Archive for the ‘Novel’ category

Working the City – 1,2,3,4

October 18, 2010

It’s an older, inner city neighborhood. The closest shopping area is eight blocks away. The grocery store building at the corner of my block is empty. I’m sitting on money. I’ve been saving it for an eventual move to the country. Yet, as I walk past the ‘For Rent’ sign in the store’s window, I’m attracted to the possibilities. I call the listed number. Within an hour, a sharply dressed older man arrives on the scene in a vintage, maroon Cadillac. He’s asking questions. What’s my plan? Do I have first and last months rent? Utilities deposits? I flash the cash. He gives me three copies of the lease and says I have thirty days to seek a lawyer’s advice before deciding. I scan through the lease and sign all three copies. He takes two copies and hands me the keys.

I clean the store, repair the walk-in cooler, wash the big glass windows in front. Then, early the next morning, I drive my pickup truck to the commercial produce terminal. Wholesale suppliers refuse me, saying my purchases are too small. However, at the end of the loading dock I find a supplier selling smaller quantities of expensive, high quality produce. He welcomes my business. Fresh items arrive early every morning by air freight, mostly from California. I can purchase older produce at reduced prices.

People in the neighborhood are delighted when I open the store with a wide selection of fruits and vegetables. They’re attracted to my unusual assortment of sweet and juicy melons with pink, orange, yellow, and green soft textured interior fruit, each with a unique flavor. They love my bright red tomatoes, gigantic orange carrots, pearly white onions, shades of green lettuce and cabbage. Grapes, apples, pears, and bananas. I’m sold out by the end of the day.

Even at moderate profit margins, I quickly accumulate enough money for a used deli counter with a working compressor allowing me to keep meats, cheeses, and other foods cool while on display behind glass. A stainless steel slicing machine comes with the deli counter. I sell pre-made sandwiches. Customers can buy a variety of ingredients and make their own. I collect an assortment of used kitchen tables with chairs and place them around the front area of the store where the big glass windows allow natural lighting throughout the day.

My shopping trips expand to include bakery, beverage, and condiment products along with the fresh produce, dried fruits, nuts, cheeses, and meats. I hire people from the neighborhood, a woman to make sandwiches, another woman to work the counter, and a man to work the front of the store dealing with customers and security while cleaning tables and taking out the garbage.

Everything’s going smoothly during the lunch rush when a tall man wearing a dark suit, white shirt, and tie walks into the store. He’s the city’s health inspector, looking for trouble. I hold my breath while he sniffs around. He gives me a list of violations to correct and tells me I’m doing a great job. I offer him a sandwich and a beverage but he says he’d rather pay for it to avoid a misunderstanding. We sit at a table to talk. He does most of the talking. He’s a treasure chest of food business knowledge. I ask why he still works for the city. He shrugs and looks out the window like that’s not a proper question.

_______
II

City departments are overwhelmed by job cuts and, in the absence of adequate police protection, the few remaining inspectors rarely venture into the neighborhoods. My store’s liquor license effectively allows me to market beer, wine, and distilled spirits in whatever manner I choose. The legal minimum age remains a priority concern for me and my employees, nonetheless.

The local gang leader pressures me for protection money. I’m able to involve him in a business scheme, giving me the confidence I need to make further investments in the neighborhood.

An empty industrial building six blocks from the store is in excellent condition. It has an attached four story warehouse and a paved parking lot surrounded by a ten foot high fence. I cut a deal with the property management agency. In the absence of other alternatives, they’re eager to work with me and my phased development plan.

Using unemployed workers from the neighborhood, including several master carpenters, I partition the main floor of the warehouse building into a mini-mall of separate stores. When the right time comes, I’ll go city wide with advertising. Until then, I stay under the radar. I don’t want inspectors coming around, going by the book.

I use the second floor of the warehouse building to support the first floor’s business activities. The third floor goes to the local gang leader who runs security operations. The forth floor is a private club with high stakes gambling.

In the large industrial bay, with its four stories high ceiling and one long wall consisting almost completely of big glass windows, I create an area for private parties with a bar, a stage, and a dance floor.

My job is easy. I’m the boss. Although the gang leader who runs security likes to think he’s the boss. He’s controlling crime and violence in the neighborhood, creating a safe environment for business, so I don’t mind humoring him.

