Authors: Ben Coes
“Death to India! Death to India! Death to India!”
El-Khayab stood in silence, his dark black glasses aimed at the windows. The sound of the crowd could be heard through the thick bulletproof glass. He allowed the chant to enter the room, inhabit the space, its anger fueling a sense of urgency, energy, and resolve.
“Mr. President,” interrupted el-Jaqonda. “The ambassador—”
“Silence,” said El-Khayab, moving his finger to his lips. El-Jaqonda stopped talking and looked around. The room was silent again. The angry incantation continued. It seemed to grow louder, as if the crowd somehow became aware that El-Khayab was watching them from the window.
“Death to India! Death to India! Death to India!”
El-Khayab’s cabinet members exchanged nervous glances, then all eyes turned back and focused on the blind cleric. Tall, stooped, fragile in appearance, El-Khayab reached his left hand out and pressed it against the window. The angry throng outside the window grew louder, it was unmistakable now. As they’d all witnessed so many times before, the energy, the panic, the fever of the crowd, blood in its pitch, entered the room, the air, and the man. El-Khayab seemed to capture it and become it. El-Khayab’s frailty seemed to melt away. His body tremored slightly and the effect was as if an electric current had pulsed from the jihadists outside the palace through the glass and up the blind cleric’s outstretched arm.
El-Khayab reached up and pulled the thick black glasses from his eyes then turned from the window to the large table and his war council. El-Khayab’s hideously scarred eyes were like pools of inhuman green glass surrounded by pink and red charred flesh. But then those grotesque, dead eyes seemed to come alive with momentary fury, shimmering with untold emotion. He looked around the table at his war cabinet now as if he could see and more than a few at the table shivered under the otherworldly stare of a man who they all knew was as blind as a bat. El-Khayab turned back to the window once again, and they all remembered how such a quiet man had corralled the anger and hatred of so many to become the country’s most powerful and feared human being.
After several moments, El-Khayab replaced his glasses and turned from the window. He walked along the back edge of the row of seats occupied by his cabinet. He stopped halfway down the line, and moved to the back of one chair, where General Persom Karreff, the head of the Pakistani Army, sat in stunned silence.
El-Khayab placed his right hand on Karreff’s shoulder, patting the olive khaki gently.
“This is not over,” said El-Khayab, his voice barely audible above a whisper yet trembling in emotion that mesmerized his gathered ministers. “It is not close to being over. It hasn’t even begun.” His voice began to rise, like a preacher’s, the hissing, fiery words spewing forth like electricity through a fearful, awe-stricken room. “This war
has not started!
We cannot reach out and we cannot back down!”
El-Khayab stepped beside Karreff’s chair, to the table, then slammed his fist violently, striking the table with all his might.
“What our soldiers did at Yagulung was shameful, but it was a personal act by criminals. The destruction of Skardu was an act of war sanctioned by a government. The government of our enemy! Whatever is necessary, whatever troops, whatever weapons, move them now to the war theater. One hundred thousand, two hundred thousand, half a million, a million soldiers. Whatever is necessary! The treasury is open. Give Field Marshal Bolin all that he needs. We must fight as if we believe there is no option other than the complete obliteration of India. Anything less will lead to our defeat. We cannot let them,” said El-Khayab, pointing to the crowd outside the window, “believe that we are willing to compromise or accept anything less than complete and total victory over the Hindu enemy!”
El-Khayab, the blind former cleric and now leader of the sixth most populous nation on earth, was done talking. He turned toward the door and, feeling his way along the backs of the chairs, marched out of the cabinet room.
“Why Australia?” Jessica had asked that morning in the hotel suite when he told her he was leaving.
“I’ve never been,” Dewey had said.
Dewey smiled to himself as the memory came into his head. He had to smile; he couldn’t imagine a more ironic memory; the thought of Jessica, naked on soft pima cotton sheets, the sounds and lights of Manhattan thirty-three stories below, contrasted with the present—sharp rock face, relentless rain, darkness—the shitstorm he was now knee-deep in.
He had little to guide him down the rock face. On the way up, his fingers provided the direction, feeling for rock to grasp. On the way down, he had to rely on the hard soles of his boots. He lost count of the times his footing gave way and he was forced to catch himself with his raw fingers.
