Mr. Hate by Terry Lloyd Vinson

EXTRACT FOR
Mr. Hate

(Terry Lloyd Vinson)


Chapter One
Ruthlessness Personified/Supply Meets Demand


TIME: 1946 HOURS
DATE: 13 MAY 1988
LOCATION: Undisclosed

“This guy is pathetic, Earl. I mean…were the pickings that slim?” the man grumbled, his eyes transfixed on a nearby monitor.
His oily, slicked black hair was ruffled in the back, a tiny coif curled into a perfect semi-hook. His tie hung loose from his unbuttoned collar as he reached to wipe the building perspiration from his forehead. He paused briefly before turning to the older man standing only a few feet away, waiting impatiently for a response to his rather curt query.
The older man was concentrating on a separate monitor that displayed a similar scene as the other, but from a slightly altered angle. He nonchalantly brushed a tiny spec of lint off his right shirt sleeve and adjusted his glasses before bothering to reply. His thick, wavy hair was grayed at the temples; his meticulously groomed mustache pitch-black by comparison, giving it the look of a fuzzy black caterpillar lying beneath his rather prominent nose. “Calm yourself, Aaron. My god, you’re the highest-strung young man I have ever met. Nothing to go catatonic over, my boy. The clock at the bottom of the screen is reading a bit over twelve minutes, is it not?”
The younger man glanced back over his shoulder at the monitor he’d been screening, his face frozen in a sour scowl. “Twelve minutes, forty-three seconds, but damn it, Earl.”
Leaning back in the comfort of the padded leather chair he had sunken into, the older man waived him off with a hand displaying a bulky, pear shaped diamond ring on the index finger and a wrist sporting a Gold Rolex watch “Three more minutes of footage is all we need, Aaron. We can pad the rest of the tape with additional footage from past skirmishes. You know, kind of a ‘greatest kills ‘snippet. Sit, Aaron. Drink some bottled water and by all means lay off of the caffeine for a bit.”
Grunting his displeasure, Aaron Kyle sidestepped over to the chair fronting his monitor and plopped down with a huff. He was going to have someone’s ass from the hiring department later that afternoon, no doubt, and it wouldn’t be the first time.
This was the third straight ‘dud’ they had thrown to the wolf in the past five matches. They were either going to have to find more suitable combatants, or begin to consider placing some sort of handicap on Dr. Ruthless out there. Aaron tired of shifting through old footage to pad the product, and knew eventually the audience would feel the same about purchasing inferior entertainment. They were a fickle bunch, as most of their ilk were, and would quickly grow bored and find new, increasingly perverted ways to spend their seemingly endless supply of capitol.
Aaron sipped his warming bottled water and observed the man on the screen crouch and walk behind a row of lined metal barrels. As the man’s head slowly scanned a darkened alley to his immediate left, Aaron could see the fear in the subject’s spastic, darting eyes. Jesus, soon as Parks finds this guy, he’s buttered toast. Hell, I believe I’d have a better chance of walking away intact than this clown.
The subject remained crouched between what had been two one-floor barracks buildings from back in the days when the base was fully manned. The two-foot long machete he held in his left hand shook visibly and Aaron couldn’t help but smirk after shooting the older man a dismayed glare.
“The son of a bitch is going to piss his combat fatigues, Earl. Wasn’t this guy a Green Beret in another life?”
Earl Barron didn’t respond for a full thirty seconds, an annoying trait that frustrated Aaron to no end. He realized and accepted the entire project as being the old man’s offspring right from the beginning, and that the twenty million that had been spent to renovate the ramshackle base had come from Barren’s deep pockets--but being subjected to playing second banana to anyone was something he could not, and would not, ever grow accustomed to.
“One more minute, Aaron. And yes, he did possess all the necessary credentials.
Military training…no family to speak of. He simply desired the magical payday. Wanted to become the next in line to the throne, as so many of them do.”
Scratching a light growth of stubble on his otherwise flawless, smooth face, Aaron Kyle scoffed. “Next in line for a body bag’s more like it. Parks is gonna hand him his liver on a plate.”
Earl Barron nodded in silent agreement, his mind already locked on the matter of business at hand, such as number of VHS tapes (the majority) to produce as opposed to Beta (a definite minority), and exactly how much to charge for each since production values had been on the increase of late.

