Meeting the sniper.

The night came, over the hills; sun fell down, a ball of red fire, retreating, like a flame slowly. Humidity stayed. We got to Lawrence, Kansas. I stood outside and listened to Josh Ritter. The moon bright, still trees, people smoking cigarettes. Guy asks me for a light. Told him I had none. He got one off the ticket guy. We got talking. He was tall. Blonde. Baby-faced. Agile. Where ya goin, what ya doin, where ya from, nice train, quiet night.

    ‘I’m Mick.’

    ‘I’m Mike, it’s really Mikhail cos I have Russian origins.’

    ‘I’m really Michéal cos it’s Irish for Michael.’

‘Cool. Vegas, huh?’

    ‘Yeah. You?’

    ‘I gotta report for duty in the morning.’


    ‘I’m in The Marines.’


    ‘Yeah. I got a five man squadron and we’re getting deployed next week.’



    ‘I heard it’s getting messy over there.’

  Drag, smoke in the night, hovers in the streetlight. ‘It was never any other way, man.’

    ‘And what do you do?’


    ‘Gathering information?’

    ‘Kind of….I got my crew and we watch out for the guys on the ground.’

   ‘Making sure they know what they’re getting into?’

    ‘Yeah, I’m a sniper.’


    ‘We protect.’

    ‘How does that feel?’

    ‘It’s my first mission.’


    ‘I got a job to do, that’s it.’

    ‘Did you always want to be….’

    ‘I was recruited cos I can speak Russian and I’m trained in multiple marital arts.’

    The whistle goes and we get back inside. 

He went one way. 

I went the other. 

The windows were black with night. Ocean blue seats and folks asleep. Passed  some time watching laptop films and thinking about Vegas and war. Drank red wine and the Amish guy in the seat ahead looked over occasionally and smiled. Him and his red cheeks and his side-burns. Wasn’t sure what a conversation might involve. Religion, maybe. Love thy neighbour. That kinda thing. Sure what do I know?

Train rhythms beat on quiet tracks, like wheels on an office chair going over a plush carpet. 

We got to another small town, can’t remember the name. There was a platform with a lonely family standing in the smoky light.

 Mikhail came back out for another smoke and we picked up where we left off.

    ‘So, I report at 7. Hope my guys are all there and then we ship out in a few days. When we’re in action, we’re trained to never move. Go to the toilet. Nothing. We have to sit still for hours. Even days.’


    ‘You can’t give your position away. Even the slightest move and you’re gone.’

    ‘How long you out there for?’

    ‘Depends. Some tours are six months. Others twelve and eighteen.’

    ‘And you have a choice?’

    ‘I don’t care. I’m staying out there as long as I can. I want to protect my country, man. Someone has to. And if I don’t, those motherfuckers are gonna come and shoot me, and my family, and whoever else they can kill.’

    ‘What are the civilian casualties like?’

    ‘I’ll put it like this. The other week, right, a good friend of mine, good guy, fuckin good soldier. He’s out there, and he’s doing his job, and he’s trying to help the villagers fight these Taliban assholes, cos those guys are bad, right?’


    ‘So a seven year old girl comes up to him saying: ‘…hey mister, hey mister…’ Something like that. And she’s sweet and she’s holding a doll and he wants to be kind cos she’s a kid and these are things she’s gonna remember when she gets older, right? Hearts and minds.’


    ‘So she hands him the doll and he takes it and the fuckin thing explodes and kills the two of them.’

    He takes in some smoke. ‘Crazy, right?’


    ‘So that’s what we’re up against. Some of these guys don’t give a fuck, at least we have standards. I love my country. I’ll die to protect it, but I won’t kill an eight year girl in the process. That’s the difference between us and them. That’s what people don’t understand.’

    ‘What age are you, Mikhail?’

    Stubs out his cigarette. ‘I’m just gone twenty-five.’


    ‘Yeah, it’s hard on my girlfriend, but she said she’ll wait. Whatever it takes. Ya know?’

    Whistle. Back on board please. 

The night went by and there was a queue as the train slowed and the doors opened on the final stop and I saw Mikhail there with his bags packed, ready to go. He looked around, spotted me and said: ‘Hey, Mick, good luck in Vegas.’

And he was gone.






