Tales from an Unknown Corner
Chapter 1: A Little War Game

Caution: This Romantic Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa, Fa/Fa, Mult, Consensual, Romantic, Lesbian, Heterosexual, Oral Sex, Anal Sex, Petting, Sex Toys, Slow,

Desc: Romantic Sex Story: Chapter 1: A Little War Game - Some men, men like you and I, take the same road home every night. Some men take the road less traveled. Some men take a wrong turn, and spend years lost in the cold, dark woods. Some men, if they're lucky, someday find their way home. A very lucky few may even meet angels on the way. This story starts very slowly in those woods. It's intimate and contemplative, with plot, characters and sex that will appeal to introspective readers and reward their patience. Be Patient! hint: ch-6, an angel?

I don't need this shit!

My anger was slow to rise but it sure was making steady progress. The same old argument... same discussions... it's always been the same thing.

What the fuck I was doing in this God-forsaken place?

Helllooo! That's what I do for a living. It's my job. This is where I work.

But it wasn't as simple as that. It never was. At the back of my mind, I knew that. I couldn't even say what I thought. Just, "Yes, Sir. I understand your concern. Yes, Ma'am. I know you are worried, but there is nothing to worry about."

Well... that didn't work this time, did it?

How could it? All my explanations, and counter-arguments to placate them and still... they sounded hollow! Even to my ears.

I stepped in my office cabin, slamming the door shut. I felt like tearing something to pieces. As I stood fuming there, my gaze systematically going over items in the room, categorizing them for suitability, my mind was still busy with the telephone call and the source of my anger.

There was no way I could make them understand or convince them. Not with last week's attack.

Shit! That's never happened before.

Oil rigs, and production stations were almost exempt from all the attacks; private sector stuff, but especially the foreign investments. With last week's attack that changed. Everything changed. Nobody knew the rules of the game anymore, or if this was an entirely new game. My parents knew that as well. If not, they must have realized the change in trend after that attack.

Why did I expect them to understand anything? They were parents! Of course, they were worried. Especially after this last incident. It was in the papers. Previously, it was soldiers ambushed, government officials attacked, civilians in government service killed. Now, an oil rig was attacked--private foreign investment. I didn't want them worried, but unless I packed and returned home, there was no way I could get them off my back. That was unacceptable. They had tried to run my life before, but not to this extent! That left several options; cut off my contact with them, or read them the riot act. Full confrontation; they could take it or leave it.

Is it time... to burn my remaining bridges?

I didn't want to contemplate that. Not now. It was too early for that, and a plunge I didn't want to take. Their health was not what it used to be, and I didn't want to be the cause of something else--as if I didn't carry enough with me! However, in my current frame of mind my anger was taking over me. I was dangerously close to releasing my fury, unchecked, on whoever happened to be in my way, parents or not, and the temptation to do something like that had never been so great as now.

I was trying to cope with it myself, trying to understand this new development; not that there was much to cope with it. After a while you get used to it, and don't think about it. And that was all there is to it. Nothing more, nothing less. You keep your eyes open, and carry on. Sometimes, there was a mild adrenaline rush associated with it, feeling alive, and pumped up. On very rare occasions I didn't care much, one way or another; when I was too tired to keep the anger burning, and my demons were visiting me, trying to invade the emptiness inside, but they were few and far between.

Damn it! Enough is enough. Don't you understand? I need some breathing room! I don't need this shit from you. I already have enough on my mind.

I was almost tempted to say these exact words on the phone, to my dad and mom. Jeeez!!! I don't know how I managed to keep my temper in check. I was sorely tempted to utter those very words to make them understand...

My job. My life. My decision. End of story! End of argument! That's the way things are!

But, I knew that wouldn't help. They would never understand or accept it. They were worried sick, and in panic. They would have gone off the deep end. But, I had had enough of all the quarrels. How could they know what it was costing me every time I had to take their worries into consideration when I had to make a decision? When the hell was I going to be able to live my fucking life? When? It wasn't just frustrating, it was driving me nuts! And, it was very tiring, psychologically draining, as if I didn't have enough problems keeping my sanity. As if... as if I didn't feel like burning all my bridges.

Don't! Don't go there! Therein lay madness!

If I hadn't called them...

But that was wishful thinking, wouldn't have solved anything. Worse, they would have been even more worried. Now, I understood what fighting with one hand tied meant.

Fuck! I've been fighting with both hands tied! It's been like that since the day I arrived here, three years ago. Uphill fight all along. Every bloody week the same question: "When are you going to leave that place and find a job here?"

The problem wasn't finding a job back at home. I didn't fit in. Not there. Not in a 9-to-5 job, where people had regular schedules, regular lives, and socialized. There wasn't anything that could keep me busy, or challenge me to drive myself as hard in that world. Besides, I didn't want to be caged in an office, with harsh fluorescent lighting, stupid office politics, petty jealousies and the gossiping. I had too much excess baggage. I had too much hurt and pain. I just wanted to be away, far away from anything that had been familiar, away from the hurt and pain, anything that reminded...

I knew that. They knew that, even if they didn't understand it. And, there was just too much emptiness inside me. What little warmth left inside me was within a protective shell--too fragile to be exposed to the ravages of the past. I didn't know how to deal with that. So, I filled the emptiness with anger, to keep the pain, and hurt at bay. I wasn't angry at people, or the world, although from outside, it probably looked like that--Wasn't it what some friends said at the time; "Why are you so angry?"--I was angry at myself. It was the only thing that kept me moving. Smoldering inside me, always under tight control, and never allowed free reign, unless provoked. But, keeping busy helped, using up all the untapped energy of my anger.

