27 January 2007

In Which Sarge Describes the Doublecross and Ahmet is Murdered...


I am stuck in Yalova. Nwargo begs for help, everyday his position becomes more helpless, and I am friendless in Yalova. Ahmet is dead.

Will you go to Africa? You have everything required if you have been to the Ministergarten as I trust you have. Oh yes the day is dark and the hydrofoil does not move with the seas high and choppy. The weather, gray as it is, mocks the idea of human progress. I stay in Yalova with the rain and Ahmet's ghost; we worry together about Nwargo, that friend of mine who I miss so deeply now and the junk is close at hand again and the dens are full of the gullible and the possessed and I joined them in the deepest part of the night that swirled and ran on into abstract visions that approximated hell and ran over me like clouds lit from behind by the moon until I fell into a doorway senseless. Daylight brought dogs running out into the mud, scrawny and ill-fed, they barked and ran alongside me like the beggars in Falaba during that fighting there, what was it? Ten years ago now? The scars still seem to trace nightmares and I remember you said, when we lay there in the city famous for its resistance to slavery, that we were slaves to our sense of right and we both laughed and laughed and then you found us that palm wine that almost killed us and we toasted Sengbe Pieh. When we woke up the bodies and the dogs there...and I tried to shoot one and you stayed my shot and insisted that nature has a deeper idea of what life is than we ever can and the whole time I wanted the junk and we drank palm wine and shot at anybody who looked RUF so that the refugees might find some semblance of survival. Amid the madness were Mercerier and Villarceau (dead now, one of Ranger's) and the city disappeared so that even now nobody knows if it is a city or not anymore.

I know that Ahmet died nobly and that I think of the past to leave this pain of my heart that weighs as only sin and loss can weigh, but is this arrogance? Was it simply fate? How was he killed in those baths? The open eyes stared into the steam and the blood mingled with the waters and then joined them, disappearing back into the earth. His wounds were small, two expert plunges of a thin knife, slightly flexible, which made splinters of his right lung and his liver, but how was he identified and who set up that meeting with me only not to show? Why was I spared?

Night came as his murder became the ritual of the survivors (the identification, the wailing, the muttered and shocked plans for burial) until I fled, taking comfort in the meeting of a woman who called herself Asena. The night terrors and the old desires seemed lost in the moment's comfort, but like always, the illusion gave way to the unyielding hours and we looked at each other across the void of darkness until finally she broke the silence and bridged the distance with a caress. How I wished it had been enough! She claimed she knew of Ahmet, and that knowledge that he was helping an outsider had angered some of the locals who felt they could make no better deal than the Canuck's. Asena's skin was soft and her manner yielding but afterwards, thoughts turned north to Tallinn and I could not stay, though I knew the streets of Yalova ran with intrigues, jealousies and death. Where the Canucks are, after all, there is always discord.

Out in the silent night, I felt once again the tug of addiction and the skin puckered up, dying for the juice and Yalova was rotton with possibilities. The night ended with my defeat and morning found me penitant and sleeping in a broken doorway, that dreamless warm sleep that ended with a shopkeeper swiping at me with a broom and dogs barking, the sun still pink and soft against the morning star and the gray dawn. At the hydrofoil's pier I found a bathroom and the mirror showed the roadmap of last night's ravages; I looked broken and old. I washed my face and begged forgiveness of Ahmet until I realized I was weeping into running water thinking of that ribbon of blood that traced the distance between life and death. Youth has no place in this dangerous game. But time is up, and storms roll in with Franco-threats. The Canucks know I am here and they know what a prize I am for them. I have liberated a bicycle from some unfortunate however, and hopefully soon I will be far enough removed that before they realize I know what they know of me being here, I will have found some method of extricating myself from this hellish detour that has only been defeat and despair. What doorway that is not called home can soothe this soul? Soon the downpour outside must end and I will push to Bursa. We can make no more of the events of the last few days: what has been, has been; of this place, let me say that I when I think of it, I will mourn Ahmet and praise the kindness of that pseudonymous lover. Of other events, I have told you, enough is said for now. Remember Falaba, remember that there it was not always you saving me, and it was not always me verging on the lost. Do this and I will find my way.

