Letter 06: Hopeless Commander

Hopeless Commander

Jake Buchanan – The Hopeless Commander
By Rock Kitaro

“There was this girl. Her name was Jamie. I knew we went to the same school. I’d seen her around campus, but it wasn’t till my sophomore year that I found out we stayed in the same housing complex. She was just across the hallway.

“The first time we spoke, it was like magic. Pretty eyes. Long sandy blonde hair. She had such a sweet smile. It was contagious. But she smoked. That was kind of…I’m like damn, dude. Haha! Don’t let those good looks go down the drain. But to each his own, I guess. I didn’t judge.

“It’s like a moment you see in the movies, boy meets girl. Except it’s the next-door neighbor. One day, when we were walking out at the same time, I introduced myself. I remember my voice was shakin’ like crazy. But she seemed smitten. You know, her cheeks lit up bright red. We talked about this, that, and the other, and it was cool. I thought we hit it off.

“Then I went and did a Google search on her. I know people might call that creepy or whatever but, I dunno. I just wanted to know more about her without asking all these invasive questions. I didn’t have the ‘right’ to know. But still, I wanted to know. I clicked on the images tab and scrolled down to find her. And that’s when I was floored, man.

“I found a shot of her in her bathroom, like a webcam. Turns out this girl was using Backpages to hook up with sugar daddies in Denver. I couldn’t believe it. She seemed so clean and pure. Like if you talked to her, you would have never guessed that sex was something she was even into. I know that sounds stupid because everyone’s into sex. But that’s not the impression she gives off.

“Weeks after I found out, I kept it to myself, but it was just by coincidence that we ended up having the same class. Her world seemed to revolve around environmental studies. She was all up in arms about that pipeline the government wanted to run through the Indian Reservation. Again, my point being, prostitution is the last thing you’d expect. And the truth is, I was madly in love with this girl. Like, heads over heels man.

“One night I came home from a long shift of delivering pizzas. And I saw her crying on the steps. Someone had beat the shit out her and it pissed me off. Seriously, , her face was all swollen, black and blue. The neck hole of her shirt was all stretched out. I could see scratch marks on her shoulders. Man…Just thinking about it again, it’s like setting me on fire, you know.

“I asked her what was wrong but she wouldn’t tell me. She just said she wanted to be left alone. So I did, at first. I left her alone. But, I couldn’t just go in and rest easy knowing the girl of my dreams needed help.

“Bout a half hour later, I went back out with a bottle of water and she was still there. She let me treat her injuries. I had like, gauze and Neosporin or some shit.

“The way she looked at me, it was like a puppy I just took in from the freezing rain. I tried to get her to open up and tell me what happened but she wouldn’t. She just said she was going through some things and everything would be alright.

“And that’s when I messed up. It’s like…a thousand voices in my head was screaming ‘NO!!!’ But that one voice in my heart said, ‘Do it, she needs help!’ So I did.

“I went ahead and told her that I knew she was on Backpages. She didn’t deny it. If anything, she seemed relieved.

“I told her that I thought she was ten times more precious than she probably knew. I told her how impressive her dissertation was. I told her I learned more from her than I did the goddamn teachers. I said she was beautiful, smart, and full of so much potential. There are better ways to earn money. Whatever she was being paid, I guaranteed her it was pennies to the fucking dollar of what she was actually worth!

“She cried. And I cried with her. I would’ve given her a hug right then and there. It was cold outside. I should have wrapped her up in my arms and told her everything was gonna be alright. But I didn’t. I thought, that would be taking advantage of her and I didn’t want to do that. It just didn’t seem right.

“So, I helped her up and escorted her to her apartment. I never entered in with her. But what I told her was, ‘Jamie…I stay right there. If you ever need any help, if you ever need someone to talk to, just let me know. You have my number. I barely sleep. So just call anytime.

“And she smiled as I thought we were cool. I told her good night and went to my own apartment thinking, you know, I did something good. I was proud of myself. Not only for consoling her and imparting some sense of self-worth into this individual. But of my restraint, my discipline in not thrusting myself on her in such a vulnerable state.

