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  • Writer's pictureScott Bell

Yeager's Choice

While working my way through the fourth Yeager novel (Yeager's Choice), I decided it would be fun to share a bit about one of the bad guys. Meet Macerio Borges... “Killing is easy,” said Macerio Borges to his apprentice, Dominic Martinez. “Any thug can kill. A grandmama can kill. A child, even.” The man in the kitchen chair whimpered and Macerio tut-tutted him back to silence. “The soldier kills in war, the street criminal kills for drugs. A wife kills a husband because he beats her one too many times, eh?”

Martinez offered a half-smile, obviously not sure enough of himself to be at ease. The younger man stood attentively, as befitted a student during a lecture by his professor. He betrayed his nerves by his excessive swallowing and restless eyes, which refused to settle for more than an instant on the man in the chair.

“You are too young to remember the civil war, but no doubt you know of the Kaibilies?” continued Borges, “The Special Forces soldiers? Butchers.They killed hundreds, maybe thousands of civilians. No finesse, just bang-bang-bang,” Borges mimed firing a machine gun, “and shoot everything that moves, down to the chickens.”

A digital clock on the microwave oven read 3:32 a.m. The small night light glowed from underneath the microwave, pooling on the kitchen counter. That, plus the kitchen’s window panels, painted luminous silver by the outdoor security light, provided enough light for their dark-adapted vision. Fat tears glistened on the cheeks of the man in the chair. He sat in his underwear, his round, white belly pressed against the table. On the placemat in front of him, as though being offered for a late-night snack, rested a sheet of paper, a pen, a bottle of vodka, and a sleek, black, semi-automatic pistol. A round was chambered in the pistol. It would fire with a single squeeze of the trigger. Which may, Borges mused to himself, be contributing to Dom’s nerves. Placing a loaded gun in front of the target is not to be taken lightly.

“But,” Borges said, raising a nitrile-gloved finger. “To assassinate the carefully chosen target. To remove from the body human a single soul, using such precision as a surgeon when excising a lump of cancerous tissue, or like a gardener who prunes the bad branches so the tree may grow stronger…Well. That is as much art as it is science.” To the man in the chair he said, “Now, Mr. Arbogast, please finish the note as we instructed. And have another drink. It will help.”

“Waa…Why… are you doing this?” Arbogast’s voice squeaked like a rusty hinge. He was an American who spoke only English, whereas Borges had been speaking in Spanish to his apprentice. He had been getting appreciably agitated as Borges lectured his student in the art of death. The man’s chins wobbled as he spoke. “What have I done?”

Borges’ schooled his face and answered the way a professor’s would if a student asked a particularly obtuse question. In English, he said, “You know why.”

“Please,” Arbogast fixed his eyes on Borges. “Please. I’ll keep quiet. I’ll…I’ll tell them I can’t testify…” He twisted in the chair and reached for Borges as if to implore him with a touch of his pudgy hands. “I’ll—”

“Don’t beg,” Borges snapped. He stepped back with a grimace of distaste. “It is unmanly, and dishonorable. Now, please hurry along. Your wife and children are sleeping upstairs and we would hate to wake them. You would hate to wake them. Do not make me ask this again.”

Arbogast sagged like a sack of wet sand. He reached for the pen with a shaky hand, passing right over the pistol. Wetness glistened on his chubby cheeks and he passed gas with a sound like a balloon deflating. “This isn’t right,” he whined.

“Where was I?” Borges asked Dominic in Spanish.

“As much art as science.” Ever vigilant, Dominic held the brilliantly sharp knife that was Plan B, should Arbogast be capable of more resistance than Borges suspected.

“Ah yes. The science of assassination is like a doctor learning how to stitch a wound. It is necessary to learn, but it does not make one a good surgeon. An average assassin can learn to shoot, even shoot very well. A good marksman can hit his target at a thousand meters or more. But that is not art. That is mechanics. Wind velocity, ballistics. To facilitate a death so that a competent coroner will rule it a suicide is where the craft becomes challenging. And,” he waved a hand to indicate the scene in front of them, “to engineer it so the target actually does the deed himself; writes the note; uses a weapon registered in his name—which is much easier here in the United States, by the way. He puts it in his mouth and pulls the trigger with his own hand. All the forensics will tell one story and leave no hint of foul play. And there is honor in it. We have given this man a choice, yes? Kill himself or see his wife and daughters violated and slaughtered. Now this man may decide to try for the gun and attempt to shoot us…” Borges shrugged. “In which case I expect you to handle it with your trusty blade. We will stage the crime as a burglary, which is not optimal, but salvageable. Watch closely! It will be the final moment, when he places the weapon in his mouth. That will be the tipping point. You will see it in his eyes.”

Dominic’s head bobbed in nervous acknowledgment. He swallowed and flexed his grip on the knife. The boy showed promise. Educated. Intelligent. Nothing like the last two thugs El Patron had saddled him with. He had handled the removal of Arbogast from his bedroom with a delicate touch, then brought the fat man to the kitchen without violence, thus preserving the scene and leaving no traces. Dominic had already proved he could kill, a test administered before being selected as Borges protege. An entrance exam, so to speak. But as Borges had just explained, any halfwit could kill. The question was, could he kill like Borges?

Could he kill with style?

“Come, Mr. Arbogast. It is time.” Borges spoke with a firm kindness. The voice of a teacher telling his class the test was over and it they must put down their pencils. “Remember what will happen if you fail to comply. You have my word, your wife and daughter will be safe if you act with honor. Have courage now.”

In the end, Arbogast placed the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Much to Borges satisfaction, he chose honor over self-preservation. He and Dominic departed the home, locking the door behind them, long before the first sounds of footsteps on the stairs announced the family coming to investigate the report of the gunshot.

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