The next time I see you, years later, it’s when you pull up out of the dust in the back of the filthiest jeep I’ve ever seen, beige like every single other thing out here.
Four uniformed musclemen wearing sunglasses stand at arms around you, plus one driving. I think that these must be your lackeys, your “men.” You’re decorated enough now to choose your own entourage; I expect you’ve brought them to prove something to me about relative size.
As if the desert requires extra protection.
You cock your beret in greeting and two of your goons point their guns and come forward to pat me down. They don’t find anything.
You step forward when I’m clear. I wonder who outfitted you, if your uniform was specially tailored to maximize your breasts. Your medals are almost blinding in the sun.
“You seem to have done well for yourself,” I say. “A colonel now?”
“I know, right? I finally have a reason to wear fingerless gloves.” You hold up a hand in front of your face, flex the naked fingers.
“You’ve got a lot of dirt under your nails.”
“Well, we have water rations. Don’t you?”
Your belt is the same one that I remember, the studded one with the metallic skull on it. The leather has made a band of sweat around your midriff. A good uniform shouldn’t leave skin showing in the middle. The boots, too, the same, with those heels.
It’s like a part of us never stopped being teenagers.
“Surely you have a bar of soap,” I say.
You keep one hand on your pistol in its holster at all times. “You know what I’m here for.”
I ask how things are on the frontlines. You count off the atrocities on one hand, then both hands, one for each dirt-lined nail: the loyalists dangling from lampposts in the city streets, the splinter groups raping in the countryside, the little kids with guns as big as their arm, the teeth you found blown out in the sand when they shot the blindfolded prisoners, the skeletal survivors in the concentration camps, the cannibalism casually picked up by a couple members of your brigade.
I ask how many people you’ve killed.
I say let’s keep the numbers manageable, but you can’t give me a straight answer. Either way, you don’t have nearly enough fingers.
I ask if you remember when we were kids, when we used to play commandos and run through the woods pretending to shoot each other like it was Vietnam.
You remember. I ask if it’s anything like that.
“Except we’re not in the jungle.”
I ask what it tastes like, human flesh. You squeeze your eyes shut and shudder. “Don’t even,” such that I know you know.
You grab your pistol from the holster, more out of frustration than as a threat. “Do you have the names we agreed on?”
“I do,” I say. Slowly, I feel around each one of my pockets one by one, at the same time letting an expression of surprise and confusion spread on my face, until you get so mad that you shoot one of your lackeys in the foot with your pistol. He howls and falls to his knees.
I find the document in my breast pocket, where I’ve known it was the whole time. I just wanted to see you do that.
It goes without saying; we’re violent people.
I yank the paper out of my pocket too fast so that all your lackeys point their guns at my face, except for the one who’s doubled over. You take another step forward and snatch it out of my hand.
You unfold the paper and smile because you see exactly what you want. “Is this all of them?”
“Yes,” I say. This is why they chose me.
You bring your head up over my shoulder, your ear towards my mouth as if I’m telling you a secret. To your lackeys it looks like you’re kissing me on the cheek. You just breathe out, once. I wonder which of them you’ve slept with.
You turn around and on the way back to the jeep you shoot your whimpering lackey in the head. That one.
The jeep spits up a cloud of dust and sand as it roars off, leaving me alone with the body. I mutter, “Catch you on the flipside” into the exhaust.
You leaving him behind; it’s hard not to see it as a courtesy. I radio back to camp for somebody to pick me up. I bring the body with me, because we all gotta eat. These days everybody’s doing what they can.
The whole ride back, I am picturing myself dressed in his uniform.
Simon Jacobs is an angry young writer from Ohio. He curates the Safety Pin Review, a wearable medium for work of less than 30 words. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in places like NANO Fiction, Paper Darts, Best Gay Stories 2013, and Columbia Poetry Review. He rallies troops of small birds and mammals at simonajacobs.blogspot.com, concisely @mohawko.