Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Making Love Out Of Nothing At All"

We are making believe our money is worth something, and it is still working...marginally. We are making believe that there are actually jobs to perform in this country, instead of in China, India and Indonesia...where we sent them. Friedman stated, last week in the NY Times, that the fault for that is simply that Americans did not properly prepare and educate ourselves for the future, when they had the chance. The man is a liar and low-life cur, making millions while he laughs about why American's should quite justifiably be paid the same as Chinese peasants. And he golfs with the president, when he should more properly be water-tortured in Gitmo. But there is no real justice in the universe. There is only the eternal movement of information packets. Quantum mechanics. And there is no mercy, consideration, or even intellect at work in quantum activity. We are the merciful, the considerate and the intelligent part of this universe...when we choose to be. Right now, in this period of time, we are choosing to be dumb as hell, and reaping the benefits of that stupidity.

We are so busy admiring, and holding up to high exaltation, the phony 'stars' of our world, that our world is falling apart around us. In the Chicago Tribune, yesterday, the headline was all about people (including families, women and children) living in storage lockers, garden sheds and abandoned cars. The tragedy of it. Above that headline was a four inch column across the page, with a photo of a fifteen million dollar a year baseball player smiling out at us. The Sports section took that photo and made it the size of the whole page. How many people got the subtle distinction of the idiocy illustrated by that presentation? I wonder. Bret Favre is actually given tons of sympathy as he awaits the big Packers/Viking game on Sunday. Sympathy? How many million is he getting to play for two hours? I love his interviews, however. The man is a drooling idiot when it comes to discussing anything other than his 'game.' Its pretty funny, at least.

We are still in Afghanistan. We are fighting the Taliban. We are at war with the Taliban. What the hell happened to declarations of war and Congressional approval? Gone. We now go to war at a whim, or the opinion of a president. We actually are dumb enough to say that we are depending on our generals in the war theater to tell us whether we should increase or decrease our presence in the war! Now that is as dumb as asking Bret Favre! What general in his right mind is going to say "Oh, cut my troops in half please!!" What do generals do? They make war. How do they get advancement and more power? They make war. And they do it like Bret Favre, by being exposed to about as much danger as a taxi driver or deliveryman. Others are fighting and dying, or coming home with PTSD so bad they will never have any bliss in their lives. We are torturing the wrong people. We have a whole line of bankers, generals and even sports stars whole could profit us all mightily with just a few turns of the screw.

Maybe, one day, prior to the coming disaster in 2012 (Oh please God, bring it on), the common man can celebrate the common man again. They guy or gal working to actually make cars, the people building our roads, the nurses, baristas, waiters and cooks. And those people living in storage lockers (until they are outed and thrown in the streets, because you can't be allowed to live in a storage locker!) who are somehow trying to held life together instead of becoming insurgents.

And that is what is next if we do not make some changes. We will have insurgency here in this country, and we will be no more able to stop it here than we were able to in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. We have a fiction of stopping it in Iraq, and we are going to try applying that same fiction to Afghanistan. We fortify the main population centers, then construct armored conduits to connect them, travelled by heavily armored vehicles. Then we claim that our 'surge' has worked. The natives laugh at us, as they properly should. We are not at war with Iraq or the Taliban. We are at war with our own self-imposed ignorance, and our willingness to glorify the ephemeral stupidity of stardom.

