he just wants to serve his country... Scavenger Hunt: A Novel by Chad Boudreaux
San Francisco, California
Plunging to the earth, he struggled to control his breathing as his insides clawed through his skin. More than forty thousand people stared at him, the latest cause célèbre. The world moved in slow motion, even as he plummeted. The wind whipped around his denim jeans and through his curly hair. As he descended, the explosive roar of the crowd became deafening. Hysterical fans screamed, danced, clapped, and slapped high-fives.
This was it, the moment he’d waited for his entire life; the moment his older, wiser brother had described countless times; the moment when he’d reap the rewards sown over years of discipline, toil, and resolve.
He wiped tears from his eyes and saw Alcatraz in the distance, the abandoned fortress of rock and steel attached to an island floating on the choppy, blue-green waters of San Francisco Bay. He thought about the psychopaths who’d once inhabited the Rock. People portrayed as standard-bearers for civilization believed—actually hoped—that some of the Rock’s erstwhile denizens had escaped justice—at least earthly justice. He thought about those criminals and their deranged supporters. They had never dedicated their lives to any noble, enlightening cause. They had never experienced the fulfillment he enjoyed.
He focused his attention back on the gathered crowd. Those in attendance had paid hundreds—some thousands—of dollars for this show. His show. He noticed the multitudes dressed in black and citrus orange. Some had arrived early in anticipation of the once-in-a-lifetime extravaganza. Many brought small children and purchased pink cotton candy, lemonade, and over-priced novelty items to commemorate the day. Those in the most expensive seats, he thought, had invited their agents or perhaps the CEOs of their best corporate clients. Pride overtook him as he witnessed the 46,500 people congregated en masse to take part in this moment.
He truly was a star.
He pulled the steering toggles of his parachute, slowing his descent. A high-speed approach was unwarranted. There was no reason to hasten this experience, but rather, he desired to relish it. There was little turbulence. His bright red- and yellow-striped canopy remained stable, so landing wouldn’t be a problem. Flaring techniques wouldn’t be needed. As he approached his landing zone, he witnessed the rosy faces in the crowd. No empty seat in sight. Making sure not to disappoint, he smiled and waved at the surprised onlookers.
Fighter jets circled for another fly-by. What a great show! he thought. As the F-16 Falcons blazed overhead, the crowd started the wave. His older, wiser brother couldn’t have planned this event any better.
He tugged on the parachute’s toggles once again, further slowing his fall toward the baseball stadium, making him seem suspended in mid-air, suspended in time. As he adjusted his body in the parachute harness, he spied the escort gathering below, beyond the tips of his tattered white sneakers, waiting for his arrival. Right on time. No longer anxious about his magnificent entrance, his heartbeat slowed. Everything was proceeding by design. Nothing would go wrong at this stage.
The parachute’s canopy shielded his vision, but he trusted the stand-alone cargo was descending on course. The plan had evolved through several iterations, each relying upon successful landings. The show’s success depended on his cohort releasing the cargo at the precise moment so it would land at the precise spot. There was no doubt the calculations would be exact. His older, wiser brother had promised the cargo-carrying parachutes would descend true to course, and his brother’s word was bond. The show would prove to be a resounding success.
As he descended closer to the chaos, all sounds faded. His ears enjoyed a blissful silence. He pulled down on the parachute’s toggles one last time. The plush green grass and manicured red dirt came into focus. His great moment had arrived. He closed his eyes and meditated on his past struggles. He thought about his childhood and his family. He thought about the woman he’d loved so dearly who’d died not long ago. If she could only see him now. He was a hero. This would be an event for the ages. He would go down in history as the man who changed the world with his rave performance.
His eyes reopened. Home plate was seconds away. He saw the police officers waiting—weapons drawn, handcuffs twirling, scowls pasted on their pompous American faces.
A second later, his feet slammed to the ground.
And his world went dark.
A few miles away, the man’s older, wiser brother descended in his parachute, wiping away his own tears—tears of joy for the martyr his younger brother had just become.