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Blackwater or How War Profiteering Works – Part III

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Blackwater Worldwide has played a substantial role during the Iraq War as a contractor for the United States government. In 2003, Blackwater attained its first high-profile contract when it received a $21 million no-bid contract for guarding the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, L. Paul Bremer. Since June 2004, Blackwater has been paid more than $320 million out of a $1 billion, five-year State Department budget for the Worldwide Personal Protective Service, which protects U.S. officials and some foreign officials in conflict zones. In 2006, Blackwater won the renumerative contract to protect the U.S. embassy in Iraq, the largest American embassy in the world.

Blackwater is a privately held company and does not publish much information about internal affairs. Who are the key people?

Blackwater’s owner and founder Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL, attended the Naval Academy, graduated from Hillsdale College, and was an intern in George H.W. Bush’s White House. Prince is a major financial supporter of Republican Party causes and candidates.
Cofer Black, the company’s current vice chairman, was director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) at the time of the September 11, 2001 attacks. He was the United States Department of State coordinator for counterterrorism with the rank of ambassador at large from December 2002 to November 2004. After leaving public service, Black became chairman of the privately owned intelligence gathering company Total Intelligence Solutions, Inc., as well as vice chairman for Blackwater.
Joseph E. Schmitz holds an executive position in Blackwater’s holding company, Prince Group. He was previously inspector general of the Department of Defense, an appointment of George W. Bush.
Robert Richer was vice president of intelligence until January 2007, when he formed Total Intelligence Solutions. He was formerly the head of the CIA’s Near East Division.

Are you surprised Blackwater opened the door to lucrative government contracts through a no-bid contract? Are you surprised they received immunity from prosecution after killing 17 Iraqi civilians a year ago?

More interesting reading on Blackwater: The Whores of War

Source: Wikipedia and others
Cartoon courtesy News Sophisticate

Written by Peter

August 30th, 2008 at 3:45 am

Posted in Articles

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The War in Iraq – Happy Anniversary!

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This week, we celebrate the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq. I still remember the start very well.

Time for a calculation.

1. The newspaper today states one minute of war in Iraq costs US$380,000. A calculation made by Joseph Stiglitz, a US Nobelprize winning economist.
That is almost double the cost of the war in Vietnam.

2. According to WFP, the UN’s food aid organisation, it costs US$0.19 to feed a child for a day. Nineteen cents.
20,000 children die of hunger every day. The time it took you to read this post, already 15 died.

3. Taking those two figures together, one minute of war in Iraq would feed 2,000,000 children for a day.
One day of war in Iraq would feed 8,000,000 children for a year.

4. There are 800 million hungry in the world. Three-four months of war in Iraq would feed all hungry in the world.
Three-four months of war, we have done before. Many times. But we have never fed all the hungry in the world.

I do not understand. Somewhere the calculation does not make sense. Otherwise all intelligent people in the world would have cried foul. Wouldn’t we? …Wouldn’t we?

Photo credit: Robert Kasca. Picture taken after the bombing of the UN building in Baghdad.

Update March 18: I received a lot of queries about “the 19 cents/day” it costs to feed a child. Here you find more detailed info.

Written by Peter

March 18th, 2007 at 5:08 am

Posted in Ranting

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GPS Navigation for Dummies

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1. Tine wants me to buy a GPS for the car.

You know one of those gimmicks that talks you through to a destination point. And she wants me to buy it fast, as in one month’s time we will be driving from Belgium to Italy for our annual family skiing holiday. Each year we have one peak of sweat, blood and tears (and fierce discussions), when -once again- I miss an exit on the highway, or make the wrong turn, or just ‘loose it’. I am terrible in finding my way around. Somehow I always get to where I have to be – I guess I have a built in compass like the pigeons- but most of the time it is with a big detour, though ! I am just terrible. I have travelled to the world’s most deserted and most remote places, and still, I loose my way in our village, where we have lived for 20 years.

I guess my mind only has limited storage capacity (The staff in Afghanistan always thought it was funny when I wore my Tshirt ‘Fatal error – Run out of Memory’ with a Windows pop up screen). My mind can only store so many things at a time, and I guess I concentrate on the most important stuff. Remembering how to find my way from point A to point B, I do not consider important. Once I have driven a road, the memory is popped from my brain stack, and forgotten. Even if I drove it ten times..