Hakuna Matata

Closer to God

Hakuna Matata

Chapter III

The reinforced double-steel door of the underground parking lot slowly retracted sideways across our view. It was too impossibly heavy to rise vertically.
We sat waiting in the Pajero, DCM next to me in the passenger seat and Burt
just behind her. Staff Sergeant Stevens pushed another button and rock barriers at the top of the drive began to sink into pre-formed slots. He held up one hand, watching the stones, until they were gone, replaced by metal grates that snapped loudly into place. His hand moved and became a salute. The kind only a Marine is capable of making. I nodded at the man, putting the Nissan into gear. Mrs. Haggerty waved to him, as well, but I knew the salute was intended for me. I smiled my appreciation. His arm came down. He pointed at the windshield as I drove by. I looked at the small white card under the wiper, then reached my hand around through the open window and claimed it.
Bright afternoon sun had replaced the rain, and a cooling wind blew through the Pajero’s open windows, as we waited to take a left onto Limuru Road. Traffic was heavy, and Kenyan’s gave no quarter when it came to driving. We plunged into the melee but didn’t have far to go. Muthaig’s crowning feature was the Safari Park, Kenya’s only real five star hotel with any local flavor.
We waited to take the turn into the hotel.
“May I call you Joyce?” I asked.
“No, you may not,” the DCM shot back, not looking at me, instead examining the wedding band still located on the appropriate finger of her left hand. “You can call me Joan,” she relented. “I hate the name Joyce.”
“You look terrific, Joan,” I said, quite truthfully.
“Fuck off,” Joan stated, her voice evidencing disgust, “don’t try your smooth, urbane, man-of-the-world crap on me.”
I checked the rear view mirror, to see Burt trying to cover his smile with one hand. He avoided my eyes.
“Thank you,” she followed up, unaccountably. The woman was confounding me. I was afraid to speak, but felt somehow, that she wanted me to say something.
I was in a verbal minefield.
“How long have you been divorced?” I tried, figuring that almost every divorced person I had ever met loved to talk about the divorce, and how rotten the other person was.
“None of your God damned business,” she hissed, massaging her wedding band hand, but looking out the side window. I waited for more, but nothing came.
“Two years?” I offered.
“Two years?” she turned on me, speaking the words loud enough to make me raise my right shoulder and wince. “Two years? What kind of idiot are you? Oh, I almost forgot, you’re a spook. One of those Southern-Fried-Chicken-University types who populate Langley. What’d you major in, Bo Weevil Mating? If I’d been divorced for two years, do you think I’d still be the DCM for that idiot?” Spittle hit my cheek.
I heard a barely audible giggle from behind me, but I didn’t look in the mirror. I finally hustled the Pajero through the broken ‘tiger-teeth’ jam of the opposing traffic.
“Ah, no,” I blurted out to her series of questions, driving as fast as I could manage to get to the hotel as quickly as possible.
“No, what?” she yelled. “No, you have a degree is something else, like maybe Burro Husbandry, or ‘Poor-White-Trash’ farming?” I shook my head, in agony.
The huge pyramidal structure of the Safari Park main building appeared and I headed the car for it like it was a laser-guided smart bomb. Supposedly the willow reed thatched buildings had been designed with clues taken from native Kenyan hovels, but in truth, there was nothing in the country that looked like the place.
Without meaning to, I skidded the Pajero to a halt directly in front of the lobby, and jumped out. I moved around the vehicle to get Joan’s door, but one of the bellmen had already attended to that. She stood waiting. Burt was out and leaning against the back fender, as if ready to enjoy more of the show. The show being my complete humiliation.
Joan headed straight for the lobby. I followed closely behind her, noting how powerfully she strode, her black pumps clicking loudly across the tiled floor of the entrance. Burt ran into me, because I had run into Joan. She had stopped too suddenly for me to avoid her. The three of us grabbed one another and swayed.
“Oh great, slimed by a Halloween spook,” she exclaimed, pushing herself from my fumbling grasp.
“Would you stop that?” I said, as quietly as I could to her retreating back.
“Look what happened to the last guy who got outed on your watch?” I followed up. She flinched, but kept walking.
“Good one,” Burt whispered behind me, which made me frown.
We trailed behind the fast moving woman through the lobby and out the back, around a great blue pool surrounded with palm trees of all sizes, and on past the cascading series of wonderful waterfalls that gave all the interior rooms of the establishment a special serenity. The Hilton, and the Sarova hotels have better rooms than the Safari, but none can come close to matching its ambiance. I knew where we were headed. The Nyama Choma Ranch Restaurant was the only thing left between us and the Muthaiga jungle forest. It was simply the finest African food restaurant in Kenya. Nothing else was close. I yearned for an Ostrich steak covered in Monkey-brain gravy. No monkeys involved, of course. Its only a name.
Under one side branch of the falls I caught a flash of movement. Then it was gone. It had been part of a head, sticking out of the bushes, viewing our arrival. I slowed. Burt stumbled into me. I was a little shaken, as I came to a stop, while Joan disappeared into the opening of the restaurant.
“What?” Burt inquired, backing up a step.
“I wouldn’t take an oath on it, but I think the Lebanese just checked us out from beyond the falls.” The water pouring down upon the rocks made talking difficult, but Burt got my message. He turned automatically, putting a palm trunk between himself and the falls.
“You still got that hand cannon under your coat?” I asked, remaining in the open. If we had walked into an ambush no thin palm tree was going to save us.
Burt nodded, but did not make any moves to access it.
“Got anything else?” I asked, feeling a bit naked.
Burt showed me three fingers, held down at his side. Special Forces hand chatter. I always liked the one where the leader takes two fingers of one hand and aims them at his own eyes, so everyone will look at him. In practice, however, I’d found that the gesture, like so many, was all for show. Anybody who could see the gesture was already looking.
“Three?” I said, in amazement. “The Mau Mau’s were put down in 1960, for Christ’s sake. Give me anything small.”
Burt leaned down by genuflecting on right knee, hand sweeping back to flick the bottom of his pant leg upward. Quickly and smoothly, like an unfolding python, the thick muscular man rose up and delicately inserted a .45 Caliber AMT automatic into my open left hand. I stuck it immediately into my front trouser pocket. The five shot auto was small, yet as thick as a full blown Colt. The bulge was noticeable, but I had little choice. Klingon’s preferred to die fighting in combat, or so they said on Star Trek, and I was not going down unarmed.
“What does it mean?” Burt whispered, his eyes never leaving the area of the falls.
“I don’t know. Not good. What would he come here for? If Haggerty decided on Executive Action, then why would the man come where the man is? He’s a U.S. Ambassador, for God’s sake. And how would he know where he was? I haven’t been able to make sense out of anything since we were out there on the Serengeti.” Joan came back out of the restaurant, looking even more impatient then when she’d walked in.
“What the hell are you doing?” she hissed, clicking up to us.
“Admiring the falls,” I covered.
“Oh great, a gay spook and his cultured Troglodyte,” she complained, in exasperation. “Paul’s in there having lunch with one of his mysterious companions.
Should I announce you or do you want to make a grand entrance?”
“We’re coming. Please show us the way,” was all I could say. The woman did not elicit lengthy response, not without dealing out considerable pain.
“What’s a Troglodyte?” Burt asked, from behind. I was about to answer when I had another thought. I stopped again, this time with the four-top table, where the Ambassador sat with some unidentified white male, in sight. “Back out Burt, this could be a hit on Haggerty.” Why else would the Lebanese not take a taxi home, but instead head straight for his antagonist. Who was the Lebanese? He’d acted as prey, very convincingly, but he wasn’t acting that way anymore. Burt backed up to the restaurant entrance, and then disappeared into a hidden alcove. I moved to Joan’s side at the table.
“What’s this?” Paul said, slowly getting to his feet. He stared at me in surprise, and recognition. I stood stunned. The man could only have recognized me if he had a file photo. I relaxed a little as I realized that someone might have called him from the embassy. Cell phones worked amazingly well in Nairobi. I didn’t carry one but I was willing to bet that Burt had three or four under his “Q” designed safari rig.
“Sit,” I commanded the DCM, pulling out a chair for her. She hesitated.
“There’s danger here, sit and act like everyone else,” I continued. She took the chair. I sat at the one next to her, across from the two men. The Ambassador joined us.
“What,” he began, but I held up my right hand. I slid my left hand into the .45 pocket at the same time. The automatic was double action, I knew. In the silence over the table a distinct metallic click sounded. The automatic was off safety. All four of us sat frozen.