Don't you get it? I have a job. One that I enjoy. Better yet, it keeps me busy, so I don't dwell on... past... history. It keeps me away from the pain and hurt. OK?

Do I have to spell it out?

You want to hear it?

OK! Here we go. Repeat after me, until you've got it crystal clear. I don't ever wanna set foot back there, not even at my beloved beach. Got it? It's history. I don't want any part of it. I just want to forget it all, forget it ever happened, erase it from my memory.

There was no way I was going to say it. Hell, they knew it. Well, parts of it, anyway. They saw some of it happen, but we never talked about it. Why talk about it? It happened in plain sight of most everybody. They just didn't know about the details... they didn't need to. Some things were better left where they are. Sometimes, saying "better leave some things where they are," hurt.

The point is, it happened. They were willing to act as if it never happened... but of course, they never really understood it, did they? They thought it would blow over. I once thought as they did. Otherwise, why did I tell them it was a temporary job when I signed the contract. I thought it would be a matter of months, and I would be back. I thought I wouldn't be able to stay far away from that beach--my beloved beach--or for that matter any beach, and the sea for so long. Just a little bit of a time-out... to regroup.

But I did. I was here. It had been three years, and I didn't see an end yet. Sand, and rock, and dusty wind beneath an angry sun, and knee deep in snow, in icy cold. There was a stark beauty in this desolate, empty expanse, but I seldom noticed that beauty; perhaps only on those rare occasions when my subconscious drew parallels between this empty expanse and the emptiness inside me. Most of the time, I didn't care much for the place. It wasn't home, never going to be one, and I wasn't looking for one. Winters were more bearable; the cold numbing me, and my senses, giving me a brief respite from dwelling on the emptiness inside me, or my anger, or all the other hurtful things I tried to keep at bay. The hypnotic quality of the softly falling snow, slowly covering the rig with a white blanket; the sound of engines and heavy machinery muffled by the large flakes that kept falling like confetti, drifting down like Autumn leaves on an October afternoon. I would stand outside my cabin, and watch it for hours on end, finding some kind of peace in the serenity of the scene--if only for a while. Still, it was nothing like my beach, like that particular shore. At times, I missed my beach, any beach, something fierce. Those times, how I wished I could say, "I hardened my heart and forged on."

I just don't know how much of a heart I have. I don't even know if it would pass for one, or be called as such.

As my gaze kept looking for something to expel my anger and frustration, sadness filled me at the realization of how lonely I felt. Abandoned, even by the people who were supposed to...

Can it ever get lonelier than this? If they aren't willing to listen, if they aren't willing to understand what I feel, what I want.

Just leave me alone, let me do what I want!

And yet, I had to comfort and reassure them.

Why? Somebody, tell me why? It's their fucking job, not mine! Who's the parent, who's the child, anyway? Why in God's name they don't leave me be? Why do I even bother to talk to them when their minds are set?

"Filial piety!" my inner voice whispered.

"Fuck off! I don't need this shit!" was my response.

I could taste my anger, bitter like bile...

"There!" my eyes said, locating something I could direct my anger at.

I reached to pull the big cardboard (with a bunch of 9-by-13 pictures taped on it) from the wall, ready to tear it into pieces. Finally, I had something to take out my anger on. But, when I realized what I was holding, I just couldn't... suddenly, I lost my steam.

My eyes went over each picture; scenes from my beach at different seasons at different hours of the day. And, an empty spot for a missing picture--part of the past that I was still trying to put behind me. It had been there for a short while, until the color was indelibly etched in a small corner of my memory, burning bright as my anger at myself... my failure.

These were the pictures that--every so often--kept me breathing, when I wanted to recall the cool morning breeze rich with iodine and salt. They accompanied me from location to location, from mountains to deserts. They were the only reminders that there was, somewhere, a cold blue sea, spread like a satin sheet early in the morning... the feel of wet sand under my feet, as I took my afternoon run along the shoreline, cutting through the gentle waves that swept in and out. The blue waters of an ancient sea... rich in legends, and myths... keeper of secrets, and lost souls.

I didn't dare touch them. I'd never known when I would need their company. I gently placed the cardboard back on the wall. These pictures helped me remember the happiness. Whenever the anger started to overwhelm me, they had been there. Whenever I dared to check on that little warmth; to make sure it was still there, or to stroke and nurture it--like an infant--they had kept the demons at bay.

I left behind, enough... more than enough.

Why is it easy to recall painful memories, when I have to work to recall the joyful moments?

As I pondered that, something else swept those thoughts aside.

Why do I remember so much of everything, good or bad?

The deadly silence of the cabin offered no answers. As usual. I knew I wasn't going to sleep. I checked my watch, and it was getting close to midnight. I decided to go to the bar cabin. I was off-shift for the next 36 hours...

Nope... make that 29 hrs.

Shit! That's what I need! As if all that happened was not enough. 29 hrs of doing nothing but brooding.

But, before I could get back to brooding, I needed to make another call.

I hope he's not asleep. It's been a long time... since college. How in the hell did he survive the attack? If I hadn't seen his name in the paper, I wouldn't even know he had been there.

