The Arms Dealer
I remember a time when I would have been ashamed of the things I’ve done. Back when America was this place where a guy really could be anything he wanted to be, I would have been afraid of becoming me. Back then, there was a…like a contract between the powers that be, meaning the government and its various representatives, and the people. In those days, the days of my youth, the powers that be only got in your way if you were a threat to the balance. In return, citizens did their best to obey the laws, uphold American customs, and reach the status of good enough at minimum.
But now, well, if you’re not old enough to remember it, just think of living in a time where you could make your own movie about you, and that was your life. Pretty cool huh? Nowadays I’m just fine with who I am. I got a therapist who not only cleared up my angst about doing some pretty awful things, but also turned me on to some of the biggest scores of my life. In fact, he’s the one who talked me into telling the world (well, the teensy number of people who read those two crazy bloggers in Texas that write for the Butcher Shop) about the day that changed the rest of my life.
My therapist made me see that, nowadays, the powers that be only concern themselves with people who get in the way of chaos! Life’s a funny old possum, as doctor Phil would say. So allow me to introduce myself. Hi, I’m Joey. I’ve always wanted to say that. I want to tell you that my therapist told me that all I really need to do is do a kind of penance; you know, some Our Fathers, or Hail Mary’s after a kind of confession. I have to admit that, as a not so great Catholic, I never could see the logic of confession. After all, God is omnipotent. I mean, he sees you rubbing one out while your thinking something you believe only you’re sick enough to think of while playing serious pocket pool, so what’s the point in telling a third party, a priest for God’s sake, when he already knows? Plus, you sure aren’t going to go into detail about the specific thoughts you were having when the term “impure” thoughts covers the deal, right? But this guy, he talks me into telling the story about one of the most important days in my life to complete strangers; the day I lost my virginity, so to speak.
Let me tell you, it was great! I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Not only that, but there was no down side! A little checking with some friends of friends, if you will, showed me that only like ten people read my story! I could have confessed to being the revived ghost of Hitler, the Kennedy assassination, and nine-eleven if I wanted. Who knew? So, I had some drinks with my old friend from the wars, Munroe, who had turned me on to this therapist in the first place. Turns out we were both suffering from what our therapist calls post give a damn disorder. Munroe, he tells those peckerwoods about the day that changed his life. That time there were eleven people who read it, because I read it too. I’m was actually touched too. When you find out a guy like Munroe, who killed more guys than cancer has a heart; well, it proves what my mentor Devon once said when we were spiking some munitions we were selling to some known terrorists: Even bad men can love their country. Oh, and for you other nine readers, here’s a little inside baseball: the other guy that wrote about the day that changed his life? He’s our therapist! I’m not joking.
It’s like those two idiots in Texas say on one of their many middle of nowhere sites, we’re the news you don’t want to hear. I’d tell you who the guy is, but there’s some kind of doctor patient privilege thing, and as you will see, I’m a truly ethical guy. So, let me say, forgive me my readers, for I have sinned, and it has been a very long time since my last confession.
I feel as though I’ve already said a lot, but Munroe and…we’ll call him the therapist thinks we should tell our story, or at least the part that changed America and two other countries in ways that cannot be undone. But, I’ll let them confess in their own ways. After all, a confession can contain only so much truth. Especially when you are confessing to someone who already knows all there is to know. So, you nine guys can be the priest, and you can hear our confession. We already know Frick and Frack down in Texas will publish it. What else are they going to write about, politics?
Let me begin by saying that I first met Munroe in the late seventies in a meeting that would involve a not so official flight from Virginia to Paraguay. Now, Paraguay elicited about the same kind of interest in America as bottled water in the seventies, but it was a very hot topic where my employer, a certain senator whose name shall go unmentioned (I mean, what if one of you guys actually looked this stuff up? The odds are pretty low I’ll admit, but if you did, you might ask questions, then you’d get asked questions, then…who knows?).
