Redemption was waiting. The desire for acceptance and forgiveness from an authority, or a mentor is inherent in the human condition. Praise sits along with them in a sort of trilateral set of acknowledgements. They’re on the opposite side of the coin from criticism, discipline, but not the self kind, and punishment, which is not quite the same as discipline. These are the three correctives. Any parent, at any given moment interacting with their children is either giving a corrective, or acknowledging. In more colloquial terms these are referred to as the stick and the carrot.
The coin flips. It’s never sitting on one side for long. The energy it takes to hold state is too great and by will alone it flips itself. Overindulgence in carrots leads to the presumption of carrots, which leads to a change in behavior and the requirement of the stick. Conversely the stick’s extended use defeats all manner of bad behavior and will bring about an acknowledgement.
Jacko had felt the stick. For days the horror of the blade approaching his eye haunted his thoughts and dreams, when he could dream. They say the recovery is always worse, but the daily alcohol clenses did nothing to compare to the sound of his eye exploding in his skull and the memory of the blade.
On his goggles he blacked out the lens used over his missing eye, and carried with him a pirate’s eye patch for when he didn’t have his goggles on. He liked to call it his Friday Patch.
He was not yet redeemed, but he was on the path to it. Tynon assigned Jacko’s detachment to a search party. Oz was put in charge and they were on a mission to find Angel, The Birdman, the helicopter pilot who killed their comrades. Their orders were straight forward: Bring back the head of the pilot. Oz brought four detachments, a total of 21 men including himself. 21 Dragon.
Upon completion of the mission Jacko would find himself returning a hero. Blame for his failure would be laid upon the head of the pilot, which would further elevate Jacko’s accomplishment. Killing the man who took down not two, but six Dragon would be incredibly heroic, if not entirely true. The deceit did not bother him nor his men. As Tynon put it, “Why worry about the nuance of the truth? What does it matter so long as justice is served?” Tynon’s justice was served from an advantageous point of view. To him, the lives of two, or six Dragon were not the issue. The justice he was after was revenge. Angel had agreed to do a job, to repay a debt owed, and instead he betrayed his debtor. He wasn’t even sure if Angel had done the job he agreed to do. Where did the women really go? It was all too much of a mystery for Tynon, and besides, one more dead man was a fine solution.
21 of the finest killers in Toronto had set out to retrace the steps of their fallen, to the south. Not having had a chance to speak to them hampered the journey as navigation was always a question of where they might have come from. Based on Jacko’s recount of the events that led to their demise, Oz determined that they were most likely following the ridge of the dry lake bed for at least part of their journey. West-by-southwest in nautical terms, was their heading. The 21 walked single file, each carrying two waterbags and a bag on their back, full of dried and cured meat. Anticipating spending days and days in the open desert, they all wore light robes and head scarves to limit their exposure to the deadly sun.
Talking was discouraged, as it cost the body water when it wasn’t necessary. So 21 quiet men walked through the desert with only the wind to keep them company. It was at their back now, carrying with it an occasional tumbleweed. Sometimes it would hit their ears at just the right angle and howl. The desert was its own animal and that was its cry.
They walked slowly for days until they reached the western most bank of what used to be Lake Ontario. From that point they were nearly forced to turn east lest they run into another lake. Oz wasn’t certain if it was the right direction, but it felt right. There was a city that way, he recalled. It was famous for being cold at one time, long ago. He recalled that there was legendary snowfall, and somehow people still decided to live there. Most of The Dragon had never seen snow, they were too young and didn’t live in places that still had any snow. Some of the youngest of them hadn’t even seen rain.
They wouldn’t know how Buffalo got its name, they had never seen a buffalo. Still, some of them knew the name of the place. The city had a name that only conjured the city into the minds of these young men. And none of them had ever been to Buffalo either.