Thanks very much to everyone who read and reviewed this story. I had a lot of fun writing life from Edgerton's POV.
'Happiness is a Warm Gun'
Author: - Lisa Paris
Summary: - At the end of the day, life has taught him there's only one thing you can rely on . . .
When I hold you in my arms
And I feel my finger on your trigger
I know that no one can do me no harm
Because happiness is a warm gun
John Lennon and Paul McCartney
14+ 1bs of cold metal weight. 50 inches of sleek efficiency. .338 calibres of deadly intent and 1100+ metre maximum range. Special Agent Ian Edgerton shifted position slightly, and rested the Super Magnum (L115A1) against his cheek.
He wriggled forward some more on his belly and looked through the ocular at the target. It was a cold, wet day in the capital, oh yeah, he was back in DC, and another minor tragedy was unravelling at speed through his lens. He grimaced slightly as the rain-sodden grass soaked up through the fabric of his pants. Why was it the angle always required him to lie flat whenever it was wet or raining? Bet your life if it was a dry day, he'd be able to take the shot off the ground.
There was a definite name for this law, and he was damned sure it wasn't Murphy's.
De facto, the weather conditions had been a little different on the last occasion he'd done this. Right, a little different – more like freaking poles apart. In fact, all of the circumstances had been dissimilar, back on that heat-shimmering morning in LA.
Oh, yeah, it had been very different, but it was always too much the same. Didn't matter about any of the circumstances, Edgerton guessed it always would be. Whatever the scenario and wherever the place, someone was going to end up dead. This time, it was a gas station. Some punk high on PCP. He was waving his handgun around like a crazy and had already shot and killed two men.
Edgerton lined up the cross-hairs and kept them centred on the target. He barely needed to move the gun as the man paced back and forth. He was holed up in the tiny convenience store which faced onto the garage forecourt. Asshole – Edgerton watched, carefully – the dude was high as a kite. Didn't even have the smarts to cut out the lights or stay back out of sight of the windows.
There was a cashier trapped inside with him. A terrified teenaged kid. Now would be a good time to shake this thing down – while the target wasn't standing near the hostage. This particular hostage didn't know it yet, but today was his lucky day. This hostage was gonna walk from it all, physically, at least, intact.
Eppes, white-faced and unconscious. The hunting knife poised and ready. The razor-sharp tip pressed in under his ear for a downward, severing slash.
It's a commonly held misconception, the best way to cut a throat is straight across, but anyone with basic combat training is quickly disabused of that fact. A quick, downward stroke from the base of the ear gives fast access to both major blood vessels. Enough force will sever the carotid artery as well as the jugular vein.
Eppes hadn't walked away that day – he most certainly hadn't been lucky. When it came right down to the crux of it, come to think of it, none of them had. Reeves, Sinclair, the crazy Prof – and, most especially, not Edgerton himself. It was Eppes who would carry the physical scars, but that hunting knife had sliced into all of them. Just as surely as if it had pierced all their skins and shed drops of their own red blood.
But that was then, and this was now. That mission was done and dusted. He'd been back on the East coast for several weeks and life went on much as before. He'd been in the capital for a meeting when his blackberry had first gone off, having lunch in the Old Post Office Pavilion, across the road from the FBI Building. There was something about the Post Office that appealed to him in many different ways. The over the top Victorian style and pompous air of grandeur. He liked the carved wood and ornate marble floors, still redolent with wistful echoes of the past. It was hard to believe, that more times than once, the old building had been threatened with demolition, but she had clung on defiantly, and compounded her triumph by becoming home to the Congressional Bells.
Downstairs, the place was a giant food hall, filled with many choices of cuisine. Office workers would arrive and eat their lunch to the soft sounds of a live jazz combo. Edgerton liked to come in and sit for a while, nursing a large, black coffee. He would spend his lunch hour, very often alone, and watch the world wander by.