_______
III

Pau Patro, that’s the local gang leader’s name. He now runs security operations for all my business activities. I couldn’t operate in the neighborhood without him. He’s young, strong, and ambitious. He reminds me of a line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. He of the lean and hungry look who doesn’t sleep at night. Referring to Brutus, I believe. Machiavelli’s political treatise, The Prince, also comes to mind. My greatest need is stability. Pau’s violent and sometimes cruel actions are predicated on acquiring necessary ends by any means. His methods are justified as the best way to acquire, maintain, and protect neighborhood stability.

There’s another new stadium downtown, along with casino, theater, and hotel renovations. The city’s looking good in mainstream corporate media. However, many neighborhood leaders throughout the city are lobbying for political independence, saying their specific needs are being ignored. They want to break the city up into separate villages with their own taxes and public services.

My neighborhood is a microcosm of the city. Business is good for some, nonexistent for others. Personally, I’m riding a wave of success. But I don’t want to ignore the needs of others. Referring back to Machiavellian theory, I don’t want to be hated by the neighborhood residents. They can hate Pau, not me. I share the wealth. I create jobs, business, and profits for others.

I bend the rules, yes, when they get in my way. But I bend them for others as well. I’m not Robin Hood, no, but I consciously funnel wealth from the rich to the poor. I started doing it for myself, of course, but once I learned how, a spiritual awareness came with it. There are forces at play beyond my understanding, and yet one simple rule to guide me and never bend. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Pau laughs when I tell him that.

_______
IX

Pau walks into my second floor office without knocking. He doesn’t ask if I’m busy.

I’m fascinated by his boldness even as I resent his presumption.

His presence intimidates me. He’s an archetype. An attractive warrior god. Tall, thick, muscular. Large head, dark eyes, wide set. Light olive skin. Thick dark curly hair, salon cut to collar length. His features defy specific ethnic classification. Although he’s definitely Mediterranean.

He slides a big stuffed chair across the room towards my desk, and says: “Who’s this Machiavelli cat you keep talking about?”

“Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli,” I reply, “is an Italian philosopher, writer, and civil servant from the fifteenth or sixteenth century. He wrote one book about how to apply power in the art of war. He wrote another book about how to apply it in politics. He remains famous for that last book because his methods still apply. You seem to know them instinctively.”

Pau smiles. Remains silent. I look away.

He surrounds me, suffocates me, with his presence.

“You think you can run this operation better than me, Pau? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?”

He hesitates, makes me wait, thinking about what I just said.

“I’m telling you I can handle the dance hall and casino operations. Have them cooking every night with private parties. Keep it under control. No cops, no city inspectors. I’m telling you I can do that.”

Our eyes meet. His smile forces me to smile.

“We can’t do it all at once,” I say: “Until we’re sure how it’s going to work, let’s move slowly. Along with alcohol, our drug sales will skyrocket.”

“I can handle it,” he says, pulling a fat joint from his pocket: “Here, try this. It’s excellent pot. I think you’ll like it.”

I take the joint, and say: “I need to get more work done first. I’ll smoke it later. But the drugs I’m worried about are heroin, cocaine, speed, ecstasy. Suppliers of those drugs will zero in on us. I don’t feel comfortable with that. I don’t want to get involved in a city wide drug war.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve got it covered,” Pau insists. He leaves the big stuffed chair next to my desk. He doesn’t close the door behind him.

With an energized awareness from toking on the joint in my office, I enter the expansive industrial bay area of the building where an overhead matrix of lights floods the dance floor, bar, and stage area with bubbles of randomly changing color and brightness while dancers move hypnotically to erotic rhythms. Male and female prostitutes are available for hire but the price of admission to this Sodom and Gomorrah excludes the casual shopper.

Pau calls my name, invites me to his table. An attractive woman sitting with him looks in my direction as I approach. Pau wraps an arm across my shoulders, and says: “Laura, I’d like you to meet Brian. He’s the real boss around here.”

Laura! Fair skin, auburn hair. Oval face, well proportioned. Greenish eyes, lined and tinted. Glossy red lips. She’s beautiful. I’m hoping she’s not a prostitute.

“Laura needs a job, Brian. I thought you could use her. You said you were looking for an assistant, didn’t you?”