***

His bladder threatening to release its content s with each frantic movement, Bobby Kane wished with every fiber of his existence that he hadn’t taken the double-hit of speed an hour earlier. In Grenada, Puerto Rico, and countless other stressful, wartime scenarios, he’d found the practice of popping a beanie or two actually settled his mind and honed his senses.
This time, however, with a cool million dollars on the line, as well as opportunities for larger paychecks in the near future, it was having the reverse effect. Every wind-blown leaf or piece of loose gravel that fell underneath his steel-toed boots caused him to leap back like a spooked grade-schooler. That, coupled with the primal fear he felt for his opposition, a man he had been told was responsible for over sixty deaths via hand-to-hand combat, was causing his hands and legs to tremor uncontrollably.
It was a feeling he wasn’t used to, nor a damned bit comfortable with, especially under the present circumstances.
Kane wasn’t a physically imposing man by any means. At first glance, one might even label him a bit scrawny in appearance. He was six-two but only carried one-hundred seventy-five pounds on a tightly muscled, immaculately toned body.
His face was gaunt; his complexion as pasty as dried dap. He wore bushy eyebrows, thick-framed glasses and a constant expression of grim weariness. Many times he had used these less-than-intimidating features against his opponent with undeniable success.
Troubled by violent outbursts as a child and juvenile, he had been trained as a weapons expert by the Army , and took to it like he’d been born and bred to the expertise that had come so naturally.
Sliding his way forward between two of the empty steel barrels, he cursed himself for wasting the limited ammo he’d been allowed. Three lousy shots from a .38 hadn’t exactly been his count or weapon of choice, but then again, he hadn’t been given one . He’d told himself before the dance had ever started not to waste them, since he would only have the blade and billy club left in a woefully limited arsenal.
Regardless of his own self-warnings, he had fired all three rounds at his large but shockingly swift quarry just moments after the klaxon horn had sounded to initiate the skirmish . The first two rounds had ricocheted harmlessly off of the paved roadway just inches from his target’s scrambling boots, the third whistling off the side of a stone building just as his opponent had leapt and then rolled behind its eastern-most wall.
Kane cursed silently under his breath while scanning the rooftops of the buildings he’d slithered between. He felt his neck muscles begin to cramp from both the twisting movement and also the unbearable stress sweeping over him like a viral infection.
Big SOB has got to be strong as an ox. Biceps the size of an anaconda’s midsection. Fists like twin goddamned wrecking balls. (inhales deeply) I’ve got to keep my cool when he comes out of hiding. Use the blade like I’ve been trained to do. Can’t let him get those meat-hooks on me. That’s the main thing.
Less than two dozen feet away, a thick shadow paused, its barrel-shaped chest as still as the surrounding structure it occupied. Eyes that burned with a night vision not in-bred but trained as such remained glued to its prey’s ever-shifting line of sight. A thick-handled yet sleekly designed machete lay propped against its left leg, held ever-so gently and without a touch of anxiety.
Although his prey was relatively small in stature, at least frame wise, the man knew through experience not to take anything for granted. He recalled a bar fight in Manila with an individual a foot shorter and at least sixty pounds lighter than himself. A broken rib, separated shoulder and full-blown concussion later, a hard, painful lesson in underestimation had been duly noted for future reference.
It would have been no problem to simply step out and spear his opponent with a quick toss aimed at the midsection or upper chest, especially from the relatively short distance between them. He had once split a man’s skull from thirty yards with a similar toss and weapon, the velocity of the toss thrown with such force that the victim barely had time to blink before his head had exploded in bone-splintered fragments.
Such routine action wasn’t to be allowed, however. The suits desired hand-to-hand combat if at all possible. Long distance disposals were frowned upon by their buyers, who supposedly paid a king ’s ransom for each new episode. The filthy rich were nothing if not bored to tears by anything other than extreme excesses. He’d heard that each cassette went for as much as two grand a copy, and that they were producing up to one hundred thousand per episode, not counting the overseas markets.
Small wonder the suits could afford his extravagant services, bowing to each new request, no matter how ridiculous, as if doing nothing more than tipping a loyal servant.
Peeking around the side of the concrete wall, a metal light pole positioned at the front of the building that shielded his presence even further, he watched the smaller man shuffle forward to the last of the barrels he’d been using as cover.
The man’s head whirled about constantly, scanning all sides like a lighthouse beam into stormy waters, grasping the club in his right hand and the combat knife in his left. Both weapons shook visibly, and were awkwardly positioned, as if he was a complete novice in how to use either.
The smallest of smiles cracked the larger man’s grim visage. He was equally elated and sickened by the lack of quality competition in recent matches. Still, better them than him, regardless of the ease in which the deed was done.
Waiting for the man to break for an opening between the barracks buildings and a stretch of grassy flatlands which led to a vacant hanger across the way, Mason Parks lingered without a hint of apprehension.
The breezeless, dead air was unable to provide the slightest hint as to his quarry’s whereabouts. Bobby Kane prepped his unsteady gait for a mad sprint towards the open hanger a few hundred feet ahead. He’d come to such a tactical decision due to two distinct points; he felt like a sitting duck with a target pasted between his shoulder blades out in the open, and there was a damn good chance that if his opponent wasn’t already using the building as a hiding place, he could utilize its spacious darkness to rethink a suitable plan of attack.
Besides, at the moment he found himself scared shitless, and understood that such men could literally smell fear in an opponent.
Sucking in a lungful of the humid night air, he shoved himself forward in a sprawling lurch, leaving clouds of dust and flying clods of dirt swirling like swamp mist in his path.
Kane hadn’t run thirty feet when his left ear detected a series of heavy thumping noises. By the time he attempted a duck and roll an instant later, leaving him in a classic crouched fighting stance, he found himself staring at a field of matted grass patted down by his own boot prints. The only sounds present were that of his own harsh breathing, his pulse pounding frantically.
“W-what the? I know I heard somet-- ” he whispered through gritted teeth, the knife and club held up on each side of his sweat-soaked face as if he were attempting to assist a plane in landing on an invisible runway. He rose to his feet, blowing out a lengthy sigh of relief before casually swinging about towards the hanger.
The machete blade entered his throat just below the Adams apple, penetrating with such force that the wooden handle ended where the perfectly horizontal wound began.
Parks had pursued him with the quickness of an Olympic sprinter, carefully tracing the other man’s steps through the dust and adjoining grass that led to the hanger . He’d been less than two feet away when Kane had performed the pitifully predictable roll. Parks had leaped completely over the man’s spinning frame, landing on his feet after a single bounce atop the shag-carpet thick grass surface.
He had positioned the machete for the strike a mere millisecond before the other man had turned. Despite the complete incursion of the blade through the man’s throat, Parks had actually held back to some extent on the torque of his jab in case the man somehow found a way to slip the blow, thereby leaving himself off-balance and open for a counter-attack.
The tip of Kane’s boots hardly scraped the ground as he hung semi-airborne from the inserted weapon like a prize fish being displayed from an open pier. His body shook in a series of death spasms, simultaneously defecating and urinating into his camouflaged pants.
Sneering in disgust, Parks jerked the weapon free in a single lightning-quick movement, allowing the body to fall backward as a gush of crimson flew forward in a wide spray.
Leaning down after all movements had apparently ceased, Parks gripped the man roughly by the hair and lifted his upper body forward until it appeared the man was attempting an impromptu yoga movement, his legs splayed out to form a perfect ‘V’ shape.
Raising the machete shoulder length high with his free hand, Parks paused for dramatic effect before lashing the blade across the man’s exposed, bloodied neck.
He held the detached head into the air for a few moments, his bare arm firmly flexed and as thick as an average man’s thigh.
Walking back towards the East Side of the base camp, Parks permitted the grotesque trophy to swing freely at his side.
Certain the hidden cameras had obtained ample useable footage, he let Kane’s detached skull drop into the grass like a discarded melon shell. “Shit’s getting too easy,” he mumbled in a deep, humorless tone that sounded as if croaked through a voice box hindered by waves of static.

***

Switching off the monitor, Aaron Kyle strolled stiffly over to where Earl Barron sat deep in thought, and was barely able to refrain from giggling in sarcastic glee. “Not exactly Oscar material in the ‘warrior snuff-film’ category, boss, and I thought the previous bout was crap. But by comparison to this travesty, it was the Gone with the Wind of the series. Only some seriously fantastic padding scenes are going to save us from intense bitching and moaning from certain clients who expect a superior product.”
With an expression of complete tranquility, Earl Barron inhaled deeply from the unfiltered cigarette he’d lit just moments after his own monitor’s screen had gone blank. “Nonsense, Aaron. I will agree it ended quite swiftly and without benefit of an actual tussle, but did you see the move our eliminator made to set up the kill? That poor bastard never even knew he was there. I have never seen a man that large be capable of such speed and agility. Professional athletes pale in comparison. He’s almost…bionic.”
Aaron didn’t respond, just sat for a moment nodding his head in disbelief at the older man’s overly casual demeanor before he rose to depart the tiny viewing room. “I’ll get with the tech nerds about the editing process as soon as we debrief Chuckles there and get him prepared for departure,” he said somewhat depressingly.
Whirling around in the bulky chair, Barron spoke sternly, his right eyebrow arched as his right hand arose in a halting gesture. “Aaron, I must tell you that your pessimistic attitude is growing increasingly tiresome. Do our enterprise a favor by not spreading such poisonous opinions amongst the work force.”
Kyle stiffened as he reached for the door handle, only speaking as the door was gradually closing behind him. “Whatever you say, Chief.”
Sitting in relative silence in the dimly lit room, Earl Barron began to compute numbers in his head. Numbers that held dollars signs at the lead.
He glanced at his Rolex before putting out his smoke in a nearby ashtray.
Aaron Kyle was fast becoming more of a liability than an asset, he deduced. He felt a twinge of sorrow at what he realized might have to be done to resolve the problem in the near future.

