More Vietnam fiction for These Troubled Times

another excerpt from The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas

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Chapter Twenty-Seven  THE FICTILE AND THE FINGENT

 

For TC MURR

 

The nipple placement was not all that was illusionary or anti-corporealist about Picasso Tits. As Donnie remembered her now, he could almost imagine her in one of her near sheer dresses that fit her as if she were a pulsing ghostwoman, almost see her gliding over the Pacific waves in the dark that was neither black nor blue, approaching in a sort of drift of foggy flight, approaching, fading, somehow rapid like a gust of wind—And why not? Are there not those for whom the strict logic and lines of transport are far too mundane? Are there not those ethereal ones for whom enclosure violates truths glimpsed in ephemeral mockeries? If so, Picasso Tits, here now on the California sands so intensely desired by the one who was not her lover, is of these mythicals.

Back in Brussels, Picasso Tits was not surprised that she missed Donnie more than she missed Drake. Though not of narcissistic kind, she was wholly aware of herself in the world of desirous men, and though she was too slender to be voluptuous at first sight, she was fully formed and tensile, voluptuous—after the fact, the fact of wide ranging breasts and nipples out where yonder ought be, after the fact of face, fingent, never twice the same, full enough of lip, small enough of nose, and subtle enough of eye that a man once entrapped by tit, could become lost and later in lustry lunging lunglessly in love, for the vivacity of her lissome animacy.

Many of these men, most in fact, would be of a type classifiable only as wanting, perpetually wanting, and would be unable to resist sexuality of greater immediacy. They often returned to her in tears, which she never grew to scorn, for she understood.

Then there were men like Donnie, who saw it all and contented himself to seeing. If ever there were a man to last out her lifetime it would be such a one, she thought, but for the paradox that he would eventually have to break through the zone of separation and would then have to remain, say, Donnie, and she had no idea if that would happen.

She was not surprised that Drake had not asked her to flee with them to the United States. He knew it would be a selfish request, and she knew he knew she would understand everything and that including his own understanding of everything. Yet missing them, she felt pain that it was not Donnie’s place to ask her to join them, to ask anything about her future, their future, the possibility of a return to Europe even. Donnie would have, or would have been unable to keep the question from his eyes, and he would be recalling her with more tenderness than Drake, who, after all, was a fine man and perhaps the best she had ever been with.

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Donnie’s thoughts turned, too, to his father, for there was no mistaking his return to his father’s land. His father did not fly gossamerly from the black, feet above the waves. His father’s feet were always on the ground, stomping, no—pressing, pressing down on a carpet that tended to curl up at the corners, for beneath this carpet were secrets, the truth Donnie was never told. Donnie did indeed despise his dilettante double-doucher dipshit mother, for he knew her deeply, and like his miner ancestors he had found the scoured out gaseous scarred innards to be bare of yield—nothing to proffer, nowhere to go but deeper into despicable depths. But his father was different. Did his father really believe that Donnie hated him for his diffidence, his distance, his desquamatory daddy clichés? Seems so. But Donnie did not hate his father–he resented him, resented him for never revealing the secret that impelled a decent man, and a man of depth and originality, to live in the near death of a demi-lackey to that bitch of a mother, and further, to allow Donnie to reach the age of leaving without realizing that he could have revealed all to Donnie, that as far as his father was concerned that was all that Donnie lived for, the day when they went to the tavern in Nevada, the Green Jockey, on a Saturday afternoon in Spring, shot a few games of pool, during which a few hints would be dropped, before the bellied up to the šank, sit down, son, two beers, I know you’ve been waiting for this day for a long time, but once I tell you everything you’ll understand why I had to wait, of course your mother must never know…But his father kept his feet on the ground only to prevent the carpet corners from curling.

Inside the bungalow burned many candles, disguising matter, bestowing an illusion of substance on their marionettes of shadow, yet so many candles that the two faces alive with conversation remained undisturbed by the trickeries of light, retaining their opacities, contours, emoting aspects. Across a common plate of victuals from Drake sat Nordgaard, a man of indifferent age, if definitively old, bald, the head perhaps deformed: high and narrow, elongate, without eyebrows to break the wrinkling stretch from eye to apex. He had damp, motile lips, an extravagance, black deep nostrils that glared like the cave mouths they were, betraying no illusion of an accompanying or enabling nose.

