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,


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