She reaches out to me. I take her hand, and reply: “Yes. Yes, I did say that. I’m very happy to meet you, Laura.”

We dance. She presses her body lightly against mine. Our eyes meet. She smiles.

I’m feeling paranoid. Maybe it’s the pot. Maybe not.

Private Security -VI

September 9, 2010

Rob’s basic living quarters were attached to the back of the pole barn where a path into the elevated forest began sloping upwards just outside the rear door. When Janis finally awoke, Rob suggested: “Let’s go for a walk in the woods. We can climb to the top of the hill, catch the sunset. There’s nothing like it.”

She threw off the sheet, exposing her naked body, and said: “I don’t have anything to wear.”

“Let’s go savage, back to the basics, who needs cloths?”

“I do,” she moaned: “I want my things.”

“I’ll take you there anytime you’re ready,” Rob said, stressing sincerity in his tone.

“I can’t. I’m afraid. I don’t want him to kill you.”

“We can get you some new things,” Rob said, relaxing his tone: “Meanwhile, put on your army boots and let’s go climb the mountain. This here combat uniform is the perfect outfit for rough activities.”

“Oh, you want to get rough, huh?” she said, jumping out of bed and crouching like a boxer with her fists in the air.

As they embraced, Janis seemed more composed and in control of herself, Rob thought. In the pickup truck the night before, she seemed distraught and on edge while frequently smoking cigarettes. After their early morning sexual marathon, she had slept for most of the day, which could account for the change in her behavior.

He wanted to know more about her but he avoided questions that would put pressure on her. She would unfold in her own natural rhythm, he felt, and he could live with that.

The forest engulfed them in its timeless mysteries like an ancient cathedral. They stopped halfway to the top to catch their breath at a sunny clearing.

“I can understand why you called this an enchanted forest,” Janis said: “There’s a remarkable presence here. I could sense it right away as we started up the path. I feel like a Druid. I’m in love with this place. You own it?”

“I’m buying it. I’ve got the payments covered for awhile but I’m looking for a way to pay it off quickly and retire. Then there’s the taxes. The local farmer is selling it to me because he doesn’t want to keep paying taxes on land he can’t farm. But he doesn’t want it cut down, either. I promised him I’d take good care of it. And I will.”

“I feel good here,” Janis said: “Like I belong. I am the forest. We are one. In society, we all have our separate identity. It’s different here. Does that make sense to you?”

“You are a Druid, aren’t you? In spirit, anyway. That’s why I want this place so badly. My spirit comes alive here.”

“This is like another world, Rob. It’s like traveling in time, leaving all my worries behind. Here with you, Cal seems like a little man, in a far away place. And I’ve been afraid of him for so long. If I’m dreaming, I want this dream to last forever.”

Rob caught himself before reflexively saying, nothing last forever. He wanted to believe it could. Perhaps in a spiritual way, who knows?

Private Security – V

September 7, 2010

They approached Rob’s property shortly after midnight. A large hill located near the center of the least populated farming county in the state, the sloping landscape had evolved through the years into a natural forest with an inner and an outer canopy.

As he turned from the county road onto his property’s private access road, the dim lights of his pickup truck could be seen from a distance moving through the darkness of the farmer’s grain field towards the elevated woods and it worried him, even though the likelihood of locals being awake that late at night would be very low.

After driving in silence for almost an hour, Rob said: “Why did you even mention Cal, if you’re not going to tell me about him?”

Janis lit another cigarette, exhaled smoke, and said: “What were you in the army, a marksman, a long range sniper? You think you can sneak up on him?”

“I don’t think anything. I have no information. That’s what I’m asking for.”

“Okay, if he finds us, he will kill you, definitely. He might not kill me. We’ve been through shit before. He and I. This time, I don’t know.”

“He might kill you, yet you’re protecting him?”

“He has to find us first, doesn’t he? Like you said.”

The access road followed along the base of the elevated forest to an area not visible from the county road where, inside a tall cyclone fence topped with barbwire, he had a large pole barn, a built in living quarters, and a storage yard.

Portions of the fence were illuminated by the truck lights as they approached.

Janis sat up, and said: “That looks like a prison yard.” Rob stopped the truck to watch the gate open in response to his signal, and said: “What do you know about prison yards?” She stuffed her cigarette in the dashboard ashtray, and said: “More than I care to know.”