He and Eppes had eaten here many times when their visits to DC had coincided. If you took an elevator to the top of the bell tower, you could see all over the city. It had occurred to him on many occasions, it was the perfect vantage point for a sniper. Unless you counted the parties of tourists, of course, or the ever-present security guard.
The view was truly outstanding, on a clear day, it stretched for miles around. Edgerton would take a ride up there in an effort to clear his head. He could see directly across into the tinted office windows of the distinctive, FBI building, and further on, towards the Capitol, at the end of its long avenues. From there, towards the wide expanses of green, and white buildings of museum row. The needle point of the monument, and the river shining beyond it.
When the blackberry went off, he was not happy. For a start, it interrupted his lunch break. And then, there was another, far more worrying reason. The message made him feel apprehensive. It was just one more hostage situation, by now, he had handled his fair share. But something had shifted inside him since the incident out West with the Eppes'.
The sea-change hadn't lasted for long. It became submerged in the routine of normality. In the mundane tasks of gearing-up, and sitting-in on the hurried briefing. In the end, it was the gun which had calmed him. Her smooth contours, the feel of her in his hands. The silky coolness of the metal and polished warmth of the wood. Within minutes, he had re-focused. His brain had straightened itself out. He was now the third best sniper in the USA, and he was ready to get this job done.
A bead of sweat broke out on his upper lip. Edgerton tasted salt. He moved a few more inches forward and felt his body start to relax. Things were getting back to normal again. At long last, he was feeling more grounded. This was what he was best at. Detached, efficient, excellence. Three words which could serve as his mantra.
Detached, efficient, excellence. This was what, he, Agent Edgerton, did.
He felt himself sliding into the zone as he adjusted the elevation turrets. There was a pretty stiff breeze to take into account as well as the downpour of rain. Detach – detach and dehumanise. Oh, yeah, this shot was gonna be easy. No personal feelings to queer his pitch, no hostage to get in the way. This one was a sure-fire drop. Swift and deadly, straight through the hind-brain. Edgerton knew, with no shade of a doubt, this time, his baby would get the job done.
"It's a go." The order was confirmed through his earpiece.
"Copy." It was only one little word. In actuality, it was a death sentence.
The usual stillness pervaded his mind as he lined up the shot in the crosshairs. He and the rifle flowed into one as the icy calm eased through his veins. There was no sound, no distractions. Nothing to break his concentration. The police, the FBI tac-teams – they all faded away into the background.
It was him – just him and his baby - the two of them in deadly tandem. Linked as they were, by the invisible chain which bound them to the target below. There would be no risks taken this time. There was no question of chance to foul this up.
A single shot and the situation would be neutralised. A single shot and the target would be down.
Edgerton inhaled slowly, finger tightening on the trigger. The lightest touch, just a little more pressure, and then smooth release, as the bullet left the gun. He watched the end result through the ocular. The man dropped, as if cut-down by an axe. The handgun fell from his nerveless fingers and scattered harmlessly across the floor.
It was done. The job was over. Or, at least, his part in it. Edgerton exhaled, dispassionately. His kill ratio just got a little higher. At this rate, if things carried on at this pace, they might have to re-write the statistics. He hoped the dude currently at number two on the list was looking rather carefully to his laurels.
By now, the police and clean-up teams were already on the garage forecourt. Edgerton pushed himself backwards and got up onto his knees. There wouldn't be much left for them to do. If anything, it had been an anti-climax. No injuries, no messy aftermath. The news jackals were going to be disappointed.
Just an alive but hysterical teenager - a dead body to zip into a sack. Edgerton brushed himself down carefully. It was time to take care of his gun.
"Special Agent Edgerton."
"Special Agent Eppes." Edgerton smiled down at his phone. It was good to hear Eppes sounding so normal. The last time they'd tried a conversation, he'd hardly been able to speak.
"Gathered you had a little outing today."
"You heard, huh?"
"You know how these things burn through the company grapevine. The Federal jungle drums can beat pretty loudly. Even out here, in LA."