***

The chopper landed on the long-abandoned but recently refurbished pad one hour later. The three-man team that greeted Mason Parks was disgustingly familiar to him in both their bland facial expressions and mechanical body movements.
Parks had peeled off the blood-stained T-shirt and grass-stained parachute pants from the taping and now sported a black tee and jeans, a thin blue jacket covering the former. As was standard operating procedure, he carried nothing off the post with him since he’d carried nothing on. He had showered off the light sweat and spatters of blood from his body, his scent no longer of battle but of cheap cologne as he stood stoically, allowing the warm air from the chopper blades to pelt him as if completing the purging process.
Mr. Smiley, as he liked to call the man leading the trio towards him-- all three walking in step like a robotic version of the ‘Three Stooges’-- was easily the one that grated on his nerves the most. The man wore a frozen smirk on his thin, pale face, his lanky form suggesting someone who had been raised on bread and water since birth. He was a tall man, at least six-four, although his knees barely bent when he took the long, gliding strides that covered more ground than they probably should have.
The remaining two individuals were your standard muscle-for-hire thugs, each equipped with matching beer guts and sour dispositions.
As Mr. Smiley ever-so-gently placed the vinyl-smelling, Velcro encased blindfold over Parks’ eyes, the aroma of the man’s foul-smelling breath overwhelmed all others. It never ceased to amaze Parks how the air leaving a human’s mouth could literally stink like a freshly deposited turd. “Been brushin’ your teeth with dog shit again, Smiley?” Parks bellowed in order to be heard over the chopper.
As was the norm, no response was forthcoming. In fact, in the fourteen months that he had been making the mysterious flight from the post’s hidden locale to his ranch in Conquest and vice versa, not a single word had ever been spoken within the confines of the chopper. “Ever hear of Scope? Aqua-Fresh? Lighter fluid maybe? Ya might also try flossing every five years or so while you ’re at it, old buddy. Helps to keep the flies from landing on your tongue when ya sleep.”
He was led slowly to the waiting bird, half-expecting to be shoved into the swirling blades instead of beneath them.
Attempting to time the flight was a waste, since he realized from past trips that each time the duration was substantially different, no doubt made purposely so. The suits were nothing if not cautious about keeping the exact location of the post top secret.
Parks’ massively thick frame was given all the room it needed to stretch out once inside, and he spent the flight both breaking down the most recent battle, and mentally prepping for the next.
As per normal, he was dropped off in a paved clearing approximately fifty yards from the backdoor of his ranch house. The suits had provided the one-story brick; complete with two bedrooms; full gym with sauna; specially designed ‘combat readiness room’ and two-car garage.
The black Pontiac Firebird had come with the house; the brand-spanking new, glossily waxed Chevy Z28 was a fairly new addition to the growing list of perks he enjoyed as reward for being the best in his particular field.
No doubt about it, it was good to be King. Damn good.
“Great job if you can get it” was Mason Parks’ catch phrase when questioned about his ‘line of work’ by strangers, although that particular query didn’t surface very often due to the fact that travels away from the ranch were becoming increasingly infrequent.
Parks had discovered over the past year that there wasn’t anything he desired or needed that couldn’t be obtained with nothing more than a polite (or otherwise) request (ditto, a demand ).
The ranch itself was located twelve miles from the insignificantly placed, desolate and scantily populated township of Conquest, New Mexico, surrounded by a seemingly endless desert landscape; sandy dry hills sprinkled with cacti, ancient boulders and hideously deformed shrubbery that gave the area the look of a landscape ravaged by nuclear weapons testing.
Parks didn’t mind the lack of a picturesque, panoramic view. In fact, the only semblance of peace he had found in a life filled with constant images of violent death and dismemberment were the week to two week-long sabbaticals spent in and around the ranch between hunts. This was how he defined them--hunts. Not contests or matches; nor bouts or brawls He hunted and he exterminated, plain and simple. Cut and dry.
It was the single task Mason Parks had been placed on God’s green earth to accomplish, a fact he not only accepted and embraced as his personal, undeniable fate, but had also learned to savor as the victories mounted; relishing in both the act itself and the inevitable aftermath, wherein he would bathe himself in the carnal ‘spoils’ of his chosen trade.
After Mr. Smiley had removed and retrieved the blinding apparatus, Parks shot him a playful wink and placed his scarred right hand on the much leaner man’s shoulder.
“See ya next month, Grins. Inform Mr. X of my displeasure with his staff’s choice of opposition of late, will ya?”
The man turned away from him without response, his gait like that of the walking dead. He was about to re-board the chopper, ducking down comically as he walked underneath the swirling, howling blades, just as Parks cupped his hands and bellowed one parting salutation.
“Hey Smiley! Next time you bring the beer and I’ll bring the Listerine!”
The unmarked, yellow striped chopper sailed off into the gusting desert winds moments later, leaving Parks standing at the edge of the landing site, waving like a maniac with both arms, his lips stretched in maniacal, animated glee.
“Screw you too, ya creepy bastard,” he whispered through a wide, mocking smirk while using one scarred finger to massage the bushy, dark brown Fu Manchu mustache he was cultivating.
Empty handed, he waltzed towards the fully furnished abode, secretly wondering how long such extravagancies would be tolerated until someone in upper management decided a new, fresher face was called for in the cut-throat world of bootleg combat snuff films.
The notion didn’t exactly worry him, at least not in the sense that he felt even the slightest twinge of fear, but the thought of being systematically discarded like a worn-out combat boot by some pencil-pushing geek sitting behind a desk made his blood pressure rise to the point of impending implosion.
In Mason Parks’ less-than-humble opinion, the one and only way he should lose his position as the primary eradicator in their little underground video gold mine was by dying at the hands of the opposition. He realized there was probably a subtle yet growing concern at the top that certain deep pocketed clients would begin to think the battles were staged, thus new meat would have to be brought in to inject a renewed interest. If sales waned, he alone would be held accountable.
Tossing his clothes haphazardly onto the king sized waterbed that fronted a large screen TV and a ten-thousand dollar stereo/entertainment center in the home’s spacious main bedroom, Parks scooped a cellular phone from a nearby dresser and began to casually dial.
“Level one priority. Password is ‘seventy -eight cold. ‘Gotcha…”
As he waited, standing naked except for the semi-white socks adorning his size twelve feet, Parks hummed an old rock tune he believed to have been sung by Bad Company. Feel like Making Love it had been called.
His smile beamed as the other party came on the line, restlessly rubbing the prickly short hair that adorned his rotund skull.
“Yes, my location is cleared. I would like to place an order, my good man. Alright, I believe I feel like a little Mexican tonight…”

Mr. Hate by Terry Lloyd Vinson

EXTRACT FOR
Mr. Hate

(Terry Lloyd Vinson)


Chapter One
Ruthlessness Personified/Supply Meets Demand


TIME: 1946 HOURS
DATE: 13 MAY 1988
LOCATION: Undisclosed

“This guy is pathetic, Earl. I mean…were the pickings that slim?” the man grumbled, his eyes transfixed on a nearby monitor.
His oily, slicked black hair was ruffled in the back, a tiny coif curled into a perfect semi-hook. His tie hung loose from his unbuttoned collar as he reached to wipe the building perspiration from his forehead. He paused briefly before turning to the older man standing only a few feet away, waiting impatiently for a response to his rather curt query.
The older man was concentrating on a separate monitor that displayed a similar scene as the other, but from a slightly altered angle. He nonchalantly brushed a tiny spec of lint off his right shirt sleeve and adjusted his glasses before bothering to reply. His thick, wavy hair was grayed at the temples; his meticulously groomed mustache pitch-black by comparison, giving it the look of a fuzzy black caterpillar lying beneath his rather prominent nose. “Calm yourself, Aaron. My god, you’re the highest-strung young man I have ever met. Nothing to go catatonic over, my boy. The clock at the bottom of the screen is reading a bit over twelve minutes, is it not?”
The younger man glanced back over his shoulder at the monitor he’d been screening, his face frozen in a sour scowl. “Twelve minutes, forty-three seconds, but damn it, Earl.”
Leaning back in the comfort of the padded leather chair he had sunken into, the older man waived him off with a hand displaying a bulky, pear shaped diamond ring on the index finger and a wrist sporting a Gold Rolex watch “Three more minutes of footage is all we need, Aaron. We can pad the rest of the tape with additional footage from past skirmishes. You know, kind of a ‘greatest kills ‘snippet. Sit, Aaron. Drink some bottled water and by all means lay off of the caffeine for a bit.”
Grunting his displeasure, Aaron Kyle sidestepped over to the chair fronting his monitor and plopped down with a huff. He was going to have someone’s ass from the hiring department later that afternoon, no doubt, and it wouldn’t be the first time.
This was the third straight ‘dud’ they had thrown to the wolf in the past five matches. They were either going to have to find more suitable combatants, or begin to consider placing some sort of handicap on Dr. Ruthless out there. Aaron tired of shifting through old footage to pad the product, and knew eventually the audience would feel the same about purchasing inferior entertainment. They were a fickle bunch, as most of their ilk were, and would quickly grow bored and find new, increasingly perverted ways to spend their seemingly endless supply of capitol.
Aaron sipped his warming bottled water and observed the man on the screen crouch and walk behind a row of lined metal barrels. As the man’s head slowly scanned a darkened alley to his immediate left, Aaron could see the fear in the subject’s spastic, darting eyes. Jesus, soon as Parks finds this guy, he’s buttered toast. Hell, I believe I’d have a better chance of walking away intact than this clown.
The subject remained crouched between what had been two one-floor barracks buildings from back in the days when the base was fully manned. The two-foot long machete he held in his left hand shook visibly and Aaron couldn’t help but smirk after shooting the older man a dismayed glare.
“The son of a bitch is going to piss his combat fatigues, Earl. Wasn’t this guy a Green Beret in another life?”
Earl Barron didn’t respond for a full thirty seconds, an annoying trait that frustrated Aaron to no end. He realized and accepted the entire project as being the old man’s offspring right from the beginning, and that the twenty million that had been spent to renovate the ramshackle base had come from Barren’s deep pockets--but being subjected to playing second banana to anyone was something he could not, and would not, ever grow accustomed to.
“One more minute, Aaron. And yes, he did possess all the necessary credentials.
Military training…no family to speak of. He simply desired the magical payday. Wanted to become the next in line to the throne, as so many of them do.”
Scratching a light growth of stubble on his otherwise flawless, smooth face, Aaron Kyle scoffed. “Next in line for a body bag’s more like it. Parks is gonna hand him his liver on a plate.”
Earl Barron nodded in silent agreement, his mind already locked on the matter of business at hand, such as number of VHS tapes (the majority) to produce as opposed to Beta (a definite minority), and exactly how much to charge for each since production values had been on the increase of late.

