Kiss, Commander, Promise


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Kiss, Commander, Promise

  1. 1. By Alexander Nderitu ( From the short story collection, Kiss, Commander, Promise (Available at All rights reserved. Copyright © 2008 Alex N Nderitu. The characters and situations in this story are entirely imaginary and bear no relation to any real people or actual happenings.
  2. 2. ‘There’s the reality of the intelligence analyst and there is the reality of Joe Citizen on the street.’ – American/Israeli spy Jonathan Jay Pollard, after his capture. Kiss, Commander, Promise It’s Friday night in upscale Nairobi and I’m sitting in a parked Hyundai Sonata, watching the Egyptian like a hawk. He entered a restaurant two minutes ago and doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to leave. Watching him is easy because the interior is well lit and the walls are mostly glass, probably to tempt passers‐by. He casually extracts the day’s newspaper, unfolds it and prepares to peruse. The waitress comes over to him and appears to be inquiring if he’d like something to go with his coffee. He’s virtually the only one in the restaurant at this time and so he has her full attention. He shakes his head and the waitress retreats. The Egyptian, codenamed JAWS, has until recently been a star in the local intelligence fraternity. At a time when international alliances were being made and broken like tumbling kaleidoscope pieces, JAWS had provided us with information that would give our policy‐makers an edge when it came to negotiations or decision‐making. The political maneuvering began after a series of hush‐hush meetings between North African countries were held in Casablanca, Morocco. Details were sketchy but rumour had it that Libyan strongman Muammar Gadaffi’s vision of a United States of Africa having failed to gel, an alliance of a different kind was being sort. According to preliminary reports, six countries (Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Morocco, Libya and Egypt) had agreed to form a super alliance; a political, economic and social bloc that would hold its own in the international arena. Egypt was the most reluctant partner owing to its close relationship with the West. America, after all, gives Egypt over one billion dollars in foreign military assistance per year. It appeared that during the Casablanca summit, Egypt had been assured of gaining more from her African brothers than from the controlling Americans who insisted that the foreign military assistance should be spent mostly if not entirely on American arms. To sweeten the deal, it was alleged, Libya had promised to facilitate Egypt’s acquisition of ten Moray class submarines. It was an open secret that for over ten years, Egypt had been trying to acquire a fleet of modern submarines without much success. A nest of twelve Romeo and Whiskey class submarines it had acquired in the eighties was now obsolete and it very much wanted to purchase brand‐new, state‐of‐the‐art subs. The new gift of ten Moray class subs, to be paid for by Libyan petrodollars, was a dream come true for the Egyptian Navy. But news of the impending super alliance had not gone well with the rest of continent. It appeared that the North Africans, whose populace compromised mostly of Semites (a Caucasian sub‐race), were splitting the world’s second‐largest continent in two: the Arab north and the “black” sub‐Saharan south. The North would then be closely associated with the Middle East (all of them being uniformly predominated Semitic Muslims) while the “real Africa” of the Negroid and Capoid people was left to chart its own course. But there was one major problem: Egypt may be situated way up north on the map, but it relies heavily on the river Nile, whose origin, and most of the course, is squarely in “the other Africa”. And if someone tried to mess with the Nile as an intimidation tactic, it wouldn’t be the first time. In fact, the main reason the Mombasa‐Lake Victoria railway (the infamous “lunatic
  3. 3. express”) was built was so that the Brits would control the source of the Nile. Much later, in the Seventies, there was even a plot to change the course of the world’s longest river as a blow to the Arabs! This memory – and a bilateral arms race Egypt has long been having with Israel ‐ made the arms build‐up even more urgent. Egypt needed to beef up its military as a deterrent to any country thinking of messing with Nile waters. With the Egyptian Air Force’s 200‐plus F‐16 fighter jets (out of a total of 1230 aircraft) screaming overhead and ten Moray class submarines firing off surface‐to‐surface missiles or Raytheon Mk 37 torpedoes at any warships approaching “the Land of Pharaohs” from the sea, the Egyptian military machine was going to a force to reckon with. Not that any of the countries involved had displayed open hostility in the face of the Casablanca affair. Our position, as the men and women of the intelligence services, was to hope for peace but prepare for war. And then came JAWS. His story was simple: He was a former Commander of the Egyptian Navy who was dishonourably discharged following a dramatic fallout with his superiors. Coming from the disciplined forces, his insubordination (described as ‘Conduct Unbecoming to an officer’ in his termination papers) was unacceptable and he was given his marching orders. Angry and vengeful, he came to Kenya with a treasure trove of information concerning Egypt’s naval strength and future plans. He was tall, slim and wore blazers a lot. His hair and carefully‐trimmed beard were white, speckled with grey. He smoked a hookah pipe, read a lot of newspapers and books, and even though he was polite and by no means