“Purple light in the canyons,
That’s where I long to be,
With my three good companions,
My rifle, my pony, and me…”
from My Rifle, My Pony, and Me by Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson
from the 1959 film Rio Bravo
As the day began to head into the early afternoon, Ryan’s boredom hit him full force and he decided that the time was ripe to engage in the one activity that allowed him to see the sun without cowering behind a window, and to actually give them back a little of the pain they had inflicted on him, and whether or not they felt pain at all was totally beside the point. This was no longer his town or his world, but he needed to at least be in control of something, and to him, nothing could be better than controlling which of them would keep stumbling around and which others would just get planted in the street or the dirt without a good portion of their heads.
What Ryan Beckett did remember was as things got bad, a lot of people who should have defended themselves hadn’t been able to bring themselves to do it. Even those raised on decades of Blaxploitation flicks, Lethal Weapon, and Die Hard, those to whom blowing peoples’ heads off was little more than a minor thrill to advance a bad story, found that movie screens and reality were not the same thing, and something deep within them, perhaps their fears of their own mortality, had stayed their hands and made them unable to end another life. Of course, the lives of their would-be targets had already ended, and there was no humanity left in those things that were then, and probably still were, driving humanity to the brink. Pulling the trigger is never easy the first time or usually a few times after that, regardless if someone is a mob hitman just getting his feet wet, a gangbanger about to go on his first drive-by to pop some punk ass Bloods, or even a Green Beret about to waste a Taliban fuckwad from a thousand yards.
These days, Ryan Beckett had no such reservations.
He had taken human life, the real thing that is, not just this twisted facsimile of humanity that now roamed the whole of the world. To be sure, his first times out in Iraq had been harder than the ones that would follow, and contrary to what some still thought, medics and corpsmen damned well went armed, and that continued myth that medical personnel were off limits to the enemy and thus they should not be able to shoot back out of fairness was more or less bullshit, Geneva Convention be damned. In World War II, medics in the European Theater weren’t armed since even the Nazis made an effort to respect some rules of war, but medics sure as hell went packing in the Pacific, and the story was the same in Vietnam, where the VC could kill the medics first if they could identify them. In Ryan’s war, the insurgents similarly would fill a Navy corpsman full of holes if they saw one, and Ryan didn’t go anywhere without an M4A1 in his hands. He had used it, as he had been expected to get in there and shoot with the leathernecks until someone got hit, and more than once, he had seen blood spray off of the scumbag he had lined up in his sights, and he had seen them not get back up. He knew he had killed, but within him, the fact that he had killed those who regarded killing infidels as a holy mission to be cherished rather than lamented didn’t change the fact that it was rather wounding to kill another human being.
But near the end of his tour, he had caught an article in a copy of Navy Times, which dealt with that specific subject, and it was small wonder that his parents sent him that particular issue. The article was all about combat medical personnel, and how someone undertook some kind of study (didn’t they always?) about how cases of PTSD were noticeably less in medics and corpsmen, largely because their jobs were to protect the lives of their comrades more than anything else, and since the enemy was the biggest threat to their lives, killing an enemy could easily mean saving a friend, and every insurgent down was one less to kill a comrade tomorrow. Their options, thus were clearer than most: kill an enemy or lose a friend. Make the enemy bleed or hold the hand of a dying marine because someone else made him bleed.
Ryan didn’t know if the study had gotten it right, but it did change his perspective, and as his tour ended, he found it easier to squeeze the trigger and put his enemy down. In the time since, although his war memories did come back to him now and then, he didn’t feel a twinge of guilt over those he had killed. Especially since he knew that had they killed him or anyone else in his platoon, not only would they have not had any reservations about it at all, but would have danced and cheered over their bodies, and would have set them on fire and dragged them through the street, all under a burning American flag, and on camera, no less.
That being said, after joining the Force, he had only experienced three occasions in which he had needed to draw his weapon, and never had he been forced to fire it on the job. He regarded himself as lucky in that regard, since killing fundamentalist psychopaths who viewed murder as a divine mission and blasting away drunk drivers and rowdy bikers were two different things. He had killed the enemies of America, but he did not come home to kill Americans. None had pushed him to the point where it was necessary, and for that, he was grateful.
