“Package is secure. I repeat. Package is secure.” Smith spoke into his wrist while watching all the passer-bys. The foreign diplomat that he was tasked with guarding just sat down in the car behind him. Smith secured the door and sat down in the front passenger seat of the car. This plan had to work.
It was simple, really. Smith, a driver, and the diplomat sat in an unmarked civilian car while a decoy sat in the heavily guarded convoy of black SUVs. As always, the diplomat had a threat against his life while he was traveling within the country. But, this time the boys up in intelligence confirmed that one of these threats was incredibly credible. So much so, that they sent the order to evacuate the diplomat as soon as possible. The plan was formulated. And, now the plan was in action.
“Let’s head out.” Smith ordered as he looked to the driver in the car and nodded.
The car smoothly rolled out and traveled in the exact opposite direction of the convoy on the other side of the condo building. The city streets were quiet, just as planned.
The driver cautiously came to a stop at a red light. Smith looked left and right. His body tensed up. If there was ever a time that they could be hit, it was here and now.
A man across the street stared at the car. Smith glanced up. The light was still red. He glanced down. The man was still staring at the car. His gaze never shifted. Smith’s gut didn’t like this. There was something off about the guy. He didn’t quite know what. But, he always trusted his gut and it never let him down yet.
He reached down to the walkie talkie sitting in the car’s cup holder to call the suspicious man in. Before he could press the push-to-talk button, the speaker started blaring at him.
“AMBUSH! THE CONVOY HAS BEEN HIT. VEHICLE ONE IS DOWN!” the voice on the other side of the radio screamed out.
Smith looked at the driver. The light turned green and without hesitating, the driver floored it away from the intersection. They had to get out of here. The radio started up again.
“It was an IED! Small bag thrown on the side of the road. All other vehicles, be alert for small bags.” The voice continued.
Smith’s eyes now went into overdrive. He scanned the road as the car progressed forward toward the airport.
“Shit.” Smith muttered.
“Right sidewalk. Small bag. Turn right now. Stay away from it.” Smith stated as he looked at the bag and around the street.
“If we turn here, we’re going to end up in the tunnel.” The driver countered.
“Do it.” Smith ordered.
The driver cranked the wheel and turned right. Within seconds, the sunlight inside the car turned to darkness as they entered the tunnel.
Smith could feel his blood pressure shooting through the roof as they continued through the tunnel. The yellow lights throbbed in and out of the car in rhythm as they sped through the tunnel. Smith glanced up into the rear view mirror to see if anybody was following them.
Suddenly, the roof of the tunnel exploded into a cloud of thick smoke. The light at the end of the tunnel disappeared. The driver slammed on the breaks. It was too late. The car slammed into the solid wall of earth that just formed in front of them. The airbags exploded out of their covers. Smith’s face slammed into the bag, temporarily incapacitating him.
As he blinked to clear his foggy eyes from the sudden impact, he noticed three doors on one of the SUVs that were behind his car were now opening. Smith’s training kicked in and he reached for the gun in his holster. He caught a better glimpse of the men coming towards him. They were in full tactical gear. Each of them carrying assault rifles. They weren’t peppering the car with bullets yet. That was good. Smith looked left and noticed the driver’s eyes weren’t open. He might have been dead. But, he didn’t have time to care.
Smith slithered into the backseat of the car and wrapped his left arm around the foreign diplomat. Judging by the fact that the attackers weren’t shooting up the car, they wanted this man alive. So, he was now the best shield available to Smith.
Smith eyed up the attackers as they marched closer to the van. Smith pointed his gun at the closest man. He waited to pull the trigger. Sweat dripped down Smith’s brow. He had to wait for a better shot. Finally, the closest man was within range. Smith’s gun popped loudly twice. The rear window of the car shattered into a million pieces. One of the attackers immediately collapsed. One down, three to go.
The other men ran around the car, quickly now. Smith got two more shots into another one of the attackers. The man dropped to the ground. Now, it was one on one. Smith waited for the man to approach the car. He’d eventually have to come to claim his hostage.
Smith’s eyes burned as sweat slowly creeped its way into them. But, he never lowered his gun. Finally, door popped open. An assault rifle barrel peeked around the frame. But, it never fired. Smith’s trigger finger itched. It felt like an eternity till the man would finally peek around to take the shot. Then, Smith pulled the trigger. He never even recognized the man’s head. But, his training did. The threat was eliminated.
“Follow me. There’s going to be more.” Smith said in a completely neutral tone.
He grabbed the diplomat and dragged him out of the car. Smith couldn’t understand a word that the diplomat was yelling at him. Smith didn’t care. He threw the diplomat into the SUV that the attackers came from.
