Another chapter from my G. I. JOE novel, available on Amazon.
At least he’s not some loudmouth drill sergeant, thought Tunnel Rat, first in line for the sparring session. Or, as known colloquially, “The Massacre.”
Standing opposite him, in the loading bay of G. I. Joe’s secret base of operations, was the enigma known as Snake Eyes. Every recruit knew of Snake Eyes. First name classified, no known words ever spoken, entire body covered in black leather, his mask reportedly concealing a hideous visage you’d never want to catch before mealtime.
Some said he served as Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol in ‘Nam. Another rumor had him a mountain recluse, recruited from the snowy High Sierras by none other than General Hawk himself.
His perpetual silence? A vow of silence after the loss of a loved one. Or some quirk in his brain chemistry. Or injured vocal chords, a sniper’s bullet severing any hope of verbal communication for the rest of the young soldier’s life.
That outfit? One story claimed his unusual BDU was in fact a radiation-proof suit, a necessity for everyone’s safety after an early Joe mission. “He just thinks it looks cool, no other explanation needed,” was another hypothesis. (How does he take the heat, though? Especially on all of those desert missions…)
Gossip surrounded the man. Some believed him to be a renegade Cobra agent, disillusioned with the serpentine nature of the organization and determined to make things right with the Joe team.
That would explain his codename -- snake-themed monikers tended to be the domain of the Cobra creeps. Why would the Joes have someone in their rank with a name like that unless he’d carried it in with him? Yet, Falcon had made friends with another ex-Cobra who’d seen the light. Invited him over for cards with Tunnel Rat and the other Rawhides. Per Mercer, the ex-Viper, that story was pure bullsugar.
Another rumor had Snake Eyes as some sort of ninja master from the Far East. Maybe even the reincarnated spirit of an ancient rōnin, reborn in the body of a nice Nebraska baby maybe sometime thirty years ago. Karate kicked his way out of his mama’s womb.
That one was ridiculous. Although, some of the veteran Joes, like Footloose and Quick Kick, would swear by it. Tunnel Rat dismissed the gossip as rookie hazing. (Quick Kick always seemed to be in the midst of some prank, while Footloose possessed “interesting” opinions on most topics. So interesting you had to assume he was working a bit.)
Ol’ Snakes is just a guy, Tunnel Rat told himself. Not radioactive, not an ancient spirit, just a Joe who watched the same poorly-dubbed afternoon matinees as everyone else. And he tried to maintain that resolve, even as he stood before this mystery man.
They observed etiquette, exchanged bows.
It’s just a training session. Something to keep our minds off what’s going on in Arlington.
Snake Eyes provided his opponent some space. Seemed to be inviting him to make the first move.
Not like the guy’s gonna go nuclear on the new recruits. Just gonna teach us some basic self-defense moves, right?
Tunnel Rat adopted a stance he’d memorized from those grindhouse kung-fu flicks of his youth. Approached his opponent suddenly, telegraphed a pinning hook kick, greeted Snake Eyes with a hammer fist punch instead.
The mystery man swatted Tunnel Rat’s wrist away with such strength, such speed, he thought the mook had broken the thing.
On the concrete, cursing the pain, the Rawhide was down. Who’s next?
Next man up was Chuckles. Abusing the Joe team’s lenient fatigue policy, the new recruit saw fit to report for duty clad in a loud, half-open Hawaiian shirt. A survivor of that inexplicable battle in the ice dome, Chuckles had earned something of a name for himself thanks to his commitment to duty even while suffering a nasty bout of laryngitis.
In the following weeks, that inflammation of the larynx subsided, revealing to his fellow Joes a hitherto unknown character trait. The rookie actually liked to talk. A lot.
“Okay, Mr. Strong an’ Silent Type, I guess we’re gonna find out how you rate against the pride of Fort Lauderdale’s Barfight Circuit,” he announced in a nasally drawl, bouncing on his heels, adopting the stance of a bare-knuckled fighter.
