Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Canadian Christmas

”Keep your asses down!” We tumbled out of the LAV. Ambushed and the vehicle was burning. There was metal whizzing in the air above us, you could hear it. No way to tell where it was coming from because we couldn’t even lift our heads to look around. Moxon tried it and his helmet pinged loudly. Now he can’t hear. At least he’s alive and complaining of a headache between spews. Teach him to eat that shitty stuff they gave us for supper. Everyone flat on their bellies, radio man speaking quietly into the mike. Where was the fucking cavalry? Pinned down too, probably. “Sarge” the voice was an elevated whisper, barely audible above the sounds of the battle. “Yeah?” “I gotta piss” A long pause. “What?” Sergeant Dixon’s voice was loud and clear. He wasn’t trying to whisper his disbelief. “What should I do, Sarge? I’m serious, I gotta piss” Andrew’s voice. What a fuckup. “You can’t piss here, you crazy fucker. Hold your water.” Sarge was huddled behind the burning LAV with the rest of us. Andrew’s bladder problems were the least of his worries. “Go in your pants” “What?” “You heard me, soldier. Now shut up. Anyone see the bastards?” There would be a lot of jokes about Andrew wetting himself when we got back to camp. Glad I passed on the last coffee. We had finally been able to take shelter after laying in the dusty road all evening. They couldn’t hit us when we lay flat in the road without exposing themselves. The darkness fell slowly, we listened to Moxon’s spews at first, waited for help to come. No one was foolish enough to get up and try to go somewhere. There was nowhere to go. They had set up a field of fire which was deadly for any living thing. Especially Canadian soldiers. Right now, back in Kandahar, they’re eating real turkey, drinking egg nog and singing Christmas carols. People are phoning home. Except for the occasional rocket attacks, everyone’s relaxing. We should be there. Conklin was going to be Santa. The rescue convoy should be on their way now. And close air support. God save us from the Yanks. Hope it’s the Brits. These bad guys were supposed to run to Pakistan before the mountain passes were frozen. Winter’s supposed to be quiet here. Somebody forgot to tell them. Wonder if they know it’s Christmas? They probably don’t know they’re shooting at Santa. The medic gave Moxon some pills. He’s groggy and quiet now. Somebody’s keeping him awake. We had to check out the ditch at the side of the road. I ignored the only military advice my grandfather ever gave us kids; “never volunteer” I had to do something. We just couldn’t stay there. The grenades we threw in unison stopped the sporadic firing from the right, but they would soon replace it and we’d be sitting ducks again. The bad guys must have retreated to regroup. Maybe the grenades worked or we did get some of them in the initial burst of firing. Whatever happened, no one shot at me as I crawled to the side of the road, pausing every few seconds. Like training with a giant pucker factor thrown in. Quivering with adrenaline, I peered around me. The dancing shadows created by the flames revealed no enemies. Nothing in the ditch. No one had seen anything since the ambush. Even then we didn’t really see them. These guys were good. If they wanted to remain invisible, it seemed like they could. The boys crawled to me one by one, amazed by their own survival. A groan of relief and splashing sounds came from Andrew’s direction as he pissed from a crouch. We spread out into the formation which had been drilled into us so many times in training. Nothing to do but wait. There were the sounds of planes in the air but so far none had come near us. Distant thunder of artillery and occasional flashes on the horizon hinted at how much fighting was going on. It must be Christmas day by now, midnight. Last Christmas, my parents drunk and fighting, wearing part of the turkey Mom had thrown at Dad, I escaped to Adrienne’s. Her family was off to visit relatives. We had a good time drinking her old man’s booze and fucking like minks in their rec room. Her parents thought we were watching the DVDs she got for Christmas with all the old movies. We watched It’s a Wonderful Life but not like they thought. Good old Christmas. “Make sure the infared patches are on your helmets” Sarge warned for at least the tenth time. Everyone was more scared of the allied close air support than they were of the enemy. It was gonna be a sad Christmas this year for some families. Just a few days before that “friendly fire incident” which the public heard of, we had been admiring the American Warthogs, their firepower. They were ugly, but tremendous killing machines. Meant to be aimed at the enemy. “Think they’re around, Sarge?” It was Andrew again. Silence. “Sarge?” “I