It is the only things that holds universe together.
Well... my universe.
A lot of things make perfect sense to me now.
On any other day the events of the last few days would really upset me, it would seem really strange to me that I am quite clearly going to die alone, somewhere in Asia.
I have made my peace with it. It’s all going to be all right, as long as opium is regularly restocked.
I have also had an epiphany.
All the things we think important? Money, power, love, respect, friendship… it’s all largely inconsequential in the grand scheme of life.
In the intricate metaphysical construct full of inherent contradictions, divine logic and a multitude of dazzling complexities that we call existence, only one thing is imperative.
Only one thing matters in the end.
The Turkish army trucks are mostly stick shift.
It is hard to say who was more surprised about me screaming out from the depths of the Northern Iraq headlong into their roadblock.
It’s very easy however to say who recovered first.
The thing about the 101st Airborne is that they tend to react with aggressive competence when surprised.
So I spent the next 15 minutes face down in the sand, trying to explain what I was doing driving a car full of Very Bad Things, through ‘Kurdistan’ while in possession of two sets of documents.
My actions at this point can only be excused by dehydration and desperation. I really do know better. I do. But I panicked. I did. I am not ashamed to admit it. I panicked and committed the cardinal sin.
I told the truth.
The Sinjar jail was surprisingly much worse compared to that of Budapest.
It’s an old, solid, sandstone building that has been used for disappearing people like me since at least King Faisal’s time as I had been proudly informed by Rahman. Rahman has been arrested earlier, along with about a dozen of his closest friends for trying to readdress the ethnic balance of the province. Rahman is 18 years old and, decked out as he is in the Adidas track suit, it takes a certain strength of imagination to imagine him as a criminal terrorist mastermind.
“This is Sinjar,” I am informed by Mike, whose responsibility I had ceased to be shortly thereafter as the pertinent paperwork made me the property of local authorities until I was reclaimed yet again by the appropriate branch of CPA.
Apparently In Sinjar, Rahman is as bad as it gets.
Rahman thinks that I am da bomb.
Apparently my heroism in making myself the human-guided precision bomb has flown far ahead of my own cognizance of the fact. I have arrived to Sinjar Correctional Facility to the tumultuous welcome of Rahman and his friends.
Question: How does a person of my somewhat chaotic genetic, ethnic, cultural and citizen makeup (that combines to pretty much make me the handy-dandy embodiment of everything deeply disliked, in homicidal kinda fashion, by the militant Islam) survive a stay in an Iraq jail?
Answer: Elementary, my dear Rahman. You get yourself declared a staunch ghazi, and an honorable Jihadi against Yankee-Zionist enemy.
I spent most of the day huddling in the corner, feverishly building a fort out of decomposing mattress, smiling weakly at the bearded men who insisted at kissing me on the cheek and clapping me on the back, and generally letting Rahman do all the talking.
I finally found the only other person on Earth who likes the sound of his own voice more than I do.
By evening, things were looking up. I was alive. I was more or less sane. True, I was about to be started on my way toward sunny Cuba and intimate accommodations of Camp x-Ray but, you know what? There are worse things.
And I was right.
And you know? At some point in your life all you can do is laugh. Hysterically if need be. And with a definite tinge of madness, but that’s the only available option sometimes.
I was saved from a grizzly fate at the hands of the American occupiers by my loyal comrades of the local Ba’ath cell.
Well, me and Rahman, but mostly me.
By what ingenious way did we escape the Western stronghold in Sanjar?
Tunnel? Frontal assault? Blackmail?
Rahman’s cousin’s husband let us out. Local head of the civil defense is a buddy of his.
“Family.” He said, looking fairly disgusted. And then smacked Rahman upside the head, adding a number of things in Arabic that I could not translate but understood quite clearly.
As I was sitting in yet another truck, being driven by an excitedly chattering Rahman and sandwiched between two grim-looking comrades in our struggle for the liberation of Iraq (Who, unlike Rahman, looked every inch the kind of person Mike would want to talk to. At some length) I wondered briefly whether I should just open my own veins with my glasses right there and save the yet to be unnamed Syrian soldier the trouble and ammunition.
But then I shrugged and decided that such would just be a silly thing to do.
Besides. There awakened in me a strong although deeply morbid fascination. “What next?” I asked the uncaring sand, outside the car. “What can you possibly throw at me now?”
My mind smiled at me and threw out a couple of possibilities that dampened my curiosity somewhat. Instead I opted to sit very still, so as not to disturb one of the fedayeen who decided to use me for a pillow.
The desert, that stretches hundred of miles, from hills of northern Syria to the banks of Nile and Euphrates is in many ways a defining feature of this entire blood-soaked region. It seems the soldier of every empire came here, to kill and die. Hittite chariots thundered through here on the way to Kadesh, Cyrus’s horsemen and Roman Legionnaires bled here in every incarnation. British and French marched the length of these wastes, and Soviet ‘volunteers’ flew their MiGs miles above it. And now there are Rangers and Apaches patrolling it.
There is a terrible symmetry to all of it, it seems sometimes.
It’s a very pretty place in many ways.
The expanse, of the unending seemingly barren place, by the midday the air seems to melt and it’s difficult to keep your eyes open. The sudden appearance of mountains, hills really, creeps up on you, catches you by surprise. Most of them are barely distinguishable from the desert around it, the others rise, like up like ancient forgotten stone sentinels, snow-capped, incongruous and yet somehow a vital, last, necessary piece of the puzzle.
