Colin Cotterill

Slash and Burn


You know? Being shut up in a cage with a live bear was a piece of cake compared to being drunk and high in charge of half-a-million dollars’ worth of flying metal. The full moon beckoned, hanging there like an ivory wok in a vast steel-gray sky. It spread the landscape with an eerie monochrome like daytime to a dog. Medium-gray jungle against dark-gray mountains. Patches of charcoal and slivers of silver off the rivers. Boyd could make out every leaf, every rock, as clear as creation day. He was a god. Oh, yeah. A deity on a mission. The almighty protagonist in the movies they made before they could afford colour: starring Boyd Bowry in his never-ending quest for … cheese.

“Cheese, little buddy,” he’d told Marcos. “I’ll bring you back a hunk of moon cheese. They let you scoop it right out. You want fries or something with it?”

“Man, you shouldn’t leave me here with that,” was all Marcos could come back with. Boyd remembered being at the door of the cage then. He’d stopped, looked back at the bear: drunk, snoring, farting, head in her feed trough.

“She’ll be cool, man. Fix her a cup of coffee in the morning. Tell her it was great. Leave your phone number.”

Marcos had done one of those non-military salutes. That’s why that finger’s so long, you know? Gets all the exercise. That was … what? An hour ago? Half an hour? Time lost all its credibility at ten thousand feet with no colour in the world. Someone oughta write a PhD about that. The relationship between … between hue and chronology. The colour of minutes. He’d heard Marcos yelling some Filipino double Dutch at him as he walked away. The little guy was mad. Smiled a lot, but….

No, wait. Marcos? That’s not right. Marcos is the goddamned president. The guy’s about to be eaten by a bear. The least I can do is remember his name. I’ve known him for….

OK, don’t be distracted now.



Ignition and all that instrumental hoo-ha had been instinctive and that was just as well ’cause he couldn’t recall doing any of it. He’d cranked her up, left the ground, and here he was heading off to the heavenly moon deli service. A Sikorsky was a hell of a lot safer than a Chevy in so many respects. Never drove a Sikorsky into a fire hydrant, for one. And if you did, the cops would never catch up with you, for two. And, what else? A Chevy never surfed moon rays like a Sikorsky H34.

Oh, no.

Oh, yeah.

What a trip. What a goddamned trip. Just hanging in the gray, looking at the moon. It was cosmic. What happened to nights like this? What happened to love and harmony, man? No peace and quiet for those monkeys down there in the trees. For those big lizards on the rocks. “Sorry guys.” At least he didn’t have to listen to his own engine growl. He had his headphones connected direct to the cassette player. The Who: Brits, but complex, man. Percussion like the punch of anti-aircraft flak.

And even though the music went straight into his brain and dead-ended there, he got it into his head that the words were being broadcast all over Nam to the east and Thailand in the west and some karmic interpretation service was sending the message to farmers in their bamboo beds. He shouted over the music, “You were deceived, brothers, but you can see what we’ve done, right? You’ve got the magic eyes? You know we’ll get ours in some other life. You’ve got that damned right. What do we know?”

And that was when it happened; the actual date and time when the sky fell on Chicken Little. There was a thump first, then an odd lack of vibration. One second the scenery was holding him up, the next a trapdoor opened in the universe and he fell through it. Gravity. What a concept! The fuel light was flashing like Christmas. There were “procedures.” He could probably send out a mayday. That was on the list. But who in their right mind would be up at 2:00 A.M. waiting for some dopehead on a magical mystery tour to call in? And timing, man. He was in fourteen thousand pounds of metal heading down to earth with twenty canisters of volatile substance on board. Some rescue that would be. He disengaged the rotors, waited for stability, unclamped his belt and rose from his seat. He smiled at the briefcase sitting in the copilot’s seat but he didn’t have time to take it with him. He had barely thirty seconds of the rest of his life to look forward to. To sort it all out.

“Use your time wisely, man.”

Who should he think of? Who to pledge his love to? Who to hate? No, that last one was easy. That son-of-a- bitch was one day away from getting his. And now, look at this. Goddamn it. A one-way express ticket to some big old Boyd barbecue. All in the timing.

He worked his way down the crawl space to the cabin and staggered around in there. He’d seen men die in all kinds of ways. He knew what St. Peter’s first question would be.

“How did you go down, son? Were you calm about it? We don’t want no screaming girl scouts up here, boy.”

So Boyd opted for cool. When you’re cool, death doesn’t seem that final.

There was a village and all were asleep save two. They saw the chopper come down, not like a rock, not plumb straight, more the way a slab of slate might slice through water. They both saw the wheel hit the tree tops then a spark and the big bird exploded-spewed out a whole galaxy. One of the insomniacs smiled and clapped his hands but he could never tell anyone what he’d seen. The other was so shocked she fell out of a tree, hit her head on the way down and knocked herself blind. But the last image that projected itself in her mind was as certain as the earth. She’d seen it. A dragon had collided with the moon. It had burst into a million shards and the pieces cascaded across the jungle and there would never be lightness again at night.



Dr. Siri and Madame Daeng sat on the edge of the smelly bed and looked at the body hanging from the door handle opposite. They were a couple not renowned for silence but this one lent itself most splendidly to speechlessness. They took in the too-red lipstick and the too-tight underwear. They breathed the whiskey fumes and the scent of vomit diluted with disinfectant. They’d both seen their share of death, perhaps more than a fair share. But neither had experienced anything like this.

“Well,” said Daeng at last, uncomfortable in the early morning quiet. The foggy mist rolled in through the window and rasped the inside of her throat.

“Well, indeed,” agreed her husband.

“This is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into, Dr. Siri.”

“Me? I didn’t do it.”

“No. Not it exactly. It you didn’t do, I grant you. But the consequences that led to it. They’ve got your fingerprints all over them.”

“Madam, judging from the evidence in front of us, I’d say this would have occurred whether we were here or not. And it didn’t even have to have happened here. This was a tragedy begging to be let out of the bag.”

“Again, you’re right. But if you hadn’t volunteered yourself, volunteered us all, we’d be at home now beside the Mekhong eating noodles in relative peace. We wouldn’t be in this room with this particular body, about to be embroiled in an international scandal. This would be someone else’s problem. Someone in good health capable of

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