It took me a while to get connected, but I reached him. After wishing him a fast recovery, we went over the incident. I listened as he told me what happened. My anger returned. It didn't take longer than fifteen minutes to get the necessary details. As I put the handset down, my mind was already contemplating who was going to be the victim of my wrath among the assholes in the management.

Fucking lying bastards! Assholes! Never mind the fact that it was another company that got hit this last time. We've been saying this was coming, for 2 months already. They even tried to hide the details of the attack. They still haven't arranged protection for some of the installations. What if one of the unprotected stations was hit...

Competitors or not, most companies exchanged information on general security and safety. There was no way they didn't know the exact details of this attack. They must have had gotten all the details, but they had downplayed the whole incident as an unfortunate happening. Several wounded, including one foreigner--that was by mistake--and three dead; two of them engineers, and the last one a student from the college--barely 19 years old.

Jesus Christ on a fucking crutch! What a waste... 19 years old. Slaughtered like sheep.

Our rig was protected by a team of 30 heavily armed soldiers. However, the other facilities, like the production stations (where the oil was being collected), didn't have anything like we had, only patrols sweeping the area. I wondered what the management would do when the engineers in the stations got to hear the story I'd just been told.

Those bastards better get their fat asses in gear, and do something before it's too late... before something similar happened to us... if they don't want to be hit by accusations of gross negligence.

I needed to think about this carefully, but I was too angry to think clearly. No wonder my parents were scared. If they had known the truth... Well, parts of the attack were in the newspapers, but the details were sketchy, or completely wrong. However, one thing was obvious whatever way you looked at it; the whole ball game just changed!

I walked into the bar cabin, and after closing the door, scanned the room looking for a quiet corner. It was almost empty. One rig hand was nursing his beer on a stool, and a grizzly driller was standing behind the bar drinking some mixed stuff. Rig move time, when most of the off-shift personnel enjoyed some drinks. The driller had 24 hours off, his counterpart taking over. I hated that period of a few days. I wasn't involved in any of it. The idea of going to town for a day or two at the office didn't appeal at all.

I picked up a can of Coke, and moved to the other side of the cabin; the entertainment center, with the TV, and the stereo. It was empty, and that suited me just fine. Finding a comfortable chair by a small table, I sat down. I wanted to ease my anger and cool off, before I got back to thinking about my options; with my parents and with the company. Well, I wasn't worried about the company. If I became too much of a headache, they could easily pay my severance, and cancel my contract. At this moment, I didn't give a damn about the money or the job.

When the time comes, I'll cross that particular bridge.

But, I wasn't going to let them fuck the few people I cared about. Most of them sitting at this moment in those stations. They were not friends, not really, but colleagues, some of them good people. I didn't have friends here.

That's a joke! You never tried to make friends with anybody here!

Yeah? Well, we both know why, don't we? So shut your trap! I don't need you bothering me with your stupid comments.

While I was lost in thought I didn't notice someone walking over. I heard the scraping sound of a chair being picked up. Then it was placed on the other side of my table. The rude interruption forced me to look up. It was the driller, and he sat down opposite me. Filling up two shot glasses from a bottle of whisky, he pushed one glass across the table, saying, "Drink up. It's celebration time. Rig move."

I hated rig-moves. It was always messy, and it took almost all day to get the camp cabins moved and hooked up with electricity and water.

I would be better of at the office in town for a day.

I wasn't feeling like company, especially at this moment. I knew this guy. Big bear of a man, hard working, and sharp. He spoke very good English for a German. He had to, as everybody spoke English to varying degrees of fluency. He usually dropped by my office for reports, and discussed ongoing operations, and other details. I never socialized with him--well, almost with nobody--so I was a bit ticked off and surprised that he sought my company. I always kept to myself when I was off-duty. Everybody knew that, and the new arrivals learned fast. Here, I could have that, but not when caged in an office somewhere in a city.

Loner! Not a very good reputation!

Yeah? As if I give a damn. Shut the fuck up!

I pushed back the glass. "Thanks, but I already have a drink," I said, pointing to my can of Coke.

He picked up his glass and downed it, and set his eyes on me, giving me an appraising look. I returned his gaze trying to make him understand I would rather be left alone. Ignoring my look, he filled his glass, and pushed the other glass back to me, urging me to take the drink. I was getting seriously ticked off with his attitude. I picked up my Coke, and sat back, telling him with my eyes to get lost. He wasn't drunk at all, I could see that, but he was ignoring the signals I was giving him that he wasn't welcome at the table.

What an asshole!

I shook my head internally.

He downed his glass, and setting it on the table gave me a look. "I heard you had a long phone call. Third call to home this week. Problems?"

What the... It's none of your fucking business. Why don't you fucking get lost and leave me alone, instead of butting your nose into my personal affairs?

I chose to ignore the question. "I registered the time. I'll pay it... as usual."

Long distance personal calls were always charged.

Laughing, he said, "Hell, son. I'm not worried about the phone cost."

Resentment flared up at his use of son, and I didn't even attempt to hide my displeasure--you could hardly call it displeasure, it was downright anger. There was no way he could mistake my look. He didn't even flinch... the cocky bastard! That made me more angry. Everything that had accumulated since the phone call was slowly coming up for a nice boil. I hadn't expelled even a bit of my anger up to now, only suppressed it.

I was starting to enjoy the feeling of it simmering, so I chose to let it come out to the surface very slowly. It was such a sweet sensation, like a good red wine that you roll on your tongue, savoring the different flavors of spices, appreciating the rich texture, noting all the little details about the whole experience. It was warming my insides with its heat, and I wanted to feel its searing heat when it boiled over.