The gate close behind them before he signaled the overhead door in the pole barn to open. Then he drove inside, switched off the truck lights, shut down the the engine, and closed the door.

They sat listening to each another breathing in the silent darkness for a few moments before Janis slid next to him on the truck seat. She placed one hand on the back of his neck, the other hand on his leg, and said: “This is what you want, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” he said, turning to embrace her, adding: “But let’s eat and then shower first.”

“No, let’s do it now. A quickie, right here. I’ll make you cum real fast, I promise. Let me show you.”

She tasted like tobacco when they kissed but as he removed her camouflage combat uniform to kiss her naked body she tasted more divine than sparkling cheery wine, and proved equally intoxicating.

Private Security – IV

August 28, 2010

Rob noticed her outside the health food store one sunny morning. She had long brown hair and she wore a pale rose dress matching the color of her skin. The dress fabric, which barely covered her torso, clung to her body loosely, accentuating her curves as she moved. She bent to load groceries in her car and he could see her panties. He felt like a fool when she caught him looking. Her big brown eyes, her pouting facial expression, and her body language all seemed to say, if you think you’ve got something special to offer, mister, bring it on. Rob backed away when her musclebound companion came from the store with more groceries.

He saw her a few day later as he exited a drive through restaurant in his pickup truck. The street lights had just come on and he noticed her standing in the rain, wearing a black hooded cape, waiting for a bus. When he pulled alongside the curb, she looked at him through the open passenger’s window and, without a sign of recognition, said: “Take my advice and keep moving.”

Her facial cuts and bruises were from a recent beating, Rob concluded. The threat of danger heightened his interest. He had a complete survival kit in the back of his pickup truck, including a small arsenal of military weapons. Plus, he had a loaded handgun strapped under his seat where he could reach it.

He held her eyes with a steady gaze as he unlocked the door.

She hesitated, looked around, and then climbed inside.

Rob locked the door, shifted into drive, and accelerated from the curb. Then, while maneuvered his vehicle into traffic, he said: “Your place or mine?”

“You may not live to regret this,” she said, removing the hooded cape.

Her long hair had been cut short with different lengths going in every direction. Yet, even with the wild hair, the bruised face, and the poor lighting inside his pickup truck as they traveled through the city at night, he felt strongly attracted to her exotic beauty.

Holding a cigarette to her mouth, she said: “You don’t mind if I light this, do you?”

“For you, I’ll make an exception,” Rob replied, turning his head for a quick look into her eyes. Then, returning his attention to the road, he added: “I used to smoke. I quit when I joined the army. Almost five years ago.”

“You’re army?” she said, lighting her cigarette before adding: “You’re going to need it. Where have you served?”

“That’s classified. Name, rank, and serial number. Rob’s the name.”

“Okay, first names, I’m Janis. Here’s another first name for you to remember, Cal. He’s looking for me. And when he finds me, he’ll kill me and whoever is with me. Do you understand that? He’s a killer. He’ll stalk us and he’ll come out of nowhere when we least expect him.”

“He’s gotta find us first, Janis.”

“He will find us, he always gets what he wants.”

“Maybe I should go after him. That’s how we do it in the army. Attack, don’t wait for things to happen.”

She gave him a long sidewise stare before going back to her cigarette.

“Tell me about Cal,” he said, keeping his eyes on the road as he merged into expressway traffic heading out of the city.

“I don’t wanna talk about him right now,” Janis said, knocking the flame from her cigarette into the dashboard ashtray, saving the smokable butt inside the cellophane wrap of her cigarette pack.

Rob wanted to press the issue but he understood her need to be alone within herself. They drove through the dark countryside for almost an hour before she said: “Where the hell are we?”

“I have some isolated property out here,” he replied: “It’s mostly forest with steep elevation, surrounded by wetlands from flowing wells. Most of the flat farmland in the area is used to grow legumes, grasses, and grains for animal feed. It’s mostly dairy farms in the adjacent counties.”

“I didn’t ask you for a geography lesson,” she said as she pulled a new cigarette from her pack. After lighting it, she inhaled, held her breath, and, with smoke coming from her mouth, said: “I still don’t know where I’m at.”

“That’s good,” Rob said: “Then you can’t be sending mental messages back to Cal, informing him of your whereabouts.”

