28 December 2006

A Home for Christmas

Dear Sarge,

You missed quite a Christmas dinner. Smitty has as much talent with the stove as he does with communications equipment. Apparently, he has a new friend, Ulrike, who helped him prepare the meal. She is rather tall and of a fair complexion. Tolstoy would say she “was a handsome woman.”

We told her I was an exchange student from the University of Toronto studying prostitution management.

The two made goose with Rotkohl and Kloesse. Bless her heart, she made the Kloesse from scratch with Semmelwuerfel in the middle. And the gravy? I’d kill for that gravy. Then again, I’d kill for a lot of things. In fact, I have.

Does all of the death around us dehumanize us? Are we monsters or heroes? I asked this to Smitty, and he handed me a beer and some photos from Ranger.

Ranger has sent me photos of Deseilligny’s remains. Other than making them wallet size I am not sure what he expects me to say. It is difficult to interpret the photos without being there. There is a definite lack of insect infestation on the body. This leads me to believe that 1) the body is extremely fresh, 2) it has been somehow preserved (i.e. embalming) or 3) Deseilligny is as distasteful in death as he was in life.

It would be advisable to send the remains to HQ if possible. If not, a dental casting may help positively identify the remains. If I remember correctly, a cast was made from Tomaszewicz’s midsection after being bitten by Deseilligny.

Ottawa is quiet at the moment. The red snow falls loudly on the tundra. The young colt carries many fleas.

Be safe.


27 December 2006

In Which Sarge Calls Down the Rain and it is Snow Snow Snow...


What is left? I had taken a coffee cup from Aglionby's sink, dried it and threw some bullets in it; the cup sat at my feet and I leaned against the wall, looking out at the slow traffic of the holiday. I thought about Nwargo in Africa, I thought stupidly, "it's warmer there" and let my thoughts wander across the landscape of the last few months and then further back toward thoughts I need hardly describe. Idly I looked at the colors that drifted by under the window, from even just five floors up, people are reduced to the colors they wear and a few identifying features. "What tells me who I must kill?" I thought. Aglionby didn't have an answer for that.

I didn't either.

I started to get hungry from the boredom. I didn't dare leave the window and I could feel an old hunger return. It creeped up from my blood into my thoughts, and then it was in my pores. I was sweating, the corpse was beginning to smell. I knew Aglionby had a few faults, it was an idle thought.

Still people walked by to their relatives, to their friends, for meals together, for opening presents; Aglionby smelled. If there was a clock it would have counted the hours but there were only the shadows falling into the apartment, now longer. I thought about her smiling at that judge, he was a good man. I was happy for her.

Out the window nothing changed. I could feel the urge, I could smell it past the corpse. I knew he had some. I knew it was here, in the apartment where I had killed him. I needed to look out the window, to focus. I had seen it on his arms. The winters are long here, his assignment had undoubtedly bored him and the women, if they don't challenge, don't long interest. From his file, he must have never learned this about women; he must have been going out of his mind. There was nothing about tracks in his file though, it must have been a recent development: something to make the nights go away.

Let me tell you something about the thing that enslaves you, it is always interesting. It's never the same old thing. I thought about her and what had happened after dinner with the judge. I looked away from the window, appraising the room. Aglionby was sprawled out, there was a shelf with a jar, house keys splayed next to it with a keychain from the Space Needle. Fate with its obvious sense of humor, a tracing of our weaknesses like laughing at a man tripping over a rock. I looked in the jar: nothing: some change. A pencil. I settled back against the wall, looking out across the street. Nothing. The weak sun of afternoon was already beginning to fade, in an hour there would be no light, and then what?

I sat there for a few minutes trying to clear my mind. Suddenly I was exhausted. I wished Nwargo was here and looked at the corpse on the bed. His boots were Russian, there was a backpack in a corner near the bed: the eternal student. I looked in the bag, I had been trying not to because I knew what I would find there. Nobody would stop me. I tried to fool myself. I looked out the window, but wouldn't they have come by now? By now they must have had some idea that if I was anywhere, I was here. Aglionby had been dead for some hours now. Would they dare wait for night?

With my talent for escape?

I found the stuff I needed to fix, but not the stuff itself. I knew where to look for that too.

I started with his pants pockets. Nothing. The usual things. Gingerly I rolled him over a little, the bed was streaked and puddled with blood; I found his breast pocket. The baggie hadn't let the blood in but it was greasy, I was shaking and it was hard to open it right. Everything smeared. I felt sick. I looked out the window. Nothing. My hands were shaking. I thought of Greenville, the Sinoe River, my last fix and the corpses there. They had floated like logs, colors of their shattered bodies and torn clothing muted by the river. When a thing is a corpse that is all that it looks like, but you know that. I didn't want the junk, but I had the fever. I was bored and scared, the last month had shattered me. What was this betrayal by Ottawa? What had happened to those villages in the Sahel? Her smile and the judge. The endless watchfulness, the double-crossing and wondering who knew what? I told the Spanish captain that I would come to Tallinn and that was it, he would say I was in Helsinki or that I had told him Helsinki but he guessed Minsk. What kindness there can be in this! But my hands were shaking, I didn't want to be who I was anymore. I didn't want this accumulation of lies and truth so that it hardly mattered anymore if this were Greenville or Tallinn, New York or Tokyo. I wanted it all to mean something, and if it couldn't, then it couldn't matter anymore. Ottawa left me out in the cold? Calrissian, who had recruited me years ago? I wanted a reason. I wanted payback.

The junk was bubbling. I let it bubble. I dropped the spoon and immediately cursed at myself. "Fool!" I said out loud. I leaned back against the wall, without even that to distract me now. My victory over the junk meant nothing to me, a noble but meaningless gesture. I would probably still die before the next sunrise. But I refused to die a slave and I refused to die with my belly up to the French pursuit. I found a stick of gum from God knows when in one of my pockets and stuck it in my mouth, waiting for them to appear.

Undoubtedly they would be shadows. Clouds obscured the slipping sun and the snow began, ever so gently, to fall. The snow caught the light from windows and streetlights that slowly blinked on, awakening to the night. I only felt my tears then, when I thought that I loved this earth more than anything. It is good that we can still feel this way, Cpl.

It is late, I must conclude for now before I bore you completely, but you must indulge me to continue with my narrative when I am next continuing this present journey. There is a morning train, and I will try and continue it then, but I know you wait in Berlin for news of me. You have found some of that news here.

Barking like a dog? Quick thinking Cpl., it has saved me once or twice as well. Indeed, man's best friend!

without further delay,

I remain,


26 December 2006

Ranger - The snail


Ramirez guided me to an enclave outside of Oaxaca where support for the Emperor has not waned, and where a rare book store offered us many treasures - including a second print edition history of the Pastry War. I believe you will find the book quite interesting. I apologize for the blood stains. Other brown calf-skin bound pages held memories of untold numbers of cigarillos commingled with the writings of the great French masters.

I spent my Christmas trying to figure out what the hell happened to Deseilligny. I long to believe that his death was a good omen, but I cannot when he did not face a commando in the moment of truth. It, and rough seas soured my dinner, at least to the extent that lutefiske can be soured. The mail is slow to reach Corporal in the mountains and I cannot imagine you are in a safer place.