snobbish, he mainly kept himself to himself. His first piece of intelligence was a video clip that apparently showed a brand new Egyptian Moray 1400 submarine being tested in the Mediterranean Sea. It was moving slowly and gracefully, submerging for several minutes and then dramatically rising up, surrounded by white foam like a whale coming up for air. The date of the exercise was not indicated. Accompanying the secret footage were documents detailing the ship’s characteristics – builder, range, weapons, missiles, countermearsures and so forth. This information was hailed as ‘pure gold’ at the Bureau of Intelligence as indeed were many of the ex‐Commander’s subsequent reports. He was code named JAWS because much of his intelligence product centered on submarines which maneuver silently underwater like sharks. But as the months wore on, some skeptical minds back at headquarters began to feel that JAWS’ intelligence product was ‘too good.’ The intelligence chiefs began to suspect that it was part of a disinformation ploy by the Egyptians. An arms buildup was in progress up north, all right, but it seemed that the truth was being protected by a bodyguard of lies. Which brings me to the reason why I’m sitting in the front passenger seat of a parked Hyundai at night, watching JAWS as he leisurely seeps a cup of coffee in an uptown café. It has come to the attention of ‘the suits’ (our bosses) that every Friday night, JAWS goes out on the town and is believed to meet secretly with his Egyptian contacts. If this is true, that JAWS is receiving instructions and false information from Egyptian controllers, then not only is he a security risk to the country but all the information he has so far been giving us will be trashed: Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus ‐ If one is false, then they’re all false. My assignment, then, is to monitor him closely and see if he talks to any mysterious characters or attempts to make a brush pass with someone on the street, or if he makes a dead drop. For the record, I’m an intelligence officer, not an ‘agent’ (OK, so I’m not James Bond, big deal.) If my agency sent me to a foreign land or if a foreign agency recruited me to be ‘their man in Nairobi,’ then I’d be an agent.
  4. 4. My partner, Johnny, suddenly opens the driver’s door and clumsily bundles himself in, his bulk rocking the whole car. A gust of cold air rushes in as he slams the door shut. He had gone out for coffee – to keep us awake and bolster us against the cold – but I notice he has brought something else as well, wrapped in brown sugar paper. ‘Want some cassava?’ he inquires. I take my coffee and a piece of cassava but refrain from thanking him. ‘Some guy was roasting them on the roadside as I came back,’ Johnny says. I don’t respond. You have to understand that Johnny is the person I hate the most on earth. When I was paired with him for surveillance duty, I almost resigned. We’re so different, we’re like the quarrelling lead characters in the movie The Odd Couple. If we were soldiers in a war and Johnny got shot, I swear I’d leave him to his fate. Hell, I might even be tempted to finish him off myself. Why do I hate him so much? Our rivalry goes back two decades – all the way back to primary school – and in the middle of it is my wife, Georgeanne. In fact, for much of our childhood, Johnny was closer to Georgeanne than I was. Who would have thought that one day, all three of us would be working for the same organization, with Georgeanne as my wife and our mutual boss? ‘I passed the cam‐car at the junction,’ Johnny is saying. The cam‐car refers to the surveillance car equipped to with cameras to cover the surveillance operation. Apart from the cam‐car, there are other agents in cars at strategic points all over the streets. I can’t identify them in the gloom, which doesn’t matter because we have communication gadgets. In a large intelligence operation, like protecting a summit of visiting dignitaries, the number of surveillance officers can run to the hundreds. It doesn’t have much of a taste, cassava. It’s sort of like a hard potato, minus the flavour, and you get a rather pleasurable sensation from crunching on it. ‘Should I go for more?’ Johnny asks. ‘Not for me,’ I respond. ‘I’m after the caffeine.’ Johnny doesn’t leave but instead lowers his window for fresh air. ‘Car still stinks,’ he says. The Hyndai is a recent purchase and still has that new‐car smell, which Johnny hates. Parked to our left is a shiny jet‐black Toyota Innova, the type of car we would never be allowed to use because it’s not common and we spies are supposed to blend with our surroundings. On our right is an expensive‐looking Toyota Prado with Crystal Headlights. As we wait and watch, a sulphur‐yellow Hummer 3 zooms past, sticking out from the mostly dark vehicles like an albino in the Million Man March. Two tipsy lovers saunter just in front of our vehicle, laughing and clinging to each other as they zig‐zag to their amorous destination. This is Georgeanne’s kind of town. She’s an urbanite. She loves high‐profile events, posh restaurants, the theatre, haute couture. Speaks English, French, German and halting Spanish. Loves music, loves to dance. Supports Manchester United (I’m for Arsenal.) Business suits are her body armour and boardrooms are where she fights her battles. She has gym and Diner’s Club memberships and religiously patronizes expensive spas, salons and beauty shops. Is into yoga and dieting. Elaborate dinners flowing with flowers, wine and laughter are right up her street. Loves Nairobi. Both of them can be described as ‘cosmopolitan.’ Georgeanne makes friends easily and always displays a healthy interest in other people’s lives.