And I will apologize to Nwargo for Yalova.

Help Nwargo!



18 January 2007

Ranger: As the crow divines

Sarge, Cpl.,

I write to you from a pub in the hinterlands. I have but one question today. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

My return flight home was uneventful. But on my return to base I am afraid something went horribly wrong. After parting ways with my unit, I found myself in a cab on my way into the Toronto city center. It was late at night and I had just started to relax after seeing the bilingual highway signs, when I noted the driver sweating profusely. When I asked to stop off at the Queen’s Quay briefly, he pretended not to hear me until I made it perfectly clear that I was not making a request. From there things only got worse. He took me down to the docks, but the moment the car stopped, I heard the crash of metal on metal.

I was able to get away from the car in a confused few seconds, and to hide myself fairly well. I can’t say as much for the cab driver. Since Guiana, it has become clear to me that someone has managed to track my movements, living a parallel life. I was at first unsure of whether it was one or more of Mercerier’s men, but I have slowly come to the realization that their involvement is unlikely. That left two possibilities, one of which was only revealed to me last week. My suspicions regarding who killed Deseilligny have been largely confirmed. The papers I discovered and sent back to Calrissian confirmed a base of operations in Nunavut which Mercerier and his men have also been surveiling with great interest. I will not say more before I know where the balance of power lies. The Metis cab driver was a little too obvious a touch, I think.

Compounding my frustration, I am not sure why we have not been told of this new treachery. I note that the two of you have not written in some time and can only assume you are alive and well. I did not want to believe Ottawa was involved, but learned yesterday that my apartment was turned over by someone from the Military Police Branch. After all, the state possesses a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. But how sloppy, sending an errand boy. It would explain the urgency of the post I have received since Mexico.

I will follow up on Toynbee, but make no plans to return home until after the fog has lifted. There is still hope.

Tempus fugit,


10 January 2007

Ranger: Through the fire

We settled on a method of attack on what we thought was a long-dormant but well-fortified base of operations for Mercerier. Heraclitus would have been proud.

A few nights ago after the commercial district closed for the night, the piñata shop went dark, though only temporarily. Within the hour, the small fire Heath lit in an adjacent storefront was completely out of control. Given the rush hour traffic jams, and the sorry state of affairs here, it was another 18 minutes before Oaxaca’s bravest were able to arrive. They were greeted by our merry band, outfitted as we were with Oaxacan fire department uniforms and a squad vehicle. The engine company prepared its attack on the fire as we suited up to enter the buildings to search for any civilians. Of course, we knew where a few could be found.

In an effort to keep up appearances, we first entered the taco stand where the grease fire was reported as starting. Working our way quickly to the back of the store with our polehooks and axes, we avoided the engine company which now had two lines hooked up and a good stream pouring into the kitchen. The fire was clearly hot, we felt some of the molten metal conduit pelt our coats as we made our way through the restaurant. At the direction of one of the chiefs, Ramirez used his rabbit tool to force entry on another door to the kitchen before continuing on with us. In the back of the restaurant, in a prep room, we located a heavyset old woman slumped next to a pot of mole sauce. She was still breathing when we found her and apparently had not seen Heath in the restaurant earlier. We were able to pull her out through the back of the restaurant and administer oxygen. We then handed her over to some paramedics. It was unfortunate, Heath should have cleared the area. All things come into being and pass away through strife. I longed for the feeling of administering salvation untainted by the fact that we created the peril.

Finding one civilian on our primary search, we had a strong pretext to search the piñata shop. We found one man just inside the rear entrance of the shop, preparing for a different type of firefight. He initially looked relieved when he saw the firefighters at the back door, until we turned the axes and polehooks on him. Dragging his body through the rear vestibule, we immediately came upon another door. The smoke had descended the better part of the distance to the floor at this point, and we were relatively low, but it was clear the door was steel. Not knowing the conditions behind the door, I had Ramirez try to pry it open.

