Sex Writer Symposium: 05byPenningFreer©
My feet automatically hit the ground a full second or two before I, Heidi the summoned one, am functionally awake, only peripherally processing the approaching whirring of chopper wings, and a full second or two before my Blackberry blasts annoying code red noise.
140 seconds later I stand fully dressed, backpack secure, primary weapon securely holstered under my arm, poised between Richard and Elle, Beth and Kevin standing firm to our left, watching the chopper's red lights bleed through the rain-heavy clouds and finally burst through cloud cover.
The landing lights illuminate us, and the ground around us, almost the instant the chopper breaks the cloud cover and the bird snaps into a tight right-hand landing circle damn near in an emergency autorotation landing scheme.
Jack is in a hurry to set his aircraft down.
The door slides open an instant before touchdown.
A man I don't recognize sways in the rotor wash with his wrist through a helo wall strap. He steps onto the skid, leans out into the darkness, pointing rapidly to each of us, counting heads as the chopper descends and kisses the ground, circling restlessly with no intention of coming to a full stop.
In another thirty-five seconds, we are breaking free of the plush ground air effect. Jack pops the chopper nose brusquely up, and we hover like a dragon fly a split second before Jack drops our insect nose, thrusts the cyclic forward and careens us straight toward the line of rocks bounding our compound, clearing the jagged sandstone by mere feet, then racing - let me see -southwesterly it appears to be on my handy-dandy compass watch, roughly toward Tijuana.
"Hi, I'm Jax," the stranger says to us, "Jackson with an 'x.'" He winks and extends his hammer-looking fist to bump knuckles with each of us, "Not to be confused with your pilot Jack here, who you've met, and who doesn't have a fucking 'x' anywhere in his name. East Coast Porn Next Door, sort of the operations division - Denys, Sheri, Jill and those guys. Met them yet?"
"Yeah, we've met Denys. And you're a regular on CNN," I beam at him.
I, Hungry Heidi, can't be good when I haven't had breakfast.
Jax shakes his head and barely smiles. "Those fuckers are worse than paparazzi, they're everywhere. I watch them sometimes - I kid you not - to tell me where the hell I've landed.
"A couple months ago I was hidden behind some trafficker mogul's wet bar on some island, watching CNN on the tube on the wall above me while the goons trying to off me are describing where they think I am, and what they intend to do to me while they're watching the same fucking CNN on the same goddamn television set from the other side of the bar - clueless."
Jax chuckles, runs straight fingers across his throat, and shakes his head.
"CNN reports something like, 'Pirates off the coast of Yemen have seized a second Italian cargo liner in a single month, all on board are suspected dead,' yadda, yadda, yadda and I almost laugh out loud and think, so that's where they dropped me. Yemen. Never even saw a map of Yemen."
Less than ninety minutes later we skirt Camp Pendleton to the South and see lights that must be Point Loma and San Diego to our left and we move out into the western Pacific waters before banking hard left back down toward Tijuana, and toward Mexican salt water, we chew up several miles of dark sky at a rapid clip and then slow and air troll for a couple of minutes until we see lights bobbing far below.
"That's her," Jax says, pointing into the dark as Jack tilts us hard left again for a better view. "Can we land her in these waves, Jack?"
"Don't know...why...not" Jack says distracted by his plans to actually pull this off. "If Zhay or Denys did it, I sure as hell will do it."
"So Jax," Heidi the inquisitor breaks the tense silence. "Why'd you swim the twelve miles back to Thailand after you handed off the yacht and did whatever you did to the guy who tried to import the Tibetan kids - or did you really swim it?"
Rich and Kevin grin at each other and shake their heads, as does Jack, despite his focused landing efforts.
"How CNN figures these distances and details is beyond me," Jax shakes his head.
"Something about international waters. Something about property on the boat recovered at sea stays the property of the gaining country until they get it sorted out. Being sorted out by the Italians didn't sound like a lot of fun to me. I knew the kids were safe in an Italian boat, the Captain was a great guy, and the trafficker guy was...well...everyone was safe from the trafficker guy.
"And I..." Jax pauses, "needed the exercise after my vacation in Phuket."
He laughs and stands as tall as he can in the chopper without hitting his head on the ceiling and stretches his tense rock hard upper torso and sides from side to side.