  5. 5. You might be wondering what an alpha female like her is doing with a cynical, average‐ salaried government employee like me but rest assured that I have often asked myself the same question. Despite the fact that my wife and I go back a long way, I feel a tinge of jealousy every time I see her laughing with the other suits – because that’s what she is now; a suit, a management type, a white‐collar practitioner. So Friday night, then, in a town like Georgeanne. A moonless sky presiding over us. The streets alive with spies. And Egypt on our minds. JAWS leisurely consults his watch, so we do the same: 10: 27 PM. He clearly has a rendezvous with someone and either the person is running late or JAWS is checking to see if he should start leaving for the meeting. Apparently, there’s plenty of time left, for the ex‐Commander turns halfway around and summons the waitress who is only too happy to oblige. The waitress departs as JAWS re‐opens his newspaper. She returns momentarily, balancing what appears to be a muffin and another cup of coffee. ‘Do you think he knows he’s being watched?’ Johnny probes. I have been wondering the same thing, to be honest. ‘I don’t think so,’ I say. ‘He’s not looking to see if we’re still here, or anything like that.’ ‘He could be pretending not to see us.’ ‘I suppose so.’ We sip our coffee silently. Johnny has sprinkled cassava crumbs all over his seat and floor mat. He’s so sloppy, he should change his name to ‘Sloppy Joe.’ Even in primary school, Johnny was pure id: so self‐indulgent it would have made the angels weep. He never bothered with books and often came out last (what the teachers referred to as ‘holding the tail’) in the end‐of‐term results. You will therefore appreciate the irony in the fact that he was once caught red‐handed stealing books from the Staff Room! He had done it on a dare but what surprised me was his nerve. Those were the days when we gave wide berth to teachers’ haunts. A pupil robbing the Staff Room was like a cat burglar breaking into a police station. To give the devil his due, Johnny excelled in field and track events and was very popular with girls. He was (and still is) one big, strong, son‐of‐a‐gun. I understand that he became something of a local celebrity when he played rugby for his high school team. ‘So how’s married life treating you?’ Johnny says, interrupting my flashback. ‘It’s cool,’ I reply laconically. ‘Are you sure? ’Cause it sounds too claustrophobic for me. I mean, being in the house with the same woman day after day after day. Having to put up with all her yapping and mood swings and whatnot…Not you, of course – you’re married to one hot chick. I mean, Georgeanne doesn’t even have a gluteus maximus – she has a glorious maximus.’ It was actually a compliment ‐ gluteus maximus being the Latin word for one’s backside – but I didn’t appreciate Johnny talking about my wife in a sexual way. This guy has no internal censor; he just says the first thing that comes to his mind. ‘I don’t think marriage will ever be an option for me,’ Johnny continues to rant. ‘I don’t even like the idea of being engaged. Think of what that word means. Engaged. It’s no coincidence that it’s the same word used by the military to mean “prepared for battle” as in, “I engaged my rifle and ordered the sniper to drop his weapon.” ’ Johnny laughs aloud at his own joke but I just continue peering through the windscreen and listening to the parking lot’s noise signature: cars arriving or pulling away, doors being slammed, an alarm going off, keys jingling, a drunk vomiting on the tarmac. ‘I hope he makes a move soon,’ Johnny says, studying the target. ‘This is boring.’
  6. 6. ‘What did you expect?’ I say acidly. ‘We’re on surveillance duty, not at the bloody Fox Drive‐In!’ One of Johnny’s many sins is that he never shuts up. If the Cold War was still upon us, I very much doubt that he would have been admitted into the intelligence community. Talkative people or heavy drinkers were considered security risks and Johnny would be found guilty on both counts. I can still hear our Intelligence Academy lecturer (nick‐named “Bishop” due to his extensive knowledge of the Bible) explaining to us the origin of the now‐famous idiom “Loose lips sink ships”: “Even though, during World War Two, important communications were protected from the enemy by such code systems as Enigma, supposedly safe submarines and other ships were still getting sunk by enemy action. It turned out that those in the know were talking far too openly about the positions and destinations of their ships, especially in the recreational areas of the harbours where they could be easily overheard. The US Office of War Information coined such phrases as “Loose Lips Might Sink Ships” and “Careless Talk Costs Lives” to discourage such unguarded talk.” And while it is true that unguarded talk could make nonsense of the codes and ciphers used to protect vital information from the enemy, it is just such talk that is, ironically, responsible for my relationship with Georgeanne. Let me take you back to my childhood years so that you’ll be able to put things into perspective… I was fourteen years old then and in our last year of elementary school. The ‘A’ students as well as those with eyesight problems sat at the front of the class while the noisemakers and