Mercerier was in Mexico for Dia De Los Muertos. Though he is long gone, his imprint on Oaxaca is clear. Starting with the book seller. He confronted me between the stacks, taking note of my interest in Tartuffe and The Learned Ladies, asking whether I would prefer the Spanish or English translation. When I told him my preference was the original French, his face dropped. The sickly green fluorescent light hanging from the ceiling began to flicker as if on cue. The look in his eyes changed from skeptical curiosity to something more martial. He motioned to me to stay and promised he had an antiquities book shelf which he thought would be more to my liking, He then falsely sauntered away, navigating the delicate labyrinthine shelves of the shop, towards a rear egress.

Ramirez was there to meet him. When the book seller unsheathed a small .380 ACP pistol, Ramirez closed the distance, pulling him in by his arm and near simultaneously drawing a knife under his belly. He knocked the man’s draw arm against the bookshelf, which wavered with the blow. The gun and entrails fell to the floor. As the moment stretched out, I had closed the distance and found my hand over the booksellers mouth and my knife to his neck. I felt him trying to scream obscenities before he instead decided to relieve his pain by biting down hard on the blade of my hand. I felt the blood began to flow and brought the knife closer. In a second I realized the situation was too far gone, and that we were already going to be cleaning up a mess, rather than getting information. I ended it.

But Ramirez, clever haruspex bastard, had an idea. Did I mention he was part Mixtec? He started in with the intestines, apparently after he noted a half-eaten snail. There can’t be too many places in town that are selling escargots. Wilson and Heath, back at the safe house, begin the search.

Meanwhile, I am stuck here dragging the book dealer to the back room, setting out wet floor signs and mopping the floor. Ramirez took over the register when another customer walked in less than ten minutes after tonight’s soiree. Strange to see him with the wire rimmed glasses he found in a drawer set upon his nose, struggling to give advice about Ochoa. I smile at the customers and try and explain the blood on the floor by pointing at my heavily bandaged hand. The floor is dark with blood, slick and dangerous now that the overhead light has gone out.

After the customers leave, Ramirez takes great pleasure in asking me if the Royal Ontario Museum was burning, would I rather rescue a painting or a cat. Art is but an imitation of life. And besides the changes to the museum look like hell. I'm not sure I wouldn't just watch the whole place burn down from the McDonald's across the street.


25 December 2006

In Which Sarge Wishes Peace to His Comrades and to the Demons...


Here it was, they say, that Kalev's grieving wife made for him a burial mound some one thousand years ago, this hill of Toompea dominates the central geography of Tallinn and there it is, in that apartment, just off Dunkri, I thought one day I might surprise another who has grieved, perhaps with pastries from down the street and an omelet made with whatever looked nicest at the market, perhaps other days with a bottle of wine and a picnic basket. A grief that has been the foundation for castles and governments, this hill of Toompea, and I'm writing holed up in some junior efficiency apartment wondering if I have the scope on correctly. Wondering if I have ascertained the angle of the sun correctly so that I won't give myself away, but I fear Cpl., that I may already have.

Tallinn has been one disaster after another, and I wonder now how many enemies have made their way here to watch my death and to perhaps assist in it? Still, there is this junior efficiency, with it's refrigerator stocked with sausages and pickles and a half a bottle of vodka on one of the two windowsills, the corpse of Aglionby keeps me company, sprawled out across a dorm bed probably carted overland from Vilnius where he studied seven years ago. He is not the catch that Deseilligny was, but his soon to be worm-eaten hands will count no more money toward his vile cause and the information he had on me dies with him, unspoken save by my own lips: I am in Tallinn.

They suspect though, and they gather, and if they find that the woman might still be a useful bargaining chip and is still here, then I am done for. I need to know things that I cannot know fast enough about my own position but all I think of is yesterday I saw her smiling over dinner with another man, a judge. Maybe the only honest judge in Latvia. I re-read Ranger's missive, delivered by the old flower-peddler with seven fingers who served other, more desperate causes a few generations ago. It offers grim hope though, if Ramirez is right then there is a thaw in Ottawa and this might not all be for naught.

I am writing with the regrettable news that I will not be able to make it to dinner in Berlin tonight, but I will wish you anyway, the warm hopes and yes, the faith that is Christmas. Please send the same regards to Ranger and Nwargo, I have odd company for Christmas this year, but perhaps next year will offer more convivial company and more edible repast.

With fondest regards,


Ranger - Sand and surf.


Your Autumn suspicions are confirmed. No doubt you too have noted the world service has picked up word that the French are withdrawing their special forces from Afghanistan. Resolve!

A French prison is pessimism. And that is what we have found, along with Yarborough. On our approach it was clear there was no continuing presence here. The jungle and sea air are engaged in the danse macabre with scents of heat rot and decaying fish. And over the remains of the old geol that same wind drives a tricolour.

Yarborough is not the turncoat, as I feared. We found him here, in the oubliette, chained to the wall, long dead. The heat here does horrible things to the body and there is no way for us to tell how many suns have set since he left our troupe. As if to mock us, the window above where he spent his final moments allowed the midday sun to shine into his cell, and on the window ledge a rooster statue was placed. Its shadow cast as a reminder for the dead and the living. On the wall, we were able to translate the Baudelaire:

If rape, poison, dagger, burning,
Have still not embroidered their pleasant designs
On the banal canvas of our pitiable destinies,
It's because our souls, alas, are not bold enough!

Deseilligny did this. But there is little need for me to reward his bloodlust with vengeance for we found what remains of him as well. He died thirty meters from the main entrance to the prison. I’m certain he had been moved for our benefit. We found defensive wounds of the right radius and ulna, with the hands removed. Heath discovered the plate and screws in his ankle where you long ago shattered it. Otherwise, I doubt we would have been able to make an identification. I have sent photos to Corporal of these and other conditions to see whether he has any further insight. No whit of information as to what happened, although we can discern that there was a sizeable encampment here. They make no effort to hide their numbers.

We cut Yarborough down and buried him in the Atlantic today. Not my first choice, given he was from Vancouver. He was a MARCOM man before he was called to serve in The Regiment. To his family, I believe we are closer to the eighth anniversary of his death. I hope they have work for snipers in heaven.

My unit is in need of medical attention. We will finish our reconnoiter of this area and then return to civilization. I have a man, Ramirez, already working in Mexico. He reports – the Lady Jane Gray lay in clean green sheets. Godspeed.


24 December 2006

Building Snowmen

I brought Alan and Henry to the ridge overlooking Kukes in the early afternoon. They took out binoculars and mumbled to each other while scoping out the city. The wind pushed ice floes across the narrow lake and carried banks of clouds crashing into the mountain ridge, periodically obscuring the view of the snowy valley below us. Alan turned and barked, “Wait for us here.” Henry tossed me a bottle of Vodka, “Stay and watch our packs. We’ll be back in the morning.” I grinned and opened the bottle, taking a long pull to their satisfaction.

Down the narrow ridge they set off, the setting sun illuminating their way.

There was no cover on their path to Kukes. Completely exposed, they were confident that they were safe. They had believed my ruse and their voices chided me inside my head, telling jokes of finding a frozen drunkard upon their return up the ridge: “Take one fifth of vodka and mix with one Macedonian. Allow to chill overnight. Serve in a frosted glass.”