Russell jabbed his finger onto the screen of his phone as if it would end the call faster than a normal tap. After taking a moment and looking at the after-call report, he threw the phone across the room and against the wall. He stood in the middle of his kitchen, huffing and puffing as he seethed with rage. His teeth were grinding against each other as his jaw was locked shut in anger. After a few moments of staring at the ground like this, he walked over to the closet and grabbed his boots off the floor. He sat down, laced them up, and headed outside.
The back door slammed shut behind him and the screen door slowly drifted to a close too. Russell stomped through the grassy field behind his house and scowled while looking at the acre of woods that sat behind his place. Without pausing or slowing his pace, he yanked his axe out from the stump in the corner of the yard before the woods and continued walking on through the tree line. As he stepped off the beaten path that winded it’s way around the woods and back, his boots trampled over live ivy and dead leaves scattered across the ground. He finally made it into the heart of the woods and eyed an oak tree that was going to be the perfect target for him today.
Without much planning or inspecting, he began blindly slamming his axe into the bark of the tree. Wooden shrapnel exploded out from the impact as he connected with the tree for the first time. Soon, the cuts became more and more uniform and the tree started to sway and buckle under it’s own weight. Russell backed away from the tree and glanced from the bottom of the trunk to the top leaves of the tree. She was coming down. The wind blew across the tree tops in the woods and pushed his tree just enough to have the trunk give way underneath it. With a loud snap and a satisfying crackle, the tree slammed into the earth below.
Russell then began the long and arduous process of cutting the tree into manageable chunks for him to lug home with him. After an hour or so, his arms ached and his back muscles burned. But, he was starting to feel a little better. Russell took a breath and sat down on top of the remaining tree that needed to be split up. He stared out into the woods and listened to the gentle sound of the wind bristling through the leaves all around him. His eyes widened as he zoned out and thought back to the conversation over the phone he had earlier in the house. He wished it didn’t happen over the phone. But, that was the least of his worries when it came to wishing about how things should have turned out rather than what actually happened.
Snapping back into reality, Russell got up and continued hacking away at the tree. He clenched his jaw again as he thought back to the conversation. How could she do something like that to him? After all the times he helped her, after all the times he told her that he loved her, after all the times she reciprocated that love… how? He slammed the axe into the wood again as he tried to cope with what just went down. The workout always helped clear his head. Hopefully, today wouldn’t be an exception. So, he kept slamming the axe away at the tree.
Finally, he reached a point where he could carry the individual pieces back to his yard. Hauling them one by one helped burn off even more steam. The sun was particularly brutal today. The temperature outside must have been somewhere in the nineties. Maybe even triple digits. But, that didn’t stop Russell from chopping up some fire wood. He grabbed a piece of the wood from the pile beside him and set it on the stump in front of him. He lined the axe up with the chunk and hoisted the blade up above his head. Before bringing the axe down, he hesitated for a moment.
He would never admit to anybody that could have seen him in that moment, but for a split-second he had an oddly satisfying thought. He pictured her sitting on that stump instead of the chunk of wood. Now, of course, that sounds dark to most people. But, after ripping his heart out and leaving him in the dust, oh man, how satisfying it would be to bring that axe down. Russell faltered for a second and then finally carried through with the swing. The piece exploded into two and Russell smiled as he admired his handiwork and continued to let his imagination roam free.
The next piece of wood he picked up, he pictured her on their last anniversary. She told him that she wanted them to be together forever. Funny. That’s probably what she told the other guy too. Chop.
The next piece was the first time they met each other at that one party a few years ago. Russell bet that the new guy met her spontaneously too. Chop.
The mercury in the thermometer on the side of Russell’s house did in fact creep up above 100 as the afternoon went on. The fireplace that sat inside his living room would not be active for at least another three months. But, there was no time like the present to start preparing a wood pile! Chop.
As the sun started to set and the pile of uncut wood dwindled away, Russell gently rubbed his hands together to assess the damage. He didn’t realize until now that his palms were covered in blisters. His arms throbbed from being overused and the rest of his body was just plain old exhausted. As he set the axe down, Russell smiled. Even though his body ached, his heart never felt better.
Julie peeled off the covers and willed herself out of bed. Last night was rough. The annual company party took a toll on her system and her body was certainly paying for it today. She walked into the bathroom and pulled the faucet open. Splashing cold water onto her face, she started to finally come to her senses. The bags under her eyes caught her attention in the mirror. She squinted and thought about what day today was. Crap. Weigh-in day.
The dreaded weigh-in day. For the past year, Julie was on a diet that slowly made progress but it always felt like she was going backwards. Today was definitely going to be two steps back.