lazybones sat at the back – as far as from the teacher as possible. I wasn’t a model student, I’m afraid, and was one of those hiding at the back. One day, I leaned sideways from my desk and shared a joke with a pal in the next row and he laughed so hard that our no‐nonsense class teacher looked up from her work and caught me leaning diagonally. From that day onwards, I was ordered to switch positions with someone further up. I ended up sitting directly behind the sainted Georgeanne with whom I barely spoke even though we had been the same class for eight years. She smelled great and her hair was perpetually tied behind her head in a pig‐tail. Occasionally, one of her hands would come up, fumble with the black hair band, and then drop out of my view. Whenever a lesson bored me, I studied Georgeanne’s back. Once, I was staring at the back of her head, taking note of the little stray hairs, when she turned around so quickly that I didn’t have time to avert my gaze. I therefore found my eyes locked with hers. Then, as now, her eyes were big and clean and set between jet‐black eyelashes that are not unlike the ones you see on plastic dolls. An awkward moment passed and then she, the bolder one, broke the ice. ‘Can I borrow your rubber?’ she said. ‘Er…Sure…Of course,’ I replied, shakily handing her my eraser. She took it, used it and returned it to me with a quick ‘Thanks.’ She doesn’t recall this trivial incident but she remembers the time when Mr. Macharia, our gorilla‐sized mathematics teacher, caught me out. We were head and shoulders into a Maths lesson when Mr. Macharia noticed that my focus was not on the algebraic equations on the blackboard. ‘Ernest!’ he bellowed in a voice that made me jump. ‘If you want to stare at that girl then I will gladly give both of you permission to go outside where you can admire her the whole day!’ The entire class – except Georgeanne, of course – burst out laughing and I prayed that the bell would ring and thereby save me from the disgrace I was roasting in.
  7. 7. Some other day, the four o’clock bell had just rang and my classmates were flooding out of the classrooms when I noticed an exercise book fall out of Georgeanne’s book bag as she slung it over her shoulder. I tried to call her attention to it, but she had already joined the exodus. I picked it up and hurried after her only to find that Johnny had accosted her outside the classroom. I watched in disappointment as Johnny arrogantly draped his tree‐bough of an arm on Georgeanne’s round shoulders, as if he owned her, as they talked about something or other. It bothered me that she didn’t tell him to keep his arms to himself. I decided to give her the book later, in the bus which we both used since we lived in the same estate, but she sat with her snobbish girl friends so I postponed the mission. The bus dropped us off and I had already reached my home when I remembered that I had not returned the book. Since I knew where Georgeanne lived, I walked briskly there and knocked on the front door. I almost got a heart attack when Georgeanne’s mother opened the door and stared down at me. I can’t claim total recall, but our exchange went something like this: ‘Hello‐o‐o‐o‐o‐o,’ she said, smiling from ear to ear. ‘Are you a friend of Georgeanne’s?’ ‘No. I mean yes…I was just bringing her Maths exercise book. It fell off her bag.’ ‘How sweet of you. Why don’t you come on in and have a cup of cocoa with us?’ She never stopped smiling, even while she spoke. She was very beautiful and Georgeanne turned out just like her when the puberty‐related prophecies in our Home Science text books came true, years later. Georgeanne’s mum took me by the hand, as if we were crossing a busy road, and led me to the dining table where Georgeanne was sitting, a cup of cocoa in front of her. ‘You dropped your exercise book on the way,’ I said, handing it over. ‘Gee, thanks,’ she said. Georgeanne’s mum went to the kitchen and I felt relieved. ‘What’s your name?’ her voice came back. ‘Ernest.’ ‘Are you studying hard for your final examinations, Ernest?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘You had better be, because if you don’t perform well then you won’t go to a good secondary school.’ ‘Ernest is very clever,’ Georgeanne defended me for reasons best known to her. ‘Is that so?’ her mother said, returning to the dining table with a cup of steaming cocoa. ‘This is for you Ernest.’ As she put the cup down, I noticed she had long, milk‐white, nails. After that she went back to the kitchen where she put on an apron and a pair of rubber gloves and began washing the dirty dishes. ‘Why don’t we do our homework together?’ Georgeanne suggested. ‘Okay,’ I said. So after taking cocoa, we produced our schoolbooks and did our homework together as if we were brother and sister. By the time I left Georgeanne’s house, the sky was an abstract painting of purple and pink and orange. The very next day, at lunchtime, Georgeanne found me sitting alone on a wooden bench outside the dining hall and joined me. ‘My mum says that you can come to our house more often so that we can study together.’ ‘Okay…I guess.’ ‘She says that you are very polite and kind of shy.’ (To this day Georgeanne’s mother still reminds how timid I was the first time we met.) ‘I’m not shy.’ ‘Yes you are! I’ve seen you blush.’