“Well…as you can imagine. No good deed goes unpunished. About a week later, I was called into the Dean’s office. Jamie accused me of rape and sexual battery. Obviously, she had the bruises to prove it and there were neighbors who testified to seeing me with her the night in question. I was evicted. Expelled. Spent two years in prison and now I have to register as a sex offender wherever I go. No one will hire me. I’m fucking terrified to even look at a girl. Essentially, my life is ruined.

“I never got the chance to face my accuser. She didn’t have to show up for trial. I never saw Jamie again after that night. I couldn’t ask the questions that would eventually go on to torment me for years. Like, why? Why’d she do it? Was she ashamed? Did she think I’d go out and tell everyone she was a prostitute? It really got to the point where I thought about killing myself. Out here. Out on these mountains. All it would take is one jerk of the wheel to end it all. Death would have been sweet. That’s honestly how I felt.

“But that’s when Jake found me. I honestly do think he was sent from God because that very morning, I had made up my mind to fucking end it. I was leaving the pharmacy with oxys when I saw Jake on his Harley. He was parked next to me looking all badass and what not. I thought he was talking on his phone when he said, ‘God has a plan for you.’

“I stood there in place, frozen, stiff as a board. He said, ‘consider the words of Joseph. In Genesis chapter fifty, do you remember?’

“Joseph, poor Joseph, his brothers had sold him into slavery. His master’s wife falsely accused him of taking advantage of her. Then he spent years in jail because of it. But throughout it all, he never lost faith in God. God granted him the power to interpret dreams, helping him gain favor with Pharaoh, prompting his ascension to become the second most powerful man in Egypt. Thanks to Joseph, Egypt had prepared for a famine, which saved the lives of thousands. Hundreds of thousands!’

“But one mustn’t forget the hardships he endured. One mustn’t forget the trials and tribulations he faced. And what did he say? In Chapter Fifty when his brothers feared his wrath, when his brothers feared that one day Joseph would exact the vengeance they felt he was so justified to take? He said: ‘As for you, you meant evil against me. But God meant it for good. To bring it about that many people be kept alive as they are today.’

“Everyone has their trials and tribulations, my friend. Remember Jesus Christ, who was persecuted and died for our sins. Know that the world accepts what is there’s, but as for you, because you are no part of the world, but one claimed by Christ, they will persecute you. Have strength. Be strong and ever faithful in the word of God.’ That’s what Jake told me back in the parking lot of a pharmacy.”

Trent recounted his experience with tearful repose. We all gave him a standing ovation, an ovation worthy of his ordeal, his pain and recovery. After concluding the meeting, I saw everyone out, locked up the church, got on my Harley and drove north along the majestic Front Range mountains of Colorado Springs.

Trent was but one of hundreds in our support group. It was just for men. It had to be. In my day, men were taught to be strong, tough, and durable, but we still had emotions. When our fathers and father’s fathers told us we couldn’t cry, that we couldn’t appear weak, we knew. We understood what it meant. They were trying to make leaders out of us. Preparing us to protect and provide for our families. If the leader is weak, incapable, too yielding, it trickles down.

My generation understood this. Trent’s generation…I know people like to harp on Millennials and give ‘em a hard time about why the country’s gone all to hell, but where do they think they get it from? Do they think Millennials just hop out of the womb, born with a sense of entitlement? Or has someone instilled them with the mentality that the world owes them everything and if they don’t get it, its not their fault, it’s the worlds? It’s the institution. It’s “the man”.

The problem with Trent’s generation is a virus, spreading worse by the day. Trent’s but one of millions across the country suffering debilitation from the false accusations and offenses taken. And that’s what the public doesn’t get. If Trent really was the villain society made him out to be, the criticism would’ve rolled off his shoulders like rain. He would have never become so broken. But because he is a good guy, one of old school chivalry, the stuff of gentleman, not extinct but more so simply not welcomed, it took solely the grace of God to give him the strength to pick himself back up.

Young men like Trent get no sympathy. There’s no recourse for false accusations. If he went online and posted his sob story on Facebook or Twitter, there won’t be a line of men waiting to lend a helping hand. Maybe he did rape her. Maybe he didn’t. Once upon a time, we believed in the concept of innocent till proven guilty. Nowadays, to even question it could land you in hot water in your pursuit of the truth. They’ll claim you advocate for rape. They’ll shame you for shaming the victim. It’s all a bunch of nonsense and it only encourages me to strengthen my faith in God. This world really is wicked. Everyone knows the truth but they’re not about to let that mess up their fantasy. Don’t even get me started on India’s 498A bill.

