An Opaque War
a novel by
Copyright 2007 by
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.
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.
they were gone, both men immediately tore off their
masks. Underneath, their faces were bathed in
sweat, hair plastered flat against their skulls.
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.”
other man, whose name was Jed, nodded
sympathetically, and began looking around the
sparsely furnished room.
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.”
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
bag probably belongs to the older guy,” Jed
“The other two
looked like they’re renting the clothes they’re
wearing.” He began searching the room more
you notice anything unusual about him, specifically
at the time the cops were manhandling him and his
dishdasha got pulled up around his waist?”
always wondered what they wear under those things,”
Sid replied, “but I don’t think I noticed anything
unusual. Did you see something?”
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.
you happen to notice the long scar on his left
knee?” Jed asked.
What about it?”
seen one like it before. It’s unusually long and
curves around his kneecap.”
“Where would you have seen something like that?”
the files at Headquarters,” Jed replied. Last home
assignment, I worked in the AGWOG.”
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.”
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
don’t really think he’s al-Ghabrizi, but that scar
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.”
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.
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.
hate this fucking business,” he announced.
you are always telling me,” Jed responded, annoyed
to have been awakened by Sid’s fall.
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.”
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.”
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.”
would be a lot more bearable, if we could do
something clearly useful every once in a while,” Jed
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.
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.
sometimes happens,” the Major admitted.
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
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
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
“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
“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.”
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
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
An Opaque War
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