True History – An Imperial Farce Part 6

As reported by a second hand source who has undergone some vetting and has access to the reported information in the routine performance of his duties
Quetta, Pakistan
The boys with the kohl-lined eyes spread a blue plastic tarp, with a UNHCR logo, across the concrete floor. While one pulled closed the pastel curtains, another stuffed little bundles of plastic flowers into the cracks and bullet holes which lined the walls. As the first of the older men began to enter, cases of Pepsi and Mountain Dew were carried from the back room, and bowls of candy and nuts were scattered around the edge of the tarp. Almost twenty mid-level Taliban commanders were attending the meeting, and the room was quickly crowded, the air thick with the smell of sweat and bad breath.
Pounding the stock of his Kalashnikov against the floor to garner attention, Mohammad Wali leaned forward near the center of the tarp.
“Brothers, I am calling this third quarterly shura to order.”
“Is that fiscal year or calendar year?” A voice asked from the back of the room.
“Being as this is a logistics and training shura, this is the third fiscal quarterly shura. Operational and religious shuras are run on the calendar year.”
“Right, thanks.”
“So then, as I was saying,” Mohammad Wali went on. “This is the third quarterly shura of the Tehrik-e Tanzim-e Shariat-e Taliban Pakistan.”
“I thought we were the Tanzim-e Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan,” a voice protested.
“No, you’ve got it wrong,” another countered. “We are the Shariat-e Tanzim-e Tehrik-e Pakistan Taliban.”
“No, you son of an ass,” yet another argued. “That’s just the same thing, backward. We used to be the Shariat-e Jihad-e Taliban Pakistan. But then the Naqibullah faction splintered off and became the Tanzim-e Shariat-e Taliban Pakistan.”
Voice after voice began to rise and anger, and cell phones emerged to be swung like clubs among the seated, turbaned Pathans. Finally, Mohammad Wali began to stamp his rifle butt against the floor until the shouting subsided.
“Brothers, brothers, calm yourselves. Yes, we were indeed the organization previously known as the Shariat-e Jihad-e Taliban Pakistan. However, we have learned through our sources that enemy intelligence agents have learned of that name and have begun to target its members and follow its finances. Therefore we have changed the name to Tehrik-e Tanzim-e Shariat-e Taliban Pakistan. On a related note, we have also learned that Mullah Ezrat is now on the enemy’s targeting and “Don’t Fly” list. He will henceforth be known as Ezratullah. Haji Mohammad Husein, you will henceforth be known as Mullah Ezrat.”
“One-eyed Haji Mohammad Husein?” Someone asked. “Or two-eyed?”
“One-eyed,” Mohammad Wali replied.
“If it’s so bad,” Haji Mohammad Husein protested, “then why do I have to be Mullah Ezrat now?”
“Because you only have one-eye,” Mohammad Wali stated, his voice growing clipped and dangerous with frustration. He looked slowly around the room with a baleful stare. “Now are there any more questions about names? Or can we get down to business?”
A hand popped up from the back of the crowd, and a timid voice asked, “So, um, this definitely isn’t the Quetta Shura Taliban? I mean, because you are Taliban, and this is Quetta.”
“Wrong war,” Mohammad Husein growled. “The Quetta Shura Taliban is two blocks south, second blue gate on the right.”
“Oh, right, thanks.” The speaker stood, embarrassed, and made his way through limbs stretched across the floor towards the exit.
Mohammad Wali turned to an aide and whispered, “Follow that kafir, shoot him and cut off his head. No wait, reverse that. I mean the shooting and beheading part, not the following part. That would be stupid.”
The dark little rat-faced aide stood, fingering his long Khyber knife and darted towards the door.
“Now, while we’re at it,” Mohammad went on in a louder voice. “Because this is a leadership shura, we must begin with the takfiri proceedings.”
The room fell hushed, the men tense with anticipation as Wali drew a grimy folded piece of paper from his robes, settled his glasses on a proud, crooked nose, and began to read.
“By the judgment of the senior leadership council, the following men are considered kafirs and are subject to instant death at the hands of believers, for whom this would be a sacred task. Haji Mirajan, condemned for kite-flying.”
There was a cry of protest, then a cry of pain, and then a gurgling sound followed by a thud.
“Awal Khan,” Wali went on, “Condemned for owning a cassette player.”
“It was just for listening to the sheikh’s sermons,” Awal Khan pleaded.