That’s why groups and grassroots movements began popping out of the woodwork through various mediums like video channels, forums, and blogs. Men’s Rights Activists, Red Pill, Men Going Their Own Way…these were just a few. But the media’s careful about acknowledging their existence, lest more people find out and actually be enticed to an alternative that makes more sense.

Thus, they shamelessly confected boldface lies to discredited the leading figures of these movements, associating them with the likes of the KKK and various hate groups so no one will take them seriously, or that to agree with them would mark you a supporter of hate and bigotry. It’s nothin’ new. Sowell and Buckley can attest to that.

All of it was pushed and promulgated by an underground society of hardcore feminist hell-bent on removing men from power and influence. Sadly, they’re winning. It was the Society who was behind that cat-calling video that made good men reluctant to even so much as blink at a woman. It was the Society who was behind the slut walks, the celebration of abortions, and brainwashing our students that a rape culture exists on campuses akin to the culture of lynch mobs during Jim Crow. They had their top singers, actors, and directors flooding the entertainment industry with female empowerment, deceptively teaching women that men, particularly white men, was the source of all their problems.

The results is that it isolates individuals and inadvertently creates segregation by preference. Men are more likely to stick to men, and women to women, all in their exhaustive and frustrating efforts to keep from offending each other, to keep from making each other feel “uncomfortable”. And I feel sorry for the women as well. It’s not like all that female empowerment’s encouraging women to be the ones to initiate the first move in courtship. Nope…that task is still behooving of men.

And what about the women who actually like the traditional roles of being a feminine woman who likes wearing dresses, who likes being pampered, doted after, complimented, and want nothing more than to be a loving wife and a nurturing mother. I’m referring to the women who don’t care about rising in power or breaking that glass ceiling, but would prefer a strong man to take charge and actually lead. Even they feel the pressure and confusion.

All this talk about a new civil war and a dividing of the houses…it’s all to destabilize the infrastructure, make the so-called patriarchy out to be the scapegoats, so that the Society can swoop in and replace CEOs and world leaders with their own proxies. Meanwhile assholes like the president, and big name producers in Hollywood only get bolder, thinking no one would suspect them of corruption because they donate to the cool and popular political party.

Either way, this is the conflict plaguing Trent’s generation. A conflict of contradicting realities, of post-truths, force-fed to them by the slanted media and a biased education system. And my generation wonders why young people rather stare down at their phones than look someone in the eye and extend a simple greeting. We wonder why they’d rather order from a kiosk while there’s nobody in line for an actual human working the reception line. We wonder why Millennials still live at home with their parents as opposed to moving out. We wonder why they lack the drive, the sense of setting goals and working hard to accomplish them.

It’s okay. The Bible foretold these sordid events. All we can do is that, which is in our power to do. That’s why I’m a Paramour. Because I don’t shy away from the truth. More importantly I sense that there’s a great hunger for it. The problem is, sometimes the snake bites the hands that feeds it. Being a Paramour requires a great deal of tolerance from that kind of pain.

As the wind bit my face at 50mph, these were the thoughts that permeated. As ever, I was careful. The more I thought about it, the more I teetered on the edge of a cliff with nothing but cynicism and stagnant apathy crashing in ceaseless waves below.

A transport was waiting for me, the blades already spinning with the rotor wash kicking snow across my bike. The custom white Chinook was a vintage used in Vietnam and Iraq. A unit of six Army Rangers were waiting inside. They were hired escorts. Alongside them were three of my fellow Paramours, all adept and more than capable of holding their own behind enemy lines.

Ravi Naranjo was a former narcotics agent from Colombia. Jessi Dobson had studied to become a schoolteacher. She had no idea she was sleeping with a member of the Society and when Jessi started asking questions, the girlfriend shot her and left her for dead. And then there was Lincoln Holcomb, a veteran Paramour whom I had come to trust with my life.

Lincoln was one of the few Paramours who wasn’t declared dead or hunted by the Society. Thus, he held a public job without fear of being shanked or having his car explode upon ignition. We needed people like him to acquire and move civilian assets who had no knowledge of the existence of the Paramours or the Society. That’s how we were able to have an escort of elite Rangers. Lincoln’s clout as a defense attorney in the JAG core afforded him a few perks here and there.

