Untold Endings

42

“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”

— William Shakespeare

“What goes around, comes around, and sometimes it gains velocity.”

— John Connor

The caller — “Nigel” — didn’t give his name, and he didn’t have to. I knew that Haw-Haw laugh and nasal English accent. We had worked together in a multinational group tracking known and suspected terrorists prior to a major international athletic event. He named one of those we had tracked and laughed, “Our friend has expired with great suddenness, absent forenotice.”

“Our friend” had been sort of a midlevel terrorism manager and facilitator, among other duties, recruiting gullible young men and directing them to die gloriously in the name of a religious ideology which he himself didn’t even believe in. He didn’t take risks himself — that was for suckers — but at least once, he was suspected of pulling the trigger on a hostage, who was first made to beg for his life on his knees. The victim was an innocent British subject, and that made it personal for Nigel.

The scumbag was ultimately caught — not by us — but later freed, traded for captured soldiers. Older and in frail health, he was allowed to “retire” to an ethnic enclave outside a Western European city. There he ran brutal protection rackets under the guise of “enforcing Sharia law.”

It seems he was out walking when he was mugged by several youths who didn’t know who he was. They beat him to his knees, slapping his head and making him beg their mercy. They had none. One or more pulled out knives, and possibly by accident, one of their playful swings slashed an artery. He bled out on the pavement and died. Later information indicated at least one of the boys was the son of a thug “our friend” had imported to help run his shakedown rackets.

“So often,” mused “Nigel,” “Endings are not neat and fitting. This one is.”

Squaring Things Up

I only ran across Rafe and Shorty twice, and we hardly spoke. Rafe was a veteran of two armies and a sometimessoldier, sometimes-mine guard, with a bad reputation for deceiving innocent women and helping himself to “extra compensation” just short of theft. As a result, he had a hard time finding jobs.

Shorty was a mentally disadvantaged castoff from a poor family, not bright enough to be accepted into a regular army, just smart enough to handle a gun. He seemed guileless and naïve. At first, I thought he was mute, but he was just very quiet. How they hooked up, I don’t know.

I do know Rafe and Shorty wound up in the Balkans in the early ’90s, in the days of “rape camps,” “ethnic cleansing,” and mass graves so huge they registered as thermal “heat blooms” on airborne sensors. They rode shotgun on ramshackle caravans of Croats fleeing the Serbian Army. I heard they had been killed, but it was 10-plus years before I learned how.

A line of old, overloaded farm trucks and school busses were being chased by heavy haulers full of Serb troops, and they were losing ground with every long ascent of a mountain pass. The convoy would never make it to safety, and they would be slaughtered. During a quick stop to transfer refugees from one broken-down bus to another, the nominal leader asked for options from the halfdozen “hired guns.”

Rafe was the most experienced soldier and he explained an ambush should be laid at an uphill point where the Serb trucks had lost momentum and were crawling in low gear, hitting them with fire from a shallow angle, so several trucks could be hit with minimum traverse, without wasting too many rounds on the first one or two trucks. All it would create is a delay, he said, and they could “write off” the man or men who stayed behind to do it. But it might be enough.

Everybody stared at Rafe. They knew he only believed in himself and cash money — and Shorty was just a puppet. They were shocked at what happened next.

“Rafe turned pale and trembled,” the witness said. “He looked very ill, but he began smiling.” Rafe traded his 5.56mm rifle for a 7.62 and plucked loaded magazines from two men. He told the leader, “I have not been a good man, and I’ve done many bad things.” He looked at the pitiful refugees, clutching their wailing children. “Maybe this will square things up a bit.”

Without glancing at Shorty, he turned and stumbled away — then stepped back quickly, grabbing the leader by the shirt. “I have a son!” he choked. “A son! God forbid he should ever know what kind of man his father was!” Then he left. Shorty just sat there, mouth agape, watching his only friend go. Suddenly he grabbed his rifle, jumped up, and let loose a torrent of words that astounded the leader.

“If Rafe goes down there alone,” he said, “Then he’ll die alone, and nobody ought to die alone. Then I would probably die alone someday too. This way we could die together and not die alone.” Shorty smiled, the witness said, “like a retarded angel.” Shorty looked up at the leader.

“And this thing,” he asked, “This is a good thing, isn’t it?” Shorty spun and trotted away, calling “Rafe! Wait! Rafe!”

Later, intelligence indicated that Rafe and Shorty’s “intervention” amounted to something more than a speed bump and less than a barricade. It is unknown if they made the difference, but the convoy made it to a protected camp.

Goes Around, Comes Around

Why tell these stories? First, in this day when true “justice” seems so rare, I think folks need to hear about instances when justice is both pointed and poetic; when those who sow evil seeds ultimately choke on the fruit. Second, because I am uplifted and encouraged — and perhaps you are too — by acts of redemption, when a life lived badly is redeemed by dying well. Third, that doing “a good thing” does not require high intelligence or a momentous event — just a good heart and an opportunity.

Finally, I don’t know where Rafe and Shorty’s bones lie, but I didn’t want that “good” to be interred with them.

Connor OUT