“Britney Spears is not a sheikh,” Wali shook his head. Scream, gurgle, thud.
“Honar Khan, condemned for owning homosexual pornography.”
“No, wait!” Khan cried. “Seriously, when I bought that boxed set of DVDs, I really thought it was the BBC documentary on the history of goats. It was only….” His voice tailed off into a liquid spray.
“And last on the list,” Wali concluded. “Is Abdullah Nasir, condemned for putting too much sugar in the tea.”
After Nasir’s wet and spurting end, the boys with the kohl-lined eyes came in to drag the lifeless bodies out and mop up the pooling blood. A select few returned afterwards, and curled into the laps of the older Taliban, their bushy black beards laced with gray. For some of the more senior commanders, a smooth chinned boy with kohl-lined eyes had become the “must have” fashion accessory – kind of like a Moleskine. Even though Taliban don’t have Molsekines. One of the more fair-skinned boys was being pulled back and forth between two of the older men, each tugging for his affections.
“If one of you don’t let go, I’ll cut that pretty little thing in half,” Wali threatened.
With a sigh, Amanullah Nasir released his grip, and the boy fell into the lap of Haji Mehsud.
“Now,” Wali declared Solomon-like. “The boy belongs to Amanullah Nasir, who clearly loves him more.”
With a blush and the batting of wide, dark rimmed eyes, the lad returned to the broad chest of his favorite.
At the back of the room Mohammad Husein shook his head in disapproval. Husein was young to the movement and not a Haji yet (therefore distinguishable from the two-eyed Haji Mohammad Husein, and the one-eyed version now called Mullah Ezrat).
“This is not right,” Husein muttered. “Sodomy is harram.”
“It doesn’t count as sodomy so long as you only give,” his companion corrected. “It is only the receiving that is harram.”
“And what about the ghora?” Husein asked, pointing at a relatively pale-skinned man across the room. In his mid-thirties, perhaps, so no longer a boy with kohl-lined eyes; but daintily made-up and coiffed so that he might easily be mistaken for a woman, absent the strong jaw line, prominent Adam’s apple, and just the faintest five o’clock shadow. And the fact that he wasn’t wearing a burqa.
“He’s not a ghora, he’s Punjabi.”
“Same difference. Anyway, he’s clearly a sodomite.”
“Aren’t all Punjabis? Anyway, it doesn’t count. He’s a hijra.”
“Allah didn’t make three genders. I don’t see why Mohammad Wali lets such an abomination attend our councils.”
“I don’t think he has a choice. No one knows for sure, but the rumor is that he comes from Aabpara.”
“Really? ISI?”
“I don’t know for sure, but that’s the rumor.”
“Brothers, is there something you have to say that’s more important than what I do?” Mohammad Wali barked. “Perhaps you would care to share it with the rest of the shura.”
Mohammad Hussein and his companion shut their lips tight and sat straightened like chastened school children.
“No? Nothing for the group? Good. Well, then the first order of business will be the quarter’s operational net assessments. Mullah Muktahil has been researching measures of our battlefield success, and will now submit his report.”
A grizzled man in a black turban and soiled gray salwar kameez pulled a sheet of paper from what looked like his lunch pouch and began to pass it around the circumference of the tarp. It was greasy and smelled of goat.
“I apologize for the lack of copies, brothers. But someone….” Muktahil rolled wide eyes suggestively in Wali’s direction, “has cut our office supply budget in half. We had to print this quarter’s metrics on the reverse side of the paper we used for last month’s metrics. As you can see, we have had a very successful past few months. Violence has gone up sharply in almost every district, showing how thoroughly we are bringing the fight to the enemy.”
Mohammad Wali snatched the piece of paper from another man’s hands and flipped it over. “But last quarter,” he shouted accusingly, “you said we were winning because the numbers showed violence falling in every district.”
“Quite so,” Muktahil smiled smugly. “Because we were dominating the infidels so thoroughly that they were afraid to leave their bases.”
“So whether violence goes up or down, it shows we’re winning?” Wali asked skeptically.
“Exactly. The Sheikh loves this metric.”
Wali growled and spat on the tarp. “Enough. The next agenda item is deployability and explodability among our suicide bomber corps. It does very little good to have dozens of suspected martyrs lined up, if they can’t get to the fight. Our non-deployable rates have been going up for months. Haji Naseem, what do you have to say for yourself?”
