"Listen to me. Things might get ugly around here so there's something you should know." Jake tells his brother Eric about Ravenwood – Jennings and Rall's own private army. "They're judged by a different set of rules."
Eric looks apprehensive as he says, "I'm afraid to ask, but how do you know this?"
Jake asks Eric if he told him about his work overseas while he was away.
"You mentioned it," Eric says slowly.
"I was working for Jennings and Rall," Jake starts. He gives his brother a look to silence what he is about to say. "One day in Iraq…"
As Jake tells Eric what happened, he's transported back to the sandy, heat-stricken desert in Iraq. He is driving a truck, following two other trucks exactly like his. The steering wheel feels familiar in his hands, and he glances over to the person occupying the seat next to him. One of Jake's friends, Kyle Reet, watches out the window, his fingers clenching around the plastic of his M1. He's nervous, as he should be. It's been too long since someone's tried to kill them. Kyle's got a brother and a wife and kids at home. Derek, his brother, is serving in the army, in Afghanistan. His wife, Sarah, and sons, John and Connor, are waiting for him at home. John's fifteen, and Connor is ten.
"…our convoy was ambushed."
Jake's mind has blocked at out next moments – there's a blast and it feels like the world has shifted suddenly. Someone starts screaming.
The truck has been overturned by a roadside bomb. Jake's head pounds, and he realizes he's bleeding profusely. But it's not himself he's concerned about – Kyle is screaming about his arm, crying to God to stop the pain. As Jake turns his head painfully, he sees blood covering Kyle's shirt, and what appears to be a bone protruding from the sleeve.
"Kyle!" Jake shouts. He's hanging above Kyle. Kyle has no easy escape, even if his arm wasn't broken cleanly in half. There's the sound of creaking metal and someone's pulling Jake out of the truck. Bewildered and confused, he struggles against the hands who are freeing him.
There is more confusion and shouting outside of the truck. Jake can faintly hear someone screaming for their mother, or God, or somebody, for Christ's sake. No one answers his fevered pleas.
Jake's standing on his own two feet now. "Kyle, someone has to get Kyle," he says, and turns around to go back to the truck and rescue his friend. But the truck is on fire. The screams and pleas have stopped.
He stumbles. Someone steadies him.
"He's dead, Jake!" shouts one of the men who pulled him from the truck. "There's nothing we can do."
"Couple of our guys were killed," Jake says now, leaning against a table. "We had no rules of engagement," he continues, "and we'd seen the village they fell back to…"
He remembers. There's shouting, the sound of guns and their standard issue jackets.
hears screaming that Eric can't as he says, "…so we just went
in and started shooting..."
He closes his eyes and he can see the houses, and hear the pleas, the screams, the sobs. There's gunfire and cursing. Jake hears a woman screaming in another language, and someone shouts in fragmented English. Bullets spray the sand. There are footprints of fleeing children and woman. Jake sees someone shooting after them.
"And when it was all done, there was six gunmen dead along with four bystanders…"
Jake can see the four dead Iraqis. One of them is an old man. His eyes are closed, and the blood that trickles from the corner of his mouth is minimal. Two women who look alike – sisters, Jake guesses – lay next to each other, blood staining their clothes. But it's the last victim that haunts Jake to this day.
"…one of them was a twelve-year-old girl."
Her piercing green eyes are staring. Her mouth was agape, her teeth white. Blood stains her lips and her shirt. Sand is in her hair and on the wounds. It's the hole in her forehead that is the worst. She is dead. Jake remembers throwing up. He was the one who'd killed her.
"The only reason I'm telling you this is because there were no repercussions, none. The army had no authority over us, the police didn't. Most of the guys, they just went back to their jobs, and the company, the company wanted it quiet. So it was…."
The memory plays on repeat in his mind, some details fading in and out, some clearer and some weaker, but the story stays the same.
"Do you understand? Do you understand who we're dealing with? These guys don't answer to anybody."
Jake sees the dead girl in his mind. She was pretty.
"Jake," Eric says, "This isn't Iraq."
Jake looks at his brother, the image of the girl fading from his mind's eye, for now. "Maybe. Maybe. But the rules are the same."