It was clear the fire had spread to nearby buildings by this point. After a minute or two, Ramirez was able to get the door ajar two or three inches and then open. The room was filled with thick black smoke, which immediately began pumping out from the door. We entered the room blind and moving quickly before I realized Wilson had come across three men who had grabbed him. I approached them and held my hand up, trying to continue our ruse, and to figure out exactly what they were trying to do. At that moment I saw a flicker of concern in his eyes. And then the grenade. He and I rolled for cover, evading the phosphorous. Souls became fire that day. It is a pleasing thing to see the fruition of so many years of training in your men.

Apparently one of Mercerier’s men had avoided the white heat as well. The room burst into flames all around as the brick wall dividing the shop from an attached store started to crumble on top of us. I saw an orange glow and the flash of tracers piercing the smoke. I heard Ramirez start screaming after the first few rounds. After a few moments of silence, the man stepped out of the smoke near me and I brought him down. You cannot step into the same fire twice. Ramirez next emerged flashing me a big thumbs up and a ridiculous smile. He threw the bodies onto the fire.

After that, the building seemed clear. We made our way into the basement where we were able to procure a laptop, some weapons and several documents. We also discovered a passage leading away from the building at which point we decided to leave, perhaps having lost the elements of surprise and mass. We returned to the squad truck, purportedly to refill our air tanks, waiting to make sure no one left through the rear door, until the rear door itself no longer remained.
We then detonated the squad vehicle from a safe distance and our contact, claiming to be a member of APPO placed a phone call to take responsibility for the fire and the attack on four members of the Oaxacan fire department and their vehicle. What a desolate place this is to be able so easily to cover one's tracks.

It is disheartening to leave Ramirez behind, but perhaps some day he will serve a further purpose. He is a hammer where our profession is the scalpel. I have orders to return to Canada where I am reassured some word regarding Deseilligny’s death awaits.
Happy New Year,

09 January 2007

In Which Sarge Examines the Spring within the Spring...


Is love simply ambition? An idea of what life should be when in fact we are fighting the familiar night sweats and mundanities of our true lives? Unexpectedly I must call off my return to Tallinn though I know there she remains. Perhaps the words we never speak are the thoughts we use when we have nothing else left: the things that remind us to live so that we may tell one more story.

Nwargo has been in contact and the red schoolhouse has a broken window. It looks like hell to pay but the chase is everything. I think Plato was wrong and that meaning and reality don't come from The Ideal but rather, simply, from time and the inability of anything to retain form and structure infinately. Flux is meaning. Our desire to create permanance is philosophy. The idea of perfection is, of course, pure philosophy.

I remember that in Commando school, when we took the philosophy class, Wilmot complained about the utility of the thing and the instructor just smiled. I understand that smile now, the smile of a man who has had to kill without meaning and must find solace in the weak light of tomorrow. You were particularly skilled in that class and it has always impressed me, so forgive me these broken thoughts; here, in Moscow, the sun has been down for a long time now.

I must leave questions of loyalty, betrayal and double-cross to you and Ranger for the moment. It's a twin-prop plane and a hydrofoil to my first destination, then it's another plane. At my first stop, there are famous hot springs I have read about. I have discovered that the elders found in towns with hot springs are usually kind and welcoming souls.

with best wishes to you and Berlin,


06 January 2007

In Which Sarge Addresses Ranger from the Despised Town of Moscow...


As always, it was excellent to hear from you. Let me assure you that I continue to wrestle my demons rather than surrender to them. Your information about the photographs is alarming, on the other hand, clarity will emerge in its time.

I have left Tallinn, though I return briefly sometime in the next several days. Sadly I heeded Yuri Dolgoruki when he pleaded so long ago, "come with me, brother, to Moscow," and I am holed up here at the moment . I suppose when one stays in Eastern Europe long enough, one invariably ends up among the bloated wealth and staggering impoverishment of Moscow, which are revealed in both respects most often through the town's banality. At least it is easy to disappear here. If somebody were to search for me, I could walk right by them and they would miss me, as they would undoubtedly be hunched over a map trying to understand the metro system. I would be right under their noses however, I am staying in the Zamoskvorechye neighborhood, hoping that I might pick up something among the expats that wander around bloviating on about trips to the Greek Isles and shopping excursions to New York and Paris.