Like the other weekend, I was driving to my brother’s home, and had to call him to ask directions. Wouldn’t be so bad if I had not been there ten times before… The proof of the not-importance was right there: I was driving to his home, to help him move. So you see: the driving instructions would have been irrelevant memory information, as one day later, ‘he would not live there anymore’.

It is embarrassing, though.. Sometimes, in our town/village, people give me driving instructions, by using landmarks or the names of big squares.. I never remember those names. So most of the time, they have to scroll back and first give me driving instructions starting from:
– “But what places *do* you know then?”
– “Euh, the railway station?”
Soon follows by the question “You just moved here or what?”..
Then I have to blush and confess: “I moved here two decades ago”.
The expression on their faces each time reminds me of Tine: ‘Buy a GPS!’. And now it became a hot item again, this GPS, as the skiing road trip is coming up again.

2. The Navigation Voice

You know, you can download the voices for the GPS navigation. ‘Turn left at the next turn’, ‘Take the next exit within 500 meters’. John Cleese’s voice is one of them. They just released that of ‘world famous’ (yeah rrrright) Belgian TV personality Paul Jambers. I heard him being interviewed, the other morning when driving back from Hannah’s school (yep, I can find my way back from her school easily now!).

Mr Jambers mentioned the voice they recorded was not his, but that of an imitator. Asked if he did not mind, he answered “No, because that must have been a lot of work. Imagine having to record all directions for all the Belgian roads. That is a LOT! And imagine if you have to do that for the whole of Europe!”. Proves my point you don’t have to be intelligent to be a TV personality.

3. Machines Take over Our Lives

A friend of mine just bought a GPS, and drove through the Alps. By accident, he had put the GPS setup-preferences on ‘The Shortest Route’. He said he thought something was wrong, when he branched off the highway and started to drive through hardly-paved roads. He *knew* something was wrong, when the machine lead him onto roads which split farmer’s barns and outdoor loo’s.

4. Other Uses of GPS navigation

I wonder what the GPS navigation system in the Humvees of the foreign troops in Iraq have on them:

  • “At the next building, looking like a tall tower, with a balcony, where a guy shouts 5 times per day, you turn left”
  • “This leads you into sniper alley, where 15 of your comrades died over the past year”. “Let me update that: 16″.
  • “Now turn right, as on the road ahead the wrecks from last weeks bomb attack have not been cleaned up yet”.
  • “You now pass the house which was raided by ten US troops last week. They arrested a fourteen year old girl. The rest of the story, you can read on CNN.”
  • “If an angry crowd awaits you at this market place, take a left”.
  • “You are now driving by a landmark we knew had no WMD’s stored in them. Even though we told the UN security council the opposite.”
  • “You have now arrived at your destination. The sites to admire here are the prison cells famous for their video shots of prisoners leached like dogs and forced to have sex with each other”.

5. More of the Same

What would Al Queda’s GPS navigation systems say?

  • “You are now driving by an excellent target, available when you have time for a suicide attack”
  • “At the Embassy of the Infidels, turn right”
  • “You have now arrived at your destination. Knock three times and give the password ‘F**k the Infidels’. Fusing mechanisms are on sale this week.”

6. Irish joke

It all makes me think of the joke my friend Pete once told me: “I was in Ireland and asked a guy directions to the next supermarket. The guy answered ‘Sirrr, if I werrrre you, I wouldn’t be starrrrrting from herrrrre !’ ”

What do you think, should I buy a GPS navigation system?

Written by Peter

March 11th, 2007 at 1:02 am

Posted in Funny,Stories

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The Day I Got Deported From the US

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Spring 2003. Pretty soon after the Iraq war started.
Dulles International Airport, Washington.

