Closer To God
Have Gun Will Travel
The Yaya shopping complex came up quickly as Sam curved in off Argwings. The place was covered with local woods, all blonde, accented with near iridescent
blue lettering in bad English; “y go anywhere else” right up over the entrance. It was off hours at the Java House so we got a table. Two, after I pointed across the place when Burt and Sam walked up. I stopped Burt to halve the wad of shillings I carried, happy to get rid of the stuff.
“Two Kenyan double ‘A’ class ones,” I said to his departing back. I wondered if he’d heard me, but then, the man had proven to be anything but a conversationalist. I took the available corner seat, so I could cover the front. I knew Burt would cover everything else. I wondered if the kid had a gun, but dismissed the thought almost as quickly as I had it. Stevens wouldn’t send one of his men into the field unarmed.
“You wanted coffee?” I inquired of Joan, attempting to gauge her mood.
“Ah, doesn’t look like what I want is at issue,” she said back, stiffly.
“I apologize, “ I said, with a sigh. It had been a long day, and the evening ahead didn’t look much better. Burt and I had to get on the train while avoiding
surveillance, which would certainly be on hand. Quite possibly it would be safer to take the car, now that drone strikes guided in from some secret Texas location were not in the cards. But I needed a night’s sleep, and so did Burt. The kid could handle the all night drive.
“Doesn’t matter, really, but its why I generally find people like you pretty disgusting. Women are not some service instruments to be led and controlled by ‘Promise Keeper’ males.”
I had heard those words before, from the Reborn Christian movement, wherein men sought to gain control over their family life, which really meant their wives. I thought it a bit more complex than she was portraying it but I let it go. I knew I had a habit of calling women ‘girls,’ and telling them what to do. I didn’t like it in myself, and I was working on it. But I was stung by her words, nevertheless.
“You know people like me? I thought I was in pretty rare territory, being what I am with the Agency and all, not to mention the military, the combat, the travel and tragedy. “ I stopped myself. I was there to get information, not attempt to win an argument that was unwinnable. That I liked her had no bearing, and it was not going to make her any more predisposed to like me.
We looked at one another across the table. I noted that her mouth naturally curved up, like it did a lot of smiling, even when she was not, like right then. She was just South of forty, I guessed, and with her looks, had had a tough time passing that milepost. Divorced less than two years ago. I wondered whether age had had anything to do with it. But I didn’t have any experience in marriage. Divorce was all around me. I tended to ignore it. There was nothing more boring than listening to someone detail just how rotten and evil their former partner-for-life was. I had always wanted to blurt out ‘so you’re saying that you are terribly shitty at selection?’ but I never had. I had maybe three friends on the planet, if I counted Burt, and I was topping the forty mark too.
“Do you like Africa?” she asked, speaking just as Burt showed up with two coffees, served in beautiful ceramic mugs, with containers of cream and old-fashioned cubes of sugar on the side.
I inhaled deeply, and then looked around, as I put a dollop of cream into my cup. “The place stinks. Nobody uses deodorant, except for the Wazungu, like us.”
I hated the Swahili term for white person. It reminded me of my childhood, when I had had to endure the term ‘Haole’ every day at school. The ‘H’ word we later called it. In Kenya, it was the ‘W’ word. “And there are parasites everywhere, once you get out of town. The dust is awful, almost all the time. The heat is oppressive, and the rain is seldom cooling or satisfactory at all.” I quit talking for a moment, to stir in my cream and sugar.
“I love it,” I finally concluded. “I don’t know why.”
Joan smiled, and then laughed for the first time, flipping her lovely hair when she did. It bounced several times. “There’s a phrase here that I don’t think you’ve heard. One that explains just what you just said.”
My eyebrows shot up. I thought I’d been pretty damned original, and I also knew I’d been around the Dark Continent for a bit.
“Africa is closer to God. That’s why you love it. That’s why I love it. Its impossible to explain to people who don’t live here.”
“Africa is closer to God,” I repeated, liking the words as they came out, but not really understanding how they applied.
“Who got shot?” she asked, catching me off guard. Her light inflection of the words told me that she didn’t really believe it had happened.
“You were shot at, in the car, as we left the Safari Park,” I reminded her, for credibility’s sake.
“What are you talking about?” she asked, again surprising me.
“The glass blowing out of the windows. I don’t think you missed that part, as you screamed loud enough to deafen Burt and I. The glass reacted to a bullet, fired from behind us by a silenced weapon.” I watched her slowly lower her coffee to the table, her complexion going like the song, a whiter shade of pale.
“I thought you broke the glass out for some reason,” she said, her voice shaking, her ceramic cup doing the same thing. I moved my head back and forth slowly.
“Something happened here. I don’t know what. But its important enough for people to have hired professionals to go after me. And now Burt. And they don’t seem to care that they might kill the DCM of a major United States Embassy as collateral damage. I need to know what you know. All of it, and I need it now.”
“You said that Rajic tried to get my husband killed.”
“You ex-husband,” I reminded her, looking at the wedding ring still on the appropriate finger of her left hand.