“Mental messages? You’re more paranoid than I am. I’m worried about tracking devices in my cloths, Cal gave them to me.”

“Take them off and throw them away. There’s a clean army blanket behind the seat. You can wrap yourself in that. Have you had any operations lately where something could have been implanted? Have you noticed any marks on your body that could be the result of an implant? Maybe I should look.”

“Look at my naked body? In the truck, using a flashlight? I don’t think so. I’m very sensitive, I would know if a tracking device had been placed inside me.”

“There’s a public campsite along the river up ahead. I’ll pull in there. I’ve got some clothes for you in the back.”

Rob carefully steered his truck from the asphalt blacktop onto a narrow dirt road leading down to the river. The parking lot had four vehicles close to the campsites. He stopped in a space just inside its entrance. Before getting out, he reached behind the seat for his shoulder holster and, after strapping it on, he reached under the seat for his handgun.

Janis laughed, and said: “You are paranoid.”

“It’s no use to me under the seat when I’m not in the truck.”

“You don’t trust me, do you? That’s why you’re taking the gun with you. You don’t want to leave it here with me.”

“It’s nothing personal, Janis. I don’t feel comfortable without my weapon. And I never leave it behind, not with anyone.”

Rob’s survival kit included an assortment of woman’s clothing per the advisement of a female friend. He found a combat uniform with the latest camouflage pattern and a matching boonie hat with a wide brim which snaps in place like an Australian bush hat. Then he located the appropriate underwear, socks, and boots.

“Oh, I hate that stuff,” she said when he returned to the cab.

He waited outside for her to change. Then, while she found a secure place to urinate, he buried her previous clothing in the woods, wrapped in aluminum foil.

Private Security – III

August 12, 2010

Rob’s special forces team consisted of twelve seasoned mountain warfare counter-terrorism veterans. Officially, they were participating in a coordinated effort involving US trained Afghan army and police units attempting to force Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents from a large mountainous area. Effectively, they were out there on their own, given the amount time required for combat support to arrive, if it arrived.

Late one evening just before dark, they reached a semi-barren plateau halfway to the top of the Hindu Kush mountains. Rob’s detachment commander decided they should rest through the night. They were tired from hours of climbing the steep path leading up to the plateau, checking caves along the way.

After selecting a defensive position behind a large pile of rocks adjacent to a clump of windswept trees, they deployed an eleven inch, eight pound robotic surveillance vehicle: controlled with a specialized touchscreen laptop computer, it maneuvered under, over, and around obstacles while scanning the area for electromagnetic vibrations in the visual and infrared spectrum using a miniature array of sensitive receptors and then transmitting its findings directly to the laptop where they could be viewed in real time, recorded, and analyzed.

Rob found a spot inside their defensive position where he could sit without removing his equipment: a flat rock with boulders stacked into a perfect alcove surrounding it. While still holding his fully automatic M4A1 carbine in his lap, he rested his backpack and combat helmet securely against the boulders. Then he closed his eyes, relaxed his body, and entered into a deep sleep using an auto suggestion technique learned from a book while in training.

He awoke at three in the morning with full recall of his situation and location. But the darkness had an uncomfortable feel. Partly from the high altitude and low atmospheric pressure, he realized, but also something else, like deja vu getting ready to happen. He remembered the recent combat where an air strike became their only course of action and he was not interested in living through that again. He washed the bitter taste from his mouth with saliva as he adjusted his night vision goggles.

Seeing everyone still asleep, Rob leaned over to awaken the chief warrant officer who had the specialized laptop. He checked the robot’s memory in the computer and found information indicating the presence of armed insurgents moving in position to surround them. The captain and the rest of the group were immediately awakened. Each soldier had a specific function on the team, yet they were cross trained to perform all other functions, and to operate as two teams of six each.

The captain decided to attack rather than wait. Rob’s team of six blasted their way through the surrounding circle of insurgents to get behind them. He didn’t know how many there were but the majority of them were probably men from local and remote villages being forced to join the Taliban or their family would be punished. Rob regretted having to kill them but, with his training, experience, and night vision equipment, he dropped them one at a time, making every shot count, and none go astray. All members of his team did likewise, using their computerized goggles to determine safe angles of fire relative to each team member’s position.

