Chapter 3 NOTHING VENTURED
Session 3.2 Taking out the trash
“Now, onto our final question on today’s hot topic – the Bucks Team scandal. Your motion, supported by other senators, has resulted in the President’s announcement to revoke the Bucks Team seat in the senate and discharge its Commander. It is suggested that a national hero should be spared from such public humiliation. What is your response to that?”
“The man’s special status is precisely why such stern measures are necessary. Or else, how can the government demonstrate its credibility?” the middle-aged politician replied. “Personally, I think the President has shown great magnanimity by only putting him under house arrest.”
“So you believe this is the best solution?”
“Indeed, this affair has been drawn to a close and there is no more to be said. Yes, he has made contributions to our country, but for us to progress, to move forward, it’s important to weed out corruption at the root, especially in the military. Soon, he will be forgotten.”
“We all hope for a better future. That’s all we have time for today. Senator Broz, thank you once again for taking the time to be with us. Before the news, we have a new song from Amifa . . .”
The "on air" light flicked off as the first chords started. The DJ shook hands with his guest.
“Mr Broz, have you considered hosting your own show when you retire? Your voice is perfect for the radio.”
“Well, the Heavens do have to compensate somehow for my lack of good looks.” His hollow laughter was swallowed by the soft, sound-proofed walls. “How did you like the coffee I sent you last time?”
This was the senator’s second invitation.
“It was such a generous gift. I’ve never tasted such high grade coffee – it set my heart racing! Now I know how weak and inferior the stuff I’ve been drinking is. However, since my body can’t cope with the real thing, I donated them to charity. They’re most grateful to you, especially since the exchange rate is so good these days.”
“I seemed to recall when we spoke last time you were raising funds for people in the countryside, was that right? You know, you are a rare breed. Most people only care about making money for themselves the moment they find fame.”
“I’m just an ordinary man, it’s only natural that I care about the needs of the ordinary people.”
The radio presenter walked Broz out. The moment Broz stepped outside the studio building, his secretary – who had been trailing them like a shadow – draped a long black coat around his shoulders. It might be summer, but temperatures in Agurts always plunged after sun down, and the next destination on their agenda was known for its chilly air.
Broz’s hair had succumbed to a smattering of gray on the temples, a sign of his age. The deep wrinkles between the eyebrows locked his face in a permanent frown. The strides made by his wiry frame were firm and full of energy. The low-key bespoke suit mirrored this wealthy politician’s social standing.
The secretary – in his thirties – was equally well dressed. His dark clothes and black gloves accentuated the pallor of his cheeks. A pair of cold, unfeeling eyes darted behind his spectacles.
“Send my compliments to the station director, and a message,” Broz instructed. “I can’t stand that man. I’ve no respect for someone who doesn't appreciate coffee.”
The secretary had expected this order the moment the young man mentioned the Bucks Team. Sheer stupidity. His first taste of fame was about to turn bitter indeed.
“And the cargo has arrived as scheduled, sir.”
With a slight nod, Broz disappeared into his luxury sedan.
The secretary took his usual place at the driver’s seat. They made their way through the brightly illuminated streets of Agurts’ capital Sonceto. Sharply dressed men and women wandered in and out of fancy restaurants and coffee shops, all of which stayed open late into the night. These urbanites benefited from the country's bustling agricultural trading industry. As the economy boomed, more and more high-end establishments appeared in the capital to cater for their need to spend and be entertained. In turn, this upturn in commercial activity attracted more multinational corporations to set up base in Agurts.
Of course, the wealthier Agurts got, the easier it would be for GDG Coffee to make money. However, the nation state was not fundamental to the company’s business. After the last world war, the majority of these multinationals existed independently beyond the power of any sovereign state. In fact, many were founded before the current national boundaries were drawn. These enterprises had their own treasuries as well as their own military. They were countries without physical territory, their workers were their citizens.