"I think you should take a deep breath, and then take a sip of the whisky. That will ease your nerves," he said softly, taking me by surprise.

He knew very well I wasn't nervous, but angry. But, after his pointed remark, I took a moment to go over why he said what he said, the way he said. I realized I was contemplating violence against this guy... in anger. I should have known better. I don't usually direct my anger at people, well, not exactly... I don't use violence in anger. They are two different things. I do use angry words against people when they have it coming, but I rarely used violence when angry. Now, I realized I was letting my anger control me, instead of the other way round. I had let my guard down, not expecting an immediate danger. But, danger lurked in the most unexpected corners, and came out in different shapes... like anger.

Has it been that long that I have forgotten the most basic lessons?

Trying to collect myself, I thought off that beach... my beach... the water gently lapping between my toes, washing away the sand... a soft, cool breeze slithering across my chest, caressing me, giving me goose bumps where my skin was wet. As I felt each gentle sweep of the sea lap at my feet, I let it suck a piece of the anger that was welling up inside me. I could feel the heat inside me cooling off bit by bit. I didn't want to let it go, but I realized that this guy could make me do something I would regret.

With a cold voice, I said, "I don't remember inviting you to the table."

He gave me a long curious look, then filled up his glass. Nodding at my glass, he said, "I think you'll like it."

I took a sip from my Coke, watching him finish his glass and wipe his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt.

"What are you brooding about? The attack last week?" he asked, when I didn't respond.

I shook my head with an impassive face.

He gave me a quizzical look. "You're not scared of something happening here, are you?"

I almost laughed at that bit, the corner of my mouth barely curling...

If I did care about it I wouldn't be here, now, would I?

Suddenly I was saddened by that thought...

Do I really not care? When did that happen?

Shit! I don't want to go there. That road leads to madness. I have other things to think about. If this asshole would leave me alone, maybe I could...

"I thought not," he said, perhaps catching my amused expression, before he continued. "I was talking with the Captain, this evening."

That would be the 30-something soldier who spoke some passable English.

When I didn't respond, he continued, "He was impressed with your shooting. He told me you went with a few of his guys for target practice in the afternoon, after your shift."

That was the only fun thing here to do to kill time. Nothing but rocks... and tin cans to shoot at. I wanted to see if I still had it after my time in the service, a few years ago.

"Do you carry?" he asked.

I shook my head again.

Why should I? Do I need it? I'm not as good with a pistol as I'm with an automatic rifle. What good is a pistol against Kalashnikovs?

"I heard from your colleagues that it was easy to get a carry permit, and a pistol. I know some of them carry."

Shit man! You don't know what you're talking about.

I couldn't ignore this comment.

"It's a couple hours work to get a regional carry permit and a handgun, but it's not worth it. In fact, you'll be making a target of yourself. If they know you're carrying, they'll try to get you. Probably when you're on a deserted section of the road, just to get your gun. And they would know who's carrying. The crew are all local people, and it's hard to keep a pistol a secret," I told him. "Besides I'm not good with a pistol."

"And you trust the protection we have?" he asked, now that he got me talking. "Did you go with them to see how good they are, or how good you are?"

Oh, this is rich! This guy has ideas!

I shrugged my shoulders, instead of answering.

"You know, I know that military service is compulsory in this country, so you must have been in the service," he commented.

"Yeah, I was. Nothing special. I know which end the bullets come out," I replied with another shrug.

That drew a short laugh from him, that turned into a chuckle. "As I said, the Captain was impressed, and that makes me worry about them. Are they any good?" he asked, meaning the soldiers protecting the rig and the camp.

Instead of answering him, I decided to rattle his cage. I was annoyed that he had drawn me into a conversation, when I wanted him to leave me alone.

"You asked me if I was scared... I'm wondering if you're scared?" I asked.

"Of course, I am scared. There may be very little chance of anything happening here, so I'm not worried... much! But, things happen. I've seen it happen at other places."

"You don't have to worry about it. This is not other places. They might attack, and shoot people, and blow up things, but they're very careful about who they shoot."

"What do you mean?"

"They don't shoot foreigners... ex-pats... That's bad business. They have their political wings active in several countries across the continent, and they will lose any support there if something happens to a foreigner here. Their offices will be closed, and any political activities will be stopped. They wouldn't risk it. They never have. On the other hand, my colleagues and I... well, let's just say we are fair game... in fact, the intended target."

"That's bullshit," he flared.

"How long have you been working in this country?"

"Seven years."

"Then I suggest you get your head out of your ass, buy a newspaper and read about the facts. It started first, by targeting the police and military personnel. Five years ago that changed; it escalated to include the government officials and facilities. There were isolated incidents of attacks to private sector facilities, but nothing serious. Two years ago, it moved onto teachers, doctors, and other civilians in government employ, and more attacks to private sector facilities. This last six months, it's any civilian. Mostly however, the engineers, technicians are killed, not the crew workers; the bunch of us that come from the big cities, not the locals. And, when they have targeted any private companies, especially the foreign companies, they always made sure no foreigners were harmed."

There wasn't any reason to mention that one foreigner was wounded by mistake during last week's attack.

Shit happens when bullets start to fly. The other three hadn't been that fortunate.

"So that's why you were brooding... and that's why you're angry with me? Because I'm a foreigner?"

"You believe that!" I exclaimed with an incredulous tone, losing my composure.

