#terrorism, Fiction, history, Uncategorized

The Assassin

 

The following is a segment of a novel on German History and Philosophy that I have been writing, off and on, for the better part of a decade. I don’t know when it will be finished (it already runs over 100,000 words) but I thought that in honor the anniversary of the start of The First World War, the Great War, that I would post this episode dealing with the assassination of the heir to the Throne of the now defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire, Franz Ferdinand. I have done my best to be as accurate as possible, and all the people mentioned within the story are real, and their motivations real, and I have had them say only what I believe makes sense within the context of the time and situation. Any mistakes are entirely my own. Enjoy.

Prologue: Some Weeks Before Summer

The young man sat on his hands so that the others could not see them shaking. He had never been so nervous before in his. There was nothing he could do to silence the chattering of his teeth though so he kept laughing nervously in a futile attempt to cover up the sound. This only served to draw more attention to Gavrilo Princip, however, and he had to be content with his compatriots thinking him an idiot instead of a coward. The nervous young man (who everyone seemed to agree looked like a dyspeptic ferret) was surrounded by a few other men his own age who nonetheless seemed to be made of sterner stuff than he was. They were joined by two proud looking military types who exuded effortless authority and composure. The group were huddled on old bar stools around a table in a decrepit and humid little basement in the low rent district of Mostar, Herzegovina. The sound of domestic squabbles could be heard over their heads and every once and awhile a tremendous boom shook the whole building as someone or another smashed some piece of furniture onto the floor. It was not the best place to be plotting a terrorist action, but it was at least out of the way of prying eyes and ears.

            The fellow who brought the meeting together was a man by the name of Danilo Ilić. He was a thin and stern looking man with a thin mustache and an air of authority to him. He wore a brown overcoat and black trousers. He was the only one of the group not seated. He was pacing about as though he were unable to contain his nervous energy. He had a scowl on his face and he spoke with a loud but rather high pitched voice.

            “So you are telling me that the police searched the train for contraband and you felt compelled to through all of the weapons out the window? Out the window of moving train? And they didn’t even search you in the end?”

            Ilic was addressing his angry words to a rather pompous looking fellow seated at the head of the table. He was a Muslim Bosnian by the name of Muhamed Mehmedbašić. He was the eldest of the assembled men and he had the look of a man who would broker no disrespect from anyone. He snarled at Ilic and all but spat out his reply.

            “Well it is easy for you to stand there and castigate me, Ilic. I was the one taking all the risk. Perhaps if you had the intestinal fortitude to do the deed yourself perhaps Governor Potiorek would already be dead. I was not going to risk 15 years in a Austrian prison just so I could keep up to you and your dear leader’s ridiculous schedule. How is dear old Apis by the way?”

            Gavarilo and the other youths gasped. Apis was the code name of Dragutin Dimitrijević, a Serbian military officer and leader of the feared Black Hand, a Serbian nationalist group devoted to the idea of a Serbia free of the yoke of Austrian imperialism and cultural hegemony. Apis’ was a name that could strike a sort of awe into even the most jaded sort of revolutionary. Ilic was startled enough to remain standing in place for a few moments, but he ignored the obvious baiting by Mehmedbašić.

            “I would have done it myself if I had not been on urgent business in Toulouse. Things have changed Muhamed. Events are moving faster than either of us could have possibly imagined possible even a few weeks ago. Potiorek is old news, merely the governor of Bosnia district. He was never much of a catch if you ask me. A waste of time.”

            Mehmedbašić laughed. “Well do your blessed higher ups have any other esteemed members of the Austrian Empire in mind? We are all ears Ilic.”

            Gavarilo could feel the tension in the room like a weight on his chest. He could barely breath he was so on edge.

            Ilic grinned and finally took his seat at the other end of the table. He looked like the cat who had caught the songbird. “The governor was a waste of time from the beginning. Who gives a shit if some functionary is killed? They’ll just replace him with someone more hardline. No, we need to send a message, do some real damage, strike a blow for the Slavic people—“

            “For the love of God Ilic just get on with it already! Who did the Black Hand suggest?”

            “The Heir.”

            There was silence like that of a crypt in the winter. No one dared even to breath. Gavrilo could hear the blood pumping in his oddly spaced ears. It was Mehmedbašić who finally broke the quiet.

            The Heir? You mean Ferdinand? The Archduke? You’re kidding? You can’t be serious. He is perhaps the most heavily guarded man this side of the Danube. Surely Apis can’t be serious about this?”

            Ilic was so wound up that he forgot he was choosing not acknowledge the existence of the leader of the Black Hand. “Oh he is deadly serious. He has a plan, and he has the weapons, and he is certain it can be done. And I agree with him. Everyone expects a plot against a military man like Potiorek or one of the generals, but no one would even dream of an attempt against Franz Ferdinand. He is beloved and as you said he is well protected. Only a ship of fools would embark on such a mission… which is precisely why it will work. There have been whispers of a possible royal visit to Sarajevo late in the springtime. A sort of moral boosting and face saving trip to the “territories” for the heir. Given the revolutionary activity in the region we can be almost certain that the most powerful man in the empire who is not a doddering old goat (all due respect to his Imperial Majesty) will want to make a show of force. Where better than the center of revolutionary activity? Sarajevo my friends: mark my words it will be before summer comes, I promise you!”

            Mehmedbašić looked as skeptical as ever. “I admire your devotion to the cause of Slavic freedom  Ilic, but I think you and your masters may have bitten off more than you can possibly chew with this scheme. The Habsburgs are doddering and may be weaker than ever before, but they are still a force to be reckoned with. They will not leave the only heir to their power and authority exposed. And besides, who do you plan to use for this sort of mission? We are short on men and supplies as it is and I do not know of any man stupid enough to take up such a suicidal cause.”

            Ilic gestured about the room grandly and Gavrilo could feel his face blush. “These fellows have agreed to take up the banner of Slavic unity. They will gladly fight, die, and kill for a free Yugoslavia! This is Trifko, Gavrilo, and Nadeljko. I selected them for their devotion to our people and the fearless willingness to lay down their lives on a whim. They shall be heroes of the revolution!”

            At the urging of Ilic the young men stood and saluted the still seated Mehmedbašić. He looked less than impressed by what he saw. “I am sure their devotion is beyond reproach but you cannot be serious about these fellows. The one with the ferret-face looks like he is 12!”