  8. 8. Georgeanne then sweetened her voice the way girls do when they need a favour and asked if I would accompany her to the ‘orchard’. It wasn’t even a real orchard, it was just an undeveloped part of the school, adjacent to the dining hall, where berries grew wild and where we kids used to go to pick the ripe ones. Georgeanne’s wish was my command so I accompanied her to the garden of berries. There were other kids milling about, boys and girls alike. We immediately began plucking succulent berries from thorny bushes. Georgeanne’s shiny hair threw back the sunlight almost like iron roofing as she moved. The sweetest, juiciest, berries were a dark purple; almost, but not as good, were the red ones. Georgeanne would pick a red berry, squeeze it to liberate the juice and then proceed to rub in on her lips to make it look like her mother’s lipstick. ‘How do I look?’ she would ask and I would say that she looked very pretty. We went to the ‘orchard’ together many times after that. One time, I asked her about Johnny. Again, this is not a verbatim account: ‘So what’s up with you and Johnny?’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘You’re always like laughing together and stuff…Are you best friends or something?’ ‘Johnny is not my friend!’ She said it so loudly that it startled me. ‘Then how come you’re always talking to him?’ ‘I don’t talk to him – he talks to me.’ ‘Then why do you let him put his arms around you?’ ‘With people like Johnny, the more you protest, the more they disturb you.’ She spoke with absolute authority, as if she knew all the secrets of the universe. ‘So you don’t like Johnny?’ ‘Of course not. Yuck! He’s so…rough.’ Hearing this made me very happy indeed, but trouble was in the offing. Ever since Georgeanne and I had started visiting the orchard together, other kids had taken an interest in our sudden close relationship. To avoid their stares and gossipy tongues, we used to penetrate further into the garden than was advisable. On this day, as we discussed Johnny, I suddenly noticed that the place had gone dead quiet. ‘I think we missed the bell,’ I informed my companion. ‘Oh, no! It’s class time!’ We run through the ‘orchard’ ‐ butterflies taking off in quiet alarm wherever we past – rocketed past the dining hall and all the way down to the classrooms. Georgeanne didn’t even have time to remove the small sticky weeds that had fallen in love with her skirts. I knocked on the door of our classroom and then stood there, panting hard. When Mr. Macharia opened the door, I knew we were dead meat. ‘Where have you two been?’ he boomed down at us. ‘I…I…We…we…we…’ I stammered, shaking visibly enough to outdo a person with Parkinson ’s disease. ‘Okay,’ said Mr. Macharia. ‘Just stay out there until you learn to talk.’ He withdrew into the interior and slammed the door in my face. When it rains, it pours. No sooner had Mr. Macharia resumed his lesson than the headmaster spotted us on the way to his office. He approached us. ‘Why have you been locked outside the class?’ He inquired, jingling a set of keys behind his back.
  9. 9. We explained that we arrived late for class. He took us to his office where he gave us each six strokes of the cane (what he called “six of the best”) and said that as candidates we ought to take our classes more seriously. As a lesson to others, we were then ordered to sit in the middle of the parade ground where everyone could see us. ‘Adversity doth best discover virtue.’ I am quoting the Bishop who was quoting some English writer. Our little misadventure made us gravitate towards each other like magnets. It was as if any social barriers we had had until then just melted away. We spent many more happy moments in the ‘orchard’ together, with the sun shining down on us and every flower in bloom. It was there, in our final days of primary school, that we shared our first kiss. Every person has a unique scent that is very hard to detect (Your pet dog can probably identify you by this scent alone, that’s why it’s always sniffing.) On that day, with our mouths locked, I smelt Georgeanne’s natural scent for the first time. I can’t speak for Georgeanne, but it was my first real kiss. We kept in touch sporadically during our high school years and our relationship re‐ flowered during our college years, though we went to different universities. It was shortly after college that I came across the ad. After the Cold War, the secret services of the world began to be more open. In Russia, the dreaded KGB was replaced by two intelligence arms: the FSB and the GRU. In America, tons of top secret CIA documents were de‐classified. Vacancies in agencies began to be advertised in newspapers, alongside regular jobs and government tenders. I came across one such ad, in a local daily, and told Georgeanne that I was going to apply for a position. By this time, Georgeanne and I were cohabiting in a one‐bedroom flat on Nairobi’s Ngong Road and she was working as a management trainee for a local airline (She has a Masters in Human Resource Management). I turned out to be ‘the kind of people the new‐look Bureau is looking for’ (young, college‐educated, physically fit, patriotic) and was admitted to the Intelligence Academy. About a year into the service, Georgeanne told me that she was also thinking of joining the agency. She applied for a position, was interviewed and ended up in a management‐level position. ‘Guess what, I’m your boss!’ she said, throwing her arms around my neck, when she was confirmed. ‘So nothing’s changed, eh?’ I returned, referring to her tendency to be bossy at home. We are in completely different departments so technically she isn’t my boss, but she does outrank me. One quality that shone through during her interviews was her level of intelligence. She was always an A student and the suits saw her as an asset to the organization. ‘Georgeanne is super intelligent,’ one of them said to his colleague as they left a meeting. ‘Georgeanne probably knows who the Unknown Soldier was.’ Another virtue that endeared her to the top brass was her loyalty. Over the months and years, her loyalty compass never wavered. Home or abroad, she was always a fervent defender of the Bureau and its operations. Her favourite quote was the Catherine Canswell classic, ‘It wasn’t a woman who betrayed Jesus with a kiss.’ I just hope that she will be as loyal to our marriage as she is to the service. Sometime after her appointment, Georgeanne bumped into Johnny on the street during her lunch break. He wasn’t doing much with his life so she urged him to join the service. She swears she had nothing to do with Johnny and I being paired for operations, and I believe her. ‘The rabbit is moving!’ Johnny says, waking me up. I peer through the windscreen and indeed JAWS is on the move. He has folded up his newspaper and is carrying it in his hand as he