“Okay I understand,” Jessica had said that late afternoon in the luxurious suite at the Carlyle Hotel, as she rested her head on his chest and they shared a glass of champagne. “How long are you going to be away?”
“I don’t know.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Travel. Maybe work a little.”
“So, you’re … leaving, it sounds like?”
For some reason, clinging to the rock in the pitch-black, in the driving rain, he smiled at the memory. They’d taken the Acela to New York City one rainy Friday morning before he left for Australia. He would never forget that weekend in Manhattan. It seemed so long ago. Walking to the Guggenheim with the patting of raindrops on the big green umbrella. The cab rides, holding hands in the back seat, her body tucked against his muscled frame. The intimate table in the dimly lit Café Carlyle, listening to the French chanteuse whose name he couldn’t pronounce, unable to look away from Jessica’s eyes for more than a few seconds at a time. Holding hands as they walked through Central Park. And that night, the last night, when they’d eaten out at Sistina’s then practically run back to the hotel, making love for hours. It was afterwards, as they lay there on the bed, the sound of the Upper East Side echoing softly up to the thirty-third floor, honking horns, traffic, energy.
“Come back in, Dewey,” she’d whispered after that, as she leaned down and kissed his muscled chest. “Please come back in. I could say do it for your country, but what I really mean is do it for me.”
“I’m too old,” he’d said. “There are better men for the job, Jess.”
But what Dewey had really meant was: I want to live to be too old. I want to live and breathe when I’m too old to kill any longer and you are by my side and our children are asleep down the hall and we are happy.
But he didn’t say any of it. He closed his eyes and imagined Jessica’s auburn hair. He pictured her body, a photograph in his mind of her in a big, thick terry cloth bathrobe, the Carlyle logo emblazoned in navy blue, peeling it off as she joined him in the shower, her sculpted body, big, firm breasts, so shy at first then forgetting her pride as they stood under the big, oversized showerhead and the buckets of warm water.
“You can have any job you want, Dewey. Langley. You can return to Delta if you want. You can work at the White House.”
“That’s not what I want, Jess.”
Then the real question.
“But why do you have to leave?” she had asked, and in that last word he had heard her voice tremble. He had looked down and seen tears on her cheeks.
Dewey hadn’t responded. He had watched as Jessica rolled over and shut her eyes. After a long, long pregnant pause, she finally spoke again:
“Aswan Fortuna will never let it go,” she had said. “He’ll hunt you to the far corners of the earth. You can pretend you can go off and lead a simple life somewhere, but it’s a dream. He’ll find you.”
That was why Australia. A random point on a map, far enough away that Fortuna wouldn’t find him. And if, God forbid, he did, at least Jessica wouldn’t die too.
Finally, as Dewey searched with his foot below for a crack to step down onto, he felt flat, hard ground. In the dark, Deravelle leaned forward and brushed his snout against Dewey’s wet face. Dewey unwrapped the coat and felt for the girl. She was colder than before. He lifted the small frame and pressed his ear against her chest; he heard the faint beating of her heart. He reached for the wax raincoat with his right hand and put the coat on, wrapping her inside. He climbed atop Deravelle. On top of the saddle now, he secured the child within the coat, pressing her across his torso and chest, her small head tucked into the notch above his left shoulder, beneath his chin. Dewey guided Deravelle back from the butte, pulling the mare alongside.
If the oval-shaped butte was a clock face, they were at seven o’clock; Dewey knew that to get to the coast, they had to head straight out from the butte at two. He’d have to guess; there was no way to know exactly the circumference of the large rock structure and therefore where precisely two o’clock was.
feeling lucky?” Dewey whispered to the unconscious girl, gently pressing his bearded face against her cheek. “I am. That’s usually a good sign.”
He broke the horses left just as a furious smash of lightning hit. In front of him, he saw rolling valley for miles.
“Here we go, Deravelle,” Dewey said, kicking his stallion’s side, pushing the horse into a healthy trot. Trusting his master, Deravelle began a slow but steady run into the dark unknown.
