15 December 2007

In Which Sarge and Cody are Reunited and The Sea is Remembered, Filled with Screams as it Was...


By now I imagine you have heard of our adventure in the "Country of the Blacks." Such history there, where once the Egyptians were afraid to adventure, where the war and peace of empire play like a tug of war over centuries. From this history we adapted our own program, graphically reminding at least one official of that lesson that tyranny is always visited on tyrants. It is a lesson that would be well-heeded by our neighbors to the south, but I digress.

My bullet wound heals, though I am often troubled by it and irritable. For days after deploying that horrible chemical scar to the decimated village I wandered, missing Cody. Medicine Man's trail had gone cold but on a satellite transmission I followed a hunch and made contact with our Asian Sector, it was Willoughby who responded.

"Yes," he said, "we might have something for you. I was hoping you weren't dead!"
We laughed.
"In Africa to be dead is to be too many things, it is a word like 'interesting,'" I responded. "What have you heard?"
"A man being called, well, in the dialect it makes sense, but, well," Willoughby hesitated, "you speak some Northern Wu don't you?"
"Enough in a pinch."
"Well, in a village in the Jinshan District of Shanghai, as a matter of fact, you'll know this," he said brightly, "on Fu Shan..."
I barely heard him as he continued, instead I remembered the burning cries of an overcrowded rowboat, the semi-automatic fire. Devenuelle's reputation made that night on the swells of that East China Sea. I remembered those screams little over a year ago too, when I heard Nwargo's yell of triumph as he stuck a knife deep into Devenuelle's neck, through arteries and veins that pumped the venomous blood of the man. His blood spilling onto the sand, falling all over his clothes, his face uncomprehending to the last. Strange that his death should be so silent. I remembered a woman who had died that night on the sea. Before Tallinn that was. I remembered the weeks of opium that followed, the heroin and the hookahs, waving the prostitutes away. It was you, wasn't it? Who dragged me out of that truck stop after I had cut the pimp up and left him dead outside the locked stall where I intended to fill myself with enough heroin to kill a mule? It was the one time Cpl., the one time the emptiness of my heart would not fill. The tide had gone out and never returned. How you knew where I was puzzles me to this day. I remember stealing three cars on my way...

I heard nothing of what Willoughby said after "Fu Shan."
"Copy, Willoughby," I said, "I think the satellite hit a sun spot, you want to repeat from 'Fu Shan,'" I stumbled over the word.
"Right Sarge, right, on Fu Shan animals and some children have disappeared. They're pestering the government about it, but it's being dismissed as runaways and perhaps a thieving ring, but it sounded odd based on your last few communiques and on a heads up we got from Ranger, so I sent Han Zhecun there, he's from Vancouver but his grandparents are from Da Jinshan. He said the villagers talked there of a 'Sugared Devil' or sometimes just 'Sugar Man,' who appears on their streets and buys excessively from their shops and sometimes talks to some of the children and presents them with gifts."

There was a pause.

"Han saw one of the kids who had a gift. It was a bone sculpture of a bird. Han thought it might be African, but he let the kid keep it. But he's been over there a few times for Ottawa, and he usually knows these things."

So it was Shanghai. I wasn't going there without the dog.

Of picking up Cody, I will have to relate some of that to you later. We are in Shanghai now, and the afternoon beckons with small errands. Han is a trustworthy and enjoyable companion, and Willoughby has been excellent company. We were recalling last night the time in school when you insisted to Professor MacAllen that a cover fire often proved more distraction than it was worth. You won that argument! We had a good laugh.

Cody loves Shanghai, the smells, the attention, but always there is the work. And I feel this is where I will confront Medicine Man. This is where the souls must be put to rest.

with warmest wishes of the season,


14 December 2007

Ranger - The Devil


The purpose of the military is not to build nations. It is to destroy them. Sometimes, I think differently, but I am reminded that eventually - if you have done your work properly - every imperial power is at the wrong end of a patriot's rifle.

All of us long for a delineation between good and evil. And so we question ourselves and our work at times. Only in the bleakest of worlds does what we do began to lose its imprimatur of wretchedness. Only then is the evil we perform revealed for its greater good.

I should have paid closer attention to Cody's photo. On the back, in a relatively simple code, were the coordinates. Once I arrived I only asked if we had been asked there by Ottawa. Sarge shook his head no. I don't know if Darfur was intended for his benefit, for my benefit, or for some other, unrevealed reason. If the last time I saw him he had a death-pallor, he now had a halo.

I hear Antonov in the distance, and smile. Soon the village homes will empty and the janjaweed will arrive. An observer from the Sudanese government lays in wait with us. Of course, as our guest, he has been treated to all of the comforts we have to offer. He has until recently been blindfolded and handcuffed. He has no idea who we are, but clearly knows what he is about to watch. He begins to writhe and attempts to break free of his bonds after the blindfold is removed. Though we are masked we have offered him enough of a glimpse of our light skin and pale eyes to terrify him further.

“They will not find us here.” I assure him. “And we have no intention of killing you. On the contrary, we intend that you report on what you have seen.” This comment does not seem to put him any more at ease.

Within a number of minutes, two score of armed men appear in the village. They are confused by the dozen or so individuals who appear out of their homes, expecting to find hundreds more who lived here a few days ago. Only the bravest remain. The camel riders fire their weapons, and begin setting fire to several of the homes, finding hearth fires burning but no inhabitants. Our prisoner attempts to speak.

“Did you think you were here to see these bandits destroy another village?” I asked. A few pops of gunfire ring out below and we see three villagers fall. Several of the men dismount and began approaching an old woman who told us she has been dead for over two years, since the last time she met these men. “You already know that story. Let me tell you another.” Sarge's outstretched hand signals and there is a flash of light followed by a cloud which descends over the village.

When the air clears, I remove his gag. “What?”

The camels are dead. One or two of the rapists and murderers continue to scream and twitch, rolled into the fetal position on the ground. No bullets. No burn marks. Their final cries are strange. “I assure you VX is quite painful.”

“You jihad” he asserts.

No. “Those men are no more true Muslims than I am Christian. And I am no Christian.” Sarge slammed the but end of his gun into the man’s head before his drive home. “Remember UNAMIR?” I asked him.

“I remember Dallaire” he said. Then silence.
It was an hour before he began to speak again. He told me that the Medicine Man was passing through North Kivu on his way to kill me. He told me one of Nwargo's wives had betrayed him in a moment of indiscretion. He told me more about the men you brought to Kukes. It has been a long time since I have seen him speak in such length. I am to deliver a package to Marble Arch, though for now he and I will enjoy our injera.

Jus belli


07 December 2007

In Which Sarge is Vague and Alludes to Shadows...


The Congo again, four million dead and the world only notices the genocides on its borders. I went in pursuing a lead on Medicine Man and overzealous, felt the cold fire of a bullet fill my lungs, my body felt like sand. Once again Medicine Man had set a trap, a breadcrumb trail to the cemetery. Villagers in Kindu remember with dread the murder of a local man left skinless in a bed of ivory. The phosphorescence of the coffin served as a warning not to ask questions, to ignore the comings of goings of the strangers, but of "The Skull Prophet" there is no doubt: I call him by a different name.

Somewhere in North Kivu the trail ran cold. The sniper's bullet was true, I felt my hands, numb, clawing at some cellophane, my fear immense, my sweats full of terror, like junk sweats, Death once again not a stranger but a distant friend come from some far country with an invitation only half understood, spoke in a language unfamiliar yet clear. Even now, the cadence stops my heart, but Ranger was there and I must discuss some of what transpired after I left him but not now.

The hour is late, I go to join my dreams, which perhaps already progress down paths that wait for my step and form along the odd contours of a dark river.



21 November 2007

Ranger - Caduceus


One month in the Congo is interesting. Two months are torture. The fighting in the south has returned. Sarge was an unexpected casualty.

It wasn’t too hard to pick out the august white man the Red Cross brought into town after a tip by a Spanish photojournalist. “Lambchops” was the tipoff, though I had no idea how the Spaniard knew the idiom. He came into town with the remnants of the militia unit which had days later toppled Kabamba in North Kivu. What the hell he was doing there, I have no idea. But as always he was surrounded by an attentive crew – locals who he had somehow managed to charm while barely being able to draw breath and without knowing anything more than pidgin Kiswahili. One man in particular, gaunt, dark and battle-hardened was keeping a keen eye on him until I arrived.

“Fucking lung.” Were his first two words. “Had to borrow cigarettes from Zico to use the cellophane as a field dressing…flutter valve Corporal said.” As he lightly pretended to tap his chest. “Too bad…Project X…not real, hunh?” Asshole. I couldn’t help but laugh. I hadn’t stopped smiling since I saw the attractive field nurse look over at him four times. Four goddamn times.

His eyes started to roll back in his head. I checked his arms just in case. I have no idea where he was or how long it took him to get here, but I also remember your stern lecture about pneumothoraces. Bad survival rate, if its not handled right I thought. He mumbled something about Leopold and Mobutu, but I have no idea if he was still trying to make me laugh, if it was some kind of code, or if he had latched on to some kind of conspiracy theory.

