O-Men: Liege's Legion - Merc by Elaine Levine

1





Valle de Lágrimas wasn’t now and had never been a town for the faint of heart. It was too small and too violent to be put on any map. Until recently, even the Colombian government pretended it didn’t exist. The only people who cared about it were the villagers born to it—and latest gang to own it.

The thing was, with the latest peace negotiations completed and the new access road, a town as beautifully situated on a jungle hillside like this one should be overrun with tourists. Something was keeping them at bay, and Merc knew what it was.

Omnis.

The air just smelled like them.

Maybe that was why the Legion’s mentor, Santo, had been hanging around here checking things out.

And maybe it wasn’t. You never knew with Santo.

Merc stood in the shade of a loquat shrub, watching the old woman sweep her front steps. The dirt road in front of her home had to make that an endless task. Her shack was the last in a block of similar dwellings, all built from construction scraps scavenged locally, each dependent on the homes around it for support.

He was glad she was still there. He considered unshielding himself, but a walk down memory lane wasn’t part of his mission. He turned away before he changed his mind.

It was best this way.

Dusk was closing in on the town. He walked a few blocks to the main square, where he’d parked his Jeep. The road into the village had only recently been cut in through the jungle. Prior to that, the town could only be accessed by helicopter, horseback, or foot. The villagers were wary of outsiders and wouldn’t make eye contact. Merc didn’t make things easier for them by keeping his gringo appearance when he asked around at one of the cafés for a place he could rent. Word spread fast in the cash-starved town. Didn’t take long for a man to approach him. He was willing to offer Merc the use of his modest hacienda for the requested month, paid in advance. Merc knew the price he was being offered was easily ten times what a villager would have been charged, but he didn’t care. Money was not an issue for him. Nor did he fear the fallout of having the cash to pay the high price. His only negotiation was for cleaning service and one meal a day.

He followed the man to his modest abode on the fringe of the Colonial section of town. It was a one-room place with a rustic kitchen and tiny bathroom. Merc paid his landlord and got the key. The lock was something that a swift kick to the door would undo, but that didn’t matter. He would put an energetic block on his quarters—no one would be coming in without his knowledge and permission.

He lay down on the bed and folded his hands under his head, then stared at the fading blue ceiling.

He never thought he’d be back in this beautiful, wretched place. Hopefully, he could complete his mission in a few days and bug out.





At last, the village was quiet. Time to figure out what felt so off about the town. He geared up, expecting trouble. A bandolier with magazines of double-aught buckshot cartridges was slung over his left shoulder and his short-barreled shotgun over his right. His Bowie knife hung in a holster off his belt. Acier had designed both weapons specifically for Merc, and they fit him so perfectly that they were like extensions of his own body.

He walked through the village, hidden behind an energetic shield he’d set that would cause anyone looking at him to see the area as it was before he was there. He absorbed the feel of the town’s occupants, trying to see if Santo had been around lately. He couldn’t sense the Legion’s mentor, but the villagers were filled with a low-level anxiety. What had them on edge, Merc couldn’t get a clear read on. The town had lost many of their residents to the old cartels and to the gang now operating in the jungle. His read told him some of the elders who’d gone after the younger ones had either not returned, or had come back changed.

Something caused the shadow that sat heavy on the town.

Merc passed a building that stood at a corner, its smooth stucco wall covered in street art. He didn’t give it much thought until he took a second look at it.

The mural was a tribute to lost members of some gang—current or former, he didn’t know. Somber faces, drawn in ghostly black and white paint, were stacked in a corner like skulls in a catacomb. Gravestones with crosses listed first names. Weeping civilians were drawn kneeling in prayer, guided by a priest, as if any of the dead thugs were actually mourned or the church endorsed their activities.

It was a gruesome reminder to the citizens of Valle de Lágrimas that the town was owned by violence.