A slim man with the oily demeanor of an early Peter Lorre cleared his throat and smiled weakly. “I know we had a rough few months, brothers, but due to changes in our training regime, things have improved markedly. I am proud to say that 6 prospective martyrs have come off the list, and I now have thirteen boys between the ages of 12 and 14 who are ready to go to paradise. All are completely explodable, and only one is non-deployable.”
“Why?” Wali asked.
“He pulled a groin muscle.”
“How? Running? Abusing himself?”
“Praying.”
“Ah, shabash. Fine work. Next will be an intelligence report from our guest speaker, Haji Salutations Templeton.”
The Punjabi hijra stretched her/himself out languorously, arching an eyebrow suggestively as she licked her/his lips and began. “I have a story to tell you……”
Bagram, Afghanistan, three years ago (this is a third level recursion from the hold of the C-17, if you’re keeping count), as reported by source with first hand access to the information (i.e. he/she was there)
“Listen, I don’t give a rat’s ass whether DLA has signed the FMS case or not,” Jim Admiral leaned over the dusty plywood counter, his face growing redder as his voice rose. “I don’t have time to get an O & A letter.”
The slight man in Army camouflage on the other side of the counter bobbed and weaved to avoid the plastic sheathed document Admiral was waving in front of his face. “I don’t recognize that form. Perhaps you could hold it still so I could read it?”
“You don’t need to read it. You’d be like a pig looking at a wristwatch, anyway. You just need to comply. I’m giving you a direct verbal order.”
“Well then, my answer is ‘no.’”
“No, what?”
“No. I’m not going to fill your requisition.”
“I understood that, you dolt. I meant, don’t you mean, ‘No, sir?’”
“I don’t have to call you ‘sir’.”
“Um, you have railroad tracks on your chest, and I have an eagle. That means you get to call me sir.”
“Oh, sorry about that. My bad.” Smiling sheepishly, he brushed non-regulation blond bangs out of his eyes and reached into his pockets. With a quick swipe and a tear, the Velcro strips with “Captain” rank and “U.S. Army” came off the uniform, to be replaced by a very similar strip labeled “Contractor.”
“What the hell was that?”
“Well, I’m not actually a captain. I mean, I am, but not just now.”
“I’m the one who usually talks like that. Explain yourself.”
“I’ll just point out that, technically, I don’t have to, but I’m a pretty friendly guy. You see, my regular job is as an acquisition manager for a contractor. But I’m also in the Army Reserves, so I do my two week annual training while I’m over here. I just don’t do it all at once, but instead from time to time.”
“Like, just when it’s convenient, for example.” Admiral arched an eyebrow, suddenly more intrigued than angry. “Who do you work for?”
“TWB.”
“What’s that?”
“Trix, White and Branch.”
“So why use the acronym?”
“It’s shorter.”
“No, it’s not.”
“It’s only got three letters.”
“But the acronym has five syllables and the actual words only have four. So you’re using more bandwidth to convey less information.”
“Don’t knock it. There’s a lot of profit to be made in inefficiency. Why do you think I work for a military contractor?”
“Listen, you may have a quality I could put to good use, captain, er, Mister Mitchell. I presume the Velcro last name doesn’t change, too?”
“Sometimes. But yeah, the name is Milo Mitchell, but everyone calls me Mink.”
“Why?”
“Glossy hair, rolling in dough…I dunno.”
“However much TWB is paying you…”
“See, you did it, too.”
“What?”
“Used the acronym, even if it is inefficient. No uniform can resist an acronym.”
“Fine.” Admiral sighed. “Whatever they’re paying you, I can double it.”
“I’m sure you could, but that’s irrelevant.”
“Irrelevant how?”
“It’s not how much I’m making now. It’s how much I’m gonna make. This war is going to go on forever, and for an enterprising guy like me, the possibilities are endless. Your outfit has limitations I’m not interested in.”
Admiral was growing frustrated. “You don’t even know who I work for.”
Mink leaned across the counter with a mocking smile to whisper, “Umbratile Ouroboros.
“How do you…” Admiral’s face blanched. “I mean, that’s not…”
“Like I said, I’m an enterprising guy,” Mink chuckled, settling back. “Why, do you know I made five hundred thousand dollars yesterday selling the Italians a consignment of grid squares and chem-light batteries? It’s like an army run by fucking second lieutenants. If I’m lucky, I’m going to seal a deal tomorrow with the Spanish recon teams for snipe-hunting bags.”
