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Seems Like Old Times | The Nation

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Seems Like Old Times

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The Gulf War. A sales job to warm the cold hearts of those ruthless bastards in Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross. Something like twenty PR and lobbying firms had been engaged by the government of Kuwait to make the Emir's shit smell like fresh-picked roses. Front groups like the Coalition for Americans at Risk and Freedom Task Force were created and paraded to grease the way to the big drop into Kuwait City.

About the Author

Gary Phillips
Gary Phillips's short stories have appeared, most recently, in Los Angeles Noir (Akashic) and in Full House (G.P....

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In this last episode we mostly wrap things up, but leave a few strange matters for earthly or cosmic interpretation.

Breakfast turns violent, more is revealed, and while a decent president gets elected, there's no rest for Congresswoman Kang.

As a young Defense Intelligence Agency recruit, Dieter Countryman had first encountered, though wasn't quite sure then who they were and what they did, the scary mindfuckers of the Coalition when they were reshaping the contras' image in the days of the Nigaraguan back-channel shenanigans in the '80s. For the Emir they did TV and newspaper ad placements and had on tap a bunch of rah-rah speakers, including ex-military types and a few certifiable wack jobs.

A-Number One among those firms was Hill & Knowlton. An outfit right out of the days of that TV show Mad Men, where you had a blast of whiskey in your office 'round about four in the afternoon after closing the big deal, and smoked unfiltereds after chomping down your steak and martini dinner. The Washington branch was run by a dude who'd been Bush the First's chief of staff when he was veep. Less than two weeks after the Iraqis swooped into Kuwait, Citizens for a Free Kuwait appeared.

Countryman remembered reading, on a left-wing journalistic site some years afterward, that the Emir paid out close to $12 million to prop up the activities of the so-called Citizens, underwriting those sweet expense accounts of the H&K crew. After all, it was Dems and GOPers they had to care and feed bullshit to sell that war. Getting paid to sucker the suckers. Wow.

The coup de grâce used to silence to the usual leftie voices of imperialist opposition and liberal hand-wringers was delivered by those H&K sharpies. In October 1990, they trotted out a supposed ordinary 15-year-old Iraqi girl called Nayirah. In tearful testimony on Capital Hill, backed up by a media kit prepared by H&K copywriters, she said she'd witnessed the inhuman Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital where she volunteered, take babies out of incubators and leave them to die on the stone floor. The right-wing echo machine went apeshit with that account, its water carriers repeating the story on TV, radio and in op-eds. Hell, even President Bush told that goddamn story.

'Course no one mentioned that Nayirah was a member of the Kuwaiti royal family and had been rehearsed in her performance while giving what turned to be false witness. But by the time that was revealed three months later, we were in the thick of it. Countryman and a squad of select others were doing what was euphemistically called "royal family liaison," which really meant isolating political enemies of the Emir as the GIs turned back Saddam's forces.

Countryman took a long pull on his cigarillo and blew out a thin stream of smoke. No sense feeling sorry for himself. Here he was seventeen years down the road and still isolating and neutralizing political enemies. When he was a teenager, he'd been scouted at his high school as a baseball prospect. Countryman had actually gone on to college on a partial sports scholarship, his mom and stepdad coming to his home games and making the effort to make some away games too. Where had that kid and his innocent dreams gone?

Inwardly he shunted aside lingering regret and continued calibrating the receiving unit set to pick up the sound and images of the surveillance devices he'd planted in Congresswoman Kang's apartment. He smiled and took a last drag on his smoke and tamped it out. Maybe if he said his prayers and ate his peas, he'd catch some girl-on-girl action. A man can hope.

He still had to get bugs in place in Kang's office here in town, which meant trying to nail down the schedule of staff people who often worked late. And there was her office in DC. He wanted to do it, but those staffers kept uncertain hours, plus there was the Capitol cops guarding Congressional offices. All that meant exposure, never a good thing for his line of work. Countryman snickered as he color-balanced his monitor. Shades of Hunt and Liddy--he had no desire to be hung twisting in the wind like those long-ago Watergate burglars. But he liked a challenge and the notion of pulling off bugging a federal elected official's office got his mojo working.

"Sick fuck," he admonished himself The secure satellite phone rang and he answered. "Yes," he said, after listening for a few moments. "I've got the package in place," he told Cenine Gilmore on the other end of the line, laughing. "Yeah, I know I don't normally talk that spy bullshit, but I figured I'd impress you." He laughed once more. "Okay, okay" he said after her response. "Hey, wait," he added, hearing a crackling in the headphones lying nearby. Cynthia Kang came through her front door on the screen.

"Kang's talking, gotta go... okay... yeah. Dammit, I got it. I'm a pro." He chuckled again and severed the call. He put on the headphones and watched a slightly out-of-sync image of the Congresswoman on his monitor. Too bad, but it didn't look like she was going to be undressing soon.

...

"No, I just came through the door," Kang said to LAPD Detective Desdemona Valdez who'd just called her on her cell." She walked into the kitchen and turned on the light.

Valdez said, "The woman who Connie Waller had a tussle with has disappeared." The detective was in her unmarked, coming over the hill back into LA from the San Fernando Valley. She liked this route that wound its way past homes and greenery rather than the bleakness of Southland freeways, as it better helped her to decompress from the demands of the job.

"That's not a surprise, is it?" Kang asked.

"According to Mr. Waller she wasn't just some hoochie hanging at the gaming tables," Valdez said. She'd talked to the Vegas PD and had obtained Waller's statement.

"I'll bite. Who is she?"

Valdez resisted making a crack and said, "According to your boy, she was Lacy Mills."

"Damn" Kang said. "She's old enough to be his..."

"Indeed," Valdez concurred.

To Be Continued...

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