The reason for the trip was that in seventy seven a solid PLR senator in the Paraguayan government decided he wasn’t happy with his everyday take home, or the way things were going; or in this case, not going in his country. To be fair, Laino was the founder of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party. This kind of stuff happens all the time in south american quasi-dictatorships, but in some cases, like this one for instance, the senator, Domingo Laino had a pretty good reputation as a patriot and a good egg, and he was making a pretty big stink about narcotics, human trafficking, and some pretty fancy highway robbery by Alfredo Stroessner, the president of Paraguay from 1954 to 1989, which ought to tell you something about the guy. There was also the question of some pretty serious human rights violations.
Now, Paraguay is a landlocked country stuck between Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia, so I can tell you right off the bat, Joe lunchbox could not have cared less about it, but my guy? He cared. He cared about seven million dollars a years worth. Mr. lunchbox would have been surprised to know that Paraguay’s GDP was about ten thousand dollars per capita. Not bad for a country whose base income was derived from agriculture in the waning years of the nineteen seventies. The average Paraguayan also earned about thirty seven hundred dollars per year. Not a very big piece of the pie. All this is how I came to meet Munroe. I met Munroe because he was taking the the same flight as I was, because some other politicians in America had clients of their own with interests in Paraguay, and Munroe, as a consultant to the company, the one in Langley, had brought a small team in to assess the situation. I was there to protect the narcotics deal and remind Stroessner of the arrangement regarding vigorish tied to a treaty between Brazil and Paraguay; The same treaty being trimmed by Stroessner. I was pretty sure Munroe was there for the human rights thing. The two things to remember here are these: This Laino guy was, for the time and place a pretty straight up guy; Latin America had a few of those in those days too. but he was swimming with way bigger fish than he was. This fits nicely into the second thing to remember. Like our friend Domingo, most Americans don’t know squat about politics, so here’s an impromptu lesson in civics. America is not a democracy, it’s a republic. Whereas politicians are thought to be elected officials whose business it is to see to the welfare of their constituents, they are in reality, people swept into office by money big enough to keep the machine well oiled, and whose business is to see to it that the interests of those people upon whose wallets they rode into office on stay happy.
Now, we can’t have the kiddies seeing the details of that reality, so while guys like me and Munroe did a little globetrotting in the interest of keeping the lights on in the Hamptons, the American media, books, T.V., magazines, Hollywood, billboards and comedians kept Jack Schitt and his wife Mary busy bickering with each other over race, religion, guns and who was free to do what. In other words, everything that was supposed to have been settled by the constitution. But, every supreme court justice has to have something to do, right? I’d like to tell you about how Munroe and I got closer, and the action we saw in Paraguay,but He already got dibs on that, which is only right since he got us into most of the trouble, so I’ll let him tell it his way.
But, for now, this is my part to tell, so I’ll tell it my way. It was early September nineteen seventy seven when I met Munroe. Waiting in the outer room of one of the deputy directors at the company I saw a tall man, easily six seven dressed in a type of light gray BDU’s that I had never seen before. Light gray with a complicated design of lighter and darker colors that made my head hurt to look at. Although I was sure that the man went two hundred and thirty pounds, He had a raw boned look about him, and hands that might easily have been those of an even larger man. They were long fingered, and looked able to grasp with sudden speed. My instincts told me he was capable of inhuman strength and speed. Also, the man’s face looked about sixty years out of place. His hair was right, mostly blonde worn high and tight, the way Dolph Lundgren would eventually wear his hair, but the eyes were slightly sunken, giving him a cadaverous look, and the expression was that of a man who had spent most of his life, if not all of it on the brink of starvation and want. His eyes, always moving never seemed to touch upon me, and yet I had the impression that I had been dissected and reassembled more thoroughly than any post op shrink I’d had ever talked to. When his eyes did touch mine it was when a secretary twitched into the room through a door that suddenly appeared in an otherwise ordinary looking wall and announced that the deputy director would see us now.