Hubris tainted their judgment and they never looked behind to notice that a mountain sheep followed.

If they had been careless regarding me, they proved their abilities infiltrating this city of smugglers. As dusk approached they grew bolder and moved more quickly through the blocks of prefabricated buildings. They approached a dimly illuminated doorway where an old man with a newspaper smoked on an upturned paint drum. As I concealed myself in a pile of scrap metal opposite the courtyard, they handed him something. The old man disappeared inside, closing the door behind him. The two waited outside nervously, aware they were being observed and obviously uncomfortable about it.

A hand grasped my shoulder. I wheeled and snapped the offender’s neck before I realized it was an old woman wrapped in a shawl. The scrap tumbled and betrayed my location. The two were no longer in the doorway.

I barked like a dog.

There was no movement.

The babushka’s shawl smelled of piss, brown coal, and onions. I wrapped it around my head and hobbled over to the door where moments ago my quarry had waited.

The snow beneath my feet announced, “Here he comes!” In plain view I stopped and doubled over with a consumptive cough, supporting myself with her walking stick.

I knocked at the door. The old man’s narrowed eyes peered through the crack. I mumbled something and began coughing again. The door opened wider and the walking stick crushed his trachea then sent the other guard’s pistol flying. His cry was cut off with an uppercut.

No alarm sounded in the dim hallway. I followed my ears to a closed door where a heated discussion was underway. As I pressed my ear to the door, the latch failed and I fell into the middle of the room.

The room was silent. “Borka?” Henry’s confused expression mirrored his voice. Alan was not curious why his mountain guide suddenly appeared on the floor and used the distraction to grab a canister on the table and draw his pistol. Gunfire erupted in the room as I somersaulted away. Alan darted into the hallway but crumpled, still clutching the canister. Henry was screaming. There was a shot, then silence.

I entered the room and ensured that all parties to the prior negotiation were reunited at the bargaining table, joints placed at festive angles.

The canister contained Polonium.

For whom? For what?

All assembled carried multiple passports: Albanian, U.S., Russian, English, French, Serbian, German, Turkish – a United Nations of dead smugglers.

There was no time to investigate further and there were still two travelers waiting to be escorted to their destination…

The snow and Bill’s ankle had forced the two men to descend into the village. Everyone in the village knew of the two foreigners and where they were staying. Now I knew as well. I recruited a young boy to take the canister to the guests and tell them it was a gift from Borka. He dutifully marched off to the house.

At night I set the house ablaze. A steady wind caused the fire to spread beyond my intended target. The village alarm was sounded and people rushed to and fro trying to extinguish the blaze. Bill limped out into the street. I emerged from hiding to engage him and a bullet grazed my left shoulder. I retreated back into the shadows. Gene lay down an excellent cover fire while Bill limped to take up position. Gene then appeared, covered in soot, but Bill’s cover fire hindered my movement. I was pinned down. They would maneuver themselves until they had a clear shot at me. Hastily, I scraped a pile of snow together; returned fire then put my jacket and hat on my snow-doppelgaenger. Shivering, I moved back and watched bullets pierce my jacket. Gene approached cautiously. Before he could discover the ruse, I shot him. He lay groaning for a moment, then there was a flash and I was knocked back.

My ears rang as I scrambled to my feet and hid once again in the shadows. I had the advantage of mobility over Bill and I began scrambling in a half circle to put the fire between him and me as to give me a better shot.

Bill leaned against the wall and drank. His head darted left and right, peering into the shadows, searching for me.

He yelled into the night, “Who are you?”

“Canada.” I whispered into his ear as I cut his throat.

I am making my way back to Berlin as I write. The recovered canister is in my possession, although I do not know what to do with it. General Calrissian has been notified, but no orders as to its future have been given.

Stop by for Christmas Dinner if you can. It would be good to see you again, and Smitty is cooking goose.


18 December 2006

Ranger - Through the lens

What a strange turn we have taken. We continue towards Devil’s Island. Indications so far are good that we have picked up a trail. Unfortunately, the jungle has collected its toll. Heath and Wilson now fight malaria.

There is no civilization within a 80 kilometers of our current position and so we have had some time to speak freely. Guiana is an inhuman place indeed. And our communication itself is bad air. I would liken it to Conrad, but I cannot disabuse myself of the notion that it is we who have brought evil to this place and not the converse. Wilson, perhaps affected by his malaria, questions me – “Is it possible we have escaped from the dark canopy of the jungle and found only more darkness?” I think our night vision supports his conclusion.

Every night at dusk we enter our shadow world, gathering the information we can and destroying the rest on the edge of a machete. Every hour is filled with long shadows and long knives. Thoughts erupt like muzzle flashes, how do we gain knowledge when we have come to kill rather than ensnare? Though I recognize that men like Devenuelle, Deseilligny, and Mercerier cannot be left alive long enough to bite down hard on the cyanide capsules I have no doubt they carry. In the case of Devenuelle, as you know, I hope the last thing he remembers was your face. Standing next to his assassin, the sand beginning to sting his eyes, the warmth of his essence running down his chest and out of his extremities with not even the desert sun able to restore it. And that he choked on that memory.

We brush past leaves, past signs of archaic encampments and I find my mind drifting back to training in Yellowknife. And most unusual of all, longing for a dime store Scotch Egg. Hope things are well with both of you. Once we have cleared here, we will conduct our own investigation of the cold trail in Oaxaca.

17 December 2006

In Which Sarge Traces the Bullet...


Again Estonia: the old sow of a country full of guns and the smell of its occupiers, from the Swedes and the Poles to the Nazis and the Soviets. I made it into Virtsu looking over my shoulder and I knew Tallinn was next. Tallinn of the dreams and the doubts, a fog in my imagination out of which I could conjure the wonders and the terrors of what I have known. It is in the oddest places that we stash our hopes and fears, and while there is little anymore of faith, what faith there is, why does it end up where it does?

From Virtsu, its corrupted shores slick with industrial ooze and the sky above coughing with smoke, I took an afternoon train to Tallinn so I could get in before the shadows I feared, before they might meld with the night. Cpl., I tell you now, I did not want to be there but we go where the trail is. And it is the only way, after all, nobody wants to be where we end up, but we want to be the ones who go there. Ranger himself ends up in the jungles of one continent and you and I in the sewers of another. This whole time though, I feel weighted down by the oppression of a conscience that doubts I can be the tool of a righteous cause. I long now for the relative stability of my life in Africa, where Nwargo was always sure to take measure of my moods and find ways of placating me. I am over the edge here and of course, SHE is here. Well, she had to be somewhere but I thought I would be safe in Riga. That somehow in this desperate scramble, the one place I wouldn't end up was that place I dream of when I don't dream of Africa. Fate mocks however, and I'm sure the sound most of us will hear at our deaths is a soft rustle of laughter: here I am, in Tallinn.

I avoided Tallinn, looked for anywhere else I could make my way to the truth, but that time is over. The old city, the dignified port with it's twisting and cobbled roads, the undercurrent everywhere of the idea that anything here could happen. All the nations come to Tallinn, though they would like to pretend they are of other, larger, more sophisticated locales - when the fights break out at the bars near the wharves the business of nations is settled there; Tallinn itself is concerned with larger matters, and right now there are a lot of guns in Tallinn. Where there are guns, there is money, and where there are both, there are the French Separatists.