I wonder still, what happened to that man I left unconscious. I want him to live, I think, so that my act of mercy has meaning. So often it is cruelty that decides fate, random or otherwise.

Moscow is, of course, very cold right now. I think I shall ice skate tonight, it is one of the small pleasures of this town that it is quite easy to acquire a pair of skates and forget everything else for awhile.

with best wishes,


04 January 2007

Ranger: The Cricket


Ramirez and Wilson ate dinner at L’Echalote tonight. I watched them dine through the scope of my VEC-91. I presume whatever they had surpasses the chapulines Ramirez foisted on me this afternoon. The lime helped anyway. I do not think the restaurant itself is privy to the Jacobin plot, but it is crawling with the affluent, decadent Francophiles remaining here in this otherwise impoverished state.

Wilson used the occasion, outside of my direct oversight, to enjoy a glass of Sancerre. I wished he had not. Ramirez, in his usual manner, downed one shot after another. I cannot fathom why they would ever wish to dull their senses in this manner when combat awaits. A time or two I saw a waitress edge in too close. At first, I ached for something to happen, to close my fist and make it all disappear, but the meal passed without incident. They tell me the food was fantastic.

They were able to bring me some chocolate mousse, which I will confess having a certain weakness for. It compares well with the mousse we long ago enjoyed on the Rive Gauche while posing as Sorbonne students. I can recall the dimly lit basement café and the thick distressed wood platter holding a cornucopia of cheeses like it was yesterday. One of your last missives troubles me. Master of escape indeed. My arms have told tales in the past, but only when burn-marked by spent bullet casings. That problem is easily solved. Death awaits us all, there is no need to join him in his Milgram experiment.

The evening did provide us with some information. We followed a small party of Francophones to a commercial district that had emptied at the close of the business week. We conducted some surveillance on the property. Having studied Jomini, I will not risk a direct assault without knowing what danger awaits. I am certain the innocent storefront masks a stronghold. Pinata sales? There are no children here.

I have also carefully reviewed Corporal’s last communiqué. I believe the photos he received were not the photos I sent. Verify the watermark and watch the mails. I received some unclear communications from home. I have a feeling there is something, a truth which is being withheld. The body I saw was riddled with rot and decay. I have sent him home, though notably missing the teeth necessary to make a dental identification, as was clear in the pictures.

I recall one of Toynbee’s favourite haunts back home. When I return, I will pay a visit.

Your brother in arms,


02 January 2007

In Which Sarge Describes the Shadows He Saw That Night...


When I left you last, I was chewing gum, holed up in the junior efficiency apartment of Aglionby, the French money launderer and saboteur who, as you might remember, was behind the failed explosions at Harbour Grace a few years back. I was in Tallinn with the snow just starting to fall. Earlier I had found a few bottles and some lighter fluid, as I said, Aglionby was not naive. With those two bottles beneath the window I also had a rifle and a coffee cup half-full of bullets, and I was digging through them, feeling their cool smoothness roll across my fingers, waiting for the shadows to become men; I also had my knife but I wished for more. The shadows would form up, I knew, it was just a matter of time. I figured seven to twelve men, probably locals, former army, led, perhaps, by a worthwhile kill or two.

Time passes slowly but goes quickly, one of those contradictions we get used to until we're leaned up against a scarred wall in the Balkans wondering where the death is. I didn't dare turn on a light, the darkness grew and the street emptied. I looked out the window and tried to listen for signs of a gathering. Would they give me the night? Twilight is brief this time of year, this far north. Then I thought about it, there was absolutely no movement and hadn't been for the last four or five minutes. From one end of the street I could see construction signs set up, blinking a slow beat against the reflecting snow. Odd.

Odd and disturbing. I chanced a closer look, trying not to silouette myself in the window. Everything I did was slow. I rolled under the window, silently thanking Aglionby's professionalism; he had chosen a stone construction, one of the few in Tallinn. There was only one accessible entrance into the building, and I had a good vantage point of anyone trying to enter. There were only eight apartments spread across the six floors. This fifth floor shared an apartment but it had been empty since I first made my entrance there earlier in the day.