His voice was flauty, as of wind given voice by sudden compression, a force of unkempt yearning.

Nordgaard had been with Drake’s father since the early days in Vietnam, indeed it was Nordgaard who saved the senior Fondling from his coming frag, when Captain Fondling had called in an airstrike on his own men. Now he was telling a story about a battle that occurred before Drake’s father had even been in Vietnam, back in ’62 or ’63, when Nordgaard was a sniper for the ARVN.

What matter if the wee man indulge himself, Drake figured.

‘This was a turning point I’m telling of, lo, even if we were the mighty ones yet again visiting on the rebels, the VC of course in this battle, a new instrument of death deliverance. The M 113 armored personnel carrier—ten fucking tons! This was particularly effective because most of our surprises up until then, lo, had come from the air—napalm nearly won us the war, us then being the French. I should point out that not many share my point view, nor am I offering a tactical opinion vis a vis more napalm. But this was Greek Fire from the air, and we all know that Greek Fire speaks its fear in the pages of innumerable books of history and memoire. Perhaps, lo, it is the atomic age, the beast, beastmost of bombs, that overshadow napalm as a weapon. Or perhaps among the Vietnamese napalm is still recalled, written of, memoired, in the same way as we of Europe recall Greek Fire. Hot tar, too, though, ought have its place. Yet it does not. Why? Simply because from the first day a man stormed a high wall, something nasty was dropped on him. So strike that about the hot tar. Nonsense. Anything at hand, not just hot tar, entrails of oxen, yesterday’s soup, donkey shit, corpses, scorpions…Therefore here, lo, was a machine all the more frightening for the fact that it crawled amongst them—and over their hidey-holes in the embankments! Uprooting trees! Not very big ones, but saplings and the like. And as they conquered their fright enough to maintain a shooting crouch a pepper the beast with bullets that zinged off harmlessly, lo, up from a hatch popped a sniper…or in most cases an ordinary soldier made bold by his newly safe method of attacking the VC. The embankments, they were for dikes, you’ve seen rice paddies. Dikes everywhere, and the VC hiding in holes in the dikes, or in the jungle vegetation along the dikes. And our 113s could surmount the dikes—they had nowhere to run, nowhere to hide but where they hid. Clever devils. They hid in holes on the dikes, in the side of the dikes, everywhere. Imagine the first VC to hold his position on the far side of the dike, in his perfectly camouflaged hole, holding still, crouched with his automatic, in his mind, lo, the machine will begin its crawl up the embankment and flip over backward—imagine his horror when the machine rumbled over his hole in perfect balance. Of course, imagine that in the 113 ARVN is chasing horrified VC across the rice paddy, and popping up out of hatches to take pot shots at runners, now imagine the little son of a bitch with his hidey hole picking off ARVN unfortunates one by one until they realize they’re getting hit from behind. He’s probably alive to this day, that runt VC, telling the story to his best friend’s son, in a bungalow, on the waterfront. But he had a cousin, lo, and this is where I come in, being the top sniper in ARVN. When the 113s scattered the enemy, they would often run mad into the paddies, where they must have endured nightmare horrors of making absolutely no progress while running for their lives, the water up to their waists, before they get slaughter by raking fire. But the VC were a well-trained bunch, cool headed, and some of them would break off reeds, crouch under the water, breathing through the reeds. Sometimes it was easy to figure: five ran off that direction and we only shot three, where’d the others go? Under the water. And we’d have our drivers rock the big car—they could do that, rock it back and forth, and create waves and the rising falling water would expose these poor little fuckers who now looked so ridiculous, at war and all crouching with a tube in their mouth, heads bent back, and I’d drill them in the temple. They were some of my favorite kills.

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I’ve written a poem about it, lo:

Hollow is the reed of the head above water

Naked is the wearer of wave cloth

Enemy. I shoot you in the temple

You laugh in your eternity

as laughter echoes in my mobile chamber

I have written thousands of poems about war…’

‘Each in its time, I suppose.’