This is where the deals go down, and where I thought I might be happy one day.

Those days are no more, but there it is. From Riga I knew it would be to Tallinn because everybody there wanted to pretend it wasn't so. The informants were saying the Black Sea and the agents who sell are still insisting on Moscow. Moscow? That haunt of overripe discos and the paunches of 30 year old billionaires retreating into the infantile antics of the supremely pampered with their private armies like so many Tybalts and not a Mercutio among them? I have nothing but disgust for anybody who could convince me there is anything of value for me there at all. In the back of their voices I found the whisperings of Tallinn that, in their chatter, they desperately tried to mask, but finally, one night, by a fountain in Riga I found the one person who told me that what I heard was not my own fears and hesitancies in those whispers, but the almost indistinguishable sound of truth. To hesitate any longer, the informant said, meant discovery of my actual identity with those who could bring death. I had trusted this particular informant for years though he had never given me much in the way of usable information. I cultivated the relationship out of respect and out of hope, and now there was the pay-off, he knew I had no friends now anywhere near: he was it. No place that was not out in the cold, and he knew too the Canadians and the French both, being himself a lonely Spaniard. He is a captain of a freightor that knows its way too well around places like Vladivostick, Murmansk and the Orkneys, and of course he, like me, knows the fever of Africa.

He told me Calrissian was being filled with doubts by some of the politicos at Ottawa, particularly one, meanwhile the French are angry I disrupted the pipelines they had established in Chad that stretched out through Sierra Leone, the Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia and are working hard to pay their respects. Now, was the time, he advised, to enter into the den of the lions. It was how I found myself on a train trying to pretend it was the most natural thing in the world to look for death, and also, that it was the most natural thing in the world for a Commando, battle-tested as I was, to be tracing my tears onto the begrimed windows of a slow-moving train.

With all this information of the Spanish captain's to digest, I thought instead of an afternoon not so long ago really, spent wandering the shores and then the forests just outside Tallinn with her. I fell into sentimental reveries of what might have been, these last few weeks on the edge of my thoughts like so many darker clouds that the fog of my reverie kept momentarily at bay. Perhaps I allowed myself, in that brief moment, to grieve for the self that was lost to this calling, to this training, and finally to my own weaknesses which drive me and push me more than they should.

I never got used to the plosive sounds of the Russian-made rails though, and along the way I was finally jarred from my wandering thoughts, and now I am here in Tallinn, already the whisperings I am hearing tell me this is where I needed to be all the time. Slowly I feel the confidence of the professional, doing what he must do, returning to me. It has been a busy evening.

Tell Calrissian this, though he won't believe you yet, there is a mole. Deep and trusted, a comfortable mole but one not complacent. Tell him I am in Asia if you can. I know it is risky to you, but we risk for each other my friend. And the favor I ask now might well save both of us.

If you don't hear from me in the next week, make sure what I have enclosed here makes it to Nwargo, who besides you, is my most trusted confidant. Tell also, to Ranger, that Mercerier has a weakness for rare editions of Molière and the French Symbolists, especially Verlaine.

Wasn't it Verlaine who wrote of the autumn song? It is winter now, and my heart must steel itself, for the buffeting of fate has begun, and though I progress well and have some optimism, I know too the furies are about: my own, and theirs. My misgivings keep me in a state of sleeplessness, and I fear what mistakes in judgment I have already made.

All about us the clocks are against us, but we have been in tighter spots, and if the time for zeroes is now, the game has been a good one, and I think more than fair to me.

Cpl., I remain

your most trusting servant,


06 December 2006

Ranger in.

I arrived in Caracas last week. Thank you for the tickets to the Leones game. It brought back memories of our last Expos game down to the smoked meat sandwiches. How long it has been. I spoke with the vendor outside the stadium as you suggested, however, his look of confusion after I asked him about the guinea pigs necessitated an immediate fracture of his (C-2) vertebra.

We make our way to Bagne de Cayenne slowly. The jungle hardens soldiers. Each river, swamp, and insect gnawing away tallow from sinew, both dulling and sharpening sensations. Obviating the need to focus on anything other than survival. If Mercerier is not here then he is soft. The embers of soldiers I see in this squad evidence recognition of the destruction and renewal of our surroundings and show appreciation for their application to the world of men. I question why only the Foreign Legion continues to train here. We were able to interdict some unrelated smuggling operations en route. I will say they have a wonderful operational system. And they had quite a perimeter set up around their manufacturing facility. We tracked two American surveillance planes which seemed to focus on locating their lab. How quaint. We poisoned two wells in the village before moving on.

26 November 2006

In Which Sarge Berates the Unknown and Asks What Is It?...


Was Calrissian behind the debacle that has become Klaipėda? Hardly was Newfield's body cold, guts like torn snakes mixing marrow and sinew from the carved out hollow of his belly, my own ammunition expended and the awful silence and beauty of the world suddenly like a living postcard surrounding me, Newfield's face curiously preserved, his eyes registering nothing until I shut them that I wondered and I ask again: was Calrissian behind this? It was hours later then, the sun almost up, the night a hallucination of violence, despair and rage. What was I to make of this, that was deeper than failure yet not so artistic that it could be called tradgey? Closing his eyes to the rising sun, it was the final gesture of that night of blind swords.

How could "The Carpenter" know the watchword was "Tuesday" and where was Halliday when the noise went down? The weeks of silence have been difficult but I don't know who to trust and I won't lie, I skipped out of Kretinga and hid out in Petersburg for a week before making a trip to Prague to see about the latest from Mercerier. I am afraid he is somewhere in Mexico right now and has already been to Quebec twice this month. Armed with that knowledge I know I must continue to Riga once again, where the demons are and the dangers of the flesh are equal to those of the job. Still, I think the laundering operation has been compromised and if everything runs through Riga and we push there, well...it's only a matter of time before they make a real mistake and we can shake somebody higher on the tree than even Mercerier. The Canuck menace runs hard through the veins of Canada, and the terror that they can bring to bare is awesome to contemplate, but in Riga, in Riga I think we can make something happen.

But who can I trust?

When the longshoreman calling himself Pyotr suddenly ran off leaving Newfield and I alone on the empty piers surrounded by the warehouses of this Baltic waystation, right away it was obvious, but my pleas for back-up yielded only static, and though my guns made souls that night, and my knife marked one more, I could not save that rookie of Banff. That same night, in a fury, I burned four of their delis and though I knew that my lack of subtlety would let them know they had taken the field, I would not give them those platforms and over the following week, though half of Klaipėda sought to erase me, I killed four of the owners who had collaborated so baldly in their infernal schemes. I wanted to make the soft underbelly of the complicit clench and taste fear and pain the way Newfield had. I did not hear him die, the sheer number of guns made a cacophony drowning out that solemn moment, I knew only that suddenly instead of being pinned from the north, I was surrounded, and it was then that I simply chose a warehouse and began to run, several bullets grazed me and I have two new scars, one of which should fade, I used a flash grenade as a diversion and if I hadn't had that? I don't know, but thankfully, somehow, I stumbled upon a platform where I set up a nice field of fire, gained an opportunity to withdraw and since then have seen too much of Eastern Europe with the idea that I was mere minutes away from ambush and death, and from which side?