They took him to the nearby hospital where I was replacing U-joints last week. The roads here are murder. I am recognized there and so was allowed to stay nearby during the surgery. I don’t recall how long went by before I was overtaken by fatigue. Three days passed and Sarge and I were able to discuss some of what has been happening here. “You know what the Romans did with wounds like this don’t you?” was one of his more memorable quips. And I haven’t read Dumas enough to have any idea what he was talking about half of the rest of the time. Then he took a turn for the worse again. After another long wait, the doctor came out to tell me Sarge was recovering and that I would be able to see him soon. But I was troubled, the man who I had seen before had reappeared to me in my dreams, or in something like a dream. I went straightaway to his room, which was empty.

“We did everything we could” a new doctor told me “but we cannot save your friend.” Show me the body, I asked. Given the new doctor’s genuine look of surprise on our visit to what passes for a morgue here, I decided not to kill him.

“Well you will certainly be hearing from the blue helmets for loosing this body” I told him, not knowing why. That bastard left a picture of Cody in my room before taking off again. I haven't seen the cute nurse either. I’m sure he will fill you in on the rest.

So long,


08 November 2007

In Which Sarge Pleads Mercy From Dark Clouds...


Abdul was screaming, an endless wail of suffering that connected him horribly to a distant past of jealous gods and the harsh duties of desperate faiths. Africa hangs on to these gods even as it puts up cell towers and hunts those animals to extinction that once made this land sheer wonder even to those who would be Caesars. The rain fell in thick sheets, tearing at trees and pummeling the tall grass. I had carved a place in the mud for myself and set up a field of fire hoping to ride the storm into the morning, hoping it would not come to shooting, for if my place was discovered my final battle would be an empty gesture prelude to the cyniade pill. I felt for its vial and caressed it as one would a sad lover. I was wet through and my clothes clung to me like paste. Calrissian's incursion team lay dead like breadcrumbs for the last six miles or so. I had not liked radioing that one in, and had argued against their inclusion. I know Medicine Man has contacts in too many places not to connect the dots, for his shadow is long and his claws are sharp. I imagined that their bodies must be flung and buried by the consuming jungle and idly to myself I sang grimly a song from my youth:

When the green dark forest was too silent to be real
And many are the dead men too silent to be real.

But the morning came and with it birds' song and some strands of sun. The rain had past and Medicine Man had left me once again, a plaything for an old cat seemed my destiny. Was I to be killed by such a man? Even after all this?

I endeavor most to get my dog back, and then perhaps to kill Medicine Man. But before that, I think we should meet, as you are so close, and we should decide what it is that we are up against. What it is we must do. Perhaps the dead will rest easier, as Hamlet supposed, if there is vengeance. I know this, that Medicine Man deserves nothing so good as hell.

I will make my way north over the next few days. I will check in on Cody and perhaps make a few contacts and set myself up for future operations. This land, scarred as it is, acts as a deranged New Lanark of sorts for that dark figure. I am beginning to understand the local predisposition not to name him.

You will receive this from the man with three birds and one eye. Please pay him beyond the normal price as he once did a favor for me. We must not forget our friends of the longest nights.

with best wishes and anticipation at meeting an old friend after so long again,

I remain



12 October 2007

Ranger - The Wolf


You were right. I do not recognize Kisangani anymore. It is raining again today and I hear outside my window the echo of a single vehicle in the water. If Conrad thought civilization was an improvement, I do not think this is what he envisioned. The papers I can find talk about the socio-economic crisis, displaced populations and Kabila. Kabila is too far. The storm is much closer.

I have no idea if you are still nearby.

I can’t stop thinking back to the last time I was here with Corporal. It was a thing of chaotic beauty, the two of us rushing up opposing stairs, without time to set up a proper pincer or interlocking fire, with only the body of Mercerier’s lieutenant, materializing through the doorway, standing in the way of our extemporaneous bullets finding one another. That thought brought a smile to my face for so long, so far from home. I question at times whether I should be horrified that I find such a thing so wonderful.

Corporal would like the canoes here.

In Kisangani, the children are starving. When I can procure food, I pass it along to them. A convoy of provisions is on its way up the river though I am sure the magistrates in the capital have taken their share and that rebels are laying in wait for the prize. I have asked Ottawa for permission to assist the government and the NGOs protecting the convoy, and am awaiting a response. Unfortunately, I think other matters may require my attention.

The past few weeks have been rewarding. I have served as an armed escort to UNICEF, helped to fix vehicles as my limited skills permit and fished. Those who will farm here, attempt to do so. Others join with some militia or rebel group in hopes of an easier life. I think it is a desire for food which motivates rather than any strong political conviction.

If your target is moving this way, I will have them.

A fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi,


08 September 2007

Back to Berlin

The woman across from me kept speaking, taking my occasional eye contact as encouragement to continue. Oddly chatty for a German. I was used to solitude in the crowded trains and somewhere after Nuernberg I lost track of what she what she was talking about. My mind wandered as the landscape sped by.

Germany was my adopted home and the train was taking me back to Berlin, the safe house and Smitty. After my trial, Ottowa had ostracized me and gave me orders to establish a safe house in the newly unified Berlin. General Calrissian had told me how to establish contact with Smitty and told me he could be trusted.

I found the house in the former East Berlin. Her beauty still evident under a patina of neglect: plaster cracked, brick exposed, a tree grew from a rift in the wall. Many of the former tenants had taken advantage of their new found mobility and had left for the West, leaving squatters in their stead.

Smitty offered to make the necessary arrangements for "legally acquiring" the house. I made the adjustments to secure the building. Renovations proceeded apace and soon the building was a wonderful hodgepodge of opportunistic artists, musicians, and students. A disco was established in the basement.

Those were heady days. Everything was wide open. The East had opened up quickly and those from the West were quick to exploit the price differences, leaving bakeries and grocery stores empty.

The disco flourished. House parties were common. No one suspected that Smitty and I owned the building. He spent most of his time in front of the computers: surfing, hacking, monitoring. He would complain about the disco's music being too loud. He complained about the food. He was perpetually grouchy. When I would arrive late at night, I would often find him playing a game he called "Civilization," in which one builds a civilization through settlement and conquest of continents. I often asked him of his progress, and he would mutter obscenities about the Aztecs and Babylonians and the computer cheating.

I understood little of what he did. I wandered the streets of Berlin, establishing many personas, making many contacts. Computers were his realm. He spurned the sunlight favoring instead the glow of the computer screen. He sent the missives to Ottawa. He received our orders. He hacked into banks. He slept little. He asked me to fetch Doener Kebabs for him.

Over time Berlin became home. I left for missions and returned to Berlin, Smitty doing the debriefing. Other Commandos came and went. Smitty and I remained. The neighborhood changed. Pressure started coming from the city government to restore the building. After Sierra Leone, I left all the responsibility for the safe house to Smitty.

Now I was heading back home. Odd. I have no relatives in Berlin, yet it is home. Smitty is the only one in Berlin who knows who I really am, yet I have many friends there. Is home where one feels safe? Is home where one keeps those trinkets that bind one to the past?

The conductor announced that the next station was Berlin. The woman across from me smiled. I smiled back. Smitty could wait one more night.

22 August 2007

In Which Sarge Parts Briefly With Cody To Descend Alone Into The Jungle...


Iringa was a disaster, but I learned things. Of Euphrase, he told me terrible things. Of tortures and privations which made me weep openly, the town square behind us dusty with morning and no doubt many eyes watching us, waiting. He gestured with his cup of konyagi to the north and said, "in this direction I have heard of odd occurrences which remind me of The Untouched [Medicine Man], there are those who have wandered from the jungle beset with maladies and wounds grievous to behold. They say one man had the muscles of his upper body removed. He said, they say, he was only shocked at that point, that muscles ripped from the body are blue, not red and smeared with blood. He died soon after, though some have lived. What they have left though, can hardly be called life. The Untouched, some believe, is not human. I think he is all too human. All too much so!" He slammed his konyagi on the glass table and dared me to contradict him, but remembering Sydney, I could not. Around us the yellowed walls collected silence and I felt I must pursue Medicine Man to the Kagera region and perhaps from there find some sense.

I went to Bukoba after a stop in Mwanza, the ferry to Bukoba across part of Lake Victoria would have been pleasant, but I was heavy of heart. Cody was in Mwanza.

I had left him with a friend of an old friend, one you may know. I had called Nwargo and he had called his friend Lwiza, strikingly beautiful, she took an immediate liking to Cody and told me he would enjoy the shores of Victoria as if they were those shores further south I had just told her I was sure he missed.

"Tell Nwargo he is missed," she said. "Tell him he is missed," she paused, staring through my eyes as though she were suddenly somewhere else, "every day."

There is a story there, my friend, but I did not have time to tease it from her. The ferry left soon and there I was, my friend running down the dock to see me off, jumping into the water after me and Lwiza laughing, wading in after him to collect him. Her clothes clung to her curves as she waved me off, the dog letting off a good few barks so that those around him laughed and pointed. I decided it might be a good idea to disappear then, from the shore's sight, and left to the forward deck with a lump in my throat. There I watched the afternoon deepen into the lateness of day.