***

His bladder threatening to release its content s with each frantic movement, Bobby Kane wished with every fiber of his existence that he hadn’t taken the double-hit of speed an hour earlier. In Grenada, Puerto Rico, and countless other stressful, wartime scenarios, he’d found the practice of popping a beanie or two actually settled his mind and honed his senses.
This time, however, with a cool million dollars on the line, as well as opportunities for larger paychecks in the near future, it was having the reverse effect. Every wind-blown leaf or piece of loose gravel that fell underneath his steel-toed boots caused him to leap back like a spooked grade-schooler. That, coupled with the primal fear he felt for his opposition, a man he had been told was responsible for over sixty deaths via hand-to-hand combat, was causing his hands and legs to tremor uncontrollably.
It was a feeling he wasn’t used to, nor a damned bit comfortable with, especially under the present circumstances.
Kane wasn’t a physically imposing man by any means. At first glance, one might even label him a bit scrawny in appearance. He was six-two but only carried one-hundred seventy-five pounds on a tightly muscled, immaculately toned body.
His face was gaunt; his complexion as pasty as dried dap. He wore bushy eyebrows, thick-framed glasses and a constant expression of grim weariness. Many times he had used these less-than-intimidating features against his opponent with undeniable success.
Troubled by violent outbursts as a child and juvenile, he had been trained as a weapons expert by the Army , and took to it like he’d been born and bred to the expertise that had come so naturally.
Sliding his way forward between two of the empty steel barrels, he cursed himself for wasting the limited ammo he’d been allowed. Three lousy shots from a .38 hadn’t exactly been his count or weapon of choice, but then again, he hadn’t been given one . He’d told himself before the dance had ever started not to waste them, since he would only have the blade and billy club left in a woefully limited arsenal.
Regardless of his own self-warnings, he had fired all three rounds at his large but shockingly swift quarry just moments after the klaxon horn had sounded to initiate the skirmish . The first two rounds had ricocheted harmlessly off of the paved roadway just inches from his target’s scrambling boots, the third whistling off the side of a stone building just as his opponent had leapt and then rolled behind its eastern-most wall.
Kane cursed silently under his breath while scanning the rooftops of the buildings he’d slithered between. He felt his neck muscles begin to cramp from both the twisting movement and also the unbearable stress sweeping over him like a viral infection.
Big SOB has got to be strong as an ox. Biceps the size of an anaconda’s midsection. Fists like twin goddamned wrecking balls. (inhales deeply) I’ve got to keep my cool when he comes out of hiding. Use the blade like I’ve been trained to do. Can’t let him get those meat-hooks on me. That’s the main thing.
Less than two dozen feet away, a thick shadow paused, its barrel-shaped chest as still as the surrounding structure it occupied. Eyes that burned with a night vision not in-bred but trained as such remained glued to its prey’s ever-shifting line of sight. A thick-handled yet sleekly designed machete lay propped against its left leg, held ever-so gently and without a touch of anxiety.
Although his prey was relatively small in stature, at least frame wise, the man knew through experience not to take anything for granted. He recalled a bar fight in Manila with an individual a foot shorter and at least sixty pounds lighter than himself. A broken rib, separated shoulder and full-blown concussion later, a hard, painful lesson in underestimation had been duly noted for future reference.
It would have been no problem to simply step out and spear his opponent with a quick toss aimed at the midsection or upper chest, especially from the relatively short distance between them. He had once split a man’s skull from thirty yards with a similar toss and weapon, the velocity of the toss thrown with such force that the victim barely had time to blink before his head had exploded in bone-splintered fragments.
Such routine action wasn’t to be allowed, however. The suits desired hand-to-hand combat if at all possible. Long distance disposals were frowned upon by their buyers, who supposedly paid a king ’s ransom for each new episode. The filthy rich were nothing if not bored to tears by anything other than extreme excesses. He’d heard that each cassette went for as much as two grand a copy, and that they were producing up to one hundred thousand per episode, not counting the overseas markets.
Small wonder the suits could afford his extravagant services, bowing to each new request, no matter how ridiculous, as if doing nothing more than tipping a loyal servant.
Peeking around the side of the concrete wall, a metal light pole positioned at the front of the building that shielded his presence even further, he watched the smaller man shuffle forward to the last of the barrels he’d been using as cover.
The man’s head whirled about constantly, scanning all sides like a lighthouse beam into stormy waters, grasping the club in his right hand and the combat knife in his left. Both weapons shook visibly, and were awkwardly positioned, as if he was a complete novice in how to use either.
The smallest of smiles cracked the larger man’s grim visage. He was equally elated and sickened by the lack of quality competition in recent matches. Still, better them than him, regardless of the ease in which the deed was done.
Waiting for the man to break for an opening between the barracks buildings and a stretch of grassy flatlands which led to a vacant hanger across the way, Mason Parks lingered without a hint of apprehension.
The breezeless, dead air was unable to provide the slightest hint as to his quarry’s whereabouts. Bobby Kane prepped his unsteady gait for a mad sprint towards the open hanger a few hundred feet ahead. He’d come to such a tactical decision due to two distinct points; he felt like a sitting duck with a target pasted between his shoulder blades out in the open, and there was a damn good chance that if his opponent wasn’t already using the building as a hiding place, he could utilize its spacious darkness to rethink a suitable plan of attack.
Besides, at the moment he found himself scared shitless, and understood that such men could literally smell fear in an opponent.
Sucking in a lungful of the humid night air, he shoved himself forward in a sprawling lurch, leaving clouds of dust and flying clods of dirt swirling like swamp mist in his path.
Kane hadn’t run thirty feet when his left ear detected a series of heavy thumping noises. By the time he attempted a duck and roll an instant later, leaving him in a classic crouched fighting stance, he found himself staring at a field of matted grass patted down by his own boot prints. The only sounds present were that of his own harsh breathing, his pulse pounding frantically.
“W-what the? I know I heard somet-- ” he whispered through gritted teeth, the knife and club held up on each side of his sweat-soaked face as if he were attempting to assist a plane in landing on an invisible runway. He rose to his feet, blowing out a lengthy sigh of relief before casually swinging about towards the hanger.
The machete blade entered his throat just below the Adams apple, penetrating with such force that the wooden handle ended where the perfectly horizontal wound began.
Parks had pursued him with the quickness of an Olympic sprinter, carefully tracing the other man’s steps through the dust and adjoining grass that led to the hanger . He’d been less than two feet away when Kane had performed the pitifully predictable roll. Parks had leaped completely over the man’s spinning frame, landing on his feet after a single bounce atop the shag-carpet thick grass surface.
He had positioned the machete for the strike a mere millisecond before the other man had turned. Despite the complete incursion of the blade through the man’s throat, Parks had actually held back to some extent on the torque of his jab in case the man somehow found a way to slip the blow, thereby leaving himself off-balance and open for a counter-attack.
The tip of Kane’s boots hardly scraped the ground as he hung semi-airborne from the inserted weapon like a prize fish being displayed from an open pier. His body shook in a series of death spasms, simultaneously defecating and urinating into his camouflaged pants.
Sneering in disgust, Parks jerked the weapon free in a single lightning-quick movement, allowing the body to fall backward as a gush of crimson flew forward in a wide spray.
Leaning down after all movements had apparently ceased, Parks gripped the man roughly by the hair and lifted his upper body forward until it appeared the man was attempting an impromptu yoga movement, his legs splayed out to form a perfect ‘V’ shape.
Raising the machete shoulder length high with his free hand, Parks paused for dramatic effect before lashing the blade across the man’s exposed, bloodied neck.
He held the detached head into the air for a few moments, his bare arm firmly flexed and as thick as an average man’s thigh.
Walking back towards the East Side of the base camp, Parks permitted the grotesque trophy to swing freely at his side.
Certain the hidden cameras had obtained ample useable footage, he let Kane’s detached skull drop into the grass like a discarded melon shell. “Shit’s getting too easy,” he mumbled in a deep, humorless tone that sounded as if croaked through a voice box hindered by waves of static.