            Gavrilo spoke up before he could think better of it. “I am 19 sir! And—and I am ready to—fight and die for—“    

            Mehmedbašić raised a hand to silence him. “Enough. I get the idea. Ilic I can see that there is no talking you out of anything. You are far too proud for that. I will not take part personally in a project so destined for failure, but I will not abandon you totally in this time of urgent need. Tell me what you need procured and I will find a way to smuggle it in for you. I shall pray for you Ilic, but I will not allow myself to hope.”

            Ilic clapped his hands and bowed to his compatriot. “I knew you would come through for me Muhammad! I will require little enough in the way of material support: some short fuse grenades, some pistols, preferably Brownings but anything you can get with such little notice will be fine, and also we shall require some cyanide tablets.”

            “Do you planning on poisoning the Heir? If so may I suggest a better poison—“

            “It is not for the Heir. It is for us. We shall not be taken alive, succeed or fail. If we do not escape we will take the poison. We must not let any member of the revolution fall into Habsburg hands. The torture we would all be subject too would surely break us and cause us to reveal secrets that would be best left unheard.”

            Gavrilo’s eyes went wide. Suicide? Dying in battle was one thing, but taking poison win or lose? His hands once more began to shake. He could only hope that this was bravado on the part of Ilic.

            Mehmedbašić wrote something on a scrap of paper he had pulled from his pocket and then finally stood from the table. He embraced Ilic and grasped his hand. “I wish you all the luck in the world my friend. I fear this will be the last time we meet. One of my associates will contact you soon about the delivery of your supplies. I guarantee this time we will not take the train to deliver them!”

            “Thank you Muhammad. You are a true Slavic hero. I will do my best to prove your fears to be unfounded. Gavrilo! Escort Mehmedbašić back to the street and be sure he is not followed.”

            Gavrilo jumped to his feet with such eagerness that he knocked his knee against the edge of the table. He hobbled over to Mehmedbašić and led him up the stairs and out of the basement and up to the ground floor above. There were people sleeping on the floor and drunks taking sips from hidden flasks sitting up against the crumbling walls. The smell overwhelmed Gavrilo and he held his sleeve over his nose and mouth. He was not used to the scent of poverty. Mehmedbašić was unfazed by it all and merely stepped over the strewn bodies like so much trash. Gavrilo hugged the walls and followed behind as close as he could. When they finally emerged into the fresh air Gavrilo felt like he had been released from a tomb. There was a light drizzle and the air felt pregnant with static electricity.

            Mehmedbašić took a slender cigarillo from his pocket and stuck it on his lip in a haphazard fashion. Gavrilo leaned against the outer wall of the apartment and tried to look as inconspicuous as possible.

            “You, Gavrilo was it? Do you have a match?”

            Gavrilo was surprised to be addressed by this important man. He hesitated a moment and then searched his pockets. He found a few stray matches still attached to crumpled book he had picked up somewhere or another. Mehmedbašić walked over and leaned in so that Gavrilo could light the end of the cigarillo. The sweet, thick smoke curled around Mehmedbašić’s head and was soon dispersed by the light drizzle still falling on both of their heads.

            “So I suppose you intend to go through with it, this madness with the Archduke I mean?”

            Gavrilo took a deep breath before answering. “Yes, yes I do.”

            Mehmedbašić acted as though Gavrilo had not spoken. “If you do go through with it you must realize that Ilic is not looking for soldiers or even assassins. He is looking for martyrs. He does not care if he succeeds or fails, for making the attempt and dying in the process is victory enough for him. He will not hesitate to sacrifice each and every one of you to the cause. You must know this if you wish to proceed.”

            Gavrilo blanched and looked nervously at his feet.

            Mehmedbašić continued. “I of course would not be at all sanguine about your chances even if Ilic cared enough to make a decent attempt. That being said there is no reason why you should be led blithely and meekly to your demise.” The middle-aged conspirator reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a pistol. He weighed it in his hand and checked the aim down the sight. He tossed the pistol to a surprised Gavrilo who caught it against his chest.

            “It’s a semi-automatic FN Browning model 1910 pistol so all you have to do is load it, aim, and squeeze the trigger. Squeeze it, mind you, do not pull on the trigger. It takes 7 .32ACP rounds and it packs quite a punch if you hit the right areas. By that I mean the head or the chest. Don’t bother with the extremities or the belly. Also, once you start firing never stop until you have emptied the gun or are shot down yourself. Practice shooting one handed at a tin can placed on a stump or a fence rail at 20 meters. If you can hit that can under those conditions you should have no problem hitting a man moving slowly at 10 meters or so. Don’t stick around after you stop firing. You think you can manage that?”

            Gavrilo’s minded was swimming with all that he had been told and he was far from certain he would be able to execute these orders with the skill that Mehmedbašić seemed to be demanding. Gavrilo did not wish to disappoint the man though so he nodded slowly and looked the gun over in his hand.

            “Excellent. You may yet get out of this mess with your hide. But probably not. Don’t tell Ilic we talked. He’ll get jealous and kick you out of the mission. I must be getting back to the train station before this drizzle turns into a real downpour. It was nice chatting. Have a good life Gavrilo.” Mehmedbašić turned his back on the young man and walked away in the direction of the train station. Suddenly the man paused and turned back to look at Gavrilo. “On second thought, what the hell do I have to lose? I am a revolutionary and I have been one my entire life. I have risked my life for my race and my country countless times without any thought given to the odds. If you, little Gavrilo, can muster up the courage to take on this foolish mission then certainly I cannot abandon my cause in this hour of need.”

            The man sighed and then followed up with a hearty laugh. “Not like I have anything else to live for. Tell Ilic that I will take part if he still wants me. I’ll meet up with him again in a few weeks, after I get some affairs in order. I cannot help but think that if I am not around if Ilic finally gets something right I will never be able to live it down. Anyway… goodnight once again, and thank you in advance for taking the message to Ilic.” He turned around once more and headed away with a new lightness to his step.

            Gavrilo watched him until he disappeared out of sight around a corner. He put the pistol into his right jacket pocket and looked around to make sure no one had seen him place it there. Satisfied that he had not been seen, nor Mehmedbašić followed, he headed back into the apartment and closed the door behind him.