Rob slept soundly and often when he first returned home from the army. But, after a couple of weeks, he started waking up at three in the morning checking for situation and location, feeling comforted to realize he was home in bed and not sleeping on a pile of rocks high in the mountains, the sparsely populated center of world population, surrounded by numerous armed men who he needed to kill immediately to assure his own survival. When he couldn’t get back to sleep, he wondered about his special forces unit. He thought about returning to the army but he doubted the success, even the moral judgment, of their mission. He needed to find another way to make a difference in the world. And he wanted to do it at home, in the USA.

He walked across the university campus on his way to the admissions office, impressed by the number of construction projects at various stages of progress, especially in a down economy, a war drained economy. The students walking around campus looked young, wealthy, and fashionably dressed. He remembered dropping out of school to join the army because of credit card debt accumulated trying to keep up with them. And the sight of them now clashed with his still vivid memories of combat, of climbing over rugged mountain terrain in pursuit of combat, of interacting with understandably uptight Afghan villagers. The intensity of his negative reaction to the campus surprised him. He sensed himself going out of control emotionally. When he reached the administration building’s entrance, he turned and quickly walked away.

While in the army, he had everything under control, even during combat, especially then. Now, without the mental constraints he had developed in training, and strengthened through experience, his hidden fears were stepping forward into the light. Emotional stress that had been growing beneath the surface now entered his consciousness fully developed.

Sitting in his car, still in the parking lot with the windows down and the motor running, he felt almost normal. He wouldn’t have the patience for schoolwork, anyway, he told himself, deciding to forget the campus for now and find a job.

Private Security – II

August 12, 2010

Some people are born with talents and inclinations, they make their best contribution and are happy only if permitted to follow their dreams. Others adapt more easily to a variety of situations, they can shift from one activity to another and remain reasonably happy. Rob had no talents or dreams. As a child, he adapted to his family’s dysfunction. In school, he adapted to the academic and social pressures. In the army, he adapted to the discipline and the training. But when he arrived on the battlefield, he could not adapt to the death and destruction. He began to dream. He dreamed of peace: and he would never be happy without it, he knew.

Shortly after Rob’s departure from the States for Afghanistan, his father moved into a nursing home, leaving his mother alone in the old house with her birds, dogs, and cats. He talked to her on the phone when he could, which wasn’t often enough due to his involvement in special operations. When his unit first arrived at the forward operating base in Afghanistan, they had hot chow, a bed, showers, a PX, barbershop, and laundry. They even had contract vendors like Burger King, Green Bean Coffee, Popeye’s Fried Chicken. They had an AT&T call center, plus the Internet. But when his unit deployed on a mission with an interdiction team climbing over rugged terrain in the northeast mountains along the Afghanistan border with Pakistan, they had little more than the necessities brought in by helicopter, and that only periodically. It was a primitive and forbidding existence.

His strength and stamina were taxed almost to the breaking point, carrying heavy personal equipment and weapons up into towering mountains and down into steep valleys. He struggled with feelings of futility but he kept it to myself. Complaints were the last thing anyone wanted to hear out there. Everybody repeated the same mantra: “If we don’t fight them over here now, we’ll end up fighting them at home later.” As a good soldier, Rob could not, and would not, question his mission. And, as a thinking individual, he knew better than to open the floodgates of speculation under those conditions. The determined enemy used everything from rocket and mortar attacks, to sniper and small arms fire, to improvised explosive devises and land mines. And the enemy did not hesitate to kill innocent Afghan civilians who cooperated with US efforts to provide the local people with a taste of something better: like roads, schools, clinics, and medical care.

When high in the mountains one night, Rob looked up at the sky, out into the universe, and he felt an arousing, timeless presence, like the universe itself was watching him, calling to him. Not with words, but if he put it into words they would say: intelligent living matter is not easy to produce or maintain in this universe; when and where it occurs, it must be carefully nurtured to assure its survival and continuance into the future. Intelligent life on Earth may be the seed of intelligent life in the universe, he concluded, and his higher mission was to stop the killing, to create peace, to nurture life.

