Authors: Ben Coes
“Where to?” asked the driver.
“Saddar,” Millar said in Urdu as he wiped blood from his hands onto his pants. “Al-Magreb.”
Less than thirty miles from the Line of Control, the darkness of evening was punctured by small gas-fired lanterns at every street corner, dangling over crowds upon crowds of Pakistanis.
As midnight approached, Rawalpindi, Pakistan’s fourth-largest city, teemed with noise and tension. War with India raged less than a hundred miles away, at the mountain-ringed canyon near Kargil, India-controlled Kashmir Territory.
They stood about in the humid night air. Pakistani men, shoulder to shoulder, smoking cigarettes, drinking espresso, tea, and chai. Arguing. Next to cafés overflowing with yet more people, as decrepit automobiles and jammed buses blared horns and raced recklessly through uneven streets.
The entire city, the entire country, was on a knife’s edge. The anger of the city’s devout Muslims fueled a sense of uneasiness that seemed palpable and menacing.
Dewey moved through the dark, crowded streets. Taller than most, he nevertheless attracted little if any attention. He walked quickly through the crowded, grimy streets of the Saddar District, the lower-class neighborhood in east Rawalpindi, mostly slums and working class. His eyes surveyed with trained wariness in front of him as he moved.
Dewey had learned long ago that it wasn’t just what you looked like that attracted attention. It was how you carried yourself. How you moved. Tonight, he moved with stealth quietness, cloaked in the unkempt clothing and general dishevelment of a drifter, a freelance journalist, a tourist from the West, a mountaineer on his way to climb K2, a lost soul who somehow ended up here in Rawalpindi. There were many of them floating around.
Saddar was a dangerous place, among the poorest neighborhoods in all of Rawalpindi. But with that danger, that lawlessness, came anonymity and to a certain extent freedom for this lone traveler.
Dewey moved past crowds upon crowds of men for whom the war with India unleashed years of pent-up anger. Sweat drenched Dewey’s shirt as he moved. It poured unabated down his face, down his thick chest, it was everywhere.
He and Iverheart had arrived an hour before, then split up so as not to attract attention.
Dewey’s Colt was holstered beneath his left armpit, a black suppressor screwed into the end of the weapon. It bulged slightly at his spleen. At Dewey’s right calf, his Gerber combat knife lay sheathed.
Dewey assiduously avoided eye contact. Tension was high now, and with tension came suspicion and paranoia.
Dewey occasionally felt the dark eyes upon him as he walked down uneven streets of stone and decaying mortar. Past crowds of men, past restless throngs of student radicals, out smoking, talking to one another about the war with India.
Just look away,
he implored them silently.
I am just passing through. Look away
Saddar’s streets reeked, a medley of stinging aromas, the smell of human sweat, meat cooking on open flame pits. Horns blared above a din of car and bus traffic. Voices were raised louder than they should’ve been. Street vendors competed for space with clusters of men, smoking feverishly, drinking espresso, arguing.
“No, it couldn’t be true!” a man yelled.
“It is,” said another, “and praise Allah for it!”
Dewey knew what they were all talking about. Were the reports true? Had Pakistan really dropped a nuclear bomb on India?
Yes, it’s true,
Dewey thought as he moved silently past the heaving, angry throngs.
You people are within a hairsbreadth of being incinerated and you don’t even know it
As he stepped by street vendors hawking meat and vegetables, past the occasional woman covered anonymously head to toe in burka, past young boys out way too late, yelling playfully at one another, past old men sitting at cafés, the words came into his head. The three syllables that sent crystalline fear up the spine of every illegitimate two-bit dictator in the world.
Dewey glanced at his watch: 9:55
The hour was at hand. They had little time now. Fourteen hours, five minutes. Then India would turn Rawalpindi and every other city and town in Pakistan into a glass parking lot.
The temperature in Rawalpindi hovered at around one hundred degrees, unseasonably hot.
Dewey walked with his head down, trying not to meet the eyes of passersby, finally spying a small yellow doorway from across the crowded street. He crossed the uneven, cracked pavement, maneuvering carefully between speeding cars and buses, approached the yellow tin frame, reached a hand out then pushed the door in. There was no sign on the small establishment.