June 28th, 1914, Sarajevo

It was a rather unremarkable looking bridge. Gypsum made up most of the span but some rather ugly paved streets were added in deference to traffic patterns. Every one of means had to have an automobile now and so of course the ancient cities of former Roman, then Byzantine, then Ottoman and finally Austrian controlled South Eastern Europe had to be mutilated to accommodate these fossil belching monstrosities. They called it the Latin Bridge for some God only knows why reason in this city that had once been the center of the region that had once been part of the Bosnia Sanjak of the Devlet-i Aliyye-i Osmâniyye. Some Turko-Bosnian tanner made the first bridge out of wood and it had been improved on ever since. Well improved until the automobiles came of course. Sarajevo was an old city of course but it was one that had not stood still, preserved in amber.

No one really knew why the Archduke-Heir Apparent had chosen Serbia as the site of his yearly parade/inspection of the forces. Perhaps he wanted to be seen as strong in the face of violent Bosnian nationalism? Or he wanted an excuse to drive around in his gaudy black Double Paeton? Maybe he just liked the coffee?

The reason, perhaps, was more personal. He had decided to take his wife Sophie, a woman who was gorgeous and far more attractive a persona than her gawky square faced husband. No one really liked him but everyone loved the Duchess of Hohenberg. Even their host, Provincial Governor Oskar Potiorek, was more popular than the next Emperor of Austria-Hungary.

Maybe he wanted to make a statement? It was widely known that subject of the heir’s marriage was a sore one for the monarchy, and especially for Franz Ferdinand. Sophie, a woman the aloof but hopelessly romantic Archduke truly loved, was not the sort who would normally be allowed much respect or deference. She was of noble birth, from an ancient line, but she was not of royal blood. The Emperor was not about to let some Bohemian petty aristocrat carry the title of Empress, so he had initially forbid the union. The stubborn Archduke would not relent. He truly loved this woman and he was willing to gum up the gears of succession in order to have her. To complicate matters further, Franz Ferdinand was the favorite of the formidable Archduchess Maria Theresia, the Emperor’s sister in law and the all but acknowledged head of the family. Everyone was terrified of this strong willed and intelligent woman, not least the Emperor. Franz Joseph had been unable to control this woman during the peak of his long reign and he certainly was not going to try and overrule her now that he was teetering on the brink of his dotage. The marriage was approved, though the happy groom’s joy was tempered a bit by the condition that he must declare that his beloved, and any children from their union, would never wear the crown of Austria-Hungary. It had only been recently that Sophie was granted the title of Princess and Franz Ferdinand was not in the mood to appease his uncle by leaving her behind during his trip. Sophie would get the reception, the respect, she deserved in Sarajevo.

The whole visit had a slapdash feel to it, like no one was really taking the whole thing seriously. The Austrian military bureaucracy warned against the particular trip at this particular time; there were too many known militants who had disappeared into the ether as of late and there were rumblings from within the Serbian establishment that the 28th had far too much local and national significance to risk a display of imperial authority. It was St. Vitus’ day, a holiday honoring a saint brutally martyred by an Imperial oppressor. The day also marked the anniversary of the end of Serbian autonomy and the beginning of a long and humiliating subjugation to Ottoman rule after the bloody battle of Kosovo. Overall it was a bad day to be a foreign potentate in Serbia. It did not help matters that the city of Sarajevo was the center of activity for anarchist madmen, nationalist zealots, pro-Ottoman types and even Russians, the latter because everything within 5000km of Moscow is considered part of the Russian domestic sphere of influence.

The ugly car left the local city garrison barracks with the Governor and the royal couple. The Duchess, her still ample figure obscured by a painfully tasteful frilly white gown, smiled and waved at the surprisingly receptive, and much larger than anticipated, crowd as the motorcade made its way towards its destination. Franz Ferdinand leaned over to whisper in his wife’s ear, his hushed voice nonetheless full of pride. “Listen to them, Sophie, they love you!” Sophie kissed her husband on the cheek. They were headed to a reception in their honor at the town hall, hosted by the mayor. They would have to run a gauntlet to get there. Arrayed all along the road running adjacent to the ancient river Milijacka, something they called the Apple Quay, were the seven would-be assassins, including the ringleader Ilic, stood at their preappointed places. Somewhere a clock-tower, one of the many built by the city’s former Ottoman overlords, stuck 10am. The car came within sight of the first assassin, Mehmedbasic, who had the choice of shooting or bombing the parade. He chose neither. He simply lost his nerve. There were far more people than he had anticipated. Trying to draw as little attention to himself as possible, Mehmedbasic dropped the gun and pulled the fuse from the bomb. He disappeared into the crowd. The man who had built his image around revolution and Serbian Nationalism, the man who had helped recruit half a dozen men into an all but suicide mission, had proven himself a coward at the one moment in his life he had to be brave. Ilic had planned for this eventuality, or at least he had tried his best to. The best was not what Vaso Čubrilović was prepared to offer; upon seeing a police officer with a rather impressive saber at his side he dropped his gun and ran as well. He panted as he ducked and weaved through the excited, and oblivious, crowd, leaving an unnoticed trail of urine in his wake.

Nedeljko Čabrinović was made of sterner stuff. He stood on the opposite side of the road from the two cowards, holding a timed bomb. He had refused the pistol offered him by Illic, his thought being that if he hit his target on the first try he would be killed soon after. He had the heart of a martyr and he welcomed death in the service of his nation. He waited until the motorcade came into view and seeing that his target was in the second of the four vehicles he whispered a hurried prayer and pitched the bomb at the slow moving vehicle. The bomb was thrown well and it looked like it would hit its target…but instead it hit the convertible cover of the Graf & Stift automobile and bounced onto the street. The next car in the motorcade rolled over the bomb and a moment later it went off with an impressive bang. The car was lifted a good half-meter off its tires and the explosion peppered the horrified, screaming crowd with shrapnel and dislodged pavement. The two lead cars took no chances and sped off at full speed down the road and away from the scene of the crime. The cars sped by three assassins, Illic, Grabez, and Popovic, who could only look on in shock as their well laid plans fell apart right before their eyes. The three men retreated into the still panicked crowd.

Popovic turned to face Illic who was pale as a freshly washed sheet. “Are we just going to let them get away? All this planning? For nothing?”

Illic snarled and tried his best to look composed and confident. “We’ll get another chance. Have you noticed how few gendarmes they have posted? We’ll just wait for the next chance.”

“The next chance? They probably have Nedeljko in custody! They’re probably torturing him for information as we speak! And where was Mehmedbasic? And that little shit Cubrilovic?”

