Plantains piled high. Woven baskets full of beans and pulses. Dried, salted fish and curried goat. I made my way through the evening market, sand rising in the air as trucks depart with their unsold goods, last rush for the discounted meats that spoil soon. I had been in the country for six days but still hadn’t heard from the agent who was supposed to meet me at the airfield. Company policy was to consider the contact in the wind at this point, to return to headquarters and await further communication. This was complicated, however; we hadn’t heard a word from this contact since last summer, when his name was flagged by our system after being reported by the local coroner.
Whoever was using our deceased agent’s contacts and callsigns seemed to know exactly who we were, and so was either stupid enough to assume we’d be fooled, or desperate enough not to care. I had wondered, as the plane skidded uneasily across the runway, whether it would in fact be our old associate waiting at the gate, miraculously healed of the thirteen bullet-wounds listed in the report. At least three of those went through his skull, so I was ready for a slow-talker.
Humour will preserve your courage while the little shrieker in the back of your head paints a picture of a death-squad lying in wait near the airport, Kalashnikovs clacking gently as they huddle down, all eyes on the gate, waiting for the obvious spook.
But there had been nothing. After an hour of waiting I had jumped in a taxi to the nearest town and put cash down on a room. That night I stood in the street-facing window, smoking and eyeing the women at the brothel across the road, lamenting, not for the first time, that only the Russians permit their people to fuck and get fucked up on the clock.
After three days I was antsy. It was looking more and more like someone had found our man’s contacts and gotten curious. I changed hotels every evening, but no one was following me and no one was tossing the rooms I’d stayed in. It was time to leave, I knew that. But…
My ears ringing with the blast. Patterson dead, missing the better part of his left arm on the ground beside me. Gunfire and shouting. Had to get the ambusher’s truck off the runway, or we’d never be able to take off. Crawling to my gun, legs don’t move so good. Gunman above me now, blocking the sun, raising his gun and barking something… His head snaps forward, burst of fire from the barrel of his gun as he briefly death-grips the trigger, most bullets thudding into the sand, two into the side of the plane. Above me now, my contact, hand outstretched and already stinking of cordite. Clamber onto plane as he jumps in truck and makes a getaway. Saved me.
Gratitude. I’d felt something when his name popped up red on my terminal feed. Had any of them survived the ambush? If so, they may have identified him. Did he die because he saved me? I briefly glanced at my terminal for the first time in days; unread messages nearing the hundreds now. I was being missed. I knew I had to go back, report the lead as unconfirmed and reconsider our presence in the region. Tomorrow. I’d go home tomorrow. For now, I decided to head to the market for the evening; this was where we’d first encountered our agent, pulling him out of a dispute with a local merchant and taking him to a nearby cafe, filling his stomach with food, his head with thoughts of espionage and his hand with currency.
Women carried the last of the unsold goods to the trucks, the sinking sun setting the brilliant colours of their traditional garb ablaze. I turned a corner past a fruit stand being taken apart for the night and there he was. I froze. He was unmarked by bullets, his face seemingly far older than before. But the eyes I stared into after having accepted my death would forever be burned into my memory, and I knew he had been waiting for me. Unknown feelings of warmth and brotherhood began to blossom in my chest as I headed toward him. I wasn’t even checking my surroundings anymore; I was so happy to see him. His eyes were warm but hinted to a resigned sadness. Raised voices to my left, clattering and shoving. He turned away from me and I stretched a hand out to him as night fell upon me forevermore.