Snake Eyes, again, granted his opponent the first strike. “Takin’ pity on the new kid? Thanks, but the sympathy is --”
No further words escaped Chuckles’ lips, just the uummpph! sound that usually accompanies excessive amounts of air traveling northward from the gut to the back of the tonsils. Snake Eyes’ left leg returned to his fighting stance so quickly some of the Rawhides weren’t even sure what they’d witnessed.
Snake Eyes, rather gently, shuffled Chuckles off to the side with his boot. He motioned for the next combatant to enter their makeshift arena. Three Joes remained: Law, the team’s latest MP (his K-9 buddy, Order, hiding behind his master in horror), Big Lob, a retired pro basketball player who’d recently reenlisted and impressed more than a few of the Brass, and the perplexing ninja called Jinx.
Law and Big Lob exchanged a look. In his oft-imitated Cubano-Americano accent, Law asked, “Hey, snake-man? You up for a two-on-one game, eh?”
It’s not impossible to imagine Snake Eyes smiling behind his mask. He actually waved the two friends forward, miming what Big Lob interpreted as a “c’mere, you” motion.
“C’mere” they did. Law dancing around Snake Eyes’ jabs while Big Lob used his superior size to distract the mystery man from the back. Their strategy prevailed for an impressive fifteen seconds, before Snake Eyes managed to trip Big Lob, pirouette out of the way, and send the pro-baller on top of Law, knocking them both to the ground, Law’s MP helmet flying.
Big Lob helped Law to his feet; Order followed them to the sideline, offering soothing licks to the face.
Snake Eyes crossed his arms, stared down his final sparring partner. She didn’t say a word. Instead, she removed a swatch of fabric from her belt and tied it around her eyes.
A martial arts expert, exclusively clad in her red gei while on base, Jinx was known for a quirk about fighting best with her eyes closed, certainly, but also for the bad luck she cast like a never-ending shadow. Outside of that…not much.
She was friendly enough with her fellow Rawhides, maybe even too friendly with Falcon, but no one else had gotten close to the lady during her months on the Joe team. The vaguely foreign accent, the tendency to change the topic posthaste whenever a subject turned too personal, and the preference for solo training sessions kept her at an eternal distance from the team.
Maybe she liked it that way. The other soldiers tried not to judge. She’d proven herself in that battle in the Himalayas, and Lt. Falcon vouched for her, so no further conversation was required.
Formalities were exchanged. The mutual bow. The slow circling of your opponent. Did Snake Eyes think this girl insane, challenging anyone, let alone him, with this “blindness” gimmick?
His actions revealed no hesitancy. None his fellow Joes could discern, but if they truly knew “Ol’ Snakes,” they would’ve noticed something in his opponent’s stance had unnerved the ninja. He was the first to strike this time, a simple forward fist jab. She deflected, her speed temporarily stunning her fellow rookies, leaving Snake Eyes open for a knee strike.
His turn to show off. He gripped her knee, shoved it away, answered with a rear hand punch that landed on her shoulder like a thunderclap. She groaned, channeled the pain into something useful, and responded with dueling jabs. He blocked the first three, let the fourth in. Just barely. Just enough to graze his chin.
Jinx found her arm snatched, her balance undone. No time to collect herself before receiving that knee to her chest. She grabbed his arm for equilibrium, moved as fast as humanly possible to get both feet off the ground. “Jump kick, landing hard on his right shoulder. Immmmpressive,” announced Big Lob, offering color commentary.
The energy of the kick sent her somersaulting backwards. By the time Jinx landed, her opponent had already regrouped, was racing towards her, in fact. A sweep at her feet, another jump, a wicked strike from Jinx on the way down.
She felt his jawbone vibrate against her knuckles; her fellow Rawhides ooooh-ed their shock and sympathetic pain from the sideline. That closed fist haymaker looked like it hurt. (Someone better tell Falcon not to make this girl mad!)
Jinx pressed the advantage, locked arms with her dazed sparring partner, then flipped him over. Tried to, at any rate. Instead, Snake Eyes braced himself, shoved Jinx an appropriate distance away.
