Somewhere in West Germany, 1976
‘Do you have any objections to killing a woman, Freitag?’
‘None, Ma’am. I’m an equal opportunity disciple.’
Major Jillian Schaefer, his occasional instructor and the team’s psychiatrist who separated the sane from the psychopaths in his assassination team and sent the sane back to the Regular Army, continued her usual stare that was always on the verge of a smile.
‘I have to ask that. Your previous mission speaks for itself...’
She spoke of his having first seduced his previous target, then killed two of her hirelings with his stiletto, and soon after fatally shot her and her brother who had been the original target with a borrowed sniper’s rifle. That established his ‘rep’, short for reputation. Since his big moment he had been back doing his usual surveillance work.
They enjoyed her excellent home-made cookies; both preferred their coffee and comedy black. He pondered if she put something in his cup to facilitate relaxed and truthful conversation.
The first time she served him, they both took a sip and smiled. He genuinely complimented her on her flavourful coffee; she spat out her mouthful in an empty water glass and gave him an expression that made them both break out in wild laughter.
‘Yes, you have done it before, but…’
A memory popped in his mind of Ronald Reagan talking about his time as the President of the Hollywood Screen Actor’s Guild. He commented that if an actor had a success playing a sailor, he had better stock up on seasick pills, as he would be doing the same role for the rest of his career. Though she hadn’t been his original target, he had killed a woman. Ergo, he was now a stereotype.
He suddenly realised his killing a woman was tits-for-tat. A communist student group in Luxembourg murdered his previous commanding officer, Captain Sandra McQueen, beheaded her, then placed her head inside a family-sized bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken that they presented to him. They paid big-time for their naughty behaviour by his team who adopted him as a homeless waif. Then he was trained for his present career in ‘retroactive family planning’.
‘…with regards to your target, on your previous mission you had…’
She waited for him to fill in her gap. When he didn’t, she repeated her question in the manner of a game-show hostess trying to give the loser a consolation prize with a question like, ‘Which American city is famous for its Boston Baked Beans?’
‘With regards to your target, on your previous mission you had…what with her?’
‘Carnival knowledge, Ma’am.’
He loved to make Major Schaefer laugh; as she was caught by surprise, she did so.
‘That’s carnal knowledge, Freitag.’
‘Well, I did have fun with her…and it was a game of chance…’
Her stare continued as she loudly laughed. He hadn’t felt this way about a woman since his crush on his fourth-grade schoolteacher. She was the Hillary Brooke to his Louis Costello…
Her laugh and smile faded away,
‘There’s always a worry that an unprofessional would delay his target’s demise in order to have sexual relations with his target…’
He had always wondered whether a post-mortem was done on Captain McQueen to ascertain whether the students had enjoyed themselves with her sexually before they killed her, and whether she was still alive when they cut her head off, but asking those kinds of questions was regarded as ‘unprofessional’.
‘A lay-by, slay-later scheme, Ma’am?’
She made the pistol gesture, pointed at his head, sounded a click and winked,
‘You slay me!’
Her eyes revealed that she was as bathed in blood as everyone else in their team; she was living proof of the maxim it takes one to know one. When the time came, she could well be pointing a real suppressed .45 at his head; at least he’d die laughing. His team were fun, but you were forever walking on thin ice with them…
‘Mission accomplishment first, Ma’am, troop welfare last.’
‘Again, I had to ask that…I’m glad you enjoy your work, Freitag.’
‘It’s a living, Ma’am.’
‘Not for your targets…’
He politely smiled at her quip and nodded, but he wondered about her pause…for she always spoke in the ellipsis…
‘Have you any objection to killing an American?’
He believed that looking into a person’s eyes, especially ones he loved as much as Major Schaefer would delay his own eye language of being surprised. Both were masters and mistresses of the staredown.
‘None…again, I’m an equal opportunity adherent who doesn’t believe in discrimination or favouritism that I regard as one in the same, Ma’am.’
‘Do you wonder why we want you to kill an American? Please don’t be coy.’
Asking or pondering ‘why’, was unprofessional as well. ‘Unprofessional’ was being ‘Mister Don’t Bee’ in US Army Europe’s Romper Room. Unprofessional conduct would get Mr. Don’t Bee sent back to his infantry battalion that would be a horrible experience...or something much, much worse...