don’t fuckin know and I’m not gonna stand up to find out. We have to assume they’re here...somewhere” No one really thought Andrew was crazy. He was one of the guys who wanted to be here. He was just a pain in the ass. Did I want to be here? Not here, on this spot, right now. Afghanistan? Yeah, but it wasn’t anything like they said. We were getting paid to see the world, sort of. As usual, the only guys you could really trust were the vets. Guys who had seen it for themselves told the truth about what it was really like. The further up the chain you went, the more bullshit there was. The money wasn’t bad, for me. Beat a part time, minimum wage job where they used you and threw you away without even thinking about it and told you constantly that you should be grateful to be working. Unemployment meant boring daytime tv and not enough money to enjoy yourself at night. And the endless fighting of the parents and taking their insults and accusations. I wasn’t cut out for a nine to five job in some office. I wonder if the same kids we saw today are prowling out there in the darkness wanting to blow us up? The young guys we talked to and shook hands with this morning, could be bad guys at night. “Merry Christmas, Devon” Andrew’s voice. “Merry Christmas, Andrew” Real turkey with lots of gravy and mashed potatoes. The cooks would make it good this one day and we’re here. There should be some left when we make it back. But it’s not the same as when it’s fresh. There has to be dressing and cranberry sauce. A crackling. Something breaking in the darkness. “Hear that?” Sarge’s whisper. Wilson, the gunner, was already moving into the dark in the direction of the noise. Seconds later, we flattened out as the explosion of gunfire erupted. Quiet. “Wilson, you ok?” Sarge’s voice. The little whistle that Wilson always gave when things were a-ok. He came crawling backward into the formation. “Two of them. They ran. They had an RPG, but it’s all gone and so are they” “What’s taking so long, Sparks?” “Radio must’ve got hit. It seemed to be ok at first, but now I don’t think it’s transmitting” “Fuck” “I think this is a set up” Sarge’s voice “They’re waiting for the Quick Reaction Force” “They’ll come the same way we did” “Up the same road. There’s no other way” Silence. Stronger wind. Lower temperatures. “We better warn them” I looked around, as much as possible, to see the others laying prone, waiting. “Ok. Here’s what we do” Sarge’s voice. “Harris and Boucher, get as far up the road as you can. Warn them. Watch out for the bad guys. Give it the silent treatment. Really silent. We’ll try to get this fucking radio working. Use your flares if you have to. We’ll use ours when we see yours” Two figures, Harris and Boucher, disappeared , crawled into the darkness. If anyone could move silently, it was them. They spent all of their spare time in the bush hunting and fishing. The stars glistened across the huge sky. The night became freezing. Dew settled on the barrel of my weapon. Christmas carols. For kids, really. What was it? Peace on Earth and Good Will to men? Hmm. An explosion of light and sound flashed behind us as an RPG hit the burning LAV. “Hold your fire. Don’t let them see where we are” Night vision goggles were useless after the flash if you happened to be looking at it. They were trying to bait us into firing. That meant they weren’t sure exactly where we were. Some of them get their first rifles when they’re ten. Their fathers and grandfathers were soldiers. Well, fighters, anyway. They’ve lived all of their lives in wars. How can they expect us to change them? Is what we’re doing this Christmas part of the plan? “Devon, look” Andrew. I followed his gaze skyward. A small light passed across the sky from right to left above us. Too small, too far away to be a plane. “Satellite” Andrew’s whisper. I watched the light till it disappeared among the rest of the lights. Thousand, millions of stars. Flares blow up our sight as we stare right at them. By the time we can see through the goggles again, Sarge yells loudly. “Light em up boys. They’re just over there” Everybody fired their flares. The white, phosphorescent light made the goggles useless and unnecessary. The road behind us lay like a silver ribbon running down the hill. On either side we could clearly see movement in the bushes. The movement was of men running, crawling, hobbling away from the road. Some were dragging or carrying weapons, some stumbling, helped by another. Boucher and Harris were in a firefight, that much was obvious. Explosions and the crackle of small arms fire came from their direction. Beyond them we could see lights. It couldn’t be the cavalry, they wouldn’t advertise their presence, probably a plane. I’d be one of the men running away from the road too, if I was a bad guy. We fired at will toward the