The asphalt stream of the unkempt and once modern highway launched us through that rocky, hot, bizarre emptiness that wasn’t empty in the least. Bedouin tents sprawling lazily by the side of the road, Camels grazing glancing at us askance and an old man praying outside a ghost Roman city. It was all so very real until we passed by it, and it sunk back into my memories, the back of my mind as little more than a passing mirage.
We crossed the mountains, the road winding precariously along the cliffs and dropping sharply away from under you, usually along the turns. I spent most of that portion clutching the carseat and offering a desperate prayer that Rahman actually knew what he was doing.
Somehow we made it to Damascus where I, the hero of Iraq resistance was of course to be immediately shown off. Shown off to whom? A Very Important Person.
A Very Important Person turned out to be Hisham Bakhtiar. Mr. Baktiar is genial bear of man, with a very thick mustache and penetrating black eyes of a serial killer.
He also happens to be a member in good standing of an organization called Idarat al-Amn al-'Amm – General Security Directorate. Specifically the branch concerned with Iraq.
Mr. Bakhtiar sat there and very politely listened to Rahman describe me as the best thing since Saladdin. If it was up to Rahman I was pretty much the great white hope of the Arabic World. Apparently all was needed is to set me in front of the nearest enemy gathering and let me go. IDF, Spetznaz, Delta? Pshaw.
It was rather heartening to see that Rahman had a truly awe-inspiring confidence in me.
What was that confidence based on remains a mysery to me, to this day.
I stood there and with mounting horror contemplated the fact that any second now I would be recruited in Hizbollah, and sent out to combat the Zionist enemy. Quite possibly while wrapped in a semtex belt - the latest in fashion accessory of every suicide bomber, Hamas Fall Collection.
My desperation achieved truly glorious proportions as Bakhtiar nodded and smiled at us both. “So.” He said, in an Oxford-accented English. “Do you go by Bryant or Daniel these days, young man?”
This conversation was not going to go well. I could tell.
Damascus jail was much better that Sinjar. It was obvious that Syrians took pride in their work. And I support that. It’s important to enjoy your vocation. Even if that happens to entail electrocuting confessions out of people. I mean – somebody’s gotta do it.
Now like any new arrival I had an exciting schedule laid out for me, I was booked for an undisclosed amount of time with Usuf the Lopsided Sadist, his tire and unhealthy penchant for whipping.
I looked at Usuf and I could tell he liked me. He had that look in his eye. The kinda look that positively screams – YOU GONNA DIE, BITCH!
Also he kicked me. And you know. That wasn’t fun.
Anyway. There I was, throwing up on the floor and, spitefully although not cleverly, Usuf’s boots when my savior arrived. My saviour was named Yuri Cherniakov. My savior looked like an extra from a a zombie movie.
My savior made Usuf look good.
Lemme break it down for you.
Back in the 1960s Syrian Baath Party was the apple of Moscow’s eye. It was its protégé. Syria was going to be the first Arab Communist State.
Then it got its ass kicked by Israel, and that idea got put on a nack burner. That did not, however, prevent Syria from becoming the main Soviet clearinghouse of intelligence and espionage in the Middle East.
Now that was 40 years and several regime changes ago. But why let a little thing like a fall of communism get in a way of true love?
Yuri Cherniakov was a captain in SVR (Sluzhba Vneshnei Razvedki or Foreign Intelligence Service). A Liaison from Motherland, cooperating with Damascus on a bunch of things.
Yuri REALLY wanted to talk to me. Broadly about my desertion from the Russian Armed Forces and specifically about a certain laptop.
I blinked at him, trying my hardest to look as stupid as I felt.
Yuri sighed and put me in the wall. More in order to establish a stable working relationship than anything else, I think.
You might as well talk, he says. We have your accomplice, anyway.
‘Oh,’ I think. Dex, you poor bastard…
Andropov told us everything.
… I hate you like cancer, you Canadian putz! You should be here, not me!
Long story short, it seems that Dex’s bestest friend was somewhat dissatisfied with less than regular pittance of a salary due him. It also appears that Uzbekistan is home to the world’s largest uranium processing plant.
‘So,’ Yuri smiled and cracked his fingers with the clear implication that I was about to see my sternum with my own two eyes. “Tell me…”
The thing about life is that it’s full of surprises and unfortunate choices.
For instance if Yuri took me to the basement of Russian embassy rather than that of a safe house on the outskirts of Damascus, it’s quite unlikely that he’d have that surprised expression on his face when Navid shot him n the back. 13 times.
Yeah, Navid is with SAVAK. Iranian Ministry of Security.
He is really upset about Andropov not making the deal.
The desert planet.
It also appears, that in passing between us, Bryant and I managed to destabilize Sri Lanka. It seems a mid-level Indian army officer went missing shortly after Dex was found. An officer with significant Tamil Tiger ties, as it turns out.
Bryant, I don’t know if you’re reading this but… I don’t think that what you’re about to trade away is Russian troop dispositions in Uzbekistan.
Nobody wants the Tigers to get the Bomb, Navid tells me.
Why don’t I just be a good boy and tell him where my partner and the laptop are.
I thought I was so smart.
I thought I was so clever.
I talked. I gave them everything. I even gave up our (mine and Dex’s) mentor and contact contact in MOSSAD. It was hard, but I did it.
Unfortunately, no, I didn’t know where Marat Sokolsky was meeting with Dex to buy Andropov’s laptop.
But guess what.
The bastard is alive.
Looks like I am finally going to see Bangkok after all.