The Manchester Review
Alan Drew
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    When they hit the road block the sun was down and Brady wished he had his .45. Johnny had told him to leave it at the hotel.
    “Army won’t like that,” he had said.
    He didn’t know what he would do with it, but the quickening night hinted to a darkness he had never seen before, and the soldiers, wearing army caps pulled low over their eyes, looked malignant. Johnny must have seen the tension in Brady’s face, because he turned and smiled, patting him on the shoulder.
    “Don’t worry, Mister,” he said. “I tell them you’re an oil man, and it’s no problem.”
Brady watched a soldier come towards their truck. He held a Type 56 rifle loosely in his right hand.
    “I do this all the time,” he said. “Oil men come and want a ride, I give it to him. They don’t care if you want to get killed by rebels. All money to them.”
    The soldier stuck his face in the cab of the truck. Johnny had to push his head back against the seat so that they wouldn’t butt foreheads. The man said something in Arabic Brady didn’t understand and Johnny turned on the cab light. When the soldier took off his glasses Brady could see veins in the white of his eyes. He met the man’s stare, afraid he would reveal the lie if he looked away.
   The soldier lifted his head out of the cab and asked Johnny a question.
   Johnny answered and handed him an envelope, which the soldier slid into his pants pocket.
    “Passport?” Johnny said.
    Brady fished in the bag at his feet and handed it to Johnny who handed it to the soldier. Without a word, the soldier walked back to his truck, another soldier joining him in the glare of their Toyota headlights. Once, when he was in Kosovo, he watched at a checkpoint as a Muslim family in the car just in front of him was pulled from their seats and taken to the side of the road. The Serbs forced the mother to watch as they shot her husband and son. He knew enough not to take a picture of that, but it would have been the kind of shot that made a difference, the kind of shot human rights cases and careers were built on. He was scared and he had missed it.
    The soldier came back and waved the passport in the air. He shook his head, smiled, and spoke to Johnny. Johnny seemed to politely argue until the man unbuttoned a pocket on his shirt and slipped the passport inside.
    “Okay, okay,” Johnny said, holding his left hand in the air. “When you come back,” he said to Brady.
    “When I come back?”
    “They do it this way sometimes,” Johnny said. “Don’t worry, it’s just insurance for them.”
   Johnny looked at Brady as he rolled the truck past the checkpoint.
    “Don’t worry,” he said, patting Brady’s knee. “They’re not the trouble. The trouble’s in here.” Johnny tapped his fingers against Brady’s chest and laughed.

* * *

Brady tried to sleep but couldn’t. Between oil derricks the darkness was full, like staring into a room without windows, and it was one of these spaces where he said fuck it all and dropped a pill. The next derrick exploded on the horizon like a nebula, all electric sparkle and fire tongue. He watched it without blinking until it disappeared behind them and the night swallowed it up.Through the windshield of the truck he couldn’t see any stars and he couldn’t get his bearings. He knew they were headed west, but it didn’t feel like it. It was one thing to be in a city, a village in Europe; he knew what to expect there. When the street got quiet, shutters closed, when the sound of televisions disappeared, something was going to happen. You just found a place behind a wall and waited. But something about this place unnerved him--the space, nothing but space out there, and somewhere in that space there were people starving and people letting them.