Mink’s eyes widened slightly as he watched Admiral reach for the 9mm Beretta holstered at his waistband, then laughed and waved over the Navy Captain’s shoulder.
“Oh hi, Salutations,” Mink called. “Your timing couldn’t be better.”
The figure which had just entered the room could not have been more incongruous, looking much like someone who got lost on the way to Karachi fashion week. Glossy black hair in a page-boy bob framed classical Punjabi features. A cream-colored garment, something between a long blouse and a caftan, glinted with fragments of embroidered mirror, set off by a long salmon-colored scarf and knee high glistening brown leather riding boots. The strong jaw line, prominent Adam’s apple, and the faintest five o’clock shadow may not have entirely destroyed the desired impression, but they certainly complicated it.
“What a remarkable coincidence,” Mink went on. “How funny you should both show up, when you’re in such similar lines of business.”
Admiral raised a questioning eyebrow at Mink, who simply shrugged without further comment. Though he might have winked as well.
“Jim Admiral,” he introduced himself, offering a handshake.
“Salutations Templeton, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” Despite appearances, the other man’s grip was surprisingly firm, and the voice definitely masculine, with a sing-song Anglo-South Asian lilt. “And before you start wondering, because you military types always do – no, I am not a fag. I just really like the clothes – I’m sort of an ‘executive’ transvestite.”
“That’s an Eddie Izzard reference, isn’t it?” Admiral asked. “See, we’re not all Neanderthals. Anyway, I was actually wondering about the name. Not especially Pakistani is it?”
“That’s because I’m not Pakistani either, or at least, not completely. I grew up in London, and my parents were huge fans of Charlotte’s Web. That’s how they came up with the name. But I will note that this was the late 60’s and drugs were likely involved. Funny that I should end up working in one of the world’s biggest drug producing countries. Speaking of which, Mink, how’s the puppy eradication program going?”
“Don’t you mean poppy eradication?” Admiral asked.
“Depends which program you’re referring to,” Mink replied. “We’ve got a big contract for crop dusters and aerial spraying. But I also ran across an inexperienced European NGO, whose ops officer had a poor grasp of English. I convinced him the UN was underwriting a puppy eradication program because Muslims hate dogs, and sold him a pick-up truck full of burlap sacks and some bricks.”
“How do you manage stunts like that?” Admiral asked.
“How do we manage stunts like the base around you?” Mink responded. “When we first got here, Bagram looked like a South Asian Detroit – crumbling, abandoned and barren. Now we’ve got a Disney Drive, a Burger King and a Dairy Queen. War is nothing but madness, waste and inefficiency – and nothing could be more profitable than that combination.”
Templeton nodded in agreement, then turned back to Admiral. “Mink said we’re in similar lines of business, so what is it you do for the Army?”
“It’s the Navy, actually,” Admiral said, pausing and stumbling for words. “And I’m..um, well…sort of a consultant.”
Templeton’s eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly, and then he smiled. “Indeed. I, too am ‘sort of a consultant’.” He handed over an embossed, lilac shaded business card.
“Phase Four Consulting?” Admiral asked. “What’s that?”
“You know that thing that always happens, and everyone knows it will? That thing you know you have to plan for, but you can’t because of political pressure, and because it would undercut the myths which policy makers promote to justify their courses of action? We plan for that.”
“Interesting, but I don’t quite see why you’re needed here.”
“I’m not. Not yet, anyway. But I will be, trust me. That’s part of our operational design, to get ahead of the curve and start work before our customers know they’ll need us.”

“Anyway, Mink,” Templeton went on. “Do you have my package?”
Mink pulled a cardboard DHL box from a shelf and pulled out an ancient looking folio, its yellowed pages crackling between pasteboard covers. “Here it is, the Erratum of the Erratum of the Errata in Taylor’s Logarithms, 1833 printing. And in pretty decent condition, I’ll note.”
Templeton gently turned some of the crumbling pages, “It is indeed, given its rarity. And worth every dollar.”
Admiral canted his head, puppy-like. “That seems like something pretty esoteric for a war zone requisition.”
“Quite so,” Templeton replied. “But the esoteric is one of Mink’s specialties. If he can’t find it, no one can. In case you’re curious, we’re working on a contract for master narrative development, and we’ve noticed that James Cameron’s Titanic has been unusually popular here. Converting those memes into a narrative which addresses countering insurgency and violent extremism requires some very complicated math, and we’ve had to resort to some pretty niche models. Who knows, with any luck it might turn into the kind of project your organization is interested in.”