His laugh fades as abruptly as it arrives, leaving a cold focused void that I'd like to...try to...explore more sometime. Not now.
"Speaking of kids, Heidi - Heidi isn't it?" he reaches to shake my hand normally now that names are involved, "what we are going to see right now is likely to be ugly as a mud fence. We think Zhay and Denys and the guys got in fast enough. We know they're alive and secure, but we don't know what they found - or what they left messed up to do the securing."
We all hold our seats, and Jax grips his leather wrist strap, as Jack picks a target spot on the wooden deck of a huge ancient mariner-looking fishing ship and drops us toward it like an albatross picking a perch.
"These kids and women are Chinese, Heidi, guys. The Tibetan thing was a fluke, a really bad fluke. This is more mainstream. The other bastards just stumbled onto the Tibetan group on a Greek ship carrying refugees and it was literally taking candy from a baby - or so they thought," Jax's lips are tight.
"This, on the other hand, is part of a group that's been doing this shit for a long, long time. They are - or were - shockingly efficient at what they do."
He spits out the left over part of a splintered wooden toothpick and shakes his head.
Seconds later we bump, hover, hold, and settle metal skids onto wooden planks.
We dismount the helo like human liquid and move as one body into a wedge phalanx with Jax dead front-center, automatic weapon braced to his elbow twisted in the strap for support.
I stand three body lengths to Jax's left. My weapon is astonishingly still and relaxed in my grip. No trembling. Rehearsed to perfection. Calm. Ready. Ready for anything.
* * * *
Ethereal fog obscures everything. A block of harsh light leers at us from a massive rectangular doorway into the guts of the ship. We see glimpses of gigantic bulkhead structures, rising like fortress walls and disappearing into the mixed fog and darkness somewhere over our heads.
Splotches of light from randomly scattered battery lamps dropped at intervals along the deck jut only so far into the fog before they dissolve into ghostly shadow.
Figures on the periphery move toward us in the fog. Other figures, lumps darker than the darkness of the planks, lie still, grotesquely distorted even in the dark.
Kevin's shadow is somewhere on my far left, Elle is closest to me, the same three body-lengths away. Richard brings up the far right and Beth stands steady between Richard and Jax, pistol gripped with both hands directly forward. She is rock steady.
Our convex shadowy wedge, with Jax at the tip, moves forward steadily, slowly, quietly toward the moving and spreading figures, and past periodic still figures at our feet.
Lapping waves smack dark hull. Breeze finds corners of wood around which to whistle. Otherwise no sound.
Only delicious, terrifying, confident anticipation of...something. Something I, Heidi, don't know yet, but that I know is right around the corner.
Several feet closer we move then a quiet firm voice cuts the silence from my right, drawing six barrel tips as one.
"Welcome, guys. We are secure out here. We still have some work to do inside."
Zhay flashes a pin light three times quickly, flashing, then abruptly darkening, her face.
We six shadows stop in unison, holding our intervals.
A subdued sob, rushed hushing sounds, then more tinsel-thin sobs tear the silence, feeding more sobs and hushing noises, then uncontrolled terrified wails of children.
Through the fog, edging through the light in the massive wooden-framed doorway, small figures attached to tiny figures materialize toward us, slowly, the tiny figures sliding through thick mud, rather than lifting their feet from it, the small figures leaning toward the tiny figures, heads down, but eyes certainly lifted toward us - wondering.
At the edge of the small and tiny figures several taller, fuller figures, toward the back, emerge.
One is a familiar massive hulk and carries some type of automatic weapon in one massive hand, a distinctive Colt 45 in the other. The others seem to carry only smaller handguns in one hand while holding smaller hands of the tiny figures in their free hands.
We converge in the doorway. As we meet the emerging ones in the open ship hole, the most brutal stench smashes our nostrils, bending our heads to the side, twisting our mouths into pretzel shapes, turning our stomachs in on themselves. Only anticipation keeps us from vomiting our guts out into the filth.
As far as we can see back into the bowels of the boat, along both sides of the massive passageway, are wood-framed stable-looking enclosures with metal bars. Rancid clumps and sprigs of hay jut forth from the floors of the compartments with some sticking straight up in the filth porridge like candy-striped straws in chocolate milkshakes.