“You can worry about me later Paul,” I said, conversationally. “The same Lebanese, the subject of our attention a few hours ago, was out by the falls a few minutes ago. I let him off near the airport, where he was supposedly going to go into hiding. I might have erred and cost you your life, but I don’t want Joan here, or your friend, to go out with you. What do you think?” The waiter came over and placed water, without ice, in front of both Joan and I. We sat in silence.
“Ah, how sure are you,” Paul began to ask, but I cut him off.
“This is the Choma, and the waiter just brought us glasses of water, not bottled water like you have.” I smiled, wondering if the man would get it, as I prepared to go to the floor and attempt to crawl behind some nearby decorative rocks. If anybody opened up I could count on Burt to provide intense covering fire, but his ammo wouldn’t last long. The only safety might be found in staying less than a foot off the ground. An assassination at such a notable hotel and restaurant would have to be over in seconds. Surviving the first few seconds would be everything.
“The waiter’s not a waiter?” Joan said in a low tone, her voice shaking. “What have you done Paul? What are we in?”
“Alright,” the Ambassador said, ignoring his ex-wife and speaking directly to me. “Maybe I was wrong about you. I apologize. What do we do?”
I was amazed. The man was apologizing for attempting to kill me. I sighed.
Being an operational agent for the Agency could not be taught in schools or learned in books. It was too bizarre for that.
“We leave. Slowly, without fanfare, you move toward the kitchen over there Paul, while your friend heads for the washroom in back. Joan, you’re going out all the way to the street, where you’ll wait in the Pajero. You drive. I’m going to knock my silverware onto the floor, then lean down to pick it up. If there’s fire, then you all drop and stay where you are, without moving at all. If there’s fire, it‘ll probably be at me, here at the table, where they intended to shoot. The silverware hitting the floor is your cue. Got it?” Nobody said anything. “Tell me you got it?” I instructed.
Joan murmured something, while Paul and his companion said yes at the same time. I pushed my fork onto the floor. It hit with the sound of a ringing bell.
Everyone moved. I went to one knee, then leaned under the table and fell to my stomach, turning to bring the .45 out and up. I had no more time than that. The phony ‘waiter’ stepped out of the bushes holding an old-fashioned double barrel shotgun. The ends of the barrels looked huge, as he stood only two feet over me.
My AMT was only inches from his stomach. I laid there, looking up into his eyes while taking all the slack, and a little more, out of the .45’s trigger. Slowly, he moved the shotgun aside, cocking his head, as if in question. I gave him back the thinnest of smiles, wondering what Burt was thinking, since he wasn’t doing anything. The man stepped back into the bushes and was gone. I breathed for the first time since I’d hit the floor. I then crawled to the front of the restaurant, right past the host at the front desk. He looked down at me in amazement, until he saw the automatic in my hand. Then he dropped down and disappeared.
I got up and began loping back through the areas of the falls and pool. I saw nothing of anyone, save a few tourists laying near the water or taking pictures of everything around. At the main entrance I paused to observe some kind of film crew who were set up down near where cars circled to let people off. The Pajero idled near their large, tri-pod mounted, camera. Several large Caucasian men milled nearby, and one long-haired young woman. The passenger door snapped open. I saw Joan at the wheel and Burt’s hand sticking out from releasing the door. I jumped in.
“I think we’re gonna be famous,” I said, but nobody laughed.
Joan jerked the Pajero into gear and tore off back around the circle, headed for the traffic mess on Limuru Road. “What happened back there?” she asked.
I was about to answer her when Burt made a comment.
“The woman. I saw her. At the airport in Joburg. I think she was on my flight.”
I twisted around to face him, letting go of my seat belt.
“You flew direct from Johannesburg, and she was on the flight?”
Where where you flying to? You came down from Lake Victoria.”
I watched the big man closely. I had come to trust him, but I didn’t know just how far yet.
“Zurich. Then Zurich to down here. I met Walt up at the falls, to check it out. We had a couple days.”
“Shit,” I said, out loud, turning back to face Joan. “Pull down into the traffic, and then stop. Burt and I are getting out. You take the car to the embassy. You should be alright. I pulled Staff Sergeant Steven’s card from my shirt pocket.
Give me your cell phone number.” I took out my pen to write.
“Are you crazy? You’ll get killed out there. All this because somebody was on the same plane? And that whole restaurant thing? You’re looney and paranoid, and maybe dumb as a post.”
“The number,” I repeated, patiently. “There was a guy with a shotgun at the restaurant. I think he was there for your husband.”
“Double gun.” Burt added, from the back seat. I looked back to him in question.
“Looked like one of those Holland and Holland things. Big bore.
Elephant gun.”
I whistled. A gun like that would sell for a cool twenty-five thousand dollars, if not more. Whoever was involved in the mess we’d stepped into was very well heeled. And that was bad news indeed.
“He’s telling the truth?” Joan asked of Burt, her voice going up.
“Yes, Ma’am,” he replied. “Donner is the best there is. Not well liked, but the best there is.”
I would have commented but the back window of the Pajero blew out, along with the rear driver’s side glass. There had been no sound, except the whoosh and tinkle of breaking glass. Joan screamed, then drove recklessly right out into the middle of Limuru Road. Cars, vans and trucks careened and honked, but no contact was made. The SUV stalled out. I looked out the back, through the gaping hole, over the seat where Burt crouched down. The camera crew had scattered to cars and vans, now fighting one another to get out of the narrow driveway.
“The Railroad Station. We’ll wait there. When I call you, come get us.”
I flew between the seats and shot out the driver-side passenger door, Burt behind me.
“Like hell I will,” Joan yelled, “and you don’t have my number.”
I stood and put my hand up against the flow of traffic, which flowed around us like a thick school, of metallic fish. I liked the woman. She was tough as iron and she wouldn’t abandon us after we’d stood up for her. She’d figure it out.
A red mini-van, with a strange hand-painted poster of The Lion King splashed across its front, screeched to a halt, almost touching my hand. A gold stripe ran around the van’s body. I’d stopped a Matata, one of the thousands that constantly prowled the streets of Nairobi. They came in three kinds, regular, gospel and teeny. The regular one’s were for regular people, like most tourists. The gospel one’s blared reborn gospel music at impossibly volumes. The teeny ones were even worse, pumping out acid rock and rap. The latter two were mostly for locals.
Joan got the Pajero started. She joined the traffic flow. The side door of the Matata opened and a young hand waved. Burt and I crawled inside. There were already three teens inside, plus the driver and his ‘conductor,’ who collected the fare. Matatas had gotten their name from their original fare of three shillings. Now, the prices were variable, going all the way up to fifty shillings or more. Fifty shillings being about seventy-five cents American. The Matata didn’t move. Teeny conveyances were weird. They would carry people they liked, or thought were cool for free, or not let you in at all if they didn’t like your look. I could tell that the conductor didn’t like our look.
“You got any money?” I asked Burt. He shook his head. I stared at the evil looking teenager in front of me, trying to ignore the blast of horrid rap coming out of the Matata’s speakers. We had to get the hell out of there. I took off the Omega and held it up.
“Omega, Speedmaster, Astronauts took to the moon, four thousand U.S.” I said. The kid looked at the watch.
“Sare,” he said, then grabbed the watch. Sare, I knew, meant ‘free’ in the local street slang called Sheng. The kids spoke it, like pigeon in Hawaii.
“Sare, my ass,” I responded, angrily. “Railroad Station, right now.”
I tried to see out the windows of the mini van, to see if our new band of followers were there. They had to be. But I also knew they’d never be able to stay on us unless, somehow, they’d been able to attach a GPS unit to our specific Matata. Not likely. Not likely at all.
Matatas were the locusts of Nairobi streets, and they were nearly indistinguishable in outer appearance. We drove Limuru toward Mombasa Road in a veritable sea of them, our vast overpayment of fare overwhelming the driver’s natural tendency to stop for anyone else. Our teenage riders stayed with us to the station, without complaint or comment.
“Who were those guys, anyway?” Burt asked.
“Don’t know,” I answered. “They’re Caucasian, all of ‘em, and I don’t think they’re with the Lebanese. They look like Agency. And they fired on us.”
Ironically, a piece from the Lion King soundtrack blared out from the radio. Hakuna Matata played. I looked around at my fellow passengers. They didn’t seem to get the irony at all. Then the words of the song hit me. “Hakuna Matata! It’s a wonderful phrase. It means no worries for the rest of our days.”
copyright 2009