I knew they would make an appearance, and if I was kept busy it would only take a few of them to make my life miserable. At this point in the game I stopped thinking of death and fate, I thought of my training, back in Banff and then across the globe, instinct took over and I felt as smooth as the bullet I earlier rubbed between my fingers. I thought about what I must do. The time was now, soon there would only be the essence of things; I had that clarity of vision one only seems to find in combat. It is the opposite of the junk, but it is its equal at least. Both highs sometime play for keeps, I could not let this night be that play: that double zero. The wheel was turning now.

I finally saw movement, two men, so where were the others? I waited. Why let them know they were right yet? I wanted to instill some doubt that I was, in fact, at Aglionby's before I revealed myself. My rifle was ready, Aglionby's body filled the air with stink and with the radiators coming on, the smell almost doubled, there was also the stink of my near-failure to accompany it: the twisted spoon lay under an end table. The apartment smelled like some Moscow den of iniquity; down the street the men's movements were slow and deliberate. Always covering each other, always keeping to the shadows. I saw another pair of men on the near side of the street coming from the other end; they were covering the other group and they were good. Everybody was covering everybody else and I leaned against the wall under a picture of some saint and just waited. They set up zones of fire and made hand gestures at each other. I understood that they too, were also waiting. The sky was dark, the snow, heavier now, fell around them in great swirls.

An SUV pulled up directly in front of the building, undoubtedly plated. The time for subtlety was over on both sides and it was time to even the odds on mine. Carefully I selected a target, the most exposed, the easiest; they would come out of the shadows with his death. It was quick. My bullet returned ten others and the apartment exploded with sound; a bullet slammed into the corpse with a thud and Aglionby jerked a danse macabre as two others followed. With Aglionby, two dead. Automatic fire cut through the night. Christmases along the avenue were being ruined, the apartment disintegrated around me, Aglionby lay there, torn up by bullets. I stayed low, the window was gone. I had another good shot and took it. He had gotten careless and it cost him. Was it time to move yet? This celebration of birth had turned into a feast of death, I readied one of the molotovs.

With the window gone the toss was easy, and with the explosion the street seemed to dance in the night. I fired into the explosion and the building seemed to shake with return fire but at least no RPGs. Perhaps they had some insane idea they would take me alive, but my cyanide pill allayed any fears of that. It was kill or be killed, the kind of fight that brings out tooth and claw. I would use the last molotov to cover my escape, I hoped to ignite one of the parked cars. I fired randomly a few bullets and rolling again under the window, looked above and saw where my aim must be true. While I was looking I thought about the syringe that I had discarded when I threw the spoon to the floor. Had that been less than an hour ago? Well less. Quickly I tried to see if I could find the syringe in the gathering night, an occasional bullet crashed into the walls around me. They thought they had me now.

There it was, among the splinters of glass, rock and wood, a broken lamp next to it.

I would fill it with bleach, one last weapon for hand to hand if it came to that, then I would throw the molotov, grab the corpse and push my way into the hall wishing for a prayer. There had been better plans but in Tallinn I always ended up clawing to survive. Briefly I thought of her face, I thought of the last time, afterwards. The light on the ceiling from outside.

They put spotlights outside trying to blind me and illuminate me. They felt comfortable waiting, after all, I would run out of bullets first and then they had me every way. I let myself sweat for a second.

Then I fired a couple blind shots to give them something to think about and picked my way to Aglionby's sink. They didn't bother responding. I was a little worried about that, but I wanted to let them know it wasn't time to get any wild ideas about the front door just yet. My hands were shaking as I worked the bleach from below the sink into the syringe. To a junkie, bleach is the closest thing, sometimes, to a hospital as there is to get. Otherwise it's blue. Had that been us? Her? I leaned back up against the wall for just a second, gathering myself, the next two minutes would determine whether I ever saw the sun again. Perhaps I prayed, a brief vision of the Virgin surrounded by bloody penitents full of fool games begging for a worthwhile life somewhere done in stained glass and then I let fly with the bottle toward an old Zapor and fired into the car with five bullets and made a run for it. I heard the car explode and then screaming, bullets ripped the apartment in an onslaught and there was crashing and falling around me as I grabbed the bleeding lump of Aglionby that was to be my shield when I forced my way into the hall and stairwell.

