Thursday, October 30, 2014

Rendition 7


وړاندې مو یخ جامونه
ړومبی د دوو رودونو
د یو کېدلو نوم وی

Love” Hassina Gol

It whined in his ears from a stretched tape on his walkman, the tinny speakers simply unable to carry the drum smack or the bass thrum. Look up on the wall. He'd had a friend rig up a clock to his cassette player as an alarm. There was only yellowing hall light coming through the crack in a door that wouldn't close. The outside was that kind of dark he hadn't known since he was very small, and living in a remote flat part of Ohio. The dark kind of dark, where the stars leap out at you. He could feel a cold draft that came from the crack in the window.

He shut the tape off, the startle had been enough to get him to come to a full, if edged consciousness. He rolled into his jeans in a single motion, and straddled up the belt that he had not even tried to untread from the worn loops. His hard abs and thin body were uncovered. He had to tighten the belt a notch farther than when he came. The food didn't agree with him. He thought food should be food. It was of a different opinion. Mushy uncooked grain in a variety of mixtures with liquids unfit for human consumption alternating with balls of the same material, days older, only cooked to desperation.

He looked down both directions of the street in Kabul where he had taken up lodging. In the distance on the left he could see the outline of the dome of the large mosque whose name he kept forgetting, and then near it a large soviet era slab concrete high rise. They were just visible against the massive backdrop of the snow capped mountains that Kabul was nestled in. It reminded of many vistas in the American west: Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Reno, a city in the hollow of the palm of the mountains. Sitting in the hand of God. First a low brown line, and then the higher ones that shrouded the rim of the sky. Dawn came slow, and it got late early.

He'd dropped in to this place two weeks ago. The altitude was no longer causing swelling headaches, he'd learned to get over them more quickly than most from his life in Denver. That's what he called it to himself, a sweaty shacking up with a girl who was as much prostitute as girlfriend. He'd gone back to college after and completed his degree, angry and horny, because dating seemed to him to be a waste of time. Nothing like falling into bed and staying there except to eat and fight to teach a young man that there is no such thing as no strings attached.

He sipped from the brackish cup of coffee he'd left from the night before. It had been made turkish style, so what remained as closer to silt than liquid. At least it was sweet, though he wasn't sure he'd ever add honey to coffee ever again.

He through the flannel shirt over his torso, it hung, baggy and too big for him, though his shoulders were stretched tight across the back. The last dregs of coffee taken, he pulled a trick he'd learned at an inn on the bumpy ride in. He walked to the window and threw the cup down, smashing it. He did that with two or three small plates as well.

There was a stirring below and lights came on. There was a shouting from below in Pashto. He shouted back down. “I heard you. How much for breaking the dishes?” The price was equivalent to a few pennies in America. He called down, to bring me morning coffee and yoghurt and he would pay for everything. Not until then. Minutes later there was coffee, yoghurt, fruit, and the ubiquitous porridge. 

He paid in local paper, not wanting to give away that he had dollars, though he'd confess to Indian, Pakistani, or even Russian money – though with the withdrawl already well advanced, they locals weren't keen on that either.

However, if 4 cents was what it took to get room service, so be it. Also made sure he'd get clean dishes, rather than just new food on old plates. He'd seen that too.

He was up early because it was another day of waiting, and when one waits in a nation that is both Soviet, and South Asian, you had better get an early start on it it
He gobbled down the food. You don't buy food in Kabul, you rent it. On the way out he grabbed some vegetables and yoghurt in flatbread, and trundled on his way to the street car stop. He caught the first one, which was only 15 minutes late, and sat down. He was always looking around, but there was only the same morning people who had been on that same street car since his first day, most of them every day. He rode to the police station that handled jail requests. The first day they pretended not to understand his Russian, he bribed the person at the window with Western cigarettes, and amazingly his Russian improved. The second day they pretended that they were not the right place to go. He bribbed the person at the window with a pair of nylons and some lipstick. Amazingly it turned out this was the place to go, but they had no idea what he was talking about. The third day they pretended that they had never heard of the person he was talking about, nor anyone meeting his description. He bribed them with a Sony Walkman, and amazingly, they told him the could find him the next dayThe fourth day the building turned out to be closed. He bribed the guard with a pack of Marlboros, and he was let in. Once in he was told to leave. He sat down and began distributing western playing cards. They told him to wait. Later, he was told that the office would be closed again in a week, and he would be able to talk to a commissar who could help him, but that he would have to wait every day, so that no one would know what special treatment he was getting.

