by Oran Kell
Even hitman trainees get performance reviews.
|The click of my shoes echoes down the hallway, but it's the smell I notice first. You ever notice that no matter how much you clean it, paint it, cover it up, concrete always smells like concrete?
I've been in about a million concrete hallways--from MEPS when joining the Army, to training schools, to unit command buildings--it's stiff floors that hurt your feet, rows of blocks lining the walls, and always the underlying smell of grey dust.
This however, is a first. This bland white hallway could belong to any military unit anywhere in the world, but it doesn't. It belongs to Executive Solutions, and it's three stories underground.
What am I doing in the primary training facility of the biggest organization of assassins for hire on planet earth?
Excellent question. And the answer is: performance review.
I knocked, sending echoes down the hallway, and got exactly what I expected: a stern voice on the other side of the door.
The room looked like any interrogation room in any local precinct, minus the one-way mirror. There's the steel table with a file sitting on top. In a steel chair on one side of the table sat a dude wearing a company mandatory dark suit, though quite obviously much higher quality than mine. In the far corner, stood another suit, but this dude also wore a hat pulled low over his eyes. What the hell? We going to play "good cop/bad cop" at a performance review?
Suit #1 stood up and held out his hand. I crossed the room in two strides and took it, letting the door close behind me.
"Mr. Palmer," he said, giving my hand two stiff pumps. "My name is Mr. Carr. I am Junior Overseer of your training group, and I will be conducting your performance review."
His gesture at the steel chair beside me told me to park it. I parked it. Not a word of introduction for Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome in the corner. Maybe today was "bring your hit man boss to work" day?
Mr. Carr opened the file--I assumed my training record file--and flipped through the pages.
"Mr. Palmer, you are on day ninety-seven of your training program here at Executive Solutions, is that correct?"
Damn. I didn't know there would be a quiz. It's been balls-to-the wall since I got here, and I'm pretty much running on two hours sleep, caffeine, and hate. The gears in my head ground as I did the mental math. Just over three months...sounds about right.
"Yes sir," I finally pushed out my mouth.
He nodded like I wasn't completely a shit-sandwich and pulled an indexable stamp out of his pocket and set it on the table like he was going to check out my library books. The top of the stamp read: Pass/Fail.
"Mr. Palmer, your prior military service was exemplary...tours in Iraq as an Infantryman,tours in Afghanistan as a Scout/Sniper, thus you were accepted into the program here at ES. Your intake evaluation was excellent, and your marksmanship, Survival-Evasion-Resistance-Escape, problem-solving and critical thinking, and discipline have been rated the highest--three out of three--for the first two training cycles.
However, last cycle you received a rating of one over one...thus the reason for this review. Would you like to comment on that, Mr. Palmer?"
He looked like he expected to take me by surprise. He didn't. I knew why we were here.
"You mean the simulators."
"Indeed I do," he said. "We've created simulations of every scenario you could possibly face in a real-world environment, yet, despite your obvious competence, you've hesitated, or even failed to neutralize your target at all."
"Actually," I said, shifting in my chair. It's not easy for a professional trigger-puller to hear that he choked on a mission, even if he already knew it. "I've been trying to speak to somebody about that rating, because I'm not quite sure I understand it. As far as I know, I've eliminated all clear targets in each simulation."
Mr. Carr frowned and flipped a page. "Sim thirty-two...a man and child at the playground?"
"Sure, I remember. And yeah, I did hesitate. After Iraq and Afghanistan you can only get called a child-killer so many times before you take a long, hard look at where you're pointing your boom-stick. I shot the dude though, when the kid was on the down-swing."
"You did," Mr. Carr nodded. "The simulation called for two eliminations."
That floored me. I definitely did not see that coming.
He took the few moments of silence as my mouth hung open to continue the list.
"Sim forty-seven, a woman holding an infant. Sim fifty-three, two adults, two pre-adolescents. Sim seventy-nine, two adult males and one pregnant female. In each of these scenarios you practiced 'discriminate targeting' which caused you to fail the assigned task."
"Hold up." I felt my face getting red. "Discriminate targeting? I mean, isn't that the point? Aren't we the good guys? We kill the bad guys, not innocents, right?"
I thought Mr. Carr was unhappy before. Now he looked like he was trying out for the frown olympics.
"I understand where this is coming from, given your background," he said. "But you need to remember, there are no innocents in this business. Our personal intel does not go into detail as to why a target is chosen, only who. Perhaps it would help if you managed to tap into the emotion you experienced in combat. How did you feel when you came under fire from an enemy combatant?"
I had to think about that one for a moment. Despite all the movie bullshit about the inhumanity of war, I found that there were a million things going through my head when the bullets started flying. But...I guess it all led to the same thing.
"Anger, mostly, I felt angry."
"Good. Maybe you can tap into that. Visualize your targets as enemy combatants that want to kill you, then utilize that anger."
I shook my head. "So...you want me to get angry enough at a baby to shoot it?"
Mr. Carr got half a nod off before Suit#2 in the corner stepped up behind him, stuck a pistol to the back of his head and pulled the trigger.
The report in that little room felt like Mike Tyson punching me directly in the eardrums, but I was distracted by Mr. Carr's forehead exploding and blowing blood and brains all over my face.
"Wha...?" Of all the scenarios I planned for, this was definitely not one of them. Not even close.
Suit #2 rummaged around the late Mr. Carr's jacket until he found his weapon. Pulling the dead man's handgun from his holster he held it up to the light.
"Sig P220, nice gun." He dropped the mag and used his thumb to pop a round. It dropped on the table with a thunk and rolled off the edge. "10mm hollow point. Perfect."
Blood dripped off my chin and I wiped at the brain matter in my eyes. I've stared death in the face more times than I could count, but I was convinced that at this moment, I was closer than I'd ever been.
"I'm ready," I said, my voice low and raspy. Was there a tremble there? If so, I hated myself for it.
"Shut the fuck up and listen, because you'll only get told this once." He gestured to Mr. Carr slumped on the table, blood pooling it's way toward me. "Dipshits like this will get you killed, and worse, make you fail. When you walked in the front door you lost the privilege of being a monster, or a child-killer, or making discriminate decisions about guilt, or innocence, or anything else. Somebody else does that, and turns you loose like a guided missile. They point, you pull the trigger. You're not a soldier here, Sonny Jim, you are Death. Time to pull up your big boy pants and act like it."
He snatched the stamp off the table and tossed it into the trash can, then dropped the Sig on the table.
"You sit here and think about what that means for a bit. Then I'll let you grade your own performance review. There is no pat-your-ass good game and send you home with an honorable discharge here. If you can take it and walk out that door, you pass. If not, I'll have the janitor bring two bags instead of one. Up to you."
He walked out the door and left me staring at a gun sitting on the table.
I'm thinking about that day right now as I stand silent in the corner listening to a Junior Overseer give a performance review to a trainee. I have to make a decision very soon about how many people are going to live through the next few minutes, and my thinking is almost done. There's a Sig P220, old now, hanging heavy in my holster, just waiting for Death in a dark suit to introduce himself.