I am alone now though I have a guide. Abdul is quick and easy to get along with. He told me The Untouched is like a ghost, flitting between the hills just west of Bukoba and the jungles of eastern Rwanda.

So it is Rwanda again, I fear. Though I seem to have known it, it is like I am being guided, teased into the place I fear most to tread on this journey.

I must go now. But I will write soon.

be in touch Cpl., you are missed and the light snoring of my new friend Abdul is no company!

Tell Ranger to write as well.


14 August 2007

In Which Sarge Thinks on the Value of Discourse While Watching Cody Forge Along a Creek Bed...


It is time to pray. Discreetly I leave the room as Ali Hassan begins intonations of the Fajr and I wonder if the Supreme One, if It be, prefers welcome and thanks for the day in a particular form. From deep in my youth comes a memory of being woken just before the dawn and I shrug it off and wait for the prayer to end. Ali Hassan is the only man I trust in Tanzania right now.

My thoughts, as he prays, flit to Tallinn. Odd how tripping over one word on the way to another makes a path. Cody pants and undoubtedly, as the Daily News loves to point out, five new stomachs enter Dar es Salaam in some attempt to feed. It is dreadfully hot. Even dawn offers little respite and I think longingly of my little home on the shores of Stockton. I look at Cody and wonder if he remembers chasing the gulls. Odd that we grow more tolerant of our own sentimentalities as we age. Cody barks once. I turn, Ali Hassan has joined me.

"So you are enjoying Dar?" He laughs as if it is understandable I prefer somewhere else, but I answer honestly.
"I am very much enjoying Dar, just last night I heard some amazing music that somehow made me sad for the mountains of my own land."
"Yes, yes," he laughs, "Taarab can have that effect. It makes everyone miss home!" He laughs again and I laugh.
"You are looking for The Untouched One then?"
His question is sudden and direct. The laughter is gone.
"Is this another of his names? Medicine Man?"
"It is the same," he nods slowly.
"I will take you to Iringa. He is not there, but you will learn things. But The Untouched," he pauses, "your...Medicine Man, he prefers jungle. He does not really like Tanzania!"
"I can make it to Iringa on my own..." I start.
"No. No! It is important, for a note from me will not get you the introductions you need. I will come with you, that is the only way the doors will open. You seek death, but there is purpose in it."
"And you?"
"I do not seek death," he laughs and pauses, then says more seriously, "I hope it does not seek me. Yet."
Cody approaches him and Ali Hassan bends down to pet him, looking him in the eyes.

Hours later we are in another Cessna, careening over and around the mountains that play hell with the ride. We are as likely to end up slammed against a mountain as we are landing in Iringa, but despite this Ali Hassan's mood has improved considerably. Despite everything, he is going home. I look at the bare landscape beneath us, they say people come from everywhere to birdwatch here, and sometimes one of them is shot by a poacher. Ali Hassan gestures and soon we are landing.

We tried to make our entrance inconspicuous. Iringa is big enough that we shouldn't be noticed, buses and trucks pass here on the way to Dar or Zanzibar all the time, but yet it's not large exactly. Even if this might be a Tanzanian equivalent of say Edmonton, it's not much bigger really, then an average suburb of Toronto. The mountains in the distance rise up reminding me how lost I've become. Suddenly I've had a premonition and I feel a cold sweat, for I feel I must play it all out, but I think I know where I will end up.
"We will avoid taxis from the airstrip, a friend of mine will meet us and we will meet a few others and switch cars at a restaurant. Not much, but we know this town, they will know if we've been followed. Still, we will never be safe. The Untouched knows much more than we do. We are not quite professionals the way you are, I think."
I nod to show I understand, still lost in thought.

I am able, Cpl., to remember lately, the time before I fought addictions and grief, though I still turn from most of these memories, sometimes I forget and am lost in them. I wonder what I mumble in my sleep Cpl., when I cannot turn away?

Ali Hassan's friends are a serious lot, and we discuss much politics and philosophy. It has been a long time, and it seems, even longer when I have been among those of my own kind, or at least those familiar with the routines of our kind, who actually considered why it was they carried the burdens we all must about us. I'm convinced these mindless thugs like those I encountered in Sydney will one day learn this. Medicine Man knows, I know he does, but it is not anything he would know about himself.

"No!" Ali Hassan shouts at his friend Mkwawa makes a point, "you forget that Céline and his generation were the first generation in more than a century forced to reckon with just how cheaply they were regarded by their governments. It was government that ruled without fear of its people! Government that refuted all the revolutions and the myth of revolution. Why would Céline find much to differentiate one government from another? And where survival is not a skill but a lucky positioning of the flesh, what is their to differentiate one individual from another? There is no heroism, there is only thought. It is the only distinction worthy of notice."
"No, he sought a new imposition of hierarchy. He was desperate. Like us. I wonder how we recognize truth where there is no such thing complete of itself." Mkwawa held up a hand as Ali Hassan attempted to rebut this.
"I know your faith Ali, and I respect it. Obviously. But even faith is not truth, it is assertion and its validity as truth extends only as far as the community that agrees to it." Ali, out of respect to Mkwawa, and perhaps me, was silent. A hush fell across our lively table, and then Euphrase, an older, bent man, leaned forward and began to speak to me while everybody listened.
"I think I know why you are here, though Ali has kept his silence. I think there is only one reason one such as yourself would be here."
The lack of breathing as everyone unconsciously squared themselves to what came next told me they knew what Euphrase would say next.
"If you wanted to, I've no illusions, you could kill all of us, but you will not touch him. He is slow the way waves are slow on a quiet day. But try and stop a wave my son. At Zanzibar, where I buried my wife, my child, my life, I pushed at the waves, but my fury was nothing to them. I was young then. Much younger. My sense of outraged justice though, was nothing to a wave. The Untouched is such a wave. I hated the ocean and moved here, but there are waves everywhere. And I buried more of those who I loved. I say this to you, all of this which is my life, because I know and I wish to save one life, at least that. If I do not, well, there are others I would like to have saved more. I will still drink konyagi and eat mandazi."
I nodded to show I appreciated his mark of respect and honesty. He clearly was the leader of this small group which, as Ali had informed me, mostly acted as vigilantes against government corruption. "I have myself killed two policemen," one of the men had informed me, "and I do not ever question what I have done when I think of them. Other things yes." His near peace of mind would be nice, I think, for the nights when I lie there convulsing, begging for the tranquility that sweats from the needle's edge and vainly calling some angel down to whisper forgiveness and assurances that it was the only way, every time.

I could not help but wonder, if Medicine Man had been here, why had he bothered to let them live? They were excellent for amateurs, but they were not pros. Just dangerous enough to accidentally kill you. Why would Medicine Man leave them then?

Perhaps? I tucked away the thought.

The safehouse was comfortable. Cody even enjoyed a brief foray along a nearby creek, mostly mud at the moment. I left him tied to a tree a bit down the way and assured him I would visit before dawn. The night was not to continue so comfortably I felt.

My suspicions were correct. I did not hear them enter, but two of Ali's friends had air taken from their throats and bled all over the small kitchen, smearing the teapot we had used a couple hours earlier, the walls marked in a primitive language of violence, the ink flown from outstretched and pleading arms and gashes to the throats. But Medicine Man's thugs were not so careful as they thought, for I was waiting to be surprised. And when I heard sounds under the sounds of night, I knew they sought me and made myself, new words with their blood on the walls of the room I was to sleep in. Then I kept my promise to Cody and went to visit him at the creek and we left, otherwise unaccompanied. I write you from the second floor of some bank, where the dawn can be seen just now arriving again.

Ali is safe and undoubtedly prays his Fajr to another morning. I wonder if I am the first he unwittingly lead to this trap? Perhaps another will visit with him to Medicine Man's first web.

Still, I plan to meet with this Euphrase before I leave. He knows things and there are things that happened here. Not all amateurs are useless. And I enjoyed a pleasant enough day thinking about things I used to think about. I continue to trust Ali and think he will redeem himself, though I doubt I will see him again.

hoping you are well,

I remain,


10 July 2007

Ranger - Hortus Conclusus


I am in Afghanistan. I was assigned here briefly as an embed to assist a regular military force on what should have been a simple operation. Canadian intelligence received word that a Taliban narco-trafficking unit was on its way down from the mountain with a supply of papaver somniferum. The plan was relatively simple, divide into two units, one at each end of the mountain valley, on high ground and pin any convoy in a cross-fire. Ordinance on the valley road would finish anything left over.

In the light of day, briefing them on the plan was simple. Most of them seemed tired from the work of the past few months. A few feigned excitement at the prospect of another fight, but mostly out of sheer boredom. Fighting guaranteed at least an adrenaline rush, and the prospect of being shot or blown up on base without that adrenaline was the worst kind of fate. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to where the troops went before the sun began to set and we marched.

Our night equipment underscored the difference between our army and their mujaheddin. I cautioned against overconfidence. None of the soldiers here were aware that the Afghanis were carrying more precious cargo than poppies. I had been told that they held a Commando.

