02 July 2009

Leaving Burma

The real problem was not that he had been sent to Burma, it was that he had never come back. That his body was currently in the driver’s seat of a car in Houston, Texas meant little; his mind was singing the Yangon blues.

Bobby Sack sat in the front seat of the stolen car, a dark blue Honda Accord, and stared across the parking lot, eyes fixed on a certain door. It was warm in the car, and Bobby barely noticed. The sunlight and the heat were old friends to him. Three tours in southeast Asia had given him a new perspective on what it meant to be hot and humid. Bobby smiled faintly, thinking of the heat and the damp and figured that Houston was just a wannabe, the third prize in the hot and sticky sweepstakes.

In the passenger seat lay a road map and a small black nylon duffel bag. The greasy-looking snout of a silencer poked out of the half-zippered bag, the snout of a particularly lethal turtle. Absent mindedly, as if he were patting a well-meaning but insistent nephew on the head, Bobby put his hand on the bag while smoothing out the cloth. The hard outlines of the pistol butt pressed into his palm. Bobby grunted softly at the touch, two old hounds greeting one another.

He flicked his eyes briefly to the clock on the dashboard. 12:58 in the afternoon. A brief stab of impatience which Bobby quickly squelched, wondering when the sonofabitch was going to take his lunch break. Soon, he thought, soon…

The radio was playing softly, a low murmur of music drifting through the car, waves on a distant beach. A small chunk of memory moved in Bobby’s head; he focused his hearing on the song without taking his eyes off the door across the way. Burma? Did I just hear that? Bobby wondered. Burma…

“…Once I had my heroes
Once I had my dreams
But all of that is changed now
They've turned things inside out…”

…a hot breeze wafted through the window and Bobby jerked wide awake. The smell of burning trash and human waste sat thick and acrid in his nostrils. He gagged slightly while trying to adjust his body armor. Goddamnit, he cursed, all that money spent and the fuckin’ lab techs still couldn’t make it comfortable. There was a rapid pop-pop-pop off to his left, the chunky sound of leftover Russian firearms. Must be government forces, Bobby thought, not the lighter sound of good old American firepower. He darted his eyes left and right over the street. No sign of the insurgents or rebels or whatever the press was calling them these days. Fuckin’ criminals, is what I say, muttered Bobby. Sulky teenagers with guns. He spat into the dust and shattered glass coating the floor under his boots. Sulky teenagers, and we have to spank them…

Bobby sighed as his heart slowed down. No one had really seen it coming. Uncle Sam had his eyes locked so long on the festering mess that had been Iraq, and the subsequent ass-hattedness of Iran, he failed to noticed the rot setting in down in Southeast Asia. Except this time, it wasn’t Vietnam. The Vietnamese had done a good job of putting the meddling of France and then the United States behind them. These days there wasn’t much difference between Ho Chi Minh City and Shanghai, if you set aside the language. Lots of shiny buildings, shiny young things on their cell phones, all looking for the latest that overseas investment dollars could buy.

Burma was a different story with the same plot. Military government rotting out, putting on a good face to keep the superpowers interested, but thugs are thugs. At which point, Bobby wearily noted, his employer could not keep its fingers out of the pie and there they were, history repeating itself. Another American bailout, in another country on the other side of the world. Lots of blood and bad feeling, Bobby thought, and he could not make up his mind which was worse: street fighting or mountain jungles. Of course the point was moot if you were dead…

Bobby was just about to fire up a cigarette when some motion at the end of the street caught his eye. Bobby tapped the sergeant on his grimy shoulder, and pointed; the sergeant nodded and whispered for the rest of the platoon to ready themselves. No telling who or what they were, the shadows on the street were a little too heavy. Bobby eased the safety off his assault rifle, peering over the windowsill. A small beetle crawled over the shattered glass and splintered wood, tracing a crazy zigzag path. Bobby found himself staring, transfixed, as the figures down the street drew closer. He curled his finger around the trigger. It seemed too quiet, and just as the lead figure stepped into a slanting sunbeam angling over the road, one of the troopers to Bobby’s right tried to stand up quietly. He lost his balance, slipping in the layer of dust, and fell. He landed awkwardly on a chunk of shattered concrete and groaned, the sound of his rifle shockingly loud as it accidently discharged.

Fuck me, Bobby thought, as there was a sudden rush of activity inside the ruined building and in the street outside. A rapid stream of voices shouting commands, in English and a language Bobby still couldn’t speak, but could understand, and the street erupted in a white hot blur of automatic weapons fire. Bobby squinted against a hot spatter of grit, as bullets whacked into the concrete and stucco in front of him. Bobby raised his rifle just in time to see the figure across the way raise his arm, a grenade clutched in his hand. A young hand. Bobby had just enough time to realize the figure was a kid, a teenager maybe, decked out in the ragged kit the insurgents called a uniform. The kid’s eyes locked on Bobby, seeing the barrel of the assault rifle pointed straight at his thin, dirty body. Bobby saw the sun on the dull green of the grenade, and squeezed the trigger, saying to himself Bless me father, for I have sinned…

“…That's when I reach for my revolver
That's when it all gets blown away
That's when I reach for my revolver
The spirit fights to find its way…”

The hot stickiness of the syrupy Houston air roiled through the window, causing Bobby to jerk awake. His left hand curled around the steering wheel in a spasm. Fuck, fuck, fuck he cursed himself, I hope I didn’t miss him. Bobby looked at the clock and eased a sigh as it read 1:02. Still time, he thought, and his car is still there. The song was still on the radio, Bobby thought it was on its coda. The lyrics drilled into his head, as he prayed that his target would come through the door and into the parking lot.

Motion at the door. Bobby’s pupils dilated and his hand tightened around the butt of the pistol. The door opened, and a man in a light grey suit stepped out, adjusting his sunglasses. For a split second Bobby thought the man was staring at him; a brief moment of a teenager’s dying eyes in the dusty Burma sunlight. Fumbling with his keys, the man stepped down the walk and headed for his car. His path, Bobby thought, would come right next to the Honda. Bobby clutched the pistol in his lap, holding the map over it with his left hand and pretending to study it as the man walked past the car. One second, two seconds…Bobby stepped out of the carrion heat of a Yangon alley, opening the door and planting his feet quietly on a Houston sidewalk. He eased off the safety and took a few languid steps up behind the grey suit. Behind him, the radio buzzed faintly, and Bobby smiled at the words…

“Tonight the sky is empty
But that is nothing new
Its dead eyes look upon us
And they tell us we're nothing but slaves…
That's when I reach for my revolver…”

Bobby Sack raised the pistol, finger tightening on the trigger, and wondered when he would get home from Burma.

Italicized lyrics – “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver” by Mission Of Burma.


  1. Nice! Great story, Irish.

    Favorite line: "...the snout of a particularly lethal turtle".

    Crystal details, bro. Nice use of the dream sequence too.

  2. Wow, Irish, whatcha working on? Is this a chapter? :-) Good stuff.

  3. Is this a chapter? only a movie, asked. I'd like to know as well, and is this a first chapter?

  4. Gumbo, it just keeps getting better. More of this would be great, but I think it can stand on it's own just fine.

  5. that was incredible. Your description is spot on- and it flowed so nicely.


    And i agree with the Captain. It stands alone.

  6. Great Friday morning reading. Write on!


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...