The guards pushed us in front of a wall that was full of bullet holes. There were fresh bloodstains on the ground. I heaved as the smell of blood hit me. The guards blindfolded me with a piece of dirty cloth.
Allen said, “Can I get a cigarette?” Apparently, he didn’t get one because he yelled,
“You monsters! You deny a man his dying wish?
I spit blood out of my mouth and felt my teeth with my tongue. The mind-numbing pain told me I had a broken one.
I struggled with my bonds, trying to set myself free. With the prison yard full of soldiers, it’d be no use, but I could charge them in one last act of defiance, with the whole world watching. That would show Zheng he couldn’t use our public execution to intimidate others. When I couldn’t find a way out of my binds, I tried to remove the blindfold to at least stare my executioners in the eyes, but that didn’t work either, so I decided to use the best weapon in my arsenal.
I yelled, “Come on, you cowards. Open my hands and let’s go a few rounds. I’ll take you all, your bastard of a general included! I’ll even let you tie my right hand behind my back!”
There was a reason my nickname was the Fighter Pilot with the Mouth .
I got a gun butt in my stomach for my efforts. All air left my lungs with a whoosh. I was forced to stop.
Kurt humorlessly chuckled. “Jim, didn’t you say something about not wanting to be put up against the same wall as me?” He added, “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry I got you and Elizabeth involved in this.”
“Water under the bridge,” I said. “To be honest, now that I’m going to die, I have only two regrets. One’s that I didn’t join the Resistance when you asked me to.”
A steady rhythm of boot heels got closer as a group of soldiers marched toward us.
The firing squad. They were coming to kill me. Waives of desperation swept through me, and my heart decided to hide behind my stomach.
“And the other one?” Kurt asked.
For a second, I didn’t remember what we were talking about, then grabbed at it like a life raft. “The next Star Trek will be released next month, and I’m going to miss it.”
I could hear astonishment in Kurt’s voice. “Weren’t you about to propose the night I came to your house?”
Exactly what I’d been doing my damnedest not to think about. If I did, I’d break down and beg the guards to let Liz go, saying I’d do anything they wanted. I might even have burst into tears. On live TV. Everything I’d done in the past few minutes was to prevent that outcome. I very much preferred to die with some dignity.
Venom went on a rant like there was no tomorrow. “You got her killed. You found the kindest and warmest girl in the world, and you managed to get her dragged in front of a firing squad. Well done!”
God damn it!
I had a huge lump in my throat, making it difficult to breathe. My lower lip started to quiver, and my breath quickened. If the devil came to me at that moment and said he’d save Liz if I agreed to serve him for a million years and then go to hell for eternity, I’d have accepted with gratitude. I’d have agreed to anything just to make the pain I felt for dragging her into this go away.
I said, “Yeah, that too.”
“You are back-ass weird,” said Allen.
I’d normally deflect a comment like that with a joke or a wise-ass comment like
“Amen to that” or “Normal is boring,” but I was in a very bad mood, and I’d never liked Allen much. When I was a teenager and he was Thomas’s head of security, I was afraid of him. He was always grumpy and menacing, and Canadians are supposed to be nice. I remembered one of his famous quotes was “Fighter pilots are pussies. A real man kills his enemies in hand-to-hand combat while staring into the whites of their eyes.”
I was sure he’d stolen that quote from the Klingons.
It’s funny what details the mind chooses to remember right before death. Mine was skipping around like a kitten on meth. Don’t think about . . . you know. Don’t think about her.
“I’m weird?” I retorted. “Isn’t your nickname the Butcher of Macau?”
“Butcher? Huh! It’s an exaggeration,” said Allen. “There were less than fifty people in that casino, every single one of them an associate of Zheng’s.”
“Plus the casino’s employees who got caught in the crossfire.”
Someone shouted, “Ready!”
“Didn’t you get rich and famous by killing a bunch of Japanese people?” Allen said.
The same voice continued, “Set!”
I shouted, “Enemy combatants! Not innocent bystanders!”
“Really? You guys are doing this now?” said Kurt. He talked to Allen in French, which he knew I didn’t understand. If he were telling him to shut up, it didn’t work. The old man said, “Nobody’s innocent, especially a spoiled brat working for enemy’s air force.”
Good thing we were about to die, otherwise I’d have killed Allen.
At that moment, it finally dawned on me: I was going to miss out on a lot. All the plans I had for the rest of my life had been wiped off the board. I’d never fly again. I wouldn’t get married. I wouldn’t father a child and have a family of my own. Hell, I didn’t even get to propose. Worst of all, I’d never again have the chance to see the woman I was planning to do all these with. Regret burned through my soul like fire, frying up my already worn-out brain, making me forget where I was for a merciful moment.
“Vive la révolution,” said Kurt.
Liz, I’m so sorry, I thought right before the world sank into darkness.
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