Monday, October 26, 2009

"Sea of Heartbreak"

Sea of Heartbreak
Chapter II

The water has always meant a lot to me. Off the beaches of Oahu I made my mark, surfing Queens and body-surfing Sandy. Victoria Falls called me from the far Northern canyons of Upper Kenya. Its thunder only evident form reports spoken by people who’d been there. I was not one of them, but I was going to be. I just knew it. But I couldn’t go before I finished what I was about.
Jomo Kenatta Airport in Nairobi is a mess. But so is the whole country. I drove the Pajero there, following my drop of the Lebanese. I had dumped him on the edge of town, to be taken back to where ever the hell he was going to hide out, by local taxi. Burt, Tom and Walt were my concern. I needed them gone in order to consider and act upon what I had learned from the nearly dead Lebanese. I threaded my way through traffic in front of the airport, easily and fluidly, like a man piloting a vehicle in which he really did not care who he violated or struck. I was all of that.
I pulled over at the SAS sign. I waited for the three men, who had been my mission companions, to depart. They too could take cabs to wherever they were going, as they would not be getting rid of their armament in the airport proper. Tom and Walt got out without comment. Burt stayed in the font passenger seat, however. I motioned for him to go, but he simply shook his head. I shrugged. What could I do? The mission was over. The team dispersed independently following a mission. There was no precedent for the way the man was acting.

When the Pajero’s doors were closed I sat in silence, the car’s tiny six cylinder engine humming quietly.

"Well, what the hell is this? Where do you want me to deliver you?" My questions had merit and made sense. Burt chose not to interpret things that way.

"Take me wherever you're going," he said, nonsensically.

I massaged my forehead with my left hand. Some local in uniform pounded on the car’s curbside fender. I put the shift lever in first and pulled away into the sea of chaotic traffic I so much enjoyed swimming in. I did not drive with a purpose. Instead I eased along with the other ill-mannered drivers avoiding contact.

“I’m headed toward the embassy,” I said, not comprehending why Burt was still in my car.

“Figured…” he replied, “but that’s probably a bad idea.”

I was stunned by his response. I pulled the Pajero to the side of the road, running two wheels up over a cracked and broken curb. We sat there. Women walked by with stuff piled four feet high atop their heads. Passing cars beeped in anger at the slight blockage our vehicle left by the side of Outer Ring Road. They were not without complaint. Only Mombasa Road was busier.

“Is Burt your real name?” I asked, not looking at the man.

“Is Jack Donner yours?” he replied. I nodded.

“Bertram Lauren, like the clothing guy, Burt said. I gave him my hand and he took it.

“You want to tell me about it?” I began, hoping for anything, but not expecting the response I got.

“You have a reputation, with that big brain of yours,” he began, telling me without saying it that he had known my real name all along. Burt was removing himself from the realm of normal Knuckle-dragger stock very quickly. “Back there, out on the Serengeti, you missed something. I thought you’d catch it, but you didn’t.” He didn’t go on, although I waited.
I thought back to our operation.

“The suppressor,” I said, tentatively. I had caught it subliminally. We had been given an assignment out on the Veld of Africa. There was no need for a suppressor. Silencers were large, uncomfortable to carry and difficult to properly conceal. They also identified anybody who had one as a potential professional killer. Why had Burt carried one, then installed it with me by his side? I turned my head to look at the bigger man, for the first time since leaving the airport. I felt a slight taste of fear. I didn’t like where our conversation was going. At all. But I said nothing. There was nothing for me to do but wait. I was unarmed and trapped inside a vehicle with someone who was not only well armed but a coldly-capable professional killer.

“I don’t work for State. Whatever that guy said once about a warm bucket of spit, well he should have been talking about State.” Burt spoke the words in obvious frustration, not looking over at me. “And you’re an agent for Christ’s sake. We don’t do agents. Not ever.”

“John Garner, Vice-President under Roosevelt,” I replied, still uncertain of what might happen. “He was talking about the Vice-Presidency as a job, but I understand what you mean.” Burt’s comment about me being an agent, therefore not target material, had jarred me. I had responded from the analytical quadrant.