He entered the illegal pub with his eyes down, silent, trying not to be noticed by the people inside the pub. It was at the seedy outskirts of the Saddar. Unnoticed as he stepped inside, Dewey glanced quickly around the place. Dimly lit, half empty, anyone in there too drunk to notice another scraggly-looking Westerner.
In the back corner, Dewey took a seat at an empty table. The stench was almost overwhelming, urine from the bathroom, which didn’t have a door on it, combined with old Murree beer and wine, spilled on the floors, never really cleaned up properly, no ventilation. It was 10:00
He was an hour early. He sat with his back to the wall. He pulled a pack of cigarettes out from his pocket, lit one, looked around. When the waiter came, he ordered whiskey.
Iverheart walked in and stole a quick glance at Dewey, then sat at a table near the left wall, across from the bar, and ordered a beer.
It was 11:05
and still no sign from Millar. Another ten minutes passed, still nothing.
Dewey ordered a beer; one whiskey was enough, even though he wanted another. He remained in the back of the pub. Iverheart caught his eye. They both knew what the other was thinking:
Where is this fucking guy?
Finally, at 11:45
a tall man walked in, drenched in sweat. He looked like one of the locals, but there was something different about him. His black hair was cropped close. His dark eyes roamed the bar, then met Dewey’s: it was Millar.
Dewey put money down on the table and finished his beer. Standing, he walked through the bar. Iverheart and Millar fell in line behind him as he walked to the door.
On the rough-hewn stone sidewalk outside the bar, the three Americans walked down the street toward an alleyway. They were dead silent, no words.
In a block, a woman in a burka passed by. Her eyes stared out from the dark shroud for a moment too long.
“Whisper,” she said in perfect English.
. Dewey nodded.
She turned, started walking, and fell in line at a distance. After a block and a half she turned into a side alley. The team followed her down the alley. Darkness made it hard to see her. They followed her down a meandering series of sidewalks, doors bolted, windows shuttered.
In a doorway next to a dilapidated garage, they ducked inside behind Margaret, then shut the door quickly behind them. Inside a small, windowless room, Margaret flipped a light on. She pulled her hood back. She was black, pretty, her face covered in sweat, a small, roundish nose framed by a short, curly Afro. She was no more than twenty-five years old. She smiled at Dewey.
“Hi,” she said. “I’m Margaret Jasper.” She had a faint southern accent.
“Hi, Margaret,” said Dewey. “What’s the update?”
“You’re running late,” she said. “We have a hard location on Karreff. So the plan is on, but you need to move.”
“What about Bolin?” asked Iverheart.
“Bolin’s still in the Drass aerie,” said Margaret. “Here’s your cache. I put food, drink, IFAK, in the car.”
Arrayed across the dirt floor were three HK MP7A1 compact submachine guns with suppressors, three tactical vests packed with extra magazines holding 4.6x30MM Fiocchi CPS “Black Tip” slugs, and .45-caliber slugs. Three handguns were laid out, all Colt M1911s, suppressors attached to the ends. Three pairs of ATN FIITS14 night vision goggles. A supply of hand grenades. To the side, a long, thin duffel bag, unzipped, revealing an already converted Desert Tactical Arms “Stealth Recon Scout” .338 Lapua Magnum sniper rifle with AAC Titan-QD suppressor and L-3-Renegade-320 thermal sight, already mounted.
In the fluorescent light of the windowless garage, Dewey looked at Iverheart and Millar.
“We’re watching Karreff from across the river,” said Margaret. “He’s with his mistress. We estimate eight to ten guards outside the apartment. There are two apartments on his floor but the other one is unoccupied.”
“Why were you late?” Dewey asked, looking at Millar.
“They marked me,” said Millar, wiping his brow. “At the airport. The passport held but a customs agent marked me and didn’t let up. He and a backup followed me.”
“Where are they?” asked Dewey. “Did you lose them?”
“I killed them,” said Millar. “They’re in a bathroom stall at the airport. They’ll be found soon.”
“We’ll monitor ISI and capital territory police for any activity coming out of the airport,” said Margaret.
Dewey, Millar, and Iverheart each leaned down and picked up a vest and weapons. The extra grenades and ammo Iverheart stuffed into a duffel bag.