As soon as I strapped in, we lifted off. Taking off from Fort Benton, Montana, our destination was somewhere in the rugged wilderness of Alberta, Canada. In the dead of winter, it wasn’t ideal. But we had reliable intel that was too good to pass up.

“Why on earth were you riding your Harley in this weather?” Ravi chuckled.

“You’re from the tropics, Ravi. I was born in the alpines. I could go skinny dipping in this. When I was a kid, we used to use the bathroom in the middle of the night and the toilet water would be frozen. Called it breaking ice.’”

“Oh God.” Jessi smirked.

I turned to Lincoln. He sat there looking all official with his aviators and that leather jacket zipped all the way up. As Jessi and Ravi continued their banter, I reviewed the dossier. The first thing I saw in the folder was the picture of a girl who looked no older than thirteen. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Ivy League threads.

“Don’t tell me this is who we’re after.”

“Read the profile.” Lincoln told me.

“Yeah, or you could just tell me. We got about three hours to kill.”

“You just don’t like to read, vato!” Ravi said.

“Nah. He’s just mad the Senior Council wouldn’t let him bring his precious Ellie along.” Jessi added.

“Hey! Mark my words, Elliot’s gonna prove himself pivotal in the coming days.”

“I dunno, vato. Looks like any other Asian kid to me.” Ravi said.

“Lincoln. Is this the target?” I said, seriously doubting whether the manpower was necessary.

“Actually, I was thinking the same thing. What is she, in middle school?” Jessi asked.

“Yes, Ms. Dobson. I’d bring four of us and a squad of hardcore Rangers to take out a middle schooler.” Lincoln quipped.

He continued, “As far as we’re concerned, this middle schooler is the holy fucking grail. She was trained by the Society and ruthless to boot. To date, three hit teams were sent by the Vandelay Corporation and of the twenty-six soldiers deployed, only one man came back. He’s awaiting trial because he was still officially a Marine. His deposition revealed some details that was too good to pass up on.

“According to the Marine, his team was ambushed by a single gunman. One girl. This girl. After some legwork, we concluded she was either with the Society and defected or this she’s still with the Society and this whole thing is just an internal dispute. Either way, we need to get in there and bring her over to our side before it’s too late.”

“Your money is she’s a defector, I presume.”

As soon as I asked, Lincoln flash a grin.

“It makes sense.” Jessi noted. “The girl is none other than Gladys Vandeley. Y’all remember that crap that dominated the headlines last year. Her brothers were caught up in a sex scandal, one committed suicide, and badda-bing-badda-boom, the new CEO is Gladys’s uppity Barbie of a sister, Clarice Vandelay. Now for Clarice to contract hit squads to take out her own sibling, as fucked up as it is, it reeks of dissension.”

“And if that’s the case,” Lincoln said, “Then we’re looking at our first Society defector in over a hundred years. The last one was Emily Davison’s cousin from the Suffragette movement. After Davison was killed in that horse race, her cousin turned on the Society. Most of what we know about the Society’s existence, their structure, their initiation process of eliminating their paramours, we got it from her. But even she didn’t know everything because she wasn’t a full-fledged member.”

My interest was piqued. I read the profile. This girl…she looked thirteen but she was twenty-two. They claimed she murdered her own father. Her brothers were pariahs and the two sisters who stepped up to defend the brothers had their reputations shot to pieces as well. Something about Gladys’s picture in the dossier, taken by the Marine…something in her eyes told me she was going to be a lot of work. The idea of planting the seed of forgiveness in her would be about as tedious as pushing a seed through concrete. But still…it was as Lincoln said.

Our first defector in over a hundred years.

“Listen up!” I shouted to get the Rangers’ attention.

“As you all know, our target is a young woman named Gladys Vandelay. She may be dainty in appearance but let me tell you this target is cold as ice. To date, her body count is twenty-five plus. Good men and women have died trying to bring her back to answer for her crimes in the states. We’re not going to add to that body count by taking this mission lightly. As soon as we touch down, consider yourself in enemy territory. We stay frosty, we have each other’s backs, and we take this bitch down!”

“YES SIR!”

