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For All Nails #277B: Waging Peace
by Noel Maurer
"You wanted to talk to me, Nabo?" asked CPT Quezadas.
"Yessir. Uh, well, my original unit's just been told that they're being sent home and demobilized next month."
"And you want to go with them," replied the Captain. Quezadas was one smart fellow, but it didn't take much of a genius to figure that one out.
"Yes, sir, I do." We could hear the rain pounding down on the window of what had once been the presidential palace. Bogotá still was a total desmadre, more than a year after the Battle of Bogotá wrecked the city in the nastiest urban fighting since the Global War. The streets had been cleared of rubble, but the only the older Spanish colonial buildings downtown had been restored. The stone construction stood up well to the ground battle. The center was flanked by newer high-rises that hadn't stood up so well. The ones which were still standing displayed gaping floors and open roofs.
"I understand, but I can't let you go. You were mobilized for two years, and I need you for both of them."
"Permission to speak freely, Captain?"
"Gimme a break, Nabo. Go ahead."
"Captain, it's bullshit. They've been yanking units right and left. Everyone's going home early!"
The captain leaned back in his chair and steepled his figures. "That's true. They are. But we're not among them, y I need you. Look, you're one of the smartest guys I got, and you know that. Look at these other jokers. Daw? Saldaña? Or for God's sake, Puon? You're the only one who can write clear and proper English."
"Sir, there are plenty of listos in el Army. Can't you get them?"
He sighed. "A year ago, I probably could have. Hell, before November, I could have. But not now. I've got the bare minimum of men I need for the mission, y I'm not going to get any more."
"I understand, sir."
"It gets worse, Nabo," said the Captain.
"Worse, sir?" I replied. I could feel my stomach sinking.
"Yes, worse. You know the original plan for this operation?"
"Yessir. 250 thousand soldiers to occupy New Granada for two years."
"That's right," answered the captain, as if I was student and he was holding office hours. And the guys called me "Profe"?
He went on, "Only, our troop strength here never got much above 120,000. Since Costigan's inauguration, it's dropped to a hundred thousand, y we're scheduled to be down to 50,000 by September. I don't think we'll make it, but no matter how you slice it that's not a lot of men to occupy a country of 45 million people. We may be called upon to do some jobs other than military history."
I sighed. "That would suck, sir."
"Yes, it would." He leaned forward on his chair. "But look. There is some good news. I can arrange a two-week leave for you in a couple of days, y probably another one in six months. So go back to Mexico y see your family."
I didn't tell the captain that I had no reason to go back to Mexico, and intended to spend my two weeks screwing prostitutes on Isla Margarita. I also didn't ask the captain why he hadn't taken any leave himself. Instead, I smiled, said "Thank you, sir," and left.
- Cartagena, New Granada
- 12 September 1978
Actually, we got an interesting assignment. The 11th Military History Detachment was ordered to interview selected members of the organization that would never again be known as the FANG. The idea was to compile as complete a picture as possible about the Easter Rising. Tactics, operational planning, and mostly importantly, logistics. Or at least CPT Quezadas insisted that the latter was the most important. Me, I had my doubts, but I wasn't gonna contradict the captain on this one. I reported to Cartagena straight from Isla Margarita.
It was nice to be back. I got to meet my Tory pals again, who were still in-country. In fact, Tories seemed to be everywhere in Cartagena, although all of the new arrivals were civilian aid workers. El Enano wanted our troops out as fast as possible, but that didn't mean he wanted Tory soldiers replacing them. Détente was fine, but there were limits.
I didn't agree with the President on this. Since I was getting fucked regardless, I felt less need to defend the man's policies. Like this dick-waving contest he'd gotten us into with our new allies. What the fuck?
Cartagena looked a little better than it had a year earlier. More of the rubble had been cleared. Still, some obscene percentage of the population was still living in tents. Conason told me that the local economy had grown about 40 percent, but added, "That's a side benefit of starting from Altsteiner levels." FN1
I met them at the warehouse after I finished my first round of interviews. We went to the same bar where'd we'd gone a year ago. The streets actually had some traffic on them now, even if most of the vehicles belonged to the North American Relief. The street lights weren't working, but there were brown-uniformed men out directing traffic.
"Huh," I said. "You got Hands directing traffic out here?"
"Hands?" asked Steele.
"Yeah, that's what we call the browncoats."
"Why?" asked Steele, again.
"From Mano, you know," I answered.
"I thought Mano meant brother in Spanish?"
"Well, it's short for 'brother,' but it also means hand. We call these guys the 'Manos invisibles.'"
Conason laughed. "It fits. They run everything, even without official recognition."
"Don't believe everything you read, Conason," I replied. "Mexico City may have never written anything down about these guys, but they're acting with Chapultepec Castle's approval. I'm just sort of surprised to see them directing traffic."
In Bogotá, the Hands mostly stood around looking menacing, although we knew that they often engaged in what one might generously term criminal police work. We had the old police force directing traffic, completely unreconstructed, even if we put 'em in these new baby-blue uniforms that some moron in Mexico City had deemed to be "less threatening."