Naked, or near-naked bodies shiver from the early morning damp and chill and from fear and from whatever must have just happened to set them free from their cells, scurrying in a panic toward the fresh air.
Uncertainty, fear still flash in the bulging, blinking eyes of what must be a hundred and a half Chinese women and children.
Leather. Stretched human leather. Shrunken leather form-fitted to bones is all I can think.
Our eyes gradually begin to adjust to the pallid light.
I suddenly gasp and recoil in horror, and smash my empty fist into my mouth, coming as close to dropping my weapon as I ever have, coming as close to screaming out as I have in months, when I see small twisted bodies, over a dozen, lying still and twisted in the nearest cage.
The stench, the sucking mud squelching over my ankles, gripping my boots, the looming death and decay, the shell faces with interested eyes - all this grabs me by my throat and crushes my chest.
When I choke back my horror and panic and turn to take in the rest of the scene, struggling to regain my composure, I find myself calmly, and without the slightest discomfort or slightest hint of remorse, looking with disgust at the bodies of the former captors, the traffickers, the slave-sellers, the purveyors of human beings, the sellers of souls, the sex slave salesmen callously mired in the mucky slime where each fell dead, eyes open with that final look of disbelief that this was it, mouths open with unspoken words, frozen forever in their final expressions - most of whose last image was the burning gray steel eyes of Denys O'Malley.
A flurry of activity commences about us, Jax's phalanx, as we move further into the ship to finish the job of assuring there will be no politicized, media-hyped courtroom fiascos on CNN.
Not on Zhay's watch. Not on Denys's watch. Now...not on Heidi's watch.
Squawking radios direct more air transport toward our spot in the water.
Over the next hour, three black Navy special operations helicopters with more seats than ours sequentially land and eventually board our small friends, then flap away toward Balboa hospital to specially prepared rooms CNN will never see.
Denys and Jax confer quickly with more hand gestures than words and Jax turns to us and hand signals ENGAGE and without a word we all follow Denys deeper into the creaking vessel, turning every corner only after Denys kicks a lamp around the corner - and waits.
The first two times he kicks a lamp around the corner we hear scurrying and a few muffled, terse words and curses, and footsteps dashing further into the darkness.
Every ship has a back wall, mother-fuckers.
I, Heidi Hunter, float on new peace. I was born for this. This shit on my boot ankles, underneath which lies my newest gift to myself, a golden ankle bracelet I got on sale at Dillard's this weekend; this permeating hell smell; My freshly painted frosted pink fingernails; this death stalk, this challenge of values; this uncertainty; this complete trust in other fallible humans; this instinctive hatred of mean people who treat other people mean.
I was born for this.
Oh, yes. I was born for this.
Unafraid, calm, steel in my grip, feeling rather than seeing my surroundings, sensing human presence before seeing it. Pointing my pistol like my pink fingertip at suspicious shadows. Feeling others around me in slow motion - prey in slow motion is a good thing for a hunter.
Three turns into some deeper passageway, staccato sounds snap, wooden boards splinter, and wood vaporizes next to my ear. Loud mosquito sounds precede sharp smacking sounds. Everywhere.
Somebody's running out of running room.
Somebody's hit the back wall of this ancient mariner vessel.
Denys holds still, eyes raised, foot tapping a cadence only he knows, waits, waits, counts, waits, then takes a deep breath, holds it, and steps deliberately squarely into the hallway and methodically shoots three bodies until movement stops. Before those bodies drop, I am at his shoulder as two more bodies lift their heads and shoulders and raise their guns from behind smelly fish-cleaning counter-height troughs.
I see you in slow motion.
My measured, even breathing doesn't change. My expression doesn't change. I sense their rodent-like vulnerability to this woman. These miserable misguided men who so hate women struggle fiercely, desperately now, before me for their lives, but unfortunately for them, they move in slow motion in the piercing eyes of this bitch.
I, Heidi, am now their last woman. I Heidi am their last fucking anything.
I point my pistol like a knitting needle right where I want on each of their helplessly flailing bodies, while they desperately try to point and fire their paltry pop-guns into my pretty, fairly average chest. I pick my spots on their bodies with startling clarity.
I shoot these two mean bad men in rapid succession with one bullet each to hold them still while I finish shooting them a little more leisurely.