Am I betrayed from within? Where are Halliday and Stewart? Why has Calrissian tried to call me home through Tallinn when he knows that a strong push now might weaken them to the point of desperation? It's all his people there and none of my own contacts. Perhaps I am paranoid, but the way things stand, I cannot afford to trust him, nor anyone. I have ignored the signs and the commands. I am, as they say, off the grid and it is lonely here. I have grown a beard, my hair is long and I try to look American, wear Nikes and t-shirts that advertise places that don't exist; I take pictures of buildings and eat McDonald's. If I see Halliday and it doesn't look good, do I fire? What if he was drawn away by a feint from some other source? What don't I know? These are trying days my friend. I know you must also dance with the possibilities of betrayal and even now take up a job that offers little in the way of accomplishing what we must accomplish, but I know too a mole lurks, and I know also that what happened at Klaipėda was no slip on our part, but something more sinister. For one needle now I would beg the world, but it is easier to withstand the torment, because I know that if I was to taste bliss, I would be hunted down in a minute. I know if Calrissian or anybody near him is the mole, every supplier of the sweet elixer from Petersburg to Berlin down to Athens has my specifications and promises of rewards if I'm turned in. That they would die like me, like rats, I am sure they are blind to that!

Take care my friend, I am to Riga and there I will begin to make sense of this. That I will see her? Well, if we are to make the Canucks taste fear and desperation, we must make our own plunges, we must be desperate ourselves. Not all my demons come from the sharp edge of the needle...some are sharper than even that, and go much further than the vein!

with regards and brotherhood I am



01 November 2006

A Simple Mountain Guide

It is good to be in the mountains. Here, the wind whistles as ones footsteps beat out the rhythm. Above the tree line, one sees – and is seen – for kilometers in all directions. There is a calm here that one finds only where man’s corrupting hand has not yet groped.

I am guiding a group of four US “tourists.” They call me “Borka,” and believe that I was once a member of the Yugoslavian forestry service, now an unemployed alcoholic seeking a few dollars to trade for vodka. I dutifully smoke unfiltered Russian cigarettes that cause them to cough and lead the way through the mountains of Albania.

HQ wanted me to take these “tourists” over the mountains of Macendonia into Abania. I did not know what they sought, nor do I know why HQ has assigned me to take them to their destination. An odd mission. They are obviously part of some sort of military force. They are pleasant enough chaps. They make crude jokes occasionally at my expense that I pretend to not fully understand. I tend to the fire and listen to snippets of what they say to each other. They keep their guard up. They do not fully trust me, and I respect them for it.

Last morning I stumbled upon one of them cleaning a disassembled rifle. His eyes narrowed and a low growled came from his throat as I approached. “You are wanting to hunting? Mountain sheep I show you. Many.”

He nodded, never taking his eyes off of me.

I lit a cigarette and came closer. “Nice gun.” A sniper rifle. Hunters indeed.

It was an FRF2. A French rifle.

“I hunting many times. Many mountain sheep here. I show you.” Then I walked away cursing the fact that I did not bring a weapon other than a Swiss Army Knife.

But it is easy enough to obtain weapons in Albania.

I begged them to let me buy more vodka in the next village we passed. “Bill,” the one whose rifle I had seen, accompanied me. Descending from the mountains, I led him over some loose shale. I wheeled suddenly around pointed behind him and shouted, “There!”

He twisted to look, lost his footing and his ankle bent awkwardly beneath him. He did not cry out, and for a minute I was worried his ankle avoided injury.

Wide eyed I helped him to his feet. “You have seen mountain sheep?”

He glared back but a flicker of pain crossed his face when he attempted to stand on his ankle. He grabbed my shoulder so hard it hurt and he seemed happy to have inflicted this trivial pain upon me. “Help me back to the others.”

I glanced towards the village. “No Vodka?” He only tightened his grip on my shoulder.

There was a heated but hushed discussion when we returned to the others. I am to continue on with Alan and Henry, while Bill and Gene wait here for us to return. They are upset that they are no longer together, but they are determined to press on. They asked me how much longer until we get to Kukes. They were happy with my estimate of two days.

Now I know where, and that they have a schedule to keep. But what appointment they hope to keep still eludes me.

I will remain vigilant.

There are some beautiful sand dunes near Klaipėda should you need some respite.


31 October 2006

In Which Sarge Fears the Shadows...


Cpl.? Where are you? The days are dreamscapes of half-lived lives and dead children in mounds of acorns and pinecones. I sleep and wake with no sense of where I am or what borders separate dreams and wakefulness. Neither seems reality to me, but in both I find some necessity of experience. It has been almost two weeks since I have heard from you.

I am in Eastern Europe, Lithuania; I left Nwargo standing on a camouflaged airstrip in the cursed country of Nigeria. I am on my own, or rather, should I say, I head a team of five, and we are first to Lithuania to clean out a den of Frenchies who run a string of delis that launder most of the French separatist money from Asia. Everything comes through Honshu in Japan, across Vladivastock into the whole of Russia and everything ends up here on the heel of the Baltic in Klaipėda, with all of us around it, offering up bribes in broken German to a bunch of longshoremen. The rich go to Nida, just down the coast, everyone else is here, and the Frenchies have an easy time of with the laundering because everybody's looking in Grand Caymans and Isle of Man. From here it's up to Estonia and then across to Ukraine. At some point I will be in St. Petersburg. Perhaps we can meet there?

Stewart and Halliday are with me, you might remember them from that odd excursion in Patagonia, and I have a few newbies from the Academy. One shows promise, this kid Newfield. He's from Banff, and his instincts have been honed for Eastern Europe through his wandering the lonely Rockies near his home. We trained him at the base at Prince Edward's Island to get him a little out of his element and he seems quite able to adapt to new environments. He's smart, and he knows politics. Already he asks about Calrissian in ways causing me to wonder where he gets his gossip.

Your silence on that point is sore indeed. I wonder what it is in Berlin that keeps you from the pen, the ink and the ingenious methods of delivery I have come to expect.

During the day I work in a haze, cognizant, but in the motions of the work, the laying of the groundwork I half-exist in hallucinations of what might be. I have some sense that things can go wrong easily, and in my dealings with the network here, I can see why. I will be talking to a contact, say in the neighborhood of Eglė, and suddenly his voice loses meaning and I hear what must be his thoughts, terrible things full of prophesy and foreboding. I can barely listen. And then he is back, talking about where a drop must be made and yet I look at him and I feel he knows what I have felt, and in his look I see confirmation of that truth. And at night, the dreams, they are so clean and clear, a sight like that after you have just come out of a fog, the edges of things sharp so that it almost hurts, and in the dreams there are earthquakes and lovers, some dead and come back and in the distance there are wails and screams from the broken cities that seem to be African and European, with Canadian touches, like a bar in Montreal I used to go to lies broken apart in the middle of some avenue, or a newspaper cluttered and in pieces among the rubble of all this. And everywhere the screaming and people, some living, some dead, reaching out to touch me, the only reality among the smolderings and yet I feel myself a projection onto this new vision of somewhere and nowhere. I wake up in the quiet, the engines from the harbor the slightest vibration in the room, the window open with a cold breeze and I wonder what Calrissian is plotting and how I am involved. I wonder that I haven't heard from you? I think about Nwargo's worried face the day I left and Newfield's questions, almost impertinent, as if he knows he will never have to impress me to jump rank. Impulsively I get up and wander to the kitchen, the old woman, Liudvika, is already up and complaining about her rheumatism in the changing weather of this suddenly colder autumn.