He visualised his Major looking into her Magic Mirror and intoning,
‘Romper, bomper, stomper boo.
Tell me, tell me, tell me, do.
Magic Mirror, tell me today,
did all my friends have fun at play?
I see Freitag…Oh there you are! I see YOU!’
‘Another branch of our government asked us to as a favour, Ma’am?’
‘Why do you think they would do that?’
A song went through his head, and he broke out laughing. Before she asked what he was laughing at, he began singing a mid-1960s pop tune called The Name Game.
‘It’s the Blame…Game!!! Kill ‘em, kill ‘em, Bo-bill’em, Banana fanna, Foe fill ‘em, Fee fi Moe…mill’em…THEY ain’t got the guts ta…kill…‘em!’
As he sang, his psychiatrist enthusiastically danced The Swim with her arms in mid-60’s style, rocking her head, smiling with her mouth open, a keen look in her eye, and moving from side to side whilst still seated at her desk. She was a wonderful dancer; at a team party she outdid the Beach Party’s Candy Johnson with wild gyrating motions that had everyone whistling and howling in delight. He had never known a woman as enthusiastic and as fun to be with as her.
‘Of course, I would never be allowed to say that you may be on the right track…’
‘What would you say if someone said that you were a psychopath?'
'Some people are vegetarians, some are Freemasons, some are...'
‘Are you ever troubled by guilt?’
'If you have guilt, it's balanced by bitterness, Ma’am. I have neither.'
‘That should wrap things up, Freitag.’
A session with the psychiatrist and obtaining her Seal of Approval, for she did clap her hands and make barking seal noises, always preceded his visit to Fearless Leader who would hand out his assignment.
He fell in love with her name, Dawn Anthony. It sounded like a movie star.
She was a schoolteacher on a summer vacation, like his favourite 4th grade teacher who once sent him a postcard from Rome. Single women schoolteachers were the only ones he knew in his hometown who travelled to Europe, with the exception of his father, relatives and neighbours who fought in World War II. All his schoolteachers spent their entire summers in either Paris or Rome, never Germany. He was to do her in before her return to the USA.
Like a pet being put down, he worked out doing her in so she would never know what hit her.
He asked Major Schaefer what the suicide rate of American female schoolteachers was, for she was an expert on everything. He was disappointed when she replied that it was very low,
‘They just make their students do themselves in…’
He would be working with his usual partner, Wildschwein. However, the quiet defrocked Marine was reluctant to go on this mission, none of his team were keen. They regarded being assigned to kill a woman like the Life breakfast cereal commercial, ‘I don’t wanna do it, you do it! Hey! Let’s give it to Mikey/Freitag.’
The ubiquitous all-knowing Major Schaefer acted as a mediator to give both men their say. Wildschwein seemed to have the same high feelings towards all women that his parent’s generation did. Freitag said he had originally felt like that, then his experiences with the girls in his high school knocked that belief straight out of his head.
‘A pussy’s not a get out of jail free card. It doesn’t make someone immune to justice.’
Major Schaefer shrieked in laughter.
'What is there about "kill or be killed" that you can't understand? She wouldn’t have made the list if she hadn’t done something super naughty.'
‘I used to believe that, but this time I feel unsure. Don’t you feel strange about doing this, Fry?’
‘Orders are orders, Wild Man.’
‘Isn’t that what they said at Nuremberg?’
‘Do you think they got a fair trial?’
‘Even Perry Mason wouldn’t have got them off…something feels bad about this…’
‘I see your point, Wild Man, but feeling bad is what we’re paid for…’
‘I’m not talking about feeling bad, I’m talking about a bad feeling…’
It was the first time they were ever at cross-purposes.
Freitag turned to Major Schaefer,
‘Would you like to be my partner on this mission, Ma’am?’
She coolly watched the Wild Man, without answering.
‘I’ll go, Freitag’, he said in his soft Tennessee accent. Freitag hoped they didn’t detect his disappointment. ‘You know I’m with you all the way, I just had to have my say.’
‘You’re always worth listening to.’
The pair planned their work.
An instructor had once said that Europe (excluding Italy) had the lowest rate of contract killings of all the continents save Antarctica. His schools in America were never as interesting as what he was learning now; he would never look out the windows or at a clock, if his classroom had them.
