't agree with. The whole reason I signed up for service was to take myself away from society. I can't stand the greed, the corruption, the conspiracies... and the lazy obesity. The SUV's, the hybrids, the iPhones... and the disgusting entitlement. America the beautiful? Yeah, not without her make up. Even if I die soon, and I'm not ruling that possibility out, maybe this will show them that the enemy doesn't always wear a turban. Sometimes he just wears the camouflage of an American hero.
"Well, chicken shit? We going toe to toe? Tell me ya at least have the decency to do this away from these unarmed folks."
I glared at the Texan, staring down the scratched-up barrel of his dusty six-shooter. What a nuisance. I just had to hold up this guy's garage and diner. Oddly, I had no qualms offing a sheriff or two, but putting a bullet through the old man bothered me. Like me, police were paid to place themselves into the line of fire. Is it courage if you knowingly risk your life for your own reasons? I mean, nobody calls suicide courageous. I think heroism is a lot like acts of goodwill. You shouldn't get credit for something you get paid for. It's not really charity if you get a kick back. But what do I know, anyway. I'm just an asshole with a gun and a dead eye. I never got paid to think. That was counterproductive.
"I don't have time for this, buddy," I said, shaking my head. "Just be smart and get me whatever cash you got and a car with a full tank of gas. Have your little cook there whip me up a ton of pancakes for the road, too. The less places I have to stop at, the less people I'll have to kill."
"Son, you won't be killin' nobody nowhere, no more... cus' the line ends here with me. You done fucked with a cowboy."
I had no plans of stepping outside, nor had I made any arrangements for my own funeral. The only thing holding me back from putting a bullet between the wrinkled wrangler's eyes was the respect I had for his tenacity-- despite its foolishness. Regardless of my respect, I had an itch on my trigger finger. The longer it went without pulling anything... the worse it got.
"Don't push your luck, old man. You standing your ground instead of calling the cops kept you alive so far, but don't think it was anything other than that. I'm sure you got grand kids or something, right? Lower that gun and you can see them again."
The mechanic decided to laugh at me derisively rather than follow my advice. Not a good choice.
"You don't know who you're dealin' with. I ain't just some lost country bumpkin. You're lookin' at retired marine. Survived three tours in the middle east and made it out of Korea with a smile."
"Yeah? I've spent nearly half of my life in Afghanistan. Became a sharpshooter right out of high school. Earned myself expert class ranks in nearly every weapon I got my hands on. Top marks. Broken records. My superiors started calling me 'Kid 400.' I've got three semi-automatic handguns, a high-powered rifle and an assault rifle on my person. What have you got? A tiny pistol."
"The only difference between you and me is preparation," the man said, completely undaunted. "You came in here all locked n' loaded, rarrin' for a fight. Me? I came in to grab a bite of pie. I keep a pistol on me for good measure, but I reckon I've got enough guns in my war-chest to arm platoon, boy. Hell, I'd talk guns with you until I was blue in the face if you hadn't pointed one at my face, but that ain't the case. So shut your bitch mouth and step the hell outside."
The old man's instincts were clouded by his years of survival. I'm sure the codger slogged through many a battle in his day, but the years of peace made him too soft to outmatch me. My retirement was still fresh; my killer instinct hadn't dulled in the slightest. No matter how much time you spend at a range, a piece of paper is no replacement for a human heart. That was how I outgunned the SWAT team. Training is one thing, but practice is another. The way I saw it, him challenging me was either brought on by senility... or a death wish.
"Mr. McDowell please, it's not worth it," a portly blonde waitress pleaded. "A few bucks and a car aren't worth your life. We have insurance, don't we? I'm begging you, just give the guy what he wants, Mr. McDowell. You don't have to do this."
The ex-marine shook his head and grunted, refusing to surrender his pride. He kept his gaze fixed on me. His hatred was mesmerizing, like a cobra's glare. Determination dripped out of his emblazoned cedar brown irises, pooling into the heavy bags bellow his eyes. I felt like I was looking to a magic mirror, one that aged me several decades. Through our exchanged glaces, both of us knew what would soon go down. Only one of us would walk out-- the other one would be wheeled.
He was wrong. Preparation wasn't the only thing that set us apart. He was a better man than me-- able to survive the harsh world outside of the battlefield. I could blame my inability to mesh with society on PTSD, but that would just be a lie. I didn't fit in well before I saw a lick of combat, and my violent tenancies started in my infancy. Nothing in me changed during my deployment. I wasn't twisted by the violence, or haunted by the deaths I inflicted. If anything, bloodshed soothed me.
A drowsy trucker with booze on his breath stumbled into the diner, ringing the bell as he pushed open the door. The Texan instinctively looked over, his head conditioned to look in the direction of the door at the sound of the bell. His focus was broken for a mere second. That second was all I needed. Two deafening bangs reverberated through the tense Montana air, followed by shrieks and screams. The old gunslinger fell to the ground without a shot fired from his gun. Both bullets bore into the man's brain, one right after another. Wide eyed and shaking, the man seemed alive, but I had no doubt that he was dead in the head... and probably DOA.
I didn't stare any longer than I needed to confirm the elimination of his threat. I folded his gun hand over his chest and nodded my head. I did so out of respect, honoring the terms for the victor of a duel. I gestured for the panic-stricken waitress splattered by her boss's blood to hand me the cash.
"Hey cook, fetch me the keys will ya? 86 the pancakes, I'd rather not stay here any longer than I have to now that I've opened fire."
The scrawny teenager scurried over to the garage as the woman unloaded the cash into a plastic to-go bag. It had a smiley face on it, encircled by the words, 'Have a nice day.' As the waitress slowly handed me the bag stuffed with fives and singles, I heard a garage door open in the distance. I threw the money aside and barged into the room reeking of petroleum.
I expected to see the kid with a cellphone in his hands, dialing 911. I expected to see him sitting behind the wheel of the car, impatiently drumming his fingers on the dash. I expected many things really, despite my general lack of expectations for life. I expected that I would die eventually, and not of natural causes. I expected to be shot to death-- a poetic demise befitting my desires. Most my expectations would prove true, but there was one thing I not expect.
I did not expect for the skittish teenage cook to be waiting for me with a shotgun in his hands.