The President was in the library when I got to the capital. A film crew was rolling up cables and carefully placing equipment into hard metal cases. They were preparing to leave. The Commander-in-Chief looked a little lost and felt compelled to explain the venue was the choice of his handlers. Hell, he said, everyone knows I’m not a scholar … yes sir, Mr. President.
He was happy I’d come and told me I’d be going away to the war. I was to scrub the names and change the numbers, or the other way around, before they were sent back to Texas. Mr. President, I can do that from New York … we must find our reasons there and rattle them here … what are our reasons … whatever you say they are … yes of course.
The next morning I took a helicopter to a military plane. Its cargo was soldiers inside the packs on their backs. I was in my briefcase. The soldiers had already been told what to do, I told them what not to say after they did it. On landing I met our partners from England and a few from Australia. The Swedes were not represented. A sergeant from Wyoming escorted me to a convoy of armoured vehicles waiting at the edge of the airstrip, engines running.
The soldiers unpacked and repacked their gear, repeatedly to master a gesture that might soon be their last. Eventually the trucks came to take them to their final destination. The sergeant informed me that he had been charged with my safety. We have a situation, he said. He needed someone who spoke the resident language and would I be kind enough to lend my assistance … yes of course.
We drove a short distance to a two-room house on the periphery of a small cluster of similar dwellings. A well stood ten or so metres from the back door. An old man was sitting on the porch under a sheet-metal awning. What does he want to tell us, asked the sergeant.
The man explained there was a dead soldier inside the well. How did he get there … he was shooting at everyone … that’s not good … that’s what I told him … how did he get inside the well … I shot him … that’s a problem … I know … how old are you … eighty-seven … why did you shoot the soldier … he killed my son.
What did he say, asked the sergeant … he said one of your soldiers is dead inside the well … we know that, how did he get there … he doesn’t know … did he see anything … no … tell him someone will come to collect the body. The sergeant thanked him, hearts and minds, he said, with a grin. I told the old man never to repeat his story.