A Man, a Plan, a Canal, Panama!

Otto is a genius. A man with a plan. Not just an entrepreneur, a visionary. He and Hannah, and their best friends Eve and Bob, kick up their heels, expatriates in this friendly city. Real estate deals by day (so much beachfront, so little time!), the Balboa Club by night.

Panama City loves high-fliers. It's good to be an expat. The pools are clear blue, the drinks bottomless, and the labor cheap and pliant.

But really. The ingratitude, the naked nationalism, the flag-flying Marine killers...they're ruining everything. It's wearing on them all. Otto and Hannah and Eve and Bob have a feeling they're at a threshold -- waiting for the next big thing.

Is that gunfire?

So, Ida, Adios!

"Who the hell is Ida?" Eve says on the way home from the last party at the Balboa Club. She's found a note in Bob's tuxedo pocket. "God, Bob, you're such a dud."

She wants to say more, but their driver's dark eyes are watching them in the rearview mirror. Can't argue in front of the help.

Cigar? Toss it in a Can. It is so Tragic

All good things must come to an end. Even the high-flying Panama City life lived by Otto and Hannah and Eve and Bob. "Unrest has a way of fermenting," says Hannah, nodding sagaciously.

"Fomenting," replies Bob. He not-so-secretly thinks Hannah is an idiot.

They are silent, our four, the rest of the ride to the airport.

Was it a Car or a Cat I Saw?

There are many strays on the streets of Addis Ababa. "They're ripe for development!" crows Otto gleefully. They stay with the other ferenges in the Addis Hilton. Bob eats the wrong thing and spends two days in the bathroom. Hannah and Eve visit the market one afternoon. So much English! How hopeful. One sign reads: No lemons, no melon. Another: Sages use gas.

No gas for sale, however. "What shall we buy?" trills Eve. Cabbages. Potatoes. A bright orange powder that may be for cooking. Not much else. A cat darts into an alley, something bloody in its mouth, chased by an angry crowd. "Did you see them chasing that car?" Hannah asks nervously.

Reviled Did I Live, said I, As Evil I Did Deliver

"Net ten!" crows Otto. He is calculating profits on their latest investment. A golf course. Even in Addis, businessmen need entertaining ways to pass the time. But goddamn that Selassie, losing his grip.

Out they go - Otto, Hannah, Eve and Bob, given the boot! Something is happening to all those white-toothed, earnest young students. Better hurry. The car engine groans with the effort.

"Another year, another unpaved airport runway," gripes Eve.

Now, Sir, a War is Won

Time passes. Older, wiser - but they still have it! -- Hannah and Otto and Eve and Bob have moved beyond urban development. Personal security: not just a business, a way of life. High payoffs, yes, but high risk. Don't want to lose their shirts.

Otto's brainstorm, shared in a cozy little café in Cairo: "Move in after it's gone to hell. Find the money. Tell them what kind of protection they'll need to build it back up. A 40% cut, my friends." They toast his brilliance, their bright glittering luck.

And in a blink of an eye they're in Kandahar! But Kandahar, good God, is no place to get a decent drink. The war may be won, but damn those zealots, always one finger on the trigger. "Here we go again," groans Bob, as they heed the warnings and run for the car. No chance to even pack. Bombs away.

Before a pothole jars the thought out of her head, Hannah thinks, this is all so predictable: backwards, forwards, no matter how you look at it. Why do we even try?

Outside, through the Land Rover's tinted glass, she sees uniforms and medics mobilizing on the street. It's closer than they'd thought. But then, it always is.

Receding fast through the rear window, nurses run.

About the author:

Genanne Walsh lives in San Francisco. Other work has appeared or is forthcoming in Puerto del Sol, Blackbird, Swink, Blithe House Quarterly, Dirt Press and McSweeney's.