What kind of shield was that? I just hoped if Aglionby had to stop a bullet there might be bone between me and it. He would stop a knife well if there were someone waiting right inside the stair doors, which I thought there might be. I kicked the door out with one kick, and moved crouched into the hall listening to the bullets whine about the apartment breaking what was broken yet again and again. It was like Africa.

The hall was empty, broken lights flickered, from above I could hear a man yelling and cursing his luck, but there would be no ambulance, a few bribes had seen to that. The yelling stopped, as if he too understood that now, and there were whimpers mixed with curses and pleas in the clumsy Estonian of Tallinn, polluted as it is by its many visiters. By the time I reached the door to the stairwell, there was silence, Aglionby was slick against me, my sweat mingled with his caked blood and I readied the rifle and held the body a little away from me, crouching beneath the stiffening body so that my face and chest lay nestled against the ribs and pelvis of the man I had killed. The building was silent. I knew they were in the stairwell, and they knew I knew it. But I had no choice, with the other ones on the street waiting for me like a second team. I thought of those servants I had read about years ago in some history class; they would gather from the river the dishes the masters threw into it after eating so they could do it all again the next day. It struck me as funny and I let myself laugh as I pushed the corpse up against the door, twisted the knob and more fell into the stair case.

Immediately two shots, from above and below, rang out. I felt the reverberation as Aglionby's face was obliterated and there was a second, a second I exploited for all it was worth, as I clutched the body and jumped over the stairwell at the man below me who perhaps only saw a leaping, headless corpse before Aglionby and I fell onto him and I put my knife into the mercenary's gut although I think his back was already broken. I rolled off the corpses and picked up my rifle which had fallen when I reached for my knife and shot down and then up; in my adrenalin I squeezed off seven or eight rounds which irritated me. But I killed another and could hear the man above me wailing, that made five down, perhaps seven more, perhaps only two more, which would mean the building was clear but I wasn't counting on it. The stairwell was quiet, but I was still on the third floor, with all kinds of opportunities to meet a careless death. I only had a few bullets left at this point but I didn't want to reach for the dead man's gun, from where he was, if the man above was only badly wounded, he could put one in me if I moved toward the gun. I edged my way down. There was silence.

Then I was on the second floor, with the second team waiting below and maybe a man moving behind me from above, unless the wounded man was the only one there. There was no door here, just a short hall leading to an apartment. My veins pushed adrenalin through my body and I fought to think through the rush. In the early evening I fought the endless night. They wouldn't wait in the lobby when they could wait outside with grenades. There was no need to be subtle now.

At that moment, for some reason, I thought of the time Ranger and I had first confronted Deseilligny. He must have been on my mind because of the last communique I'd had with Ranger, but I remembered it had been in Ulan Bator, we thought we'd flagged down one of the many unmarked taxis and instead Ulan Bator had its first known drive-by. It had been a joke even among enemies. I had laughed about it once, a year or so later with Deseilligny when we called each other names in that Freetown hardware store, and I laughed now. What absurdity, this! If Death waited, I would have stories for it; above I heard the squawk of a radio go unanswered, outside they must have been marking the living and the dead which perhaps meant that nobody had checked in. Or it meant that someone had and they were trying to decoy me. Regardless, I had to get to the street now and I was out of brilliant ideas. Through the lobby there was no hope, through the second floor living room window offered perhaps even less. Silence settled in like a jeer. They had me alright, but perhaps there would be something in the second floor apartment. It was a better bet than the lobby. I picked the lock and moved in.

Now, I was a shadow.

Nobody wanted to give away anything, I looked out into the street. The apartment had been empty, from the look of it, somebody was visiting mother in the country for Christmas. I was happy there were no terrified locals to give away my position. A few things had gone right now, I could count on no more. The shadows and the night had fully bled into each other now, the falling snow picked up a few tendrils of ambient light and then I heard the slightest echo of a sound from the front door I had closed behind me. A jiggling of tumblers already unlocked. I readied my knife and moved toward the noise, becoming the man's fate. As he slowly entered I brought him down with a knee and a hand to the mouth. I pressed my face close to his, creating the odd intimacy between vanquished and vanquisher.