“Why’d you talk to the guy? The mission brief said that we were, under no circumstances, to question or listen to the man.” Burt made his comments as if under great duress. I hoped that he was not still making up his mind about what he would or would not do.

“I found our instructions to be questionable,” I replied, honestly. “The mission is mine once the operation begins. You know the rules. The dead agent was named Smith. Ex-Marine. Decorated. Class act. He had a wife and three kids. You?”
Burt looked over and met my eyes.

“No, I got nobody,” he stated, his voice flat.

“Me either,” I replied, my voice pitched to the same tone.

“For them, then,” I finished. Burt shook his head.

“Brain damage would be too light a phrase to use for this kind of thing. More like brain death. We don’t know anything. We have nothing. What the hell can we do?”

I breathed easier. It didn’t seem, for the moment, like I was going to die on the front seat of a rental Pajero in downtown Nairobi. The car’s air-conditioned interior was, again, cool enough.

“Haggerty. He’s who we have,” I said.

“Just what do you know?” Burt asked.

“The Lebanese was dead on Haggerty’s orders. He was the one sent in to out Smith. That’s what he said, and I believe him. But what the hell was Smith doing in that prison? And why did he get taken out for the revelation? By who? No, all we have is Haggerty. What were your instructions, and from who?” I waited for Burt to consider. The kind of thing we had become involved in was off the books. There was no Agency support or approval for what we were discussing.

“My Control Officer told me that there was a possibility that you might go rogue,” Burt said, his mouth twisted into a strange smile. “Its not unheard of you know, especially with…well… your track record.”

Somehow, Haggerty, probably with the support of one of the many Assistant Secretaries of State, had reached deep into Agency Operations. The violation was monumental. I reflected for a moment. Such things happened in movies, like ‘Three Days of the Condor,’ but not in real life. Not in my experience, or the experience of any of the senior agents I had ever known.

“I’m going to the embassy. You in or out?” I put my right hand on the knob of the center shift lever.

“I don’t know,” Burt answered, but his own hand did not grab for the door handle. I put the Pajero in gear and headed North on Outer Ring. I drove the car carefully, trying to think of every detail of what had happened.

“Why was the Lebanese out there in the game park? What was he doing with the Masai? They aren’t normally violent, but they had him pretty painfully tied,and in bad shape.”

I talked to myself, as Burt made no comments at all. The roads to the embassy took us through Muthaiga where the Safari Park Hotel was located. Once a retreat for British Army Officers it had grown to be my favorite hotel in all of Africa, when I could cheat the Agency out of enough money to stay there.

The embassy loomed up from one side of the road we took winding around the Kenya Teachers facility. The place was built like the concrete and steel blockhouse it had been intended to be. The previous embassy, taken out by terrorist bombs years before, had been downtown by the Railroad Station. The embassy was totally obvious in its American ugliness, even without the huge U.S. flag waving out front.

I drove around the side of the structure where a big driveway led to the underground garage. It was blocked near its entrance by huge movable chunks of stone. I stopped to wait. We didn’t wait long. A Marine Staff Sergeant walked up the ramp to our car. I sighed in relief. It was Stevens, the contingent commander. I’d known him in Hong Kong when he’d been a Buck Sergent. I wondered if he’d recognize me.

“You packing, sir?” he asked, making no motion to salute, instead moving up and down the side of the Pajero to see what he could of the vehicle. I said that we were.

“Get out and go down the driveway. They’ll see you on the camera and let you in. Leave the keys.” We did as instructed, my faith in the United States Marine Corps once more confirmed. Once inside we waited for the Staff Sergeant to return, while a PFC and a Corporal stood silently by, checking us out but not being invasive about it, or patting us down. The Staff Sergeant was buzzed through the steel door. He tossed the car keys to me, then walked past us through an open door.

“Better see the DCM about what to do. The Communications Director is out of embassy,” he threw over his shoulder. I moved to follow him, waving Burt to accompany me. The Deputy Chief of Mission was second only to Ambassador Haggerty himself. I understood the Staff Sergeant’s predicament. The Communications Director was code for Embassy CIA contact. Every embassy and consulate in the world had one. Without him to front for us, someone of upper management power would have to make decisions, which fit into my plans exactly.

Three flights of stairs up at a run brought us to a hallway inlaid with exotic woods, common to Eastern Africa. Burt and I stood catching our breath. Stevens saluted crisply, pointed at an open office doorway a few yards away, then departed back down the stairway. I walked into the office, its floor covered with a beautiful baby-blue rug so thick that my entrance was made in complete silence.

A middle-aged woman sat at a large desk facing the door, flanked by two smaller desks nearby, where two younger women sat. None of them paid immediate attention to our presence. I noted that atop the larger desk was a small nameplate with the word “Haggerty” carved across it, and presumed we were in the Ambassador’s outer office.

“Is Haggerty in?” I asked, deliberately failing to use the man’s title. I wasn’t in a formal mood. The woman looked up. A Bose Sound Machine behind here played some country tune as she appraised us. “How did I lose you, oh where did I fail…” came out of the expensive little device.

“Who’s asking?” she asked, “And what are you doing up here unannounced?”

“I’m Jack Donner and this is Burt,” I waved one hand back, as I spoke, my tone mildly respectful. I ignored her second question. I also noticed her color and expression change.

“Who let you in?” she asked, as if inquiring about pet animals, her voice becoming more demanding. The other two women stopped working and looked at us, reacting to her tone.

“Is Haggerty here or not?” I overrode her, raising my voice slightly.

“I’m Haggerty,” she shot back, standing. I noted that she was a beautiful well-formed woman.

“You’re Paul Haggerty?” I was shocked.

“No, I’m his ex-wife, Joyce. I’m the DCM.”

“They allow that?” I squeaked out.

“Who?” she said, leaning aggressively toward me, putting her hands down on the surface of the desk. I just shook my head, nonplussed, then decided to regroup. State was a weird place I hated and would never understand.

“I’m here about Smith, who died a few days back. You probably heard something about that.” I moved a step closer to her.

“Leave us,” she stood, sweeping her arm toward the two other women, who instantly filed out, closing the thick wooden door behind them. “I presume, for whatever misplaced reason, that you’re here to report the accomplishment of your mission?”