In that moment the man I would come to know as Munroe riveted his eyes onto mine in a gaze that was as unbreakable as an arm lock. Those eyes now looked truly to be those of a corpse. A really angry corpse. I suddenly prickled with fear as the thought flitted through my mind that something I had done had created that look of starved privation, and now I was going to be held to account. I felt some slight irritation as well, because sexetary would have been a better term for the woman who now guided us through the door. I mean she was finer than frog hair. She had that whole Veronica Lake thing going on, long straight hair falling over one eye, body by God and maintained by an expensive trainer. I’d bet she didn’t hesitate to take dictation. The part of me that normally ran the show wanted to take a few seconds to do a closer inventory of the woman with her hair worn demurely over one eye, but both of my eyes were being held in a visual straight jacket by a pissed off depression era Frankenstein wearing stealth BDU’s.
Then, just like that, the girl was gone, the door was shut and we were looking at the back of one of the company’s deputy directors. I took the moment to toss my erstwhile companion a look of reproach which was returned with a flat look. Turning to us the deputy director, a man whose name became a household word for a little piece of time, said “Gentlemen, if you will be seated.” He gestured to a small table behind us. “In a few moments we should be joined by the others.” looking sideways at the big man I saw no evidence that the fact we were going to be joined by others affected him in any way. It was news to me though. The senator had sent me here to brief the D.D. on my mission, not the other way around, and although I wanted to tread carefully (after all I might need the goodwill of this man in the future, as I definitely planned to have a job, and a secretary like his someday) I nonetheless wanted to clarify the purpose of the meeting, if for no other reason to assure myself that I had not wound up in the wrong joke. “Uh, sir, my instructions are to brief you on my intended mission and go over my itinerary, sir” the D.D., who looked like all of their kind looked, like a high end attorney who had gotten to the high end the easy way, which is to say through the birth canal, rather than having been dragged there through a keyhole backwards, which is how most high end attorneys get to the high end, showed me the trick. The trick, which apparently can only be learned while being suffocated with caviar, and drowned in champagne, works this way. First, a bland and amiable face freezes for two or three seconds, then, slowly, and I mean very slowly the face goes through a series of expressions beginning with mild surprise and working its way meticulously through various degrees of unpleasantness, pausing momentarily at each stage, finally settling on hostility. It’s a politicians trick, so only politicians can do it. Believe me, I’ve practiced the trick for hours in front of a mirror, and never even come close to being able to carry it off. I’d usually break up laughing at myself before I made it to the look that you might get when you realize you may have a booger on the tip of your nose, but you’re on T.V. or something and can’t check.
I wasn’t laughing now though, this man had taken note of me. This was the facial equivalent of a no trespassing sign accompanied by the sound of a slide being racked. Not good. When he spoke again the director’s voice lacked the midwestern overlay that usually took the nasal edge off the northeastern accent that all men who rise high in the intelligence community have when they are at home with their feet up. Without taking his eyes from mine he said “What about you colonel? Do you have any…instructions that may run contrary to the use to which I might choose to put to your time?”
My eyes twitched over to the big man. “No sir, I’m happy to meet anyone you want me to meet sir.”
“Aren’t you out of uniform colonel?” The slight high pitch in my tone betrayed my tension.
“Aren’t you colonel?” he asked leaning across the table doing his own trick of giving me a brief but genuine broad grin that faded slowly into a look of consternation as he took in my suit and tie.
Damn! Everybody had a trick but me. A buzzer sounded abruptly, ending the moment. The director put his hand beneath the edge of the table and the hidden door opened in the wall again. Three hispanic men entered the room, led by the secretary, who I was at least able to ogle surreptitiously. The tallest of the three was someone I recognized immediately, because I had met him almost exactly one year ago when someone you’ll meet later killed a chilean exile named Orlando Letelier with a car bomb on account of him saying such bad things about Pinochet and the terrible things happening to hundreds of thousands of Chilean citizens. This murder then caused the U.S. to pass a resolution cutting off arms sales to Chile, making a couple of other senators very happy when I sold his government several soviet MIG’s and some French Mirages. General Gustavo Leigh, was wearing a tailored suit with benchmade English shoes that cost as much as a steelworker made in three months. Behind him, and very much appreciating the view from behind of where my attention had been focused were two lithe, quick looking young men wearing polo shirts and chinos.