“That’s none of your business,” she fired back, covering her left hand with her right. “He tried to kill Paul, our Ambassador. What craziness is that? You’re just agents, you and that gorilla, but he’s an Ambassador.”
“You’re Ambassador?” I quipped, not being able to stop myself.
Joan’s color went from pale to red in an instant.
“Who do you think you are? Who do you think you’re talking to. No little puissant like you is going to insult me.” She started to rise to her feet.
“Please,” I begged, touching her left arm. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me. My life is at stake here. I don’t know what I’ve gotten myself into. But I know that I’ve now dragged Burt and Sam into it, as well. And you. I’m a good agent, but I’m used to working with a script. I’ve got no help at all. Help me.”
She sank back onto the solid mahogany chair. The hushed sound of her clothing adjusting to new positions denoted the expensive nature of their fabric.
The woman was one class act and I was being forced to treat her that way.
“Call the goddamned CIA. Don’t you have some ‘Control Central’ or something?” She sipped her coffee after speaking, which, for some reason, I took to be a good sign.
“Control Officer. His name’s Lee, “ I blurted out, for no good reason at all. Just another of many violations of protocol and procedure I was wracking up since flying into Jomo Kenyatta Airport only the day before. “I can’t call. What am I going to say? That I violated orders in speaking to Rajic? That I’m responsible for an attempt on Paul’s life? That I’m trying to find out what really happened to Smith, who was a friend of mine? That I’m not going to let these new clowns shoot at me without killing them?”
Joan shook her head, frowning deeply. I noted that she didn’t use Botox. I liked that. Except for the fact that she held my very existence in contempt, I liked everything about her.
“I can’t reach Lee. Not yet. He’d have to recall me instantly. I won’t be listed as having gone rogue, but they won’t provide me any support until things get a bit more sorted out. They’ll be mad as hell that I’m not filling them in on anything. They lust for data. Any data. All data.”
“Oh,” was her only response, her eyes refusing to meet mine.
“Tell me about Rajic. I was informed that he had a jewelry business by the Airport here. Hell, I dumped him not far from there this morning.”
“He does, or rather his cousin or uncle does. I don’t really know. His main business, and his place of residence, is a ferry down in Mombasa, and he goes by Raj, not Rajic.”
“Raj owns the private ferry running out of Likoni?” I asked. There were three ferries joining the island of Mombasa to the mainland at the South end. Only one was private. It was a ramshackle ferry. I knew because I’d ridden it. Old, steam powered, rusting away, but filled with people bustling and laughing for every cruise. Mombasa had been trying to get rid of it for years but it was grand-father’d in.
Mombasa had a population of nearly a million, as much as that of San Francisco, but piled onto an island one fourth the size of Manhatten. All three ferries were jammed during daylight hours.
“And you know him how?” I continued.
“He’s come by at least once a week, to the Embassy, for over a year, although he’s been known to disappear for months at a time.”
“You know him? Talk to him? What?” I asked, in some frustration at the woman’s reticence to give any detail.
“I’m Deputy Chief of Mission, for Christ’s sake. I know just about everything that goes on there. Keep your shirt on.” She scowled, taking in more Kenya double A, some of the finest coffee on earth as long as you got the biggest ‘class one’ beans.
“Doesn’t seem like you know much about what Paul has been up to? People are trying to kill him, me, possibly even you. So give me what you have.”
Joan colored, her cheeks going to what I knew had to be some shade of red. I liked it, even if I couldn’t really identify the color.
“He’s a little scum-bag of human detritus, who’s never spoken to me. He’s only capable of leering at women. One of those.”
“Maybe he found you attractive,” I offered, instantly wishing I hadn’t.
“What are you? One of those men who a woman can’t even wear a skirt around? One of those animals who find women to be merely receptacles for their inadequate deposit?”
A silence descended over the table. I drank the cooling coffee, admiring my thick ceramic mug, the letters ‘J.H.’ glazed to its surface. I’d of considered stealing it if it the letters were ‘J.D.’
“You’re right,” she relented, after a few minutes. “I don’t know anything about any of this. I’ve never had anything violent happen during my service. I’m going to talk to Paul. He’s not a bad man, but he’s a fool.” She once again touched her wedding ring.
“Haggerty. You going to keep the name?” I risked, waiting for her to strike.
“Kilkenny. I’m taking back my maiden name when I get to the States. I never liked the ‘hag’ connotation of his name. I suppressed a laugh, covering my mouth with one hand, as if to wipe away a speck of foam. The ‘kill’ part of her maiden name had blown right by her. I was relieved my name wasn’t Kenny.
“What if they’re on the train?” She asked, after a moment.
“They probably will be,” I answered. “They’ll have the airport staked out, the rental car agencies, the major roads and yes, the train. They think we have to get out of the country any way we can, and we don’t have Agency help. So, some will probably be on the train.”
“Why don’t you just come to the Embassy and stay there. Nobody can get you there. When this all blows over you can leave.”
I laughed. “Now, who’s the Ambassador again? And how did we come to be targets in the first place? Paul had something to do with that. Stevens is cool, maybe Tyrell is okay, but I don’t know that, and I’m going to find out what happened to Smith.”
