This story is by Dr. Katherine Hutchinson-Hayes and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
How much for the goat?” Brock pointed to an animal whose ribs jutted through its filthy coat. A fly landed on Brock’s lid forcing his eye shut with its bulging weight. He smacked himself, missing the target. The fly buzzed to a freshly butchered camel’s head then upward joining a cloud of flies feasting on fish strung by their tails on a clothesline.
Mohammed threw his head back and laughed. His stomach jiggled through his bubu, a traditional Malian gown. “You don’t want no goat, man.”
“No?” Brock scanned the rock path between the buildings behind where the vendor sat. In the distance, a sign for where he’d slept at the La Colombe hotel gleamed in the African sun. He’d spent evenings there as the hotel’s singular guest. The adjoining restaurant was open during the day but when the sun set everyone deserted. Even the manager went home come nightfall.
Brock walked to a rack of knock-off sunglasses displayed on nails tacked through a piece of zinc. He donned a pair and checked his reflection in the mirror perched against the camel’s head. It’d been six months since he’d been taking the Limitless pills. Seeing his muscular image took him by surprise. This invincible version of him dressed in a mud-cloth dashiki really did resemble the Egyptian archeologist his colleagues at the excavation site believed he was. Who they saw was instead a trained killer. And with the help of the Limitless pills designed by the agency to make him unbeatable, he was the perfect, boundless weapon.
“You want info.” Mohammed said. “Right, boss?”
“Men you seek.” He used his head to point. “Second building to the left, third floor.”
“You’ll know.” Mohammed grinned displaying betel-colored teeth. “The cost of goat is $400.00,” he said, spittle spraying into his goatee.
He shrugged. “Last meal costs more.”
Brock folded bills in Mohammed’s palm. “Anything else you’d like to share?” They wouldn’t meet again, something Mohammed already knew.
Mohammed fanned himself looking directly into Brock’s eyes. “No, boss.”
Brock knew this time he was lying.
He walked through the marketplace, keeping his head low, his pace even until he got to the building. Once inside, Brock kept his sunglasses reached for the gun strapped to his ankle.
Moving up the steps to the third floor, Brock came to a landing. He peeked around the corner, checking both sides of the hall before turning left. A family tumbled from one of the doors. A woman wrapped in black held the hands of two children while her husband locked their apartment.
Brock pretended to tie his sandal and tucked his gun back in its holster.
Dust in the hallway slipped past his allergy medicine and he sneezed.
The father spun around, peered at Brock. He smiled. “Yarhamuka Allah”—May God have mercy on you.
Brock prayed his Arabic would sound right. “Barak Allahu Fik”—God bless you.
The father indicated drugs were to the left, girls to the right and the mosque was located below.
Brock switched to French. “Je suis perdu où est la mosquèe?” Explaining he was lost and needed directions to the mosque.
“Oui.” The father volunteered to show him. Brock followed the family out the building to the mosque. The family then left to shop at the market.
Satisfied he was alone, Brock retraced his steps.
A voice whispered in his ear, “We got your six covered.”
“Tracking,” Brock whispered. He sniffed the air. The woodsy smell of marijuana took him further down the hall toward the boom of music.
“Confirmed nine targets at location,” the voice said.
Brock reached the end of the hallway. Music shook the walls, causing pieces of peeling paint to flitter in the air like brown confetti. “I’m here.” Brock adjusted his bulletproof vest.
Cold metal pressed on his skull.
Brock turned to face the person at the other end of the barrel—the father from earlier.
“Allahu Akbar”—God is most great. The father’s skin and gun glistened in the shadows.
“Mashallah”—God has willed it. Brock snapped a sidekick into the father’s chest.
The father staggered, his gun slipped from his grasp.
Brock swung the barrel of the man’s weapon against his head.
The father staggered as a gush of blood streamed from his scalp. Then he went for Brock’s neck.
Brock’s fingers squeezed the trigger.