After introductions were made during which nods were substituted for handshakes we got down to business. It turns out that, as usual there was more to the plot than the title inferred; which, looking back at things, could be the title of a book on Latin American history in the twentieth century. Before I can explain what happened at the table, I have to go back in time a bit. First, in 1973, before I was even a colonel some guys like me and Munroe were stirring up a ruckus in Chile. The reason for this dust up that some senators and some constituents of other politicians were up to pretty much the same business everybody sitting at this conference table were about to get up to. At the root of it was the simple fact that the president of Chile, Salvador Allende, decided to nationalize the copper mining industry. Now, plain and simple when a nation nationalizes an industry, it means that they are changing a deal made with investors outside the borders of their sovereign nation. When Allende got elected he decided that the companies buying their copper from the companies who made the deal and dug the mines were buying it too cheap. So he changed the deal; either bring the price of Chilean copper up to something resembling the international average, or he’d take over the mines and do it himself. When he did that, AT&T, Anaconda Electric and many other U.S. corporations did the math, they decided a working wage in Chile was downright un american.
Why, it was communism is what it was, and they called, you know, their congressman. Unlike when you call your congressman, they got more than a letter thanking them for their interest. They got guys like the ones sitting at the table my seat was warming a chair in front of right now. In fact, one of the guys at my table was at those tables. Good old General Leigh, soon to be part of the ruling Junta under soon to be dictator Augusto Pinochet. General Leigh would become the top politician in the Chilean air force, and a key player in an agreement with, among other south american governments as Paraguay known as Operation Condor, a regional operation to deal with communism, or as Americans like to think of it when they do it, protesting for higher wages, which is how I came to meet the General last year. And I’ll bet all you thought that nineteen seventy six and seven were all about queers getting the right to be queer.
I must say that was the topic I saw everywhere I looked, what with Anita Bryant spewing all that hate out of that pretty mouth of hers, the congressional hearings, and Harvey Milk getting shot for coming out of the closet by another member of the city council no less! Hey, it beat watching the northbound end of a southbound mule, right?
Okay, where was I? Oh yeah, right down to business. So, we already know what the guy paying my rent at the end of the day wanted me to A. reassure president Stroessner that all would remain well in his kingdom, and that their deal was solid, and B., I was to reinforce Laino’s belief that his actions would lead to a repeat of what happened in Chile if he did not tone down his rhetoric, and more importantly he might well be arrested, a thing he was pretty familiar with. What the company had in mind was a little more complicated. It turned out that operation condor had some whiz bang economists up at the university of Chicago who were actually running the show, and in cooperation with their political science department had issued some dire news to the principals in operation condor. South America was about to experience a massive communist revolution. Politicians in every government were speaking out against U.S. policy, i.e. shooting up the countryside indiscriminately where ever protests for higher wages were heard, or demands for clean water, education or, of all things free medical care were spoken of. You know, communist stuff.
Now my mission included collusion with Munroe and the two hispanic kids who, it turns out had graduated the school of the Americas program down in Panama, and were doing time up in Langley learning advanced weapons training. Now, instead of a nice trip to Asuncion, having some nice wine and maybe getting laid, I’m supposed to cooperate with a giant version of G.I. Joe and his murder buddies up to and including maybe having to do this senator Laino myself! I might have to go live in the jungle for an unspecified time, and help train recruits for ‘military asset readiness’. Did I tell you I’d already been to Vietnam? If you’ve been, then you’ll recognize the worst part of all this; the extraction plan, in the event of any of these changes to my end of the mission was to be planned later in accordance with developments. In plain english that means “We don’t really know how we’re going to get your sorry asses out of there yet, but we’ll figure something out.”
I left the outer room last in the hopes of striking up a conversation with the secretary, but struck out in one swing. Man, the rules for that kind of baseball are harsh! Walking down the sidewalk toward the parking lot I saw the large figure of Munroe walking into the tree line maybe a hundred yards away with his back to me. I watched him for a moment wondering where the hell he was going. At the last second he turned looking straight at me, and waved. Startled I looked around to see what might have alerted him to my presence. Finally seeing nothing, I waved back; but he was already gone and I found myself waving at a bunch of trees.
The Butcher Shop