It is the last absurdity, but everything seems like it's working. The speed with which I have set up this operation makes me nervous, much could go wrong, yet, I must say, it seems foolproof, and I think we can get most of the French operatives alive. From there we can take the operation to Estonia. I have some hope, but in this deepest night, it seems there are gears pushing the clocks in undiscoverable ways. The first bird of morning is outside, I hear him rather than see him, the shadows the trees have made against my curtains in the night with the moon are fading, replaced by their more stubborn realities.

I must go and make sure the safehouse in Kretinga is ready. If all goes well, that house will see us forward.

in anticipation of your correspondance,

I remain,


22 October 2006

In Which Sarge Bemoans Fate, but Bemoans Quickly


I have not heard from you. Last letter worrisome, but this absence worries more. Mercerier is gone, though we killed his right hand man, you were right that Devenuelle was working with him Nwargo stabbed him in the throat and he is dead.

Mercerier got away as a sudden dust storm broke out everywhere around us. It was a war in shards and the air around us rasped about, cut through by bullets and explosions. The silent desert radiated sound and we were as shadows to each other, soon the echoes faded as guns became useless, whether by sand or by fear of killing one's own, who's to say? We hunted each other through the night, the flashes of phospherescence that lit up the cyclones of dust in which man killed man. My knife was my panache and I killed four men trying to hack my way to Mercerier, I wondered, as I stilled that fourth man, holding my hand to his mouth and easing him down gently, almost as a lover, what voice waited to answer his. I felt the deep shame again, but there was no time for that, he had entered on his own volition and probably would have had little use for thoughts of myself.

But it was not for him I mourned. Nor for myself, obviously, I am fallen and know ways to forget this horrible fact, and I can say that my ideals still stand. But for that voice that finds pleasure in his, Cpl., few know how cold the world actually is.

Mercerier was away, we got a few rounds off as he escaped, but he sacrificed five men who laid an excellent covering fire for his escape. We killed three of those men and captured two others, they were poor tribesmen paid very little, they must have sacrificed themselves for that one small moment of meaning. Perhaps they were promised much to their families. Nwargo interrogates them still.

Disappointment is keen, but this means out of Chad for now. I welcome that, the emptiness haunts and brings certain memories too close to dreams. I have not slept but that I would call it repentence.

I must go to Estonia and Latvia again. I have compensations to make.

While there, we will work to discover this mole. I must remind you of something:

The morning cat drinks good cream.


19 October 2006

In Which Sarge Argues that the Immortal Soul is the Ethical Soul


As I scratch these hurried lines, I am in one of those trucks you only see in Africa, more rigging than rig, kept alive because it needs to be alive more than anything else, and we are looking through powerful binoculars at what must be Mercerier's camp. A Gaulic face, a circle of shadow under the large desert sun, suggests we have gotten lucky, and yet I must write, your last letter so disturbed me.

We swung back north on a hunch, I had noticed a hidden room in a storefront in Bokoro (you will recall, this is where MacFendrich got his, the poor bastard, with his "Birds of the World" guide always to be found in a random pocket - one bullet was actually stopped by that most civil of books, it was the 16 other bullets that ripped him to shreds - his face was bloody oatmeal), well, there was a nervous man there with a satellite phone and a copy of a 1974 National Geographic (a great article in there about the Phoenicians by the way), and so Nwargo grabbed him and immediately spoke in some language that was completely unknown to me. I couldn't pick up anything, but Nwargo was angry and the man shrank back and began to talk in a desperate ramble, I went over and smacked him to quiet him down and Nwargo pointed in his face. The man hurriedly began to make a map, drawing it right on a table, and we have him bound with us now.

The map has led us here.

I am nervous Cpl., we have a chance here, I shake with anticipation, or perhaps a stronger pull sways me. My mouth is dry, my pulse echoes in my retinas and I want to feel needle breaking skin, and then I want to kill Mercerier.

He is there. We will move against him soon. There is nothing here for me but the action. Nwargo too is nervous, he looks at me and looks away quickly. I know he does not trust me completely, how could he? I radiate addiction and I hold four grenades in a belt across my chest. I have a gun holstered and a rifle next to me as I write this. None of these things can give me relief. Mercerier is there, I must move soon. Yet this stillness seems an eternity behind me and an eternity in front of me. The sun trips over infinate stairs as it makes its way across the wide sky just north of the equator, I must wait. Nwargo looks over again and begins to pace. Somewhere a bullet's flight away, Mercerier looks through some papers, or perhaps receives some information from somebody somewhere. Perhaps I am a bullet's flight away.

That is the difference between Mercerier and I: I know I am always a bullet's flight away. His confidence must betray him sometime! It is only in consistency that we can measure what we are, heroes of moments rarely are heroes of years. We must fight every minute, but how I long to slip into bliss for at least mere hours occasionally. To be lost in the pleasure that feeds me, sustains me, starves me with absence when I need it most. I must leave it with the past, I am in agonies, for just a few grains of the pure stuff to make this time something not defined by this empty stretch of desert, I am afraid of what I would sacrifice.

But the mission is all. I write, I am distracted enough. As we make our way toward night, I will let this mission mean everything.

Nwargo approaches, we must make final arrangements.

I will be in touch directly. If what you say about Calrissian is true, there is a mole. And one who's lair is deep.

If they pursue me, you know you become that much more vulnerable. Try to distance yourself from me for now, and see if you cannot get some little closer to Calrissian.

I will make inquiries from others when this is over.


14 October 2006

Autumn is the Fall

Dear Sarge,

It was good to hear from you. It’s been a long time since we wrote. I was a little confused after what General Calrissian did. I mean, I’ll admit it to you that I wondered if what the Commission said could be true. I wrestled with it for quite some time.

I was in Skopje waiting for a contact before heading to Orhid. I was in a park playing chess with an old man. He spoke of the old days in that wistful way that citizens of the former Eastern Block speak of the old regime while the gypsies sold watermelons at the crossing and children played on the statues honoring the partisans from the War -- when it hit me.

You couldn’t have done it. You were in Kirkuk when the whole thing went down. McKinzey was with you.

The fact that McKinzey hasn’t been seen since Operation Blind Salamander is… disturbing. Could there be a mole in the Commandos? It’s happened before.

I was so preoccupied that the old man took my rook and put me in check. His toothless smile and little cackle made me want to smack that cigarette filled with cheap Kazak tobacco out of his hand.

Some of the younger men in their blue jogging suits shared his amusement. “Take his knight” one advised.

His knight? But then my bishop would be exposed! Hmm.

I stared out across the park at the men fishing in the Vardar River, wondering if the fish were biting.


Bait the line. Spread the net. Catch the man.

But why you as the fall man? Are you the bait?