Freitag questioned whether it was that Continental killers were more efficient at making things look like accidents, as they were more professional and less spur-of-the-moment. Number Two countered that the police didn’t bother identifying a contract killing either due to incompetence or corruption. His team were more in favour of Number Two’s belief than Freitag’s as they believed most Germans were like the highly neurotic Wile E Coyote who always outsmarted themselves with fatal results. In high school psychology class, his teacher said that neurotics built castles in the sky, psychotics lived in them, and psychiatrists collected the rent.
What was sure-fire, wouldn’t cause discomfort or injury to anyone else and would minimise police investigation? The team regarded Kind Hearts and Coronets as a training film…
An automobile hit-and-run was out, as was an explosion that would injure other people. A street mugging was also out, as was a well-placed round from the Wild Man’s rifle. Two others of their team, Braunbär and Bierliebhauber, were nicknamed The Flying Bombolinis for their predilection, like the Bizaro Superman, for throwing their targets off tall buildings in a single bound…So far, none had survived their leap. Wild Man and Fry had been their backup and watched them do their party trick through their telescopic sight and binoculars respectively. That would be out too.
The Flying Bombolinis were the biggest extroverts in their team, Fry and the Wild Man the biggest introverts.
Freitag asked for more information on who the target was working for, to kill two birds with one stone and work out something to blame them. He was told who she was working for was classified.
Freitag instantly joined the Wild Man in his misgivings…
The two stopped their planning and had another talk, like what he imagined married couples to do.
‘Why did you want the Major to take my place on this op?’
‘I need all the help and information I can get. Having someone who thinks like a woman would give me an edge.’
‘You like her, don’t you?’
‘What’s not to like?’
Wildschwein didn’t answer, he just continued his stare; everyone in the team had one.
Freitag did like Major Schaefer, but he never told her so. He was surprised one day at one of their impromptu sessions when she told him,
‘Confidentially, do you know why I like you?’
‘You’re the only man I’ve ever met who not only doesn’t mind, but enjoys being with a woman he thinks is smarter than he is.’
‘You don’t learn anything from a dummy, Ma’am. Except what not to do.’
He thought about Wildschwein’s failed marriage, and the ones of the others; they didn’t seem to be able to talk with their wives let alone converse. Super Top said that women were wonderful, but then they became wives and spent the rest of their lives trying to emasculate their husbands…Freitag always felt at home with his Major…
It was decided that Dawn would mysteriously vanish.
Some German associates of the team had rented a room in the same building where she stayed; Fry and the Wild Man would visit them. During the night they would enter her room with sleeping gas, take her away and dispose of her.
Wildschwein, an expert sniper, was not keen at working at close quarters. Freitag said he understood and promised he would do the necessary work but would need him to help with ‘the heavy lifting’. They had both disposed of remains of kills by other team members.
Half an hour before their arranged showtime, they were contacted by Fearless Leader; their mission was called off.
‘Abort, abort, repeat, abort operation immediately!’
‘Dawn, go away I'm no good for you’, Wildschwein sang,
‘Presto! Change-O!’, laughed Freitag.
As a reward, they would have three days off.
Wildschwein was openly relieved, Freitag sympathetically said his feeling was right.
‘Don’t tell me you’re not glad too, Fry.’
‘The fickle finger of fate points in amazing ways…’
Wildschwein returned to base, driving their car. Freitag thought he’d remain behind in the city to do some sightseeing and would catch a train back.
‘Entschuldigen Sie bitte. Könnten Sie bitte mit mir zum Bahnhof gehen?‘
Freitag looked up from his coffee and newspaper to see Dawn Anthony herself in front of his table at the Bäckerei Café. She appeared frightened, as if she were Faun Anthony.
‘Why do you want me to go with you to the railway station?‘
‘Thank God, you speak English.‘
‘Some people are after me, I’m afraid to go by myself.‘
‘Have you time for coffee first?‘
‘That’s a good idea. I don’t have to be there for awhile...I’m Dawn Anthony, and I’ll have my coffee with milk, no sugar please.‘
‘I’m James Buchanan‘, Freitag said as he summoned the waitress to order a coffee for her and another black one for himself. ‘Who’s after you? The police?‘
‘I don’t want to say, but they tell the police what to do.‘
‘They’re so powerful they don’t pay tax!‘
‘Movie stars are after you?‘
‘I’m afraid I’m going to be abducted and tortured. I don’t know why, but after meeting you, for the first time I feel I’m going to go home alive...You believe me!!!‘
‘Why would you lie to me? Sounds like you’ve got quite a story.‘
‘I do, but I can’t tell it to anyone. If I told it to you, they’d kill you.‘
‘Paranoia means never having to say you’re sorry. I’ve got to admit, Miss Anthony, you’re the most interesting person I ever met in my life.‘
* * *
They left the Café together.
