Rougaille de poisson
1 onion, halved and sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 thumb-sized chunk ginger, peeled and chopped
4 Carri chilies, seeded and chopped
2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed, chopped
1 sprig thyme
Salt and pepper
According to his last couple of texts, Mike had caught a mahi-mahi right before he left Diego Garcia, had flown it to Kabul in a medic’s blood-transport pack and was due to arrive at any moment. We were hungry.
Jean started peeling ginger. “I know how that fish feels,” he said.
“Mike brought Jean here in a cooler too,” I told Kelly.
“That would have been more comfortable,” Jean said. “He lashed me to the side of a C-17. Where’s the dignity?”
“You’re a civilian?” Kelly asked him.
“He’s an illegal,” I told her.
“Story of my life,” he said. He shoveled onions into a skillet.
“You know Diego Garcia?” I asked.
“It’s a rock,” Kelly said, “in the middle of the Indian Ocean.”
“The British kicked all the locals off in the seventies and handed it over to us,” I said.
“They left my family on a dock on Mauritius,” Jean said. “No house, no money, no apology. We ate grass and seagulls for ten years. My sister died.”
“Finally he got a job scrubbing pots,” I said.
“After that I peeled potatoes and chopped chilies,” Jean said.
“He moved back to Diego Garcia when we bulked it up after 9/11,” I said. “They needed cooks.”
“Mike used to eat with us in our quarters,” Jean said. “He couldn’t stand the food in the mess.”
“When Mike first got to Afghanistan he lost fifteen pounds,” I said. “So he went down and collected Jean. Flew him into Bagram as cargo.”
“No dignity,” Jean said.
“So you’re a contractor?” Kelly asked Jean.
“I’m contraband,” he said. “Illicit goods. Security risk.”
“Who pays you?” Kelly asked.
“Nobody,” Jean said. “I’m Mike’s house-slave.”
Kelly stopped chopping cilantro.
“My mother goes to a barbershop in Port Louis every Saturday,” Jean said. “Picks up a sack of rupees.”
“A barbershop?” Kelly asked.
“The barber is a friend-of-a-friend of Mike’s, we’re guessing,” I said.
“My mother is happy. Mike is happy,” Jean said. “It’s a living. And you?” he asked Kelly. “Drug mule? Astrologer?”
“Trauma surgeon,” she said. “Relief worker.”
“How does a surgeon meet a beekeeper?” he asked, nodding at me. “Trauma in the hive?”
“Party in Kabul,” I said. “Mutual friend.”
“I worked nights in Detroit for fifteen years,” Kelly said. “I came here to get some peace and quiet.” She turned to me. “I knew you were some kind of farm-extension guy,” she said. “Why bees?”
“Afghans have orchards. Orchards need bees,” I said. “Some new bee diseases have crossed the border from Pakistan. I can help with that.”
“You don’t really seem like a farmer,” she said.
“He’s a reformed war-criminal,” Jean said.
I crossed my arms.
“He wrote software for drones,” he said. “Now he feels guilty.”
“You’re with the Company?” Kelly asked.
“A drone coder? On an Airborne base on the border with Pakistan? Not credible as a farmer.” Now her arms were crossed too.
“See?” Jean was laughing. “This is true penance, my friend.”
“Blowing up Pakistani children for the CIA?” Kelly said. “How is that penance?”
Jean paused for breath. “He really is a beekeeper, but nobody believes him.” He hiccuped. “He’s indelibly stained.”
I was washing garlic off my fingers. “I wouldn’t believe me either,” I said. “I did my Master’s thesis modeling swarm behavior. General Atomics offered me a job writing guidance software.”
“You see?” Jean said. “He’s a whore, as well as a war-criminal.”
“I read somewhere recently that engineers make ideal war-criminals,” Kelly said. “They’re excellent problem solvers. Tightly focused.”
“He lost his focus,” Jean said. “That’s what happened.”
“We shipped a version,” I said, “so things let up for a while. I had time to read the news.”
“And now you’re here,” Kelly said.
“And now I’m here,” I said.
The chili fumes from the skillet were making our eyes water.
“Sauce is done,” Jean said. There was a knock on the door. “Et voilà, le poisson.”
It was Kurt, looking pale.
“Evening, Sergeant,” I said. “Joining us for dinner?”
“It’s Mike,” he said.
Image by Flickr user malias, used under a Creative Commons license.
Fritz Bogott (fritzbogott.com, @fritzbogott) was born in Berkeley, California and grew up reading novels and writing code in Minnesota. After studying math, German and Chinese at a weirdly long list of American and Taiwanese colleges and universities (he met illustrator Mozhidian in Taipei in 1990), he worked as an engineer in Scotland, Ethiopia, Singapore and Chile and helped start the company GovDelivery. He is the author of the CC-licensed novels BOGGLE AND SNEAK (Paper copies in bookstores, electronic copies at http://fritzbogott.com/boggleandsneak) and PISMO (Electronic copies at http://fritzbogott.com/pismo). His stories have been published in Kek-W Quarterly, Startling Adventures and Weaponizer. He builds giant flaming things in Northfield, Minnesota with his wife and daughters.