running guns to london
I was always pro-guns but I was never pro-England, so I hadn’t been sure about the idea to export. Not that it mattered what I thought; it was an assignment and I’d do it. Still, there’s this idea at the top that since we specialize in subterfuge we aren’t to be trusted. They like to make sure we buy into what they’re selling.
I daydreamed through the pep talk. I knew the gist of it: the U.S. economy was struggling and there was a market for guns in England. British law made it illegal to own a gun unless you were a member of a target-shooting club. We had a buyer whose motives, whether for profit or for power, outweighed his concerns with the law. If he armed part of the population, the rest would have to get weapons or get slaughtered. We would make England a player in the part of the international economy we understood best.
The American economy wasn’t really agency turf, but the pretext for the deal didn’t matter to me. We were supporting the dealer or the buyer or both. The official argument made it sound like the dealer, so I assumed it was the buyer, but the names at the top weren’t the names I was given.
The Brits had their own security; I just had to get the shit onto a plane. Loading crates of weapons onto trucks at a private armory seemed safe enough, but they gave me machine gunners on all sides, truckloads of agents to run before and behind the weapons truck, and air cover for the roads between the armory and our plane. I’d never worked a deal with this kind of backing. With this much money behind it, something had to be wrong.
That was someone else’s judgment to make. Wherever our funding came from, they wanted more action in another country. At some point that might mean I had to travel. I was always in favor of action.
England preferred sleep to action, at least in my lifetime. At some point they’d decided to subdue their population, to control it by making it stop. “Security” cameras were everywhere, theoretically to prevent crime. But they’d never come up with an efficient way to monitor what the cameras taped. Countless crimes lay unviewed in video cases stacked yards high. It was a waste of money that drove an unarmed populace to drink and little else. An always stagnant economy staggered further, and the people in charge, our allies, controlled less and less. They sat atop a sinking island. Eventually they’d be pulled down to join their dying people.
Whether my mission was intended to help the British currently in power or to replace them, it was not the best use of my talents. Someone else planned the mission and put me in charge of field ops. I was good at planning, not so good at working with others. No one on my team was as good as I was, but they were deployed as though they were. If they weren’t damned good, a lot of weapons would be lost. Along with someone’s version of England.
It was a caravan, guns protected by men with guns. Our drive was short, and we had air cover. The truck had loaded easily, and anyone attacking before we reached the plane would encounter tremendous losses. I rode in the front car, rifle in hand, not expecting a frontal assault but ready for one. More likely we’d be attacked toward the rear, the truckload of rifles separated from the gunmen behind it.
My greatest worry was betrayal. There were too many men in this operation for them all to be loyal. Too many causes could benefit from this much artillery.
We drove along an open plain, where we could not be taken by surprise. We approached the one stretch of winding road that could not be avoided. The hills here were deep and no tunnels had been dug through them. These were the few miles where we would be most susceptible to attack.
The caravan drove uphill, slowing down only slightly. This was the one place where the road ahead could be blocked, we could be broken up into sections and attacked by foot soldiers coming down from the hills. Our people had done recon up there, but the area was too wooded; recon could never be complete.
I paid close attention to the man beside me. For our mission to fail there would have to be several traitors among us, and one of them would have to kill me. So I made small talk and kept my finger within easy reach of my trigger.
Rain sprinkled our windshield. I hadn’t noticed clouds. My attention was elsewhere. I would stay alive, to defend any attack on the gun truck. Not that I was required for that defense.
The truck filled with guns was also filled with gunmen, and anyone opening the truck’s back door would face a dozen agency killers armed with semi-automatics and grenade launchers. Then there would be a bloodbath behind me, and the truck I was in would circle back and mop up the end of it. We were not going to lose the guns.
We drove back down to flat land as the rain let up. We had not been attacked in the hills; if their only reason for existence was to keep us on edge, nature had succeeded.
We met the plane at a private airfield. The agency gunmen got out of the truck, escorting the agents who moved the boxes of artillery from truck to plane. No one else was around. I was suspicious. I don’t get easy assignments.
I walked over to the pilot, my rifle pointed casually at the ground. “You alone on this flight?”
“There’s a co-pilot,” he said. “Strictly precaution. It’s only a few hours in the air.”
“Good,” I said. “I’m going with you.”
“But – that’s not part of the plan.”
“My job’s to get the cargo on the plane.” I said. “Until I see who picks it up, how do I know this is the right plane?”
My left hand unholstered my pistol and held it at his temple, or he might have gone on all day about “the plan.” “Six from the truck!” I shouted. “I want the six best shooters. We’re flying to London.” All twelve men approached. I picked the first six to reach the plane. The less hesitation the better.
The pilot didn’t ask any more questions until we were in the air. I sat beside him in the cockpit, his co-pilot in back with six trained assassins.
“How will you know?” he asked.
“When the mission’s complete?”
“I’ll know if something’s wrong.”
He nodded again. We’d be over the Atlantic soon, his co-pilot could make the crossing without him, and I’d made it clear I’d gladly kill him.
We were prepared for an attack and one hadn’t taken place. We were prepared to the extent that any intelligent enemy would not have attacked, but they almost certainly existed and would have looked for the weakest point in our defense. Which would have been the airplane, unprotected except by pilots between the time the cargo was loaded and the time it was picked up. The easiest attack was to divert the landing, which meant either replacing or coercing at least one of the pilots.
