“Looks like we have ourselves here a Mexican standoff, boys,” River said in his irritatingly condescending tone. The ugly blade of grass was still in his mouth and he moved his tongue, transferring the blade from one side of his mouth to the other.
I kept my eyes on River, all the while aware of the tingling sensation that told me that Sparrow’s eyes were bored as intensely into me as well. Even though it was the middle of December, the room had become hot enough to induce premature labor in feeble women.
The light of the candle on the table burned feistily, flirtatiously patronizing moths and casting frantic shadows all around us. On the table lay a half-completed game of Scrabble. The three chairs which had circled the table now lay sprawled all about the floor.
I had been the first to draw my gun. My nickname is QuickDraw, after the character, and I could have quickly finished off the two idiots had they not been my friends. Now here we were, in a deadlock and I was already beginning to curse my delay.
Sparrow’s gun barrel grazed my head again and I muttered irritably, “mind the way you touch me with that thing, guy.”
“That’s gay, bro. Pause?” he replied.
River’s gun clicked threateningly. I steadied my hand again.
Twenty-three minutes ago, Sparrow had spelled the word “cuckold” on the Scrabble board, and River (he wasn’t so bright) had argued that the word was spelled ‘cockold,’ and it had led to a brief argument. I (being, by default, the smartest person in the room) had agreed with Sparrow on the spelling, and River had threatened to end the game.
Things got quickly to a head when Sparrow, in mere banter perhaps, had said “if you had gotten secondary school education at least, River, we wouldn’t have to put up with your shit,” and River had replied, “your mother puts up with it just fine.”
I had lit a cigarette at this point and watched them through the smoky haze. It was the usual good stuff, the moments I lived for. The quips. The jabs at mothers, sexual innuendos and rehashed puns. I had been expecting this to go like every other diss moment I had spent with these buffoons in the last seven years. But then Sparrow had to take things to a whole ‘nother level.
“For a guy who’s cuckolded often by your wife, you sure are ignorant about the spelling of the word.”
Now, mind you, River knew the meaning of the word ‘cuckold’ but not the spelling.
“Haha,” he had laughed, exposing his tobacco-blackened teeth. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“I’ve fucked your wife,” Sparrow replied.
Oh boy, I thought. I should have just slept early tonight.
“Nice try, Pinocchio,” Rivers spat.
“But it’s true,” continued Sparrow solemnly. Some people just want to watch the world burn, I decided, and I felt the first flutter of something like panic for the first time in 12 years.
“Alright. Come off it. Bants aside,” I waded into the conversation. “Let’s finish this game before 9:30 please. I need to sleep.”
We played on in silence for a few minutes before Sparrow blurted “she has a tattoo which reads ‘Bernard’ on her inner thigh. The right one, very close to her kit-kat.”
I would have spat my drink if I had been drinking any. As it was, I almost choked on my cigarette. River’s eyes widened in shock. Did I neglect to mention that River has a temper problem? Now you know. He does.
“What the fuck?”
“You know it’s true. Why she got another man’s name next to her cooch, bruh? Is your part-time name Bernard, River?”
“STOP IT IF YOU’RE PLAYING NOW, MAN!” and River had thumped against the table, my last word on the board (“Jesuit”) lost a few letters and spelled “Jesu.”
“I. fucked. Her,” Sparrow continued. “She moans in key F and likes to grip ass. Yes, she prefers the missionary position. Tell me, River, how am I doing so far?”
River’s eyes had turned murderous, and I knew he was probably going to kill Sparrow so I blurted a very stupid thing.
“Calm down, River. It’s no biggie. It happens. I mean, I’ve fucked both your wives.”
Which was true, but still…
The mutual “WHAT THE FUCK?” from both sides of the table was too flattering for me.
“Yes,” I continued, putting out my cigarette. “Yes. River’s wife has a tattoo close to her cooch. Sparrow’s wife has stretch marks on her breasts and a scar that runs from her navel to her own cooch. I sometimes wonder why your women have branded vaginas, but I try not to think about it too much. Whatever, fellas, we’re cool. Friends, amigos. Sometimes we take each other’s property. The most important thing is that we return them…” and my voice trailed off because it was actually really scary that they were silent, staring and listening to me. “Now, let’s finish this fucking game. I need me some sleep. Big day tomorrow.”