We set up a perimeter, and waited. The night stretched out and my mind began to wander. Had we received bad information? Had some simple issue forced the run to be postponed? Had they been alerted to our presence? It was less than four hours until dawn and I had checked weapons at least a dozen times. Then I got word from an advance scout that a truck was headed our way.

Another fifteen minutes with nothing. Everything was in place.

I heard mortar fire. Immediately thereafter I saw an ancient ZIL-131, with no lights, streaking out of the Valley at top speed. The mortar slammed into the mountain near us and then small arms fire began. I saw djinn moving around our position, from the front and below. The mountain opposite us exploded with responding fire, the tracers creating red smoke and an erie shadow-play on every ridge and crag. I heard explosions in the valley below and then our side of the mountain erupted. I grabbed one of the soldiers and headed down to where our point man should have opened fire an eternity ago.

When I got there I heard yelling in Arabic. They pointed their guns in the air and fired wildly.

“What are they yelling?”

“The first transport is away,” my soldier replied. “Feeling all right, sir?”

My stomach turned. A few feet away I saw another of our number. Not moving. Dead? No. The needle near his arm told another story. Too much time in Afghanistan. He had a shallow pulse and I felt mine race knowing that there had to be 20 or 30 men closing in on our position. I breathed in and let my lungs expand, dulling some of my immediate urges. But not all of them.

“What do we do?” my soldier said, looking at his brethren, as he moved into position to lay down a cover fire.

“Help,” I responded, my mind on other things. I ripped the Canadian flag from his shoulder, and began to go through his pockets. That flag shows up on night vision and is not to fall into enemy hands. But the gesture of rending it from his uniform was fulfilling. The ammo I tossed to my friend or kept for myself. The knife for my boot. The cigarettes, no doubt laced, the Taliban can keep. A few other choice items for my pack, and finally the offending item. I grabbed that needle and sent it into his jugular. Here is your fix. My new friend wretched. His eyes looked towards me but saw Longinus. I heard a second truck and then another explosion. Looking down in the valley, I saw a Russian truck blown across the road.

The djinn were on us and my friend opened fire. From the look on his face, I was fortunate his bullets found their mark in the enemy. We deserted the fallen soldier there on the mountain as a second round of mortars went airborne.

“Closed off garden,” a voice sputtered over the radio.

No, I thought. One is enough.

Ad victoriam,


07 July 2007

At Sea

The grey seas stretched on into infinity. There was no difference between the sea and the sky. I felt as if I were in a giant grey sphere. The grey skies and the gentle swell of the grey sea engendered a melancholy state of mind. I thought of a hamster in a ball, running about, terrified, amusing the children while they set loose the cat upon the globe containing the trapped hamster.

I could spoil the children's game. I could cheat the cat. I could slip over the railing and feed the sharks.

I laughed softly to myself. Far more exciting to break free and kill the cat...

Freedom. What is it? Are we free? Was I not compelled to take on Nascimento's contract? We argued late into the night. The bargain: Nwargo to Lagos to escort the shipment of guns to the Yoruba rebels. I was to kill a German who had failed to pay for "services rendered."

A crisis of conscience. Feed the fire in southern Nigeria. Kill a man, whom I did not know, with whom I had no quarrel. Life. Death. Peace. Conflict.

I looked again at his picture. The man whom I would kill. Nascimento had been vague. Perhaps Nascimento himself had no quarrel with this man. Perhaps it was merely another contract... another way to earn money.

Perhaps I should have stayed with Soleto in his monastery and sought the Truth.

I thought of our days at the Academy. Calrissian walked beside me along the path to the Sacred Grove, where the Maple was tall, beneath the canopy of branches which must never be cut. Our training was near completion. Soon we would venture forth to serve and protect Canada.

We reached the Sacred Grove. Maple seeds spun down towards us in greeting.

Calrissian's voice was soft but firm as he turned to me and spoke. "It is your duty as a Commando to serve the Truth."

"But what is the Truth?"

A faint smile accented General Calrissian's wise face. "That is your quest. To seek It out."

"Can I not find It in the holy texts?"

"They contain much wisdom. Many claim to have found the Truth in them. However, were it that easy, there would be no conflict."

"Perhaps conflict is the Truth."

"Perhaps. Perhaps." Calrissian placed his hands on my shoulders. His brown eyes seared through to the back of my skull. "Explore not only the path to your home. Drink not only from the well before your house. Eat not only the bread baked in your oven."

That seems eternities ago.

Now I sought a truth. I needed to know if Sarge had betrayed Nwargo and I.

Perhaps the only truth was that I would not grow old.

05 July 2007

Ranger – The Pit


Boleh merokok? The wretch asks me. I am waiting to leave Jakarta at last. I long for clean air.

I was ambushed at our arranged meeting place. I have no idea of how long they waited or how many were there, but they were smart enough to only reveal themselves at the last possible moment. I was only able to make contact with their first emissary, hearing the satisfying thunk as my walking stick cleared through where his windpipe had been. Eskrima. I knew I was cornered and for some reason as they began speaking to me I could not take my eyes off the man. Watching him clutch at his throat, the look in his eyes, the attempt to move air into and out of his lungs. I suppose I should have been paying more attention, but it was doubtful I would have remembered anything anyway. My shoulder felt warm and about that time I think the but end of a rifle found a home in the back of my skull.

I give my accommodations only two stars. At first, I got to hear a lot of talk about how Sarge had betrayed us, about how you were dead and about how Nwargo had finished you. They examined the letter you sent, invalidating their story, and the trinket contained within the envelope thinking it contained microfiche or a chip or some nonsense. They did not share my sense of humour about the whole thing. It was good at least to see the maple leaf again. Though the questioning was painful enough, it was the cuisine that really got to me (minus one star). The water was sewage quality and the food not much better. I craved poutine and in my delirium I let myself believe. After a few weeks the gendarme who had been questioning me disappeared. I was left with his underlings. They took great pleasure out of extracting the lead from my shoulder with their hunting knives.

I can only imagine my remaining captors were mercenaries rather than attached to some government. I heard far too many complaints about money and they each carried some different and clearly scavenged armament. They also kept debating whether they could pass me off as an American. Apparently, Americans have some value here.

I was surprised to find out I was still in the city when it was time for me to be moved. In my first effort to escape, I helped my captors hail a bajaj which I had noticed held only two lug nuts on one of its rear wheels. There was little time to create a diversion to check on the other two nuts, which I hoped had started to counter-rotate. No luck that day.

June was more of the same. Though one of the men who tried to befriend me in order to get more information was kind enough to tell me that “Gorman Brown was at 10 Dowling Station.” No doubt that information came at a price. Damn infection in my shoulder.

It must have been late June when I woke up one morning in the jungle alone. I can only assume a payment was missed. The next week was a test of endurance, but the wilderness again provided for me. Though it is not the rainy season here, I got to spend at least one night under the stars listening to a passing rainstorm and its million echoes on the canopy above. Again, I let it remind me of home.
The last few days of the month were spent in a Jakarta hospital. Cammy arrived from the embassy, and she has not changed. She sends her love.

30 June 2007

Leaving Nwargo

It was time to part company with Nwargo. His leg was better and he was becoming antsy, always worrying about his children, his wives, and his cattle. I was never sure in which order.

Neither of us had any idea who could be after him, but we agreed that the leak was severe and needed to be patched.

Our isolation within Soleto’s monastery had been complete. No communications had arrived for me. Nwargo had received no missives from abroad. Nwargo and I agreed upon a code to avoid further misleading communiqués.

As Nwargo boarded the boat to Africa, I was torn between my sorrow seeing him go and my desire to find Sarge. In essence, I agreed with Nwargo: it was unlikely Sarge had betrayed us, but a lingering doubt persisted. It was essential that doubt not be allowed to fester, lest mistrust poison my mind.


Nwargo and I had roamed the favellas of Recife, listening to whispers, searching for unglazed eyes which might hold information. It was not long before the gangs that rule here heard of the odd couple and investigated. They were young, intoxicated, and heavily armed. In a word, dangerous. Nwargo and I explained that we were migrant farmers looking for work in the sugarcane fields. As proof we showed them our machetes.

“We were hoping to help harvest the fields of Nascimento.”

The most sober of them took renewed interest in hearing the gun-runner’s name. He chuckled, “I doubt Nascimento needs help with the harvest.”

They all laughed. One of the more intoxicated tossed his gun aside and a machete was handed to him. “Little man, I will feed you to my dog!”

Nwargo said nothing and saluted his opponent with his machete. The drunk youth towered over Nwargo’s squat frame. Nwargo easily parried the first few poorly-placed blows. The crowd laughed and heckled. The youth grew impatient and his blows became more desperate as Nwargo danced before him. The youth roared. Nwargo sidestepped the blow and brought his machete down on the youth’s arm. The roar became a scream of pain and the youth crumpled. The crowd pressed forward, straining to see the severed limb.

The arm was bent in the middle. Not severed, but broken. The youth writhed on the ground, clutching his arm. Nwargo kicked the machete out of the youth’s limp hand. “Boy, next time, I use the sharp edge.” Nwargo glared at the crowd, and with a flick of his wrist, turned the blade so the sharp edge was the striking edge.

