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Posted - 10/25/2006 :  12:52:31  Show Profile  Email Poster  Reply with Quote
Chapter One

April 4, 2003, 2:13am, 55 Miles North of Baghdad, Iraq.

Bursts of light and sound punctuated the night sky over Iraq as anti-aircraft rounds popped and crackled in response to falling bombs. The gunners continued their air saturation strategy hoping for that one lucky shot, a golden BB, to bring down a phantom enemy. The incoming firepower concentrated on a large Presidential palace complex near Lake Tharthar. Occasionally, a bomb found a high priority target amongst the maze of structures. One particular building on the eastern outskirts of the complex drew more attention than most.

The crumbling walls of the massive stone structure surrounded the completely destroyed interior. Still, the bombs rained down on the rubble because the building itself was not the main target. The aboveground shell acted merely as a façade, shielding a subsurface structure.

Deep within the heavily-fortified concrete bunker, a swarm of activity persisted throughout the intense bombing. The soldiers inside knew they were protected against most ordnance and merely paused each time their fortress shook.

A huge, sunken room at the hub of the bunker served as the command center. General Shakir Amin al Duri commanded a small contingent of loyal soldiers and civilian staff from a communications console at the center of the floor. From there, he could see everything important to his operation, including the bunker entrance above him. A rickety, metal staircase led to a massive, steel door complete with electromagnetic locking pins. For now, General Duri seemed more interested in a glass-enclosed room beyond the edge of the sunken command center. He watched impatiently while bellowing orders in Arabic.

A tall, imposing figure, the General commanded respect with each word and every glance. His subjects nervously jumped into action at his every demand. As he grew more impatient, Duri meticulously preened himself, grooming a thick mustache by constantly straightening tufts of the course hair.

The blinds inside the glass room finally opened and Duri glided over to survey the progress of the most important aspect of this operation. Through the window, he observed a bewildered soldier, Mahmud Jafari, dressed only in his skivvies and seated on the surgical table in the center of the room. He rubbed sore skin while doctors monitored his blood pressure and changed out the IV bag. Duri continued tugging at his mustache, but with far less tenacity.

Lieutenant Ibrahim Salih Khalifa al Hashimi, an officer under Duri’s command, said a few words to the patient and turned to exit. Duri fixated on the dazed soldier inside, even as Hashimi approached. The Lieutenant waited a few moments, then hesitantly interrupted Duri’s thoughts.


Without turning, Duri spoke in a much softer tone than before. “Is he ready?”

Hashimi nervously fiddled with his hands. “I have given him his instructions, but he still needs a little time to recover from his sleep.”

Duri, visibly disturbed by the remark, turned and faced Hashimi. “No, he must go now. The Americans are here.”

“But I have only given him his first contact. That is all he knows.”

The General turned his attention back to the room. “That is exactly all he needs to know! Prepare the exit, quickly, before the door is breached!”

The officers working nearby tried to act as if they had not heard the scolding. But Hashimi knew better. He ducked his head shamefully and backed away. “Yes General.” Dutifully, he went about his task, leaving Duri to tend to the confused soldier.

Duri stepped inside the room where the doctors scurried about putting away equipment. Another man in the opposite corner quietly cleaned his own instruments. All of them remained oblivious to the presence of a superior officer. But the bleary-eyed patient watched intently as the General closed the blinds and the door.

Then, Duri raised his Glock 22 sidearm and aimed at the unsuspecting doctor to his right. With military precision, he fired, killing the man with a silenced .40 caliber round to the right temple. Duri swung the pistol slightly to the left without hesitation and fired two more rounds into the back of the next victim. The jolting body slumped awkwardly forward, catching the eye of the third doctor, now standing behind the operating table at the center of the room. The stunned patient froze at the sight of his superior officer aiming a gun in his direction.

The General, moving in a continuous arc, fired one shot over the stunned soldier’s left shoulder, putting a bullet in the third doctor’s forehead. Duri passed the left side of the table, never breaking stride or lowering the weapon.

The fourth and final target now scrambled in fear along the back wall, but had no chance to escape. General Duri’s final prey fell forward into a surgical prep tray as a round tore into his left shoulder blade. The instruments slashed his face and arms while he reached desperately for something to break his fall. As the fourth victim crashed to the ground, Duri moved in and finished him off with another slug to the head.

A final bullet punctured the skull of the second victim, and Duri retired his weapon to its holster. He spared the shocked patient, who had barely moved during the entire ordeal.

Duri acted as if this were business as usual, and approached the soldier, who regarded him wide-eyed. “Mahmud, I am General Duri. You are about to embark on a very important mission for your country. I have chosen you for this operation because you have a very special quality. You have nothing left to lose. No family, and no hope for a career. I know you will succeed.”

Duri encircled the disorientated man, handing him a fully-loaded 9mm handgun. Mahmud accepted, and closely eyed the murderer now reaching in from behind. Duri finished tying a blindfold around Mahmud’s head, then walked briskly toward the door.

“Soldier, do you know the details of your first contact?” Duri asked.

As he reached the door, Mahmud set the gun on the table. He sensed the lights go out and carefully stood.

“Yes, General. But I know nothing else of my mission.” His head followed the direction of footsteps trailing to his right. The silence did nothing to allay his fears. An overwhelming force filled the room, as if the souls of the four dead men had surrounded Mahmud in the darkness. Then, a clicking sound brought the faintest light.

Duri walked through the eerie, greenish glow to the silhouette in the center of the room. “Take two steps forward.”

Mahmud complied nervously. As he entered the aura of light, an intricate, fluorescent yellow tattoo emerged, covering ninety percent of his exposed skin. Arabic writing composed most of the contents. Another click brought darkness again. “Take off the blindfold and get dressed. You will be leaving soon.”

The soldier faithfully followed orders as the bright overhead lights shot on. Duri approached the young man and spoke, this time like a father. “I am truly sorry about your family. Their deaths were indeed tragic. Your father and your brothers were all fine soldiers.”

Mahmud suddenly felt ill, seeing something dubious in this killer’s eyes. After the General exited the room, Mahmud scanned the bodies, all of them bleeding from well-placed bullet holes to the forehead. The scene reminded him of a recent day when he walked into his parents’ home and found six dead family members. Quickly, fear overcame his rage and nearly paralyzed his body. Then, Duri popped his head in the doorway.

“We must go!”

Moments later, they reached the hidden exit in the hallway. A few soldiers cleared away dilapidated machinery, while others rushed fully-armed toward the command room. Pounding noises from that direction could only mean the Americans had found the door. Duri reached up to the earthen wall and unhooked the corner of an ornate rug, revealing the dark tunnel entrance behind.

Hashimi handed Mahmud a high beam flashlight and nudged him toward the opening. He took the cue and brushed hastily past Duri. His shadow quickly disappeared into the tunnel. Hashimi waited a few moments, then started toward the cave. But the General interceded, holding a gun to his Lieutenant’s head. “Change of plans. You stay here.”

“But the Americans…” An explosion, followed by bursts of gunfire, interrupted his plea. Duri nodded at the two soldiers and backed into the tunnel. As they concealed the exit, Hashimi grew enraged at this cowardly betrayal.


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