‘Meaning you fear me reading them all to you now.’

Drake smiled. ‘True enough.’

‘No, not now, not ever. I am old enough to know how easy it is, lo, to be an old fool. I have a poem about that, too, if you would like to hear it.’

‘Please no.’

‘Right, about your father, where were we?’

‘Donnie! Glad you’re back. Nordgaard is just going to tell me what happened.’

What happened? Time and distance appeared to have over-reacted to event, and now after having been met at the airport by the Suave Facilitator, Drake and Donnie were being driven through the disorienting expanses of Los Angeles, when the Suave Facilitator explained that for reasons of safety they were taking a circuitous route (to where?) and would change vehicles twice. At some point after landing, probably before clearing customs, Donnie had already realized, Drake’s parents having been assassinated, that safety would require much reason, reason applied to executing his, reason for the executioners of safety to apply to his safety the same standards that would be applied to Drake’s. Drake, just as he spoke no explanation for absconding with Donnie months ago on bare notice, spoke nothing of the current situation vis a vis dead parents, dangerous business, next moves, a future requiring the absorption of parents dead by head shots. All he said was that he wanted Donnie with him.

Nordgaard would tell them what happened.

When they arrived at the bungalow, an old man with smooth facial and skull skin standing between three and four feet opened the door; he was barefoot, wore a t-shirt and grey shorts so that his spindly build and enormous limb veins were plain to observe.

‘Do you preserve dwarf or midget?’ (Drake)

‘Call me Lew Alcindor, it won’t make me any taller.’

This was Drake senior’s executor, right-hand man, companero, Rasputin, Sokollu.

Amazingly, Drake had never met him, never even knew his name, though more than vaguely knew of his existence. He was certainly the little man in all the stories.

Not absurdly, Donnie, stepping into the bungalow, flashed on the suspicion that Nordgaard was ‘behind it all.’

‘I have their ashes inside,’ Nordgaard said, putting very little to rest.

Exhausted, charged with renegade momentum, Donnie flashed on Senator Hafbreit. Drake Senior had arranged his murder, he was sure of it.

In the moments of human reaction to oddities, the Suave Facilitator had disappeared and the three appeared to be alone in the bungalow. Would there be giant vehicles filled with modernist goons parked a hundred yards down the street, another outside the guardbox outside the gated beach community? Would the guardbox be hit by the VC? Or did he wonder that later…

‘Good, I’d like to hear it. Can I have something to drink?’

‘Tullamore Dew?’

‘I guess you know something about me.’

‘Yes, lo, of necessity not malice. And I apologize for the intrusion.’

Donnie looked to Drake.

‘If I had thought about it, I guess…but I didn’t.’

Drinks. Low chairs, attentive bodies leaning forward, three men slanting toward each other.

‘There’s little doubt who was behind it, Drake: Dane Frot. Your father encroached on his business every chance he got. They knew each other from Nam, hated each other there.’

‘I know who he is.’

The two looked to Donnie, who shook his head.

‘Ran Blackwater.’

‘Right.’

‘Did he ever tell you the Frot Nam story?’

‘No.’

‘Better you hear it. This was 69, when your father was special forces. Frot was special forces, same rank. What they called Vietnamization had begun, though it was more an imminence at the time. For it to succeed, the architects knew two things: the north would have to understand that the time of reason, such as it was, was over. They were dealing with an utter madman who valued his own life and none other and as such would bomb anywhere and everywhere at an intensity greater than ever until the enemy brought acceptable peace proposals to the table. On the ground, lo, the terror would both have to increase and appear to be relentlessly closing in on higher ranking Congminh’s. That was your father’s job, to conceive of and carry out operations that would strike terror, reverberating terror, into the fibre of the enemy. In a way, it wasn’t a hard job. The horrific had long been a fact of that war. The hard part was ratcheting up the horrific. This would require creativity. No cock and balls stuck in the mouths of the dead would do. No tits carved off mothers, no bamboo staved shoved up the cunts of virgins. That stuff was old. The solution was rather obvious. Surprise. They had to get close, closer than the enemy thought possible. This would require action in the north, since security in the south was always lax, duplicity the norm. By the north I don’t mean Haiphong, either—too easy. Escape by boat is always comparatively easy.