“You wish to find work with Nascimento? Come with us.”

We followed.

Nascimento stared at us. His remaining hair had grayed and his belly had grown since I had seen him last. There was no recognition in his face. His basso voice boomed. “Eh? you are looking for work? You want to harvest ‘cane?” His mouth split into a toothy grin.

“We wish to harvest special ‘cane.”

Nascimento’s smile disappeared and his eyes scanned us with renewed interest. “What can I help you with?”

“We are looking for a friend.”

Hmm. And why should I know where he is when his… friends do not?”

“He admires the quality of the ‘cane you sell around the world. Perhaps he has bought some recently?”

Nascimento stroked his chin. “You are not police. Mercenaries?” He tapped his upper lip absentmindedly, then spoke with finality. “I do not disclose to whom I am shipping.” He motioned to his bodyguards to take us away.

Nwargo spoke. “We seek the Pink Mamba.”

Nascimento pursed his lips. “He died in Sierra Leone.”

No hint of recognition of who we were crossed his face. “We have heard otherwise,” I offered.

“If he lives, he has not made any purchases of late.”

“When did he make his last purchase?”

“It was long ago in Freetown. Perhaps you should look there.”

I frowned. Nwargo shifted uneasily now.

Nascimento smiled at our discomfort. “I could arrange passage... if not to Freetown, then perhaps some other destination?”

“We lost our passports to pickpockets.”

A great bass laugh filled the hall. “Yes! Of course. We can replace them for a fee.”


Now I stood on the dock, watching Nwargo disappear on the horizon.

Alone again.

My ship left in two days. I was headed back to Berlin. Smitty might have useful information.

31 May 2007

In Which Sarge Sets Out Once Again in the Darkness...


Night, the smell of the earth reached Cody and I before the shadows rose up to greet us, lost companions that they were, I had come across the water to find them. I am back in Africa.

Cody does well in this new climate, this new world really, and finds much excitement in everything crossing his path.

I do not have time to write now, save to assure you that all goes well. I grow perplexed thinking about my recent adventures, and wonder who this "Medicine Man" was, no contacts so far know of him, only one rumor really, from Tanzania, of gruesome deaths, odd disappearances and a place in the forest where none dared. Why that particular informant saw fit to mention this when I asked him of Medicine Man he would not say, he said he had already said much too much.

If you come to Africa you must let me know. I will meet you as far as Abidjan or Port Louis, but I cannot go to Banjul, it is more than my life is worth to go there.

with best wishes,


24 May 2007

In Which Sarge is Full of the Sorrow and the Pity...


The days are numb. Barely measurable. I have been in an opiate haze for weeks now. A trap. Canucks, but I remember killing that bastard dealer with my own hands while around me howled Cody and where is Cody I wondered and then I didn't wonder but I slept and it was the needle that made me sleep and I saw that they wanted to make me slave to it.

After awhile I drooled and nodded my head. Some dead-end hotel in Sydney, yellowed walls and urine stains against the walls near the steps where they would take me out to some sessions with somebody I only knew as "the Medicine Man," he wore white corduroy suits and spoke Spanish to me as if he wanted to hide his English or French accent. I noticed this only at the end, but automatically answered him for weeks. In the room, the television on constantly, Australian talk shows are the worst, the hussies from Townsville or Cairns going on about some bloke who, surprise! turned out to not be fixable. He was hurt and I felt so sorry for him turns mighty quickly into he hurt me, he's selfish. Ah, daytime tv, in the end they did not have to feed me the needle to make me take it. I reached for it and it soothed me and blanketed me in release from this ugly truth of cinderblock and cockroach.

And they tried to make me talk.

I told them everything I knew about Canadian history, I told them over and over again that I didn't care, I still loved the Queen, still thought of her as part of Canada. Sentimental I said, sentimental but proud.

And there was torture. Withdrawal, the television turned to maximum volume, myself strapped down. Other things not so nice as even that but perhaps sometimes easier to endure. And where was Cody? I figured him dead and thought about how we should not become attached to the living who are not like us.

We kill them more surely than the enemy, I thought. I wept as they beat me with knotted rope and as they poured sand into my pried open mouth, but I wept for Cody. And they laughed and did not know they were not the cause of my suffering.

In this way I controlled the meaning of the torture and waited for the next fix and when it came, I knew the Medicine Man was close and I would talk to him in Spanish soon. He would be kind and fatherly, then angry and terrible. He showed me his pen made from bone. "Tanzania," he said by way of explanation. "I know," I answered, but it was just to acknowledge Tanzania. "No, Ghana," he said. "Impossible," I said, and then he had me beaten.

The jungle would unfold for me in their tortures and again I was running in my mind, Nwargo there, constantly telling me this way, that way, the trees there are dangerous! We must hide here until dark!" And then the Medicine Man asking me about Ottawa, about Calrissian. About Ranger. About Smitty. About the others.

About you.

"Where are your comrades now?" He would ask. I would not answer.

"They believe you a helpless addict. They want to kill you. They know you will talk!" And he would laugh and laugh, then stop and slap me.

"Come now, argument like this is useless."


They broke my nose and broke it again. I never hoped for death. Only to see Cody, and walk him on the ocean's edge where arguments and sentimentalities gain the proper perspective of being nothingness itself. I dreamed of shipwrecks and those dreams saved my life. I thought of the waves and Cody, with the gulls crying their song to the end of the world and the beginning of the water.

"Come now, good Sargeant," he would continue, "you do not have to work for us, but we will not let you go." And he would lean over and peer into my face, so that we were centimetres apart, and I -- tied down -- would think about tearing out an eye with my teeth and he would laugh again.

"But you are a professional," he would finish, reading my thoughts into his argument. "You...are a professional."

The odd assortment of dead things he always had there, and photographs. They showed me Ahmet. They showed me a shattered body in Talinn. "He did not make it," Medicine Man said, "we found him in a closet. He was still alive, his ribs on the left side shattered like clam shells when they break. He could not stop screaming."

Ahmet's death was simpler, and he did not comment on it. But they had blown up the picture and it greeted me at the hotel room they stowed me in. Sometimes I would talk to the dead body in the night. Not out loud of course, biting my lips to know where my tongue was, then I would talk to Ahmet, and tell him how sorry I was.

They claimed they had killed Nwargo. Described his death. Traced it for me. But nothing could convince me of it, as they said they had gotten him in Egypt, but I did not let on and allowed myself to weep for Cody then: the one time I cried.

Medicine Man carved a map on my arm with a knife, of the Ministergarten. He laughed and told me how it was so simple when their man told them everything they needed. How could I hope to fight them, when they knew exactly when we were going to punch. I finally talked, I said,

"Tell that to Aglionby."

He slapped me. It was my turn to laugh.

Then I was silent.

They did not trust me with needles, obviously, and when I dosed myself with the heroin it was always powder, but as I began to dream more often of killing Medicine Man I found I could not make myself and they began to force me to take it. Torture was increased. The truth was more desperately needed by them as the time wiled away, and I was a tougher nut to crack than they had thought.

Medicine Man would say, "The Maple Leaf is crumbling even now. Don't you know how we despise you?" Silence.

The Medicine Man would say, "Guards, saltwater." And I would choke and he would intone over me the whole time, "This is the Maple Leaf that has made you thus. This is the water that spills from the Maple Leaf. And it will rain forever." And this would go on for hours, his voice soothing so that I didn't wonder if the guards hated him too. But they were always silent.

One night I was dreaming. Sweating. The heroin had not been given to me in a day and a half. Medince Man was gone apparently. Sam stood over my bed. He was talking but his words bent and fell, darker clouds in the darkness. He was gesturing and it felt like we were below the ocean. Echoing and crashing.

He shook me.

"For Christsake, boy-o!"

A guard stood crumpled against a dresser, a trail of blood running from his neck. The door was open and outside I saw another lump as my eyes adjusted to the light. I needed to throw up and get more blankets. Sam pulled me up.

"Nwargo's dead," I said in a monotone. I know not why.

"Nwargo's not dead you idiot, but we will be!" He hissed at me. "Come on!"

He helped carry me out as I staggered and threw up on the corpse of the guard right outside the door. He was one of the ones who had been most cruel to me when we were with Medicine Man.

One more brilliant gift I received that night: Cody ran up to me, I fell into a heap, crying, laughing, ecstatic, suddenly not sick. I began to run.

"That's better now!"

Cody ran beside me, and then we were in a van, then a helicopter, flying low over the outskirts of Sydney, where the lights stop. And then a car, driving now, Cody asleep against my leg.

I am at a safehouse now and Sam tells me I must back to Africa quickly. Cody will come with me. I will keep my job at the restaurant, Sam says, for when I need it, for Australia is still hot.

Two mornings later, we raided an orphanage and killed three French bomb makers and one of their propaganda experts. The orphanage had been used for making bomb parts because the children's hands, so nimble and small, could fit certain parts together without as great risk of blowing themselves up. Those missing hands, feet or eyes, were kept for cleaning and record-keeping. It was a terrible sight to see, and sticking the knife into Fourait, the bombmaker, not the sabateur, I had said to him, "please sir, I want some more." And I put the knife in deeper. I felt I had finally returned.