"Yeah," Edgerton answered, sardonically. Trust Eppes to get back to him as soon as he heard the news. It was no more than he'd expect of the guy. Don Eppes might be known as a hard-ass, but he was also exceptionally perceptive. He would have guessed that it wouldn't be easy. That there might be some lingering issues. If he knew Don Eppes as well as he thought, the man was calling with a hangover cure. He grimaced. "Tell me about it. Some idiot high on PCP – a turkey shoot, as it turned out."
He could almost see Eppes nodding down through the phone, as he considered what to say next. His reaction was so like his own. The two of them were too much alike. Now, his brother would come straight out and say it, Edgerton grinned a little. When it came to speaking his mind, the Prof had no such finesse. Mind you, he hadn't pulled many punches himself, during the short time they'd spent together. Maybe, in some weird kind of way, it was why they hit it off so well.
The Prof would spout on about opposites – Edgerton could almost hear him now. The law of positives and negatives, and how they must always attract. North and south, night and day – all of that Yin and Yang crap. Edgerton felt his grin widen as he shook his head at the thought. Yeah – it had been some experience, staying those few days at the Eppes's house. If the circumstances had been different, maybe he would have even enjoyed it.
"How's your brother?" He pre-empted Eppes's next question by throwing in one of his own. It shut the door on today's shooting incident and indicated the subject was closed.
"Better," it was Eppes's turn to sound wry. "He's gone back to lecturing his students instead of wasting time lecturing me."
Edgerton gave a snort of laughter. Eppes had probably been going crazy. He could just imagine the scenes in the Craftsman house, in the days following Don's release from hospital. In that respect, as in so many others, Eppes was exactly like him. When he was wounded, he preferred to go to ground. To hide away in his lair, lick his wounds and recover, with a minimum of dramatics and fuss.
On the other hand, who were they kidding? In this case, there was no escaping the dramatics. Eppes had risked his life for a stranger and subsequently been stabbed in the throat. The world had gone to hell in a hand basket. Eppes had so nearly died. It was easy to laugh at it in hindsight, when it was over and Eppes was all right. Not so easy to forget the time in-between when his life had still hung in the balance.
No – he would never forget it. Or the knowledge he was partly accountable. So, okay, it may have been by default, but some of the responsibility was his. Edgerton thought about Charlie. About his face that first day in the hospital. The grief and blind-stricken terror which had stolen the spark from his eyes. The only good thing to come out of that day was the way they had supported each other.
Yeah – and if Edgerton was being truly honest, it had been a two-way street. Being on hand to prop up the Prof, in a way, it had helped sustain him. He hadn't had any time for self-indulgence. No space to be alone and brood. All of his emotional energy had gone into being Don Eppes's surrogate. It was as though he had channelled the other man and turned into a big brother by proxy.
Had the Prof done it on purpose?
He was struck by a sudden suspicion. Had Charlie managed to sense something in him, and act on their polar needs? Edgerton's brow crinkled into a frown. He so wouldn't put it past him. Charlie had been so needy that day and the man was a genius after all. God damn, the more he thought about it, the more it kinda made sense.
Edgerton gave a reluctant smile. Sneaky, little Professor.
"The Prof's okay," he said, defensively, he still felt oddly protective. The Prof had tapped into that side of him, he knew Eppes would understand. Yeah, he still felt the need to look after the Prof, but he couldn't resist adding a caveat. "You know what, I'm glad he's your brother, not mine. All the math voodoo stuff would drive me crazy. I usually prefer to eat my breakfast in peace – not talk about chromosomes and the like."
"Chromosomes?" Eppes laughed out loud. Even now, his voice rasped a little. "Makes me wish I hadn't been out of it. I'd have paid damned good money to be a fly on the wall for that."
"Not the first choice of subject matter when I'm trying to cook my eggs."
"I'll bet." Eppes was silent for a moment. Then: "Hey, you know, I should thank you. Lucky for me you were out in LA. There's no one else I would rather have taken the shot. If you hadn't been there, I'd probably be dead, and we wouldn't be having this conversation."