I sat and stared out at snow-dusted pine trees sprinkled along the mountains. It never ceased to amaze me how powerful these women were. They really do run the world. Either because men are terrified of them or because we’ve come to love women more than we love God. Either way, I won’t let myself fall into that trap. Never again.

“ETA to LZ, fifteen minutes!” said the pilot over the intercom.

We zipped up our white coats, locked and loaded our weapons and strapped on our goggles. All I could see was gray gradients for miles out. We had about two hours till sundown. It wasn’t good. That unnerving feeling crept into my gut. We were still airborne, but already it felt like I was being stalked by a lion.

BOOM

Something exploded overhead with the rotor blades. We banked hard with some spilling from their seats. Alarms went haywire and suddenly we were at a ninety-degree angle where looking to my right I could see ground, the overcast was to my left.

“We’re hit! We’re hit!” came from the intercom.

“No shit, cabron! MIRA! MIRA!” Ravi shouted.

Lincoln clutched a handrail. “Brace for impact! It’s go time!”

Oddly enough, it wasn’t my first air crash but it was by far the most violent. We flew into a brush of towering sequoias that turned our descent into a classic game of pinball. Whiplash and concussions galore. After hitting a number of solid objects and rolling for what felt like an eternity, we stopped at the edge of a stream that hadn’t yet frozen up. I remember because I was upside down and ice cold water was trickling in.

Surprisingly, I could still move my legs. Other than a few bumps and bruises, myself, the Paramours, and all eight Army Rangers staggered out. The pilot and co-pilot weren’t so lucky. Tree branches impaled them through the windshield. And I thought that’s what had killed them until Lincoln pointed out their headshots.

“Sniper!” I shouted.

Everyone got low and hustled for cover. My warning couldn’t have come any sooner because two bullets just zipped by and pelted the snow inches from my boots.

“Fan out in teams. We’ll rendezvous at this position at 2000 hours.” Lincoln ordered.

“SIR!” everyone responded.

It reminded me of Baghdad, how calm and collected we were. I went with Lincoln, Ravi paired with Jess, and the eight rangers broke up into two teams of four. In a smooth steady ascent we scaled the slopes. I didn’t need to tell them, it was common sense to know the sniper had a vantage point.

BOOM

A dull explosion went off six klicks east. Lincoln and I turned to see a massive sequoia falling in the distance. We exchanged confused glances, mutually conveying, “What the fuck was that? Are we even going the right way?”

Suddenly we heard the rapid taps of a machine gun going off in the same direction. It didn’t make sense. I was certain the sniper was to the north. So what the hell was going on in the east? We communicated through our ear pieces.

“Sir! The sniper’s a .40 cal on a mount. It’s remote controlled.” Said Ravi.

“Be advised! Terrain’s laced with booby traps and detonators!” Jessi warned.

BOOM!

Another explosion occurred two klicks to the west.

“AGH! Man down! Man down. We need a medevac!” shouted a Ranger.

“Jansen, Banks, tend to the wounded. Everyone else, press on. Stay frosty! Let’s move!” said Lincoln.

I sprinted along a narrow ridge, controlling my breath, trying to keep from slipping off the packed snow. We covered probably 800 meters before a spray of automatic fire hit me across the back and I went tumbling down the hill. I looked up and saw smoke and white dust pluming from the muzzle of a machine gun stationed just twenty feet above the ridge.

“Jake! You hurt?” Lincoln said as he rushed over.

Body armor stopped the penetration but it still hurt like a son of a gun. Simply raising my arms felt like hot coals raking my back. The gunfight intensified in the distance. Grenades were popping off left and right.

“That don’t sound good.” I said, leaning against a tree.

“Ravi, Jess, do you have a copy? Have you made contact with the target?” Lincoln asked.

“Negative. Eighty yards and closing…we think.” Jess responded.

“Damn! What kind of Ivy League school did this girl come from?” Lincoln whispered.

“God knows. Help me up.” I said, latching onto his shoulder.

Then the light bulb went off. We heard an intense shootout underway, but Ravi, Jessi, and the Rangers hadn’t reached the target yet.

“Be advised, be advised. Another team might be in play. I repeat. We are not alone. The target is engaging them as we speak.”

