Frederick Harrison Novels


An Opaque War

a novel by Frederick Harrison

Copyright 2007 by Frederick Harrison




The hotel room in Karachi was so dimly lit that the men sitting at the small table could barely be seen, wreathed as they were in dense tobacco smoke.  There were three of them, two young with jet black hair and beards that were holding droplets of sweat glistening in the light of the single bulb that hung overhead.  The third man was much older; his hair and beard were streaked with gray, and he wore an Afghan-style headress.  All were wearing dishdashas, loose-fitting gowns designed to accommodate the endless heat.  The older man was speaking, the others listening attentively.

            They did not seem to hear the first noises at the door, but then it crashed open and six uniformed security policemen stormed into the room and were quickly upon the men, throwing them to the floor and kneeling on their backs while binding their hands.  This was done so quickly and efficiently that the two additional men following behind had only to stand by and watch.  They were not in uniform, but dressed all in black and wearing ski masks.  Finishing, the officer in charge turned to them and said, in English: “We will take them to the bureau and see what we have caught.”  It was said as a statement, but its tone requested concurrence.  One of the men nodded, and the captives were hustled out of the room.

            When they were gone, both men immediately tore off their masks.  Underneath, their faces were bathed in sweat, hair plastered flat against their skulls.

            “I hate these fucking masks,” one of them, called Sid, complained.  “You would think they could afford to provide us with something more suitable to the climate.  But, instead, they buy these woolen things from a sporting goods catalog.”

            The other man, whose name was Jed, nodded sympathetically, and began looking around the sparsely furnished room.

            “It’s in the nature of the business,” he replied.  “There’s lots of money and attention for things that seem big and nothing for the little things that really matter to the grunts on the ground.  I’ll tell you what, though.  Next time we give a couple hundred K to some warlord for god-knows-what, we’ll slip him some extra and get him to order us some better masks on the Internet.”

            Jed pulled a canvas bag from under the table at which the three men had been sitting and dumped it on the table.  Bundles of used U.S. banknotes fell out, along with a satellite telephone handset.

            “Shit,” his partner exclaimed.  “There’s got to be fifty grand here.  There’s more to these guys than we suspected.”

            “The bag probably belongs to the older guy,” Jed reasoned.

“The other two looked like they’re renting the clothes they’re wearing.”  He began searching the room more carefully.

            “Did you notice anything unusual about him, specifically at the time the cops were manhandling him and his dishdasha got pulled up around his waist?”

            “I’ve always wondered what they wear under those things,” Sid replied, “but I don’t think I noticed anything unusual.  Did you see something?”

            Jed and Sid were members of CIA’s Clandestine Service assigned to the Agency’s Karachi station.    They had known one another, on and off, for many years under a number of different field names, and were both entering the twilight of long careers.

            “Did you happen to notice the long scar on his left knee?” Jed asked.

            “No.  What about it?”

            “I’ve seen one like it before. It’s unusually long and curves around his kneecap.”

            “Where would you have seen something like that?”

            “In the files at Headquarters,” Jed replied.  Last home assignment, I worked in the AGWOG.”

            “The what?”

            “The Al-Ghabrizi Working Group: about a dozen analysts dedicated to finding out all there is to know about Anwar al-Ghabrizi and following him until he is killed or captured, which seems like never.”

            Sid was incredulous.  “You think this threadbare jamoke is al-Ghabrizi the kingpin of the international terrorist movement.   You’ve got to be out of your fucking mind!”

            “I don’t really think he’s al-Ghabrizi, but that scar is interesting.”

            Sid appeared mollified.  “If you were even to mention his name in an EMail back to Headquarters, all hell would break loose.  You know how hard up they are for some good news from this area.”

            “I know,” Jed replied.  “Let’s go over to the police station and see what the Paks are planning to do with these guys.”  He took a final look around, picked up the canvas bag with the money and the telephone, and shut the door behind them.


            The small, windowless lounge was stifling hot, a slow ceiling fan struggling against the heavy air.  Jed and Sid, sprawled across worn waiting room chairs, had been there for almost five hours.  Once, Sid had dozed off and rolled off his chair onto the floor with a crash loud enough to bring the desk officer in from the outer office.

            “I hate this fucking business,” he announced.

            “So you are always telling me,” Jed responded, annoyed to have been awakened by Sid’s fall.

            “They pay us shit to spend our lives waiting around in places like this for things that never happen and people who never show up.  I’m fucking tired of it.”

            “So why do you keep doing it?  If you like so much being out here at the ass end of nowhere, you could become a contractor and make almost three times what the Agency is paying us.”

            “I’ve been thinking about that more every day,” Sid admitted.  “But, I’ve got only six years to go until I can retire.  While I’m sitting around in a sweatbox like this, I’m not someplace where I might get my ass shot off.”

            “It would be a lot more bearable, if we could do something clearly useful every once in a while,” Jed observed.

            Sid looked at him sharply.  “You’re not thinking about that al-Ghabrizi shit, are you?  Forget it!  You open up that can of worms and we will get dumped on by Headquarters for the rest of our careers.”

            “Yeah, but what if it is him.  It could mean promotions maybe, and cushy jobs back home.”

            Before Sid could respond, the Security Police major in charge of the station came into the room.

            “I’m sorry for the delay, gentlemen, but we had to check the suspects’ papers and interrogate them.  The two young ones have Egyptian passports and claim to be just passing through Pakistan on their way home.  The older man has Afghani papers.  Although we suspect they are terrorists, we have no specific evidence of it, and they are foreign nationals.  So, unless you gentlemen wish to take custody of them, we will release them until a hearing before the magistrate next month.”

            “They’ll be long gone by then,” Jed observed.

            “That sometimes happens,” the Major admitted.

            “Let them go, Jed,” Sid argued.  “What they could know is not worth bothering with.  The young ones are just kids, and the old guy looks too worn out to be anything.”

            Jed thought for a moment, then turned to stare at Sid.   “We’ll take them,” he said.  “If you would be kind enough to hold them until transportation can be arranged, we would appreciate it.”  Sid saw the look on Jed’s face, and said nothing.  Jed was Chief of Station.


            The plane, a Gulfstream with nondescript civilian markings, made regular courier runs between Karachi and Bagram Airfield west of Afghanistan’s capital Kabul.  In addition to mail and supplies, the plane carried a strange mix of passengers, ranging from diplomats to military personnel, to suspicious looking civilians, to shackled prisoners wearing now-tattered dishdashas and bags over their heads.  Jed checked on them as the descent into Bagram began.

            “You’d better stop going back there to stare at that guy’s knee,” Sid laughed.  “When he turns out to be a highly respected clergyman, he could accuse you of being a pervert.  What are you going to do with them?”

            “We’ll have our own interrogators go over them.  And, I’m going to ask Headquarters to fax me the picture of the scar from al-Ghabrizi’s file.”

            “Is it a photo of the actual scar?”

            “Unfortunately, not.  As I recall, it’s a drawing of the scar made from memory by an Agency source, a family doctor, I think.”

            “Shit!  That ain’t what you would call prima facie evidence.”

            “I know, and I’m beginning to have second thoughts.  You are probably right about the reaction from Langley, even though I intend to weigh my message down with caveats.”

            “While you are having your second thoughts,” Sid said cooperatively, “I’ll figure out how we get rid of these guys, if we decide not to do anything with them.”


An Opaque War
Paperback - 313 Pages - $12.95 



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