Scene at immigration counter.

him: So where do you come from now, sir? (flips through my passport, filled with stamps in Arab writing)
me: Right now, from London Heathrow, but that was just a transit. I flew in from Cairo, Egypt.
him: How long did you stay in Cairo?
me: One day.
him: Where were you before that?
me: In Jordan
him: And how long did you stay there?
me: Also one day.
him: Where did you come before that?
me: Iraq
him: ?!?!
me: Baghdad, Iraq. I work for the UN, you see.
him: Do you have any tickets to prove that?
me: No, I flew on a UN plane.
him: I do not see Iraq immigration stamps in your passport.
me: No, there is no Iraq immigration anymore since the war. The US military checks inbound passengers, but they do not stamp passports.
him: OK, how long where you there for?
me: A week.
him: So where were you longer than a week? Where do you actually live?
me: Well, my legal residency is in Belgium, but I spend most of my time in the UAE. In Dubai.
him: What do you do there?
me: I head the office of one of the UN agencies there. I have the status of an ambassador.
him: Do you have proof of that?
me: Sure. {I show him my UAE diplomatic card)
him: How long have you been living in Dubai?
me: Two years.
him: And before that?
me: I shuttled between Pakistan and Afghanistan
him: (after two minutes of typing on his computer) Could you step aside for a moment, sir, and come with me?
me: ?!

Thirty minutes later, in a separate room with clearly a number of other ‘doubtful cases’:
him#2: Mr Keyscher (?) (it is difficult to pronounce my name in English)
me: Yes, sir, good evening.
him#2: Evening, what is the purpose of your visit to the US?
me: I was asked by the UN security office to chair a meeting at the World Bank’s office in Washington.
him#2: Are you on an official mission?
me: Yes I am. On UN official business.
him#2: Do you have proof of that?
me: Sure. (I start up my computer and show him the invitation Email)
him#2: What is the meeting about?
me: It is about the UN relief efforts in Iraq. Mostly about the coordination of technical issues between different humanitarian agencies.
him#2: How long do you intend to stay?
me: I fly back tomorrow.
him#2: Where to?
me: To Dubai
him#2: Do you have any other travel documentation than this passport, your Belgian national passport?
me: Yes, I have two UN passports
him#2: Blue or red ones? (the red one is a full diplomatic passport)
me: I have both. (I hand them over)
him#2: Why do you travel on your Belgian passport, if you have a UN passport?
me: It is easier, as I do not need a visa to enter the US with my Belgian one.
him#2: Have a seat sir, someone will be with you in a minute

Thirty minutes later:
him#3: Mr Keyscher?
me: That is me
him#3: I am sorry sir, but we can not allow you to enter the US.
me: ?!?! Why is that?
him#3: You tried to enter on your Belgian passport, but this one is not valid to enter the US.
me: Why not? I was in New York two weeks ago. I fly to the US three-four times a year. I always use my Belgian passport.
him#3: Sorry, but the rules changed. As of last week, Belgian passports have to be machine readable.
me: ?!?!
him#3: They need a strip on the ID-page which is machine readable. Yours does not have that.
me: But two weeks ago, nobody said anything about that at the New York’s immigration office.
him#3: Sorry, but I do not make the rules. And they changed since last week. We can not let you enter the US.
me: But I am on a diplomatic mission. I have a diplomatic status. You have my diplomatic passports.
him#3: Sorry, but that does not matter. Just last week, we stopped a foreign minister from a Middle Eastern country entering the US also. Not the right paperwork neither.
me: Is it possible to speak to your supervisor please?
him#3: I am the supervisor, sir.
me: Can I still speak to your superior, please?
him#3: I will call him on the phone. One moment please.

After fifteen minutes with his supervisor on the phone:
him#3: I am sorry. But we can not let you enter the US. I will call the British Airways representative, and see if you can get a seat back on the same plane you came in with.
me: You do understand that I flew for three days for this meeting, straight out of Iraq? Is there any way anyone could vouch for me? I can call the UN head office in New York?
him#3: No, sir, I am sorry, that decision is final.
me: Can I call someone to let them know I can not make it to my meeting? After all, twenty people will attend, and I was to chair that meeting.
him#3: Sure, here is a phone. But you can are only allowed one local phone call.
me: Can I use my mobile phone to call? The person I need to talk to is from our HQ in Rome. He has an Italian mobile number.
him#3: Sorry, you are not allowed to use your mobile phone here.

I try to call Gianluca in his hotel downtown Washington, but there is no response.
me: (sigh) So, what will happen now?
him#3: We will need to take your photograph and finger prints, sir.
me: ?!?!