fleeing figures. Some fell. We couldn’t really see the damage we had done. The firefight up the road had gone quiet. Everyone thought of it at the same time. If we had no radio and we were beside the road, how did the guys in the plane know who we were? “They’ll know it’s us by the special reflectors on our helmets” Andrew spoke up confidently. We looked at each other and ran away from the road. Sarge made sure Moxon had two big guys to help him and ran with us. We fell into a ditch and crawled back to watch. The Warthog came in low enough over the burning LAV for us to see the cartoon Osama under the bomb on the side. Shrapnel whizzed over our ditch. Nobody got caught. We watched as the rounds tore the road to bits. I looked around, dark figures sat quiet, breathing heavily in the ditch. We looked up together and followed another satellite across the sky. Everyone was silent, thinking their own thoughts. “Merry Christmas, Devon” “Merry Christmas, Sarge”

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Spinners

He felt like a father figure when they talked on the morning bus from Kanata. They usually got a seat together because they were first at the park n ride which took them downtown, he to the headquarters of National Defence, she to the waitress job at the hotel. They were actually close in age, he, the married father of two, almost bursting his uniform buttons from the desk job, she, the single mother of three, a kind of speed freak, the kind of person who couldn’t gain a pound if she tried. Lady Madonna. His was an understated importance in the military. He got used to deflecting direct questions about it. The odd time it required a quiet “secret” to a persistent questioner, but mostly “bureaucratic stuff” or “paperwork” covered it. She diplomatically changed the subject when she felt they had entered forbidden territory in their morning conversations. Her son, Chris, was the usual topic of conversation anyway. He had just joined the army. The other kids were still in school and she was glad to see Chris do something. The dead end jobs and bleak prospects were too much. Even if it seemed crazy once, now it made more sense for him to join the army. He highly recommended it though he was privately glad that Danny, his eldest son, had avoided the army and gone on to play football for the university. She felt better when he praised the discipline and character the military instilled in young men. And she did see a difference in Chris when he came home on his first leave. In fact, he looked better than he had in years. She still couldn’t imagine anyone getting him up at 5 AM never mind all the other stuff they made them do. Some mornings, especially in winter when the outside world was still dark, they lapsed into long silences, each contemplating the day ahead as the bus carried them into the city. When spring turned to summer, the sun rose every morning over the fields on either side of the six lane highway and they chatted about Chris’s latest adventure in the army. One day that summer he had endured a hard shift at his computer, fielding access to information requests, filling in for annual vacations being taken, when she saw him on the same express bus going home to Kanata. They stood all the way, hanging on, the bus packed with people. She told him that Chris’s unit was going to Afghanistan next month. In herself, she wasn’t sure about Chris’s gung ho attitude and she definitely didn’t trust the government mouthpieces. The more they praised it, the less confidence she had. But Chris said when you sign up, that’s it, no more choice, you have to do what you’re told. So he was going. She allowed herself a little touch of pride when she told him, grateful to see that he was impressed. He made a mental note to see which units were about to be rotated to Afghanistan as he walked across the lobby of DND. Captain Rogers, that little bastard from RMC. will be there this afternoon. Everyone will think the superior officer is monitoring his new crew but the jumped up little bastard will really be there to learn something. He knew nothing about public relations and the information wars. And they had put him in command of the whole bunch of them, the information warriors. Not a clue, hadn’t ever worked behind the scenes where the real fights were fought. Someone had enough drag to promote him fresh out of university, young and confident, but lacking the one thing necessary in this business, experience. You had to know the law to a point, but it was mostly experience. Almost a gut instinct. What the public will swallow, what it won’t. What to hide and what to offer. Only learned by experience. He could see the little bastard at the back of the room, watching while he led the classroom full of future intelligence officers through the basics of the trade. It