The generals are now so terrified they won’t sit in on the director’s debriefing of Etienne; one was in fact so scared he fled the colony and is listening in from his apartment in the Metropole; the rest are secured somewhere, not far, in bunkers, all connected through a conference speaker in the center of the director’s desk, a honking Bakelite box, their lines clicking, echoey, staticky, their remarks delayed, interruptive, unproductive. It’s like having a conversation with all versions of the past.

Etienne spins a rather credible and coherent yarn of the barmaid being a target produced by his earlier operation, but she must’ve been either compromised by the time he arrived or she was a honeypot from the beginning. The incompetence of the assassin was most of what saved him. He apparently remains at large, no hooded body being discovered among the wreckage after nearly everything there was killed or destroyed, blind luck being the rest of the reason Etienne is still alive.

What would he do now that the source was dead? She was the only real result of the operation, the pasts asked and noted in tremulant whines. And then there’s the matter of the two who knew Dufort disappearing after they were left alone. There’s no trace. What’s more is, what if she was a honeypot? Then at least one or both of them were moles. Unless there is yet another, undiscovered. Or even more.

The role of the policeman is to wield power over secrets. But these policemen find themselves dominated and frightened by them, by things they know that they don’t know, by unknown unknowns.

The role of the secret policeman is to master paranoia. But these secret policemen find themselves jumping at shadows, at their own, at those they’ve made for others.

These axioms are the pith of the generals’ complaints, their insistence they get back on top of this thing, get their hands around its throat once again, to remaster the dark, to send it to envelope their enemies. Not to fall into their own fucking traps.

He has another plan, he tells them. He will disappear into the bazaar under a new name, a mutilated face, a destroyed voice box, inflicting these mutilations himself if he has to, gesturing in grunts to make himself heard and known. He will emerge within the power structure of the insurgency, gone native, from time to time coordinating with the director here to plan operations which will result in the capture or destruction of insurgent cells, but, tragically, to build rapport and credibility within the movement, some of the insurgent cells must succeed from time to time. He will have to abduct and slaughter any number of regime agents and officials, probably dozens, over years and years. Bombs of ever-increasing lethality will have to be detonated in the most target-rich quarters, places where colonists gather, or collaborators. Stylish apartment houses in the deco style will be turned to dust the same way the ziggurats will. Cars will be turned to smoking husks. Children will be turned into orphans, then ripen into the vengeful soldiers of the secret armies. Etienne will personally decapitate former colleagues, former subordinates he himself trained in these arts, sawing their heads off with steak knives or filthy bayonets from the last war. They won’t recognize him. Their bodies will be hung from lampposts or bound with barbed wire and hurled into ditches. The heads will be stuffed into holiday parcels or diplomatic envelopes or hidden beneath cloches in extravagant restaurants, delivered as warnings to colonial officials when they dine out, waiters passing out in shock when they lift the lids and the platters stare back, wives or mistresses screaming in terror.

He will dwell in the night, in the sewers and alleys, and feast on blood.

He will wear a mask.


For all installments of “The Ambush,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1: The Body
  2. Part 2: The Colony
  3. Part 3: The Surveillance; or, the Vigil over the Dead
  4. Part 4: The Philosophy of the Hammer
  5. Part 5: The Escalation
  6. Part 6: The Prayer Book
  7. Part 7: The Form and the Substance
  8. Part 8: The Ambush Predator
  9. Part 9: Liebe + Romance