"Maybe." He hated this. "As you happen to know yourself, there are plenty of other good marksmen out there."
"Not when it's, literally, my neck on the line."
Eppes ignored the reference to Crystal Hoyle. It had left things on shaky ground between them. Edgerton hadn't seen much of Eppes after that, until the damned, hostage crisis had occurred. Not by design, or because of some grudge, he just hadn't gotten around to it. It was one of the first things he'd thought of, when he'd taken the call that day. Oh, sure, they'd run across each other later, during that plane crash business. The time he'd made the drop on Moreles, and gone from fourth to third best shot in the rankings.
He'd cleared straight out when the case had finished. Hadn't wasted any time socialising. It made things mighty uncomfortable when he'd first looked at Eppes through the ocular. In his line of work, there was no place for regrets, another reason why he didn't have friends.
Except that he did. Or, so it appeared. Edgerton gave a sigh of resignation. Thanks to his tenuous link with Don Eppes, he'd amassed them along the way. Collected them, almost without knowing it – picked them up, in-spite of all his efforts. And now, he had to face the inevitable. It looked like he was stuck with them for good.
"Tell you what," Edgerton kept it light. "I'll make you a deal. You and the Prof can buy me a beer next time I'm out in LA."
"Done." Eppes paused for a beat. "And another thing I have to thank you for is the way you took care of Charlie."
"I'm not so sure I took care of Charlie," Edgerton decided to speak honestly. "You know, when it all comes down to it, I think Charlie kinda took care of me."
It had been good to talk to Don Eppes. In a way, it all kinda dovetailed. After the earlier hostage situation, it was a neat and fitting end to the day. All of the loose ends had been tied up. The ragged threads trimmed into alignment. In theory, he was ready to get on with his life. He was back in the proverbial saddle again.
In theory, nothing whatsoever was different. So how come everything had changed?
He stood in front of the washbasin and looked at his face in the mirror. The bastard son of Clint Eastwood and Yoda – all the lines and wrinkles were the same. Every little mark and character nuance the passage of years had bestowed on him. Physically, nothing had altered, and yet, it was undeniable. Edgerton was forced to accept it. He was not the same man who had left his motel room that morning back in LA.
He was alone, he wasn't lonely. He was alone. He liked it that way. Did he? Who was he kidding? Had he simply been living in some kind of fugue, lost and drowning in his own mythology?
Edgerton suddenly felt tired and old. He remembered the first day in the Eppes's house. The bank of family photographs. A whole catalogue of family life and love set out on the sideboard in front of him. His reaction had been one of mockery. It had all seemed so mundane, so prosaic. Like a fantasy you'd see on a sitcom, some sort of grotesque suburban dream.
He considered Eppes back in California. Perhaps they weren't as alike as he thought. In the end, Eppes had turned his back on Fugitive Recovery and found his way back to his family. Did he envy him? That was a hard one. Maybe, if the truth be told. It must be nice to have someone care about you so much that they worried when you didn't come home.
Freedom. It was a much vaunted concept, and one he had always espoused. To go when, and wherever, he wanted. No responsibilities, no bindings, and no ties. To pick up and leave at the drop of a hat with no one to fret about him, and subsequently, on the flip side of that, no one for him to worry about.
Edgerton gave a sigh of disbelief. He was wading in dangerous waters. To admit he might be jealous of Eppes' way of life was to arrive at a point of no return. In spite of what the Prof might say, too much thinking was bad for you. He didn't have room for this in his life, and besides, he had a job to do.
He could feel the old itch in his fingers as they reached for the olive green roll, the familiar sensation of release and relief, as he spread out the gun cleaning kit. The soothing scent of the gun oil and esoteric beauty of the instruments. Just seeing them set out in front of him was enough to calm the tension in his gut.
This was how he lived and what he was good at. He was good at taking care of his baby. He didn't do friends and he didn't do people. He was happiest being alone. It was too late to turn the clock backwards. This was the life he had chosen.
He was the man at the end of the ocular, looking at life through a lens.
Lisa Paris - 2007