The Agurts government was indeed a key shareholder of GDG, but that didn’t change the fact that the company was a multinational enterprise. If being friendly with the Agurts government was good for business, then they would stay friends, but the moment the relationship was no longer beneficial, they would ditch this country without another thought.
Whenever someone made a profit, it always came from someone else’s loss. The clever ones were the people who found chances to propel themselves to the forefront – like all the upper class men and women frolicking on the streets of Sonceto.
The car was driving away from the city center. Without the bright lights of the shops, the streets dimmed and the sight of passers-by was rare. The only signs of life were a couple of beggars rummaging through piles of garbage under the feeble glow of the street lamps.
Fools! Broz couldn’t help but look at them with disdain. It angered him how stupid people were for the most part. Their country had such a natural advantage over their neighbors, yet most people did not know how to leverage the fertile land for their gain. They deserved this tragic existence for being so useless.
When they reached the hills just beyond the city center, Broz’s secretary put on his respirator. They weren’t far from the railway station, but the area was completely deserted. The site once hosted a military camp, set up towards the end of the Second World War. It ended up as a mass grave for tens of thousands of nameless soldiers and civilians. Of course, no one dared to build on such cursed land. Now, all that remained was the shell of a church and a wild forest – unusually lush because of the nourishment of the dead. The darkness only added to its spookiness.
A military jeep was parked under the shade of a tree. A man wrapped in a camouflage jacket leant against it, smoking a cigarette. Lurking in the dark, he looked like an evil spirit waiting to prey on unsuspecting trespassers. The moment he noticed the approaching sedan, he tossed the cigarette away and stamped it out, then covered his face with a gas mask.
The secretary got out of the car at Broz’s signal and approached the waiting man with a mobile phone.
“Show us the goods.” Broz gave the instruction through the phone from the comfort of his car.
The soldier shrugged – a silent grumble of Whatever! – and led the secretary to the back of the jeep. He yanked the back flap and unzipped the body bag concealed inside.
White hair. White beard.
Needless to say, the skin had long lost its glow. Only the purple-grey tint of livor mortis remained. The once bloody, gaping wounds had all congealed. Nonetheless, the secretary slipped out a gloved hand to double check. As the confirmation travelled down his fingertips, he turned to the sedan car and nodded.
“His dog tag was already gone when I got him.”
The man in the car said nothing in reply.
“I didn’t keep a single dime,” the soldier stressed as he handed over a duffel bag.
The secretary examined its content. Two uniforms, one gun and two magazines, two military knives, one tactical pen, one scarf, several notes and a handful of loose change.
He turned and shook his head.
“Are you certain you didn’t miss anything?” Broz asked through the phone.
“If your man looks carefully, he will see that I have even packed the hair from his legs,” the military man was growing exasperated but checked his tongue just in time. “Perhaps you can tell me exactly what you are looking for, it may make our transaction more efficient.”
“I told you not to leave a single stone unturned. Even if he just sat on it for a moment.”
“You also told me that this was clandestine and I mustn’t raise any alarm. If he was so easy to tail, then he wouldn’t be you know who.”
“We don’t know who he is,” the voice from the phone emphasized.
“Of course, he was just an old soldier stationed in Zamaii and no one came to claim his body after his death.” The soldier raised his hands to stress the insignificance.
The secretary waited quietly for his boss’s next instruction. The wrinkles over Broz’s forehead deepened as he pondered the situation.
We’ve taken a risk and still we’ve don’t have what we came for. This is not good.
“Did anyone show an interest in him in Zamaii?”
The unassuming question brought a menacing chill that cut through the man’s camouflage jacket. The soldier tried to brush it off with a casual answer.
“We’ve only got rookies out there. A bunch of barefaced boys. Do you think they’d talk to a boring old man?”
He had no desire to protect his minions, but he would only become more vulnerable the longer this business dragged on. His only purpose was to stay alive and enjoy the handsome fee.
“If we can’t find it, then we have to make sure no one else does,” Broz muttered into the phone, then paused. “Was he in contact with anyone outside your team?”