Julie stepped up onto her scale for her weekly struggle. She closed her eyes and scrunched her face. She wasn’t much of a praying woman. But today, that was entirely different. Finally, she had enough willpower. She looked down. Holy shit.
Eight pounds?! How did she gain eight pounds in one week? This can’t be right!
She leapt off the scale and let the digital display reset itself. It flashed all clear. Then, she tiptoed back onto the scale. Maybe if she was gentle, it wouldn’t reflect the damage the damage that was already done. She slowly lowered her weight onto the scale and watched the number creep up. And then, it landed on the exact same number as last time. Crap.
Julie walked back to her bedroom and grabbed her phone off the bedside table. She logged her weight and read the condescending message that was supposed to sound inspirational.
“What happened? Hopefully this week will be better!” her phone nagged her.
She frowned and decided that she was going to go for a walk. Maybe even a jog. That would surely burn off some of this weight, right? She slouched her way back to the bathroom and brushed her teeth and combed her hair. She stripped her night shirt off and grabbed the running gear for today.
Walking down the stairs of her apartment, Julie could swear that she felt the extra eight pounds. This had to be some kind of bad dream. She made it to the front door and pushed it open. The fresh city air hit her nose and burned. Maybe fresh wasn’t the right word for it. But, this was as fresh as it got for Julie.
Stepping outside, she stretched her legs a little and loosened up the rest of her body. Maybe the run could help from the damage done last night at the party too. Hopefully her head wouldn’t feel any worse than it did when she lifted it from her pillow this morning.
She took a long gulp from her water bottle in her hand and then started the jog. Running down the city street, Julie could quickly feel the sweat gathering on her brow. Her lungs started to burn after only a minute into the jog. Holy crap. This was going to suck. But, she kept powering on. It worked all the weeks before and it was going to work again. Running and making sure that she didn’t make any more food mistakes again.
That’s when her worst nightmare happened. Why didn’t she take the right two blocks earlier? She knew better than to do this. But, it was too late now. She was running past her donut shop. Not the standard chain donut shops. No. This was much better. The gourmet shop with the crullers that melt in her mouth. It used to be heaven on earth. Now, after doing this diet, it quickly became the bane of her existence.
As she kept running closer towards the shop, she could smell the tantalizing sweet scent hanging in the air. Oh man, did it smell so good. Her mouth started to water. This was definitely going to be torture. Right before she gave into her donut desire, a taxi cab raced by and filled her nose with the putrid smell of hot exhaust. This was probably the first time in Julie’s life that she was thankful for a taxi doing that to her. The donuts were out of her nose and her mind was back on the run.
That is, until she was right in front of the shop. From the outside it didn’t look like much. The shop didn’t even have a sign on top of the building. It was simply painted letters on the windows at the front of the shop. Behind those windows sat a case of the sweet morsels that Julie’s body craved so badly right now. Julie glanced over and that was another mistake. The bright colors of all the different types of frostings lured her in.
Oh no. Julie was done for. A lady was sitting on one of the wooden tables that were perched outside of the shop. A bouquet of pink flowers caught Julie’s eye originally. Then, her eyes drifted down to the pink nails on the lady reading her book at the table. Then, there it was. a cruller was gently pinched between the lady’s fingers.
Julie licked her lips and her stomach started to growl. She slowed her jog down to a brisk walk and then to a screeching halt. She stared at the donut for an awkward length of time and then averted her eyes to the shop. Maybe one donut? It was breakfast time after all. And, she didn’t eat lunch yet. How bad could it possibly be? It couldn’t be as bad as last night. The food just never ended last night. At the time, it felt so right. Now, she was paying for it. Julie walked up to the front door and placed her hand on the handle.
No! She couldn’t give in. It’s the same thing that happened last night. Nope. It was time to get her body back to normal. She glanced at the cruller with sorrow then smiled as she continued her jog away
The phone rang long enough to make Jake more nervous than he already was. He paced back and forth in his kitchen muttering that Craig better pick up his phone or he was gonna kick his. . . The other side finally picked up.
“Yello, what’s up bro?” Craig asked over the phone.
“I need your help” Jake quickly spat out.
Craig paused for a moment and stuttered.
“Uh… give me a sec. I’m busy” he stated.
“I can’t wait a second. I need help now!” Jake retorted quickly.
“Okay. Okay. Okay. Sheez. Hold on.” Craig moved to another room as evidenced by the rustling and grunts that Jake heard over the phone.
“Alright,” Craig continued “what’s the emergency?”
Jake glanced down at his watch while pacing even faster in his kitchen.
“I met a girl.”