So every day he waited, passing the day playing solitaire, writing notes on a small pad with a cheap pencil he had acquired in Pakistan. This was Day 10. Tomorrow the office would be closed, and he wondered what he was going to have to pay to jog their memory of the promise of a weak ago. He was thus, surprised to see a person come out of one the offices not long after his arrival, while the walls were stained with morning light.

“You are the visitor?”

“There are many vistors. I am looking for a friend. I am sure he is in jail in Kabul, and I came to see what I could do.”

“Yes, he's in bad shape.”

“I can imagine. Can you take me to him.”

“Yes, but you have to buy food and bring water for him.”

He looked blankly.

“Go hurry, come back in an hour, but go behind the back. There will be a truck. Don't let too many people see you.”

He ramped out, hit the market for fresh food, and dried meat, bottled water. He made the truck. It only cost two packs of cigarettes to get on board, the soldiers pulling him on laughing. They smoked the undented Marlboros as they bumped along to the edge of the sprawling city of more than a million. It seemed to go on and on, through roads that were clogged with animals, carts, trucks, pedestrians, and even motorcycles.

Finally they left the back streets and headed towards the glowering gray stone castle like walled fort. It had squat grey stone towers, that were not high, but which had walls that were quite thick, joined by walled causeways that ran around the outside. It was Pul-e-Charkhi, the jail that he had feared his friend was in. Without formalities the truck drove in behind several others, and the gates slammed shut. But once in each truck was searched. He surveyed the inside, most of the clutter of stone looked old, though there were a few new tile and concrete soviet buildings. But in the main, the dust on the ground, the They reached a building which had iron bars in the windows, and was clearly the main entrance. With a slight shock, he realized that it had been built of red brick by the British, lord knows how long ago. It had been a jail since gaslamps. He reached the door, but let himself flow in with the soldiers. No one stopped him until he was into the hall cum antechamber.

“You the American?”

He flushed, he had never said he was, and his cover was not as an American.

“If you want my dollars.”

“Your friend is very sick. He might not make it.”

D'oh. They hurried things up because if he died they would not get anything.

“I want to see him.”

“I don't know where he is.”

With a heavy sigh he took out a C note. He ripped it in half and gave half to the guard.

“I want to see him and talk to him. When I leave, you get the other half that.”

The guard pushed aside his fellows. Clearly he wanted to keep the windfall.

“I can walk out and I will just tell his family he is dead, and that people will try and defraud them.”

“I get him. I get him.”

Speaking English after three weeks of not letting himself utter a word felt like taking a metal mask off.

He was led into a back maze of small rooms with bars across them. Finally he reached a cell where an emaciated figure clothed in a white cloth and wearing only ragged sandals.  He almost called out his friends real name. He stopped himself.


“Russian, use Russian.”


His friend let his head roll over.

“Open the door. It is unlocked.”

Ah. Yes. Where is he going to go?

The door swung inwards, creaking loudly, and he walked in, dropping the nap sack filled with food.

“I brought food.”

“Listen. I need you go to a man, and get Pen.”


“Yes. I know the man to go to.”

“No need. I have some.” He took out the full course that he had been issued, and handed it over.

“I need the needles. I won't digest that.”

A few moments of fishing brought out the self stabbing needles.

“I have these.”

“That's good.”

“Leave the food and the water.”

“We will get you out of the wilderness, Jacob.”

“I know you will. But you need to wait to get me out.”

“No worries about that, Jacob, just seeing you was the work of almost two weeks.”
“It will go fast when it is time. You just need to bribe the right person, with the right bribe.”

“I don't know how to do these things Jacob.”

“There will be a station chief, he will help you. I will tell you how to get to him.”

“Why didn't he come.”

“And burn himself?”

“Why didn't he send someone?”

“He had you sent for.”

“Why not someone local?”