“Shut up! They’ll overhear us. We’ll split up and and meet near the train depot, assess our options…”

Grabez laughed. “Our options? What options? Do you really think our friends in the special services are going to risk their hides to come and save a bunch of failed Brutus’?”

“Enough! Do you want to just stand here and wait for the gendarmes to grab us? Do you have any better ideas? I expected we would all be dead at this point!”

Popovic hung his head. “We are disgraces…we are traitors to the Serbian people…”

Illic rolled his eyes but deep down he could not help but agree with his fellow militant. “Let’s not waste any more time. Go now!”

Grabez looked around, confused, for a moment before he departed the scene. “Where is that pup Princip?”

***

 

The great part of the crowd surged forward into the street, people jumping over the prone bodies of the wounded in a desperate attempt to escape the area. The police un-holstered their weapons and began running about looking for anyone suspicious. Čabrinović, his hand shaking with shame and disappointment after missing his intended target, reached into his pocket and withdrew the small cyanide tablet. He bit down on the glass tablet and the poison ran down his throat. The pill did not have the desired effect; instead of killing Čabrinović the poison merely made him violently ill. He vomited dramatically onto the shoes of a nearby reveler, who shoved him away in disgust. A nearby police officer noticed the commotion and ran over to investigate. Čabrinović panicked and, still vomiting all over himself, jumped from the nearby bridge, hoping to drown himself in the waters of the Miljacka. Unfortunately, the water reached only to his shins. The officer grabbed ahold of the would be Serbian hero and dragged him kicking and choking back onto the street. The officer realized he had probably captured a wannabe regicide and he screamed out as much to the crowd still milling about the scene. The enraged Sarajevans rushed forward, some still covered in cuts and bruises from the explosion and subsequent panic.

A woman stepped forward and spit in Čabrinović’s face. “He threw the bomb! I saw him! Anarchist filth!” She spit at him again and the police officer stepped back. He sensed that the crowd had decided to administer some extra-judicial punishment and he did not want to get in the way of their mindless wrath. The crowd ran forward, taking the woman’s expectoration as a cue, and began to kick and pummel the helpless would be assassin. He howled in pain and did the best to protect his head. Blood spilled from cuts that formed on his hands and scalp. He was soon completely covered by angry men and women unable even to see the sky above him.This went on for a good couple of minutes before the officer summoned more police over to break up the beating. The now nearly unrecognizable Čabrinović was dragged by his limp arms away towards a nearby cafe, where he was shackled to a drain pipe while the officers decided what to do with him.

***

 

“Well, Governor, that was quite a warm reception you had planned for us.”

“I do not know what to say. I am going to have a stern word or two with the captain of police. I am so ashamed, your highness.”

The motorcade had reached the town hall, where an excited delegation of local dignitaries and military officers. The assembled people had not yet heard of the incident by the river and they applauded as the motorcade deposited its passengers at the foot of the stairway, complete with red red carpet, leading into the building. The Archduke was not pleased.

“My wife was in that car, Potiorek. The mother of my children. You’d think there would be more than a token force of gendarmes on the route.”

“You are absolutely right of course, your highness. I promise, heads will roll over this outrage.”

“They had better. My Uncle will not be pleased.”

Governor Potiorek swallowed. “I-I imagine not, your highness.”

“You imagine correctly, Governor.” He turned to his wife, who had just exited the auto. “Sopherl,” he cooed pleasantly, using his favorite pet-name for his wife, “My darling, are you ok? Are you hurt?”

The Duchess smiled and shook her head. “Not at all, my dear, I am fine. It was quite exciting actually, driving about at that ungodly speed through the streets! The children would have loved it all!”

The Archduke sigh and then forced a strained smiled on his face. “I am sure they would have. I am overjoyed that you are ok. Governor Potiorek?” His tone changed instantly from one of affection to one of commanding condescension.

“Yes, your highness?”

“Let’s get this over with.”

“Of course your highness. Follow me.”

The governor took the Duchess’ gloved hand and led her up the stairs. The Archduke paused a moment and reached into his breast pocket. He withdrew the speech he had written for the occasion and was alarmed to find it stained with fresh blood. It took him a moment to realize it was his own, from a cut on his hand right at the base of this thumb. It was a small cut, but a deep one, and it was still bleeding freely. He pulled a pair of black driving gloves from his back pocket and pulled them over his hands. He looked around to see if anyone had noticed his wound. It seemed no one had. He took a deep breath before mounting the staircase behind his wife. He waved to the crowd less out of a desire to be magnanamous than to hide the fact that his hands were shaking like an infant’s rattle.

 

***

 

Where was the motorcade? Good God, had he missed it entirely? Was he not in his appointed place? Princip broke out in a cold sweat. He was the youngest in the group, the greenest of them all, and he had cocked up so royally that he did not even get a shot at his sworn mortal enemy WHILE HE WAS PARADING right by him! shame caused his face to flush crimson and he sauntered away in no particular direction

 

The convertable sputtered a but, the exhaust coughed and belched. clearly the suspension was off kilter. The Governor bowed. “I am sure the car meets your requirements my–

Franz Ferdinand grabbed Sophia and roughly brushed by the Governor on the way to the auto. The fucking car was hit with a bomb. Get me and my wife someplace were they are not trying to kill me. I need to wire the Emperor immediately. I can’t let this news cause any sort of disturbance. too delicate.” the car pulled off, and the Governor had to dab the perspiration from his heavy brow.

 

the auto sputtered along towards the apple quay parallel to the Milkacka River on the right. “I am unbelievably sorry, Sophia my pet. I am humiliated…I cannot even protect you from this rabble.

Sophia squeezed his arm. “You are a good man, and I love you dearly. That is all I need from you.”

“Unbelievably sorry.” Franz Ferdinand slapped the back of driver’s seat. “Can you PLEASE try to not to take the streets so fast. the body of the car is shot to hell.

The driver blanched. “I am so sorry, My Lord Archduke.” he turned onto a lane leading to Franz Joseph street. Maybe if he switched out a tire it would look like he was doing something about the car…He pulled up to the curb in front of a delicatessen.