Four mug shots, ten finger prints and thirty minutes later:
me: Can I use the bathroom, please?
him#2 (again): Sure.

An armed guard escorts me to a bathroom. Stays outside of the door. I take out my mobile phone, call Gianluca, and explain what happened. I whisper I will not make it to the meeting. I give him a 60 seconds briefing on what my message was going to be in that meeting. The guard bangs on the toilet door saying “It is time, let’s go”.

Back in the immigration screening office, the British Airways representative is talking to him#2.
she: I picked up his luggage, but we have a pretty full plane
me: What would happen if I can not get on this return flight?
him#2: We will have to detain you until you can get a return flight. You have a ticket for tomorrow, so I guess that would mean detention until tomorrow.
me: ?! Detention?
him#2: Yes.

she: I will do my best.
him#2: Can I have your tickets please?
him#2 puts my three passports and all travel papers in a sealed envelop.

Thirty minutes later, the BA representative comes back.
she: I have a seat for you.
me: Thank you
him#2: We will escort you to the plane now
me: Can I have my passports and tickets, please?
him#2: No. You will get them back at Heathrow. Do know that the next time you want to enter the US, you will not be able to enter on the visa waiver program for Belgian nationals. You will need a visa. Each time you enter the US, you will be taken for questioning. Front desk immigration officers will not be allowed to let you enter. I need you to sign a paper stating you understood that, and agree to it.
me: Do I have a choice?
him: No sir, there is no appeal for this.
me: For how long do I need to get a visa. When will I be able to use the visa waiver program again? (I sign the papers)
him#2: This is valid for ever. Once refused entry into the US, you can not enter with the visa waiver program anymore. This gentlemen will escort you to the plane.

Two armed men take me outside the building, onto the tarmac. It is night already. It rains. A blinded truck is waiting for me. More armed men. I see cigarette butts on the ground, just outside of the door as we step outside.
me: I am sorry, but can I ask you one favour? I flew in from Cairo, non-smoking. Four hours. Had no time in Heathrow for a cigarette. Then flew trans-Atlantic for six hours, spent two hours here, and now will fly again. Can I have at least one cigarette please?
him#4: (looks at him#5) OK.. A quick one then.
me: That is the only good news I had since I landed here. Thank you.

They escort me back onto the plain. There are no passengers yet. Him#4 and him#5 whisper to the captain and the flight attendant. They look at me. I feel like a criminal.

Six hours later, I step out of the plane in Heathrow and get my papers back. My flight to Dubai leaves in two hours. I need to find a place to smoke a cigarette and call Gianluca again.

Well, I guess I was more lucky than
this 9 year old who was detained
after their flight to Toronto made an unscheduled stop
on American soil nearly four weeks ago.

Continue reading The Road to the Horizon’s Ebook, jump to the Reader’s Digest of The Road.

Written by Peter

February 10th, 2007 at 1:51 am

“M.” – Requiem For Baghdad

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“The horror… The horror…”
(Marlon Brando in ‘Apocalypse Now’)

Dubai, December 2004
All of us, all our Dubai staff, are standing around in silence in the reception of our office. We put up the plaque our HQ gave us. “WFP FITTEST team – Dubai. Award for Merit 2004. For their outstanding global achievement and particularly for the critical support of the UN humanitarian effort in Iraq”. Each of us are in thoughts. It seems weird how in a split second zillions of thoughts and images can flash through your mind.

Robert was a bit angry at me this week. He rightfully said: ‘This plaque is something to be proud of, how come we still have not put it up? We received the plaque several months ago.’. I did not really have an answer for him. Sure, at first there was a spelling mistake, so they had to re-do it, then we had a problem finding a suitable spot, and then, and then… In the end, it were all excuses, I thought to myself. Excuses as it brought back a lot of painful memories for me… I did not want to remember that period. Did not want to remember the pain. Suppress it. Done. Buried. But that is not the right way. Robert was right, the team had done well. The team he had coordinated did well in the Iraq emergency operation, and they had to be remembered for their excellent work. Together we also had to remember how we all stuck together, as one team, despite all the pressure and challenges. Somewhere also we had to remember the pain of that period…

As we are standing in front of the plaque, I think of M. Her face comes before my eyes. I hear her laugh. Would she have felt pain? Fear? Regrets? Or would it all have gone in a flash? Like a switch. Switching off life. Done. Over. And then?