So it is to be Africa again. I know not why. I shall see Nwargo soon though, and that fills me with happiness. He will meet Cody and we will play chess. Never let Nwargo take a bishop if you can help it.

Be careful of yourself. I only wish we could have killed Medicine Man. I wonder often, as I prepare for Africa, who he is.

with best wishes,


26 April 2007

In Which Sarge Records Sensations Upon Observing an Eclipse


"What's your name?" I ask him. We are in the little space near the bathroom, the tables are full and the restaurant buzzes.
"What's it matter?" He smiles again, that half-smile, like he's something.
The time has come.

I push against him. He tries to move, then he tries to move his arm, but he can't seem to move it. A brief moment of confusion. Then he laughs again when I take out his wallet.

"You a blue heeler?"
"No. I'm a ------- journo! I want to know how you got your teeth so white?"
"You could have just asked...."
The restaurant is crowded, loud. Nobody notices us but somebody'll need more coffee, more catsup, more something any time. He knows it too.
"I like to know who I'm dealing with is all before I ask what I want."
"Well you got Buckley's chance now mate."
"Yeah?" I push quickly into his gut with one finger. He gasps. "Yeah?"
"Here...no...here..." He gives me his cell number. I reach over to the payphone behind him and call it. He rings and I let him go.
"I'll call you later. You better answer, anyhow mate, I'm jack o this." I walk away.
He gives me a curious look and turns to leave the restaurant. A minute later, as I pour coffee for the guy that comes in everyday and reads the auto trader magazine I notice John-Luke the dealer looking in at me. His curiosity aroused. I wonder if I've gone too far.

Later Sam comes up to me.
"John-Luke and you had a bit of the barney there, mate, anything you can't handle?"
"It's alright Sam. I don't like him though."
"It's not your job to like him, son." He walks away and I feel stupid. Why don't I ask Sam more questions? Pride I suppose.

I'm on the beach with Cody when I call him. He answers right away.
"Ok, what?"
"Right," I say, "I was a bit berko back there...but you're right. I need some of that."
Instantly he's guarded, but more relaxed.
"Well, mate, you're still a bit of a blow-in, but we'll manage. Right. How about a pint and we'll smooth things over?"
"Yep. Ten then?"
"Make it eleven."
We hang up.

I believe now, after having put some things together, that he is the one who led that team against me, and I don't wonder if he isn't more than what he appears. Though a bit less than what he thinks. I will be cautious.

I go there now, though I feel something odd about this adventure. I wonder what hornet's nest my anger has turned over.

best wishes,


10 April 2007

Ranger - Le Blaireau

Dear Corporal,

The missives from Sarge trouble me. Though I cannot remain troubled for long in my current surroundings. Brittany is beautiful this time of year. Operation Vercingetorix indeed. I am on a fool’s errand. I am assigned to monitor French separatist groups and their activities.

I understand the Commandos have operatives in Provence, Alsace-Lorraine and with the Euskadi. They have sent Thomas to Savoy. I have stayed in touch with her and she feels her mission is as hopeless as mine. I sit in Gitanes-smoke filled bars and my ears ache from the unrestrained political polemics of angry youth emerging strangely from the mouths of men who otherwise look beaten by this world. And the young here likewise play at wisdom, but it is just a ruse. They jockey to listen to their elders, and talk extravagantly of revolution, trying to extol their bona fides. They direct too much of their focus to organization. The whole thing has the feeling of a town planners meeting, where everyone is passionate about the direction the future must take, but nothing real is accomplished.

I sit here adding a comment from time to time, pointing out some historical fact, praising the Celtic language speakers, eating galettes and drinking cider (my one indulgence). At least the food has been excellent. This is the first time I have been to the safe house in Brittany. I will say I appreciate the Citroen 2CV you left for me here, it is wonderful fun. I have resorted to taking long drives through the French countryside on weekends when no meeting is called, trying to trace the route of the last Tour de France. Hinault is like a god here. Occasionally, I get out and bike through the rolling countryside, allowing myself for a moment to forget the events of the past year.

It has been quite some time since I have been so immersed in the French language. I am starting to remember even the songs about Le Lapin and the Champs Elysees which I learned in grade school in Quebec.

I gentlemen named Maurice from Gwened has made a passable companion. He was a high school classics teacher and is more than happy to speak at length about Aristotle and criticize his existential compatriots. “Jump off a bridge,” he tells them taking a long draw from his cigarette, “if nothing has innate meaning for you.” He criticizes St. Thomas’ interpretation of Aristotle noting that it was the clerics who controlled the texts through the years and that Aquinas’ position is selective at best. Aristotle’s position, he notes, was that each man has his own reference point for moderation. It does not comport with the moral objectivist position taken by Aquinas. Though he cautions, no greater good can come from small evils. Whereas he is opposed to violent revolution he notes that murder at the hands of the Free French was normative and may have been a moral imperative in the face of great evil. I need to believe that is what we do.

His other points, like criticizing Plato’s world of forms may be to esoteric for me to follow.

Jakarta? Indeed. I am in purgatory here. I have stopped believing that my reports to Ottawa serve any significance or are even reviewed by anyone other than some bureaucratic hire. I will meet you there.

Au revoir,


09 April 2007

In Which Sarge Faces the Needle...


Easter. I always think of Tanner's painting. The two apostles at the empty tomb, not quite dawn, the reconsiderations made of what is truly possible.

I had to be at the restaurant early. I've moved back into the house on the beach, but I've set up several more booby traps, something I should have done earlier, as well, I've set up a remote camera unit that transmits to a set I have in my car. The screen looks like a book, specifically, Graham Greene's Journey Without Maps. If they want to kill me, they shouldn't send in the clowns this time. I've gotten lazy, but when I saw them shoot at my dog, something was reborn in me. Something that wanted to live.

Still, the thirst for the needle is unslaked, and the local supplier eats his breakfast here most everyday. Always, two eggs up with french toast and bacon. He knows I have the taste, I can sense it, my skin itches when I serve him. I want to ask and then I want to kill him, but I hold myself distant from the turmoil, and he watches with a bemused smile.

"More coffee, sir?" I ask. He nods. Looks at me. I pour.
"You want a taste," he says under his breath to me, like it's a fact.
"I've had my brekkie," I say and move to another table, of three old women planning a day's shopping. He breaks the yolk on his egg and slathers his french toast then adds maple syrup until it drowns his plate. I break out in a cold sweat, Sam comes up behind me and slaps me on the back.
"Look who was out late last night," he laughs. I apologize to him and get myself back together. I think about how many ways I could kill the dealer with a fork, or a coffee pot, or more ominiously, a spoon. My hands.

They shake. But only for a second. I think of Cody. I think of you and Nwargo in the jungle. I am happy you ignored my advice. Smitty reports he was ambushed and killed four Separatist-terrorists, but he was almost hamstrung and has been rehabbing back in Berlin. It seems our movements, at least those emanating from my command, are being followed too well. I think of Ranger, silent in the middle of a stream. So I serve my eggs, pour my coffee and learn to keep my mouth shut. At night I wake up with dreams in my head: Ahmet asks me for more potatoes, but how can he? He has no mouth. It has been cut out of him. His blood fills coffee cups and from behind me I hear Aglionby yelling at Cody; a silent chorus, that is the only word, for they look ready to pronounce but do not, of Sierra Leone Army regulars, many of them decaying visibly, stand at attention surrounding me. They must have crawled out of the street, for outside the windows the streets, fleshy, begin to pulsate and crumble. Cody whines as Aglionby begins to scream and Cody whines again, louder; I wake up. There is Cody, nuzzling me, pushing me awake, the curtain breathes in from the window and I hear in the distance the sound of the eternal crashing with the temporal. Deep night. I sit on the edge of the bed and stare off, the Southern Cross promises sun tomorrow, peace seems to settle in. I wipe sweat from the back of my neck.

I want to take Cody along the ocean, think about the ships and the contests with the sea, but I am still a little snakebit by the events of last week. I decide to wait for the morning. I try to sleep. I think about leaving to find the man. To take his heroin. I wouldn't pay him. The bastard stabbing his eggs, thinking I'm nothing but a dead-ender looking for a fix. He tips poorly, he half-laughs when he walks out the door.

With the dawn, desire fades. Cody must run with the waves, chase the birds. I follow him into the beginning of the day. I begin to make plans as I run behind him. He looks back at me and occasionally barks and sets out after a slow bird or God knows what. Things must change, then Cody is in the water, he brings me out a stick that has traveled far. It is a gift far greater than any I ever received in Tallinn.

I throw the stick, and he brings it back to me, again and again.

I must learn how they trace me.

with gladness at your well-being,


07 April 2007

Good Friday

We watched the villagers dance. I did not know what they celebrated, but I was captivated by the ebb and flow of the chant, the pounding rhythms of the drums, and the writhing silhouettes before the fire.

I felt like I was in a National Geographic documentary. I sat on the ground, drinking beer. Nwargo sat next to me, his healing leg propped up. His rehab is going well. I estimate the recovery will be complete, but for the next year, he should limit himself to "light duty." Perhaps there is a desk job for him somewhere. But where is safe? I cannot stay with him forever... I feel an obligation to protect him, but is he not more than capable of fending for himself? I feel like a parent watching a child move out.

