The cruise ship gave me three days to relive my life, such as it had been. It had hardly been roses and cinnamon buns in the mornings. It had been more like weeds and dog crap on your shoes.
From a poor southern mill family to the United States Army. It was a familiar route where I grew up. Most all the super marksmen came from a hunting background. I was no exception. On an almost daily basis, I had hunted small animals . Some years, the family depended on them for food. I never killed for sport, everything got eaten. There were also no hunting seasons for the poor of Chatham County. I hunted every day that I wasn't in school or working.
Since the only weapon the family could afford was a .22 rifle, I learned patience and how to make the shots count. My dad not only taught me by example, but also by rationing the cartridges. Three per hunt. When they were gone, he sent me to the car to wait. It wasn't too many years until I returned at the end of the day with some, if not all, of the ammunition still in my pocket. If there were missing shells, there were dead animals in my flour sack.
I did two years of my three year enlistment as a sniper assigned to a rifle company. I had a dozen or more confirmed kills when I stepped on the land mine. The rag heads had a nasty habit of taking half the charge from the mine. War with the Russians had taught them that it was better to injure a soldier than kill him. It take two more soldiers to get him off the battlefield, if he is screaming.
Besides it was a good reminder, not just to him and his family, but to everyone who saw him, just what shitty war it was. Nothing like a man with both legs blow off to make enlistments falter. In my case I lost only one leg. Just some kind of lucky break I guess.
You know that is kind of a stupid statement. I didn't lose the damn thing, it was on the stretcher with me till I got to the trauma unit. If anyone lost it, the medics did.
"So I see you are writing your autobiography again," it was Gloria's voice.
"What's it to you?"
"You know you could make it a little more glamorous. All the guys on the other side do that. They are all heroes, while you are just a victim to hear you tell it."
"I'm no victim, but I'm no hero either."
"Well you could tell some of the good things you did as well as the killing."
"You don't know what I have done. All you know is that I managed to get you killed."
"Right, why don't you just put on a swim suit and let's go lay by the pool."
"Right, you in a bikini with your veil, and me in a small suit with my scars and titanium leg. What a sight that would be."
"You know I wouldn't be caught dead in a bikini. Oh yeah," she said. Gloria sometimes forgot that she was dead. After a moment she changed the subject. "Don't forget the CIA years. I love when you think about those."
"Why do all you rag heads hate the CIA?"
"Just give that some thought," she suggested.
"Besides they don't use near as many snipers since they have sold the world on how great that drone thing is." I replied.
"Yes, now instead of killing one wrong person, you can kill fifty at a time. No wonder us rag heads hate the CIA." With that she vanished. She had a hard time with arguments. She liked to give her view then leave before I could respond. On that subject we actually thought alike, so I wouldn't have had a good comeback.
The killing the wrong man crack was a direct slap at me. The reference was to the incident that got me a prison term. There is just no excuse for shooting a corrupt politician's brother by mistake. To appease the government somebody had to take the fall. Since I wasn't really on the direct payroll of the CIA, I took the fall. They even managed to put the blame on Swamp Thing, who I had never even heard of at the time.
I got five years for the shooting. I was lucky not to do life. Two of those years I spent in a medium security country club close to home. The location didn't matter since nobody came to visit me anyway. After two years I was released on parole. I took my nickel and dime disability pension, and moved into my dad's old fishing cabin.
I managed to make my first two visits to the parole office before Swamp Thing came calling. That isn't their real name, but it kind of fits them. A term of any parole is that the parolee not carry a handgun, I never have had much use for them anyway, Swamp Thing found a use for me even with that condition. Not as an employee, since that would be bad for business. I was after all a convicted felon. No, I did contract jobs for them, mostly things no one else would do. The three years finally ended and the jobs for ST increased in number and complexity.
Which after two more years led me to a cruise ship. I realized all by myself that I was just thirty and already well into my nine lives. I knew that I needed to retire, but I just hadn't been able to kick the addiction to that adrenaline rush.
Even when I was on parole and trying like hell to be good, so I could stay out of the joint, I was sticking my nose where it didn't belong.
"Jeffery Burk?" the man in the toy sailer suit asked.
"Yes," I replied.
"The Captain asked that I suggest you take your meals in the cabin." He was a very officious little prick.
"Oh why is that?"
"He is afraid some of the passengers may have seen you come aboard. It would be awkward, if they were to begin asking questions."
"Actually it would be better if you remained in your cabin at all times."
"I'll give it some thought. Thanks for passing that along." The smile I gave him didn't seem to comfort him much. Some folks said I had a very forced and unnatural smile. It was forced that first morning for sure.
"Should I tell the Captain that you agree."
"Tell him whatever you like, but I'll give it the consideration it deserves." I know it all sounds too formal for a mill village boy. I picked up the better vocabulary and speech patterns from a white collar con man doing time with me. He taught diction and public speaking to all the medium security, and government's special prisoners. We were all better men for it, I might add. Most of them went back to the board rooms better able to convince the fish to swim along. I, on the other hand, learned how to play word games with the best of them. He also taught those of us from a more primitive background, which fork to use with lobster. He loved being Professor Higgins. It was a good thing he didn't do his time in a real prison. He would have been shanked the first time he put his hand on Bubba's shoulder in that fatherly way.
I really had not wanted to go to the huge dining room for dinner. I mean I had nothing to wear, but they did give me a day, and I had the Swamp Thing credit card for emergencies. I took the run of the ship.
I bought a fancy pair of cotton slacks and a club type blue blazer. I even found a strange looking patch to have sewn onto the pocket. Should anyone ask, I planned to tell them it was Maxwell Country Club's official blazer. That was the inmates name for the federal prison attached to Maxwell Air Force Base. Screw the tourist anyway, who cared what they thought, or knew. I came out of Columbia clean.
"So you have convinced yourself yet again that you have a right to be happy," Gloria stated flatly.
"Don't you ever get tired of being a pain in the ass?"
"Why should I? If it weren't for you, I would be married and have a family."
"Yeah married to a rag head terrorist, with a couple of terrorist brats running around a Madrassa somewhere."
She tried to slap me before she vanished. She couldn't, she was a figment of my sick mind. I laughed, but only after she was gone, just in case.