Belgium, August 2001
If you have lived through a number of humanitarian emergencies, worked long enough in relief operations, you start to develop a sixth sense. It was this sixth sense that helped us deciding to move our intervention team from Kosovo to Islamabad a few years ago. We sensed that at a certain moment the US would retaliate against the Taliban. Basing our team in the middle of Central Asia would allow us to prepare the region for a possible humanitarian emergency if the US would take military action in Afghanistan.

I told Tine just before I left home: “I do not have a good feeling. The stars are not right. Something is up.” That feeling was in sharp contrast with the one month holiday off the beaten track in Hawaii we just had. But the sixth sense was there, with big warning signs.

Islamabad, September 11, 2001
We were working in our office in Islamabad when Jalal, one of our staff, said ‘Hey, a plane just flew into the New York World Trade Center.’ And a few minutes later, the news came a second plane crashed into the Towers. We stopped all work. I knew it could not have been an accident. This was an act of terrorism. In a flash, I saw what would happen. The world was going to fundamentally change. I saw the US attacking Afghanistan. I saw the polarization of the world into Muslim and non-Muslim. I saw the invasion of Iraq.. I just knew we were going for a very rough period, with a lot of human suffering. I felt sad, very sad. When I came back to the guest house I was staying, very late at night, that night of 9/11, I just could not stop looking at the video replays on TV, displaying what happened in New York. It was so violent. So many people lost in one go. But above all, I felt “it is all coming our way. Within here and a few weeks, the world’s attention is going to be focused on our region.”

It did not take weeks. It took days. We saw them arriving at the hotels in Islamabad. All the international camera crews, with their equipment loaded onto rental cars. Setting up shop on the roofs of the hotels. All the well-known anchor people from the main broadcast stations started to report from Islamabad. The media often is one step ahead of the military. Only one step.

Kabul, January 2002.
Several months later, the Taliban was beaten, Bin Laden was on the run, and Afghanistan was ‘liberated’. I just ‘knew’ Iraq was going to be next. No matter what the world’s opinion was going to be, I felt the US was going to attack Iraq also.

Baghdad, November 2002
Richard and I spent a nice evening in one of the open air restaurants in Baghdad. Even though it was close to midnight and pretty cold outside, there were plenty of people still walking around. I loved the people there, the feeling the whole setting gave me. They were friendly, helpful, many of them very well educated. Never a harsh word. As we were walking the streets that night, people smiled at us, often to say ‘Hey habibi, how are you? Where do you come from? What do you do?’. When we would start talking to them, the subject of children and family would always come up. No matter where people come from, the love for their close ones always seems to be the main thing on their mind. We felt safe, almost at home, without the slightest sense of fear or insecurity. We were amongst good people.
The first UN weapon inspectors had arrived earlier that day. We saw them dragging up boxes with their equipment into Canal Hotel, the UN Headquarters in Baghdad.. Somewhere I knew that it was all going to be in vain. The US had already made up its mind: ‘Saddam had to go’. Even if the weapon inspectors would not find any weapons of mass destruction, any excuse was going to be good enough… After all, Iraq had oil. I could just see all the human misery a US invasion in Iraq would cause. And the anarchy, the violence that would follow. I imagined those peaceful streets of Baghdad in flames, shooting, bombing. I could see all the friendly, loving people, with eyes, filled with hatred.

