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

1 comment:

  1. Extreme writing. Another Hemingway immediacy piece of work. Hair raising. Masterful, and exploding with questions of international legitimacy. This persona has a nap to his hide that makes him like a Rod Steiger tatoo man or something. His 'divine' illegitimacy, his Cane-marked quality of arrogance/defiance seems to have a magnetic force to it. It seems always to propell him into confrontation with devices bigger than himself, to draw these challenges to him, Byron style, as he brags in the opening. Yet this Intelligence is perpetually outwitting him. It seems to trap him to do what he denies this Force to be. Quite a divine comedy going on in here, a chess game, or such. Always, the corners seem loaded on this board of mixed pariahs working in towards some unknown center. (I don't play chess.) We get the sense he's not after the target, he is the target and it's a perpetual manhunt, a parry of wills.