***

Switching off the monitor, Aaron Kyle strolled stiffly over to where Earl Barron sat deep in thought, and was barely able to refrain from giggling in sarcastic glee. “Not exactly Oscar material in the ‘warrior snuff-film’ category, boss, and I thought the previous bout was crap. But by comparison to this travesty, it was the Gone with the Wind of the series. Only some seriously fantastic padding scenes are going to save us from intense bitching and moaning from certain clients who expect a superior product.”
With an expression of complete tranquility, Earl Barron inhaled deeply from the unfiltered cigarette he’d lit just moments after his own monitor’s screen had gone blank. “Nonsense, Aaron. I will agree it ended quite swiftly and without benefit of an actual tussle, but did you see the move our eliminator made to set up the kill? That poor bastard never even knew he was there. I have never seen a man that large be capable of such speed and agility. Professional athletes pale in comparison. He’s almost…bionic.”
Aaron didn’t respond, just sat for a moment nodding his head in disbelief at the older man’s overly casual demeanor before he rose to depart the tiny viewing room. “I’ll get with the tech nerds about the editing process as soon as we debrief Chuckles there and get him prepared for departure,” he said somewhat depressingly.
Whirling around in the bulky chair, Barron spoke sternly, his right eyebrow arched as his right hand arose in a halting gesture. “Aaron, I must tell you that your pessimistic attitude is growing increasingly tiresome. Do our enterprise a favor by not spreading such poisonous opinions amongst the work force.”
Kyle stiffened as he reached for the door handle, only speaking as the door was gradually closing behind him. “Whatever you say, Chief.”
Sitting in relative silence in the dimly lit room, Earl Barron began to compute numbers in his head. Numbers that held dollars signs at the lead.
He glanced at his Rolex before putting out his smoke in a nearby ashtray.
Aaron Kyle was fast becoming more of a liability than an asset, he deduced. He felt a twinge of sorrow at what he realized might have to be done to resolve the problem in the near future.

***

The chopper landed on the long-abandoned but recently refurbished pad one hour later. The three-man team that greeted Mason Parks was disgustingly familiar to him in both their bland facial expressions and mechanical body movements.
Parks had peeled off the blood-stained T-shirt and grass-stained parachute pants from the taping and now sported a black tee and jeans, a thin blue jacket covering the former. As was standard operating procedure, he carried nothing off the post with him since he’d carried nothing on. He had showered off the light sweat and spatters of blood from his body, his scent no longer of battle but of cheap cologne as he stood stoically, allowing the warm air from the chopper blades to pelt him as if completing the purging process.
Mr. Smiley, as he liked to call the man leading the trio towards him-- all three walking in step like a robotic version of the ‘Three Stooges’-- was easily the one that grated on his nerves the most. The man wore a frozen smirk on his thin, pale face, his lanky form suggesting someone who had been raised on bread and water since birth. He was a tall man, at least six-four, although his knees barely bent when he took the long, gliding strides that covered more ground than they probably should have.
The remaining two individuals were your standard muscle-for-hire thugs, each equipped with matching beer guts and sour dispositions.
As Mr. Smiley ever-so-gently placed the vinyl-smelling, Velcro encased blindfold over Parks’ eyes, the aroma of the man’s foul-smelling breath overwhelmed all others. It never ceased to amaze Parks how the air leaving a human’s mouth could literally stink like a freshly deposited turd. “Been brushin’ your teeth with dog shit again, Smiley?” Parks bellowed in order to be heard over the chopper.
As was the norm, no response was forthcoming. In fact, in the fourteen months that he had been making the mysterious flight from the post’s hidden locale to his ranch in Conquest and vice versa, not a single word had ever been spoken within the confines of the chopper. “Ever hear of Scope? Aqua-Fresh? Lighter fluid maybe? Ya might also try flossing every five years or so while you ’re at it, old buddy. Helps to keep the flies from landing on your tongue when ya sleep.”
He was led slowly to the waiting bird, half-expecting to be shoved into the swirling blades instead of beneath them.
Attempting to time the flight was a waste, since he realized from past trips that each time the duration was substantially different, no doubt made purposely so. The suits were nothing if not cautious about keeping the exact location of the post top secret.
Parks’ massively thick frame was given all the room it needed to stretch out once inside, and he spent the flight both breaking down the most recent battle, and mentally prepping for the next.
As per normal, he was dropped off in a paved clearing approximately fifty yards from the backdoor of his ranch house. The suits had provided the one-story brick; complete with two bedrooms; full gym with sauna; specially designed ‘combat readiness room’ and two-car garage.
The black Pontiac Firebird had come with the house; the brand-spanking new, glossily waxed Chevy Z28 was a fairly new addition to the growing list of perks he enjoyed as reward for being the best in his particular field.
No doubt about it, it was good to be King. Damn good.
“Great job if you can get it” was Mason Parks’ catch phrase when questioned about his ‘line of work’ by strangers, although that particular query didn’t surface very often due to the fact that travels away from the ranch were becoming increasingly infrequent.
Parks had discovered over the past year that there wasn’t anything he desired or needed that couldn’t be obtained with nothing more than a polite (or otherwise) request (ditto, a demand ).
The ranch itself was located twelve miles from the insignificantly placed, desolate and scantily populated township of Conquest, New Mexico, surrounded by a seemingly endless desert landscape; sandy dry hills sprinkled with cacti, ancient boulders and hideously deformed shrubbery that gave the area the look of a landscape ravaged by nuclear weapons testing.
Parks didn’t mind the lack of a picturesque, panoramic view. In fact, the only semblance of peace he had found in a life filled with constant images of violent death and dismemberment were the week to two week-long sabbaticals spent in and around the ranch between hunts. This was how he defined them--hunts. Not contests or matches; nor bouts or brawls He hunted and he exterminated, plain and simple. Cut and dry.
It was the single task Mason Parks had been placed on God’s green earth to accomplish, a fact he not only accepted and embraced as his personal, undeniable fate, but had also learned to savor as the victories mounted; relishing in both the act itself and the inevitable aftermath, wherein he would bathe himself in the carnal ‘spoils’ of his chosen trade.
After Mr. Smiley had removed and retrieved the blinding apparatus, Parks shot him a playful wink and placed his scarred right hand on the much leaner man’s shoulder.
“See ya next month, Grins. Inform Mr. X of my displeasure with his staff’s choice of opposition of late, will ya?”
The man turned away from him without response, his gait like that of the walking dead. He was about to re-board the chopper, ducking down comically as he walked underneath the swirling, howling blades, just as Parks cupped his hands and bellowed one parting salutation.
“Hey Smiley! Next time you bring the beer and I’ll bring the Listerine!”
The unmarked, yellow striped chopper sailed off into the gusting desert winds moments later, leaving Parks standing at the edge of the landing site, waving like a maniac with both arms, his lips stretched in maniacal, animated glee.
“Screw you too, ya creepy bastard,” he whispered through a wide, mocking smirk while using one scarred finger to massage the bushy, dark brown Fu Manchu mustache he was cultivating.
Empty handed, he waltzed towards the fully furnished abode, secretly wondering how long such extravagancies would be tolerated until someone in upper management decided a new, fresher face was called for in the cut-throat world of bootleg combat snuff films.
The notion didn’t exactly worry him, at least not in the sense that he felt even the slightest twinge of fear, but the thought of being systematically discarded like a worn-out combat boot by some pencil-pushing geek sitting behind a desk made his blood pressure rise to the point of impending implosion.
In Mason Parks’ less-than-humble opinion, the one and only way he should lose his position as the primary eradicator in their little underground video gold mine was by dying at the hands of the opposition. He realized there was probably a subtle yet growing concern at the top that certain deep pocketed clients would begin to think the battles were staged, thus new meat would have to be brought in to inject a renewed interest. If sales waned, he alone would be held accountable.
Tossing his clothes haphazardly onto the king sized waterbed that fronted a large screen TV and a ten-thousand dollar stereo/entertainment center in the home’s spacious main bedroom, Parks scooped a cellular phone from a nearby dresser and began to casually dial.
“Level one priority. Password is ‘seventy -eight cold. ‘Gotcha…”
As he waited, standing naked except for the semi-white socks adorning his size twelve feet, Parks hummed an old rock tune he believed to have been sung by Bad Company. Feel like Making Love it had been called.
His smile beamed as the other party came on the line, restlessly rubbing the prickly short hair that adorned his rotund skull.
“Yes, my location is cleared. I would like to place an order, my good man. Alright, I believe I feel like a little Mexican tonight…”