“What’s your name, anyway?” Dewey whispered as they moved across the wet, muddy valley floor. “I bet it’s something sweet. In fact, I bet you’re sweet. Can you hold on for just a little while longer, sweetheart? We’ll be home soon. Just keep that big heart of yours beating, will you? Your mom’ll make you your favorite dinner. What do you think? Let me tell you a story about my mom. Okay, here goes. One time my brother Jack and I got in an apple fight. We were throwing apples at each other down in the McIntosh field…”
Dewey spoke to her for the entire ride. By his own estimate, he said more words to the little girl that night than he’d said collectively the entire year he’d been in Australia. But the words kept coming, and he let them, stories about Castine, about his brother, stories about Boston College and the football team, the touchdown he scored sophomore year against Notre Dame, Rangers, even some stories about Delta, stories he was, technically, prohibited by law from telling anyone without top secret clearance. But he told them anyway. Eventually, when he ran out of stories, Dewey started singing to the small child.
At some point, Dewey realized that he could see at least a horse length in front of him. He kicked Deravelle, urging him on faster. To the right, in the distance, he saw the faint glow of distant lights. He turned Deravelle toward the lights. As he got closer, Dewey knew that he had found Chasvur.
After a last stand of elm trees, Dewey came into a meadow, fresh cut and wide, which swept down to a large, rambling barn.
Next to the barn, he saw the back of a pretty stone mansion which he recognized from the photos. To the right, near the stables, overhead lights shone down on at least a dozen men, sitting atop horses or else standing in the drive. Umbrellas were scattered about as the rain continued to pour.
Dewey moved across the grass meadow until, halfway across the open field, someone at the barn pointed at him. He heard yelling, and then a lone horse with a rider on top lurched from the gathered party, galloping on a brown mustang toward him.
“Oh, thank God,” the man yelled as he came closer to Dewey. “You found her!”
“She’s alive. But she’s in shock and her forehead is badly gashed. She needs a hospital.”
“Mrs. Chasvur called an ambulance,” said the rider. “It’s waiting.”
* * *
In the pebble driveway between the Chasvur manor house and the barn, an ambulance, along with several police cars, awaited. Dewey moved into the bright lights. At least twenty people were gathered; EMTs, policemen, ranch hands. He saw Joe Sembler, standing next to one of the police officers.
The crowd moved over and surrounded them. A door on the side of the stone mansion opened and a woman with long blond hair stepped through the door and began a sprint, in bare feet, toward them. As she got closer, Dewey saw that the beautiful woman’s face was red with grief. She pushed her way into the middle of the small group.
Dewey untied the coat and opened it up.
He handed the little girl down to the woman, who smiled through her tears. She took her child and embraced her tightly. She shut her eyes and rocked her limp daughter in her arms.
Joe Sembler walked toward Dewey.
“I knew you were looking for her,” he said calmly as he came to Deravelle’s side. “When you didn’t come back, I knew you was out there.”
“Who is she?”
“The Chasvur girl. Their only child.”
Two EMTs stepped through the throng. One of them placed his hand on the child’s neck.
“Ma’am,” he said to the woman cradling her. “We need to move her.”
The woman held on to the girl. She followed the EMT toward the open rear doors of the ambulance, carrying her daughter. At the ambulance, she turned to Dewey.
“How can I ever thank you?”
“You just did,” said Dewey. “I was wondering. What’s her name?”
She climbed into the ambulance. A police officer shut the doors behind her. The ambulance ripped across the gravel and sped away from Chasvur, its red lights disappearing into the black rain.
U.S. ARMY WAR COLLEGE
STRATEGIC STUDIES INSTITUTE
In a small office on the second floor of the historic brick building that housed the Strategic Studies Institute, or SSI, Karl Chelmsford sat staring at the computer screen in front of him. Around him, the office was a cluttered mess; three walls were lined with bookshelves, the two chairs in front of the desk were stacked high with papers and folders. The floor was covered with small stacks of books and files. Behind him, a large window looked out on the neatly manicured green lawns of Carlisle Barracks. Chelmsford, with his bifocaled glasses just a few inches from the computer screen, was mesmerized by what he was reading.