The first finds his pain in his left chest cavity. The second feels his pain in his right lung as though a mule kicked him. Either shot was plenty for each man. I could have left it at that.
But I am Heidi the woman. I am Heidi the woman who was once a barefooted girl playing in the mud my own self. I am Heidi the sister of each of those small sister bodies, and tiny child bodies that were to be used for bad sex. I love sex. I love sex as much as anyone ever has or ever will. But I'll have sex when I choose, with whom I choose, how I choose, where I choose. So will every vulnerable child, woman and man I can ever impact with my medium frame and my massive heart.
So, I Heidi the woman, am not through shooting these mean bad men.
As Denys and Jax stride deeper into the dark, ducking, peering, firing into the corners of the wooden doorways, I walk straight toward the two dying men. I look each directly in the eye and I raise my eyebrows, showing them this plain Jane homespun woman's face.
Eyebrows still raised, I slowly shoot each bad man square between his eyes. But not before each fully recognizes, registers, and regards my girlie face.
I watch the lights go out in each pair of eyes as each slumps from movement to none.
I don't mind seeing them like this. I don't have to look long. Those eyes were more blind before than they are now.
Blind. Blinder. Blindest.
Bad, bad, mean people. Write this off to my simple, homespun values and small-town morality.
Yes. I, Heidi, despite my complex, liberalized facets and my driving human hunger to live a lusty life, have firmly-grounded and surprisingly basic morals: Don't be mean to people. Especially don't be mean to little people, helpless people. It's just wrong. It's just fucking wrong.
The snapping and popping down the hallway to the left grows more and more feint.
Beth is now on my far right walking past the second or third problem student she just shot through the throat with a single perfectly-placed bullet. She never looks down, she never looks back, she never lowers her gun. She holds a full clip ready in her steady support hand. She never falters. That's just Beth.
We walk to the next hallway branching off to the right. We wait a few seconds to let our eyes adjust to the darkening lower ceiling. Richard joins us. Elle joins us.
We hand-signal split paths and push our rats further toward their beddy-bye time. It's almost lights out fellows.
* * * *
We all meet back at the first entryway into the labyrinth where we first encountered fire.
All of us.
All of us completely and silently aware that one time we might not all meet back at the first entryway into the labyrinth where we first encountered fire.
But this time, now, we are all back.
We remove only small woman bodies and tiny child bodies. We don't touch enemy bodies. We don't even count bodies except those of the small-framed woman ones, and the tiny-framed child ones who will be gently sent on their way with pretty memorial services with full dignity for perhaps the first time in their short, tiny, tortured lives.
God help me never empty myself of the source of this silent raging flood of salt tears flowing from my shattered heart, out my blinkless eyes, leaving briny saline streaks of mud down my face.
We join a special team sent by unnamed Pentagon sources who do not agree to speak, even under promises of anonymity, to thoroughly search the entire vessel, chamber by chamber, to make sure we leave no small or tiny person behind, and leave no enemy body breathing. We succeed in both. We fail in neither. We neither touch, nor count, enemy bodies.
When it's done, we gather to count noses and prepare to load our two choppers with our own weary bodies.
Denys, with Sheri and Jill, two others from the Baltimore team to which we haven't yet been formally introduced, put a clean bandage on Bridgette's left shoulder. She looks down at the bullet hole without batting an eye, without flinching. Then she turns without a word and climbs into the helo and sits down like she's on a commuter train seat on the light rail from Camden Yard to Penn Station.
We hear the chopper radios simultaneously squawk the Navy's outgoing messages warning all aircraft and water craft to stay outside of their last minute "war exercise perimeter" until 2300 on Monday evening - twenty-four hours hence. We scan radar for any semblance of blips in the area.
We silently hover in the wind wash from our birds and wait for Zhay to dismiss us.
Zhay is the last to emerge from the garrish light of the gaping doorway. She is done inside and never looks back.
Zhay walks to Denys's chopper and takes a silver object Denys hands her without a word. She walks back to the open hatch that descends at least thirty feet down into the dark hull of this hell spectre.
She sets the countdown timer on her watch. She arms the detonation timer on the object, a rubber-padded canister that will unleash a fitting inferno in about five minutes. She kicks the cannister into the hatch and walks quickly back to us, motioning us to board and depart.