KILL ME FIRST Excerpt:
Nobody likes to see weaknesses in themselves, to realize what can happen to persons when they're put under stress… to think of themselves as doing anything to stay alive. They think they'd say 'Kill me first'…
Prologue: An Easy Target
A row of figures stood in an empty field in the brittle dawn air. As the sky lightened on the horizon, their outstretched arms began to shake with the weight of the pistols they held.
One man stood apart from the others. In a low, lightly accented voice, he issued the command: "Fire."
The shots were staccato.
The man spoke again. "Just targets this time," he said. "You know your bullet only strikes wood. How would you feel if that were flesh?"
There were nine lined up. They faced their plywood adversaries bravely and, at the order, they raised their arms again and cocked their weapons.
Torrenson stood with his pistol trained on the target and tried to get a glimpse of his companions without turning his head. He had thought they would all look like thugs, but the one next to him was a scrawny boy with terrible acne, and the next one down he was a woman. He shifted from one foot to the other and felt his black leather pants chafe against his thighs.
The speaker continued. "When you kill, you are extinguishing a life. A life exactly equal to yours. No better, no worse."
The edge of the sun burst over the horizon behind the targets and sent a ray straight into Torrenson's eyes. He raised his other hand to shield his face and tried to focus on the man's words. He knew that tense situations sometimes made the mind wander to trivial details; he had heard that in one of his training classes and had since discovered it for truth.
The man's voice changed with the rising sun; he spoke in a normal tone, almost casual. "It is easier to die for a cause than to kill for it. One makes you a martyr, the other, a monster."
Torrenson had little doubt about this man in front of him. He was a monster Torrenson had seen the file.
"Think about it carefully," the man said. "Can you kill? If you think you can't, please speak up now." The man waited for a response and when all remained silent, he gave the command for a second time. "Fire," he said.
Torrenson noted that few shots hit the plywood targets. He coolly steadied his pistol and squeezed the trigger. The shape opposite vibrated with the impact.
The speaker paced along the line, squinting at the targets. "Nice shot," he said to Torrenson. Addressing the group he said, "It seems like others might be having trouble with the distance. That's all right, not all of you are marksmen. It's not a requirement of the job." The sun was full up over the horizon, brilliant and painful to look at. The speaker squinted into it for a moment, then turned back towards them abruptly.
"Well, maybe we can satisfy you with an easier target." In a couple of quick strides he reached the first two in the line a man with ears that stood out from his head like jug handles and a big man standing next to him.
"Face each other."
Hesitantly, they obeyed the order.
Neither moved. The man gently took the big one's pistol by the barrel and raised it to the other's forehead. The jug ears did the same immediately without prompting.
He moved down the line, arranging them with guns resting against the other's chest or nestled in the hollow of their throat. Each of the eight before Torrenson was paired. He was the only one without a partner.
The man came to stop in front of him. "Well, we seem to have an odd number. What do you think we should do about this?"
Torrenson shrugged, but his heart was plummeting into his stomach.
"Don't worry, we'll take care of it. I shall be your partner." He took a pistol from his pocket, raised it to Torrenson's forehead, and rested it lightly there.
Torrenson stood, frozen by that small circle of pressure about the size of a nickel. "He knows," Torrenson thought. But there was nothing he could do about it now. He was vaguely aware of movement from the others in the line, a shifting, a tightening. Mechanically, he raised his arm.
The man smiled at him with white teeth, a little uneven on the bottom but otherwise perfect. From a distance his features had looked sharply chiseled, hard as flint. But now, close up, Torrenson could see the skin pouched thin and dry under his blue eyes.
"You give the word."
Torrenson realized the man was speaking to him. "Me?" His lips formed the word but no sound came out.
The man nodded, rocking the gun against his forehead. "On a count to three."
Torrenson wanted to know what the others were doing but his vision had narrowed to the view of the eyes in front of him.
"Anytime," the man said quietly.
The sun felt warm on one side of his face. The other side was unbearably cold.
"One." Torrenson's voice was hoarse. He cleared his throat.
"Two." His voice was clearer, stronger.
Shots rang out. Torrenson pulled the trigger and… nothing happened. He looked into the blue eyes so close to his own.
The man tightened his forefinger ever so slightly, and the gun exploded a moment after the rest. He had waited just long enough for Torrenson to realize that the outcome of the contest had been fixed. Torrenson's gun, as well as those of the other men who lay bleeding into the ground, had only two bullets. The rest the ones who remained standinghad a full chamber.
The man spoke to the survivors. "You will bury your dead. The killing isn't done when the man lies on the ground in front of you. Go get bags from Karl." He gestured towards the truck that had been parked 50 yards away, but now rolled to a halt beside him.
The man knelt by Torrenson's body, blood still pooling in the dust. He felt in the pockets of the black leather jacket. He found a set of keys and a pack of Trident gum. He tried the leather pants and came up with a bulky wallet. Glancing inside, he closed it and tapped it against his palm thoughtfully. Then he wiped it carefully against his sleeve, tucked it back in the pocket, and went to get a sack.