I started sweating. For all I knew, it could’ve been members of the Society coming to take out the deserter. My determination kicked in. We couldn’t lose Gladys. We had to keep moving.

It really was Afghanistan all over again. The gunfire sound like a downpour of hard pelting rain. Trees were falling. Clouds of snow burst from the branches.

“Contact!” Ravi shouted.

I heard him, both on the radio and within earshot. Like a tornado, the entire battle was moving from east to west with Lincoln and I directly in its path. Then…as sudden as lightning on a clear day, this white blur of motion came darting from the bushes. And there she was. I saw the blue of her eyes before I saw the glint of her pistols. She had one in each hand.

I shoved Lincoln out of the way as she discharged shots that would have tagged him in the chest. Another soldier emerged and wrapped her up from behind, lifting her clear off the ground. Gladys swung her body and raised her legs to kick away from a tree. She caved back on the man’s chest before rolling to her feet and putting two shots in his face.

Another soldier emerged and unleashed a spray from a G36. Gladys kept low and dove, sliding in the snow as she pelted the soldier with at least six shots all ripping through his chest. Then she got up, raced to grab the G36 from around his shoulders and disappeared into a brush before the soldier even dropped to his knees. It was that quick.

Lincoln and I hid behind an outcrop, completely dumbfounded.

“We’re dealing with a fucking pit viper.” Lincoln whispered.

“Nah, she’s just backed into a corner. I sense desperation.”

“Screw that, Jake! I have to answer for the casualties. We fall back and come up with another plan. All units! Fall back! I repeat, fall back! Jake. JAKE!”

It was too late. I heard him calling my name but I was already after her. She kept bouncing in and out of my sights as if she had run these slopes a hundred times for sport.

She started taking fire from her left and it didn’t take long for me to discern she wasn’t exactly trying to escape. She engaged them. With the G36, she took cover behind a massive tree with roots the size of a car, ducking in and out to return fire on a unit of six that were steadily closing in.

I crouched behind a trunk from the high ground and threw a non-lethal stun grenade designed to produce a blinding flash and disorientate the enemy. It worked. These idiots started shooting all over the place. One even clipped his own man in the knee.

Gladys emerged from the sequoia and started picking them off like fish in the barrel. She dropped five of them, but I felt responsible for this particular part of the bloodshed, so I advanced and tackled the remaining soldier out of her trajectory. The soldier was younger and stronger. He rolled on top and started pummeling me with his mitted fists.

I grabbed one of his punches, banged his head against a rock, and pulled him in for a chokehold. In no time at all, I put him to sleep. The victory was short-lived. No sooner had I lowered the solder to the ground that I heard the metallic click of a reload. She was right behind me. I was still on my knees.

Cautiously, my hands raised.

“Jake! Jake, come in.”

She swiped at my neck and severed the cord to my earpiece, keeping the blade close with the muzzle of her pistol grazing the back of my head.

“I’ve seen this before.” She said. “Save the damsel. Gain her trust. Dispose of her when she’s outlived her purpose. Hell, I’ve perfected the technique. So I’m going ask you once and one time only. Did they send you?”

“Gladys…”

“Answer the question!” She growled.

“I know you’re innocent. I know you didn’t kill your father. Your brothers didn’t hire hookers and Clarice ain’t the egalitarian she pretends to be. I know all of this, because I am just like you. I’m a Paramour. A victim. A survivor of the Society.”

I nearly choked as she yanked me close and dug the blade so deep that I knew I was bleeding.

“That’s good. Let me guess. Celeste told you say that? Or was it Breanne?”

“You’re not the only one scorned by the Society.” I strained to say. “They took my wife from me. They ruined my life!”

I was shoved forward with my palms braking the fall. Turning on my hips, I really got a good look at this kid. Man…the stone cold look in her eyes could bill hours of therapy. It wasn’t so much the look of a survivor, but more that of a child indoctrinated into someone’s army at an early age. So young she could scarcely say she even had a childhood.

Keeping the muzzle inches from face, she whispered with scary intensity, “Go on…”

“About eight years ago, I finished my last tour of Iraq. It was supposed to be a new chapter for me. Just me, my wife, and our three daughters nestled in a ski village not far from Denver. But my wife…the whole time I was away fighting for my country, she’s been cheating on me. Flying out to New York on business. Hooking up with another man behind my back.