‘I don’t tell this story to aggrandize myself, but because the action was in the north, I, who could appear as Vietnamese as Ho Chi Minh and know the languages, was able to move relatively freely throughout the country and was expert at intelligence gathering. I will tell you how this all came about some other time, lo. But suffice to say that north or south, Hanoi or Saigon, the typical Vietnamese looked at me and saw, lo, a hick, a sad, poor peasant of the hills. My height? Given my slender build, my height was generally overlooked. I am no hunchback, nor seized by dwarfism. Allow me to interject one poem, lo:

‘You think you know what is an eye

Your eyes, you think, see

But you think, you think

Do not think, and your navel sees

We look eye to eye

And it is I who does the thinking

It is I who sees

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‘I trust you understand. What I wish to emphasize is my necessary role in these northern conspiracies of terror. Your father, Drake, was a very intelligent warrior. Unlike almost all warriors who fought the Congminh wars, he never, never, lo, underestimated his opponent. As such, in this context, he paid special attention to the best fighters on the enemy side. One of these was a northerner who was one of those who rejected the Hanoi line in the mid-fifties or so, and went south to continue the resistance. He was a master strategist. Ngu Cao. From a village near Hai Duong, a city in the delta halfway between Haiphong and Hanoi. First you must understand that this entire region was red and had been since before the war against the French, probably before World War II. Almost any enemy activity would be conspicuous, but as your father pointed out, at the same time any personal enemy activity would be entirely unexpected. Security precautions would be taken, but the human element of inadvertent, unconscious laxity would also avail. This we could not factor into our plan per se, lo, but we could expect a greater chance of success. Most important of all was intelligence. Periodically, main leaders from the south would be called to Hanoi for general strategy meetings, as before Tet. These we always knew about. More important, we knew that Ngu Cao would send an underling to Hanoi and he himself would visit family in his village near Hai Duong. Our plan, therefore, was to strike a fearsome blow at Ngu Cao and particularly his family when we learned of a great strategy meeting being held in Hanoi in the Spring of 69. Special forces had operatives who could pass for northerners, or were northerners, trained as well as any American. Both your father and Frot would infiltrate the delta with a cadre of five, not including me. As a sniper and intelligence agent, it was important that I never be seen on a mission. But I would be there.

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‘When Ngu Cao had the opportunity to visit his extended family, it was a festive occasion that had to remain quiet, of course. But it was important to him, for in perhaps 14 years he had been home fewer than five times by my calculation. He did not return to the north personally for the planning of Tet. The family gathering would not be held in the village itself for fear of bombing, though I very much doubt that Cao feared that his movements were known. For the most part they were not. We were just lucky that there were certain nodes attaching to him. In the south he was as elusive as a jungle snake. Half a mile from his village, there was a Confucian school just big enough to host his family gathering. The school was in an area of rice paddies, but for a kilometer or so in every direction was surrounded by foliage, a sort of thought environment for the students that was sacred. A dirt path went in and then out of this little jungle. Both entrances or exits would be well guarded. How would we get in? How would we get out? Suicide missions are really not so frightening, after all. Guards would also be placed outside the school. The only way was to enter the jungle, making our way through rice paddies, enter the jungle, find the clearing, and exit the other side, without alarming the soldiers guarding the road. Once we assessed the guard situation at the clearing and quietly eliminated them, we would probably cause a great deal of screaming that we could not be sure would be heard but had to assume would be at the entrances to the jungle. We determined that we would have fifteen minutes to carry out our mission before we would have to flee. Your father would lead the mission into the jungle. Frot would lead the covering mission on the other side of the jungle. If we managed to succeed with our mission, we had only a forced march through rice paddy terrain of between 20 and 30 kilometers to reach forested mountains to the northeast, from where we would make our way to the coast to a secluded spot between Ha Long and Quang Ninh, a journey for which we allotted ourselves a week, given the terrain and need for utter invisibility.