“That… doesn’t exactly sound like an emergency, buddy.” Craig said with a chuckle in his voice.
“You know. At first, I would have agreed with you. But, I was talking with this girl more and more. And, things started to really click with her. And, dude, she’s beautiful…” Jake started.
“Whoa. Busting out the B-word? She’s not hot? She’s beautif — ?“
“Exactly.” Jake cut Craig off.
“Wow. This really is an emergency, isn’t it?” Craig said with a hint of exasperation.
“That’s not even the worst of it…” Jake said, a tone of defeat wavered in his voice.
“What could possibly be worse?” Craig asked.
“Well, it’s” Jake looked down at his watch, “quarter till seven and I agreed to a dinner date with her at seven.”
“Oookay. And? Where are you taking her?” Craig asked, looking for the problem.
“That’s the thing. I’m not taking her anywhere. She’s coming over here.” Jake responded.
“Where’s here?” Craig continued asking.
“Where do you think?! My place!” Jake said, starting to get shorter and shorter with his temper.
“Alright, bro. Chill. Everything will be cool. You gonna order in?” Craig said, trying to get down to a solution.
“What do you mean you can’t?” Craig questioned.
“I mean I can’t order in.” Jake responded.
“Yeah, you can. You just pick up the phone. You’re doing it now! Just grab some pizza and watch some movies on your computer. That’s always turns out great.” Jake could practically hear Craig winking and nudging him over the phone.
“I can’t do that because I told her I cook.” Jake said, finally coming to terms with what he had done to himself.
“Why the hell would you go and do something stupid like that?” Craig prodded in disbelief.
“Because I met her in a coffee shop. And, we started talking about food. And, everything was going great. And, I could see that she was really starting to fall for me. She even laughed at the butcher joke I always tell…” Jake started up on another rant.
“Oh God. Not the butcher joke.” Craig muttered under his breath.
“And, she started talking about all the pastries that they had and how she liked them. And, I somehow started talking about the sandwiches and then boom. She asked if I cooked. And, stupid me, to close the deal, said I love to cook. I cook all the time!” Jake ranted while slowly banging his head against the cabinet in his kitchen.
“Wow…” Craig responded while letting out a long sigh.
“What?” Jake asked with a tone of despair.
“You really dug your grave pretty deep. This really is an emergency…” Craig commented while thinking of all the possible outcomes. “How long do you have until she shows up?”
Jake glanced down at his watch again.
“Oh man! Only 10 minutes!” He said as his body contorted in agony.
“Okay. What…uh… what does she like?” Craig asked, trying to smooth over the whole situation.
“That makes this whole situation even better.” Jake continued with another rant.
“Jeez. Now what?” Craig asked while wincing next to his phone.
“She’s a vegetarian.” Jake let out in a sigh.
Craig laughed for a solid minute.
“How… in the hell… are you going to pull this off?!” Craig continued while trying to speak between laughs.
“That’s why I called you, buddy.” Jake said, now defeated.
“Okay. Hmm. What all do you have in the fridge?” Craig asked, finally getting down to business.
Jake sauntered over to his beat up fridge and pulled the handle to reveal mostly empty shelves. He glanced around the barren fridge for a few more moments before responding.
“Uh. I have some… ham. Turkey. Bacon. Ketchup.” he listed, while taking inventory. He grabbed a bottle off the shelf on the door “the mustard went bad…” he squinted “two months ago.”
Both Jake and Craig gagged slightly.
“Oh, here we go.” He reached down and pulled out the drawer on the bottom of the fridge.
“Did you hit the jackpot?” Craig excitedly asked.
“Not really. There’s uh…” Jake grabbed the thin plastic bags from the supermarket. He rummaged around a little bit more.
“There’s uh…?” Craig asked, mocking Jake.
“Shut up.” Jake said, trying to focus. “I got peppers, onions, some purple stuff, some green stuff…”
“You don’t even know what all you have there?” Craig smirked.
“No. I don’t. It’s not all mine. Some of it’s yours.” Jake said, tersely.
“You should really broaden your palate, bro.”
“My mom always said the same thing. And yet, I’m still alive and thriving.” Jake replied.
“Let’s just settle for alive, right now.” Craig jabbed.
Craig took a deep breath before stepping his best friend through his plan.
“Look. Just chop everything up nicely. Throw it in a bowl together. Make it look nice and colorful. Presentation is ninety percent of cooking anyways. Tell her you saw this recipe on some vegan website. And, everything should go well!” he stated.
“Alright. Thanks, man.”
Jake began chopping all the veggies and finally relaxed. With the last veggies in the bowl, he let out a long sigh and heard a knock on the door.