15 December 2007

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


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

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

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

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

There was a pause.

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

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

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

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

with warmest wishes of the season,


14 December 2007

Ranger - The Devil


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You jihad” he asserts.

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

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

Jus belli


07 December 2007

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


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

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

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