Saturday, June 20, 2009

Loss, Part Deux (Lonesome Dove)

The dove died. I found its body in the grass under the blue spruce where he and its mate first built a nest. It looked recent, from natural causes--I couldn't really tell, but its feathers were unmaimed--and its eyes had the milky white color something forgotten. I put on gardening gloves, picked it up and buried it under the tree.

The last time I buried a small animal was when I was five years old. I'd found a dead mouse in the kitchen trap my mother set in the old house in St. Germain, just outside Paris. The mouse's neck was broken and there was a small piece of cheese in its mouth. I interred it with great ceremony in the backyard. There were hymns, prayers, an emotional and imaginative recap of its life, a small wooden cross made from two twigs and black sewing thread. This burial was simpler. I dug a hole in the soaked soil, put the bird in, covered it, avoided thinking about all the quotidian symbolism attached. I wondered about its next incarnation, wished it a happier one.

This has been a month of losses both minor and major, a bruising time on the psyche and on the emotions. My expectations, slim though they might be, have proven nonredeemable. I feel tired, despondent, scared of the future or lack thereof, unsure of where to turn for solace. There have been a lot of ashes scattered in the past 30 days, enough to make the horizon somewhat gray and uninviting. It would be pleasant to end this on a note of hope, but today the notes are out of tune.

Here's installment 101 of Wasted Miracles.

Drugs,” said Comfort. “Heroine.”

“Which you obtained by...”

“Theft. From my boss. From the Zulu.”

“Earlier you said it came from a man named Herbie.”

Comfort nodded. His legs had gone from unbearably painful to numb. “Herbie. Yes, I’m sorry. The drugs came from Herbie, but he got them from the Zulu.”

“Your boss.”


“So you took the drugs from Herbie?”

“No. Yes. No. Herbie stole them from the Zulu. But it was my idea.”

“You’re confusing me, Mr. Okwuike.” The crank turned half a circle. Comfort’s legs spasmed.

“Herbie stole them from the Zulu. I told him how to do it. But he didn’t, not really. I had switched them. He stole a bag of flour. Flour and lactose.”

“Baby formula?”


“What a resourceful fellow you are, Mr. Okwuike.” The man’s voice dripped sarcasm. “And what a stupid man this Herbie must have been...”

“Not stupid. I tricked him.” Comfort tried to swallow, couldn’t. He asked, “May I have some water? Please?”

“In a moment. How did you trick him?”

“I gave him some heroine. From an earlier shipment. It made him very sick.”

“And why was that?”

“Rat poison. A tiny amount mixed in. Less than one percent. It was his first time with heroine. And he thought...”

The man nodded. “He though all heroine might have the same effect.”

Comfort nodded.

The man dipped another cupful of water and this time held it to Comfort’s lips. Comfort drank too greedily, choked, coughed. The man jumped back, wiped at his shirt angrily. Comfort closed his eyes, steeled himself for another turn of the crank. It didn’t come.

“So you sold the heroine, the real heroine.”

“Two former policemen. They bought it. A good bargain for them.”

“And Herbie?”

“Lactose. Flour. He died.”

“From the fake drugs?”

“No.” Comfort shook his head. “No. Zulu. Zulu had him killed. After he found out.” Even in the midst of his pain, Comfort knew better than to admit his participation in a murder, or his role in engineering it.

“This is getting to be a fascinating tale, Mr. Okwuike. I’m enthralled.” He placed his hand back on the crank. Comfort stiffened. “I’ll put this away now.” He unclipped the leads from the generator, let them fall to the ground. Comfort felt his entire body go soft.

“Thank you.”

“You’re quite welcome. Please do go on. So the Zulu killed your poor friend Herbie for a bag of flour. There’s something almost Biblical about that, isn’t there? And how did he react when he discovered the subterfuge?”

Comfort tried to stand up straighter but his legs were without feeling or strength. “Will you untie me, please? I couldn’t escape, even if I wanted to.”

The officer smiled but shook his head. “Perhaps in a moment, when you’ve finished your tale.”

Comfort took a deep breath. “Herbie gave the drugs for safekeeping to some other people. The Zulu never learned of the switch. Until it was too late.”

“Your idea, of course.”

Comfort nodded.

“Brilliant.” The officer shook his head in admiration. “Simply brilliant. Now. Let us talk about your foreign assets.”


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