was policy now to immerse the new ones in as much of the machinery as possible before they were sent out into the world. “Embedded reporters are no problem” he crossed out the words on the blackboard. “A one way ticket home will not be questioned by headquarters if it is necessary. Sometimes, not often, but sometimes, they get out there and go a little crazy. Not sure if it’s too much of that Afghani hash or what” It brought the usual chuckle. “Anyway, ‘operational security’ is a good enough reason if they get out of line. If we see bad news here, news that hasn’t been approved, they’ll be on their way home and somebody over there will be in deep shit” He enjoyed using the word because it always brought a further chuckle from his audience. It also drew a silent, disapproving frown from the little bastard at the back. He was good at what he did so he was given free rein in these sessions with intelligence officers, diplomats and spin doctors of the future. The younger people related to his intelligent but homey style. They loved his forays into irreverence. “This” he held the paper up between two fingers, at arm’s length, with a distasteful expression “is an access to information request form. There is a standing order, unspoken and unwritten, of course, that the first one gets shitcanned. Maybe even the second one. If they’re persistent and keep after the information, there are a whole bunch of lawyers who you’ll probably meet later, who’ll take over. They have lots of ways to delay it. But if they’re that persistent, hey, my personal advice to you is, cover your ass first. Get your commanding officer or somebody above you to contact the lawyers. Believe me, when they’re really persistent, really determined, it’s best to get away from it” An appreciative grunt came from the audience as if they’d suspected that all along. The little bastard’s frown deepened at the back. He got up and slipped out. She sat with him on the express downtown on the Friday before Labour Day. They chatted mostly about her job, some of the crazy tourists she saw, how glad she was that the busy season was almost over, the restaurant was always so hectic. She had to work through the weekend. The busiest time, the most tips. The tips paid for the sitter and more. He admired her pluckiness and inexhaustible energy. He had Billy to register in his hockey league, his wife had Becky. He also had the shopping to do and the lawn to cut. And maybe a little time for some beer and CFL football. They said goodbye when he stood up so she could get out on Laurier Ave, one stop before his. He awoke with adrenalin coursing through him, his heart beating fast. The phone. His wife interrupted her snoring with a complaining grunt. He picked up the receiver. “Hello” “Deaver?” “Yes, who’s this?” “It’s Briggs, Deaver” General Briggs. What the hell did he want? “Sorry to wake you, Deaver, but we’ve got a problem” “No, no, it’s okay, sir. What problem?” “There’s been some soldiers killed and wounded in Kandahar. We don’t have all the details but it’s bad. We need someone senior in the office. Now. Tonight” A pause. “The press has some of the story, Deaver. They don’t have all of it and we need time” “Ok, sir. I’ll go down in my car. It’ll take me about an hour” “Good man, Deaver. Everyone’s on vacation. We can’t have the press talking to that crew that’s there now. They’re all recruits or temps. Call me at home when you’re there. You might have to write a press release but use operational security as much as you like. Talk to you soon” “What about Captain Rogers, sir?” “I’ve already talked to him. I know you guys were pissed off that he got made up to your commanding officer right after graduation. He’ll stay out of your hair. I made it clear that you’ll be in charge for this crisis. We’ll probably have to give details by Tuesday, after we tell the families. You know what to do. Don’t give em a thing till you hear from me. I’ve got to go, Deaver, call me” He showed his id to the soldier at the entrance to the underground parking where a burly sergeant with a sidearm met him. Another soldier parked his car and he was escorted by the sergeant up to the ninth floor office. If the man had heard anything, he showed no emotion, said nothing. Mayotte, Ryan and Dupuis, three raw recruits who were manning the office for the long weekend, looked up as he walked in. He wasn’t in uniform and they didn’t have their hats on but they stood up as he entered. “As you were, gentlemen,” They sat down and watched him as he turned on the screen on his desk and read. When he twirled around he spoke directly to Dupuis in a low, steady voice, “I want the numbers on how many allied forces have been killed by the American Air Force in Afghanistan. Injured too, if you can get it.” Dupuis looked up from writing on a pad. His stubble cut was