I stared at Joyce Haggerty in wonder. I had never been a part of any direct mission discussions with embassy staff before. It was unheard of in my experience.

“It would seem that just about everyone knows about that mission,” I countered, indicating my surprise, as I thought more deeply about it.

“Did you perform it successfully?” She said, crossing her arms, and looking back at me with a severe expression.

“Maybe you misunderstood something, either before, or right this minute,” I said. “I don’t report to you. I don’t take orders or mission assignments from you, and I sure as hell don’t discuss the results of such matters with you, or your husband, for that matter.”

“Ex-husband,” she said, raising her own voice. “So what are you doing here then?”

Her comment stopped me. What was I doing there? I was coming right back at a man who had somehow co-opted operations people at CIA to risk taking me out if I failed to perform to specification on a mission. But I wasn’t going to say that.

“The Lebanese told me Paul sent him in, to give the information about Smith.”

Slowly, Joyce returned to her seat, looking pensive.

“What are you going to do?” She asked, after a minute. I was surprised again. She was giving me nothing by her responses. Did she know? What did she know? How deep was she in? It was almost like being debriefed by an Agency Control Officer. You gave, you did not get. I liked her. She was bright, good-looking, enough miles on her to give her wisdom, and she didn’t take any shit.

“Paul and I are going to have a little talk,” I told her, truthfully.

“About what?” she came back.

“About what Smith was doing in that prison. About what the Lebanese was doing in that park. About why an experienced agent was killed in an allied country that couldn’t give a damn about his affiliations. And some other personal stuff.”
I didn’t tell her that I was going to have a possibly terminal discussion about someone who had ordered me dead.

“Don’t,” she stated. I saw honesty in her expression. “Go your way and leave it alone. It isn’t your job or your fight. Get on an airplane. You don’t want to be anywhere near this. You’re not that good, no matter what your reputation, otherwise you’d have just done your job.”

She knew I had not allowed the Lebanese to be killed. The longer I was in front of the woman the more she was getting out of me.

“Where is he?” I asked.

“He’s not here,” she responded, shaking her head.

“That’s not what I asked, I pushed her. Burt moved to my side.

“I’m not telling you. I need him undamaged, for the moment, and I don’t like the look of your pet gorilla.” I marveled at the woman’s courage, even if she was in her own office inside a U.S. Embassy. She knew she wasn’t in front of regular diplomatic personnel. She also had let me know that she either knew, or had guessed, that I might have good reason to be violently disposed toward her ex-husband.

“You know this is going to resolution in some fashion. I can’t let it go, not and survive out here. Look at us. We have nowhere else to take this, and I think you know it.” I looked at the man standing next to me, to make sure Joyce had not reached him emotionally, but I need not have bothered. Burt had reverted to his Knuckle-dragger role. He stood impassive, as if there had been no insult intended by the woman’s harsh words. I looked back at her, and we waited.

The CD repeated its play, the same song coming up again; “…the lights in the harbor don’t shine for me…” played quietly through the room.

“What is that song?” I asked.

“Its called ‘Sea of Heartbreak,’ she answered.

“How very appropriate,” I said. She sniffed, but I saw a fracture in her visage when she did. Quickly, she turned her head, then leaned forward to take a call. Somewhere inside the hardened career woman was a heart.
Burt and I waited some more. Finally, she was done.

“I’ll take you to him,” Joyce relented. She stood, then walked around the desk. She wore a knee length blue dress. Classy. I liked the effect, but I gave no indication. I didn’t have to, as she read me anyway.

“I don’t like people who do what you do, or in your line of work, so don’t bother with the phony charm. You have no morals left, if you had any to start with.” I could not help smiling at that. Not that she was wrong, I hadn’t resolved such issues for myself yet, but that she would say it to my face made her more attractive still.

“Just tell us where he is and you can avoid being seen in our company,” I said, not being able to avoid smiling at her last insult.

“He’s at the Safari Park Hotel, not far from here, but you’ll never find him without me, and besides, I don’t trust you…and Brutus here,” she pointed at Burt. “Nobody else out there will know what you are. None of you people look like you should.”

I wondered how I should look. We followed her, as she opened the door and headed for the stairs. It was fun to follow her. For some unaccountable reason her company made me feel human for the first time since the mission had begun.
Blood might flow across the wooden floors of the Safari Park but I would endeavor to see that it wasn’t hers. She moved fast down the stairs, getting ahead of us.

“How did I lose you, oh where did I fail…” I sang, almost inaudibly.

“On the sea of heartbreak,” Burt whispered, coming down the stairs right behind me.

Copyright 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009

Give Me Strength


Give Me Strength

Chapter I

God is out there somewhere. I don’t know where. Once, when I was in an African prison I yelled back at some would-be reborn Christian preacher: “God has never come to my bunk.” He had been, as is the custom of reborn preachers, ministers or flock-leaders, indicating that God had spoken to him in the night, and instructed him regarding something I ought to do. For some reason God never instructs His acolytes in what they ought to do on their own, other than raise money and make members of the flock serve them.

It does not say, anywhere in the Bible, that God will not give you a burden too heavy to carry. That common saying is just pure bullshit. Think about the death camps in Germany, just for a second, and consider such idiotic God-driven nonsense. I do not believe you can ‘Trust in God,’ or even ‘Let go and let God.’ I think those are buzz-phrases created by reborn idiots. I do believe that if you pray to Him for strength, however, that He will definitely send you more problems so you can grow stronger in attempting to deal with them. My own life is proof of that little homily.

Nobody knows I smoke. Not one soul living on this planet. A couple of people used to know, but they died shortly after they discovered my secret. I don’t like to execute people without some ceremony. Instead of offering the intended victim a cigarette, however, I have one myself. They get the extra time while I finish the process of smoking it. That’s only fair. I smoke Marlboro cigarettes. The long ones with filters. Like the guy on the horse in those old ads. He died of lung cancer, I heard sometime back. I don’t think I’m going to die of lung cancer. I picked a career, or rather it picked me, that will likely preclude that.

It was raining just beyond my tucked-in corner of the railroad station. I smoked there because the station was filled only with members of the native population.