“But of course, she’s one of you. To become a member of the Society, she had to kill the man she loved the most. The only reason why I’m still breathing is because it wasn’t me. The man she loved the most was the bastard she had an affair with.”

“Then, you should be happy.” Gladys said.

“You’re wrong. A massive scandal broke out. It was all over the news. Hackers broke into that website and exposed the thousands of married men and women using it to cheat on their spouses. It was the worst day of my life. She was using a fake name to protect her business but she came out and told me. I almost lost my shit and threw up all over my deck.”

“Did you kill her?” Gladys asked.

“I couldn’t. I can’t…I love her. She’s the mother of my children, my little girls.”

Gladys winced something fierce as she clicked the hammer. “Likely story!”

“I’m not lying! Google my name! You’ll see me come up as a sex offender.”

“What?!”

“My wife…she’s the one who cheated on me. And she’s the one who filed for divorce. The icing on the cake, I don’t know how she did it, but she convinced my little girls to lie to the police. They accused me of molesting them. No evidence. Just their word against mine. I was convicted. Spent six years in a Federal penitentiary. I lost my pension. No longer eligible GI benefits. I lost all custody rights to my girls.

“Meanwhile, my wife’s thriving as president of one of the top five publishing companies in the country. Pumping stories full of degradation to teenagers, brainwashing them, encouraging them to explore their sexuality, corroding all sense of accountability and depicting religion and morality as chains holding them down.”

“And what about your accountability? Huh! What did you do to her? Why would she do that to you?!” Gladys shouted.

“Because I was selfish! I admit it! I chose duty to my conscience and country over her, over my daughters. Those are my sins. It’s all I’m guilty of but I’ve repented. I no longer live to serve myself but to serve others. Now, tell me. What are you gonna do? How are you going to redeem yourself? You may not have killed your father but don’t fucking kid yourself by claiming innocence.”

Gladys just stood there. I couldn’t tell what she was thinking, only that she was thinking. It seemed like my words threw a monkey wrench the gears. I didn’t rehearse it. I never planned on laying out my sins to sway her over to our side. But there we were.

“You can get off your knees.”

Gladys whipped her gun and trained it on Ravi. He was lighting a cigarette as if posted outside a convenient store. Ever so casually, Jessi approached and checked the dead soldiers.

“Don’t worry. They won’t hurt you. That’s not what the Paramours do.” I said as I stood up, cringing from my aching knees.

“Who are you people?” Gladys asked.

“He just told you. We’re the Paramours, chica.” said Ravi.

“Alright, we’ll rendezvous at the Chinook in half an hour. Prepare your men for extraction. The target got away. No. Everyone’s whole.” Lincoln said through his radio.

He then turned to Gladys and said, “Obviously we can’t have the others thinking we have you in custody. Otherwise, we would really have to turn you in to the authorities as soon as we cross the border.”

Gladys holstered her pistol and raised her rifle to aim at Lincoln’s face as he continued to read, “Gladys Vandelay. Youngest daughter of Felix Domina Vandelay II. Virtuoso with the piano. Spent the last three years at the prestigious London School of Economics, just to come back and whack the old man. Doesn’t sound right, does it?”

“Doesn’t sound right, because it isn’t. Clarice killed my father!”

“We know. That’s why we’re here, chica.” Said Ravi.

“Stop calling me that! What do you want from me?”

“Hey!” Jessi called out. “These guys are contractors. Blue Steel out of Oregon. We gotta get out of here. These guys are like ants, man. Trust me. I ran into Blue Steel during that thing after Katrina. They’re no joke. Gonna call in the fuckin’ cavalry. I know it.”

Lincoln gave me a look that only friends for years could transmit. Someone had to stay with Gladys. We couldn’t afford to lose her again.

“He stays with me.”

All eyes turned to Gladys. Finally, she had her rifle lowered. Before we could even figure out who she was talking about, she grabbed me by the sleeve to usher me along.

“Oh yeah. Almost forgot.” Gladys said before turning around and pressing a button no bigger than a key fob. At once, we heard all sorts of machinery powering off.

“Now you can go.” She told them.

After a fifteen-minute hike, Gladys took me to this makeshift bivouac of a tent set up near the edge of a cliff with a river rushing beneath. She lowered her hood. Long blonde hair pulled back in a messy ponytail.