‘So Frot really had the easy job. He and his men would choose a spot halfway along the line where jungle met rice paddy and simply wait. If all went well, lo, our team would meet them and we would quietly scamper off, mission accomplished. Frot fucked up. First, he was careless of his position, making toward the jungle not 100 meters from where one end of the road entered, and area swarming with soldiers. Second, he gave us away by tripping onto a dugout on a dike. One of the men shot the soldier inside who had a radio in his hand. At that point, he fled with his men, figuring the entire mission was fucked. His third mistake saved us. He was about ten minutes late.

‘So our group reached the Confucian forest. We made our way to the clearing. Five guards were in front, two in back. Your father and I shot the five in front while two of his men knifed the two in back. No one inside heard a thing. Your father entered alone. In the school were perhaps fifty people. One of them was Ngu Cao, of course. This is terror. Deep, deep, deep inside you home territory, at ease with your family, a white man strolls into your sanctum, and, lo, the end is at hand. Your father walked in alone for effect, but his men soon came in from all sides. Two of them grabbed Ngu Cao. Your father ordered his eyelids sliced off. Then he took a pistol and went from frightened woman and child and whatever range of men, and, lo, he yanked them by the hair and shot them in the brains in front of Ngu Cao. After something between 10 and 20 of such executions, which included the wife of Cao, lo, and your father ordered the slaughter of the rest, followed by the slaughter of both of Cao’s legs below the knee. He personally put at least ten bullets in each leg. Then we took off into the jungle. As we neared the paddy we could hear much shouting, a few rounds fired. Peering through the foliage, we could only see a swarm that was about to turn its fury back toward us. We saw no sign of our comrades. There was nothing to do but work our way back through the jungle, try to avoid the clearing, come out the other side and hope we could leave the way we came. Whichever end of the road these soldiers came from, it was certain those at the other end would be heading toward the school. Remember, lo, we didn’t know if they would hear our automatic fire. They may have already been alerted.

Your father and I stuck together, one of our men was hit and dropped beside me as he ran. The others we lost track of. Presumed dead. We encountered no one, slipped into the paddies, quietly made our way away.

‘Before dawn I found a village I was familiar with, where I was known as a traveler and trader. I was given shelter. Your father hid during the day, spending miserable days in the heat, beset by insects, in bushes where he could never be sure he would not be seen or pissed on. No patrols came through. We hoped and assumed that the enemy was on the trail of chickenshit Frot and his squad. Of course, that settled one matter for us, lo—no escape route. We would have to improvise. We did. We travelled by night, slept by day, stayed in a few villages, and in a couple weeks made the jungle mountains south of Ha Nam.

‘Much later, in Da Nang, your father came across Dane Frot. Frot didn’t know he was at the base and his first involuntary start told your father all he needed to know. He heard Frot out, heard a story not unlike the real one—they were fired on, who knows what happened, figured we heard the firefight, no choice but to hightail it out of there, flanking movements both sides, not a second to lose. How many dead? Lucky group. All survived. None wounded. Frot twisted his ankle and made the forced march on that the whole way, using a bamboo staff for support. Behind a dispensary your father nearly beat him to death. I wasn’t there, and your father sometimes doesn’t tell much detail, besides, lo, I could well enough imagine. And his profile is known for the broken nose. At some point, he tired and the notion entered his mind that Frot need not die then and there. He often told me himself he regrets not finishing him off with his fists. A poem, lo:

‘Left to die

Why inflict this redundancy on me?

I who have slain boredom

I who have slain your demons

I left to die have become your demon

‘That is one of my favorites. I hope you like it, as well.

‘At any rate, now you know the origin of the conflict between Dane Frot and your father. Surely you know much about the competition between the two in recent years, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan.’

‘Yes, quite a lot.’

Slowly Nordgaard turned his head toward Donnie, his eyes steady in their bloody white globules, as if incapable of independent movement.

‘Does any of this make you uncomfortable?’

‘Not that I know of. Not to any extent that I know of. Perhaps after I catch up on my sleep. I take it that soon I will be made aware of the extent, if any, of danger Drake and I are in.’