Did I mention that I’m single?
The chairs scraped in a flash and everyone was reaching for their guns. Well, when you’re soldiers, I guess the only thing handier than your own left hand is your gun, and in this insurgency-ridden part of Maiduguri, a divorce from the gun is a divorce from the lung.
…and that is how we got here.
“How long have you been screwing Maria?” Rivers asked, obvious pain in his voice.
“Two months,” began Sparrow.
“Two weeks,” I replied. I sighed, “I’m sorry mate. She came on to me.”
River nodded weakly. “And you, Sparrow. Are you sorry too?”
“Kiss my ass, River.”
Then River blinked quickly like someone had squirted an onion in his eye, but I understood. Three years ago, when we had been deployed to extract some natives from a village in Iraq, we had rehearsed that signal. Sparrow, unfortunately, had been in Turkey.
Rapid blinks. Quick. Duck.
I ducked, and watched River’s hand swivel quickly and empty bullets into Sparrow’s face. Sparrow, involuntarily, pressed down on his trigger and emptied his cartridge in the space where my head had been only seconds ago. As it was, the bullets bit harmless in into the concrete floor, some of them pinging off in a kamikaze ricochet.
I caught Sparrow before he landed on the ground. His last jerks were absorbed by my body as I watched the face that was no longer a face draw its last breath.
“I’ll pour us drinks,” I said sadly as Sparrow rounded up with his dying.
River said nothing and returned to the game.
I returned, and we started the game from scratch, since one of our numbers was unfortunately indisposed. The glass of vodka helped me concentrate.
It took a while for it to occur to me that in my moment of shock, I had left my gun on the kitchen counter while pouring the drinks. What was even worse, I realized that the moment I had realized was the moment River had realized too. I shifted slightly in my chair and – voila – River’s gun barrel was saying hello to my right eye.
“I said I was sorry,” I said, breathing evenly.
“Sorry doesn’t unfuck her, fam.”
“So you’re going to kill me now, River?”
“You’ll have no more friends.”
“All the better. I’m going to make ghosts of y’all. Casper doesn’t fuck bitches.”
“Well, then.” I breathed through my teeth. “We are now playing my game.”
“You can’t mindfuck your way out of this one.”
“ ‘Course not. Have you heard of Maiduguri Roulette?”
“What the hell’s that?”
“A game I watched the Nigerian platoon play when I first got enlisted here. We are playing it right now.”
“Oh word? How so?”
“I have poisoned your drink. Only I know where the antidote is.”
“Your call,” I shrugged casually, and ran my finger across the rim of my own glass. “There is a fifty-fifty chance that I’m bluffing. Then again, I may be saying the truth.
“You don’t even know how long you’ve got before you collapse from the poison and die. You could even die before you pull the trigger. If, however you do pull the trigger, you’ll be dead soon enough since you will never get to the antidote quickly enough without my help.”
I watched River’s smirk fade from his lips.
“What’s it going to be? Kill me, and face the probability that I may not be bluffing – which spells death for you too – or spare me awhile, at least for long enough to see if I’m lying?”
I watched him in the faint light of the candle. He was pondering on his next move, wondering if I was bluffing. I could see his mind weighing the implications and alternatives. River knew me. I was the best H2H fighter from our platoon years ago, and every minute he kept me alive (with his stupid gun pointed in my eye) was potentially dangerous for his health.
The gun, however, remained firmly pressed against my eye.
“And if I go right ahead and shoot you, poison or no poison?” he asked.
“Go on then,” I said. “Pull the trigger. Tonight, we three kings, we dine in hell.”
VUNDERKIND’S END NOTE:
- I wrote this originally for Jeremy Targert’s blog, but there were some issues with it. There still are, but what the heck, right?
- The image was gotten from Google. The two-man Mexican stand-off pictures were waaay sexier than the three-man kind I needed for this story (there was even one between Riley and Huey Freeman, and another between Deadpool and The Punisher.)
- A little POV guide: these are probably American soldiers deployed to Nigeria to help curb the Boko Haram insurgents. Perhaps?
- (I always wanted to write a Mexican Standoff scene)
- I would like to play Maiduguri Roulette with one of my readers someday. Just so we’re clear, I’m not the one drinking.