Princip slouched down into a chair on the patio of some deli belonging to a Schiller. The irony of this fact was lost on the school-aged Bosnian Serb who could not be expected to have an understanding of German literary conventions. He wondered if the pastrami was any good? He could at least get a good meal in before he shot himself in the head—my god that was him sitting in the car. His heart skipped a beat while he lept from his chair, gun drawn, cocked, and pointed at the Archduke and, oh no, his wife not his wife too—

 

the lead slug tore through the Franz Ferdinand’s neck, causing the poor man to gargle horribly with his own blood. His wife screamed out in horror and bravely threw her body onto her best friend. Another slug punched its way into her gut, knocking her nearly senseless with pain. both jerked about like fish on the end of a line as the life drained from them. Gavrilo dropped the gun and ran like the scared boy he was. The bystanders, and there were at least a dozen or more, were stunned into inaction for a moment by the sudden outbreak of death in front of them, but they soon focused their fear and rage on the snotty little serb who had done the deed. A Gendarme materialized from around the corner, having heard the gun reports, and he chased the poor boy down into the gutter, kicking him and beating him with the broad side of his sword.

But the boy felt no pain. He was invincible, even as the crowd rained blows down upon him and the gendarmes dragged him away. He was a hero of the Serbian people at last. He was! bullheaded Gavrilo who got kicked out of school, just killed the only direct blood heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire! He was a hero! He deserved a golden prize! God, how he wished he had a beer to drink or a woman to make love to.

 

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history, Short Story

The Gexoterra

de_las_Casas_p71

“The Gexoterra” is a draft of a short story from a collection I am writing on the cruelties and physical tragedies perpetrated and faced by people throughout history. “The Gexoterra” is about the life under the Spanish in the “West Indies” after they were “discovered” by Columbus (Cristobal Colon) and his men, and as such it depicts some harsh, unpleasant moments. If this bothers you then don’t bother reading but, remember, I try to depict what happened as realistically as possible, and the event depicted here is based on evidence from Columbus/Colon’s own journals. Make of that what you will.

***

There is little, if anything, the Colombian expedition could have done to mitigate the blight Eurasian microbes brought upon the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean Islands off the coast of the Northern segment of the equator sprawling North & South American landmass (Canal Zone notwithstanding). Though, one suspects that if Colon (and he was Cristobal Colon, not this Columbus tomfoolery) had any conception of what he was bringing with him on his journey, he would have tried to find a way to make it an even more deadly weapon then it already was. As it was he did not know which part of the planet he was on.

These people were animals to him, a natural resource, like gold or silver or spices, another check he could put in his ledger. The males could be worked to the bone clearing the land and mining for the precious ore that would make this horrid trip worth the while, the women could be used as concubines and as washerwomen, cooks, and agricultural labor. Even the children would serve a purpose; they could be used to clear rubble and debris and could fit into the places in the mines, the female ones could be used as concubines if they had seen their first blood, and the stupid ones could be used to feed and entertain the dogs. A few had to be kept alive so they could be taken back to Spain, to show off to the investors and to prove that he had in fact reached the orient (or wherever this was). The poor beasts were so frail, though, and not at all used to the rigours of proper labor. They broke like Cathay porcelain, and they were so very sickly (again, if only he had known what caused this frailty…) that each worker usually only lasted a week, two at most, before he expired in a sweaty, bloody heap. The dogs were starting to grow fat off of this excess of heathen flesh.

The Basques were having a gay old time of it, running about the beach, prancing about in the surf like silly little children. There was nothing for them to do that the Indios (that is what they were calling these people…it certainly wasn’t Japan, where they had landed so India would have to do. They did have a similar skin hue…) could not do for them. Every man was now a lord, or else what passed for one in this new world.

The poorest of the men, some son of a dog from Getxo, even he had slaves now, three of them, two women and a man. The man was put to work doing the most menial and stupid of tasks, emptying the latrine, fetching water, cleaning his master’s boots. The Getxoterra had a short, leather strap that used on the dogs when they misbehaved, and it was with this that he administered his orders to the Indio wretch. As the savage could not understand Basque or whatever it is they speak, he would point at what he wanted the Indio to do, and then punctuate the order with a blow to the head with the strap. the poor savage looked as though he could not believe he was being so ruled and by such a lowly sort of fellow. The Getxoterra paled in comparison to the men he now treated like a dog. Where the Indio was lithe and trim the Getxoterra was flabby and round, where the former was beautiful and young, the latter was old and ugly as a Frenchman’s sin. That the Getxoterra ruled over the Indio and not the other way around was merely an accident of history and circumstance. There is no justice in nature, because there is no intellect, no mind. There is only a living mass acting and being acted upon. If there were any justice, it would be the Getxoterra of the world who would be slaves…but then again would that not just serve to make the Indio the Getxoterra? The Getxoterra was not endowed with a mind that was able to contemplate such lofty questions. All he knew was that now had property for the first time in his life. And like most people, when they are given exactly what they always wanted, they misuse and squander it all.

It took only a few days of labor under the lash of the Gextoterra before the Indio expired from exhaustion. The dullard Getxoterra had neglected to feed and provide water to the Indio. He was left with the two female slaves, one old, perhaps 50, the other young and quite beautiful. It did not take a debauched mind like the Gextoterra possessed long to find a use for the young woman, but the elder was really more of an annoyance to the Getxoterra, with her constant weeping and screaming. The young one tried to calm her elder but the Getxoterra would not leave the poor young woman alone long enough for her to be really effective. He defiled her and abused her brutally, satisfying the the stunted and profane desires of a brute, and it was not a week before the young woman lashed rocks to her ankles and swam out into the surf.

The Getxoterra was now left with the old woman and having no use for her and growing tired of her weeping, he cut out her tongue and tied her to a stake out side of his tent, leaving her to starve. Blessedly this did not come about. Another Indio soon came by and brazenly, in full view of the entire encampment, caressed and kissed the old woman before slashing her throat with a sharp shell. The Getxoterra did not mind, as he had already moved on to a new pursuit: taking a flaming brand in hand he terrorized and deprived Indios of their trinkets and idols, thinking that they were somehow transformed by witchcraft from gold to dull stone and could be turned back the other way again.

The Getxoterra had been a tanner’s apprentice back in the motherland, and a slovenly, slothful, and stupid one at that. He had spent all of his weekly stipend on booze and cheap women and so had to sleep on the floor of his master’s shop. He had what he would have known as the French Disease but what we would call syphilis. He was a wretch of the worst sort. Now he was master over the fates of hundreds of people who had only been going on about their lives before the three ships appeared on the horizon of their world.