This girl…Everything about her was deceptive. She was young, but carried herself with better confidence than most of the vets I knew. She was short and petite, but strong enough to yank me up with one hand. She looked like an indoor girl but outfitted the entire battlefield to work in her favor. Also, she was wounded in the gunfight. I hadn’t noticed because she gave no indication. But when she started taking off her garments, the contrast of red was all too apparent.

I remember just standing there on edge. Unnerved. Not just at her potential, but at the likelihood that nearly everyone in the Society was trained like her. Including my ex-wife.

“Sit down. You’re freaking me out.”

I did as she commanded with my back against the wall and the sound of the river to my left. She sparked up a fire and wrestled up a pot of oatmeal. I watched.

“I’m astonished, Gladys, truly. How long have you been up here?”

“Tell me more about these Paramours.” She ordered.

“I was gonna ask about your organization. It’s umm…It’s a dark initiation process. Determining one’s loyalty by being disloyal to the ones you’re supposed to be loyal to the most.”

“It has little to do with loyalty.” She told me. “The Swords of St. Catherine value commitment above all else. When a woman commits her heart to the cause, whether it be family, the home, her job, her religion, or a movement, it’s absolute. Unbreakable. We are fierce. We’ll defend it to the death. Therein lies the true loyalty. But commitment comes first. The only way to break the covenant is through betrayal.

“At the alter, I imagine you stood before the eyes of man and God and said I do to your wife. Did you not? And, what did you do? You went and broke your covenant by putting your job before her. You lost her commitment, and along with that, the right to her heart, her honesty, her truth, her loyalty.”

“Gladys…you don’t really believe all that, do you?”

“Men…” Gladys scoffed. “Your lot really is so stupid, you know that.”

“Men are fools. I’ll give you that.” I chuckled. “Why do you think God gave us women? It wasn’t to drive us insane. You think men built cites, fast cars, and towers that reached for the sky for our own egos? Or rather, why do you think we have egos in the first place? We are engrained with the spirit of competition. A small percentage of men compete for the top of the monolith in whatever industry they find themselves in. Yes, some men compete for greed and power, a need to control and dominate others. However, all men, all men compete for love.”

“You’re babbling.”

I laughed. She was right. Gladys spoke so eloquently and there I was, struggling to find the right words to explain what I was trying to convey.

“All I’m saying, is that without women, the overall motivation for men would be diminished by roughly eighty percent.”

“Yeah, what about homosexuals?” Gladys pointed out.

“It’s not all about sex, darlin. It’s the companionship, a nurturing element that all men need.”

“And…”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Here’s the part where you tell me what all women need.”

“My friend, I’m not a woman. How would I know?”

She handed me a bowl of maple oatmeal and said “Well, you’re convincing. I’ll give you that.”

“Convincing?”

“I know you’re with the Swords. So what do you want? Why’d they send you? It clearly wasn’t to kill me.”

“Darlin, I already told you…”

“Enough with this darlin, shit! Enough with the Paramours! Just tell me, what do you want?!”

Unbelievable…

“We want you to join us.”

“Who?!” She barked.

“Let’s put it this way. If your father had survived, he’d be one of us.”

“You’re playing a dangerous game there. Mention my father lightly again and I’ll literally rip out your eyes.”

“I don’t blame your skepticism, Gladys. But everything I told you is the truth. You really think the Society would send a convicted child molester to come and give you a motivational talk?”

“Well, they did sink so low as to have a daughter kill her father. So…”

“Gladys, this bitterness in you. If you let it, it will swallow you up and eat you raw. How many more men are you going to litter across the mountainside? The way I see it, right now you’re at the bottom of a well. I’m extending my hand, by the grace God, to lift you out. I won’t force you out against your will. It’s up to you come out if you’re ready.”

She slouched back against a rock, squinting those vindictive eyes, ever on guard, so full of doubt. “What’s your name?”

“Colonel Jacob Buchanan of the United States Army, 737th Infantry Regiment.”

“When were you in Iraq?”

“03 to 07.”

“So, before ISIS?”

“Before ISIS.”

She smirked. “Tell me more about the Paramours.”

“Tell me more about the Swords of St. Catherine.”

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