"Tell me," I whispered, "and you will die from lightning, otherwise, it will be the cat and the mouse."

"How many of you?"

Slowly I started to remove my hand from his mouth, my knee reached up under his throat.

"Eight. Eight! Please I want to live! Please!" A local.

More than willing to kill for a new car, or a trip to the Black Sea resorts, but I took pity.


"What? I don't..."

"Oh, come on," I took my knife out, "Who?" The whisper now perilously soft.

"I do not know, a man. A man with red hair! A very thin man! Very tall!" He spoke Estonian with a kirderanniku accent, from further to the north and east. A sailor's son maybe.

He continued in a sigh, "10,000 kroons." It was still silent outside, I felt his jacket vibrate, still I was rooted to the spot.

It couldn't be.


"Answer it," I told him.

He spoke softly into the radio. Would he chance a distress code? He checked in, said he was still looking through the apartments on the third floor. There was a short curse and the radio broke off. I told him I had to hurt him, that I would let him live and knocked him out with a cuff to the head. Quickly I secured him with a sheet and a pillowcase and grabbed the radio. I threw him in a closet next to the front door. Nobody else was in the building, I had perhaps two minutes before they would realize I was no longer in the building but I needed to get the prize. Where was the prize waiting? One of them would know. Clearly they would send the least important into the building.

I ran to the roof. The wind had picked up since the morning. The spotlights shone up past me and I jumped from one roof to another, until I felt the radio vibrate, I found a drainpipe and slipped to the street down past where they waited for me. I began to double back, it was my only chance. The explosions surprised me. They brought bigger toys than I expected and I wondered idly if my prisoner had lived and if so, how much of him had? I never found out.

I spotted them quickly now and took aim, I would have to kill one and hope the other lived. I shot for the head first but it went wide, the next bullet traced into one of the men's guts and before the other could fire I had put one in his left knee and his gun had flown from his hands. A lucky shot. Cautiously I advanced with my knife drawn, my adrenalin pounding so that my heart felt bathed in powerlines.

There they were, a lump of shadows against the snow covered ground. One groaned, he was tough I could tell, the other convulsed. It is never pretty, but the ugliness of pain always surprises me. I had tossed my rifle away, it was empty, and my right arm hung loose with the knife, I advanced slowly. They were both still now, having seen me or heard me.

"Tell me," I said, "where can I thank your employer for his gift of bullets?" The one I had shot in the belly laughed derisively, I recognized he was Libet, one of Mercerier's foot soldiers, I put my knife into his throat, cutting his laugh short.

"Now tell me," I repeated to the one still alive, "where can I find your employer?"

"Aller se faire voir chez les grecs," he said, and lunged at me with a knife of his own. I turned him aside but my knife caught in a strap of his pack and flew off and he came back at me with curses. Without thinking, I reached into my pocket as he jumped from his one good leg at me and I plunged the syringe into his neck and pushed in the bleach as I knocked him aside. He lay quickly dead, and the snow fell heavier, already beginning to cover them as I made my way down the street with the sound of sirens from far away approaching closer.

This is how I came to leave Tallinn with the idea Toynbee might be the mole. I have no proof save perhaps the voice of a man alive or dead, I do not know. I must go back briefly to Tallinn to see her, and I will make then some final disruptions of the French shell game here, but then I must clear my name. I wonder what Ottawa thinks of all this? It used to be that I knew things like that.

*** **********

Smitty does have talent with the goose, it's good to hear he's finally started to move on; Cordula affected him greatly and her death was truly a sad one. As for the photographs, turn your eyes away from Deseilligny’s remains, perhaps there is something that eludes us there in the periphery. Or perhaps we are missing something in its absence. Deseilligny truly had no equal as a fighter, his willingness to claw, bite and tear during hand to hand combat made him a nightmare, and a worthy enemy.

I am tired now, Cpl., and must close my eyes a bit. Once again I finish a missive on a train. Perhaps in years to come, instead of dreaming about the faces of the dead and the scars of the earth, I will dream of trains.

with best wishes in the new year,