growing in. He spoke with earnest young eyes, “It’s not the kind of information the US military is likely to give up, sir” His mind was racing as he called General Briggs. “No, you probably won’t get anything out of them, try NATO, try the armies, try the governments, see what you can find. We may not need it right now, but I want it, in case” “Briggs” “Hello sir, I’m here. It looks bad. Two killed, a couple seriously wounded and some walking wounded. They’ll be out of commission for a while. The report says friendly fire” “Shit. Americans?” “It looks like it, sir” “What the hell are they doing? Something’s wrong there. This is ridiculous” “Some good news though, sir, no reporters” “Good, that’s a relief. There are some press reports but they’re vague. Ok, Deaver, I’ll be in touch. You know what to do. I’ll get back to you when I hear how they want to handle this. Good luck” “Thanks, bye sir” He turned to address the others. “Ok. We’ve got a few hours. Then the phones are going to start ringing. It’ll be the media. I’m going to write down five talking points. Make a copy and as you answer the calls, stick strictly to the script” Mayotte and Ryan watched him with expressions like Danny’s, wide eyed, almost innocent, respectful. They were Danny’s age or younger, Ryan still with a bad case of acne. He wrote out the points he wanted them to follow when dealing with the media...basically, tell them nothing. He gave them a lecture on the importance of shitcanning the first access to information requests about this incident and told them to pass it on to whoever relieved them. Who knew how long this would go on? The first few days of vagueness and saying nothing were necessary in order to give them time. It looked bad but maybe it could be massaged, manipulated, fed to the public slowly so it didn’t look so bad. He spent the rest of the night answering nervous phone calls from General Briggs and drafting a press release which showed the military was on top of the situation. When the day shift, such as it was, arrived, called in from cottages and parties celebrating the end of summer, he ate breakfast alone in the food court across in the Rideau Centre and called home to rearrange his schedule. His wife was angry but she would cope. He might be home in the afternoon. He and his counterpart, Captain Shields, were constantly busy talking to officers who called or showed up when they heard. Their computer reports didn’t really communicate the tragedy like talking to another person did. Especially someone like him, someone right in the heart of the crisis. Finally, after innumerable conversations which he couldn’t avoid and two meetings with the staff at which he emphasized the importance of secrecy, General Briggs ordered him to go home, get a shit, shower and shave, and return to the office, in uniform, for however long it took. So far there were no big problems but a situation like this could turn volatile at any time. He resigned himself to a lost weekend as he pulled out of the parking garage and adjusted the radio. When he stopped for the light at Laurier and Elgin, there she was. She was looking straight at him from the bus stop. He pulled over when he was through the light and waited until she ran to the car and jumped into the passenger seat. She was surprised to see him downtown on a weekend but glad for the lift. The shift had been exhausting and she was ready for a rest. She chatted on as they approached the Queensway, quieted down while he negotiated the ramp and speeding traffic. When they were safely travelling in the middle lane, she told him that she had just gotten an email from Chris, that he had been made a corporal. “Corporal Chris Defalco” she said with a laugh. “Defalco? That’s not your name. Isn’t it Mackenzie?” he said with a glance at her. He could feel it burn through his breast pocket. His hand involuntarily rubbed it. He felt sick. She stared at the line of cars ahead, said that Chris had kept his father’s name and that she had gone back to her own. She looked over at him. “Your eye. Something in it?” she watched the tear run down his face. “Yeah, yeah” he reached blindly for a tissue below the dash. She handed him a tissue. He wiped his eye. “Something blew in the window...” he rolled up his window a few inches. They drove in silence as the Queensway climbed the hill to the Kanata park n ride. “Thanks for the lift, Captain Deaver, see you Tuesday morning” she shut the door and walked to her car. “See you Mrs Mackenzie” He pretended to look into his eye in the mirror as her car passed behind him. They waved goodbye. He turned the key. The car stopped, the radio played. Lady Madonna. He fished the list out of his breast pocket, unfolded it slowly. At the bottom. Names of the dead. Corporal Chris Defalco. He leaned his forehead on the steering wheel and wept.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Reunion of the Old, Old Friends