‘I won’t ask you where you’re going, but may I put you aboard your train?’
‘Thank you, I’d like that, James.’
He felt something in his back.
‘Do not look around, keep moving, then turn left at the corner’, whispered a voice in an American accent.
‘If you’re her boyfriend, I assure you that we’re not an item.’
‘Did you say here, or do you mean there?’
Distracted by Freitag’s hand movement, Freitag was able to instantly block the weapon out of the way and give the man a blow to his throat.
Going to the pavement, Freitag took his Hi-Standard .22 pistol with a large sound suppressor and stuffed it in the waistband of his business suit. The man was alive but struggling to breathe. With his large eyeglasses, he reminded Freitag of Poindexter on the Felix the Cat cartoons.
Freitag flagged down a taxi, rendered Poindexter unconscious, then placed him inside the back seat,
‘Krankenhaus bitte und schnell!‘
‘Do you still want to go to the Bahnhof?’
‘Let’s go somewhere where we can talk, James.’
They went to a bar, and he bought two glasses of Moselle.
‘I’m a lucky woman, meeting you.’
‘It must be in the stars…’
‘I don’t know who or what you are, but I feel that you’re the shape of things to come for me…’
‘The Ghost of Dawn Anthony Future.’
Freitag was trying to think. The weapon he took from him was not a street criminal’s weapon, but had the man been a professional he never would have got that close to him. If the man who stuck the weapon in his back knew what he was doing, he probably would have finished him off. He was an inexperienced amateur with a professional weapon…As Löwe the Texan said, ‘a forty dollar saddle on a ten dollar horse‘.
‘Are you sure that you don’t want to tell me anything?’
‘I’m a schoolteacher from Schenectady. I got in over my head doing something, and some powerful people are going to torture me to find out what I was doing…and I have to atone for what I’ve done…’
‘And you’re not going to tell me for what, who, or why…’
‘You seem to have a knack for finding Americans.’
‘I don’t want to talk about it.’
‘Then what do you want to do?’
An Abba song started, she stood up and pulled both his hands to raise him up.
‘Dance’, she softly, but determinedly said.
The pair closely did, to Dance, While the Music Still Goes On. They lovingly lived a lifetime in the moment in their play-today, pay-tomorrow lifestyle; like those who had been in a war said, tomorrow never came…
At the end of the song, she told him she wanted him to take her home...
She took him to the same room where not too long ago he had planned to use sleeping gas and carry her off to her doom.
She locked the door and looked into his eyes,
‘Of all the people in the world to meet!’, she rapturously exclaimed.
They warmly embraced,
‘The fickle finger of fate points in amazing ways…’
He felt that he was reading the words he spoke as if he glimpsed them on a burning sign in another dimension,
‘Never let me go…’, she smiled.
They heard a door breaking open downstairs, it was the sound of the end...
‘I’ve only got one magazine…’, when he put Poindexter in the taxi, he had done a quick pat down and felt no other magazines or weapons.
She looked in his eyes,
‘They’ll never let me leave alive and in one piece! I’m not afraid of dying, I’m afraid of what they do to people that they want information from…Please! Kill me, don’t let them take me alive!’
He drew the large pistol.
‘Kiss me…’, she softly pleaded,
He held her back with his left hand and pushed her towards his body, their tongues mingled. Without touching her head, he put the barrel with the sound suppressor up to her brain; then fired the coup de grâce. She stiffened oh so briefly, then her body crumpled like a giant stuffed animal he had won at a carnival shooting gallery. Her head fell backwards…her eyes were closed…her mouth was open…she was dead…
He had once read of a man who suffered from massive obsessive-compulsive disorder and decided to end it all by shooting himself in the head. Not only did he survive, but the bit of brain they removed with the bullet cured him…he had performed a successful self-administered lobotomy…
Time transformed as it did when he left an aeroplane and waited for his main parachute to open; seconds turned into minutes. He had gone into sudden death overtime…
It was time to go home after his first and last date with his schoolteacher…His romantic assignation in a beautiful European city was something he had always fantasised about as a schoolboy…be careful what you wish for…
He placed her in a chair facing the door, with an end table by her and put her hand inside her handbag on the tabletop that would draw her visitor’s attention. He pulled out the couch and hid behind it pointing his pistol at the door. With an ironic laugh, the Great Moe’s fickle finger of fate had poked him in the eye…
His mind recalled the story of a prisoner being brought before Alexander the Great who asked the helpless man,
‘How long should a man live?’