After giving me a long look, he said, "No. You resent me, because I came to sit without being invited."

I couldn't resist a quip. "You've got that right... pops."

His eyes flared for a moment, at my response, pops, before he chuckled, perhaps remembering how he called me son. He took a moment to fill up his glass, then giving me a deliberate look, he said, "I like you, sonny. Come on, drink up!"

I knew he was goading me with his son, and sonny, but I wasn't going to take the bait. However, he was getting under my skin. I tried to calm myself, visiting the beach, remembering the warm evenings with a cool breeze when I enjoyed a Bacardi-Coke, while I took sips from my Coke. Then, my mind got busy with another thought, and not the first time. Why did I recall memories so vividly, as if they were frames out of a filmstrip? But, this was more than that. It was a living, breathing experience. I could still recall the taste, the smell, the color... almost all the senses associated with each memory, each time I did take a stroll in the past, choosing a moment, a place or an incident. It was my curse.

He was not going to let up on me, so after a few minutes of silence, he broke it with another question. "What is it that you practice, late in the afternoons?"

What the fuck are you talking about now?

When I didn't respond, he elaborated. "I was checking the crown on the derrick, a few days ago. I usually have my binoculars with me when I go up the derrick, and take a look at the surrounding area when I'm finished. It's 120 feet up, so gives a good field of view. I saw you practicing. It didn't look like karate or anything."

There's no fucking privacy in this place!

"It wouldn't. Karate is Japanese."

"So what is it?" he asked.

"It's something Chinese. Tai Chi Chuan."

He filed this little bit somewhere, and then switched topics. "You were on another rig, as a student, couple of years ago."

That would have been 4-5 years ago, when I was doing my industry training with another company. I didn't remember seeing this guy around that time.

How the fuck does he know me?

"You had a run-in with one of the ex-pats, a tall Dutch guy," he continued, after a pause, to refresh my memory.

Tall Dutch guy... that describes most of the Dutch guys.

I jogged my memory...

Yeah! I remember that stupid asshole. Thought he could run shotgun over me, just because I was a student.

Seeing the recognition in my eyes, he leaned on the table and in a conspiratorial tone, he said, "Yeah, I heard the story. He was a serious pain in the ass, and stupid to boot."

I knew the German and Dutch guys didn't like each other; something that lingered from history, but nothing serious. After all, the rig floor was a dangerous place, and everybody depended on each other doing their part and doing it properly. If not, you could end up either crippled or dead, but when the shift was over, they wouldn't socialize together, and formed their own cliques.

"And you're not saying that because he's Dutch?"

"Sonny, let's get one thing straight. When it's work related, there's no place for politics and bullshit. That was work related. He didn't know his job, and he had given a hard time to most of the contractors, but especially to us. It was bound to catch up with him. It was funny to hear it happen because of a student. That's all."

You fucking, asshole! Patronizing, ignorant son of a bitch. I should take your head--

I'm not sure how, but I managed to clamp hard on my anger, when it flared again--dangerously so. For a short while, I let myself feel the cold breeze of the early morning by my beach, while I contemplated my response.

"You know you're very good," I said with an icy calm and deliberation.

I could see he was confused by my remark and tone, and I thought I caught something like unease on his part. After a momentary quiet, he said, "I know my job."

His slight hesitation confirmed my suspicion, and I drew a bit of satisfaction from the knowledge, and now, it was time to let him have a piece of my mind!

"I wasn't talking about how good you are at your job," I replied flashing him a cold smile. "You're very good at insulting people. First, you intrude. And then, you insult; with that quip about how funny it is that the guy got what was coming to him from a student. What you imply and meant was, 'a lowly student, ' and that, is not a compliment!"

"Sonny, I didn't intend to insult--" he was saying, when I cut him off, before he could continue further.

"That's enough of sonnies... pops!" I said softly, emphasizing my words. My voice might have been soft, but there was nothing soft in my delivery; a veiled threat--a promise of repercussions--was very much present. "You wanna revise that?" I asked, giving him a cold stare. If my eyes could shoot icicles, he would have been already laying in a pool of his blood on the floor.

You must be really thick. You don't get any hints, do you?

For a moment, I gave serious thought to giving my anger free reign. I knew better. That was when I noticed my fingers on my left hand were rigid, like a blade, in anticipation of something. I flexed and let them loosen up, and took a sip from my Coke.

Violence is not a solution. It's a last resort, and even then, there usually is very little justification for it... most times!

As I remembered those words--they carried the same solemn warning as they had had, years ago, when I had heard them the first time--I tried to let go of my anger. I just felt tired. I put my Coke on the table, and took off my reading glasses, laying them down. I could feel the beginnings of a headache coming, so I massaged the bridge of my nose, eyes, and temples. When I was finished easing the tension I felt, I turned my gaze back at him. He was watching me like a hawk, and behind his calm eyes, he seemed to be appraising me.

"You have fire, lad. I noticed that about you when you first arrived here, three years ago. When I heard who had signed on, I kept my eyes open--after that run-in you had had... Do me a favor, down that glass, and talk to me," he said gently, urging me to reconsider with a soft expression on his face.

I don't like this stuff, what they call whisky... Johnny fucking Walker. He can walk the hell away from me for all I care.

While waiting for me to make up my mind, or respond in any other way, he filled his glass.

