A Walk on the Wild Side
The clouds across the face of the moon made it hard for me to find my way. I'd been over the grounds yesterday morning, but in the dark everything is different. I kept stumbling on tree roots and chunks of brick from the crumbling walks.
I was trying not to make any noise, on the chance that someone really was lurking about, but I was more concerned about my safety: I didn't want to sprain an ankle and have to crawl all the way back to the road. At one point I tripped on a loose brick and landed smack on my tailbone. My eyes teared with pain; I sucked in air to keep from crying out. As I rubbed the sore spot, I wondered whether Geraldine Graham had seen me fall. Her eyes weren't that good, but her binoculars held both image stabilizers and night-vision enablers.
Fatigue was making it hard for me to concentrate. It was midnight, usually not late on my clock, but I was sleeping badly these days--I was anxious, and feeling alone.
Right after the Trade Center, I'd been as numbed and fearful as everyone else in America. After a while, when we'd driven the Taliban into hiding and the anthrax looked like the work of some homegrown maniac, most people seemed to wrap themselves in red-white-and-blue and return to normal. I couldn't, though, while Morrell remained in Afghanistan--even though he seemed ecstatic to be sleeping in caves as he trailed after warlords-turned-diplomats-turned-warlords.
When the medical group Humane Medicine went to Kabul in the summer of 2001, Morrell tagged along with a contract for a book about daily life under the Taliban. I've survived so much worse, he would say when I worried that he might run afoul of the Taliban's notorious Bureau for the Prevention of Vice.
That was before September 11. Afterward, Morrell disappeared for ten days. I stopped sleeping then, although someone with Humane Medicine called me from Peshawar to say Morrell was simply in an area without access to phone hookups. Most of the team had fled to Pakistan immediately after the Trade Center attack, but Morrell had wangled a ride with an old friend heading to Uzbekistan so he could cover the refugees fleeing north. A chance of a lifetime, my caller told me Morrell had said--the same thing he'd said about Kosovo. Perhaps that had been the chance of a different lifetime.
When we started bombing in October, Morrell first stayed on in Afghanistan to cover the war up close and personal, and then to follow the new coalition government. Margent.Online, the Web version of the old Philadelphia monthly Margent, was paying him for field reports, which he was scrambling to turn into a book. The Guardian newspaper also occasionally bought his stories. I'd even watched him on CNN a few times. Strange to see your lover's face beamed from twelve thousand miles away, strange to know that a hundred million people are listening to the voice that whispers endearments into your hair. That used to whisper endearments.
When he resurfaced in Kandahar, I first sobbed in relief, then shrieked at him across the satellites. "But, darling," he protested, "I'm in a war zone, I'm in a place without electricity or cell phone towers. Didn't Rudy call you from Peshawar?"
In the following months, he kept on the move, so I never really knew where he was. At least he stayed in better touch, mostly when he needed help: (V.I., can you check on why Ahmed Hazziz was put in isolation out at Coolis prison? V.I., can you find out whether the FBI told Hazziz's family where they'd sent him? I'm running now--hot interview with local chief's third wife's oldest son. Fill you in later.)
I was a little miffed at being treated like a free research station. I'd never thought of Morrell as an adrenaline junkie--one of those journalists who lives on the high of being in the middle of disaster--but I sent him a snappish e-mail asking him what he was trying to prove.
From Blacklist by Sara Paretsky. Copyright Sara Paretsky 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Putnam Publishing.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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