EXTRACT FOR
Mr. Hate

(Terry Lloyd Vinson)


Chapter One
Ruthlessness Personified/Supply Meets Demand


TIME: 1946 HOURS
DATE: 13 MAY 1988
LOCATION: Undisclosed

“This guy is pathetic, Earl. I mean…were the pickings that slim?” the man grumbled, his eyes transfixed on a nearby monitor.
His oily, slicked black hair was ruffled in the back, a tiny coif curled into a perfect semi-hook. His tie hung loose from his unbuttoned collar as he reached to wipe the building perspiration from his forehead. He paused briefly before turning to the older man standing only a few feet away, waiting impatiently for a response to his rather curt query.
The older man was concentrating on a separate monitor that displayed a similar scene as the other, but from a slightly altered angle. He nonchalantly brushed a tiny spec of lint off his right shirt sleeve and adjusted his glasses before bothering to reply. His thick, wavy hair was grayed at the temples; his meticulously groomed mustache pitch-black by comparison, giving it the look of a fuzzy black caterpillar lying beneath his rather prominent nose. “Calm yourself, Aaron. My god, you’re the highest-strung young man I have ever met. Nothing to go catatonic over, my boy. The clock at the bottom of the screen is reading a bit over twelve minutes, is it not?”
The younger man glanced back over his shoulder at the monitor he’d been screening, his face frozen in a sour scowl. “Twelve minutes, forty-three seconds, but damn it, Earl.”
Leaning back in the comfort of the padded leather chair he had sunken into, the older man waived him off with a hand displaying a bulky, pear shaped diamond ring on the index finger and a wrist sporting a Gold Rolex watch “Three more minutes of footage is all we need, Aaron. We can pad the rest of the tape with additional footage from past skirmishes. You know, kind of a ‘greatest kills ‘snippet. Sit, Aaron. Drink some bottled water and by all means lay off of the caffeine for a bit.”
Grunting his displeasure, Aaron Kyle sidestepped over to the chair fronting his monitor and plopped down with a huff. He was going to have someone’s ass from the hiring department later that afternoon, no doubt, and it wouldn’t be the first time.
This was the third straight ‘dud’ they had thrown to the wolf in the past five matches. They were either going to have to find more suitable combatants, or begin to consider placing some sort of handicap on Dr. Ruthless out there. Aaron tired of shifting through old footage to pad the product, and knew eventually the audience would feel the same about purchasing inferior entertainment. They were a fickle bunch, as most of their ilk were, and would quickly grow bored and find new, increasingly perverted ways to spend their seemingly endless supply of capitol.
Aaron sipped his warming bottled water and observed the man on the screen crouch and walk behind a row of lined metal barrels. As the man’s head slowly scanned a darkened alley to his immediate left, Aaron could see the fear in the subject’s spastic, darting eyes. Jesus, soon as Parks finds this guy, he’s buttered toast. Hell, I believe I’d have a better chance of walking away intact than this clown.
The subject remained crouched between what had been two one-floor barracks buildings from back in the days when the base was fully manned. The two-foot long machete he held in his left hand shook visibly and Aaron couldn’t help but smirk after shooting the older man a dismayed glare.
“The son of a bitch is going to piss his combat fatigues, Earl. Wasn’t this guy a Green Beret in another life?”
Earl Barron didn’t respond for a full thirty seconds, an annoying trait that frustrated Aaron to no end. He realized and accepted the entire project as being the old man’s offspring right from the beginning, and that the twenty million that had been spent to renovate the ramshackle base had come from Barren’s deep pockets--but being subjected to playing second banana to anyone was something he could not, and would not, ever grow accustomed to.
“One more minute, Aaron. And yes, he did possess all the necessary credentials.
Military training…no family to speak of. He simply desired the magical payday. Wanted to become the next in line to the throne, as so many of them do.”
Scratching a light growth of stubble on his otherwise flawless, smooth face, Aaron Kyle scoffed. “Next in line for a body bag’s more like it. Parks is gonna hand him his liver on a plate.”
Earl Barron nodded in silent agreement, his mind already locked on the matter of business at hand, such as number of VHS tapes (the majority) to produce as opposed to Beta (a definite minority), and exactly how much to charge for each since production values had been on the increase of late.