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Fiction, Literature, Muses, Mythology

The Birth of Callidora

pan

Sing to me muse a tale of Pan and his ebullient and motley melodies. The shepherd prince was sleeping in the mint green fields in the Olympian hills. The flocks of a thousand nations lay bellow, all chewing the grass sprouts and lulling quietly and contentedly like flocks are want to do when the wolves are away and the sun is high in the sky. Pan lays upon a goatskin on a rock in the shade of an oak tree. He is the very picture of self-indulgent relaxation and coy passion. Beauty: his haunches solid as the marble of the quarry. His hair stolen from the storied stock of golden fleece. His swats at a fly with hands that could paint an eggshell with a lambs tears while the other is choking the life from a great she-wolf. He looks down upon his flock with eyes that could cause the moon to look away for their brilliance.

            Even exquisite and self-possessed Aphrodite has been known to fall for his charms… one winter day they met in a Thracian garden and made love for three nights and three days without end… Their ecstasy brought forth an early bloom of flowers in the winter months and Pan proudly renamed the site “The Garden of Winter Passion”, so it is still known to this day by the mortal inhabitants who come to admire its early flourishing blossoms. He was Pan. Pan of the Fields. Pan of music pure. And what music! The flock would sway to the melodies, and the lambs would skip to every honey sweetened note. There were five that he was especially fond of playing. One note brought to the sky the birds of all the world. Sparrows, jays, gulls, swifts, swallows, even the ferocious hawks, ravens, buzzards and eagles could not resist the enigmatic note. The doves would land about him and add their voices to the sharp whisper of his breath dancing upon the edge of the pipes. What so sharp a note can all but tame the wildest birds of the four winds? Pan has found it and Pan will hold fast its secrets ‘til the end of ages.

            Pan stirs from his perch upon the rock. He thinks he sees a creature prowling on the edges of the pasture. Dark and leering the shadow of this beast. ‘Tis a mountain lion looking for an easy lunch. Pan shows no fear in his handsome face. On the contrary! He smiles at the fun that will come for him. He lives for the times he can fight to protect his flock. He grabs his club, throws his goatskin onto his broad shoulders and runs like a spring breeze down the side of the steadily sloping hill. He puts his pipes to his lips and sounds a note of warning to his flock. The loud whistle resounds through the  valley and the sheep, goats, and cattle all take note. They turn towards their master and they run like Cerberus himself were on their tails.

            Pan continues to blow his note as he finally reaches the plain. He sees the lion pouncing upon one of his prized rams. Pan throws off his goat skin and charges at the growling creature, whose teeth are as long and sharp as daggers and whose hide is as strong as a soldiers shield. Pan grabs the beast by its muscled neck and throws it with all his might off of the ram. The lion roars in rage and swings its mighty paws, narrowly missing the God. Pan merely laughs and smashes home his mighty ash limb club. The skull of the mighty lion is crushed like an over ripened olive between the fingers of a young boy. The lion fell limp against the ground and Pan felt a thrill dance along his spine. He pulled forth his pipes and sounded a note of triumph to his flock. So proud the Lord of all nature! He plays his note for all the hear! As loud as a war drum, sharp as the tip of a spear. The flock was comforted by this martial note and came with heads held high back to their protector.

            Pan walked amongst the animals, looking for any more threats to their well being. Finding none he was able to rest once more upon the honor and the laurels of battle. He skinned the lion on the spot and used the pelt as another layer of comfort for his recumbent frame. The chief pursuit of the immortal is always comfort and pleasure, but on occasion even the perpetually blessed must tend to his duties. Tend to his duties… and to his needs. There was a sudden stirring in the loins of the god. The rush of war had given way to the rush of lust. Thus was the way of all immortal flesh. Man is truly a model of the gods, but where man composes poems, odes, and songs to celebrate the eternal yearning for flesh. The gods have the advantage in the pursuit however; the immortal hand may forge from the dust a greater art then any to soothe the burning passion of their desire.

            And so Pan in the misty thrall of delight did deign to make an opus worthy of his companionship. From the flock that in eternal trust and love did stand close upon his every step, Pan did seek the fairest lamb, the bravest and the most playful. It did not take long to find a little lamb that skipped and cried with unyielding abandon. He looked into its lively eyes and  saw an inner life a life that seemed by its very nature to be striving for a greater expression of itself. When found he took the little beast and pressed it to his sun kissed skin, and lifting hence from his breast did present the offering to the sky. At once the metamorphosis was done, and Pan let fall to earth the most nubile form that that ever blessed the fertile plains of earth. Her hair the richest russet, alike the deepest womblike dirt of the valley. When she stood unsteady upon her grass stained feet Pan could see his composition for the masterwork she was. Her frame was enveloped in the most splendidly dark skin, dark like the ripened olive. Her hands, now searching her own form in wonder at its constitution, oh her hands forged of mercury bleeding from arms that so sweetly frame the most succulent bosom that ever did grace the eyes and fancy of a fruitful being. With buds alike the rose in winters thaw placed upon the softest fleshly hill, a neck did rise like an oak to stand twixt to sloping peaks, the proudest shoulders ever seen upon a woman. Her eyes finally turn from the task of admiring her own new born form to survey the world around her. They flash the gayest green when they fall upon the person of her creature.

            For the first time the woman found the use of her tongue. It was a strange sensation to her newly minted mouth, but she spoke with the eloquence bequeathed to her by Pan. “My creator, I am humble in thy presence. I am most pleased by my creation, and to you I pledge my honor, my mind, my body, and my eternal gratitude. I am free from the flock that kept me safe, but also kept me estranged from the world. A flock is a warm, safe place, but therein lies the poisonous comfort that makes it a warm, safe prison for a form such as mine waiting to be made free. You looked into my eyes and saw the transformation within me lacked only the act to be made a full expression of life. I thank you so much God of all nature and living things, God of inescapable beauty, God of song that transcends all mortal melody, God who sang to me when I was but a lamb amongst lambs, who sang to me in a voice of mighty Olympus high above in the clouds, who protected me from the scourge of thunder, drought, and ravenous beasts. I salute your splendor and I confirm to you my eternal debt.” With reverence born of the bond between artist and creation the maiden fell to her knee. Pan laughed and immediately bid her stand.