“And burn them?”

“But won't I by going to him.”

“You'll go to a well known expat who sells opium.”


“That's why people come to this hole. They are addicts. And it flows like water here.”

“I'm an amateur at this. You seem like the professional already.”

“Who is going to walk out of here at the end of this conversation.”

A that moment his friend finally got the energy to stab himself with the needle. There was a wince as his almost skeletal frame shook with the pain.

He dropped a bandage. On it, written in Russian, was an address.

“Do you have a cover?”

“Go to the second one. They know I am an American, and they guess you are too. Have you been with any Americans?”




“They will want to know you have dollars.” His friend coughed. “Who ever chose the Russian cover was being foolish. No reason not to be an American here. We funded their revolution.”

“We sent planes with weapons, and didn't want anything.”

“Yes. The filled planes flew in, and empty planes flew back. Now go.”

“Why use Russian if they know we are Americans?”

“Because they have someone who speaks English listening in, not Russian.”

He's very good. I need to be this good.

No. Better.

How he got out would have made fascinating telling, it involved a massive bribe, dosing a guard with a fatal shot of morphine in an improvised hypo gun, a stolen motorcycle, –with his friend gripped on his back every foot of the way –a covert fishing boat to the horn of Africa, a flight to Athens in an old mail DC-3 which nearly ended with a crash, and then a seemingly unending debriefing. But he would not tell those details here.

The story ended, and he became aware of the intent stare. Everyone else was gone, just the Lt. Colonel, and two MPs.

“You sure this is the same guy?”

“I'm positive.”

“And so 20 years ago you sprang him.”

“And so 23 years ago, I helped bring him home.”

“He was a member of the community then.”


“So they sent you this time because you knew something about why he turned?”

“No. I told you, I came because I knew there was something on the table.”

“Well, I don't know how much to believe, but I am going to wait until the Company representative gets here.”

“That's a fine idea. Let me bleed in peace.”

“You are in a lot of trouble.”

“For closing a leak? Perhaps I am.”

We don't like people meddling in foreign affairs.”

“Fortunately, it isn't your call. Wait for the station chief, and keep me sequestered.”

“You seem awfully hip to be in custody.”

“I've been shot twice in the last day, I have a feeling that custody is the safest place to be.”

The Lt. Colonel turned to the stare aheads.

“You didn't hear any of this. Not one muffled peep. If anything leaks, I'll personally be crapping down your cum dumpsters.”

The two MPs stood up straighter.

“Sir, yes, Sir.”

The Lt. Colonel placed a call for two guards and an orderly. Minutes passed, the Lt. Colonel sat on the edge of the table, and looked at him.

“I don't like you.”

“I'm not in the hospitality industry.”

“You contractors think you own the place.”

“No, we just work for the people who own you, Lt. Colonel.”

 The orderlies arrived. And with that he was slowly rolled on a wheelchair to a truck, driven to the medical wing of the base jail. And left, for all he knew, to rot.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Rendition 6

The First Epistle of John

درد دې څڅېږي له نظره وارخطا دې کړمه
په خوله دې ونه کړه خبره وارخطا دې کړمه
The Picture” Rahmat Shah Sayel

The room was fetid hot, with a small ceramic heater providing the fetid, and the bodies, military, contractor, and civilian providing a boost that curdled the air into a swamp like concoction. There was the rank smell of bandages that needed to be change layered on top of a melange of sweat. Acrid, musk, fox-like, all competed. Most of the bodies were men, but a few were women, two from the local Air Force base, who had crowded near the front.

“So, how exactly did you get out? The fire fight was 150 clicks up-range, into the mountains and across scrub wood. With a limp and a lung shot?”

“The lung wound was very fresh. And the leg wound only a few hours older. We weren't combatants in the fire fight.”


“Yes, the other officer was still with me at that time.”

“But he's not now?”

OK they haven't gotten anything from state yet.


“So why don't you go back out to the fire fight, and tell me exactly how you got back 230 kilometers on the ground, a 6 hour drive on the roads, on foot, in a day.”

“It wasn't on foot.”

“How did it happen?”