“You’re not a believable man,” she answered, forcefully. “I don’t think for a minute that Paul would have anything to do with violence. Certainly not terminal violence, and now I’m starting to sound like you.”
“That would be me,” I raised my cup to her, “the man who disgusts you.”
“I didn’t say that,” she retorted. “I said that men like you disgust me. That’s different.”
I couldn’t see the difference, in listening to her, but also knew that she had no helpful information to give me. I got up.
“What’s your plan?” She asked.
I ignored her. Burt and Sam were deep in discussion across the room, which was beginning to fill up with late afternoon patrons. Work ended early in Nairobi, or not at all, down in the sweatshops South of city central. I walked away, to have a moment with them.
I joined both men, taking a chair with my back to Joan. “She’s quite an amazing woman,” I said, for no good reason at all.
“Yeah,” Burt replied, “She’s a real sweetheart.”
Sam said nothing.
“Take her back to the Embassy, no matter where she wants to go. This thing that’s going on is hot. She’d make great hostage material, and I also get the idea that not everyone knows she and her ex-husband are not close anymore.”
“Yes, sir,” the young Marine responded. “When I make the run down Mombasa road, do I take out any opposition, or what?”
I liked the kid’s attitude. He had to be all of twenty, and he was ready to take on the world, even when he didn’t have a clue as to what was going on or whom we were opposing. But then, he knew about as much as we did.
“You packing?” I asked him, as quietly as I could.
“Duty nine. Sixteen in the back, with a Remington twelve.”
My eyebrows went up. Stevens was not messing around. Nine millimeter hand gun, M-16 automatic, and a twelve gauge shot gun. God, I loved Marines. There was nothing to be said. The kid would have to make decisions on his own. It was his life on that dark hard road, not ours.
“How you gonna get on the train?” he inquired, changing the subject.
Sam Hill did not need any more data so I didn’t answer his adolescent question. I rose from the table. “Hit it. Zero seven hundred tomorrow, or so, expect our call, or come looking.” I went back to Joan.
“Sam’s gonna take you wherever you want to go,” I lied. “I’ll call you sometime, maybe when this is over.
She stood, brushing non-existent lint from her beautiful clothing. The bottom was a skirt, and it allowed for her shapely legs to be seen. I looked away before she could notice me taking any interest. I’d had enough pain, not that she was done giving it out.
“Casablanca. This is the scene at the airplane, right?” She smirked.
I took the hit with barely a grimace. We did not say goodbye. Joan and Sam simply left. I turned away in case she looked back. I didn’t want her to see me watching her leave.
“What now, Old Hoss,” Burt intoned, when we got back to the table, making me feel like Michael Landon on Bonanza.
“Is that my name on your cell phone?” I asked back, still irritated with the woman. The Casablanca shot had hit home. She viewed me as some kind of phony macho cowboy, like Tyrell, only worse.
Burt pulled his phone out, flipped up the cover, punched some buttons, and then turned the lit screen to me. It read; “Paladin,” in small black letters, before the number to my phone.
My eyebrows went up. “Have gun will travel? From the old western television series?” I asked.
“A knight without armor in a savage land,” he responded, with a deadpan expression.
I still didn’t know what to make of the big man. Knuckle-draggers were named for the walking appearance of upright Great Apes. When they moved, their knuckles dragged on the ground. Burt was an enigma, and the mystery of his behavior bothered me, not that I could do much about it.
“You figured out the train?” he asked.
“Bus. We’re gonna take a bus to Muthurwa terminal. The tracks take a ninety-degree turn down the road from there. Train slows to five miles per hour, or so. We jump on and we’re gone. Lots of people get on and off at that corner, but I’m willing to bet our ‘friends’ don’t know that.
“You called in?” I asked him, as nonchalantly as I could.
“I’m big, not stupid,” he answered immediately, sipping from a second coffee he had on the table. I was sorry I’d asked. Right then I didn’t think the Agency wanted to hear from us anymore than we wanted to talk to them.
“What were your orders?” I inquired, getting to the heart of the matter, with respect to his place on the mission.
“If you went the wrong way, I was to take control of you, then take out the target.” He drank deeply of the hot Kenya double A.
“Take control of me? Is that Executive Action or just another name for it?” I asked, using the term we used internally for assassination.
“What do you think?” he asked back, not really putting it out there as a question. Nobody at Langley wanted any part of hitting an active agent. The phrase ‘take control,’ was perfect for purposes of plausible deniability outside, but its meaning to all of us inside was clear.
I patted my left front pocket. “This AMT only holds five rounds. I used one. Got anymore?”
Burt fumbled into one of his inside coat pockets, and then came out with another magazine. Surreptitiously, he passed it to me. I checked the first round, sticking up out the top of the small thick metal device. It was pointed, but solid.
“No shot-shell for the first round?” I inquired with a wiry smile.
“If you need a second magazine, then you’re shooting at the right guys,” he answered, adding, “his fast gun for hire heeds the calling wind.”
Neither of us smiled or laughed as I tucked the loaded magazine into my back pocket. Burt was either the best man I have ever worked with, or quite possibly the worst. I could not know which, sitting in the Java House, lost in a truly strange, and now savage, land.