He respected the people of modern Afghanistan. He understood some of their history and diversity from a training course; but he understood them best from the look in their eyes and the expression on their face, from their proud yet humble existence. Take away the Taliban and the coalition forces, Rob mused, and the local people had a reasonable lifestyle, with timeless traditions. Whenever he entered an Afghan village sweeping for Taliban insurgents, he felt responsible before the universe for the authenticity of his own existence. Spiritual angst and philosophical anxiety affected him emotionally. He wanted to avoid violence: he held that thought in his consciousness, while projecting it outward onto the world around him. But it didn’t always work. Befriending the Americans was like a kiss of death for the villagers. The Taliban were sure to return as soon as the Americans moved on.

The struggle against Taliban insurgents seemed especially futile when the US trained Afghan army and police units proved incapable of carrying out their missions. Rob’s unit was ambushed one night as they approached a mountain village to be swept for insurgents. They were surprised to find Afghan militants with sophisticated communications and heavy weaponry awaiting their arrival and were quickly surrounded. Calls for help to the local Afghan army and police went unanswered. Rob hated to see that happen because the only remaining alternative was to call for an air strike and a lot of people were going to die that night: unnecessarily, in his opinion.

Private Security

August 3, 2010

He waited impatiently for his mother to finish, visualizing the pained expression on her face, her fragile voice barely sounding audible through the phone, as she said: “Stop living on borrowed money, Rob. You’re getting in too deep. Drop out of school, get a job. Do it for a year, however long it takes. Pay off these credit card debts.” And then he said: “I’ve got it taken care of, mom. According to the army recruiter on campus, they’ll give me an immediate cash bonus to pay down my debt, they’ll help me financially with my education later, and they’ll give me valuable job related skills.” Graduation from college remained his long term goal, he promised her; but once he signed the enlistment papers, the serious nature of that commitment moved front and center in his life.

During boot camp, he felt like a kid again, playing war games with his buddies. He had no worries about making money, choosing what cloths to wear, or finding a date. It was all about toughness, getting into shape. He loved it. When the time came to apply for a technical school, he decided to stay with a combat unit instead and his drill sergeant recommended him for special forces training.

Near the end of his four year enlistment, while on a mission one night with an interdiction team, climbing down a steep path in the northeast mountains along the Afghanistan border with Pakistan, a sniper’s bullet grazed his leg. Pain medication turned the surrounding area into a dreamscape as he dressed the wound with a large bandage from his medical kit. His team leader decided they should stop there and wait until after sunrise before entering an ancient village below them. When sunlight burst from behind the mountains, his heart filled with agony at the sight of death and destruction where the village once stood.

The memory of this incident haunted him and the overall futility of their attempted military solutions disheartened him. With his tour of active duty completed, he decided to give college another try. Yet his conception of life and his overall expectations had changed. Few students on campus shared his level of urgency about world conditions. Even the professors seemed out of touch. Instead of going to school, he acquired a job through a relative, installing security systems.

He learned the business quickly and then went out on his own in a neighborhood where burglaries and robberies were frequent. A private police force, offering continuous neighborhood patrols, became a logical direction for his business to expand. He embraced the metaphor of all out warfare against an elusive enemy. As crime decreased in his district it increased in other parts of the city and the police department proved incapable of making an adjustment. The mayor questioned the security company’s legality and scheduled Rob to appear before the city council in his company’s defense.

Stepping to the podium at the appointed time, Rob introduced himself.

The council president, while leafing through his notes, said: “Tell us, sir, tell us why you think you should be allowed to operate like you owned the city. You’re interfering with some very important ongoing criminal investigations, according to my notes. We need to get your company under control, in my view. So, before we go any further, let’s hear from you.”

Visualizing his prepared statement, Rob said: “It’s time to end kick backs, graft, and corruption in this city’s government. It’s time to privatize city services. Allowing markets to decide. Beginning with security. Everything else will follow. I’m a businessman, a supplier of products and services. People want more security. And I guarantee it, at a reasonable price.”

The expressions on the council member’s faces said it all, Rob thought: a legitimate argument with which to refute him did not exist and they knew it. He bit his lower lip to keep from laughing. They had no way of stopping him, he felt, or of even knowing how far he had already progressed.

“The federal government may have something to say about this,” the council president sternly interjected: “I’m referring your activities to the department homeland security. Meanwhile, we will be continuing our own investigation, and I’ll see you in court.”

Rob started to laugh but he lowered his eyes instead and walked away. If they were to meet in court, he vowed, the council president would be the defendant.