            “Do not bow to me! For it is I who is enthralled, indebted to you.; your beauty is a gift I will never be able to match again. Do not worship me! You are forged of the sturdy, breathing stuff of earth, out of life and all its beneficial color. I am born of chaos, of harmony betrayed, of lost and ill framed emotion flung into a forge of fearful imagination. I am a haphazard concoction of eternal rage and incestuous starlit meanderings. You my dear are made of much more human stuff. Do not praise me! I am nothing more then the sum of creations, and you my dear confirm that in my finest moments I can reach true transcendence. I am reborn in you my dear! I am reborn anew! Into sunlight! Into a dawn of elation that should not ever see a dusk of fervor. You are my pinnacle… what is the use of being an immortal if one cannot use that divinity to create a beauty that needs no immortal justification? Take my hand and I will give you a gift worthy of your splendor.”

            And she looked at him, and he looked at her, and she knew what this gift would be.

Pan placed his hands upon her warm face, cooling her mortal fever with a divine chill that soothed her newborn frame. “I brought you forth, but I cannot truly claim you as a creation. I was given a gift by the earth that I so humbly tend. Allow me this loving indulgence though: allow me to give to you a name. You are Callidora. You are a gift of beauty to this world. I treasure you, do me the honor of treasuring yourself.”

Callidora did take a step into his arms. She felt her heart sing and her body move to its deep music. Twas the melody of passion playing upon her emotions and her form. Art met artist, expression met act. They met in the embrace that all lovers practice. A kiss to be remembered in poem, caresses to soften the most mordant heart. Between her legs a cloven fig, red and ready for the worshipful tongue of her god, her creator, her playmate. The nectar spread upon his lips as he brought her to the brink of possible bliss. To the heavens it sounded! To the air! To the clouds! What can ever feel so true as the truth that a man feels in a woman? Lust fully consummated, passions fully cooled, they lay together like to children caught up in some foolish game.

            With their caper complete Pan rejoiced at his new companion and played for her a song of love upon his pipes:

I sing a song of Callidora

Of pleasant fields and verdant flowers

In bloom

Alive

In spring a birth of ecstasy

A nymph as soft as the purest wool

Anointed with my kisses

You are spirited towards the sky

To Olympus

To the very vault of heaven

My heart a soundless song upon your lips

So did Pan bring the world Callidora, and so did Callidora first feel the pulse of the living world.

 

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Liberty, Philosophy, Politics

Interview with a Socialist: An Economic Fable

It was dark and it smelled like gasoline mixed with wet concrete. The sun was just starting to set and the last rays reflected off of the heavily tinted windows of the cars on this third level of a public parking low. My subject was late, and something told me that this was on purpose. My subject seemed the type who liked to play hard to get. Either that or given the current political climate he was concerned for his safety. I didn’t blame him. I had seen the news stories myself; it was now more popular to be a registered sex offender then it was to be an avowed Socialist. In certain parts of the Republic mentioning the terms “Collective” and “Union” were hangin’ offenses. The only five year plan that was likely to get through any legislature in this country would pertain to the amount of time a damn dirty hippie would spend in jail for pot possession. Things were hard all around for those of the left leaning persuasion.

                A car horn bleated, magnified by the acoustics of the structure, and the sounds nearly left me needing a fresh pair of boxers. Of course this was the moment that my subject chose to reveal himself.

“You are late.” The voice was heavily accented, eastern European sounding with a hint of British academic spread on top for good measure. His was the voice of an English as a second language speaker who could communicate better and more elegantly in the tongue then a lifelong speaker. It was almost enough to make you forget he was a filthy foreigner. At least he was not from Kenya.

I pulled up my collar and warmed my hands, near frozen solid in the chill February air, in my deep wool lined coat pockets. Why couldn’t we have met in a café, or even a rest stop? “Sorry, I had a hard time finding the location. My GPS is on the fritz.”

A plume of cigar smoke shot out of the shadows gathered around the support pillars. My subject was only visible from the waist up, and only then in a bare silhouette. I could not make out his features save for the fact that he had a large mane of curly hair that surrounded his head and face. Damn, but that was an amazing head of hair.

“I suppose that is what happens when you depend on the wonderful products put out by our Capitalist manufacturing apparatus…It’s fine. I still have about a half hour before I need to be somewhere.”

I took out my digital recorder. “Mind if I tape this?”

Another puff of smoke accompanied by a shrug. “It’s your interview. I don’t have to give any real names do I?”

“You don’t have to supply any information you don’t want to. I am just happy that you decided to talk at all. You are a hard man to find.”

My subject chuckled. “I have been told that you have something of an obsession regarding me and my views. I’m glad to hear it…About time people paid real attention to what I have to say. Your nation is fucked beyond anything you can possibly imagine. I am not happy to say that, but I think you are intelligent enough to handle the truth.”

Realizing that the interview had started without any fanfare, I whipped out my list of questions and got right to the point. “So, is Barack Obama a socialist?”

A big hearty guffaw issued from the shadows. “Obama is no more of a socialist than John McCain is. Actually, I think that your erstwhile great white hope would have had a more contentious relationship with the business and financial community. McCain always struck me as someone that everyone hates. Obama is a moderate to conservative corporatist who throws out a few well-placed sops to the cultural left. Gays in your military was paid for by at least two more years of corporate hand outs in the form of the late great President George W. Bush’s tax cuts.”

I was startled by my subject’s forthrightness right off the bat…startled, but not unprepared. “Do you view the tax cuts and the bailouts as the antithesis of your socialist plan?”

“What plan? You mean my analysis of capital acquisition? Or do you mean my party platform? Or are you referring to my plan outlining the implementation of the dictatorship of the proletariat? Either way the answer to your question is no, oddly enough, at least “no” in the sense I believe you are thinking about. On its face the “bailouts”, as you are fond of calling them, seem to be a perverted misunderstanding of the dictate “To each according to his contribution”…Market theologians would have is believe that the barons of financial transactions bring more value and worth to the general society than any other group. These “job creators” actually make money liquidating and essentially atomizing capital to its basest and most ethereal form, and then selling the opportunity to cash in on their glorified flea market sale of labor and capital resources. These wily men wink and let us come to the conclusion that they are working within the self-perpetuating and self-justifying free market. The invisible hand seems to enjoy spoon feeding the run-off from the loins of the munificent class after their terms in the esteemed business degree mills. The irony here is that while the chuckle and masturbate to old interview footage of Friedman and Hayek, they are actually benefiting from what is essentially market regulating socialism in reverse.”

