20 February 2007

Ranger - The Reindeer


It is cold. The last few weeks the weather has been as low as -31 below. Bitter, though not entirely unexpected here. When I am out for prolonged periods, I check my heart rate and systolic pressure, thinking of Corporal and our cold-weather training. Winter is a time of death.

The cabin near Rogers Pass is quiet at this time of year. It does not appear anyone has been here in some time. It was amusing to find the map of the London Underground still here, your knife holding it to the back of the cabin door. I had entirely forgotten that night, your absurd scheming and laughter. How long has it been since we lived our own lives.

I have been able to check in briefly with Calrissian. I was uncertain about what was happening in Ottawa, and frankly, I believe he is as well. He advised me to disappear for a while, and that he would be in contact. I could not bear the though of deserting my post and so I will wait for death here, or on whatever assignment I receive next. As for now, there is something to be said for bow-hunting caribou rather than facing another human being through a rifle sight.

I hear the sounds of howitzers in the background, clearing the mountain paths.

And before I forget. Toynbee. I was able to make it to Vancouver and the downtown eastside. He was there, though it was some time ago. I checked in at his favourite hotel where I learned about a recent murder. Unfortunately, one of many there. The murder was reported in the local news, but a few key pieces of evidence were omitted. Presumably, the police needed to hold a few details back to identify the murderer, but I can imagine the army was not entirely pleased with what was found. After a few friendly drinks, and some time with a hostess (I eschewed her brand of hospitality, and unfortunately our conversation was not as interesting as I would have wished), a witness confided in me that the corpse was found with a devil’s brigade patch reading “Das Dicke Ende kommt noch.” Toynbee was always an excellent student of history, if not German.

In my present circumstance, I have no way of knowing whether the assassination was rogue or per orders. Only the wolves speak to me here.

I did learn one other thing from Ottawa, though it is now common knowledge. Segoline Royal’s comments in January were not well received, and belie the nature of the ties between the French government and Quebec’s sovereignty movement. I believe we may all be reunited in Bordeaux at some time in the near future.


In Which Sarge Makes a Digression After a Long Walk Past the Shipwrecks...


Immediately after I received your communication I was in touch with Smitty and Morebeeck, the Dutchman, they both assured me a medical team was there within hours, yet my confusion at the turn of events deeply troubled me. I called to Cody who was chasing blue tongued lizards and skinks, he bounded over to me and we took a walk along the shores of the great ocean.

The waves pounded the shoreline, the sky was a sheet of grey. The wind whipped at my windbreaker and Cody dashed in and out of breaking water, barking sometimes at the gulls. I thought about the oddities of your message. A GPS? Not the dossier on Boigny and his bases of operation? The list of his spies throughout the neighborhood? On how many fronts do the Canucks sneak? Too soon my questions had to take a backseat to my responsibilities here. My shift at the restaurant was due to begin.

I called to Cody and we returned to the house. The rain came as I changed and windowpanes rattled as if all the dead sailors were pleading entrance from the elements. The ocean roared.

Today I moved through the shift as if in a dream. Once I went to a table with their order, but I looked at them all stupidly. They looked back at me, wondering what I was doing with their food by just holding it there. I had no idea who had ordered what. Less than fifteen minutes and it seemed like they had ordered last year. Do I offend the woman by giving her the steak? Or will it be more offensive to guess she had the salad? One thing I've learned in my short while as a waiter is this, if you don't act like their eating is exactly why you exist, they will treat you as if you had just rolled around in shit. Meanwhile, I was thinking about you and Nwargo. I could not bring myself away from fears and questions about what was going on in Africa. I wondered frequently if when I next addressed you I would be addressing a corpse.

Not a pleasant thought amigo.

But a letter is an act of faith, and Cody's joy at my return buoyed my spirits. I decided I would try to lift your spirits as well. Along with this missive that only offers puzzlement and worry, I add some music. It is a woefully inadequate consolation unless you consider my complete faith in your abilities otherwise to extricate yourself from the position given you. And you and I have both learned to take what we can get. Remember that night we spent humming old Beatles songs in Jagat? The cold seemed to be alive, breathing frost through the uninsulated windows and doorways, the lame barman sang the choruses of "She Loves You" and "Let it Be" with us; sometimes I believe the reward of this job lies in the memories and the memories lie in the songs.