Nwargo interrupted my thoughts. "Go to them and dance my friend."

"I can't. I can't. My heart is too heavy."

"Death is in your head again?"

"How can it not be? It is my job."

"But life is your job as well. You saved mine."

"And put it at risk."

Nwargo sighed. He looked back towards the dancers and an odd smile appeared on his face. "Will you dance if I tell you they are dancing to celebrate a funeral?"

Such goading! "I do not celebrate death! I do not love death! I mete out justice! There are men and women who do not deserve to walk this Earth! I clean the Earth! I am a cleanser!" I realized, somewhat embarrassed that I was shouting, although no one noticed. Still, Nwargo had piqued my curiosity. "Whose death?"

Nwargo looked at the ground then smiled at me and winked, "Jesus'. Today is Good Friday my friend."

I turned my gaze out to the fire, nodded and finished another beer. "So, do they celebrate Jesus' death, or the 'death of Death?'"

"I think the second, my friend. The first was merely a tragic necessity."

"A necessity? Why should an omnipotent being need to sacrifice His son to 'conquer' Death? Would you sacrifice your least favorite child? For what would you make that exchange?" I was shouting again.

"You are troubled, my friend, by mysteries that man has contemplated for many hundred years." He paused, and his face became stern. "If you continue, I shall not recite the Easter speech from Goethe's Faust with you on Sunday."

I laughed. "Your German is terrible, Nwargo. Please promise me you will spare me the recital."

Nwargo laughed and handed me another beer.

26 March 2007

In Which Sarge Considers Those Things We Call Eternal...


Thought you would like a picture of Cody! Truly a wonderful companion; today he was awake with the birds and we went to watch the sun perch itself on the horizon of the waters and then lift itself heaven-ward for it's daily arc. Cody chased after birds, sticks and once or twice, I believe, some creatures unseen by me who call the water and this beach their home. Often, in these moments, I almost forget who I am, but the day had other plans for me than oblivion, today I killed men.

And Cody proved himself as a true companion. I wonder though, with what eyes will he see the next sunrise? His sweetness sustains me now, truly he is a remarkable dog.

Before I narrate the strange events of the past hours, I want to ask if you got the tape I put in the last letter? As well, have you made it to Cairo?

I know we have been out of contact, but it has been delicious to imagine your surprise in Cairo, running into Smitty with that bit of knowledge and that English curry I told him to make special for you. I remember the last time we were together with Smitty and he made it and you kept yelling it tastes like mud, it tastes like mud! Well, it was Upper Guinea....It was mud! And all the more English for it. I think that was the last time we saw Neverensky alive. I remember he told us then that he was to Erdenet the following week.

Smitty, though, is eager to help you descend upon those who would presume to attack you, ignore his grumblings. A cobra's death I know you have prepared for them. It is not often I can giftwrap comradeship to my friends and death to our enemies so neatly like that, but sometimes our methods fall into place. It is not always Freetown after all.

Do you remember those lost mercenaries from Zambia, playing Russian roulette during the thunderstorm there? And then that Irishman, who insisted you shoot the whiskey bottle placed on his head and we were all rotted out from the fatigue and the death that simply meant an end to the trash and apocalyptic visions of hell, where children wondered limbless as clouds. I was blind for a week on that ratgut they called whiskey. I remember dimly making a trap with a belt I had pulled off some dead West Side Boy, and everything spinning, the rain coming and going, Christ, it must have been mid-May and my hand trembling while I'm setting the soon to be pinless grenade and never really sure if it's thunder or an explosion from far off, closer the sound is sharper and you can tell but everywhere was mud and then we were eating whatever we could find except we didn't often eat, that ratgut twisted up the insides so and I wondered if that shadow I had heard about, this Aglionby, would ever appear. There was so much to be had in Freetown, everything was there, if it were to be bottled it would be the ultimate weapon, the one that you would call Plague and if loosed, the one that would tear the trees from the earth and make the water run black with blood, and is there anything the Separtists wouldn't do for such a weapon? Libet, his lieutenant was there too, and the stories of what he did to the tendons, eyes and intestines of those who fell into his web horrifies me still.

Aglionby and Libet both dead now, just a few years later. By my hand. Aglionby a burnt human shield and Libet's blood soiling the softly falling snow of Tallinn. Freetown follows us like the perfumed hand of Guilt, it's sickly sweet smell of late spring that hung in the air between offensives and sometimes dwelt just above the smells of the pulsing earth haunts me still; it is the stain that won't wash, and yet I can still, only now, talk to the corners of that time. The flower of evil that was Western Africa continues to hypnotize in these dark moments, the clouds that breathe in and out over the ocean and the coasts as we make our way in a motorized raft to the submarine through the upset waters. You told jokes about sky gods and the beginning of time and then turned serious, "we are all the children of Africa," you said. Behind us Freetown lay smoking in the insistant rain that followed us and I could not speak except to say, "will the submarine take us south or north?" And you said it was taking us north, the ocean spray and the rain mixing and warm to the skin and though I felt an emptiness and a warmth from the equitorial weather, I shivered and idly blamed it on the night before.

I have wandered from my path, having meant to describe the events today, and I will relate them to you now.

After Cody and I had explored the coast and spent time admiring the leaping blue of the ocean, so light the color seems to have fallen from the sky with the morning sun, I found myself nearing the time to leave for my shift. Too soon I had to go and told Cody to come on. Cody stopped just shy of me and started barking. I looked around, there was nothing there. Cody gave a growl, barked again and then came running the rest of the way, but far from being relaxed by the early morning idyll, he was upset and edgy. I began to feel the same way. I examined the beach and looked for positions of cover, but the beach was empty and toward where he was barking I could see or notice nothing out of the ordinary. I wondered if he was just resisting the idea of being locked in all day.

It was perfect out, so instead of locking Cody up I told him to jump in the pick-up and we drove into Newcastle. The restaurant is really more a diner, with great light and the same people everyday. I am to wait here, according to Ottawa and report once weekly on any suspicious activities. They assure me something is happening, but mostly I feel like a target, bait to attract something. And after today I wonder if I can think anything else about this assignment?

The owner here suspects nothing about me save that I am a good fellow. Sam, an old man with three ex-wives to support and seven children, all, according to him, welschers, deadbeats, sluts and hoons, has taken a liking to me, and calls me "a fine boy" to everybody who comes in.

"Hey! You got the new guy as your waiter!" he exclaims to some of the regulars, "he's a fine boy, no yobbo this one!" And he laughs. He lived most of his life in Hong Kong but came home, he says, "to die." We were talking about various places in Hong Kong we both knew before the lunch rush. I told him I had travelled there as a student, he believes I'm from Tamworth, but I told him I did a year as a student in Toronto in case my accent slips. Cody was outside, tied up in the shade of the building and I would wonder over occasionally with leftovers from people's dishes as the morning wore on toward the noontime. Cody was about as happy as it's possible to be for most of the morning. I figured we could run it all off later.

The lunch rush started. The usual nonsense: this guy wanted the special without tomatoes and these people look at their watch and hrrumph after about thirty seconds, meanwhile they didn't order until my third time to their table and this son of a bitch wants everything whole wheat with double onion, no pickle and can he substitute spinich for lettuce and can he get his coffee half/caf like it's a fucking coffee joint and when I get a chance could I bring him some water Without ice? Asking like I'm some five year old that made a doodie in a urinal. But I smiled all the time, even when that woman wanted two chocolate milks and a milkshake.

I pretended I was serving those I had killed as a commando, as if it might take the edge off of some of my sins. I know that's sick Cpl., but it seems right to wish all our lives seemed different. I find myself wishing that very much tonight.

The lunch rush was reaching it's peak, it was about half past twelve, and over the din I heard Cody barking up a storm, the patrons were looking on as well. Three men and a woman who had been near Cody tried to melt away and came to the door of the restaurant. Two of the men were in suits, the third looked like a dock worker or a construction worker, the woman was a pure vision. Her spring skirt floated flirtaciously in the breeze and her thin sweater couldn't keep the chill of an icecube at the equator off. Her necklace looked like the kind of thing a grandma gives, unaware, or all too aware, that it will cause men to act as fools in the presence of her beloved. She flashed me a smile and asked whose dog it was out there? Her hair was straight and black, it fell like a waterfall, catching and tricking the light of the sun.

Cody barked again, straining his leash. I remembered then that he had woken me briefly a couple nights before, barking at the night. I had arisen quickly and looked out a little, and fell right back asleep, ascribing his barking to a far off siren I couldn't make out or to an animal near the house. He was barking again.

"Like the dog, Jill?" one of the men asked, and they laughed. She continued to look at me.

"That old fella?" I asked pointing toward Cody. None of them laughed. A few of the people around me did and I was immediately on my guard.

"He's a good dog," I said going on, "but he chases everything. Always barking he is. Sorry about that."

I left his name off, wondering if they already knew it. Soon enough they sat down.