I clicked off my recorder and looked into the shadows with a face full of shocked incredulity. “Are you trying to tell me that the plutocrats, the corporatists, the bloody 1% are actually socialists?” I looked around and over my shoulder after I said this, worrying that the higher pitch of my startled voice had given me and my subject away.

The man in the shadows seemed as ever unfazed. “You are asking the wrong question. You should be asking me about why it was so easy for the millionaires and billionaires (those fuckers didn’t even exist when I was writing) to transfer all that wealth from the workaday mailmen and bakery owners to themselves? It was perfect example of capital reapportion, or “spreading the wealth” as your President alluded to when he dared to speak that phrase aloud. That faux-plumber really got wet and warm when he heard that talking point didn’t he? The news cycle that never ends: the hyperactive hyperbolizing about class warfare and the danger to the American Dream. Only the class that started the war owns all the media outlets, and that American Dream turned out to be a pre-adolescent wet-dream didn’t it just? Such a fickle thing, the human mind, especially when it is told exactly what it should not be told in exactly the way it wants to hear it told. The plutocrats obviously read my works, and they learned well, well enough so that they could turn my theories on their head and essentially execute it in reverse. It is a myth that the welfare state is dying. Not so! Indeed it has never been more alive…albeit serving the truly greedy and lazy mob: Wall Street and the Corporate Boardrooms.”

I started to sweat. I had already been out in the open for longer than I had intended. I had assumed that we would have moved into a car or a staircase by now. I felt like a million conservative eyes were watching me and preparing to serve me up to the “lame stream” media on a silver platter. Mint jelly optional of course.

“I still don’t get it. Why is this happening? Why now? And what about the-“

He interrupted me. His voice was becoming more severe and clipped. He seemed to want to get to the point, almost as though he were running out of time. “The protestors? The ones in the streets occupying the public spaces made private by gross finance? They are the vanguard, they are the first of many, and in so many ways the end of an era. But they are bound to fail…not because their message is flawed, or erroneous, because it certainly is not. They are bound to fail because they must fail so that others who think they have no stake in the situation see what happens to even the most innocent when they stand up to the hoarders of invisible and atomized wealth and capital. They will fail and stoke the fires of revolution through their failure, and that flame with light the way for the mother, and the father, and the pensioner and the crone, and the pauper, and the unemployed worker and his family. They will see then what is at stake and what we see now as an occupation will be remembered as a scouting mission for the campaign to come: the rise of the proletariat and the transition from capitalism to socialism. The step after that is entirely up to the people, but I think I knew where everything will end up.”

He dropped the used up stub of cigar onto the floor and ground it to ashes with his blackened boot heel. I heard a car idling behind me and I turned to see a black German import 4 meters to my right. The man in the drivers’ seat sported a jet black beard and slicked back and oiled black hair. He was nattily dressed. He seemed nervous and he kept taping his fingers on the roof of the car. My subject coughed. “That’s my ride. It has been a treat talking to you son. I hope-“

I cut him off and I frantically tore through the notes I had taken. “But you can’t! I have so much I want to ask you! Why have you been in hiding? Why did you lead people to believe you were dead? Why didn’t you do something about this tragedy we have gotten into as a nation, as a world?”

The man stepped just a little bit out of the shadows, just enough so that I could see the snarl on his mustachioed lips. “Hasn’t it ever occurred to you that I have been here all along? That maybe this is the way I wanted it all along? That maybe things are going exactly as I expected, exactly as I outlined even? Maybe you need to start asking yourself the questions: what are you doing about things? Are they as “bad” as they seem, as chaotic, or is there a pattern hidden in plain sight that you are just not enlightened enough to see yet? I would say that you should do a little bit more research. You’ll know where to start. You have always known the answers to the questions you have asked me. Try asking the only question that really matters: when? I must get going, but rest assured I will never be very far away. Good evening.”

He got into the car and as soon as he slammed the door behind him they drove off with wheels screeching. I was left with nothing but a still running recorder and the acrid stinging smell of burned rubber in my nostrils. I turned and headed to my car on the first floor. When I got there I turned it on winching, half expecting to explode in a fireball of gasoline. I of course did not…The people who might want to hurt me were much too subtle for such a theatrical assassination ploy. I started West out of the city and eventually found myself on Ogden Ave. and a few blocks from my place. I was still running over what I had heard; what did he mean that I’ll “know where to start” when it came to further research? I had reached a dead end. That was why I had contacted the subject in the first place! I pulled into my parking lot and turned off the motor. It was then that I noticed the book near the bushes 5 or six meters to the left of the front door. It was wrapped in a red ribbon, and a card was attached. I hesitated, but only for a moment. This was obviously my subject trying to lead me on the right track. He probably just did not feel safe giving it to me in public. Strange he would just leave it on the grass though…But I had to go see what it was.

I walked over slowly, looking all around me as I did. I walked so slowly that it took me nearly 5 minutes to reach the lawn from my car, only two car lengths away. I kneeled down in order to see the title of the book. The dew on the grass fogged up my glasses so I had to wipe them on my shirt as I brought the book up to my eyes to read. The book was black and hard covered. In silver indented lettering on the cover it read Interventionism: An Economic Analysis. I mouthed out the title and scratched my head. I turned my attention to the card taped to the front right corner of the book. I opened it up and saw written in an elegant hand:

Just a little gift

Courtesy

Of

Ludwig, Freddy, and Milty

Happy Reading!

 

                I had barely finished reading the message when I heard two pops and then felt two heavy blows hitting me in the center of my chest. This was immediately followed by a cackling laugh. A elder gentleman walked out of the bushes, brushing leaves and twigs from his well-made silk suit. He was bald, and had a kind looking face punctuated by thick black eyeglasses. He looked like a sweet old grandfather. He stood over me pointed the Steyr M series pistol, with silencer attached, at my face. I coughed and spit up a mouthful of blood. I looked the man in the eyes and I shook my head. “You just couldn’t let it go could you? You just have to have the last word.”

The man smiled and adjusted his glasses. “Ours is always the last word my friend. And don’t you forget it. Shake the invisible hand for me won’t you?” He unloaded the rest of the ammo into me, and I quickly drifted to sleep. Perhaps I surprised my assassin with the smile on my face as I faded away. Little did he know that the recording device was a blackberry, that I am an expert at sending media files one handed while driving, and that my editor checked his email on the hour. Looks like the filthy socialist finally got the last word in after all.

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