Hollywood to Vancouver

The hostel was on Crenshaw Boulevard. We had to go through Hollywood to get there. So we get off the train and me and old Jane are there with a world of bags and a continent of fatigue and we see all these film rolls on the walls. Jane knows what they are cos she works in TV and tells me they’re really cool and rare and then we get an escalator passed a pillar with trees painted on the side. And everything’s kinda bright yellow and there’s a static fuzz in the air like nothing’s exactly real and if you fell too hard against a wall you’d go right through it and into some dark black abyss the other side of nowhere. So we take these stairs at last and exit onto Hollywood and Vine and there’s an old tramp lady there and she’s in tattered rags and her hair’s brown and her teeth are nearly gone and she’s spinning round and round and round and she’s screaming: ‘I’m fuckin famous, you motherfucker! I’m famous man! Look at me bitch! Look at me, I’m fuckin fay-muss!….agagahahahah….!’ and then she stops and starts jumping up and down and screaming at no one at all and on the ground are all the stars of famous people and ahead are theatres and themed restaurants, and we ask a guy bout where we’re staying, and he tells us and we end up getting a taxi.

Night falls asunder and the great star blasts the world awake and we get on to Hollywood and Vine again the next day. There’s a guy dressed as Spiderman hanging off the wall and up the road there’s Heath Ledger’s Joker walking around with a knife and Marilyn Monroe is having a chat with Superman by the ‘Crossway.’ We met Chucky from Child’s Play outside the Dragon Theatre, a famous place for Premieres, and we took a picture and he asked me for a tip in the kindest way possible. Wasn’t too long before we got roped into a tour, everyone thinking we’re on honeymoon and tryna get our money. And we get into this small bus with a black lady driving and another couple that say they’re from New York but they’ve got West Coast skin and style and sunglasses. Blonde guy. Thin girl. Arms across the rest and taking in the passing breeze. A smell of summer trees. The lady driving points out houses. George Clooney lived there. That’s where Michael Jackson lived with the flowers outside. Here they filmed the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Paris Hilton is building a new house here.

Thin streets. Intense heat. Bottles of water. The smell of sun cream. A megaphone on top of our little bus explaining who the people in the passing gardens are, how much their houses cost and what they do for a living. And the world is a pyramid with a great snake wrapped around it and the head is here, the venom of wealth, and below the throng is obscured in a shadow of arrogance and ignorance and something like an assumed entitlement, and the mob clamours to reach this dizzy height, looks up in admiration and envy, desperation and pain, wants to climb this slimy back and achieve all that these here water sprinklers have to offer, and the yellow Porsches, and the million dollar porches and the view, such views, isn’t the view fantastic, wouldn’t you like to live here, wouldn’t it be great, so nice to dream about tennis courts and afternoon Bacardi and tanned legs and white clothes and leather couches and cool pools and champagne and strawberries and green hills and security cameras and big iron gates and body guards and stalkers and freaks and paparazzi and sick people just lost, lost, and to dream of no more bills or crying in the shower and how it’s possible here to be a beautiful God, God himself, with Mexican maids and intravenous mocha and a phone full of famous numbers, gathered at parties where cocaine went around on a ten thousand dollar velvet cushion and we could take as much as we like cos we’re immortal, after all, ain’t that my picture on the wall, wasn’t that my voice on the radio, hey, Joe, what now, we’ve done it all, the world is watching, we’re too high up and no way back down, what’s outside, I can’t go out there, stay here and hide and pass the line, it’s stronger than last time, same guy? No different guy, new, last guy died, fell from a roof, oh shit, gimme another hit, put on some tunes, I want to act, I want to sing, I’m bored, I wanna feel something, you wanna hooker? I want a woman. There ain’t no women here, Joe, you know that, just actors, man, what time is it….

The next day. Again these bags, we’re like a great rumbling herd hurtling towards Vancouver. And the heat lays it on hard, and we got the Amtrak off Crenshaw, and I spent most of the time writing, and sitting opposite a crew that were on their way to the Burning Man festival. And did we want to go? The tickets were over 300 hundred dollars and it was eight days in the desert, and you needed so much water, food, clothes etc. They were drinkin Vodka and Red Bull and it was noon, and they were excited, and we had another twenty two hours to go. The train rides on, slow, incremental, calm accentuated. A guy came and sat opposite me. Kind old man. He looked out the window. Looked at me. Looked back. He seemed anxious and we said nothing for a while and then I closed the lid and I said hey, and he said hey. And I reminded him of his son, and his son had a big job, and was married, and was Ireland a nice place, and did it rain much, and what will we do in Vancouver, and we should stop at Portland because it’s beautiful. It went on like that, and he came to life, and the colour came back in his cheeks, and he thanked me for talking to him, and he left and I got the feeling that he’d needed that chat, like he woke up and looked over the California plains and saw before him the bulk of his life that had passed, and felt the wheels pull him toward the final chapters, and he was scared, but when he got to talk and discuss all that he was proud of he didn’t feel that bad, and was happy to and look out the window for another while and smile, maybe cry, maybe think, or just sleep and dream with the lullaby of motion.

