Pinot’s War by Mag­gie Tio­jakin

The Jakarta Post - JPlus - - Between The Lines - WORDS MAG­GIE TIO­JAKIN IL­LUS­TRA­TION BUDHI BUT­TON

Now he’s at the foot of a hill, stuck in a wet­land, search­ing for a house which has been va­cant for years and is now used as an op­er­a­tional base by a group of no­to­ri­ous armed thugs. There are hostages in­side the house.

Fa­tima, the agency’s ex­ec­u­tive sec­re­tary in charge of the mis­sion’s in­tel­li­gence feeds, con­tin­ues to guide him. Turn left from the ren­dezvous point. As­sume po­si­tion at — north lat­i­tude and — west lon­gi­tude and fol­low the di­rec­tion of the foot­path. Stop be­hind an aban­doned ware­house. Get in­side. Find the first-aid box. Grab the M-16. If there are flash­lights around, get your hands on them. Be­ware of trip­wires. Pinot runs across the wind­ing path and minds his co­or­di­nates. Ev­ery few min­utes, he stops to ob­serve his sur­round­ings. The swamp is loud with in­sects and through the trees he sees the aban­doned ware­house. In the dis­tance, the sun is about to set. He is los­ing the light. He goes in­side the ware­house and gropes his way around the dusty cab­i­nets and shelves.

He finds the first-aid box, the M-16. Two flash­lights. He goes into an open field. He crouches and waits be­hind the tall grass and checks his wrist­watch. It won’t be long now. He wishes Fa­tima would say some­thing. Any­thing.

When day turns to night, he loses the light com­pletely. Pinot rises to his feet and dou­ble-checks his equip­ment: a Glock-18, a re­cently ac­quired M-16, a Ber­retta 8000, a MAG-7, a C-4, a flash­bang and a tac­ti­cal mir­ror. Out in the open, the mir­ror has lit­tle use, so he shoves it back in his back­pack and arms him­self with the Glock-18 and the Ber­retta 8000. His friends would laugh at him for his choices, but he doesn’t care. Pinot prefers the hand­gun. Lighter, faster and eas­ier to han­dle.

“I don’t need to tell you how im­por­tant this mis­sion is for us,” Fa­tima’s voice re­turns. “I want you to be ex­tra care­ful.”

Pinot takes a few steps far­ther into the field, his shoes are slip­pery and thick with mud. He is in po­si­tion: less than 20 me­ters away from the tar­get. He inches closer. Ten, eight, five. He dons a pair of in­fra-red gog­gles to help him see in the dark.

“Re­mem­ber,” says the woman. “Be ex­tra care­ful. Keep the line open.”

Pinot shakes his head in mild dis­be­lief. Any sane per­son would al­ways use cau­tion in these sit­u­a­tions and to as­sume oth­er­wise is down­right mad. He is about to launch an as­sault upon a house of armed thugs by him­self and res­cue the hostages. What did she think he was go­ing to do — storm in like an an­gry per­son and just shoot at any­thing that moves?

Any­way. He ap­pre­ci­ates the at­ten­tion. And he ad­mits there were times when he wished she would’ve talked more to him: When he was sent to go af­ter a team mem­ber who went rogue, or a fugi­tive known for his spe­cial skills in as­sem­bling ex­plo­sives — Fa­tima’s voice was the only thing that kept him in check. Or now, as he waits for the per­fect mo­ment to...

“Damn it!” Pinot mut­ters under his breath. One of the guards spots him while comb­ing the field with a spot­light. “Sial,” says Pinot. He quickly drops to his knees and be­gins to crawl. There’s mud all over him. The guard calls out to him, ad­dress­ing him as an in­truder. Pinot lies flat on his belly, hold­ing his breath.

The guard sends out a word of warn­ing to the oth­ers. More guards emerge from the house, well-armed with pow­er­ful short-range shot­guns.

“They’re on to you,” says Fa­tima. “You think?” “Head to the west en­trance now.” Pinot does as told, mov­ing his el­bows and knees as quickly as is hu­manly pos­si­ble. Ac­cord­ing to the blue­print, the west en­trance has less pro­tec­tion, even though it is not the per­fect en­try point into the build­ing. He isn’t sure why. He imag­ines a pack of hye­nas wait­ing for him be­hind the door. Or co­bras. Or other beasts just as ter­ri­fy­ing.

While the guards are busy search­ing for him else­where, Pinot makes his way to­ward the west en­trance. He is sur­prised to find it com­pletely de­fense­less. He takes out a short wire from in­side his vest pocket and picks the lock. The door opens. His gog­gles do not detect any body heat around him. No hye­nas. No co­bras. No beasts.