Dubai, March 20 2003
As I closed the door of my apartment, on my way to work, I stopped for a moment. Something was not right. Something was different that morning. I could hear the television sets from my neighbours. Different languages, agitated voices of the reporters. It was an awkward sound. My heart started to beat real fast. I went back into my apartment, switched on the TV, and sat down. Images of helicopters, tanks, military convoys, crossing the border from Kuwait into Iraq. I picked up the phone and called Gianluca, in our HQ in Rome. It was still very early in Europe, he was still asleep. ‘Gianluca, switch on your TV. It has began. The invasion has began’.
June 2003
I met M. in Cyprus several times. She was working for another UN agency. By coincidence, we had the same travel itinerary, and spent several days on the road together: flying from Cyprus to Jordan, then driving into Erbil in North Iraq and a few days later flying to Baghdad. We talked a lot. Work, people we met in the past, our hobbies, adventure traveling, what appealed to us in this world, in people. The last time I saw her was one evening in Canal Hotel, Baghdad. For security reasons, the movement of our staff in town was restricted, and we all lived on the large office compound. A couple of guys had put together a barbeque in the parking lot which by then was filled with sleeping and storage tents. As I was walking back to my room, M. was walking towards the barbeque area. She had a strange look in her eyes. She hesitated for a moment as we were passing eachother. I remember I stood still for a moment, wondering what this look was about. I told her I was leaving for Dubai the next day.. I can not remember if she said anything, as we gave three kisses on the cheek. Maybe we did say something. Some pleasantries like ‘see you whenever I see you again!’.

A few weeks later, I received a message from her. Some stuff about work. She had decided the Iraq mission was going to be her last. In September she would quit and do something different. Enough of this type of work. It has been a good road, but this road had come to an end. The last sentence in the Email did not make much sense to me. It was about us meeting again. That it would mean a lot to her, that she would like to talk to me.

When I talked to Larisa, one of our staff in Baghdad, on the phone, she said: “you left quite an impression on some people in Baghdad.” I did not really understand what she meant. “Well, last night, I was having a drink with M., and again, it looks like you left quite an impression on her”…
Sometimes a lot of things happen, and it is difficult to pinpoint what they really mean, to make real sense out of a string of signs. But then something small happens, which causes all the rest to make sense. Now I understood the look in M.’s eyes the last evening in Baghdad. That last sentence in her Email. I sent her an Email that I was coming over to Baghdad before she left, so we would sit together and talk.

Belgium, August 18 2003
I had a long chat with Robert, our project coordinator in Baghdad. He ran the team installing the technical infrastructure for most of the UN relief agencies. Most of the conversation was about his main worry: security. He felt something was to happen, the ‘tension in the air’ was just too much. He felt some of our staff or some of our offices were going to be attacked. ‘Something bad is about to happen’, he said. I shared his feeling. I did not sleep much that night. I had a lot of my staff in Iraq and I felt very responsible for them.
Belgium, August 19 2003

This was one of the saddest days in my life. Mats called me ‘Our headquarters in Baghdad was bombed a few minutes ago. A truck full of explosives flattened most of the building’. Mats and I talked with Robert in a conference call later that day. It was bad. Robert said most of our staff was accounted for, but several of them were badly injured from falling debris, shrapnel or glass flying around. Ghis had a window frame hit his head. Michael’s face was badly cut by glass. Diya was evacuated with severe cuts in his arm and hands. Dozens of people had died. The pictures on television looked horrific. I was shocked. And felt endlessly guilty. Guilty as I had recruited these people. I had sent them in harm’s way. Guilty as no matter how good the security precautions we had taken, no matter how many times we had stressed to them all to be careful, still they, the people from my team, got hurt. It cut deep inside me. I felt guilty as I was not there to help. I should have been there with them.

Belgium, August 20 2003
As more details came in of the bombing, a provisional list was circulated, a list with names of those not accounted for, and those which were confirmed dead. I could not believe my eyes when I saw M.’s name on the list. M. was dead.
Dubai, December 2005
These thoughts and images fly, no, they scream, through my head as we are standing in front of our plaque.. It all takes a few seconds for it to come through. All of the hurt. The immense sadness and senselessness. The guilt of not having done enough. The guilt of not having said things that should have been said. So often we forget that when we say ‘goodbye’, it might really mean ‘goodbye’. A final ‘goodbye’. We might never see that person again in this life. I see M.’s face in front of me as we talked for a brief moment in time, passing eachother in Canal Hotel that evening of the barbeque. I should have taken the time to sit and talk with her. I should have known this might have been the last time ever, we had the chance to talk. But I did not. I was tired, wanted to go to sleep, had an early start the next day. But I should have. Should have. The guilt. And the horror…

Continue reading The Road to the Horizon’s Ebook, jump to the Reader’s Digest of The Road.

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Written by Peter

January 20th, 2007 at 10:31 am

Posted in Stories

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