When the Eastern forests of the North perform their dazzling dance of colour as Winter approaches and the Snowbird is up and away, human beings and animals acknowledge the occasion by observing traditional customs in accordance with Nature's Plan. An example of this occurred in the Ottawa area. It all began when The Honeyman approached the front door of the small downtown house of his old, old friend, The Real Article and his wife, The War Department. He shivered in the cold November wind and wished he'd never left his dirty little trailer by the river. His dog, Go'Way!, braced by the cool air but resentful about being dragged into the city and away from the beach and the yacht club where he scavenged a daily harvest of dog victuals, paused to deposit a grumpy intestinal objection in the middle of the walk which led to The Real Article's front door. The Honeyman was concerned that their welcome might be worn out before they arrived and kicked the offending object off the walk. He reassured himself with a quick pocket check for the presence of tobacco, honey-whiskey, and honey, knocked on the door. Thus continuing a tradition of reunions which he and his old, old friend had established when they met pursuing Dutch girls while the rest of the world was chasing Germans across Holland. Reunions which continued through battles with frostbite and venereal disease in Korea and were observed with less frequency once the pair became separated on The Rubby Route in Western Canada. In the latter days it had taken The Real Article several reunions in single men's hostels, seedy bars and fleabag hotels to adjust. When he encountered The Honeyman he had to deal with Go'Way! too. The dog was just a pup then and suffered repeated nauseating attacks of dizziness caused by his performance of a series of stutter step starts and stops because The Real Article invariably greeted him by yelling, "Go'Way!, C'Mere!" or, worse, "C'Mere, Go'Way!". The Real Article was dressed, as usual at four in the afternoon, in his lime green terry cloth dressing gown and rubber boots. The latter acquired from a late night garbage can and handy for keeping the feet dry in the soggy living room which suffered occasional floods in the wetter seasons. The old, old friends greeted each other with jocular salutations in the vein of, "Y'ole bugger, yuh never looked worse!" and "It's a wonder yer not dead or in the can!" while they punched arms, faked head butts and knees to the crotch. Go'Way! affected his usual show of emotion upon seeing The Real Article by tearing off a piece of terry cloth sleeve and further shredding the bottom of The Honeyman's coat. The separation had been long and this, combined with The Real Article's tendency to repeat things after his first sexual encounter with The War Department in the back seat of a Voyageur bus, let the occasion overwhelm him, causing him to yell, "Go'Way!, Go'Way!" at Go'Way! Naturally, the dog responded with increased affection by demonstrating his famous Large Cat Attack impression. He jumped up and down three times, wrapped himself around The Real Article's neck, like a mink stole. The Honeyman calmly removed Go'Way! by yanking on his tail and commanding in firm tones, "C'Mere, C'Mere, Geddown, Go'Way!" while thrusting his other hand deep into one of his raincoat pockets. To which Go'Way! responded by descending in a leap. On the way down, he snatched a small fish from The Honeyman's hand. The old, old friends repaired to the living room to recline on orange crates in front of a large t.v. screen as Go'Way! discovered the remains of a half eaten anchovie and pineapple pizza among a flotilla of boxes and packages on a puddle. He reminisced about his riverside home by rolling in the pizza, ignoring the old, old friends as they toasted each other and the world in general with a bottle of The Honeyman's Special Spatial Honey Brew. Hoisting his used MacDonald's milkshake container, The Real Article smacked his lips, licked his moustaches and offered up a traditional toast, "Up yers!” to which The Honeyman replied, "Up yer Geester fer Easter!" to which The Real Article rejoined, "Up yer nose with a rubber hose!" And all these tried and true toasts were followed by noisy guzzling and other memorable salutes like, "Bottoms up!" "Up alla them!" and "Up, up and away!" Which they were, by the time they detected a loud roaring emanating from another room followed by the appearance through a door of a cascade of chocolate bar wrappers, apple cores and a Laura Secord box. Go'Way! barely acknowledged this commotion, finding himself in the midst of a floating canine smorgasbord featuring a selection of boxes and containers drifting in all directions. He produced a tidal