They knew I was nearby, back pressed firmly into the peeling wooden boards, but they made believe I didn’t exist. To me that was the same as not knowing anything.

About my smoking secret, I mean. The natives were like Knuckle-draggers, they didn’t count as living souls. They were just there, like the rocks, the trees or even the rain. I’m not prejudiced on the basis of color. I’m just prejudiced on the basis of the business I’m in.

When it rains in Nairobi, it rains for quite some time. The water coming down is clean, however, unlike the rest of the dusty dirty city. I love Nairobi, don’t get me wrong. And I love the rain in Nairobi because it drives everyone inside, then cleans the streets and universally broken sidewalks. I walk in the rain. I breathe it in. Plus its cool. Nairobi is pretty hot most of the time. I like it cool, but I don’t get many assignments up on the Bering Sea, or down in Tierra del Fuego. Africa is kind of my beat. And I’m not a Knuckle-dragger either. I don’t do the wet stuff at all. I’m one of the rather more rare guys who have guys who do that sort of thing. Maybe there are a few women who do what I do, I don’t know. I’ve never met one, or even heard of one, but these are changing times. Some of those guys, the Knuckle-draggers, were who I was standing near the rain waiting for. The train was overdue out of Lake Victoria, stopping in Nairobi, before making its way down to Mombasa.

Across the tracks I could see old rusting steam engines sitting on bare ground. Steam had given way to diesel ten years back. I remember riding the steam-powered train down to Mombasa, so long ago. The night had been filled with burning cinders, falling down and away past the dining car windows. It had not seemed romantic at the time, but in retrospect it was all of that, and more. I wistfully drew in the last of the Marlboro smoke, then pinched out the stub and replaced it in my red and white cardboard pack. I would leave no evidence of my secret behind, not that anyone around me cared. Kenyan natives are great. They pretty much respect and appreciate white folk, like me. They give deference and they don’t get in your face, as in some other cultures.

The train came in. Just like that. No whistle of warning. I was not in Europe or America. The rules were different. The old cars rocked slowly to a stop, compressed air hissing out from the brakes, resembling steam, up and down the line. I waited.

The natives crammed aboard the train as the passengers tried to get off. It was a mess of water-soaked bedlam, but it wasn’t noisy. The people of Kenya are a quiet lot. Another feature I like.

My guys climbed down just as the whistle of the engine finally sounded, indicating that the train was pulling out. Conductors in blue sweaters and black caps pushed and pulled stragglers aboard. The train creaked as it eased from the station. I turned and headed for the gray Nissan Pajero parked illegally in front. It was an old rental thing with a five speed, unlocked because there were no locks, only holes in all the doors. But I had left nothing inside. I carried nothing except my cigarettes, money and a passport. The rental papers for the car were not even there, as I wouldn’t return the vehicle, just call and tell the agency where to pick it up. My guys would have stuff. It was what they did. If they got caught with any of it, then they’d have to count on some other operatives to get them out of trouble. Or not.

I drove. Two of them in the back and one up front with me. We didn’t talk. They knew the mission. We were not, and were not going to be, friends. If there was to be violence I didn’t want to be grieving over the loss of any of them, or they over me.

"Fucking New Guy" Syndrome we’d called it, after the Nam. And it had its proper place in our work.

I drove fast. As fast as a three liter Pajero would go, which was not that fast at all.

One hundred and forty kilometers per hour was about max, which was about seventy miles an hour, or so. The roads out of Nairobi were built for about half that, however, so it was a rough scary ride. The guys gave no indication of discomfort or fear, however. It was that kind of business.

We were headed for a village just South of the big National Wildlife Park outside of Nairobi. I never could remember the park’s name. The village is a Masai place. The Masai are tall lanky natives who wear weird throw-back attire and carry long ugly spears. The men, anyway. And they stink to high heaven, as they never ever wash. Ever. I like them, but then, my former wife had once told me that I had no sense of smell. I guess didn’t have much taste in women either. I’d never found any who trusted me. And I couldn’t be around people who didn’t trust me. If they were ‘inside the wire’ kind of women, part of my tribe, then my trustworthiness should have been beyond question. I trusted them. But women don’t trust so easy, I discovered. So I was alone. I worked in a field that did not lend itself well to either trust or believability. Alone was not okay, but it simply had to do.

The village appeared next to the road about twenty clicks on the other side of the park. The inside of the Pajero was filled with dust, even though the rain had done a lot to cut it back. The park had been nothing but dirt roads and dust. Rain only sealed the top inch of the dust, and the dust went down a good four inches deeper than that. The village was a ram-shackle affair of branch constructed hovels, mud huts and half-thatched roofs behind flimsy fences. The fences were to keep animals in, not out. No self-respecting lion would ever allow itself the indignity of being speared full of holes on the interior open plaza of a Masai village.

I drove through a likely hole in the fence. Chickens and a few dogs scattered. I knocked down a few small pieces of stacked junk, and maybe a three-stone fireplace or two. I parked in the center of the village and shut off the engine. We sat. Nobody appeared. The knuckledragger next to me spoke for the first time.

“I’m Burt, and these are Tom and Walt,” he said, as he pointed toward the back seat.

I didn't laugh when a cloud of dust formed near the end of his extended finger.

“Hey,” I responded, looking carefully at each of them. We would not be friends, but our mutual survival was now dependent upon the performance of each of us. Missions involving violence seldom ever went smoothly. Aberrantly strange things were always cropping up.

“The target is being held somewhere nearby. I don’t know where. Our contact is supposed to meet us here." I said the words with finality. We were not going to go social at this tense point of the mission.

I looked at my Omega. It was the same watch the astronauts had worn to the moon. Or so the salesman had told me when I’d purchased it. It was pretty damned accurate, I had to admit. Our source had twenty minutes to make contact or I’d scrub the mission. While we waited, we were targets ourselves. It was a risk that came with the territory. We waited in the vehicle. It wasn’t likely that any force was going to take out four white guys, armed to the teeth, sitting inside a rental four-wheel-drive in the middle of a pacified Masai village. Getting out could lead to booby-traps or other hidden hazards. We waited inside.