“What…” Admiral was lost for words.
“Anyway, must run,” Templeton went on, sliding the DHL box into his Belstaff satchel. “Places to go, things to do, and so forth. TTFN.”
“Salutations, Salutations,” Mink said with a wave as Templeton swept out the door. He then turned to Admiral with a smile, “I’ll give you one for free. Templeton knows who you are and kind of what you do, but he didn’t hear it from me.”
“How?” Admiral gasped. “Who does he work for?”
“Now, that one’s not free,” Mink shook his head. “In fact, that one would be pretty pricey.”
Admiral’s face turned grim, “I need to now, and I need to know now. Name your price and I’ll write you a check on the spot, or come back tomorrow with it in cash.”
“Cash is not one of my particular problems right now, except in so far as I’m running out of boxes to keep it stashed in. What I was thinking was something more in the nature of a favor – a favor you’re particularly well suited to fulfill.”
“What kind of favor?”
“I presume you’ve heard of Jack Dieppe?”
“The special forces wannabe, in his Oakley’s and 5.11 tactical Cargo pants? The one with his own private dungeon in Puri Sir?”
“The very same.”
“What is he, Blackwater or something?”
“There is no more Blackwater in Afghanistan.”
“Fine. Xe then?”
“Well, not technically Xe, but he may have been sub-contracted through Pi.”
“Pie, as in apple or cherry?”
“No. Pi as in 3.1415926535. They use the symbol in correspondence, so it makes more sense on paper. They’re very niche. Anyway, he’s just the kind of guy who could give super-secret, pseudo-official outfits a bad name if people start believing him. It so happens, some of his activities now threaten to interfere with some of mine. And that is something I would very much not like to see happen.”
“Why don’t you just take care of it? You seem to have pretty ready resources, and renting Afghan muscle isn’t really a challenge these days.”
“I’m afraid – and I apologize for being cliché – that I have to keep my hands clean on this one. To one degree or another, Dieppe enjoys some level of sponsorship from Mr. Templeton’s employers. As you can see, we currently have a fairly amiable working relationship, and I don’t want to make them my enemies.”
“And why would I want to make them my enemies, instead?”
“You really don’t know, do you?” Mink laughed out loud, eyes wide with surprise. “They already are your enemies, my friend. Mortal enemies, in fact. Surely, you didn’t think you would go entirely unnoticed? Military bureaucracy might be that blind, but not everyone. You’re obviously not the first one to start something like this. Most wither and die, but some flourish – as you appear to be doing. And the ones that flourish, always and everywhere, breed antibodies. Salutations Templeton is just such an antibody, and that’s all you get for free. But take down Dieppe, and you’re guaranteed to learn more, one way or the other. If you stay in this line of business, you’ll inevitably have a long-term relationship with them, and you may as well get started. So it’s a win-win for both of us, see?”
“Why do I get the distinct feeling I’m being conned?”
“It’s probably my delivery. I do need to work on that. But seriously, this is in both our interests. And being conned is kind of like being seduced – it doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Why don’t you sleep on it and let me know tomorrow? In the meantime, now that we’re better acquainted, what did you originally come in here for?”
“Huh?” Distracted in thought, Admiral scratched his chin and passed over the almost forgotten requisition form.
Mink pored over the form, and flipped a couple of pages before shaking his head. “No, no, no.”
“No what?”
“No, you’re barking up the wrong tree. What you really want here is a quantum entangler.”
“A quantum what?”
“A quantum entangler. You know, how when two quantum particles are entangled, a change in state by one particle will change the state of the other particle, regardless of how far they might be separated in time or space?”
“Um, no. I don’t know that.”
“Didn’t you ever watch the History Channel or PBS?”
“Only to watch World War II in Color.”
“Fine, whatever. Anyway, based on the specs here, what you’re really looking for is a device that can generate quantum entanglement.”
“Is there such a thing?”
“Well, no, actually. But there will be.”
“How do you know?”
“Salutations Templeton isn’t the only guy who plans ahead. You stay in touch, and maybe one day I can hook you up. Anyway, it’s almost time for my volleyball game. Think about what I said, and maybe we can do business. Salutations, Captain Admiral.”
