By Greg X. Graves
Posted February 25, 2012
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A twin-rotored transport helicopter squatted on the tarmac next to its twin. Their engines idled in the afternoon sun and the twirling blades threw shadows over Hank.
He carried Zelphia in his arms. With every few steps he glanced down at the blood-soaked tourniquet keeping her life in her body. The knot held. Hank was glad for a youth spent camping with the Little Mosquitoes Club. Zelphia had her eyes closed and her arms wrapped around Hank’s next. Her hair tickled his arm.
Behind him walked the Chef and a parade of soldiers. They would be riding in the first transport with Hank and Zelphia. Spiknid, Winsy and another squad of soliders boarded the other.
Hank climbed through the doorway, being careful not to bump Zelphia’s head. Two benches ran down the sides of the helicopter. Red webbing hung from rails welded to the walls. Hank buckled in Zelphia and took a seat next to her. He crossed his arms and watched the soldiers as they slumped into their seats.
Hank wagered that they’d seen more action in the past few hours than they’d seen in weeks. And he knew what toll that could take on a man: it made him want a break.
The Chef closed the door. The motors whined, groaned and, finally, screamed as they left the ground. Then the Chef grabbed a strap secured into the ceiling. He loomed. Right in front of Hank.
“Move it, you smell like a pile of week-old kitchen scraps.”
The Chef glowered down at Hank.
“I know that your pea brain hasn’t processed it yet and I hate to spoil the surprise, but we’re in the air. Zelphia and I can’t go anywhere. Go sit down,” Hank said.
The soldiers along the walls glanced at Hank and the Chef, then at one another. They were mercenaries. They were on the job. So they wanted to do as little work as possible. Hank punching the Chef or vice versa would necessitate them doing quite a lot of work.
“I don’t like to leave my fresh meat unattended,” the Chef replied.
Both of Hank’s hands shot out and shoved the Chef in the hips. It sent him off balance. He had to grasp a pair of overhead straps just to arrest his momentum. The Chef responded by pulling himself into a charge at Hank and ramming a fist into the metal wall where Hank’s head used to be.
Hank, meanwhile, had rolled off of the bench and into a fighting stance.
“Listen, I don’t want to clobber any of you. I’m caught, and that’s a fair cop. But this lunkhead thinks that he can cheat his way out of a fight with a handful of sand and treat an already beat man any way that he pleases, and that’s not something that I can stand for. I’ll bet that all of you were bullied. That’s probably why you became bullies. But forget who you are, just for a second, and think about you were. I’m gonna sock this bully in the face for the kid that you used to be.”
None of the soldiers moved.
The Chef dove towards Hank.
Hank grabbed a pair of straps overhead, lifted his feet up to let the Chef pass underneath, and then he brought both feet down. The Chef face-planted into the textured steel floor. He came up, blood on his face, and a mad look in his eyes.
Hank didn’t look frightened. He didn’t look excited, or even like his blood pressure was up. He looked as bored as if the Chef was a particularly bland bowl of oatmeal that Hank had to eat.
The Chef reached into his hand and threw a handful of sand towards Hank.
Hank anticipated the manuever. With a powerful thrust of his body he kicked open the door of the helicopter. It went pinwheeling off towards the mountains below. The wind exploded into the cabin and blew the dust into a harmless cloud.
“Fight dirty once, shame on you. Fight dirty twice, still shame on you because you’re obviously a goddamn rat,” Hank said. He punched the Chef in the face.
The Chef stepped backwards from the blow, but smiled.
Hank punched him in the face again. The Chef stepped backwards, but smiled bigger.
Hank punched the Chef in the face once more. The Chef stepped backwards and fell out of the helicopter. Hank smiled the biggest.
“And rats don’t belong on airplanes.”
Hank looked up to see the other helicopter floating a few dozen feet away. He could see down the sights of one of its machine guns, straight into the eye of its operator. Spiknid watched, his face contorted into a rictus of anger.
“I’m just proving a point,” Hank shouted across the howling void. He sat back down next to Zelphia and stroked her hair.
“I may have to give up my beer, but I don’t have to give up my principles.”
Not one of the soldiers said a word.
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