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The International Writers Magazine Si vis pacem, para bellum
From our Archives

If You Want Peace, Prepare for War
Willie Better

The Hero is one of the people in the filling station’s convenience store. He wears snug black jeans that disappear into tall black riding boots like cavalrymen wore when tilting towards each other in green fields, heroes all. The Hero wears His jeans the right way, and if He saw some man showing off his shapely legs with the same tight pants and sneakers, He would pull the little black Italian iron from His waistband and fill them with nine-millimeter parabellum rounds. They would not see the big iron, but the world would spin a little more like correct.

"Thirteen and Camels. Straight," the Hero barks at the cashier after spilling twenty-five golden Sacagawea coins across the counter. One falls to the other side. The cashier bends down to pick it up, picking out the filterless cigarettes on the way up. The Hero accepts His change. He steps out into the neon-lit night and walks to the hatchback car.

The Villain still sleeps under a muslin blanket in the passenger seat. A lawman is sitting in his cruiser barely fifteen feet from them. The Hero wonders if the Villain has stirred in his sleep or cried out in some manner indicative of distress. The possibility of the Villain’s sleep being a ruse floats into his head and the Hero reaches back quickly behind his seat, where the big iron remains hanging in its brown holster. The officer drives away. He lights a cigarette and breathes in unfiltered fire and exhales success. All is well for the Hero.

"You’ll like this place," the Hero says, His voice a grind of stones crushing seeds that he sometimes coalesces into words. The receding moon and righteous ends push Him east, towards the house the Hero and the Woman had visited last week. The Woman told Him of the incredible atmosphere in the surgeon’s operating room. It was exactly like she had expected it to be but off somehow. And graveyards are always scary at night. "This is the kind of thing you’d be able to appreciate," He says into the unconscious Villain’s ear, "Lots of attention paid to appearances. The Woman went crazy."

Outside the world is black and matches the Hero’s vestments. Guardrails are an incessant blur of silver dividing the grey road and gold grass highlighted by high-beams. The Hero sees a subjectively new green sign every tenth-to-fifteenth mile. Rye Road, Riddle Run, Logan’s Ferry, Alliteration Lane. Tell Him not where to go, for He has been everywhere, and knows that house on Boot Hollow is where this needs to end. The white letters of B-O-O glow under the Xenon arc discharge and the Hero swings the car hard and left, pitching the villain into the window a little less softly than intended. The Hero’s car dips into the black below of Boot Hollow and He reaches over to peel the blanket from his passenger. The seat is barely covered by the thin Villain. His hands are wrapped together in duct tape. He is finally awake.

"How are you feeling?" the Hero asks, "No headache? Sometimes there’s some blurring of vision and that’s normal, but if your head hurts then there may be some brain damage. Nervous tissue scarring is permanent you know."
"What’d you do to me?" the Villain asks.
"Don’t worry about that now. You’re about to see something incredible. Atmospheric. The Woman went crazy," the Hero says while he accelerates the car, "You should prepare yourself."
"What the hell are you doing?" the Villain asks, "Where am I? What gives you the right to abduct me? What’s going on?"
"Relax, everything will be perfectly pellucid in a few minutes," the Hero says. He slams the car to stopped in front of the dark house and swings the door open. The Villain is crumbled into the footwell, trying to open the door and untangle his limbs at the same time, so He takes His time raising the headrest and extracting the big iron and its holster from the car. Walking to the back of the car, He opens the hatch and pulls out a shovel wrapped in a plastic drop cloth. From His jeans He retrieves a retracted lock-back knife.

The Villain finally pries himself free of the footwell and out of through the car door. The Hero slices his legs free at the ankles. He pokes him in the back with the wrapped shovel and takes a secondary pleasure in the residual impairments the sedative has applied to the villain’s gait; now shambling, now sloppy, now drunken. The Villain stumbles across the threshold of the double doors, swinging loose and disorderly on their hinges, and the Hero quickly breaches the dark house after him. By memory, He nudges him out of the foyer with its inward-winding, ostensibly grand, staircase, through the kitchen and its tessellated white-and-black surface streaked red, avoiding the pot filled with latex limbs and down, into the basement.

Mercifully, there is light for the Villain when he descends the bottom half of stairs. The Hero’s gloved hand gropes the light switch at the top of the staircase and he stops for a minute.
"Keep going," the Hero says, "This is nice."
There is another set of stairs, but the Villain is not a coward. This is something he can appreciate. A single iridescent bulb subtly sways from the ceiling, its light bent toward the ground with a silver-plated pan. A hose is coiled in the corner. A metal table lies parallel to a wooden one, bisected by a brass drain. The metal table is bare, but the wooden one is someone else’s workbench with a whetstone laid in it and a leather strap laying across it, a hand ax that is better described as cleaver sticks out of it and a straight razor is unfolded on its wooden majority. The Villain is a thin man, a knife man, and eyes the cleaver like salvation.
"Go on," the Hero says, "pick it up."
The Villain dives for the handle fast with both hands and it folds instead of following the motion of his arms. There is a confused look on his face when the Hero lays him back down with a heavy bullet from the big iron. Like everyone before him, the Villain’s last words are a question:
"Plastic," He mutters while the Villain gropes for the hole in his chest, "a prop."

Now it is the time for the Hero to do the work of a vigilante, someone who must pretend he is a bad man when he is more right than the world. The shovel is unwrapped. The plastic drop cloth is cast across the metal table. Water pours out of the hose at the Hero’s command. For good measure, He opens and closes the razor three times before slicing it shut and shoving it into his jeans before carefully hoisting the dead man onto the plastic-covered table.