His turn for jabs now, coming at a rate Jinx couldn’t begin to fathom. The wind telegraphed their arrival, but fifteen, sixteen, seventeen jabs later and she’d let one slip.
Straight into her nose. Copper taste entering her mouth, she reflexively dropped her guard for a sliver of a second. Snake Eyes took advantage with a torrent of knife hand strikes, palm down, brutalizing neck, collar bone, shoulder, humerus, wrist. Mercy was eventually shown by kicking Jinx’s legs out from her, putting her on the concrete.
Acknowledging her loss, Jinx graciously accepted the hand up. Fellow Rawhides were applauding, whistling, congratulating her for not only outlasting all the others, but even landing some brutal hits on Ol’ Snakes.
Jinx didn’t return to the sidelines. Mask off, she kept her eye on the mystery man, who was, just possibly, sizing her up as well. Where did the Joes’ resident ninja learn these moves? She was more than curious to know.
As for Snake Eyes, was he as impressed as her fellow rookies? Did he want to know how the Rawhide, blindfolded, could move in response to the wind so effortlessly? Was Snake Eyes questioning if their shadowy new recruit was familiar with certain techniques unknown in this land?
Like, perhaps, the Ear That Sees?
April 19, 1965
The boy had invited her out for a drive. Told her they could study together; she’d help him with Algebra, he’d help her out with English. She dismissed him, told him her parents didn’t like him hanging around.
Colin was persistent. If they went to the same school, she would’ve known his reputation. Not necessarily for being handsy, he was raised right, but for never accepting a pretty girl’s initial rejection for a date.
She didn’t know why she eventually relented. Didn’t understand why he insisted on the two of them eating lunch on the hood of his car. Was this some local custom her tutors had failed to convey?
“See?” Colin asked, removing his carefully wrapped meal. She knew that style of packaging, recognized Mrs. Kristofer’s work from the packed lunches resting in her refrigerator. “This is called a cheese and tomato sandwich. A delicacy for people on my side of the tracks.”
“Very amusing,” the girl responded, accepting the second sandwich from Colin. “Chorizo and mushroom tapas on whole grain bread, a cold beer, that’s the kind of lunch we enjoyed back home.”
Colin leaned back on the hood. “Your home country doesn’t have any taboos on young folks and alcohol?” he asked, pulling on his soda straw.
“I don’t think any country has the taboos you people have developed.”
“Well, uptight we may be, but it sure was kind of ‘us people’ to allow in refugees from this alleged paradise you left behind,” he fired back, just barely covering his annoyance with humor. “Tell me more about the Trabant, girl. I love hearing about that spark plug with a roof your government calls a car.”
The boy had been talking to her father, she just knew it. Back home, the servants knew their place. Didn’t allow their urchins to tag along; and even if one slipped into the home, it surely would’ve known to keep its mouth shut around its betters.
“Never said home was perfect. And I don’t want to debate this with you again.”
“Yeah, understood,” Colin answered after finishing his bite. “You miss home. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to dump all over the place that took you in. Mom says your parents love it here. They’re even taking classes --”
“To erase their accents?” she interjected. “I know. Disgusting. You don’t want to know how I reacted when Papa suggested I join them.”
“I can conjure up a decent picture.”
She looked over to her lunch companion. His eyes closed, stupid grin covering his face as he absorbed the early afternoon sun. “Colin, you have yet to catch the slightest hint of that side of me.”
“Oh, really?” he replied, eyes still closed.
“Yes, really. Now, do you want to study or just prattle on all afternoon?”
Colin came back to life. Sat his sandwich behind him as he scooted closer to his date. “Darling, I have a list of things I’d rather do than study. A long one…”
Her panicked expression was enough to put him in his place. Colin was taught better, should’ve known not to come on so strong. “Okay, sorry. Yeah, I’ll get the books and we can get started.”
He dashed off the hood of the car; didn’t notice the girl taking secret glances at him as he opened the backseat and left half his tanned body outside, fishing through the bookbag.