The prisoner was anything but helpless when he replied,
‘Until death becomes preferable to life.’
There was only his one magazine, stiletto, and knowledge of lethal unarmed combat…it’s not how you lived, it’s how you died, and how many you took with you…
The door burst open -
…but no one came in.
A man leapt to the floor with a silenced automatic pistol.
‘Fry! What are you doing here?’
Freitag held up his stiletto and pistol.
‘I don’t know whether to cut across the corner or shoot to my right.’
Both men rose, some more men entered the room and all examined Dawn in her chair.
‘It was a very blind date.’
‘How did you know the op was back on, Fry?’
The men at the door turned as they heard more familiar men entering.
To his further surprise and to the Wild Man’s shock, there were Braunbär and Bierliebhauber.
‘No it wasn’t, they wanted her alive.‘
‘No, they wanted her dead‘, Wildschwein replied.
The three men began arguing...
Freitag thought of Steve Allen’s quote, Tragedy plus timing equals comedy.
‘Schizo!‘, shouted Freitag.
‘Phrenia!‘, shouted his three teammates in the way of the Marco Polo game.
There had been considerable discussion back at team headquarters. Some things they could piece together, and some thing’s they couldn’t.
Two rival intelligence agencies of the civilian United States Government were after Dawn Anthony. Both agencies had cooperated with the team in the past by providing them information. No one would say who was who in the zoo.
He believed Dawn was to be silenced to avoid an arrest, a trial, an interview or two, as ego and embarrassment were the most powerful of forces. Someone influential didn’t want her to speak, and when someone who’s somebody wants someone else dead, it’s to protect themselves and their careers.
One of the agencies had employed Dawn to do something that no one would admit to knowing. Whatever it was, Dawn cracked-up, and everyone believed she wanted to confess to the media. The agency that utilised her services had a contact in USAREUR, and word spread down the line for the team to do her in.
The other agency wanted her alive, to discover just what she had did, who she did it for and would go all out to find those things out including utilising nationals of a different nation to torture her. As she had discovered that, she was willing to off herself to save pain, disfiguring, amputation and mutilation.
One theory was that Fearless Leader had been instructed by one of the agencies, Mr. Knight had been instructed by the other…the latter had been summoned to Washington and no doubt was doing his rug dance when he was called on the carpet…
The team wondered…had Freitag killed her, or had she killed herself? He would never say…
Back at his classroom, there was a surprise announcement that there was to be a formation. Everyone lined up in two ranks.
‘Sergeant Charles J. Miller! Front and centre!’
Freitag marched up to Fearless Leader. Standing next to him was Major Schaefer. His commander read out the citation of Freitag being awarded the Army Good Conduct Medal.
Major Schaefer pinned the medal that was the colour of dried blood with two rows of three white stripes onto his civilian shirt, then spoke in French,
‘Toutes nos félicitations, Sergeant, à la française...’
She kissed him on his cheeks in the French style, then intensely looked into his eyes…everyone in the team had a stare…of madness…
Everyone referred to the Army Good Conduct Medal by its initials, the Ain’t Got Caught Medal…
‘Your blood’s worth bottling, Freitag’, Fearless Leader remarked.
‘Thank you, sir. I don’t have irony deficiency…’
Number Two began to sing the team’s song,
Everyone joined in,
‘…who kill people…are the luckiest people…in the world…’
Author Notes: I am the author of three Extra Dimensional/Ultraterrestial military science fiction novels MERCENARY EXOTIQUE, OPERATION CHUPACABRA and WORK IN OTHER WORLDS FROM YOUR OWN HOME! as well as two travel books THE MAN FROM WAUKEGAN and TWO AUSTRALIANS IN SCOTLAND (all from Lulu.com). I live happily ever after with my wife in paradise (coastal Kiama, NSW Australia).