Three nights later (but still three years ago), Kabul, Afghanistan
Jim Admiral shifted uncomfortably in his body armor, his M-4 carbine tangled between his feet in the passenger seat of the Hilux SUV, feeling like a map which had been poorly re-folded and stuffed in a glove box. The streets of the Puri Sir neighborhood were generally deserted after midnight. One car full of drunken western journalists had raced through an hour ago, bouncing over curbs. In the distance, he could still hear the faint sounds of a wedding celebration and the barking of stray dogs. Apparently, the puppy eradication program had yet to extend to this quarter of Kabul. He checked the luminous hands on his Omega Seamaster, and wondered whether he might possibly be the victim of a quantum entangler. Time seemed to have stopped, or possibly be moving backward.
“Christ, they call it the Long War for a reason,” he muttered quietly, glaring at the still dark windows of Dieppe’s wedding cake McMansion. “You know, maybe if we just keep at this long enough, Osama Bin Laden and Zawahiri and the whole gang will just die of old age.”
“Can we go home, then?” Someone asked from the darkness of the back seat.
“Not bloody likely,” an Australian accent from the driver’s seat. “You yanks will always find someone else to be afraid of, it’s like the bloody war on evil with you lot.”
The car lapsed into silence. After a while, someone coughed and whispered, “Um, sir?”
“What?” Admiral replied (the only officer in the car).
“I have to go.”
“You have to go where?”
“I mean I have to pee.”
“I thought I told everyone to go before we left the safe house,” Admiral growled.
“But I really have to go.”
“Then piss in your canteen.”
“I don’t have a canteen. I have a Camelback. And besides, it’s full.”
“Then use a water bottle.”
“We lost the cap.”
“What is this? There’s a hole in the bucket, dear fucking Liza? Just…..”
Present Day, 30,000 feet over Xinjiang and descending
“Wake up, Chris!”
“What? Wait!” Blinking back sleep encrusted eye-lids, and wiping the drool from his cheek, Lover rolled out of the bunk at GT’s insistent shaking. “Huh? Where’s the fire?”
“Relax,” GT said. “You just nodded off, when keeping you awake was the whole point of telling stories. Though I have to admit, even I was getting confused at a third level recursion.”
“Where are we?”
“Approaching Ulan Bator. You should probably get dressed. We’ve got a meeting in town as soon as we land.”
“No way,” Lover shook his head. “I already told you, the Lover is not going on any more of these wild goose chases.”
“We’re not on a goose chase. That’s Fowler’s job.”
“Huh?”
“Fowler is going after the goose. We’re trying to find a document.”
“Ok, who is Fowler, and why is he going after a goose?”
“Well, it’s kind of a long story.”
“The Lover is sorry he asked. Let’s forget about the goose for now. What about this document you’re trying to find? Please note the choice of pronoun.”
“It’s an extremely classified document, vital to national security, and millions of lives could depend upon it.”
“If it’s extremely classified, vital to national security and millions of lives depend upon it, why don’t you just look in Bob Woodward’s latest book? Or at least wait till his next one comes out.”
“This is so secret even Bob Woodward doesn’t know about it.”
“Bullshit, if it’s so secret Bob Woodward doesn’t know about it, then someone must have made it up. Hell, one of my friends told me that if you apply the Bible Code formula to his last one, you could derive our nuclear release codes.”
“Trust me.”
“The Lover does not.”
“They have booze.”
“Who?”
“The Mongolians. The place is swimming in alcohol, and there’s no General Order Number One in Ulan Bator.”
“What kind of booze?” Still suspicious, Lover’s tone had softened noticeably.
“Well they have Guinness on tap at the Genghis Khan Irish pub.”
“Of course they would. What else?”
“And at the convenience stores, they have these little disposable cups of Genghis Khan brand vodka, like the kind you used to get with pudding or peaches in your school lunch.”

“The Lover doesn’t like vodka. And besides, he could sit right here and drink on the plane.”
“They have strippers,” GT’s voice took on a soothing, persuasive air.
“Everyplace has strippers.”
“Really hot strippers, believe me. I might not be your cup of tea, but I’m talking amazing exotic Victoria’s Secret-type runway model quality. Willowy, off-the-steppe, cheekbones to die for. And they’re easy.”
“How easy?”
“Easy enough that even someone with your negative attitude could probably score.”
“The Lover could have scored with you.”
“That doesn’t count, I’m medically easy.”
“Well…” Lover hesitated. “I may consent to using first person pronouns as far as booze and strippers go, but I’m not committing to anything further than that.”

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