By Patrick J Lambe
Patrick Lambe’s short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Plots with Guns, Crime Spree, Hardluck Stories and Shred of Evidence, and Crime Scene. He is currently working on a novel. He lives in New Jersey.
“I looked up New Jersey on the internet last night,” my partner Rick said.
“You must have been really bored.”
“Pharmaceuticals are one of the Garden State’s biggest industries. You some kind of researcher? A human guinea pig maybe?”
“Why are you so fascinated about what I do for a living in my civilian life, Sergeant?”
“I’m not that interested, it just helps to pass the time on these boring patrols.”
I re-checked the magazine on my M-4 assault rifle, buckled the helmet under my chin. I removed my wedding band, placed it in the pocket of my camouflaged vest. I didn’t like the way it vibrated against the guns handle when I had to fire. “This patrol’s not going to be a boring one.”
“No, it’s not.” He moved his M-4 into the ready position.
The Iraqis who had their stalls in the market were used to us by now. We had been patrolling the area for the last three months. But this time, even the regulars got out of our way; they knew something was up.
The guys we were heading towards spotted us; ran down the narrow alley behind their stall. We had anticipated this. There was a Humvee with a soldier training an M-60 on the other end of the alley.
Rick and I went behind the stall. He held his M-4 towards to the ground, but still pointed in the general direction of the crowd. I removed the baskets, filled with fruit, off of the counter, revealing the wooden top. I ripped up the plywood. The hollow storage cell was filled with Kalishkanov rifles. I grabbed one, held it up so Rick could see it.
“I don’t know what you do for a living in your little New Jersey state, Omar, but you’re one damn good MP.”
The soldiers from the Humvee called us on our radio. “We got a couple of guys, but not the Syrian.”
Rick and I exchanged glances. “At least we got some of his artillery,” I said.
“Every AK-47 we get off the street is one less pointed at us,” Rick said.
We found Amjad sipping strong coffee in an outside café. He was dressed in an expensive imported Italian suit. He dismissed the two men sitting with him, large men dressed in more traditional garb, when he saw us walking towards him.
“I trust you found what you were looking for.”
I put the money on the table. His eyes narrowed as he scooped the up the money, placed it in his suit jacket. “Please, some discretion,” he said.
I took off my helmet, placed it on the table, and sat across from him. Rick took the other seat.
“You’re ashamed of taking our money,” I said in my broken Arabic.
“You’re an Arab, Omar. You know how it looks, me taking money from American soldiers.”
“It looks exactly like what it is, a mouse showing the cat the rat’s hiding place.”
“Why do you treat me so rudely? Our arrangement helps both of us. You could at least be civil.” He had switched to English.
I replaced the helmet on my head, stood up and walked out of the cafč.
“I know, you’re a cop in your civilian life,” Rick said. “The bad cop in the good cop/bad cap scenario.”
“What makes you think that?”
“You seem to have Amjad’s number down pretty well.”
“What do you think about him?”
“Me? I think he’s some type of low life hood. I don’t think he’s giving us tips for the couple of dollars we’re paying for them. I think he’s ratting out the competition and having us do his clean up work for him. I think the sooner he gets rid of the Syrian, the sooner he can take over the arms dealing in this city.”
“You seem to have him figured out. Not bad for a postman.”
“Sergeant Aboud, sit down please.” Lieutenant Myers gestured to the fold up chair in front of his desk set up in the command tent. He poured a couple of glasses of Irish whiskey.
I drank it down in one gulp. It was fairly difficult to get decent liquor in Baghdad.
“You know why I called you in here?”
“Not really, sir.”
“You’re very important to me, Sergeant. You’re a good MP and your knowledge of Arabic is invaluable. I understand you learned from your parents.”
“My grandparents, actually. They were from Lebanon.”
“I see.” He put his finger on the side of his jaw. “I can’t pretend that I know anything about Arabic, but I understand the dialect is very different between the different countries.”
“That’s true sir, but I can manage pretty well.”
“I understand you were taking some lessons.”
“I was, sir. I stopped.”
“Would you mind if I asked you why?”
“It’s not important. People are talking. You know the rules about fraternizing with the locals.”