The phone had gone silent.
The man started to feel clammy under his camouflage as a cold sweat broke out. He wasn’t sure his answer convinced anyone.
“That reminds me,” the phone came back to life. “There is a special mission perfect for your team. Something experimental.”
Fuck! The man in camouflage cursed silently. To him, I’m as expendable as those rookies. We’re just a negligible cost.
He always thought he was in league with the big shots, now he realized he was simply a small fry. But a part of him understood if this man wasn’t so ruthless, he wouldn’t be at the top.
“We have an agreement.”
Instantly, he regretted his words. It wasn’t smart to show that he was rattled. He crossed his arms, pretending that he hadn’t said anything, and surreptitiously felt the gun under his jacket.
“Don’t worry, I am a man of my word,” Broz said through the phone, no offense taken. “We are simply broadening the scope of our transaction.”
“I don’t want to go to hell for this.”
“Sergeant, I know it isn’t love and charity that has kept you alive this long. You were outstanding in Operation Hiker, but the Agurts army didn’t see your value. You’re young, still in your twenties. Allow me to make a suggestion – change lanes and you will go far.”
The soldier’s face darkened at the mention of his past. It was fortunate that no one could see his expression under the gas mask.
“You mean . . . GDG?
“No, something even better, something more suited to your talents. The only drawback is, it will be some distance from Agurts.”
“How very kind of you.”
The grateful tone masked his inner turmoil. Sergeant Han knew he had no choice whatsoever in the matter. Yet, as long as he had his use, he would live. Well, he was used to taking things one step at a time anyway.
“Cheer up, sergeant. Think of it as getting rid of the clutter before moving house. I wish you a glorious new beginning.”
The line dropped. Han handed the phone back to the secretary.
“You will receive the posting tomorrow.” For the first time, the secretary spoke.
“And that?” Han pointed at the body bag.
“I will take care of it. You may go now.”
Han couldn’t wait to get back to Zamaii, even though he had a long, long night of driving ahead of him. He dragged the cargo from his jeep and hopped in to the driving seat with relief. Only when he was speeding down the motorway, miles from the haunted woods, did he think he may have survived – for now. He always knew this was a fishy business and his greed had pushed him to punch above his weight, but who would have the heart to say no to such a lucrative offer?
Nonetheless, Han knew it’d be far smarter to plan his escape now than place his trust in another’s promise.
When the jeep was gone, the secretary hauled the body bag towards the church and a freshly dug hole in the ground. He pushed the pouch of human remains down before throwing the old soldier’s personal belongings on top. Then he picked up the shovel. Though his figure was slight, manual work did not seem to tire him. His movement was as precise and repetitive as a robot.
Once he filled the grave, he took a new pair of gloves from his pocket and replaced the soiled ones. Then he got into the car and grasped the steering wheel once more.
A three-point turn and they were back on the road from which they came.
“Sir, I have ordered Miss Broz’s birthday cake. The cakemaker said the cost of honey has shot up enormously, so the price has doubled.”
“That child is such a picky eater. Who spoilt her? You know it’s all your fault, Patrick. You must be a spy from Beehive,” Broz smiled kindly.
“Sorry, sir. I know Miss Broz just wants to spend more time with you.”
“I have to work hard to be able to afford her honey cakes. You know I can’t feed her coffee beans.” A happy sigh.
“Are you going to bring Miss Broz to the GDG stakeholder banquet next week?”
“No. And I’m not actually a stakeholder. I don’t want the journalists to make up stories. And I’ve still got to handle matters at the ‘warehouse’.”
“I want to get to the senate early tomorrow. Can you move my schedule forward by one hour?”
The car re-entered the streets of the capital and continued on in the direction of the Broz residence.
The secretary had worked for the senator long enough to know how he should handle the soldiers. There was no need to ask. And the senator had long cast the sergeant’s fate from his mind.
Original Story : Kit Lau
Author : Perl Grey
Translator : Gigi Chang and Anna Holmwood