Margaret reached down and picked up a small plastic box, then opened it. Inside were three small black objects that looked like gumdrops. She held the case out to Dewey, then Iverheart and Millar.
“They’re waiting for you,” said Margaret.
Dewey placed one of the COMM buds in his right ear.
“Hey, guys,” he said quietly.
“Dewey,” said Bradstreet. “Are you all there?”
“Yes,” said Dewey.
“How was the trip in?”
“Fine,” said Dewey. “You’re going to need a new delivery man.”
“What do you mean?”
“We were ambushed south of Peshawar. Your man was shot and killed. We had to kill a few locals.”
“Look on the bright side, Mainiq,” Polk chimed in, “you saved Uncle Sam seventy-five grand.”
“What about witnesses?” asked Bradstreet.
“Not an issue,” said Dewey. “Now give me an update. We need to move.”
“It’s just past midnight. So you have time, but it’s getting tight. As we discussed, you need to take out Karreff before you go and find Bolin. Margaret will give you the layout of the apartment building.”
“After taking out Karreff, you’ll drive north. That’s where the chopper is. Millar knows Rawalpindi and is briefed on the location of the chopper.”
“What about India?” asked Dewey. “Are they committed to the time frame?”
“They’re not backing off,” said Polk over the COMM bud. “Noontime tomorrow. You have less than twelve hours now.”
Dewey looked at Margaret. “What do we know about Karreff’s security team?”
“They’re all Special Services Group,” said Margaret. “Karreff handpicked them. These are not security guards or even regular army. They’ve been killing Taliban in the Hindu Qu’ush for the past five years. That said, they won’t be expecting visitors. Before the war with India, we watched them on four separate occasions during Karreff’s overnights. They play cards, smoke cigarettes, and talk. Still, you just need to be aware: SSG is not a pushover group.”
Margaret pulled a piece of paper from her pocket and unfolded it. It was a floor plan of the apartment building.
“The apartment is on the sixth floor,” said Margaret, pointing to a corner apartment.
“On the nights you watched,” asked Dewey, “where were the guards posted?”
“They had three men on the sixth floor, one on the first, and some men in the stairs,” said Margaret. “We’ll be monitoring from a safe house across the river. If we see movement before your attack, we’ll call it off.”
Dewey looked at his watch: 12:18
He glanced at Iverheart and Millar, then Margaret. He smiled at her. “Nice work. Thanks for your help.”
“My pleasure, Dewey. Good luck, guys.”
They followed Margaret through a small doorway, down an enclosed walkway, ducking their heads at the low ceiling height. They emerged into a garage bay. In the bay was an Isuzu minivan, rust-covered and layered in dents.
They climbed in. Millar took the steering wheel. Dewey rode shotgun. Iverheart threw the weapons duffel in back, then climbed in. Margaret pulled her burka back up, then opened the garage door. Millar hit the gas, exited the small garage, turned right, and punched the old vehicle down the thin, dark street.
BENAZIR BHUTTO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
A teenager was the first to step into the bathroom. The boy’s name was Rasim and he was fourteen years old. He’d gone to the airport with his mother to meet his father, who was returning from London. He walked over to the urinals and, as he did so, looked down. He had a strange sensation then, realizing that he was standing in a pool of blood. For several moments, he stared in silence at the dark crimson that covered the linoleum. Then, he screamed.
Rasim ran out of the bathroom, yelling hysterically. Just outside the doorway to the restroom, his high-pitched yelp caused most of the hundred or so people in the baggage claim area to turn. Rasim looked around, his mouth open, and tears began to drip down his cheeks. He saw his mother, who was walking quickly toward him. He sprinted at her, bloody tracks following him, left by his shoes, across the cement floor of the terminal.
“What is it?” Rasim’s mother said as he fell into her arms. Involuntarily, he kept yelling. Then he pointed toward the restroom door.
Two airport customs agents heard the screaming and approached the door. The first, a stocky, short man in a tan uniform, pulled his handgun from his waist holster.
“Don’t let anyone in,” he said to the other agent. “Call Colonel Parakesh and then the ambulance.”
He held his gun out, trained at the door, waited a few seconds, then pushed the door in, weapon raised. He stepped into the restroom with the weapon aimed straight ahead, then let the door close behind him.