Fuck it! You wanna play, then let's play, pops! And maybe... just maybe, my runaway mind won't bother me when I hit the bed tonight... and maybe, I'll be able to sleep... I might even thank you tomorrow--if I'm still drunk!

I took the glass and downed it.

Shiiiit!!! That's worse than I remember. What's this stuff anyway? Broken glass, or are you using tungsten carbide inserts from the used up drill bits?

As soon as I put my glass down, he picked up the bottle and filled it again.

Bastard! You have 80 pounds over me, and a couple of inches.

With a sinking feeling in my stomach, I remembered Sun Tzu's eternal words on choosing the place and occasion for battle--and, that feeling had nothing to do with the spreading warmth from this shit I just downed! To gain time, I lit a cigarette.

No reason to rush it and get drunk like an amateur, is there? I'm not going to hand it to you so easy, pops. You're going to work for it!

He downed his glass, and set it on the table, waiting for me.

Forget it! I'm not going to let you set the pace. You wanna get drunk, go ahead, be my guest.

After I took a long drag from my cigarette, I took a long swallow from my Coke. He didn't fill up his glass yet, just stared at me, waiting, challenging. When I ignored his challenge, he went back to sonny.

"How old are you, sonny? 22-23?"


"You ain't gonna let me set the pace, are you?"

Very astute, pops.

I was almost starting to like this guy, but not yet. Quickly checking my watch, I did some mental arithmetic. "I reckon you have about 17 hours off-duty time. Plenty, for whatever you have in mind."

That earned me another chuckle and an amused look. He sat back for a few seconds, looking at me, seemingly mulling something in his mind. Then, he leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. "Most guys your age would try to up the ante, relying on their youthful stamina. You didn't even give it a second thought to chase it with Coke. Nobody I know, young or old, would dare do something like that when they are being challenged."

Ignoring his comment, I picked up my glass, and deliberately finished it in a few swallows, slowly, taking a drag from my cigarette in between sips. Putting the glass down, I picked up the bottle, and filled both our glasses. The point was made, so he didn't try the 'down the glass' act. He got off his chair, and went to the stereo, going over tapes and CDs. Choosing one CD, he put it in the player, and set the volume low--we could hear the music, but keep a conversation.

I didn't recognize the song. The melody and the voice of the singer sounded disturbingly familiar, but I didn't have the patience to dig in my memory to recall the name, or the tune for such a trivial thing. It would eventually come on its own time, especially if there was a song that I knew on that CD.

When he sat down, he said, "You know, you never answered my question."

"And what question might that be?"

"Are they any good?" he asked, returning us back to the subject of protective detail.

"What makes you think I would know something about that?"

"Why do you evade a simple question?" he countered, in a businesslike manner.

This was off-duty time, and I didn't have to answer any questions. But, there really wasn't such a thing as 100 percent off-time on a rig, not on serious business. Security constituted one such. I could still evade it; after all this was a personal assessment, and we both knew that I didn't qualify as a security expert, not in any way. I chose a middle ground.

"Most of them are young and scared, but it's the healthy kind of scare. They won't slack off during guard duty. Quite a few of them have seen light action, so they know what they might be facing."

"So you trust them?"

"I stated the facts as I saw them. I didn't imply anything else."

They aren't bad. Not at all. Just young. Most of them. Younger than I was when I did my short spell. They'll probably be able to do what they are supposed to do. I'm not concerned about that. I'm concerned about mistakes, accidental shootings, and that usually happens at night. Sometimes shit happens, there's no avoiding it. I just need to be a tad bit more careful.

"Shit, son. What's your problem? If you don't trust them, why are you not scared?"

"It's a four hour trek to the mountains, at a good running pace. The army will respond with helicopters in 45 minutes at the max. I don't think they'll attack in this area. They don't have an easy escape route."

"And they had an easy escape route in last week's attack to that rig?" he asked, to which I nodded.

"But we are moving closer to the mountains."

When I didn't respond, he got pensive.

"You don't carry, you don't trust the protective detail; yet, you're not scared."

I took my glass and nursed on my drink, while contemplating the situation.

What's your problem, pops? It's not that I'm not scared. I just don't dwell on it. I could be hit by a truck tomorrow, or have an accident on the rig floor, or die in a plane crash while getting a ride back home. When your time is up, it's up. Although I reckon, it will be a very long time before I get my ticket punched. If my curse is what I think it is!

"Is there something that scares you?" he asked.

Huh? What kinda question is that? Everybody is scared of something. I hate snakes.


"Snakes?" his eyebrows went up quizzically. "I figured, you're scared of living."

I don't like the sound of that. Not at all!

"And how did you arrive at that?" I asked, the distaste at his quip clearly visible on my face. I filled my glass and his, while waiting for him to answer my question.

"As I said, when I heard you signed up, three years ago, and ever since then, I've kept an eye on you. The few people I talked to about the run-in, all told me that you were a good kid, and fun to work with. When you arrived, the first month, you were ill at ease. But, you had a fever burning inside you. You worked hard, but didn't enjoy it. No, I don't mean the work! The place. I got the feeling you'd rather be elsewhere. But, you kept at it, and over the months, settled into a routine. But, you never socialized much, always keeping to yourself. Once a week, you called home. It usually annoyed the hell out of you, and I did catch glimpses of anger hidden behind it. Now, the last several months, I just see anger after the calls."

"And your point is?" I prompted him to continue.

"My point is, you exercise a very strong control over yourself. Over your emotions, and perhaps thoughts."