And it wasn’t long before we saw the fire, and there was so much smoke it blocked out the sun, and all The Burning Man kids called it Awesome and Amazing and Beautiful and a mad scatter of tourists came from nowhere to take pictures and a couple of old men that musta been local compared it to previous fires. The flames ate the scrub and the brush and all that it could devour and the plumes got so thick that it was like a slow motion mushroom cloud, and it was such nature, such consumption, so toxic and inexorable, and then we passed on through and drank the cold beer, and The Burning Man kids were drunk except one guy that wanted to tell about his past, and no one really wanted to hear, but he told it anyway, spiced it up with words like Lawyer and AK47, and Doing Time, and I got wondering why he’s so damn proud of himself, and his sour coke deals, and doesn’t everyone really live in their own drama, their version of the world, listening to the voice-over of the movie in their heads, and it began to get dark and the road is a pedal and the mind is a wheel and we keep on spinning and spinning and spinning.


Joe Ninety – Part three #31


The phone rang with: ‘Hey, Mick, you know that guy you hired….?’


‘The Joe guy….is his name Minty?’

‘Joe Ninety – but I’m not sure that’s his real name….’

‘Yeah, anyway. We checked up some of his references.’


‘We really need to get better feedback before we hire people.’

‘We do.’

‘So can you be sure you’re sure before you recommend someone…?.’

‘I didn’t recommend him.’

‘It says here you did.’

‘That was a mistake….’

‘But he has the job now?’

‘He does.’


‘He got a call from the office.’

‘On your recommendation.’

‘No. See….’

‘Did you know there’s a court case coming up against him?’

‘No. He didn’t mention it.’

‘His old boss told me.’

‘What’s he up for?’

‘He tried to run over a customer.’


‘He had an argument with a customer and afterwards he tried to run him over.’

‘That doesn’t sound good.’

‘It doesn’t.’

‘Why’d he try to run him over?’

‘The customer thought Joe had stolen his daughter’s iPad.’

‘Right…and did he?’

‘We don’t know. That’s why there’s a court case coming I guess…’

‘So we can fire him now?’



‘No. See he hasn’t done anything wrong.’

‘Did he not try to run someone over?’

‘He did.’

‘And that’s….ok?’

‘We have to be careful.’


‘Unfair Dismissal. He hasn’t done anything wrong with us, yet.’

‘But his references are bad.’

‘We usually check them prior to giving  someone the position but in this case he was given the job before we had the opportunity.’

‘So what’ll we do?’

‘We’ll need you to shadow him for the first while, make sure he’s being compliant.’


Later with Joe. He was dressed in black pants, dirty runners, black shirt, white tie. Three day stubble. He said: ‘Great day.’


‘Will you be helping me for the first while, Micky?’

‘I will. Did you try run someone over in your last job?’

‘Who told you that?’

‘One of your references.’

‘I didn’t try run him over, I just nearly hit him as I was leaving the house.’

‘Did he not see you coming?’

‘He did, but he wouldn’t get out of the way.’

‘He was trying to stop you leaving?’

‘I think so.’


‘Dunno, Micky. I was busy. Had sales to do. Was in a hurry.’

‘Is there a court case coming up?’

‘Yeah, next month. I might need a day off for that.’

‘We’ll see what we can do.’


‘We better go and do a bit here anyway.’

‘I meant to ask you the last day – when do we get paid?’

‘Monthly, usually.’

‘That’s a dose.’

‘Tis. Are ye stuck?’

‘Eh…I’m not too bad. I’ve a few things lined up. What time do ye take breaks?’

‘Like lunch and all that?’


‘Whenever we can – there’s no set time. Have you something on?’

‘Nah. Just supposed to meet a fella in town.’

‘For lunch?’

‘Just for a chat. He’s going buying an iPad off me.’