Home of Author Herbert Grosshans. Science Fiction with a dash of Erotica
Web of Conspiracy, Book Two
Web of Conspiracy
Traitors and Patriots
It was thirty-seven degrees centigrade when the seven men and one woman climbed out of the plane. The heat hit them with full force, and before they had taken half a dozen steps, Jeff Chartrand could smell the dust in the dry air. He was tired after the long flight and wanted to take a bath and sleep for the next few days, but he knew both things would be something denied to him.
Colonel Settler turned out to be a short, heavyset man with a bushy mustache. If it weren’t for the US army uniform, he could have been mistaken for an Iraqi.
He and two dust-covered soldiers carrying automatic weapons met the eight people and, without much ado, they hustled them toward a metal building, which seemed to serve as headquarters.
Before they entered the building, Jeff looked back to see the plane being unloaded by a group of soldiers. He didn’t envy them. Working in this murderous heat was surely no easy task.
The Colonel took them into a small room. The air was hot and sticky inside the building. A single bulb hung from the ceiling, probably powered by a generator. Obviously, there was no power left for air-conditioning.
Colonel Settler must have detected Jeff’s discomfort and chuckled. “This is not the Ritz, as you may have noticed. I’d offer you something cold to quench your thirst, but the water is not fit to drink and our fridge broke down.”
He took a seat behind a metal desk and pulled out a thick envelope. Handing it to Jeff, he said, “Here are your orders, Lieutenant Chartrand, and the latest information we received from our spies. How correct it is, we don’t know. It also contains a map of Baghdad and the surrounding region, pinpointing checkpoints and problem areas.”
He chuckled. “Of course, all of Iraq is a problem area. There are no safe havens anywhere. Once you leave the base, you’re on your own. If things get hairy, don’t expect any help from us. Officially, you are not here.”
He looked at Kalila. “Lieutenant Ahmed, this is your country and we have no jurisdiction over you outside this base and we cannot offer you any protection. I understand you are expecting to be contacted by your superiors?”
She nodded. “Actually, I will have to contact them. They do not know I am here.”
“I know I can’t command you to follow my request, but I would suggest you do not reveal your real reason for coming back right now. You cannot trust anyone, not even your own people. Once this mission is over, you can do whatever you want, but I don’t want you to put our men in danger.” Colonel Settler twirled his mustache. “I understand you have a personal stake in this?”
“Yes, I do. The kidnapped boy is my sister’s son. I have more than just a passing interest in the success of this mission.”
The Colonel looked her over. “I guess I don’t have to tell you once you exchange your US army uniform for your local dress, you’d be advised to cover your face, for you own safety. Things are getting worse every day.”
She smiled. “I am well aware of that, Colonel Settler, but thank you for your concern.”
“We’re about thirty minutes from the outskirts of Baghdad. You’ll be taken to one of our bases in downtown Baghdad. It used to be a hotel, but not too many visitors come to Baghdad anymore.” He chuckled over his own joke. “The rooms there are limited, so I’ve put you and Lieutenant Ahmed together into one room. As far as anyone is concerned, you two are married.” He smiled thinly. “I hope you don’t mind. As I understand you two have been living together already in the States.”
“We have, but not as husband and wife,” Kalila said. “And just to make things clear, Lieutenant Chartrand and I are not involved in any relationship.”
“Nothing like that was suggested,” Settler said.
“I have no problem with sharing a room with Lieutenant Ahmed,” Jeff said. “As long as we have separate beds.” His eyes flicked to Kalila, but she didn’t say anything.
Colonel Settler rubbed his hands. “Well, then we won’t have a problem. You’ll be traveling in an armored vehicle and you’ll be relatively safe but…” His face looked grim. “Nothing is guaranteed in this country. Never let down your guard. Suicide bombers can pop up anywhere. Now they’re even using women. These people have no regard for human life.” He gave Kalila an apologetic look. “Sorry, but that’s the impression I have. Many of us have. Why else would people blow themselves and others up like that? What kind of person would kill innocent school children?”
“I cannot tell you that, Colonel. Perhaps people who do not know where to turn because they are so frustrated and have nothing to lose. People who want to make a difference,” Kalila said. If she felt annoyed or angry about the Colonel’s remark, her voice and face didn’t betray her feelings.
“If these bombings and attacks on innocent people would stop, maybe we would leave your country and go home to our families, but it seems you can’t decide what government should rule in your country.” He shrugged. “Not that it really makes a difference. Whatever faction finally wins will make live miserable for the others of different religions. The bloodshed will continue.”
“If you feel that way, Colonel Settler, why do you not pack up and leave now?” Kalila asked, her voice still calm, but Jeff felt the ice in the air.
The Colonel stared at her for a moment, his eyes glazed over, and then he smiled. “Forgive me if I insulted you, Miss Ahmed. I mean that. I’m just venting. This damn heat is getting to me. I care very much what happens to your people, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.” He paused. “I guess you should be going. I’ll have you escorted to your transportation.”
He rose and came around the desk. Holding out a hand to Jeff, he said, “Good luck, Lieutenant Chartrand. I hope your mission is successful and you all come back alive. This war is different from the one we fought in 1991. Be careful.”
Jeff was surprised that the Colonel mentioned the Gulf War. Obviously, he had been briefed about Jeff in detail.
He shook the offered hand. “Thank you, Colonel.” Then he saluted, turned to join the others who were already filing out of the door and following the two armed soldiers.
It had been hot inside the building, but when they stepped outside, the hot air washed over them like a blast from a furnace. Jeff was already drenched down to his underwear and when he climbed into the armored truck, he leaned back into his seat, wishing he had something cold to drink and an air-conditioned vehicle.
Kalila took the seat beside him. The heat didn’t seem to affect her as much as it did him, because she didn’t look flushed. His face felt hot and prickly as if he had spent hours trudging under the burning sun.
Looking out of the window, he could see soldiers walking around in their camouflage outfits, their bodies loaded down with heavy weapons and ammunition. He remembered his time in Kuwait, in the desert, with temperatures just as stifling, but somehow he didn’t remember suffering this much.
He turned around to check on Rob and the other men. They didn’t look stressed. At least they gave that impression.
I guess this war is for young men, not for old guys in their forties.
After their gear had been stowed in the back of the vehicle, they finally got underway. He noticed another vehicle in front of him and another one in the rear. The dust rose up all around them as they traveled the bumpy road, heading east, toward Baghdad.
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