Bullshit! If I did, I wouldn't have that emptiness inside me... a big fucking black hole. I wouldn't work so hard trying to forget the past--

"Sonny, I may be lots of things, but I'm not blind. You were ready to resort to violence a while ago. And I know, you didn't give a second thought to consequences... like losing your job or criminal charges. You're not the type to shy away from violence... when it becomes necessary. Yet, you chose to rein in your anger, and took it under control. It was as if somebody had just turned a switch off. You're a ticking time-bomb."

"If you think so, what the hell are you doing standing close to a ticking bomb?" I asked pointedly, but with deliberate calm.

He ignored my question.

"You're a hard worker, and have many skills. What are you doing here? You can easily find a job elsewhere, where you'll be much more happy. Two of your friends already resigned, and they needed the money. You don't seem to care or need the money. So, it can't be what's holding you here," he said.

"It's the job."

"It's just a job, like any other job. Unless..."

When he didn't continue, I rose to the bait to see where he was going with that.


"Unless, it's all that you've got."

Jesus! You're a dangerous man, pops. I underestimated you.

Instead of giving an answer, I shrugged noncommittally.

He took a sip from his drink, but his eyes never left my face for a moment. "You know, I've been working in this country for seven years now. I know there are some very nice vacation spots. I never took the opportunity to take a vacation at one of those beautiful beaches," he said in a conversational tone, changing the subject swiftly.

I was wary from the sudden shift, and perked up, which he noticed immediately. To distract him, I finished my glass, and filled it up. The bottle still in my hand, I waited to fill his half-empty glass. Taking the hint, he downed his glass with an amused smile, and set it down for a re-fill. That done, I lit another cigarette, offering him one and lighting it.

After he took a drag, he responded, the amused smile never leaving his face. "Very good, sonny, very good. Was it from Art of War?"

Sheeesh! If I'm not careful, I might get to like you. You're one cool customer, pops.

"Sorry, pops, it's something else. From a Japanese book."

He raised an eyebrow. "I figured you would be sticking with Sun Tzu."

"Most of the time. But, a single school of thought doesn't give you flexibility."

"Like any single martial art style, or weapon," he finished, as if reading my mind, before moving back to the previous subject. "I've seen the pictures of the beach you have in your office. Beautiful. Is it a vacation place or your hometown?"

"I was born inland."

"You like the sea, perhaps any place near water?"

I shrugged.

"And, yet... you choose to work here," he said with a contemplative tone. After a pause, he gave me a long look, and continued with a soft, almost sympathetic voice. "When did you burn your bridges, sonny?"

I wasn't expecting the question. Not at all.

I-I-I... I didn't burn... any bridges... except...

I have so few of them that are still standing. I wish... I hadn't, that one time...

But sometimes, I wish... I just wish I could burn all... then, there won't be anything to stand in my way. I would be free to make my own path. And, I wouldn't have to fight every fucking inch of the way to make my own decisions.

But... that's besides the point. I don't burn bridges. I learned that lesson the hard way. Once was... more than enough!

Calming my shot nerves, I replied, "I don't burn bridges."

But in my mind's eye I could hear the words, "not anymore," even if I hadn't uttered them. The thought burned my insides like acid eating away, like a flame burning bright, like the color of her dress in...

One stupid mistake! One failure! How did I let her--

I didn't want to dwell on it. Not any more. And definitely, not now. I had learned that lesson. It was in the past, and had to stay there. My thoughts went back to that beach, my beloved beach.

At least, that's one anchor in my life. It doesn't matter if I did burn the bridges or not. That place will be there for me, always; bridges or no bridges.

As I ran through the whole gamut of thoughts, my ears pricked up at the melody that was playing...

Is... Is that Chris de Burgh playing?

Who listens to Chris de Burgh these days? And, this song is...

Oh, God, no! Not now! Not that one!

I tried to tune the melody out, but it was insistent. I couldn't switch it off. Worse, it was taking me to places I rarely visited these last couple of years.

We never danced to that one song. Just because she was dressed in red at the time, and it felt... Well, it felt kinda awkward, as if making a statement. And she... the feel of her fingers on my arm... so hot, almost branding me, as we stood watching other couples. Clinging to me, as if she would never let me go. Ever. And I never thought I would let her.

Well, we know different now, don't we?

I felt the same heat as I had then, and I couldn't help but instinctively glance at my arm, expecting to see the hand that caused the sensation. That momentary slip into past filled me with an uneasy chill. I downed my glass hoping it would warm me up, and reached for the bottle to re-fill it.

"If you haven't burned any bridges, what are you running from, why are you running away?"

"I'm not running away. I was looking for a place, and I believe I found it here."

"Your place is where a home is, where your heart is. And I see that your heart isn't in this place."

I didn't have to respond to that. I watched him take a sip from his glass, and then a long drag from his cigarette. He exhaled the smoke slowly, his expression contemplative. As if coming to a decision, he leaned closer with his elbows on the table, and asked, "Does the missing picture have something to do with all your anger?"

Sitting back, he continued. "I saw it the first time I was at your office. It was sticking out like a sore thumb among the pictures of that beach. A few weeks later, it wasn't there anymore. My guess is she hurt you."

Instead of answering his question, I chose to respond to his previous comment.

"It's not a matter of place or where home is or where your heart is. It's a question of time."

"You mean you're taking time-off until you decide to do whatever you want to do?"

"Nope. I'm not talking about time healing wounds. Time has no bearing, none at all on healing wounds."