action by flopping his tail. This caused the remnants of Chinese, Italian, and Indian takeout meals to pass gently under his nose for sampling. But his moveable feast was disrupted when an empty sugar bowl propelled from the other room struck him on the snout just as he was about to test the flavour of a passing container of mouldy Moo Goo Guy Kew. The Real Article, realizing that the distant hubbub signified The War Department's uncanny ability to detect the supper hour and her suspicion of a lack of attentiveness on his part, signalled The Honeyman to follow him into his wife's presence. Which he did. Cautiously. In case of a continuation of the barrage. Straightening his tuft of red hair, extracting a bottle of Very Special Buckwheat Honey from his raincoat, smiling the irresistible, brown toothed smile which had earned him his name long before he entered the bee products business. The War Department had her gigantic bulk perched daintily upon a huge waterbed, parts of which were indistinguishable from her own corporate entity. Her purple hair grappled in agonizing clinches with lime green curlers. Her breath was bellicose, her bellow bull-like. The Real Article performed formal, if hurried, introductions, dodging hard buns and several plastic knives sent in his direction by the spouse he called Petal in intimate moments. The Honeyman bowed and proffered his bottle of Special Buckwheat Honey before ducking behind a cardboard dresser to avoid a semi-fresh chocolate drink whipped with a wicked sidearm motion by The War Department who was in full cry, "Where's supper?...Who's this? Whatcha good for?What kinda name is Go'Way?" Triggering an enthusiastic response by Go'Way! which landed him on the waterbed and spilled the Special Buckwheat Honey all over the pile of Saltine crackers spread out on The War Department's lap. Causing her renewed roaring and lashing about which sent waves throughout the bed and catapulted Go'Way!, who now resembled a tar and feather victim of the good ole days, back into the living room, but allowed The Honeyman to edge into the open to continue his litany of smooth talk and compliments while he fished around for another bottle of Special Spatial Brew. And this stratagem seemed to do the trick. For The War Department's bellowing subsided when they ploughed through the second bottle. The flow of foodstuffs aimed at them dwindled as she realized that her husband and his old, old friend were experiencing far too much ecstasy of the mind to do anything about getting her supper. A problem she solved immediately, after washing down the last of the honey soaked crackers with the dregs of the Special Spatial Brew, by announcing that they would all go out on the town. To The Lafayette Tavern. In the heart of the Byward Market. Through which she and the cracker covered Go'Way! marched ahead of the old, old friends, the dog biting tourists and shoppers protectively when they objected to his new found friend roaring at them and hitting them with hands full of the breadcrumbs which she carried in her large purse. While the old, old friends watched them affectionately, content to tag along behind, and, in the spirit of reunion, play one of their old Rubby Route jokes on the well heeled customers of a fancy tea room. Wherein The Real Article picked his nose and held up his finger to the light to examine the results as The Honeyman produced a syncopated rhythm of loud belches with flatulent accents and a seductive wink for the ladies over whose table they were standing. And the pair were already out the door, strolling with a chuckle, toward the next trendy spot to repeat their little prank, by the time waiters and management were summoned to comfort their distressed customers. At The Lafayette Tavern, The War Department and Go'Way! were strategically positioned in a corner table with another couple, The Stunned Rock and his wife, The Wayward Incident, when the old, old friends arrived to join them and order quarts of beer and microwaved onion and cheese sandwiches. The first were consumed and being replaced by their waiter, The Nose, when two more old cronies of The Real Article arrived, just finished their appointed rounds of delivering beer in a Brewer's Retail truck, Old Bargie and The S Turn. Who were veterans of The Rubby Route of Eastern Canada and joined the table, soon consuming enough of their own product to be persuaded to perform the trick they were famous for all the way to Newfoundland, the eating of the mugs and bottles which had contained their beer. This display had earned them a pretty penny in their younger, gambling days but was now reserved exclusively for entertainment at gatherings of old friends and family and religious holidays. Old Bargie learned the trick in a dream and The S Turn learned it from his father, The U Turn, who