***

His bladder threatening to release its content s with each frantic movement, Bobby Kane wished with every fiber of his existence that he hadn’t taken the double-hit of speed an hour earlier. In Grenada, Puerto Rico, and countless other stressful, wartime scenarios, he’d found the practice of popping a beanie or two actually settled his mind and honed his senses.
This time, however, with a cool million dollars on the line, as well as opportunities for larger paychecks in the near future, it was having the reverse effect. Every wind-blown leaf or piece of loose gravel that fell underneath his steel-toed boots caused him to leap back like a spooked grade-schooler. That, coupled with the primal fear he felt for his opposition, a man he had been told was responsible for over sixty deaths via hand-to-hand combat, was causing his hands and legs to tremor uncontrollably.
It was a feeling he wasn’t used to, nor a damned bit comfortable with, especially under the present circumstances.
Kane wasn’t a physically imposing man by any means. At first glance, one might even label him a bit scrawny in appearance. He was six-two but only carried one-hundred seventy-five pounds on a tightly muscled, immaculately toned body.
His face was gaunt; his complexion as pasty as dried dap. He wore bushy eyebrows, thick-framed glasses and a constant expression of grim weariness. Many times he had used these less-than-intimidating features against his opponent with undeniable success.
Troubled by violent outbursts as a child and juvenile, he had been trained as a weapons expert by the Army , and took to it like he’d been born and bred to the expertise that had come so naturally.
Sliding his way forward between two of the empty steel barrels, he cursed himself for wasting the limited ammo he’d been allowed. Three lousy shots from a .38 hadn’t exactly been his count or weapon of choice, but then again, he hadn’t been given one . He’d told himself before the dance had ever started not to waste them, since he would only have the blade and billy club left in a woefully limited arsenal.
Regardless of his own self-warnings, he had fired all three rounds at his large but shockingly swift quarry just moments after the klaxon horn had sounded to initiate the skirmish . The first two rounds had ricocheted harmlessly off of the paved roadway just inches from his target’s scrambling boots, the third whistling off the side of a stone building just as his opponent had leapt and then rolled behind its eastern-most wall.
Kane cursed silently under his breath while scanning the rooftops of the buildings he’d slithered between. He felt his neck muscles begin to cramp from both the twisting movement and also the unbearable stress sweeping over him like a viral infection.
Big SOB has got to be strong as an ox. Biceps the size of an anaconda’s midsection. Fists like twin goddamned wrecking balls. (inhales deeply) I’ve got to keep my cool when he comes out of hiding. Use the blade like I’ve been trained to do. Can’t let him get those meat-hooks on me. That’s the main thing.
Less than two dozen feet away, a thick shadow paused, its barrel-shaped chest as still as the surrounding structure it occupied. Eyes that burned with a night vision not in-bred but trained as such remained glued to its prey’s ever-shifting line of sight. A thick-handled yet sleekly designed machete lay propped against its left leg, held ever-so gently and without a touch of anxiety.
Although his prey was relatively small in stature, at least frame wise, the man knew through experience not to take anything for granted. He recalled a bar fight in Manila with an individual a foot shorter and at least sixty pounds lighter than himself. A broken rib, separated shoulder and full-blown concussion later, a hard, painful lesson in underestimation had been duly noted for future reference.
It would have been no problem to simply step out and spear his opponent with a quick toss aimed at the midsection or upper chest, especially from the relatively short distance between them. He had once split a man’s skull from thirty yards with a similar toss and weapon, the velocity of the toss thrown with such force that the victim barely had time to blink before his head had exploded in bone-splintered fragments.
Such routine action wasn’t to be allowed, however. The suits desired hand-to-hand combat if at all possible. Long distance disposals were frowned upon by their buyers, who supposedly paid a king ’s ransom for each new episode. The filthy rich were nothing if not bored to tears by anything other than extreme excesses. He’d heard that each cassette went for as much as two grand a copy, and that they were producing up to one hundred thousand per episode, not counting the overseas markets.
Small wonder the suits could afford his extravagant services, bowing to each new request, no matter how ridiculous, as if doing nothing more than tipping a loyal servant.
Peeking around the side of the concrete wall, a metal light pole positioned at the front of the building that shielded his presence even further, he watched the smaller man shuffle forward to the last of the barrels he’d been using as cover.
The man’s head whirled about constantly, scanning all sides like a lighthouse beam into stormy waters, grasping the club in his right hand and the combat knife in his left. Both weapons shook visibly, and were awkwardly positioned, as if he was a complete novice in how to use either.
The smallest of smiles cracked the larger man’s grim visage. He was equally elated and sickened by the lack of quality competition in recent matches. Still, better them than him, regardless of the ease in which the deed was done.
Waiting for the man to break for an opening between the barracks buildings and a stretch of grassy flatlands which led to a vacant hanger across the way, Mason Parks lingered without a hint of apprehension.
The breezeless, dead air was unable to provide the slightest hint as to his quarry’s whereabouts. Bobby Kane prepped his unsteady gait for a mad sprint towards the open hanger a few hundred feet ahead. He’d come to such a tactical decision due to two distinct points; he felt like a sitting duck with a target pasted between his shoulder blades out in the open, and there was a damn good chance that if his opponent wasn’t already using the building as a hiding place, he could utilize its spacious darkness to rethink a suitable plan of attack.
Besides, at the moment he found himself scared shitless, and understood that such men could literally smell fear in an opponent.
Sucking in a lungful of the humid night air, he shoved himself forward in a sprawling lurch, leaving clouds of dust and flying clods of dirt swirling like swamp mist in his path.
Kane hadn’t run thirty feet when his left ear detected a series of heavy thumping noises. By the time he attempted a duck and roll an instant later, leaving him in a classic crouched fighting stance, he found himself staring at a field of matted grass patted down by his own boot prints. The only sounds present were that of his own harsh breathing, his pulse pounding frantically.
“W-what the? I know I heard somet-- ” he whispered through gritted teeth, the knife and club held up on each side of his sweat-soaked face as if he were attempting to assist a plane in landing on an invisible runway. He rose to his feet, blowing out a lengthy sigh of relief before casually swinging about towards the hanger.
The machete blade entered his throat just below the Adams apple, penetrating with such force that the wooden handle ended where the perfectly horizontal wound began.
Parks had pursued him with the quickness of an Olympic sprinter, carefully tracing the other man’s steps through the dust and adjoining grass that led to the hanger . He’d been less than two feet away when Kane had performed the pitifully predictable roll. Parks had leaped completely over the man’s spinning frame, landing on his feet after a single bounce atop the shag-carpet thick grass surface.
He had positioned the machete for the strike a mere millisecond before the other man had turned. Despite the complete incursion of the blade through the man’s throat, Parks had actually held back to some extent on the torque of his jab in case the man somehow found a way to slip the blow, thereby leaving himself off-balance and open for a counter-attack.
The tip of Kane’s boots hardly scraped the ground as he hung semi-airborne from the inserted weapon like a prize fish being displayed from an open pier. His body shook in a series of death spasms, simultaneously defecating and urinating into his camouflaged pants.
Sneering in disgust, Parks jerked the weapon free in a single lightning-quick movement, allowing the body to fall backward as a gush of crimson flew forward in a wide spray.
Leaning down after all movements had apparently ceased, Parks gripped the man roughly by the hair and lifted his upper body forward until it appeared the man was attempting an impromptu yoga movement, his legs splayed out to form a perfect ‘V’ shape.
Raising the machete shoulder length high with his free hand, Parks paused for dramatic effect before lashing the blade across the man’s exposed, bloodied neck.
He held the detached head into the air for a few moments, his bare arm firmly flexed and as thick as an average man’s thigh.
Walking back towards the East Side of the base camp, Parks permitted the grotesque trophy to swing freely at his side.
Certain the hidden cameras had obtained ample useable footage, he let Kane’s detached skull drop into the grass like a discarded melon shell. “Shit’s getting too easy,” he mumbled in a deep, humorless tone that sounded as if croaked through a voice box hindered by waves of static.