What I had said, to a large degree, was true. Waiting for my wounds to heal played only so much in my decision to stay and work in this place. There was so little left inside me, I didn't know if any healing was possible. He pondered what I said, while I caught the ending notes of Lady in Red.

For some things, you could be late and miss the chance. For other things, you could be too early, as they hadn't ripened for picking. Timing was... is... of the essence. Always has been. I should know. It formed the most basic tenet of my training. In my case, I had been... a heartbeat too early... and too late... for her. The cost... I didn't want to think about the cost.

What's more I was scared of... living an eternity.

It sounds like an exaggeration or a complete fabrication, but it was neither. The point was brought home by the death of that 19 year old student a week ago. He had been at the wrong place, at the wrong time, like I had been, once, several years ago. And yet, I had survived it. Maybe it was luck, but I had survived several scrapes since then. When I thought back to those times, charmed didn't even come close to describe it--I'm not adding the last three years to all that, because nothing major happened, but somewhere along the way, the ball drops on the red instead of black, doesn't it? It just never happened!

I felt cursed with the Methuselah syndrome. Intellectually I knew that was impossible, and it was more like the ignorance of youth, talking with a big mouth. However, that never changed the way I felt about it. That didn't mean that I was completely unaware of my mortality. The point is, I wasn't overly concerned about it. I never understood that part about me. Was it because I was some kinda sociopath? But, sociopaths never felt anything. I felt... I feel, more than I care. No, I just wasn't obsessed about my mortality. Death came and claimed young and old without any discrimination. Here, in this place, it was part of daily reality, and I've just grown used to it. That was what it was. If I worried about it every waking moment, I wouldn't be able to function. So I ignored it. This place reminded me that I was alive, despite the emptiness inside me, which at times, made me feel like I was dead inside--perhaps, it was a subconscious need of affirmation... of my existence... that, I wasn't dead.

Did I care if something happened? Yeah. I did. I was careful. I never took risks. Was I suicidal? I didn't think so. I knew I didn't want to die.

Not in this Goddamn place! And, not by the hands of a fucking sixteen year old toting an AK-47. Not when I still miss that beautiful beach and the sea!

Since the very first day I discovered the sea, I was irresistibly drawn to it. Yet, I was here. Only rocks and sand and desert sun, desolate, empty of life. And water was life, where life sprung first.

"We are given a certain amount of time, and what we do with it is up to us. Sometimes, we miss chances, opportunities. It's no use crying over spilt milk; brood over past or worry about future. You have to be always in the moment and in the place. Not to miss life itself and what it offers to you," he said, taking me out of my reverie.

Really? I guess, you're not a student of history, pops. History is what teaches us the lessons, so that they aren't repeated. History and past is what makes us, shapes us. I agree, there's no use to worry about future, except be prepared for any eventuality. And to your other point... Being in the moment... I think I know someth--

Suddenly, my breath caught in my throat, when his words really percolated through my train of thought, reminding me of something else, forcing me to reconsider and reflect on what he said. I didn't agree with some of it, but still, I liked it, especially the last point. To my regret, I realized it left a sour taste. I just couldn't shake the feeling that up to now, all the offerings had been bitter, even though I knew better than that.

Being in the moment... Is that the problem? Wasn't I in the moment? Why is that? Why couldn't I be in the moment? That's what I was supposed to have learned in my training. It was all about timing and being in the moment. Am I so lost to forget even the basics?

I wanted to think about this, but I was getting agitated, and quickly downed my drink, re-filling and downing it again, letting the warmth spread. Slowly, I washed the taste with my Coke, and lit a cigarette. I took a second shot at the problem.

Why was I not in the moment?

I didn't have an answer.

OK! Let's try something else. What did usually happen when I was in the moment?

Every time I was in the moment... I collected detailed sensory data... sorting them, categorizing them, analyzing them, acting on them, and... I filed all that sensory input for later reference.

Shiiittt! They made up all my... recollections. My memories!


That's why my recall had always been so vivid. That's why some of the memories hurt so bad, as if it was the first time I experienced them. I didn't dare look at him. His last point sounded so simple at first, and I liked that simplicity, that's why I latched onto it. But, it was more than that. This wasn't a simple fatherly lecture about the challenges one faced in life. That short trip, as I worked around the idea, had been fascinating. My head was spinning with the implications.

What kind of a path did you set me on, pops? What kinda ride are you taking me on?

I pondered on that little bit I had worked out. In the end, most of it came in bits and pieces. There were gaps but...

In a way, you're right, pops. This job is all I've got left. It kept me busy enough, so I didn't have to think about much, especially about the past. And, it kept me so physically tired that I could sleep at night.

I've known it all along. I just hadn't looked at it from that perspective. I didn't want to be in the moment, because it would add to the collection. And, I didn't want to have more painful memories in a growing list of recollections. I had more than I cared to carry around.

If that's what you meant by being scared of living, perhaps you have a point you old grizzly bear. Perhaps, you have a point, after all.

I picked up the bottle and after checking his glass to find it half-empty, I topped it up, and filled mine. I had some stuff to think about, and I knew it would take time to find some more answers. Time, I had. Plenty.

If nothing happens in the meantime!

I'll cross that bridge when the time comes!

I felt relaxed. With a small smile--the first warm one, since the start of our conversation--I raised my glass.

"One last night-cap, pops?"

"Sure, sonny. Why the hell not?" he replied with a laugh.

Chapter 2 »