‘Yes, lo, that is a question we need to assess. First I would like to describe what I can about the circumstances of the deaths of Drake’s parents.’

‘Please.’

‘Refill.’

Refilled.

‘Drake, they were shot once each in the head from about five hundred yards, from a tree up the hill. It was a high-powered sniper rifle, no point going into the details, but the kind of rifle you don’t miss with, don’t have to be an expert. However, lo, we believe they were marksmen—experts—hired by Frot. Much remains to be understood. The view from the location the shots came from is obscured, by design, by a row of cypress trees. A very narrow gap between two of them from that angle would allow an open view that would allow such shots if the car stopped exactly where it did, so that as each head rose from the car both would barely be within the range of sight. It was as if your father was in cahoots, lo, with his assassins. What is remarkable most of all is that he stopped the car at all, I mean outside the gates, which is something he never did as an elementary security precaution. Guards posted saw the bodies fall. No one heard the bullets. These guards have been questioned and have no idea why your father stopped the car when and where he did. As far as they could determine, there was no reason to do so. There was nothing wrong with the car, with the gate mechanism, which anyway can be controlled from a manned sentry box within the gate if something went wrong with the mechanism in the car. The car is fully bullet proof, so at that point the only thing that could have killed your father was a bomb…unless he stopped the car and got out. If you care to, I can take you there and walk you through it—’

‘No.’

‘Well, what—’

‘Maybe…’

‘Lo, it is something to think about. There is very little else to tell you. The assassins escaped. A car waiting nearby no doubt. That isn’t the kind of neighborhood you can easily move through on foot. Virtually every house has security. The property the assassins were on was vacant and the alarm system disarmed. An elementary job, simple security system. The chance of the killers being identified, captured, etcetera, is very slim. A detective Schneider has been assigned the case and we are in touch. He knew your father and liked him. He is good enough, but this is simply an impossible case to solve. The killers were not local. Likely they trained in Carolina at Frot’s facilities. They probably spent time in Iraq and various other countries. Their resumes would read like many of those of our own people and like dozens of Frot’s. In any case, lo, it is Frot we want, for there is no doubt in my mind that he ordered the assassination. Without a secret tape turning up or something along those lines, a disgruntled employee close to Frot approaching us, say, we have no chance of proving that it was Frot. Therefore, ipso facto, this is really not a matter for the law, but a matter of revenge or revenge foregone.’

‘You asking me a question?’

‘Not right now, but that is the question, and you, as his heir, will be the one to decide. I am prepared to execute your will. And speaking of wills, executing them and such, lo, it is I who have been named executor of your father’s will. Well, lo, and your mother’s will as it turns out, for in this event what he left her he left you. I won’t complicate. Various provision are made in the will for his employees, for their pensions should you decide to dismantle the company, something he foresaw as a possibility given that it was not your line of work and was not likely to be. It is set up to run itself—I would be CEO until a replacement could be decided upon—but he wanted you to feel free to leave it all behind as well. Much of what I have to tell you is not the kind of thing that is found in a will. For instance, he wanted you to know that despite appearances, he was not emotionally attached to the business. Furthermore, as you will see, he did not need the business to earn a living. Your father, your father, lo, formed the company to provide employment for some very difficult to employ friends, comrades in arms…The world became the kind of place in which such companies thrived. When Blackwater became big, your father did all he could to damage it, though with Dane Frot at the helm the company did quite well damaging itself. But, again, the world is the kind of place where such men thrive. Your father delighted in being a thorn in Frot’s ballsack, as he would put it, but he knew that that was all he was, lo, a thorn in a ballsack.’

‘I can certainly hear him saying it.’

‘Lo—Mister Garvin—’

‘Donnie.’

‘Feel free to stay or leave, drink as much as you like. Please feel free and comfortable. You may also ask any questions that arise. Drake has already informed me that you are to be trusted and nothing is to be kept from you.’

‘Does that do me any good?’

‘Comes down to it, Donnie, I think if you’re fucked at all by this you’re already fucked. If you know what I mean.’