Take my advice, if you would, and get Nwargo to Cairo for treatment and then let him disappear again. Use any doctors there he suggests, I don't believe we want to trust any of our own right now. Meanwhile, I will try and set up a new line of communication so that we may continue to communicate with Nwargo. I believe I will refrain from informing Ottawa of any of this. If you believe I double-crossed you, think back to what happened the next morning in Jagat. Sometimes the rosy fingers of dawn streak blood.

The Playlist to accompany this missive:

Side A:
1. Tokyo Witch - Beach House
They play this song at the restaurant a lot. One of the college girls who works there sings along with it sometimes.
2. (I'm) Stranded - the Saints
3. No More Heroes - the Stranglers
4. It's a Man's Man's Man's World - James Brown
When Murrow aced Fourquais in Calgary she swears she was humming this song.
5. Spellbound - Siouxie and the Banshees
6. Step into the Realm - the Roots
When I was in Paris, my next door neighbor would play this song every morning. The walls would shake. He was a good kid, eventually I had him do a few errands for the Maple Leaf. Nothing major.
7. Rose Rouge - St. Germain
8. I'm On My Way - Mahilia Jackson
During the worst days at Freetown I would catch myself singing this over and over again. The piano swirls; looking out over the Atlantic from Freetown one can see where the hurricanes are born.
9. Eye of the Tiger - Survivor
10. The Sniper Song - Naked Raygun
11. B.O.B. - Outkast

Side B:
12. Solitary Man - Neil Diamond
Another one from Tallinn.
13. Dirty Boots - Sonic Youth
Our lives have been built out of mud. Let others have the illusion that their lives are potentially of a purity. The world is too dirty for us to fool ourselves of any nonsense.
14. Fire and Rain - James Taylor
15. Mad World - Gary Jules
When the chorus at Notre Dame sang this at McAlpern's funeral, I think all of Montreal teared up. He was a good man, Calrissian insists his was a careless death, but you, Ranger and I know better.
16. You Gonna Wreck My Life - Howlin' Wolf
17. Going Underground - the Jam
18. Who Knows - Marion Black
This is on many of my tapes for long trips.
19. The Glamorous Life - Sheila E.
20. Some Velvet Morning - Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood
Well, another Tallinn song.
21. Life During Wartime - the Talking Heads
22. The Pin in the Night - Nathan Johnson
We don't see a lot of movies, I know, the damn life, but I saw this movie Brick, the soundtrack seemed one for our own lives. Full of sudden pitfalls and tempo changes and then moments of unadorned beauty, sometimes not in that order.
23. Africa - Toto
24. Keep on Loving You - Reo Speedwagon
Sometimes the Maple Leaf seems a symbol of contradiction and unmet ideals bordering on the lost, and then, there's that moment, for me it is often found when I cross the Lions' Gate Bridge at dawn, just in from God knows where and happy finally, for the light of dawn, when I feel this is not a sacrifice we make, but an honour. Vancouver stretches out then, like a string of pearls hung on the morning.

There is work to be done I know Cpl., but there are roads to travel, and now more than ever, we cannot lose our way in a fog of despair. Know, that even without the GPS, Boigny was closing fast on Nwargo. The prize is real, and they know that.

with thanks for your continued good health and Nwargo's good fortune,


19 February 2007

A Slight Misunderstanding


It is always unsettling to be in Africa. In Europe, I can disappear into a crowd of homeless. Here, I am exposed, my movements remembered for days by villagers amused to see a white man making his way through their country. Slogging through the humidity one also carries the burden not only of the past but also the present. It would be too easy to blame the stain of slavery and imperialism on our forefathers’ hands, for I often wonder if our generation is any better. The leash is still present, only invisible. Oh, to be sure we no longer sally our troops from a fort or keep warships in their ports, but let them make their own toilet paper? Let them refine their own oil? Let them roast their own coffee? Ha!

