Okay,” she laughed after three complicated cocktails. “Now you, sir….”
“You, sir…. Now…I am…. Okay. I feel like we’ve only talked about me. But I don’t know anything about you. Other than that you’re very, um, charming and, well, very cute, of course. Ha, don’t let that go to your head! Shouldn’t have said that.”
“But I feel—okay, if this is my—well. Okay. What do you do?”
“What do I do? You mean what is my job?”
“Sorry, I hate that question too. It’s like, is this a date or an interview, right?”
He finished his bite of sauce-soaked broccolini and answered, but she didn’t hear him clearly.
“Hmmmmmmmmmm? All I heard was ‘lord.’”
“Ooh! Okay, this is fun. Are you a…landlord? Because I do not have the best history getting along with landlords. My first apartment——”
“I’m not a landlord.”
“Are you…a…drug lord?” Julie said, stroke-poking the side of his face with her finger. “’Cause that could be a problem.”
“You’re not…the Lord, are you? Because I haven’t gone to temple since my bat mitzvah. Ha, don’t tell my grandma!”
He laughed politely. She could tell he was laughing just to be nice—and she liked that more than if he had laughed from finding her funny. A nice guy: Now that would be a real change of pace for her.
“Then what kind of lord are you anyways, eh?” she asked with an old-timey what’s-the-big-idea accent. God, she was a bit tipsy, wasn’t she?
“I’m a warlord.”
“In-ter-est-ing! Now, I don’t know exactly what this is. But I want to learn. So what exactly…is…a warlord?” Julie asked, her chin now resting playfully on a V of two upturned palms. “Educate meeeee.”
“Okay. Can you picture where the Congo is on a map?”
“Kinda,” she exaggerated.
“This is Africa,” he said, pointing to an imaginary map in the air between them. “This is the Indian Ocean. This is the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is just regular Congo.”
“What? Hold up——”
“I know—that’s just how it is. I didn’t name them,” the warlord laughed. “Anyway. This? All this here? This is what I control.”
“So you’re, like…the governor of it?”
“No. There are areas of the world where it will show up on your map as a certain country. But in reality, no government is in control of that region, in any real way. They cannot collect taxes. They cannot enforce laws. Do you follow?”
Yes, nodded Julie.
“The people who are in charge are the warlords. They—we—bribe, kidnap, indoctrinate, torture and…what am I forgetting? What’s the fifth one? Oh, kill—ha, that’s weird that I forgot that one—the population of any region that falls above a certain threshold of natural resources but below a certain threshold of government protection. It’s not exactly that simple, Julie, but basically that determines where I’m based. Once those conditions reach that level, me and my team, we show up and terrorize that area until everyone in the entire population is either dead, subdued or, ideally, one of our soldiers. Ideally ideally, dream scenario? A child soldier.”
“That does not sound legal,” said Julie, trying to stall for time so she could object properly and intelligently, which was going to take a second because she had had a few drinks already and had not anticipated having to debate a hot-button topic like this at the top of her intelligence—especially not with someone who did it for a living.
“No, it isn’t legal at all—have you been listening?” Julie blushed and rotated her fork on her napkin in a four-point turn so she would have something to focus on besides her embarrassment. “This is a show of force outside the ability of any government to enforce its laws.”
He went on and on. The words rape and limbs came up more than on any other date she could remember.
“What about, like, the international community?” asked Julie, hoping this was a smart question. Usually this was something she was good at on dates, but tonight she was having more trouble. “Don’t they ever pressure you to stop? Or,” she added, thinking there might be something else there, “or something?”
“Yes,” said the warlord. “Sure! For example, there was this thing about me on Twitter a while ago—are you on Twitter?” She said she was but didn’t check it often. “Same here!” he laughed. “I have an account, but I can never figure out if it’s a thing I do or not. Anyway. I was ‘trending.’ You know what that is?” She did. “I’ll be honest, it weirded me out. I got into this pattern where I was checking my name every two seconds, and there were like 45 new mentions of me. All negative!”
“You can’t let yourself fall into that,” said Julie.
“Exactly. Anyway, it passed,” said the warlord. “You know Twitter—before long everyone’s onto the next thing.”