  10. 10. walks briskly through the glass doors of the restaurant, into the moonless night. I fish out a modified Motorola cell phone and communicate with the other watchers. ‘The target is on the move,’ I report. ‘I am going to shadow him.’ I quietly open the door of the Hyundai and slip out. It’s bloody cold, more so because of a playful breeze dancing in the air. If JAWS is aware of our presence, he is keeping it well hidden. He never once steals a glance at the surveillance cars or looks over his shoulder. Instead, he strides gallantly down the street, towards the General Post Office, while I trail him from fifteen metres behind. I drop my cellphone into my jacket pocket, not that it matters: On the outside it looks like a regular phone even though it’s actually a two‐way radio. It’s disguised so as not to attract interest. JAWS stops suddenly, intent on crossing the street. I quickly pull out the cellphone, slow down, and pretend to be having an argument with a girlfriend: ‘Where are you now! I have been waiting for more than ten minutes…Near Barclays Plaza? How come I can’t see you?...Where exactly?’ JAWS looks up and down the street before crossing unhurriedly. I continue to walk in a straight line for several more metres but, inevitably, I am forced to cross the street in order to maintain better visual contact and make it harder to be detected. Without looking down, I reach into my shirt pocket and pull out a pair of spectacles. There’s nothing wrong with my eyesight: the glasses are equipped with a tiny, hidden camera and, in addition, they help disguise my face. Once, I was shadowing a rabbit in a crowded street, in broad daylight, and a friend from high school recognized me. He came over, jubilantly calling out my name, and nearly blowing my cover. Since then, I prefer to wear spectacles and baseball caps. Have I ever lost a target in a crowd? Absolutely. Many times. Shadowing a subject is a constant balancing act; you want to keep the rabbit in visual contact at all times, but you don’t want to be close enough for him to see you, even if he turns around. It’s very tricky and sometimes impossible. JAWS crosses over into Kenyatta Avenue, stepping up his pace, and I do the same, remaining in the shadows. Spies, even the desk‐bound bosses, are often said to be ‘in the shadows’ due to their love of secrecy. Tonight, the expression applies to us literary! I trail the Egyptian past a garden restaurant/pub with round tables set under giant umbrellas and catch a whiff of barley‐based beer, a rather tempting sensation. The patrons, mainly office types unwinding after work, talk and laugh animatedly. I would hate to eavesdrop in a place like this – with so many people talking simultaneously, the sounds weave themselves into an indecipherable tapestry. As we go round the corner of the restaurant, emerging into Standard Street, I pass two hookers standing in the shadows, watching the patrons. One of them – in black fishnet stockings and a red miniskirt as short as a New York minute – throws a glance my way but quickly loses interest. Just as well. Like her, I’m there on business, not pleasure. My lips curve into a cocky smile as I hear the voice of our trainer, the Bishop, informing us that the only trade older than espionage is prostitution. Eleven PM on Standard Street. The target starting to show signs of nervousness. He half‐ turns, to see if he’s being followed, but decides against it at the last minute. I notice he’s clutching his newspaper too tightly. He puts his free hand in his side blazer pocket and then promptly removes it. I have both my hands in my pockets, due to the night chill, so why doesn’t JAWS want to utilize his pockets? Meanwhile, a tall shadowy figure in a black overcoat is approaching us from the opposite direction. I try to make out his face but he’s staring at the concrete pavement as approaches us,
  11. 11. grim as an undertaker. Sensing that something is about to happen, I stop, retrieve my handkerchief and pretend to be wiping my nose while in fact I am concealing my cellphone with the handkerchief. As the ex‐Commander and Black Overcoat pass, I notice that they briefly ‘bump’ into each other. During the day, the main streets get so crowded that everyone literary brushes shoulders with everyone else. But at this time of the night, there was no excuse for the contact. ‘A brush pass has been made,’ I speak quietly into the concealed phone. I’m pretty sure Black Overcoat dropped something into JAWS’ side pocket. ‘I need more eyes on Standard Street. Secondary target: Tall male in black overcoat heading down Standard Street from Kimathi Street…’ As I’m talking, I realize that JAWS has reached the Standard Street/ Kimathi Street junction and is making a hard right turn, walking even faster. He’s so far from me now that it would take a run to catch up with him, so I dive into a lane that runs parallel to Kimathi Street. As I hurry through the lane, a skinny alley cat snarls at me. It probably thinks I’ll try to steal a piece of fried chicken that’s lying between its front paws. I side‐step the feline and race down the dank corridor, emerging in Kaunda Street which also intersects with Kimathi Street. I dash up the street but my route was so circuitous that by the time I burst into Kimathi Street, all I get is a glance of the ex‐Commander diving into a waiting Subaru Impreza. ‘Target has boarded a metallic‐green Subaru Impreza!’ I report, panting hard. ‘Looks like it’s headed for Biashara Street.’ Scarcely have I finished saying those words than a gunshot pierces the night. It’s rather faint, like a dry twig snapping. It’s only when I see other pedestrians running for cover that I become certain that I’m under fire! ‘There is a time to walk and a time to run; a time to spy and a time to refrain from espionage.’ You’re hearing the words of the Bishop once again. We watchers don’t carry guns (if we suspect there’s going to be gunplay, we involve the police force) so right now, it’s definitely a time to run! I retrace my steps, dashing headlong down Kaunda Street. Three more gunshots ring out in rapid succession as I dive back into the alley I had come through, the one with the cat. Leaning against one wall, my chest heaving, I talk into my radio: ‘Shots have been fired! The shadow is unharmed but shots have been fired in his direction!’ I rush through the corridor, back to towards Standard Street and as I exit the lane, I run smack into a mountain of a man. He must have been waiting for me because he catches me in both his arms as if I was falling. While I’m still stunned, he grabs my left wrist to prevent me from escaping. Unlike Johnny, I am a slim guy, and the assailant’s meaty hand wraps round my wrist like a handcuff. I immediately smash the blade of my right hand into his temple (a major blood vessel runs through it) and I am rewarded with a cry of pain. He loosens his grip and I manage to break free and hotfoot it down the street like a hooker running from a pimp. I’m not even sure what he wants – to kill, capture or recruit me – but I’m not sticking around to find out! Come the next morning and everyone at headquarters appears to be in a good mood. The operation was a success. JAWS has been exposed as a double agent. All his intel will now be considered ‘smoke’. Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus. As I make myself a much‐needed cup of coffee, our ever‐smiling receptionist informs me that my wife wants to have a word with me: ‘She’s currently holed up in a meeting but you can wait in her office or right here in the reception.’
  12. 12. I opt to wait for her in her bright, spacious, office. I lower myself into a leather chair, hearing it crackle in protest, and immediately start to doze, which reminds me of a time when I dropped in on Georgeanne after lunch and she was slumped over her desk, taking a nap. I nudged her awake, comically placed my hands on my hips and accused her of ‘sleeping her way to the top.’ She loved that witticism so much, she told it at every party we were invited to that year: ‘…So my husband walks in and finds me asleep at my desk and says, “I see – you’re sleeping your way to the top while the rest of us are risking life and limb in the trenches!” ’ Georgeanne returns from the morning briefing sooner than I expected. ‘Hi, honey,’ she says as she breezes in. She goes to her side of the kidney‐shaped desk, without as much as a hug, and kicks off her black high‐heeled shoes. She does that a lot, taking off her shoes. Even at home, I often find her walking around barefoot. She’s wearing a light, black, crochet cardigan over a frilly white blouse and a pressed black skirt that, alas, fails to reach her knees. Like any other office environment, the Bureau HQ is usually populated by people in suits and ties, but on weekends the dress code (for those unlucky enough to be on duty) is much less stringent – You could arrive in a straw hat and loafers and nobody will comment. The end of Georgeanne’s long weave is resting on the slope of her right breast and she plays with the ends – weaving and unweaving them – as she talks to me. Georgeanne perennially wears hair extensions – black or dark brown – that flow all the way down to breast‐level and glamourise her appearance. More often than not, she binds them in a ponytail at the back of the head. The sun’s light is filtering in through a large un‐curtained window and illuminating her from the side such that she appears to be glowing. ‘I want to talk to you because Johnny has been complaining,’ Georgeanne says. ‘About what?’ ‘About you.’ ‘About me? That’s a turn‐up for the book!’ ‘He says that you’re generally un‐cooperative. It’s as if you consider him a burden.’ ‘He is a burden. When you’re in the field with Johnny, you always get the impression that you’re carrying him. I think his parents spoilt him.’ Georgeanne stops playing with her hair. ‘I know you two aren’t the best of friends, but can’t you at least try to get along? He says you even refuse to answer him sometimes.’ ‘Johnny is an idiot,’ I complain like a child. ‘Johnny doesn’t know which end to eat with.’ Georgeanne smiles. ‘Even a broken clock is right twice a day,’ she says, talking through the smile, like her mother. I once told her she took after her mother but she denied it even though it’s a fact. ‘And Johnny always delivers when the chips are down. He certainly gave a good account of himself last night.’ I couldn’t argue with that. As it turns out, while I was dodging bullets on Kimathi Street, Johnny, the cam‐car and the runaway Subaru were burning rubber on Biashara Street. The Subaru Impreza was going like a bat out of hell and for most of the time was more than fifty metres proud of its pursuers. It wisely avoided going further uptown where it would have most likely bumped into police cars swooping down from Central Police station in response to the earlier gunshots. Instead, it made a hard left on Koinange Street, a hard right on the junction with Kenyatta Avenue, fishtailed as it took the scenic roundabout further on, and shot down Uhuru Highway. The cam‐car was the first victim of the chase. Misjudging the vehicle’s weight, the driver swung too hard round one of the bends and ended up crushing into a flower bed that the City Council had just finished working on earlier that day, as part of their ‘beautification programme.’