The explosion reverberated as the father’s eyes fluttered open in shock. “Combatant down,” Brock said. Limitless coursed through him. With his eyes on the door and his fingers around his gun, he braced himself.
“Backup present,” a voice whispered in Brock’s ear.
Seconds later, two agents, ran ahead demolishing the door.
Brock reached up, ensuring his ear plugs were in place before the whoosh of a flash grenade glided past him.
The blast pierced through the dwelling, disorienting the occupants. Bursts of light and shrapnel thundered, causing a small tsunami. The kitchen’s plumbing exploded, hurling a wave of water down the hall, bringing with it the contents of the cabinets. Silverware bobbed like misguided missiles in the murky water.
Six armed men stumbled through a maze of furniture, blinded by the bomb, with hands raised. One of the insurgents tried to force his dislodged eye back into an oozing, hollow socket.
Brock and his companions took down the men with clean shots.
“Three targets armed in back room, right corner,” a voice said to Brock.
Signaling the agents to follow, Brock’s boots sloshed through the hall, moving in ankle-deep water.
The group moved in tactical formation past the mutilated bodies toward the last bedroom.
Brock stepped over a twitching, detached arm with missing fingers. The metallic stench of gunpowder made his breath labored. His heartbeat hammered like a paper drum while a stifling silence settled over the apartment. He pried open the bedroom door.
Someone behind the door fired ripping the door off its hinges.
The group took cover.
Motioning for the others to back him, Brock lowered his body, into the water. He peeked around the door jamb, pumping bullets into a man who popped up.
The other agents unleashed rounds into a man who appeared behind a mattress. They retreated to reload.
Brock crawled on his stomach, fired at a third person, a woman who had a rocket launcher aimed at the group from behind a dresser.
An explosion blew out a chunk of wall narrowly missing Brock. Stunned and bleeding from a busted lip, Brock stood feeling like someone had belted him. An agent yelled a warning.
The agent rushed the woman, whose machine gun pointed at Brock. Shuggs threw a flash grenade into the bedroom. Shockwaves rocked the apartment in a roar while Brock and the men knelt; waiting for the sparks to fizzle.
Sounds from the bedroom faded.
Echoes of sirens clanged; drowned out by screams from the marketplace.
Brock shook his head, his stomach filled with acid. He checked his watch. They were in a race against time so the risk of civilian casualties would be low.
“All targets down,” the voice said.
Brock peered around the door. Motionless bodies in growing pools of blood told him all he needed to know. Brock gave the okay sign to the agents.
“Document eliminated targets,” the voice said. “Vacate in ten.”
“Affirmative,” Brock said.
The other agents rushed throughout the apartment collecting everything of value to the agency.
Circuiting the room, Brock readied the Intel’s phone to capture images of the people who’d helped militants terrorize the city for the last year.
Brock crouched on his heels next to the two bodies. They resembled, handsome, early-twenties. Both stared at the ceiling fan, limbs in unnatural positions. After taking pictures, he walked to the third body.
A dead girl sat erect; on the floor, her back against the wall, a gun hung from her hand. Female, teens, acne covered her forehead. He snapped her pictures and got up.
Brock walked to the door and looked back. Something out the corner of his eye caught his attention. A wave of tiny palms quivered from beneath an embroidered blanket he hadn’t noticed before.
An agent motioned for him to leave.
Brock nodded and released a tense breath.
The bundle trembled then went still. Oh, God no. Too small and too innocent to be in a filthy place packed with drugs, terrorists and explosives.
Brock ran into the room, kneeled, and snapped the last picture.
Held tight by a dead teenage mother was an infant covered in blood. The baby stared lifelessly right through Brock, as if seeing a secret deep in his soul, before departing a brief life. Brock’s limitless power to kill seemed to him, smaller than the infant at his feet.
For the first time since the mission began, a pang of sadness, of deep regret gripped him. Brock tapped the hot barrel of his gun against his temple. What did I do?
“Retreat,” a voice crackled in his ear. “Time’s up.”