It would be a good time for a cigarette, an acceptable unit of time for delineating tasks. Instead, the Hero picks up His shovel and walks away from the tables to the storm doors, pushing them open and walking out into star-lit night and towards the ad hoc graveyard. He plunges His spade into the turned-over dirt, going deeper than the gravediggers original design, but not as deep as is appropriate for ritual burial of human remains, villains or otherwise. An hour later, His gloves are warmer and tighter around His fingers and He walks back in to the basement to finish His dirty work.

The Villain is pale on the silver bier. He is ready for the razor. The Hero turns off the hose and digs the thin blade out of His jeans. It cuts through his shirt and skin, then the sparse tissues of fat and muscle, in two fast slices. The Hero prods the hole left by the bullet with the blade, listening for the distinct tink of metal on metal. When He has two-thirds of the bullets He retrieves the lock-back knife from His jeans and begins cutting chunks free. There is a hefty shard in the sternum, and the Hero uses the thicker knife like a lever to pull it out. The Hero is satisfied. He wraps the Villain up in the plastic and hoists him on to His shoulder, carries him out into the graveyard, and casts him down into the murky hole before filling it further, completely.

The Hero leaves as He came, through the storm door, up the basement steps, pausing briefly at the top to acknowledge the importance of caution before walking through the dark kitchen, foyer, and double-door entrance into the night and the car. Settling in the driver’s seat, He flicks out a cigarette. He breathes in unadulterated fire and exhales pure success.
The Hero Exits.

"You met him today?" I asked you when you picked me up after a mundane day at the call center.
"Yes, we didn’t get anything done," you said, "just talked about the possible color combinations of the place settings and looked through a cavalcade of photographer’s portfolios. I was not satisfied. No numbers were dialed. No plates were bought. No appointments made."
"Oh that’s too bad, baby," I said as you turned your hatchback around in the wide, sweepingly empty parking lot we weren’t allowed to leave our cars in and started for home, "You’re meeting him again on Wednesday though, right? You’ll work things out then."
"I think you should come with me and help me decide."
"I’d really like to hang out with you two again, but Wednesday is my day off and your meetings are really early, Teagan,"

I told you. I really wanted to tell you that you were being sexist. I couldn’t come with you to pick out bras, and I know that was a big deal that, like this, should be very simple. It’s just volumes and circumferences, design, and color coordination determined by ratio. Real quick, Teagan, how many black panties do you have? You buy half as many black bras. While I couldn’t help you with that, I could help you with this?
"So you don’t want to be involved?" you concluded, "Everyone’s going to be there, you know. Your parents and mine. Our friends. Community pillars. A priest."
"I don’t care what they think," I said.
"You should care if I care!" you said.
"Oh, of course I care, Teagan, but I thought this was something, you know, you fantasize about all your life. "
"But there’s so much to make sense of."
"You’re smart. You’ll figure it out and it’ll be beautiful. What do you want to do tonight?"

I tell people things are still going well with you and me. We make dates, and not just for the sake of going out.

"When she picks me up off the steps of the call center," I say, "We come to a consensus. Aggravating days demand comedies with Seth Rogen or Robin Williams." You and I had a natural sense that allowed us to course correct and when we needed scared out of complacency, a healthy dose of horror was absolutely necessary.
"There’s a haunted house down Boot Hollow," you said. We shared a kinky thrill in a home that appeared to be owned by a doctor and, I suggested, in the thrall of the disembodied spirits he hacked free in his basement. Assuming appraisers can express "possession" as a fault, the local land value has plummeted. His neighbors must be pissed. You pressed purple bruises into my arm.
"Why so dour?" your adversary asked me when I dropped in on him, on Tuesday.
"I don’t know what you mean," I told him. He sat down in an overstuffed armchair that he still didn’t fill out.
"You look like you’re going to a funeral," he said, leaning forward, resting his jaw on his fists.
"May yet," I told him, "Seems like a good business to break into. People always got to die."
"Ah, the human condition…"
"Suffering and death," I said for him.
"I guess this is what Teagan sees in you?"
"I have a giant’s cock," I told him, pointing at my crotch, "It’s an important asset."
"Of course," he said, "So, if you’re not here to plan a funeral, what can I help you with?"
"Teagan isn’t going to make her mind up on these plates."

You weren’t. When you finally picked the paper for the invitations we’d be setting a date for 2012 and no one would come because they would be vaporized or choking to death under a giant cloud of ash along with everyone else. I couldn’t sit through another eight years of guest list revisions and subsequent seating chart revisals.
"Well, would you like to see the book?" he asked me, "She’s marked the ones she likes."
"No. No. I want you to tell her that everything she looks at is genius. Sparkly Bluegill dishes and matte Canary yellow napkins? Brilliance! Green felt table cloths and Salmon bridesmaid gowns? Perfection!"
"You realize I’ve been hired by the two of you as an aesthetic consultant? You’re paying me for my opinion on these things," he said.
"Then tell her that you have a heavy client load, people who scheduled you very far in advance, and you need her to figure these things out straight away," I told him.
"That’s not even ethical!"
"You’re a bridal consultant."
"A keen observation," he said, "You let people yell at you for money, I would think you’d have some skill with resolving conflicts."
"Uh-huh." This was a job for the Hero.

© Willie Better December 2008

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