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,