He stopped and tried to game out the situation. He could dead end things here, and then hope that either Director Hampshire, or even the White House through Boo would know what was good for them, avow him, and cart him away. He'd be burned as a field agent, and would be back to Dilbertia, but State, or someone, would have the product, and could roll up Jack before turning the corner to the real Patron of the operation, however far that would go. Cooperation, small wins. However he, personally, would be better denying the Director, coming up with his own cover, and then go illegal, without official cover. Then if State, or the Executive disavowed him, it would be better. But if they said he was one of theirs, total blow up. On the other hand, if he kept quiet, and they disavowed him, then he'd be roughed up here by the local security officer – just to prove he was off the reservation – and then Hampshire could have him carted back, and have a great deal more leverage to make sure that he would be completely forthcoming.

Or to put it another way, if both sides in this little game jumped the same way, it was the best case scenario, but if one side played it straight, then, well. No good deed goes unpunished.

He sat, pretending to shake back and forth slowly, as if his injuries were bad. He let his eyes droop.

“Some one get him some water.”

He waited for the water, drank it in small gulps, and then started. What would Hampshire do? She'd betray, of course.

“I was flown back.”

“How? Did a plane just fall out of the sky?”

“No, it was the ultra-light that my target had flow in on.”

“And he just happened to have one.”

“He was an officer who had gone rogue. He was here to sell out.”

“Did he?”


“So why are you telling me this.”

“I'm not here on Company business. I came because I knew that whatever score there was to be made was on the table.”

“So you were here to gray mail him for a slice of the action?”


“Where the proof?”

“I can give you the GPS of the cave where his body is.”

“Did you splash him?”

“I was doing him a favor, the Talib had already amputated his hand and his foot.”

“You sure he wasn't captured?”

“He was compromised.”

“When? How did you know?”

“A long time ago. I knew then, I think.”

“So you knew him?”

“After a manner of speaking. In any event, why don't you get me a GPS to upload to, and you can check the proof.”

“What I don't understand is why an officer would just come out and decide that having his limbs hacked off and living as a double amputee in Kandahar was his best career move.”

“They had leverage.”


“Go check the proof. I can wait, I have nothing to do but heal.”

“You think you are going to get away with murder?”

“It wasn't murder, I was doing him, and you, a favor. He almost certainly had more to say.”

The tent was cleared, and he let himself be shuffled to the brig. They weren't going to do any high impact dental work until they knew where things were. He was also waiting for the diplo attache to arrive and tell them he was off the reservation.

But when they got the body, he'd be walking out, without problems. Because like any good spook, he'd blown the dead man, and told enough of the truth.

John the Baptist, had confessed. Sadly, he was not sure exactly to what, or to whom. But it was inevitable, before he even was John the Baptist, he had been made, compromised, and left on the shelf until needed.

It was 1987, they both had been very fresh faced an young. Neither even out of college. The place was Kabul, and he had been sent to do the simple task of getting an agent of an Afghan prison. Why him? Why then? He had excellent Russian, and could cram passable Pashto in time. He was totally expendable. John, even then, was not.

Egyptian board on books for young people

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Rendition 5

هېر کړه اشنا دا تېر عمرونه هېر کړه
باده درنیسه تېر غمونه هېر کړه

To a Friend” Solyman Laeq

“Hello Dig.”

“I did not expect to ever hear you again.”

“Can't keep a hood man down.”

“This is not a social call.”

“Well, it is, no one knows the social workings of the village the way you do.”

He could imagine the flutter of her eyelids, taking, but not placing any weight in, the compliment.

“And how can I help my friends over at State.”

“I'm investigating,” he paused and began to spin out the story he had organized for the occasion, “a possible breach, or misuse of, INR facilities associated with a routine rendition.”

“Do you have the case number?”

“Yes, but I need to read it to you, the facilities here are archaic, and don't have a secure digital line.”

“Your up.”

Her computer must be fast. She's at Langley now.

He read the identifying information.

“I have it up.”

“I need what you can give my on the originating cases.”

“Most of it is not for your ears.”

“I am going to find out about most of it. Tell me what you can so that I am not pounding sand.”

He knew that Dig would be able to give him everything that was available, and in such a way as to point to what was not. Dig was the best intelligence writer that Langley had. Perhaps ever.