A tall Masai warrior appeared between two of the hovels to our front. He motioned with his characteristic spear. The four of us got out of the vehicle. I looked at my guys to assure myself that nobody was coming out locked and loaded. Violence escalates from the things you do before violence happens, I knew. We needed to be just four white guys walking, escorted, across the Serengeti. Everyone was cool.

We followed the nearly seven foot tall native through the saw grass just East of the village. It was a well-beaten path so we had no trouble. We could have followed the tribesman with blinders on, as his aroma was that overpowering, even twenty feet back. I do have a sense of smell I thought, sending a mental message to my ex-wife.

We came upon a clearing at the base of one of those huge Baobab trees, its trunk at least twenty feet thick. A man lay on his side next to the tree, his hands tied behind him with what appeared to be vines. The man was white, wearing the phony safari gear so common to visiting tourists. Even his canvas hat was there, on the ground next to him. I was surprised by that, as the Masai are known for stealing anything not tied, glued or welded down. The warrior stood next to the laying man, planting the base of his spear down on the man’s torso. He looked at me, but said nothing.

I pulled a two inch stack of Kenyan Shillings from my back pocket. I’d exchanged two hundred dollars worth of U.S. currency at the rail station. I handed the warrior the cash. He grabbed it, then walked away immediately, back toward the village. I waited until the five of us were the only humans evident out on the Savannah. Then I crouched.

“You alive?” I asked the downed man. His eyes opened. He nodded vigorously. I stepped back. Automatically, Tom and Walt grabbed the man by his shoulders and roughly seated him, back to the Baobab trunk. They backed away.

“Burt,” I whispered. Carefully, Burt took a medium sized automatic out from under his rain coat and handed it to me. Then he reached inside the coat a second time and came out with a polished black cylinder. I handed the automatic back. Burt finished assembling the silenced killing machine.

“We’re not supposed to talk to you, but what the hell, I never do exactly what they tell me to do anyway,” I offered to the man against the tree, by way of passing time, as I moved to get my pack of Marlboros out.

“I did it,” the man whispered out. “I know you’re his people. I did it. I went to that prison and told them about him. I admit it. But I had to do it. If I didn’t do it he’d have ruined my family. Our business would have been gone. We have nowhere to go. We’re Lebanese. We’re not welcome anywhere. We don’t even have passports.

I even dressed like a tourist, just like he told me.”

I sat on my haunches, no longer reaching for my box of cigarettes. The mission was to take out the man who had deliberately informed on one of our agents, getting that agent very dead, indeed. Payback was uncommon to the intelligence business, I knew, at least payback in violence, but there were certain circumstances. This had appeared to be one of them, as the dead agent had also been a highly decorated former Marine Officer and well connected politically. Unlike myself, he’d also been rumored to be well-liked. The fact that I’d been instructed not to talk to the target had not gone down well with me, although I had not remarked at the time. If I have to be involved in someone’s passing, I like to make certain that some sort of justice in the universe is being balanced.

“What have you got for me?” I asked. The Lebanese just looked back at me.

“If we are not to end this all right here, then you have to give me some reason why your passing should not take place.” I stared into the man’s black eyes, seeing nothing but truth. Everything thing he’d said so far had reeked of truth, and that made me very uncomfortable.

“I don’t have anything,” the man said, his chin sagging to his chest.

“Who was going to destroy your family?” I prompted him. He looked up. Then he looked from Burt to the other two Knuckle-draggers, then back at me. I stood, both knees and the small of my back in pain at the same time. I grunted.

“Take a hike out on the Serengeti for a bit,” I said to Burt. He grimaced, then handed the suppressed weapon to me. I took it. I knew the three of them probably had six more weapons among them, or more. Knuckledraggers were big on toys and equipment, cramming diplomatic sacks with all manner of pyrotechnics.

I waited for the guys to get a good thirty yards down the path, before I squatted back down.

“Paul Haggerty,” the Lebanese expelled with one soft breath. I said nothing back.

I didn’t have another question. I was too shocked. Paul Haggerty was the American

Ambassador to Kenya. Ambassadors never ever get involved in operational agency business, at least I had never heard of it happening before. For an Ambassador to be involved with the killing of a field agent was almost too impossible to consider.

“I understand that you have to kill me. But my family. They won’t be hurt, will they?

I have a wife and four children.” He tried to go on but I held up one hand in front of his face.

“Do you have any idea why Paul would want the agent dead?” The Lebanese shook his head violently. “Do you have any idea who killed our man?” I followed up, beginning to wonder exactly what had taken place in that prison outside of Nairobi.

Kenya was not exactly an enemy of the United States. The Soviets were long gone.

Terrorism was mostly a geographically limiting situation, excepting 9/11, of course.

Why the revelation that a man was an agent of the CIA would get him killed in a place like Kenya had no comforting answer that I could come up with.

The man shook his head again. I believed everything he’d told me. But I didn’t know what to do with it.

I rose to my feet once again with same groan. I stepped away from the Baobad and saw Burt pacing in the distance, nervously. If I got myself killed it would not look good in the after-action report, for him, or the other guys. They had to do what I said, but they also had to protect me. I waved him back.

“Cut him loose,” I said, when the three had shambled back. I handed the silenced weapon to Burt. “We won’t be needing that.”

Tom and Walt got the Lebanese to his feet and cut through the vines. The man glanced around him like he was some sort of hunted bird, looking for the next direction of attack.

“What do I do?” he asked, finally. I took the eighteen remaining hundred dollar bills of mission cash from my front pocket. I put the small stack into his hand.

“We’re taking you back to your family. Then you’re going to disappear for a few weeks while I get this all sorted out. And I mean disappear. Do you understand?”

“You did not know?” the Lebanese asked me, looking at my three guys, without going on. I shook my head.

“There will be trouble, I think,” he said, with an air of finality.

The village was as dead when we returned, as it had been when we’d arrived. It was obvious that no one had touched the Pajero. The villagers wanted nothing to do with us. As I drove madly toward Nairobi, the Lebanese wedged in between Tom and Walt in the back seat, I supposed that nobody in the U.S. Embassy was going to want anything to do with us either.

copyright 2009