You are the bait. You are the exposed bishop. I took the knight. I lost my bishop, but I won the game.

A thousand possible combinations.

Could I have afforded to keep my bishop and still win?

I cannot leave my post here. I am sending you a package to Dar-el-Salam. It will be with the crippled cumin salesman who smokes the clove cigarettes. Ask him for 100g of cumin and a cigarette. He will ask if you would like a glass of water. Take the water, but ask if you may have a slice of cucumber in it before you drink it. He will ask you if you want to buy a crate of clementines. Buy them. The package will be inside. You will know what to do.

Be safe. And watch your back.


11 October 2006

In Which Sarge Considers the Rain Down in Africa...


In the Sahel one always wonders from which way death will come. Here, prayer is reserved for survival, for God, like man, must focus all His attention upon it for those here to live. I am out of the mountains and in the middle region of Chad on a fool's rumor that out here somewhere, Mercerier recovers from an infection that almost cost him his life, though sometimes they say it was his leg, or his left hand and not his life, that was the real point of contention. I don't believe he is still in Chad, but that he is in Cameroon or perhaps even at his Côte d'Ivoire safehouse, and by the way, thanks for that tip, but we can't seem to trace that safehouse any closer than Abidjan's Treichville neighborhood, from there it's a maze of markets and the furious West African sun that seems to beat to the time of war. How many despots bless the name of Mercerier? How many mothers curse his name to a judging God?

I am not to leave Chad on a fool's errand just yet however. With so much noise coming from the Côte d'Ivoire, I wonder if it would be better to lay low and see who else arrives to do business with the devils, and also, I can't help but wonder if all the noise is a feint to draw us off. After all, from Chad it is nothing to Cairo, Tripoli or Algiers, a Cessna's afternoon is all. What if Mercerier drew us south and west only to move to the northeast, and from there it's nothing to his connections in the Mideast, or scarier to comtemplate, a longer, more comfortable flight back to Quebec, with a bottle of wine and a forged passport for company. The celebrations at bars like the Pub Saint-Alexandre would only be the first slap in the face, and the easiest blow to take. So in Chad I do what all in Chad must do, I persevere. The karkanji slakes the thirst but one feels the desert everywhere, it encroaches even on the soul.

Yesterday it rained, and the colors that rain brought out! Women and children suddenly young again (children, young again? You know in Africa, there barely is such thing as youth; who indeed, was the last prom queen of Africa?) ran about and there were joyful shouts. Inside some hut, the rain beating about, I almost imagined I was somewhere else, but the rain stopped quickly, and before the hour was out, the Sahel again felt nearly barren, the dry winds of the harmattan picking back up. That these many peoples of Chad can grow from this soil what they do, that is Industry. I stand among these people with awe.

But Mercerier stands among them much the same way a DeBeers or a Cecil Rhodes might, taking from them what he will without compunction, all for aims that cloak greed in the guise of "belief" and "ideology". Nwargo goes about among these same people talking and trading, he has in his pack some fruits and assorted items of his country, and they bargain good naturedly with each other. Always he softly asks about, in their gossiping there are the shadows of fact, and we know Mercerier is barely two days ahead of us on the ground here, and for him to be traveling as he has, it is clear he was looking for something, and if he found it, we shall find out he did in the next 36 hours or so. Nwargo tells me, and as he did we sat in a truck full of tired farmers chewing some kind of seed vaguely restless as the harmattan winds whistled their prophesies of drought, that you once patched him up after being double-crossed on some nameless dock; he showed me the scar which has the shape of the underside of a cloud. "Not a knife," he laughed describing the weapon that cut him, "like a...like a..."

His face flushed even darker suddenly and he grabbed my shoulder,

"I too, was almost killed by something like a syringe," he said almost shouting, the bumps of what can only charitably be called a road throwing us into vague contortions as he continued, "It was drill with a bit, the French, he picked up in panic, I moved in too fast, the Corporal, he was quick with the bayonet to the French's throat, I could not scream my pain but the Corporal, he hummed under his breath while he fixed me. That was later," Nwargo's voice had already resumed its usual sanguine quality, "in this sinking boat, barely floating, you would not know we had just pretended one hour before to be Canucks to re-buy plutonium from some old KGB! Plutonium in a sinking boat!"

Nwargo was laughing and I laughed too, but I was jealous. I didn't know you were detailed to that mission. It is already the stuff of legend.

Well done Corporal, I will have to send you some karkanji as a mark of esteem. Make sure to drink it cool, but it does not need ice.

Nwargo sends along his continued thanks and the greetings not just of his own, but of his family as well. He looks over my shoulder to make sure I have included this. After finishing this letter to you, I will join him and the people of this tribe, for one last prayer for rain, before continuing to the next town. Here, all religions, like the languages, bleed into each other, and all gods hold some hope for the future.

as always,


06 October 2006


Back in Berlin. General Calrissian is tense about something. It makes me wish we were still working together. You always seemed to read him better than I.

It makes me miss the Academy. Memories of that day when Calrissian showed up at our front door one day after school wearing his uniform. I was told to take the dog for a walk. When I came back, Calrissian was sitting in the kitchen, my mother was crying on my father’s shoulder. My father looked at me and smiled. He placed his calloused hands on my shoulder. “Son, Uranium City is no place for a child. You’re gonna be a man soon. Now the General here says there’s a military academy you’ve won a scholarship to where they can get you a great education. With an education, you don’t gotta be a miner like your pop. Make us proud son.” My mother hugged me. I didn’t understand that it would be the last time I would see my father. Isn’t it always that way?

Mom later told me that my father knew he had leukemia from excessive radiation exposure in the mines, that he had sent my application to that “military academy.”

Two months later, the letter that my father was in the hospital with influenza. Two days later the news that he had developed pneumonia. A hurried leave granted home only to be greeted at the bus stop by my neighbor. Silence. Stomach heavy, I entered the home with the shades drawn. My mother looked up and ran to embrace me, stumbling on the upturned edge of the carpet. A sickening crunch we are all now too familiar with. Her sobs mixing with her cries of pain, clutching her wrist, my father dead in their bed, the neighbors rushing to help her up, the dog barking, the priest, the candles.

The Academy was my new home. The discipline of chess. Reading Plato. Ten kilometer hikes with 15 kilo packs.

Remember when we stayed up all night breaking down and reassembling our rifles, just so we’d get the record time?

Simpler times. I used to laugh about the old Commandos. I used to think they had grown soft. When Carling urged restraint in ethics class, I could sometimes not contain my rage… How many times was I forced to do push ups in class until I collapsed?

Remember the time I sang “O Canada” to the tune of “Oh Tannenbaum” at the Christmas party? They made me run barefoot through the snow. You brought me leftovers from the buffet that night as I lay shivering and hungry in my bunk.

Listen to me! Now I’m the sentimental one!

Berlin does that to me.

Oh, thanks for the tea. It’s excellent.


05 October 2006

In Which Sarge Bemoans His Temptations...