likewise learned it from his father, The Hairpin Turn, and so on, even unto the first generation. The War Department, in her cups and pleased to be conducting such an interesting tour of the attractions of the nation's capital, launched into a jolly harangue of the rest of the customers who remained polite until she began to punctuate her discourse by flinging fists full of breadcrumbs and uneaten quart bottles at them and prodding Go'Way until he attacked several of the more vociferous complainants. By the time The Nose arrived to protest what he termed "antisocial shenanigans" and demand payment for the missing bottles and glasses, The Honeyman had established a warm camaraderie with The Stunned Rock, The Wayward Incident, Old Bargie and The S Turn, treating them to a taste of Special Spatial Brew. The Real Article sat back contentedly, pondering the simple pleasures to be found in the gathering of small groups of friends and their pets. But exception was taken to The Nose's interference and lack of service and a hell of a brawl commenced during which the group acquitted itself admirably, the majority hiding behind The War Department and Go'Way! who were on the front line. Fortunately, all but the drunkest of enraged customers and most determined of the staff were sufficiently wary of Go'Way!'s painful nips and the whirring purse and ear splitting battle cry of The War Department to keep a prudent distance. Except for one unfortunate waiter who later likened The War Department to a Sumo wrestler on speed and venturing too close in trying to hit her with an oar, was caught up in The Bear Hug of Infinite Sorrow. From which he escaped only when The War Department noticed an innocent and terrified third party knocking over her quart in an attempt to vacate the premises with Go'Way! attached to his Achilles tendon. The Real Article spied the manager heading for the phone, presumably to summon the local constabulary. The group fought its way to the front door, piled into the Brewer's Retail truck, made good their escape. In the direction of the trailer down by the river. The Honeyman and his bottomless pockets acting as navigator for The S Turn in the cab, the rest sprawled in the back, happily pillaging the province's liquid property. The plan was to stop by The Honeyman's home long enough to pick up a supply of Special Spatial Brew and honey and go touring. But it was forgotten when they arrived and soon deteriorated into a celebration of the departure of Autumn, the arrival of Winter, Remembrance Day, and an epiphany experienced by The Stunned Rock who swore he had been granted a visitation by The Powers while peeing outside the trailer and looking up into the star filled sky. The War Department shook the little trailer to its foundations as she roaringly took on all comers at leg wrestling. Old Bargie and The S Turn gobbled up the few glasses in the kitchen while The Wayward Incident served up large portions of beans and cabbage. Go'Way! scavenged happily on the dark beach. The old, old friends kept a sharp eye on The Stunned Rock in case, as often happened to susceptible Special Spatial Brew drinkers, he had a revelation. And they were not surprised to be rewarded. After The War Department despatched him through the window at the end of the trailer with a triumphant hoot and a lightning leg hook. For by the time they found him, he had climbed onto the roof of the trailer and was declaring prophetically that they should depart to follow the Star of the East. Which they did after they adhered to the established routine of old, old friends' reunions and burned down the trailer, The Honeyman miffed at his shortsightedness in allowing the group to end up at his place, making him last host of the night and, according to ancient reunion rules, obligating him to provide his abode for the burnt sacrifice. So it was, that they loaded up the Brewer's Retail truck with supplies of honey whiskey, honey, fish for Go'Way!, a pile of beans and cabbage, made a side trip to store The Honeyman's beehives in the deserted yacht club, and set out for the East Coast. Following whatever star happened to appear above the road when they looked up. With the New Plan. To descend upon other old, old friends and continue the customary celebration all the way to The Atlantic. This was not an exception to the rule that the reunions of The Real Article and The Honeyman invariably concluded with rousing traditional choruses in accordance with Nature's Plan. For many an Autumn dog walker and suburban leaf raker has since turned a puzzled head, in the Eastern Canadian evening, at the sound of an invisible choir roaring and barking the harmonies of "Up, Up and Away" when the only apparent activity in his quiet street was a lone Brewer's Retail truck trundling along in the direction of The Dawn.