I looked at the man beside me, the beginnings of gray in his hair and wrinkles on his face. Any man with a family was easily threatened. We’d land somewhere we weren’t supposed to and the cargo would be taken by the wrong people.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Your parents name you that?”
He shook his head. “Dave,” he said.
“Dave. You got a wife?”
“And two boys,” he said with a nod.
“Do you know who approached you?”
He shook his head.
“But they threatened your family.”
He nodded again, this time with a shudder. “Said they’d kill them all. Slowly. Even the boys.”
He looked close to tears. I patted one of his shoulders.
I looked out my window, saw water below us. “Did they get to the co-pilot, too?”
“Yeah,” he answered quickly. I nodded and got up, worked my way behind us, where our shooters and the co-pilot sat. Everyone looked anxious. I smiled.
“Good news,” I said. “I was right.”
The shooters exchanged rapid looks; the co-pilot scrunched his face like he could make it disappear.
“I don’t know who’s meeting us,” I said, “but they’ll be armed. And we have to kill them all. Open the crates behind you until you have more guns and ammo than you could possibly use.”
I caught the grins of anxious happy killers as I turned back toward the cockpit.
A large truck waited at the private airfield below. We began our descent.
“Is there any way we’d survive,” I asked, “if we crashed into the truck?”
“No,” the pilot said, looking about to shit.
I laughed. “Just land, then.”
We hit the runway. We rolled forward and I dropped to the floor beside my rifle. I crawled toward the back, stopped in the doorway and waved the co-pilot forward.
I crouched, allowing him to pass.
“Sit down,” I said, when he was back in the cockpit. “Now, I know you’re both scared. But you have to do what the hijackers tell you. They’ll want the two of you to unload every crate from the plane. That part’s okay. Then they’ll tell you to fly back home. When you’re on board again, they’ll blow up the plane.”
The pilots stared at me.
I let them stare a minute, then continued. “I know they held guns to your heads and threatened your families. That’s no reason to trust someone.”
They both looked ready to protest, but they’d already believed killers and now they had to believe one more. “Look,” I said, “those guys want you dead because you know what they look like. I want to keep you alive because I can’t fly a plane. Do what I tell you, and when we’re done you fly to the original rendezvous and we do the transfer. A little late, but they’ll owe us some favors.”
I talked until the truck stopped outside the aft door. Men with rifles got out of the truck. Some approached the front of the plane. Others got out the back of the truck and stood near the aft door, where the freight would unload. I slid back out of the cockpit and joined my men.
“Wait,” I whispered. “Shoot on my order.”
They knew that, but it didn’t hurt to say it.
A man on the ground, gripping a rifle he didn’t yet aim, yelled orders up to the cockpit and our pilot opened the aft door. A wide escalator was wheeled from the back of the truck to the open door. Pilot and co-pilot were both ordered to the back of the plane to send the cargo down.
I crawled back there behind them, let them do all the work. “At the end they’ll call you down to put it on the truck. After that, do like I told you.”
The pilots didn’t answer, just grunted lifting crates. They didn’t have to carry them far. They were lucky; there were a couple of empties they wouldn’t have to carry at all. My men waited, but we didn’t want to waste ammo shooting through airplane windows. We’d find clear shots when we needed them; we talked about that, softly and quickly.
I counted eighteen men down there and they were all armed, but nothing in the hijackers’ actions indicated a suspicion that we were on board. The pilots sat on the escalator and followed the crates down to the ground, where they resumed following orders, loading the crates onto the hijackers’ truck.
The last crate was loaded and the pilots were ordered away. They stepped toward the cockpit. Four hijackers approached the ramp that offloaded the cargo. I wanted the ramp to stay connected. The pilots needed to move quickly. Once they were back on board, the whole plane could get blown.
“Wait,” I whispered. My men were just out of sight of the rear exit. The co-pilot was on the stairs to the cockpit. The pilot stopped at the bottom of the stairs. He turned around to face the hijackers, extended his left arm and pointed his index finger at the rear door.
“Now!” I shouted as the pilot dropped to the ground and rolled beneath the plane. My men crouched into the aft doorway, three on either side, one above the other. The hijackers turned to face us just as my men opened fire with their semi-automatics. Eighteen men looked up and reached for their weapons without time to raise them. They fell back, shot head to torso.
I stepped into the doorway, too late for any shooting. Nothing but corpses down there. “Bring back the crates!” I shouted.
The pilot rolled out from under the plane and his co-pilot scurried down from the cockpit.
I walked down the ramp, leapt off at the bottom and grabbed the pilot by his shoulder.
“Good job,” I said. “Now let’s get this cargo to the men who paid for it.”
He nodded. “And my family?”
“If these are the men who were going to hurt them,” I waved my hand to indicate the bodies on the airfield, “you have nothing to worry about.”
He looked me in the eye and asked nothing more, just began loading the crates of guns.
rob pierce is the Editor-in-Chief of Swill, and for nine years was one of the editors of Monday Night. He has thus been published by Swill and Monday Night. His prose has also been published or accepted for publication by Moon Milk Review, Zygote in My Coffee, Five Star Literary Stories, Strange Tales of an Unreal West, and the forthcoming album release by The Ancients. As a writer and editor, Rob seeks blood and emotion, and doesn’t much care how he gets either. He can be found at robpierce2verbs.blogspot.com and at robp-swill.blogspot.com, and at the occasional East Bay bar.