  13. 13. But Johnny wasn’t so easily thrown off. The Hyundai held its own, which is impressive when you consider that Subaru Imprezas are the machines that have been winning rallies for eons. Hell, the company that makes them started out manufacturing aircraft! As the getaway car zoomed down Uhuru Highway, negotiated the roundabout with Haile Selassie Avenue and headed on towards Nyayo Stadium, the Hyundai stuck to it like a cheap pair of trousers. The get‐away driver seemed to have only a working knowledge of Nairobi roads, sticking to arteries whereas there were many shortcuts. He probably didn’t even know that there was a police road block in Nairobi West as he went round the bend near the stadium, choosing Lang’ata Road instead of the Nairobi‐Mombasa Highway. As a consequence, he was waved down by traffic police for overspeeding (Yeah, the irony amused everyone at headquarters, too!) With metal spikes on the road ahead and Johnny bringing up the rear, the Subaru had no choice but to brake. The greatest surprise of the night was that JAWS wasn’t in the vehicle! I distinctly remember him diving into the Subaru on Kimathi Street. The sly devil must have bailed out immediately after the gunshots scared me off, knowing that the Subaru would be tailed. Back at the road block, Johnny had the unenviable task of reporting that we had lost the target: ‘The rabbit is in the wind.’ he said into his two‐way radio. ‘Repeat, the rabbit is in the wind.’ ‘I don’t know, princess,’ I say with a heavy sigh. ‘Can’t I get another partner? Why does it have to be Johnny? We’re polar opposites!’ ‘You know I have no say in that department,’ Georgeanne rebuts. She walks slowly round the desk, towards me, her aura disappearing as soon as she steps out of the sunlight. ‘Promise me that you’ll at least try to get along with him.’ ‘I dunno…’ ‘Do it for me.’ When all else fails, bring out the Kryptonite. Classic Georgeanne. ‘Okay, fine,’ I hear myself say. ‘Good,’ Georgeanne says with finality. ‘And I wish you’d stop worrying about me having an affair with one of the directors.’ ‘What are you talking about?’ ‘Come on. You’re always telling people how you don’t trust “those guys” that I’m always with in the boardroom. Quite frankly, you’re starting to embarrass me.’ Note to self: Keep private thoughts and insecurities you self. ‘You’d feel the same way if you were in my shoes.’ ‘Ernest, I married you. I love you. Trust me.’ ‘Okay,’ I say shrugging inappropriately. ‘I’m not saying that your fears are entirely groundless.’ I thought she was done. ‘…I’m just promising not to ruin what we have...What we have had since childhood. I want us to progress together.’ Somehow, I feel better, lighter. A promise is not much in a city where marriage vows are as disobeyed as the Ten Commandments, but it’s something. After all, isn’t that what marriage is – a promise to love somebody else no matter what? ‘All right, princess,’ I say. ‘We have a deal…Tell you what: why don’t we go out to dinner tonight? Where would you like me to take you? “Mamba Village”? “Carnivore”?’ ‘Well, there’s this new recipe for beef with avocado that I saw in a magazine and I wanted to make it for you tonight.’ ‘Are you sure you wouldn’t rather…’ ‘Beer is one of the ingredients.’
  14. 14. ‘I’ll be home by seven.’ She smiles and then leans forward and gives me a peck as light as a butterfly kiss. She doesn’t even leave any lipstick on my cheek. ‘See you later, alligator,’ she whispers. I shuffle towards the door, sleepiness weighing me down, and let myself out. As I shut the door behind me, I catch a glimpse of Georgeanne checking out my gluteus maximus. THE END Author’s note: Georgeanne and Ernest will return in ‘Command the Ravens’ More information and free downloads at WWW.ALEXANDERNDERITU.COM