‘I do. I’m not concerned. But I do wonder…it’s an obvious thing, but…pardon the cliché, but is this not, this assassination, possibly an inside job?’

‘Long story short, lo, absolutely not. I can explain in detail if you would like.’

‘No no, good enough. Go on.’

‘Your father, having engaged in this business, found delight mostly in getting Frot riled. He often pointed out that it wasn’t fair in that Frot could not in the least disturb your father while at the same time your father was virtually a daily nightmare to Frot. Frot sued when Blackguard was formed, but your father had anticipated that and had the legal question completely locked in before the suit. Not enough colors to go around, and, of course, a blackguard is a blackguard, a thing, a person, it has meaning—how can it reasonably equated with Blackwater? In fact, as your father had his lawyer point out in court, the very name Blackwater was rather senseless in comparison, for as much of the work of the company was in fact guarding…And, surely you know a great deal about the Iraq years. 90% of the contracts Blackwater lost went to Blackguard. Remember the slogans? “Blackguard: Our Business is Security, not Publicity.” “Blackguard: Protection is More Economical than Killing.”’

‘No, that one was mine: “Blackguard: At the Intersection of Safety and Savings”.

‘Right, he chose yours over mine. I remember.’

‘But there were others, several along the lines of yours: “Going About Our Business Quietly So You Can Go About Yours” type of thing…

‘“Criminals Fear Us, They Don’t Work for Us.”’

‘Good one.’

Enough candles had burned out that they light was much the same as the color of Tullamore Dew.

‘I can feel it now,’ Drake said.

‘Can you hold on a bit longer?’

‘Why?’

‘Best to get the financial aspects out of the way. Not in detail, but enough so you can begin to give it all some thought.’

Drake’s face reflected the oddity of the request, but amiably so.

Donnie felt now as if his physiology were dependent upon Drake’s.

‘Sure, Nordgaard, go ahead, then.’

‘Where I was headed, lo, was toward stressing that your father did not need the Blackguard business. He was already making a fortune from the military. This is a secret of the state variety, so probably Donnie should leave the room, but I will settle for a sworn…’

‘I promise.’

‘Yes, lo, call it what you may.’

‘Don’t tell anybody. Anyway, Nordgaard, you, sitting here, you’ve casually testified to the fact that my friend’s father is a war criminal many counts over. I have a lot to keep quiet about. And I don’t think I’ll feel morally compelled to disclose any of it. What’s a single state secret to me?’

‘Precisely.’

‘Precisely?’

The quiet imbuing the room was turning the color of Tullamore Dew.

‘Well,’ Drake prodded. ‘I got the war criminal part and I’m still listening, so while we can endure, please get on with the rest.’

‘Yes. Where to start…Why not. Area 51.’

Both young men laughed.

‘Yes, Area 51. Why not. It does exist, you know.’

‘So it is said.’

‘And so it does. Your father has been there more than once. He had a good friend stationed there. I won’t say which branch of the government, but a close friend I also happen to know from Vietnam. He had become a very important, a very powerful person. He was in on the drone project from the very beginning. Your father was up there with him, drinking at Sam’s Bar, lo, and they were going over the drone idea, back in the earliest days, and your father, shooting from the hip, happened to mention that this thing, which as far as anyone had yet conceived would look much like an airplane, ought to be blind, that it would be all the more fearsome were it to be blind—that is, windowless. His friend had made a sketch on a bar napkin and it had windows, and your father quite naturally asked why it needed windows if there was no pilot. And he imagined how it would appear to its victims, the extra bit of terror it would inspire by appearing…further removed from humanity, I suppose you could say, he conceived of a monstrous insect face, which is not so far off what ensued. It was a brilliant idea, lo, and he was credited with the patent, the patent for the windows, or lack of windows. A funny way to make money, really, getting paid, in effect, for something that does not exist: the windows of the drone. I don’t know the math off the top of my head, lo, but you can imagine—the expense of those weapons, and a percentage of each one made. Your father, Drake, was a billionaire. You, Drake, are now a billionaire.’

‘Well,’ Drake drew out his response thoughtfully, ‘I figured I’d have enough to get by.

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