Chad. Memories flood back quickly, years ago, the French and the Libyans playing dominoes with the land and the cities here, assassinations like practical jokes and the French speaking South just so many bullies on the bloody playground of savanah and encroaching dust. Yes. This was land I walked when much younger, when I still thought you could learn to grow oranges and dates from land little more than thorns and rocks. In the mountains we have developed many contacts, but there is little hope for them, but it is here that I have been tracking the elusive French Separatist, Jean Vigault Mercerier, and trying to update my information about what he plans next and who he plans with. At night, in the mountains, small fires to keep us warm and our hushed voices carried on the winds into the empty sky, our Arabic, mine broken and theirs quick and mumbled, speaks to the confusion of the moment. But luckily, Nwargo is with me, and translates and picks up on things that I miss, distracted as I am by the dreams that persist even with waking, images tangled together trying to weave what should be so out of the sweat of nightmares.

I have not touched the junk in seven months, but alone and without occupation sometimes for days at a time, playing a waiting game with someone who might not even know he is playing it, I feel the mind atrophy and crave after the tribal gatherings that are just so many reassertions of what we already know. Yes, Mercerier is here; yes, he is wounded; yes, he is gathering a group - but for what? Speculation, a miasma of idleness, gives no release to thought or anxiety, and I sweat with my desire to float away in the warm cradle of my former life. What I was in Kiev and Bratislava, the things I had to do, pushed me to places that surprised and disgusted even me, and pained you and the one or two others that discovered it. If Nwargo hadn't accompanied me to that drop in Ostrava, his first time out of Africa, and for what? An informant who didn't inform and me in that cramped alley, spitting blood and helpless, for all the world some hellish spectre of an infant gone terribly wrong: the dead body of that fifteen year old baker's son in a trashbag down by the Oder River fixed in my mind like a Last Judgment. I found the vein so fast and Nwargo down in the Karolina District running through the collapsed skeleton of the Eastern Bloc looking for me, coming to tell me that it was all a set-up and the Baker's son was a stooge, perhaps knowing too well what he would find. The baker's son, too young for that game, and Nwargo hoping to save not just angels and demons that night, but all of us in between, but the only life he would save that night was mine. I felt his hands, cool against my flushed face and how the breath came then, how the dirty air felt clean! The safe house was compromised and we stayed with a sympathetic salesman who lived near the Technical University. Now Nwargo saves me again, we play endless games of "Golachi", an ingenious game of his people in which the goal is to end up with groups of seven, using stones that have similar but not exactly the same paths to travel as pegs on a cribbage board. They travel more quickly and the afternoons manage to slip away. We talk of our youths and he is curious about Canada and would like to visit. When I tell him of the Canadian Rockies, he cannot believe that they are wilder and more rugged than this place. "But more fertile, a celebration of life, not of survival!" I tell him, and he laughs and says that Chad is the forgotten room of God's House. "It is not my home," he told me the other day, "but these people, in their suffering, they are people I understand, and I am glad we hunt Mercerier." He seems to understand that if this area becomes unstable, the French-speaking South will destroy the way of life these tribes hold sacred. I tell him to Ottawa, sadly, they are only a convenience, and that the only difference between the separatists and us is we use them, the separatists try and kill them.

So it's Chad. I fight the good fight, I have not touched the junk in many weeks and everyday we look for something that will take some of the sting out of the failures of Slovokia.

Cpl., I do hope that life treats you kindly.

with warmest regards,


29 September 2006


Dear Sarge,

Things in A. did not turn out for the best. McAllen turned out to be softer than his file led us to believe. When I got him out of the Taliban prison, (no big deal, just a few bribes) he was already broken. He kept babbleing about how the '67 Ford Mustang his brother owned was the greatest of all cars. Sad. I took him to the transport and Carter promised me to get him to our connection in Pakistan safely. He should be back in Canada by now. Visit him and tell me how he's doing. It would be best if he could get back on his feet...

Wouldn't it? Sometimes I wonder.

It is good to be back in the desert. The emptiness is comforting. It isn't as oppressive as the jungle, where the sniper sits waiting, a mere five meters from your head, the sound of his excited breathing as he imagines your head exploding into a million pieces the only thing that gives him away. No, give me the desert. The howling of the wind at night reminds me of the demons that surround us even during the day...

LeForte managed to elude me with the help of some sympathetic villagers. I hanged twenty sympathizers in that village. Wailing women, old men hiding the faces of the children, forcing the teenager at gunpoint to put the noose around his neighbor's head. The Banality of Evil indeed. Where did it come from? What will it lead to?

I have no leads. I am in Qutar. Awaiting further orders.


22 September 2006

In Which Sarge Addresses the Purpose of It All


Berlin: the thump from the bass from the underground club beneath us is like blinking neon through a window and still Smitty is wiring and re-wiring the communications devices for tomorrow as if he were surrounded by a still sea.

Riga is half a memory of fog and double-cross, but the information is in the houndstooth coat.

The information is in the houndstooth coat.

I told you once that I only felt truly alive in Africa, but amidst the curving streets of these old and cobbled cities I feel myself come alive again in the intrigues of our world. It has been years since my training in the wilds of the Canadian Rockies, but I feel myself almost as eager now, as if, even in this profession of corrupted souls and the teeming morass of amoralism, I have some dirtied scrap of idealism left. I hold it carelessly in my hand, it is the thing that might, one day, undo me or save the bones of my thoughts. Perhaps yet, it will do some good for the things we try so hard to believe in.

In Riga the churches, topped with their odd, almost rustic vanes, made a key for which only the morning fog could trace and everywhere there seemed to be the suggestion of a shadow that might undo me, undo all of us really, for Reynolds, Hyland, Comstock and Dawes were there as well. I felt the weight of leadership press upon me while everything else around me floated on the breath of Riga's morning, and truly I wondered if the double-agent LaStrue had flipped us again. Only in this game do the cheaters get to re-join the table; we, you and I, know that it is the innocent who are most likely to die. But let us not speak of that for now.

Still, near the Cats' House in the Old City there was the street vendor with the one leg and I, on my own, wondering idly if I still was a commander of men or if I was so soon to be undone, asked idly for directions to the nearest tram, little did I know the carnival of flesh that awaited me in that terrible basement I was led into.

I shot my way out, human cargo about me and with me, and the words of the fool Nesberait still echoing, I shot my way through a backyard's garden and found the boat and we were off to Stockholm, scarred, half-men with secrets that have driven them half-mad and made them wanted by too much of the world stared at the white caps of the waves and maybe found a few moments of tranquility in the contesting rhythms of the sea and the boat. By early evening we were at the safe house in Berlin. Only Reynolds is still to be heard from, Comstock and Dawes are to Nice and from there I will rendovous with them in Cairo, but Reynolds' work is of a more sensitive nature, or so I hear from the gossip that passes for information here. I wonder if he will not be meeting up with Nwargo?

Hyland has just cursed under his breath, the bass thumps on and I stare at the ceiling while I write to you, the computer perched on my knees. Sometimes I wonder what this is all about, but then I remember the next thing that must be done, and I know it must be done. What bigger picture can we form in this world of next moments?

I know soon you will be back in Berlin. I leave this letter for you, and when you see it, know that I too, who am now in Cairo, loved this little octagon of a room too, know that I too wondered if I would be able to sleep through the heartbeat of our neighbors. I hope you appreciate the Russian tea I stocked, in Riga it was cheap and of exceptional quality. Take care to add the milk first.

with best regards,