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.

14 March 2007

Ranger - The Chippewa


A few bruised ribs. I am fortunate that is all. The doctor gave me some pain pills and a wrap. I won’t need the pills. They dull the senses, and I can enjoy the pain more without them. The fact that it hurts to draw breath only reminds me that I am alive. And what it is I have to do.

I woke up this morning in the cabin. I had been out past twilight last night, checking traps and gathering fuel and kindling for the fire. I would not have missed it last night. I was getting ready to prepare a breakfast at daybreak, dried meat and the fried dough the cowboys call hush puppies, when I saw it. A dreamcatcher on the table. Saulteurs. I have no idea how they made it past the spring gun, which I dutifully check every evening. It will kill a man, and is at least a good first warning against anything larger. But there it was in the middle of the table, as if to mock me.

It was time for me to leave. I grabbed my pack and started down from the pass, east. There is still much snow to traverse here, but there are certain parts of the mountain I know. I stuck to them. Unfortunately, it was not enough. It was only about 40 minutes later that I saw tracks in the snow. Some of the strangest snow-shoes I have ever seen, and moving quickly. They were here. I know this path better in the spring. In the warm months, the foot-path is well worn from hikers, with deer-paths intersecting here and there, twigs and brush pushed aside slightly by those lithe animals. A rappelling wall here. Stone remnants of an old cabin deep in the woods, which I think the children must still try to find while telling stories of the witch who once lived there. An old lodge which long ago burned down at the hand of some drunken teenagers never to be rebuilt. And nearby a large field which hides two World War I era camp bunkers. And then the river. If I could only make it to the river.

I was on the move for the better part of the day before I saw the water. What I found there disturbed me more than anything. Two birch bark canoes. Then I heard a voice telling me to stand still. I felt my adrenaline surge, and time slowed down in that instant enough for me to see three areas around me which provided good concealment. I could only assume that they were all taken. The air was from the Southwest, carried a smell of pine, and it was three hours to sunset. The voice I heard came from near the bank of the river, near the canoes. I heard birds. Strange. These men had either been in wait for sometime, which I considered unlikely, or been able to move without notice. I did not recognize the voice, but thought on it for a few moments. Male, deep breaths, confident, unwinded. I considered my sidearm but decided instead to avoid the fight. I was outnumbered and I judged that my pursuers had already had more violent options available. So I sat down and slowly unstrapped my pack.

“We just want to talk.” So I listened. They described in detail the murder of Deseilligny, their contacts with the Quebeckers and then mentioned a name I had not heard in a long time. Grimpeur. I believed him dead, though I have heard others tell stories of him from time to time. For me he is like the Ojibwa’s Wendigo. His legends persist, at odd intervals, but have always seemed too attenuated to be grounded in reality. They had no information other than what I already knew, but took great pleasure in repeating it to me.

When it was over one of the men walked out of the cover. His skin was rough and deeply pigmented. His hair was a coarse, long tangle of black and gray. I had no recollection of seeing him before. He carried a simple rifle and when he approached I stood slowly. He swung the butt end around into my ribs, then pushed me down, knocking the wind out of me. A few well placed kicks kept me gasping for air as the light wavered and the sun seemed to set instantly around me. “Tell Sarge to come home” was the last thing I heard. I remember thinking that last comment meant that I was being spared.

I don’t know how the Mountie found me but he was able to have me med-evacuated to a regional hospital. A poor unfortunate hiker, we made small talk about my A-frame tent and his days in the scouts using those tents. I must have taken quite a fall, he thought. It was not very intelligent to be hiking alone so far in the hills. I demurred.

My time in the hospital was brief but eventful. The doctor thought it was strange that an unidentified hiker received a manila folder containing a new case file within 24 hours of arrival, but I told him that was the nature of my practice. I have a new passport and am on my way to France. Operation Vercingetorix.
Bon Chance,

13 March 2007


I sat naked and sprawled out in front of the mirror, flaccid penis in one hand, empty revolver in the other.

Lazily I lifted the revolver and took aim at my image. The hammer slammed down on the empty chamber firing would be shots at my face and chest. I modeled in front of the mirror, placing the gun under my chin, at my temple, in my mouth.

The fevers were coming back. It took tremendous effort to breathe. The whole room stank of sweat and the miasma of illness pervaded the room. It was hard to move, hard to keep my eyes open. I focused on the crucifix in the corner. In the flickering candlelight something had caught my attention. I struggled out of my chair and shuffled closer to the crucifix, staring upward into the corner where it hung. Jesus was missing.

I was spun around and Jesus shook me by the shoulders, screaming in my face, his crown of thorns pushing into my forehead, bloody spit flying off of his lips: “You fool, I died for your sins!”

I sat bolt upright in the soaked bed. The room was dark, silent except for my panting. My hands searched for the pitcher of water. I tried to drink, but my throat felt tight. I collapsed back into bed, but the sweat had cooled, making the bed insufferable. I shuffled to the door. I pressed my face hard against the wood. The bedsheet wrapped tightly around me I wandered into the hallway. When I again emerged from the haze and noticed my surroundings, I found myself in the chapel.

I slowly remembered where I was, and the events that had brought me to this Brazilian monastery. My thoughts turned to Nwargo. I hoped he was well. It was an odd thought since I had just seen him two days ago, sitting up in bed, complaining about how his eggs had been prepared. My head slumped forward against the pew.

A gentle hand awoke me. My eyes refused to focus. I couldn’t stop shivering. Cold. My teeth chattered and I shook so violently, I thought my bones would snap.

Sunlight filtering through the small, high window of my cell woke me. Your letter, Ranger, was next to a fresh pitcher of water.

I agree that it is unlike Sarge to act in such a manner as to betray his comrades. To contemplate his betrayal causes a black hole of despair with no hope of escaping. I cannot think of it. He cannot have betrayed us. If he has betrayed us, then there is no Canada worth fighting for, and I should die. Still, I cannot place any trust in him for the moment. Going to Cairo as he suggested would have been foolhardy. Caution dictated calling upon a few favors and hiding Nwargo and myself here in Brazil while he recovers.

The peace of the monastery is seductive. I will do my best to enjoy it before the fevers come again.