"Bar's over here," said Steele, pointing at the same lone surviving building we'd gone to. Now it was surrounded by empty lots, rather than rubble, and the building sported a large poster of a heroic-looking browncoat, with the word "Miramos" beneath the image. Other than that it looked pretty much the same. Blue-and-gold neon around the door, inside decked out in Temporary Chic, but with the lights low enough that you wouldn't notice. The place was full of Tories, with a few Mexicans here and there. There were also not a few Hands. In fact, browncoats made up almost half the clientele.
Well, that's not true. Local women flirting with anyone in a uniform made up more than half the clientele. But the Hands made up almost half the male population of the bar.
The propietor, the same fellow as a year ago, but at least five kilos heavier, yelled out from behind the bar. "Conason! Steele! My friends! Your table is empty." He pointed across the place to a booth against the wall. They had booths now? I started to absorb more details. Nope, the place was definitely better furnished than a year ago. Maybe the economy really had grown 40 percent. Rubble-clearing contributes to GNP, right? We took our seats and ordered some beers.
"Say, Nabo, what's that you say about the browncoats? They have official recognition?"
"Sort of. When this whole chingazo started, we were supposed to be here for two years. We were gonna maintain order while we trained a new police force y wrote a new constitution. Then we'd turn power over to a properly-housebroken democracy."
The beers arrived, and I took a sip. "Isn't working out that way. El Enano wants us out of here as fast as possible, y I can't say I blame him. So we're looking the other way as the old government takes over. The police training program is a joke. Those browncoats are all FANG soldiers. I know it, you know it, they know it, y the population of Bogotá certainly knows it. Far as I'm concerned, we could pull all our guys out mañana, y nadie would know the difference."
"Well, maybe the owner of this bar would notice," suggested Conason.
"Yeah," I laughed. "Maybe him." I took another sip of my beer.
"You know, they're in even firmer control than they were in 1974," said Steele. "The Easter Rising did a good job of killing off the Jeffersonistas. It was really fucking brilliant." He looked off into the distance for a moment. "I was only involved around the edges, but the crazier missions, they were always loaded with more former guerrillas than FANG regulars."
"Didn't know that, but I believe it," I responded. "Look at that poster outside. They got this country sown tighter than a virgin concha."
"I was surprised when you guys announced that you were going to allow the Neogranadians to organize their own constitutional convention," said Conason.
"Don't look at me, I'm just a private." This produced a round of laughter. "Well," I continued, "we have said that the new government must be democratic, even if it's a monarchy. So they'll have to jettison the more Fanchonist stuff from their old set-up. Like, they'll have allow political parties and give one-man one-vote y all that shit. But that doesn't mean anything. They'll just handle things the same way old Benito did."
"Benito?" asked Steele.
"You mean Benito Hermión," said Conason.
"Yeah, that's right," I said. "They held four 'elections' during the Hermionato, but none of 'em counted for a hill of beans. El Jefe said 'Jump!' and Congress asked 'How high?' It'll be the same way here, no matter what pretty words they put in their constitution." FN2
"Seems to me your Costigan might be smarter than he seems," said Conason.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Well, no offense, but the man doesn't come across as the sharpest tool in the shed, at least not east of the border." I tried not to take offense, having thought the same thing myself not a few times recently. I 99-percent succeeded, and dealt with the remaining one percent by digging my fingernails into my palms. "But I think he has the right idea. If the constitution isn't going to mean anything anyway, then there's no reason not to let the locals write it."
"I don't agree," said Steele. "Not about your president's intelligence, Nabo, I'm sure he's a very shrewd man. About whether the constitution doesn't matter. You could insist on institutions like those amendments to your constitution. And a longer transition, you see, would strengthen those institutions. Get people used to checks and balances, give opposition parties time to really organize, open independent courts, and then turn power over."
I shook my head. "I don't think it's that easy. Twenty years wouldn't be enough."
"Isn't that how long the British originally wanted?" asked Steele.
"That's the scuttlebutt, but they don't tell me these things." I finished off my beer, and motioned for the serving girl to bring us another round. "Anyway, what I really want to know is why the British made this offer in the first place. I mean, it seems weird. Fight a war, win it, and then turn the place over to the enemy? I mean, it's not like they wouldn't have invaded us if they'd thought we'd be as easy as the Granadinos."
"I don't think they could afford it anymore. And they did get those inspection teams in place," said Conason.
"Yeah, but we run those teams with some help from the Scandies and Germans. Fuck, they probably could've had us y nevos y coles prowling around here without a fucking war. FN3 And it wasn't like we were gonna do anything but turn the place back over to Ferdi and Elbittar, even if we sugar-coated it. So why us? I don't get it."
"Don't look at me," said Conason. "I'm a just a North American."
The beers came, and we quaffed. The conversation soon turned towards the quality of the girls hanging around the bar. One of 'em looked Asian. FN4 I called her over, bought her a slew of drinks, and to the endless amusement of my Tory friends, I struck out. She said I couldn't afford her, but gave me a nice smile and a kiss on the cheek.
Both of which I probably could have had without spending all that money on the drinks. Hmm. Maybe me and Sir Geoffrey Gold weren't so different after all.
(Forward to FAN #277C (Operation Cold Phoenix): Handover.)
(Forward to 16 July 1978: I Will Let You Down.)
(Return to For All Nails.)