Julius Caesar led his army to Africa. While leaving the boat, he fell His superstitious troops feared a bad omen.. On his knees, Caesar clutched the ground and cried out, “Africa, I seize thee!”

I found Nwargo holed up in a ruin on the banks of Lake Buyo. Nwargo seemed confused when I lifted him into the air with a hug exclaiming, “Nwargo, I seize thee!”

Nwargo’s eyebrows came together, “Did they follow you?”

My heart sank as I realized I had compromised his position.

Nwargo’s stern eyes pierced my ego. “Boigny’s men. They are following you?”

I told him I hadn’t noticed anything unusual. Although I spoke the truth, there was no reconciliation. Disappointed at my carelessness, he turned his head to towards the lake. “Tell me my friend, what brings you here?”

“Sarge told me you were in danger.”

He wheeled. “What?”

Each word fell from my lips more slowly as if not to speak them would prevent our situation from becoming more hopeless. “Sarge told me you were in danger. He wanted me to give you this.” As if in a nightmare, I produced the unopened package from the hydrant in Berlin, terrified by the thought of what might lie within.

I looked up from the package to see a rather nasty knife in Nwargo’s hand. He did not smile. “Open it.”

“Nwargo…” I implored.

“Open it!”

I surrendered to despair. If Nwargo struck, then so be it. I opened the package. A GPS tracking device. My hands shook. My knees gave way. I could not breathe, nor did I want to. Let Nwargo kill me. Let me die by his honest hand. But Nwargo instead picked up the device and inspected it.

“This is very bad.”

I lay on the floor, stunned. “Sarge wanted me to bring this package to you.”

Nwargo squatted with his back to the wall. His lips were pursed. “Sarge would not do this, I do not think.”

“They know where we are.”

“They will not come until night.” He kicked my boot. “You have until then to overcome despair.”

“Can we cross the lake?”

“My friend, it is maybe 10 kilometers or more and we have no boat. There are crocodiles. If you like, save time and go to the crocodiles now.”

As dusk settled, the mosquitoes threatened to blot out the rising moon. There was no movement on the perimeter. We waited.

Nwargo told me of this place, an old French trading post, his activities here, and of his wives. He was, as usual, cheerful in the face of uncertainty. His whispers and the fifty caliber machine gun that he had brought with him to this former trading post offered me great reassurance that we would be alright.

They were well-trained. Shadows moving among shadows using the limited cover provided by the terrain. We waited and let them approach. Nwargo fired a flair into the air as the first of the slithering made it to the post. The tracer rounds from the fifty caliber danced to their targets. For a brief moment, I thought of catching lightning bugs on warm summer evenings. I love tracer rounds.

Fire erupted from the bush surrounding the perimeter, bringing me back to the present peril. An amplified French voice shouted to hold fire. “Please, Corporal let us discuss the hopeless nature of your position.” I replied with a salvo into the bush, and they responded with mortar fire. Nwargo smiled, “Crocodile food,” set the charges in the post, and clapped me on the shoulder. A tremendous force slammed me into the wall. Dust filled my eyes and lungs. An unseen hand grabbed my collar and started dragging my convulsing body towards the lake. Another mortar hit the post and sent us both sprawling. Nwargo grimaced and motioned to his leg trapped under a fallen beam. A third mortar hit the post. My ears rang. Nwargo struggled to keep his eyes open. “Keep breathing” I whispered into his ear before I disappeared into the brush with his rifle.

Fire once. Change position. The flairs and burning post illuminated the field of fire. Three fell before they realized we were not finished.

They fired into the brush. Mortars fell randomly. I had unsettled them. Through the scope I scanned the perimeter. A flash from a mussel guided my aim.

The amplified voice boomed out, “Please Corporal, this is ridiculous. Let us discus things like civilized men. We want your Nwargo.” I continued to creep through the perimeter. They no longer tried to cross over to the smoldering post.

No one fired. I crept through the jungle.

“Corporal, you are a reasonable man. We will let you live. Give us Nwargo and walk away.”

I edged closer.

“Corporal, Canada is far away. Nwargo cannot be worth this trouble.”

I spotted a mortar team. They peered out towards the fort, unaware I observed them. A voice over their radio issued commands. Their surprise was short-lived. I took the radio into my hand, “Canada protects Nwargo.”