He held out his arms, shook his hands from side to side. “I try not to get involved in my men’s private lives. Especially the ones I rely on as much as I rely on you. It’s tough out here; we’re not going home for a long time.”
He poured us each another whisky. “Any advantage we have can keep us alive. I don’t mind turning my back when someone breaks the rules, as long as it doesn’t affect their job. I’d like you to resume your studies. Find yourself another teacher.”
“Thank you, sir. I’ll find someone else.” I saluted and walked towards the tent opening.
“One more thing, Sergeant Aboud,” I paused. “Try to find a man as a teacher this time.”
“How would you like a medal on your dress uniform?” Amjad asked.
Rick and I looked at each other. We were in a private dining area in a restaurant. The owners were Egyptian, Copts. It was one of the few places that served pork in the entire country. Most of their customers were Christians or Jews. Amjad generally met us here; less chance of his Muslim associates seeing him with us.
I had been surprised that there were Jews in Baghdad. The entire country was full of surprises like this. Then again, the country was just as full of the familiar. I guess every country in the world had guys like Amjad, and they all eventually seemed to wind up in the United States.
“We’re not really the military type. We’re reservists called up. We have normal lives at home, families, jobs.” Rick looked at me, arched his eyebrows.
“Still, I could help you out. Maybe get you and your fellow soldiers home sooner.”
“What do you have for us?” I sliced into my spiced pork roast. Amjad averted his eyes.
“A man in my business has friends on both sides of the conflict. I keep my ears opened, hear things.”
“What have you heard lately?”
“Your intelligence is impressive. Still, you can’t seem to find Barak.”
Barak, and his terrorist militia, was the reason our troop had hardly slept in the previous couple of months.
“It’s just a matter of time.” Rick said.
“I can make the clock hands turn quicker, but it’s going to cost. A lot.”
Rick paused in his chewing, looked at me.
“There’s reward money. Millions, I think.”
Amjad wiped his mouth, placed the napkin on the table next to his half eaten stuffed grape leaves. “Barak is meeting with some partisans at the Kyber Pass.”
My hand slipped as I was cutting through the pork. I dropped my knife on the floor.
“Are you OK?” Amjad asked.
“Two nights from now.”
“If you want a test of my validity, I found another one of the Syrian’s weapon drops.” He pulled out a sheet of paper, folded it, passed it to me. There was an address written on it.
“We’ll check this out.”
I walked into the Kyber Pass. It was a typical place that served fresh local food and coffee. I hadn’t been there in weeks. Haddel was working. I saw her carrying a tray of food to a group of men sitting on cushions on the floor. She placed the food on the low table in front of them.
She saw me standing in the doorway when she turned around. She smiled, ran her hand through her strait black hair, walked over to me.
“How are you Omar, I’ve missed you.” Her English was perfect. She had spent a couple of years in England, and it came out in her accent. She came up close to me. I backed up, one step.
My mother always wanted me to marry a Lebanese girl. I think my mother had a picture of someone like Haddel when she thought about the future Mrs. Omar Aboud. Fortunately, my wife Molly has grown on her over the years, to the point where they shop together and phone each other every other day.
Things with me and Molly, well, that’s a different story. We weren’t doing too well before my deployment, and she wasn’t exactly sorry to see me go. She figured a little time in a country with strict sexual codes would put a dent in my infidelities. If only she knew.
“I’ve been busy on patrol,” I said in Arabic.
“Have you been studying?” Haddel asked.
“No. I’ve been looking for another teacher.”
“Why do you need another teacher? You were doing fine with me.”
“You’re a great teacher. You’ve taught me so much.”
She looked down at her feet, her hand still in her hair. “I have to get back to work.”
“Listen to me Haddel, it’s very important. I want you to take off tomorrow.”
“Do you want to go someplace with me?”
“No, I’m sorry, I can’t. I’ll be on duty tomorrow. It’s just; something is going down in this neighborhood. I think you would be better off if you spent the night at home.”
“I can’t afford it. With the way things are going now, with the war…”
She glanced back at the kitchen. The manager was looking at us, tapping his fingers on a menu.
“I have to get back to work.”