***

Switching off the monitor, Aaron Kyle strolled stiffly over to where Earl Barron sat deep in thought, and was barely able to refrain from giggling in sarcastic glee. “Not exactly Oscar material in the ‘warrior snuff-film’ category, boss, and I thought the previous bout was crap. But by comparison to this travesty, it was the Gone with the Wind of the series. Only some seriously fantastic padding scenes are going to save us from intense bitching and moaning from certain clients who expect a superior product.”
With an expression of complete tranquility, Earl Barron inhaled deeply from the unfiltered cigarette he’d lit just moments after his own monitor’s screen had gone blank. “Nonsense, Aaron. I will agree it ended quite swiftly and without benefit of an actual tussle, but did you see the move our eliminator made to set up the kill? That poor bastard never even knew he was there. I have never seen a man that large be capable of such speed and agility. Professional athletes pale in comparison. He’s almost…bionic.”
Aaron didn’t respond, just sat for a moment nodding his head in disbelief at the older man’s overly casual demeanor before he rose to depart the tiny viewing room. “I’ll get with the tech nerds about the editing process as soon as we debrief Chuckles there and get him prepared for departure,” he said somewhat depressingly.
Whirling around in the bulky chair, Barron spoke sternly, his right eyebrow arched as his right hand arose in a halting gesture. “Aaron, I must tell you that your pessimistic attitude is growing increasingly tiresome. Do our enterprise a favor by not spreading such poisonous opinions amongst the work force.”
Kyle stiffened as he reached for the door handle, only speaking as the door was gradually closing behind him. “Whatever you say, Chief.”
Sitting in relative silence in the dimly lit room, Earl Barron began to compute numbers in his head. Numbers that held dollars signs at the lead.
He glanced at his Rolex before putting out his smoke in a nearby ashtray.
Aaron Kyle was fast becoming more of a liability than an asset, he deduced. He felt a twinge of sorrow at what he realized might have to be done to resolve the problem in the near future.

***

The chopper landed on the long-abandoned but recently refurbished pad one hour later. The three-man team that greeted Mason Parks was disgustingly familiar to him in both their bland facial expressions and mechanical body movements.
Parks had peeled off the blood-stained T-shirt and grass-stained parachute pants from the taping and now sported a black tee and jeans, a thin blue jacket covering the former. As was standard operating procedure, he carried nothing off the post with him since he’d carried nothing on. He had showered off the light sweat and spatters of blood from his body, his scent no longer of battle but of cheap cologne as he stood stoically, allowing the warm air from the chopper blades to pelt him as if completing the purging process.
Mr. Smiley, as he liked to call the man leading the trio towards him-- all three walking in step like a robotic version of the ‘Three Stooges’-- was easily the one that grated on his nerves the most. The man wore a frozen smirk on his thin, pale face, his lanky form suggesting someone who had been raised on bread and water since birth. He was a tall man, at least six-four, although his knees barely bent when he took the long, gliding strides that covered more ground than they probably should have.
The remaining two individuals were your standard muscle-for-hire thugs, each equipped with matching beer guts and sour dispositions.
As Mr. Smiley ever-so-gently placed the vinyl-smelling, Velcro encased blindfold over Parks’ eyes, the aroma of the man’s foul-smelling breath overwhelmed all others. It never ceased to amaze Parks how the air leaving a human’s mouth could literally stink like a freshly deposited turd. “Been brushin’ your teeth with dog shit again, Smiley?” Parks bellowed in order to be heard over the chopper.
As was the norm, no response was forthcoming. In fact, in the fourteen months that he had been making the mysterious flight from the post’s hidden locale to his ranch in Conquest and vice versa, not a single word had ever been spoken within the confines of the chopper. “Ever hear of Scope? Aqua-Fresh? Lighter fluid maybe? Ya might also try flossing every five years or so while you ’re at it, old buddy. Helps to keep the flies from landing on your tongue when ya sleep.”
He was led slowly to the waiting bird, half-expecting to be shoved into the swirling blades instead of beneath them.
Attempting to time the flight was a waste, since he realized from past trips that each time the duration was substantially different, no doubt made purposely so. The suits were nothing if not cautious about keeping the exact location of the post top secret.
Parks’ massively thick frame was given all the room it needed to stretch out once inside, and he spent the flight both breaking down the most recent battle, and mentally prepping for the next.
As per normal, he was dropped off in a paved clearing approximately fifty yards from the backdoor of his ranch house. The suits had provided the one-story brick; complete with two bedrooms; full gym with sauna; specially designed ‘combat readiness room’ and two-car garage.
The black Pontiac Firebird had come with the house; the brand-spanking new, glossily waxed Chevy Z28 was a fairly new addition to the growing list of perks he enjoyed as reward for being the best in his particular field.
No doubt about it, it was good to be King. Damn good.
“Great job if you can get it” was Mason Parks’ catch phrase when questioned about his ‘line of work’ by strangers, although that particular query didn’t surface very often due to the fact that travels away from the ranch were becoming increasingly infrequent.
Parks had discovered over the past year that there wasn’t anything he desired or needed that couldn’t be obtained with nothing more than a polite (or otherwise) request (ditto, a demand ).
The ranch itself was located twelve miles from the insignificantly placed, desolate and scantily populated township of Conquest, New Mexico, surrounded by a seemingly endless desert landscape; sandy dry hills sprinkled with cacti, ancient boulders and hideously deformed shrubbery that gave the area the look of a landscape ravaged by nuclear weapons testing.
Parks didn’t mind the lack of a picturesque, panoramic view. In fact, the only semblance of peace he had found in a life filled with constant images of violent death and dismemberment were the week to two week-long sabbaticals spent in and around the ranch between hunts. This was how he defined them--hunts. Not contests or matches; nor bouts or brawls He hunted and he exterminated, plain and simple. Cut and dry.
It was the single task Mason Parks had been placed on God’s green earth to accomplish, a fact he not only accepted and embraced as his personal, undeniable fate, but had also learned to savor as the victories mounted; relishing in both the act itself and the inevitable aftermath, wherein he would bathe himself in the carnal ‘spoils’ of his chosen trade.
After Mr. Smiley had removed and retrieved the blinding apparatus, Parks shot him a playful wink and placed his scarred right hand on the much leaner man’s shoulder.
“See ya next month, Grins. Inform Mr. X of my displeasure with his staff’s choice of opposition of late, will ya?”
The man turned away from him without response, his gait like that of the walking dead. He was about to re-board the chopper, ducking down comically as he walked underneath the swirling, howling blades, just as Parks cupped his hands and bellowed one parting salutation.
“Hey Smiley! Next time you bring the beer and I’ll bring the Listerine!”
The unmarked, yellow striped chopper sailed off into the gusting desert winds moments later, leaving Parks standing at the edge of the landing site, waving like a maniac with both arms, his lips stretched in maniacal, animated glee.
“Screw you too, ya creepy bastard,” he whispered through a wide, mocking smirk while using one scarred finger to massage the bushy, dark brown Fu Manchu mustache he was cultivating.
Empty handed, he waltzed towards the fully furnished abode, secretly wondering how long such extravagancies would be tolerated until someone in upper management decided a new, fresher face was called for in the cut-throat world of bootleg combat snuff films.
The notion didn’t exactly worry him, at least not in the sense that he felt even the slightest twinge of fear, but the thought of being systematically discarded like a worn-out combat boot by some pencil-pushing geek sitting behind a desk made his blood pressure rise to the point of impending implosion.
In Mason Parks’ less-than-humble opinion, the one and only way he should lose his position as the primary eradicator in their little underground video gold mine was by dying at the hands of the opposition. He realized there was probably a subtle yet growing concern at the top that certain deep pocketed clients would begin to think the battles were staged, thus new meat would have to be brought in to inject a renewed interest. If sales waned, he alone would be held accountable.
Tossing his clothes haphazardly onto the king sized waterbed that fronted a large screen TV and a ten-thousand dollar stereo/entertainment center in the home’s spacious main bedroom, Parks scooped a cellular phone from a nearby dresser and began to casually dial.
“Level one priority. Password is ‘seventy -eight cold. ‘Gotcha…”
As he waited, standing naked except for the semi-white socks adorning his size twelve feet, Parks hummed an old rock tune he believed to have been sung by Bad Company. Feel like Making Love it had been called.
His smile beamed as the other party came on the line, restlessly rubbing the prickly short hair that adorned his rotund skull.
“Yes, my location is cleared. I would like to place an order, my good man. Alright, I believe I feel like a little Mexican tonight…”