“You’re in,” says Fa­tima. “This is the last time you will hear from me. From here on out, you’re on your own. Should you carry out this mis­sion suc­cess­fully, you will get that pro­mo­tion you’ve been af­ter. It is an honor to have served you in these last few mis­sions, Com­man­der —” “Wait.” “Good luck.” Pinot stops in his tracks for a mo­ment. He lets the mes­sage sink in. Then he gets right down to busi­ness. He screws on the sup­pres­sors and points his guns to the left and right, arms out­stretched.

He goes up the stairs to­ward a door on the sec­ond floor and hears two men hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion in muf­fled voices. He takes a step back and kicks the door open, then pulls his trig­gers. Both men quickly slump to the ground with tem­po­ral wounds. Clean shots. Pinot drags their bod­ies and hides them be­hind a pile of crates, each filled to the brim with firearms.

The light­ing in­side the house is min­i­mal and some of the lights flicker in the semi-dark­ness. The paint on the wall is peel­ing, while other parts of the wall seem swollen from ex­ces­sive heat. Pinot looks up and ob­serves the ceil­ing. There’s a low elec­tric­ity buzz em­a­nat­ing from the light fix­tures. He hasn’t a lot of time. A hall­way which leads to a num­ber of rooms. The doors are sealed from the other side. Pinot picks the locks one af­ter an­other and be­gins to shoot. He aims for the head, neck and chest. In his mind, he is a mu­si­cian com­pos­ing the sound­track of a movie — full of dra­matic tunes.

Even as bod­ies be­gin to fall like flies around him, Pinot isn’t fin­ished. He arms him­self with an M-16 and walks up an­other flight of stairs to­ward the third floor. More guards have been alerted of his pres­ence. The mu­sic crescen­dos. A con­certo is play­ing in his head. Bul­lets are rain­ing down on him and Pinot uses up nearly all his ammo, aim­ing for in­stant kills.

One par­tic­u­lar guard con­vulses while ooz­ing bright red blood from a gap­ing wound to the neck.

Pinot fin­ishes him with a few more shots to the head.

Pinot heads for the fi­nal room in the house, where the hostages are kept. He opens the door. There’s only one hostage.

“Please,” the hostage pleads with him. “Help me.” Pinot points his gun at the hostage’s head. “Help me.”

From the cor­ner of his eye, Pinot catches a flit­ting shadow. He turns around: there’s no one there. He takes a deep breath. He presses the ra­dio but­ton on his chest. “Mis­sion ac­com­plished,” he whis­pers.

Per­haps Fa­tima is on the other end, lis­ten­ing. She al­ways lis­tens.

How­ever, as soon as Pinot moves to un­tie the hostage, he sees the smile on the hostage’s face. Or maybe he is imag­in­ing the smile.

The hostage isn’t a hostage, af­ter all.

Before he man­ages to reach for his gun, the hostage presses a cold metal against Pinot’s fore­head.

Then, just as the hostage is about to pull the trig­ger, Pinot hears — play­ing in­side his head — the fi­nal part of the mu­sic com­po­si­tion. Beau­ti­ful. Ironic. And sad.

*** His foot­steps were heavy and weak as he walked across the linoleum floor, which had not been cleaned for days. He hunched for­ward at the cashier’s desk where a girl in a pony­tail sat with her chin in her hands. She was twelve. The girl ex­tended her hand to­ward Pinot, palm out­stretched.

“That will be sev­enty-five thou­sand ru­piah,” she said.

Pinot took out a pair of sev­enty-thou­sand ru­piah bills from his back pocket. The only money he had left from the week’s school al­lowance.

“Keep the change,” he said. “Same time next week?” He nod­ded. “Same time next week.” Out­side, the af­ter­noon sun was bright and very warm. Pinot slipped his thumbs under the back­pack straps which were press­ing hard against his shoul­ders, heavy with school text­books. It was a hot day, the sort that made him feel weak and un­com­fort­able as he walked the short dis­tance from the in­ter­net cafe to his house. He could hear Fa­tima’s voice in his ears.

There was a strange flut­ter in his chest each time the voice came back to him; and it seized him like a jolt of elec­tric­ity. At least, once a week he would let him­self lie cold on the floor of the tar­get house out in the open field, across the tall grass — dead from a gun­shot wound to the head. Imag­i­nary blood pooled around his dead body. Again and again. And again.

And that was fine. He didn’t mind it, at all.

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