Lying on one of the desks in the station was a new friend, one in whom he had absolute trust. It was a Remington 7mm Magnum bolt-action hunting rifle, with a scope so powerful that a decent marksman could hit God in both kneecaps. He still giggled at the story that went along with how it ended up in the evidence room. A buddy of his a month or so back had pulled over a drunk hick in the dead of night on north I-25, who then proceeded to deny that he had been drinking at all, using such well-known defenses as he “never touched the stuff,” and so on. Of course, this was sharply contrasted by the fact that his floorboards were virtually covered by empty cans of Coors Silver Bullet and an unopened six pack that was still on the seat next to him. This of course was even less damning than the fact that after the officer asked him politely to get out of his truck, he proceeded to toss his cookies all over the cop’s shoes. A subsequent search of the truck revealed a glove box full of crystal meth and that Remington on a rifle rack behind the seat, with a few boxes (one almost empty) of ammunition in a plastic toolbox. He had already pled guilty but wasn’t getting his rifle back. Ryan filled his shirt pocket with some rounds and tossed a couple of beers (which was always on hand in the station, since parties were hardly uncommon) in a beat-up old backpack. This was the high point of his day. It was all shit from here.
The roof could be accessed by two ladders, one outside going down the back wall and one inside in the hallway that led to the roof hatch, lest a fire trap anyone inside. He took his kit up the ladder and sat down in a metal folding chair near the edge, cracked a beer open, and shoved cotton balls in his ears. He was sitting on the southern edge of the roof, and from here, he could see almost all of Pueblo, Colorado. The fires, which had mercifully spared much of the town, had burned themselves out, and the wrecks that had blocked many of the streets, trapping a lot of doomed motorists, could be easily seen from where he was, even without the scope. If he squinted, he could even see the barricade where the rest of his station had desperately tried to hold them back and allow time for the National Guard to get the civilians out, but the Guard never came back from the city center and it didn’t matter anyway, since the dead were already behind them when they took up their positions at the barricade. But reflections on the world that was could wait. That was not why he was up here.
After taking a swig of Rolling Rock, he looked through his scope and spotted one of the few that were visible from here, and near enough to be hit. It was a woman, staggering around, going nowhere and taking forever to get there. She was a hundred and fifty yards off easily, but through the scope, he could tell a lot. She was either thirty or getting close, and despite the gray, veiny skin, Ryan could guess that she had probably been quite the babe when she was alive. All she was now was a dead target.
“Sorry, babe. It wouldn’t have worked out anyway.” He tried to gauge the wind and held his breath, sighting her in and squeezing the trigger. He couldn’t quite see where on her head the shot struck, but the top of her head exploded, leaving nothing intact above her lower jaw. She fell on her back and the contents of what remained of her head spilled out behind her. Ryan took another swig. It was as much enjoyment as was probably left in the world, so he might as well make use of it. The beer would run out soon anyway.
Ryan slapped another round in the magazine. A quick scan showed something he had not noticed the last time he had been up here. A one-story house about three hundred yards off, and a dark shape passing one of the windows. He focused and saw that something was inside, and that it stumbled past a large window every few seconds. It wasn’t easy to see and would certainly be hard to hit, at least in the head, but nothing ventured, nothing killed.
Ryan drained his beer can this time, not caring if it would hamper his aim. He sighted his rifle on the window, trying to pick a place where that head would pass. Of course, it did, and he took a good look (as best he could) to at least know what was about to lose its skull. It was a man, perhaps middle aged, but he couldn’t quite tell if it had been balding while alive at this range, but that huge gut could probably be seen from space. He hesitated and gave the thing another few seconds. It passed again and Ryan squeezed. The teachings of his dad, the Navy, the Marines, and the Force had all left their mark on him, and he could see that head come apart on impact. Two down. Today was a good day.
Ryan could see other tiny specs moving around in the distance, but despite his skill with a rifle, Audie Murphy he was not. Only one other was within range, at least that he could see, and this one was a doozy. It was about thirty or forty yards past the woman he had taken down, and this one was old enough to be her grandmother. She was grody as hell, dressed in a blood-stained muumuu, but the most noticeable feature was actually something that wasn’t there, her legs, one of which was gone at the knee, the other of which was gone completely, though at her age, her legs probably hadn’t been of much use to begin with. She was trying to drag herself up the road by her arms and wasn’t making much headway. This one would be easy.
He aimed and squeezed. The head exploded in even more spectacular fashion than the other two. Without more targets, he lit a smoke and polished off the other beer.
The world was theirs now, but on this roof, with his trusty Remington, he was king. King of what, he did not know, but from here, he could waste them and they couldn’t do a thing about it, and that was something.
"If you have a milkshake, and I have a milkshake, and there's a straw, there it is, that's a straw...and my straw reaches...acrosssssssss the room, and begins to drink your milkshake. I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE! SLURRRP! I DRINK IT UP!