I watched them surreptitiously while grabbing soup, traying drinks and just generally running around as the lunch rush exhausted itself and began to wane. They were still there talking, one of the guys in the suit seemed to be the kind of boss, if such a relationship existed. I thought of things I meant to include in my report. I wasn't worried yet, but something about them didn't jive. And Cody never barked. Except when he was chasing the waves and the gulls, and then it was the joy of the chase and of being dog vs. the elements. Cody, like us, loves best the fight he knows he cannot win. Yet he had barked at them. And then barked at them again.

The woman was trouble if ever a woman was trouble. Eve-trouble. Joan of Arc-trouble. The kind of woman private eyes go back to their offices to discover smoking in their best chair trouble. Tallinn seemed very far away and I kept trying to pull it back over me like a blanket, as something that might keep the monsters at bay.

As they paid I made sure to wander out and calm Cody as they left. Once he tried to bark, his chest rose, "calm, Cody!" I said under my breath, and he was calm and exhaled in a kind of half-huff. I fed him somebody's left-over fish patty and patted him, "soon," I said.

And I wondered what I had just meant.

I watched the four of them make their way down the street as I walked back to the restaurant and finished the shift without further incident. What did I really have to say about them? Well, to me the most damning thing was that Cody had barked at them every opportunity he had. For Ottawa, I figured, the most damning thing about them would be that they hadn't laughed at a bad joke that a few other had, or perhaps, I would argue, they didn't understand the language here, the way it's spoken. Perhaps they didn't know I'd just made a penis joke. "Yes," they would reply, "perhaps they were outsiders. Simply outsiders trying to fake their way though. Perhaps," Ottawa might continue, "and so what then? Lots of people try to pretend to be from somewhere else when they travel. Don't want to show weakness. Natural human trait." Well, they wanted anything unusual, I thought this was unusual, and a year ago I would have trusted them to trust me.

But not anymore.

Cpl., it was at this moment I realized how alone we are right now. Atomized, with only our faith and our companions to sustain us.

Cody and I made our way home in the gathering darkness, the breeze still soft, the air still light. Driving along the ocean I no longer felt abandoned. Everything runs toward the great water, and it joins us all, and Cody stuck his head out the side and caught the wind, tinged as it was with the delicious tastes of earth and sea. I pulled up at the house.

Before I even could stop Cody had jumped from the truck and tore off after something. I heard a gunshot. And then a few of its brothers.

From beneath my seat I grabbed my knife and dove out. I pulled my gun from a calf holster and wondered from where to take cover. I heard my patio window smash as a bullet flew low over the pick-up. I could hear Cody barking and knew I had to protect him as he knew the same for me.

I had six shots and nothing else save the knife. I might need to scavenge and I cursed myself out for not preparing better for this eventuality. I saw a shadow move and shot toward the bulk. The man fell hard to the sand but I didn't move. There was too much open ground and I was behind a tire of the truck knowing if they had grenades I could be very quickly dead.

I knew it was the four from the lunch rush. They don't wait long, I thought.

Cody came running back to me, twice bullets tore the sand mere inches from him. I fired three times to give him cover. He then settled up against me. I noticed he was cut across his flank. "A graze wound or from a knife?" I thought. "Here in this abandoned place," I quoted to myself, "he felt finally a friend to this earth." Cody looked up at me, he was steady-true. I patted him on his head and hoped we would have more days chasing gulls. "Why do they think I'm here," I found myself thinking. Seconds stretched out into years, crouched behind that old pick-up.

Then I saw one of them, the construction worker. He charged at me and let fly a stick bomb and as he did I fired into his torso. With Cody at my heels I ran toward the house, and dove through the shattered patio window. Bullets tore into the house and the explosion shook the foundations when the truck exploded. I threw Cody into a room and shut the door and emerged with a shotgun I took from a hiding place under one of the kitchen floorboards. It all seemed one motion again, and I felt the joy of battle well up within me. I shot the other suit as he was rushing the house, mistaking my brief absence for hiding out and knew now the woman was left. Somehow she had gotten around to behind me and my first sense of her was a punch to the kidney and I deflected her knife into my tricep as I turned around to face her, flinging her knife into some rushes a few yards away. Blood flowed down my arm and pain welled up. She looked beautiful and a little surprised she hadn't killed me yet.

Her gun was already out but I knocked it aside before it played a tune. Why hadn't she killed me from further away? Why didn't they use a sniper's rifle? Why hadn't they killed me as I slept two nights ago?

I asked her these questions in a rush as I pinned her down. Our struggle made a fingerprint of itself in the sand up near the charred truck, the frazzled corpses and the shattered house. From another world I could hear Cody beside himself in struggle with the shut door.

"Vas faire foutre a la cache," she replied and brought her leg around and plunged a knife into my side with her shoe. With great sadness I put a knife in her throat and we lay embraced a moment in a cruel approximation of love. She tried to spit at me, but she aspirated blood instead. I wondered if I would serve her too, sometime, somewhere. Her pale face caught none of the old moon's rise. I untangled myself slowly and could hear Cody throwing himself at the door again and again and barking and whining furiously all the while.

I went in the house to let him out. He barked furiously at me and then began to lick my bloody hands. I knew it was his way of apologizing, but he had nothing to apologize for. Memories, jumbled and cut up raced across my brain as I looked down at Cody and then went quickly to wash my hands clean. Silence fell around us, but I could no longer trust it. Not yet.

We would spend the night somewhere else but already I knew I could never give up this house on the ocean where the night sky traces eternity across small points of light while the waves trace the earth and make calm chorus for our bleeding opera.

"Her name was Jill," I said against the silence then, as I stepped out and came face to face with my job.

Today I killed men, Cpl., and one hell of a woman. Cody looked down at her then, silent, panting slightly. We had much work to do before the moon was down.

I hope you are well. Certainly you are missed now my friend. I pray that I don't dream tonight. Cody already sleeps: an exhausted pile slumped up against a locked door. I wonder how pleased Ottawa will be with the report I have sent them?

with best wishes,


23 March 2007


Sweat dripped from my brow as I trotted down the jungle path with Nwargo on my back. As I jogged, he murmured, “ Regain your endurance you must, for the race is long.”

We stopped in a clearing and I collapsed into a heap. Nwargo hobbled around on his bad leg, stopping periodically to flex his toes and stare at his leg as if his force of will would cause it to heal faster.

The monks have been good to us. An old favor repaid. Brother Soleto (as he calls himself now) joined the monastery after watching his squad die on that long campaign in Cambodia. He and his fellow monks have been excellent hosts.

The malaria had passed and only the haunting memories of the nightmares remained. Reading my mind Brother Soleto had asked me when I would turn away from the path of violence and destruction. I smiled at his happiness, but also at his naivety. But was it naivety to follow the Cross as I follow the Maple Leaf? He would die for Jesus just as I would for Canada. I could only nod, clutch his hand and reply, “Some day, there will be rest. But the enemies are too many at the moment.” “The only enemies are those within yourself” he countered.

His words found their mark. I flinched, then laughed, “You sound like a Buddhist monk, my friend, not a Catholic one!” I moved away, clapping him on his shoulder as I passed him.

Physical exhaustion clears the head and brings peace of mind. General Calrissian taught us this. So was it that I had carried Nwargo on my back to this place in the jungle.

Standing on my head, I watched Nwargo’s muscular arms pull his chin above the low-lying branch. He bobbed up and down while murmuring something in his native tongue.

“What are you saying?”

“Eh? Ah, it is a prayer to the God asking him to protect my wives and children while I am away.”

“Do you think He will?”

Nwargo shook his head, “Your head is full of spiders!” and let himself fall from the branch. His bad leg buckled, but he caught himself. He hobbled over to me and squatted in front of me waving a finger in my face, “My friend. Everywhere are ghosts. We must honor the God. You can kill a ghost? The God can kill a ghost.”

Nwargo always was practical. I had no response. He rolled his eyes at me, “You make too many ghosts, and they haunt you.” He cocked his head to the side while maintaining eye contact. He grunted and left towards the monastery, leaving me standing on my head in the jungle.

I left the monastery to escape the questioning then brought it back upon myself here. Brother Soleto was right. The enemy was within. I cut myself. Blood ran down my finger. I watched it form a drop then hit the ground. Another drop formed and fell. Another drop formed and fell. Another drop formed and fell.

“What are you doing?”

Nwargo’s voice shocked me out of my trance. He took my knife and sliced off one of my sleeves, binding the cloth around my finger. He put my knife back in my sheath. “If you want to punish yourself, carry me back to the monastery!”

In my cell Brother Soleto looked at my finger with pity then looked at me. “You still think of her?”

I nodded.

“You loved her?”

I nodded.

“Let her go.”

I closed my eyes and saw her. Had she seen what I was? Had she seen what I would become? The truth was that I ran from her, not she from me.


Ubi pus, ibi evacua.”

I put my knife on the table with the handle towards him, and spread my arms, “Evacuas.”

He took the knife and left. As he left he spoke tenderly, “The past cannot be changed, but do not abandon hope for the future.” His tone became firm, “Matins are at three. I will see you there.”

I went. I couldn’t sleep anyway.