“Haddel -- ”
“I’ll take off, my mom could use some help around the house.”
“Good luck on your lessons. You were really making great progress.”
The Syrian’s thugs put their hands up when I ordered them in Arabic. Rick held his M-4 on them as I zipped the plastic restraints on them. A couple of the other soldiers on our detail guarded them as Rick and I advanced into the storerooms, our M-4’s leading the way.
I kicked open a door, revealing a room filled with long wooden crates. Rick used a crow bar to pry the top off of one. Kalishkankovs, just like we expected. I edged around the corner of some of the crates. There was a large table with some smaller boxes on them. I opened one up. It contained a couple of Sig Sauer hand guns, an ancient Colt 45, and a couple of snub nosed 38’s, the kind of gun I was most familiar with from my civilian life.
Rick stuck his head around the corner a couple of seconds after I discovered the pistols. “No Syrian, just more guns.”
I missed what Rick was saying to me because I was distracted by the long, low trucks that had joined our convoy.
“I said; New Brunswick is a college town, Rutgers University. You seem like a pretty smart guy Omar. Are you a Professor? Maybe a grad student?”
“Why are they pulling fire trucks behind us?”
Rick looked out the narrow back window of our Humvee. They were air force aviation fire trucks. They used them to put out fires on planes. I had seen a large number of them at the Baghdad Airport.
“Hell if I know. It’s got to have something to do with our target.”
Mike, the guy manning the M-60 on top of our Humvee, knew something big was going down. The only people on our strike force who knew we were going after Barak were Rick, the Lieutenant, the Major leading the force and me.
I looked down at my watch. “We’d better get rolling soon or we’re going to miss our opportunity.”
The Lieutenant hopped out of his Humvee in front of us, walked up to ours. I rolled down the window. “Be ready to move out, we’re going in right after the strike.”
“After the strike? I thought we were the strike.”
“We’re the clean up. There’s two Stealth Bombers flying in from Missouri. Gonna drop some ordinance on Barak.”
“Drop some ordinance? It’s a restaurant, not a military target. What about the workers, the diners?”
“The orders came from the top, Omar. Just be ready to move when I give the word.”
Mike covered us with the M-60 as Rick and I advanced through the still smoldering rubble. I almost shot a man coming towards me, obscured by the smoke. He ignored me when I told him to lie down in Arabic. Rick called a medic on his radio when we recognized the man as the owner of the restaurant. He was missing an arm.
There were bodies, and parts of bodies everywhere. The whole block smelled of smoke and burned out construction material. A slight breeze would bring the sickening sweet smell of burned flesh from the place where the restaurant used to be.
A clump of stray hair covered Haddel’s face when I found her. She must have been thrown from the restaurant, because there was no evidence fire had touched her. Her body lay at an odd angle, the only clue to what had happened.
“It wasn’t a total loss,” the Lieutenant said at the de-briefing several weeks after the destruction of the restaurant. Barak was not there that night. “The techs found some DNA that they’re 90% sure came from Abdul Fadeem.”
We all had the cards of the 55 most wanted Iraqis. Abdul Fadeem was not on any of the cards. I didn’t recognize the name.
“Who is Abdul Fadeem?” Rick asked before I could.
“The man whose been supplying those Kalishkanovs they’ve been firing at you guys for the last four months. The Syrian.”
Rick turned pale. I felt like I was going to vomit.
The apartment was the best one I had seen in Baghdad. And we had searched hundreds. There was a wide screen TV set up across from the couch, a shelf full of DVD’s with Arabic writing on their covers. There was a bar stocked with the largest variety of liquor I had seen since leaving the states. It had taken me a little while to break in. I was using lock picks that were different than the ones I usually used at home.
Amjad walked through a curtain separating the living room from another room. He was wearing a silk bathrobe. His eyebrows came together when he saw me. “What are you doing here, Omar?”
I held my M-4 in my right hand as I reached under my Kevlar vest with my left, pulled out the .38 I had lifted from the Syrian’s warehouse, tossed it as his feet.
He held his hands out in front of him. His bathrobe came loose with the sudden motion. My wedding ring vibrated awkwardly against my finger when I pulled the trigger.
Patrick J Lambe ©2004
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