“DIA originating case, Company resources involved. Rendition of Subjects. One Iraqi national, one Afghanistan national, one dual citizen United States-Pakistani national.”


“Three. Two were subject to enhanced interrogation, one being held without questioning.”


“Two are subject to indefinite detention. The third is not need to know.”

“Any background you can give me?”

“I can route background by diplomatic drop to your next authorized location.”

“Please do so.”

“Scheduled arrival is 24 hours.”

“Alright, knowing what you know, because I am sure you see more than I do.”

And probably have absorbed half of it just scanning the files.

“I can't confirm that, Avery.”

“No. But I am proceeding on that assumption. Assuming the information you have at your disposal, if I were investigating breach of INR facility Damascus, what should I be asking about.”

There was a long hang, but not awkward. He could hear Dig's mind sort through what was available to him, looking for a key word that he had access to.

“As a friend, I would say, you would want to talk about Rafah.”

“Thank you Dig. What else would you advise me to ask about, as a friend?”

“Spring. I would talk about Spring.”

“Spring in Rafah?”

“No, I don't think that Rafah is a spring, but it might be a source. Or a destination.”

“Thank you, Dig. And what do I need to know about executive involvement.”

“Oh, they are very involved.”

“Process or outcome?”

“You know that One is always interested in the process.” There was a slight emphasis on the “w” sound of one, that indicated that she meant the President.

He could visualize her round face, and shock of white hair, the way it would be animated as her eyes played over the screen and she worked to pry loose secrets for him.

“Is Boo interested in the process?”

“Yes, Boo is one of the people interested in the process.”

“One of the people?”

“Yes. One of the people.” Meaning that he was reporting directly to the President, through the National Security Advisor.

“Is he interested in the product?”

“No, he's not interested in the product.”

A sound like an old style cash went off in his head. He was being sent out, as some kind of cover up.

“Is the Company interested in the product?”

“The Company is interested in the product.”

Probably burying the product.

“And is DIA interested in the product?”

“DIA has a full dance card.”

Meaning they wanted Jack.

“Is there any involvement from other interested parties?”

“None in the community, and none in the family. No other friendly consumers.”

Meaning no US or NATO intelligence.

“Other potential parties?”

“Green door on that one.”

“How green?”

“Flying colors.”

Islamic nations, while also saying she wasn't supposed to say that. A green door is information that has been restricted. But the flag is definitely a reference to the green flags.

“Other than myself, is there anyone throwaway that I should know about.”

“That's your ears only.”

“Send by diplomatic drop.”

He looked over at the case officer. She didn't flinch, which meant her blood was ice cold, or she didn't get the reference: specifically, that she was considered an expendable asset on this assignment.

“Anything else that would be helpful, Dig?”

“Ask your case about Leon Panetta's plaque.”

He shook his head.

“You are too swift for me.”

“You need to take some time off. I remember you liked to vacation near Santa Cruz and especially Monterey.”

“Yes, thank you Dig. I'm sure I could use some refreshment.”

“I have to go now. Tatatilnexttime.”

“TTNT Dig.”

He hung up the phone.

“You should expect travel orders.”

She shook her head and looked at him blankly.

“You attended the Defense Language Institute.”


“Which languages do you have?”

“Pashto, Dari, Farsi. I did the Indo-Iranian track. What is this with Panetta, he is going to be SecDef?”

“He's also DLI Hall of Fame.”

“She told you to ask me.”

“Because you are going to be much closer to the heat than you expected.”

She looked at him, and then her Blackberry buzzed. She checked it, and began scrolling through menus and information.

“You are right. They are routing me to Damascus to keep close eye on the case.”

He nodded.

“I am sure we are on separate planes. We will have to catch up in Damascus.”

She swallowed.

“I'm not supposed to be in the field.”

“Nor under it, I hope.”

She swallowed.

“I'm scared.”

“You should be. This is Charlie Foxtrot.”


“I really hope that hasn't fallen out of currency.”

She looked at him.

He mouthed “Cluster Fuck.”

She looked at him.

He stared back and without a trace of pity intoned:

“It is time to put childish things away.”