“Ah, Corporal, good evening. I am afraid you are mistaken. Only you are protecting Nwargo. Give him to us, will you not?”

Dropping the radio, I quickly blended back into the jungle. Moments later, the mortar fire began focusing on the position of the fallen mortar team.

I used the explosions to cover my rapid advance.

The voice revealed himself, “My friend, there is no need to sacrifice yourself.” I saw him with the megaphone in his hand. A difficult angle to the shot. “You carried the GPS to him. Now give him to us.” My shot took him in the left shoulder. The soldiers with him lost their discipline and began firing randomly into the jungle. The voice sprayed blood as he tried to shout commands. After two more died, their moral broke and they began to break away.

It was quiet. I waited. The voice slumped forward. I rushed back to Nwargo. His breathing was fast and shallow. I moved him to a more comfortable place and did what I could using an old medic kit. In the morning, Nwargo’s eyes struggled open. He forced a smile. I smiled back, “We will feed the crocodiles another day my friend. Rest now.”

I did not recognize the soldier with the French accent. I have his hands and his papers. Nwargo needs medical attention. There are many questions and I hesitate to send anything to HQ. Nwargo I can trust… for now, at least.

06 February 2007

In Which Sarge Begins A New Assignment and Mistakes are Made...


They are all the same. It's my third day now, my second lunch rush went fine; once I forgot to put in an order, but I blamed it on the cooks and though many of the people were rude, short and boorish, I did see Adelaide again, she's the woman who named herself after the city where she found Jesus. Just like last time, she ordered the scrambled eggs, bacon and pancakes. And just like last time, she read the Bible and suddenly got up and ran to the bathroom, her large skirt brushing the tables and the annoyed patrons who looked up at her, slightly disgusted. I hated them, but, in this outfit, I am powerless to act. Here, I serve.

"Found Jesus." What an odd phrase. It seems we look all over the world for some sign of somebody other than ourselves, but we keep tripping over the bodies we left behind. Newcastle does not offer any amazing possibilities for redemption, but after the scars of Yalova, I hope it will be fruitful. I could not help Nwargo in the end, but I trust you are, though your silence pains me and fills me with odd dreams, sometimes of Africa, other times of the Canadian Rockies, with the heartbreakingly clear sky that unveils itself slowly and crookedly over the proud peaks of our land. There where we found another kind of calling and another willing master. Sometimes I wake up sweating, but here, the Pacific Ocean is a short walk away and I do feel oddly at peace. The flitting images of the bound mercenary in the Tallinn closet, of Ahmet in Yalova, his blood mingling with the softly churning hot springs in the Turkish bathhouse, they turn into my window with a final gasp, this window which overlooks two trees, a rough barked apple and a eucalyptus, and then the beach and the water, it brings some peace. I have a small house, but with this mission the leadership seems to have warmed to me a little, it is well situated.

The Australians are an odd bunch, and here, in Newcastle, just like in England, there is a lot of coal and all kinds of international corporations hover: their regional offices in to make some more millions. If they rub shoulders with those who rain severed arms and broken dreams like those we hunt, well, in the end, I don't think they care, as long as Newcastle remains with its coal. I actually live in the suburb of Stockton to the north, and where I walk I pass the shells of shipwrecks, ours are not the only unfortunate days, and I imagine the last desperate moments as well as the optimistic first moments, when the ships left harbor expecting to find at the end of their destination, other piers. I have acquired a dog, Cody, he is a mutt, short and stubby, mottled brown and white and uncommonly cheerful. I believe he has some herding blood in him. We are here, him and I, in an attempt to pick up the scent of a trail gone cold, and to dig out information on a plot of apocalyptic overtones. In short, we do what we usually do.

In order to do that, I have adopted the guise of waiter. I must go now, I'm working a split shift and just dropped in to quickly walk Cody and look for news of you. The surf is beautiful, Cody chased after gulls and we watched a front move out across the ocean, kicking back winds that have gathered all the surfers into the long rows that trail down the beaches just to the north of my beach. I will write more of my escape from Yalova and my first days here soon.

always warmest,