NaNoWriMo – Day 14

I watched the grandchildren today, and they were energetic as usual. With the weather flip-flopping from warm to cold to warm to frigid and back again, my sinuses have decided to make me suffer for it. Top that off with a nearly three year old who will go down the steepest slide on the playground 500 times in a row, and my teeth ache from the sinus pressure.

Still, I managed 3,366 words after the kids went home, and I’m now over the 70,000-word milestone. I finished Chapter 25, Kabul Redux, and began Chapter 26, Helpful Circumstances. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 26:

Kabul seemed looser than when Mai had been here a few weeks before. The burqas were still in abundance, but knots of women walked the streets together without male escorts, headed for the newly opened stores and the open-air markets, and there was progress in that. The Russians, allies again, had arrived and set up an enormous pre-fab field hospital, and Mai and her team passed a long line of old men, women, and children waiting for antibiotics and vitamins.

The humanitarian arm of the U.N. had set up a relief office in an old warehouse, along with the Red Cross and the Red Crescent. Another line, longer than for the hospital, snaked around several city blocks, and they saw people leaving with boxes of food. Yet, there was optimism in people’s faces. They no longer slunk around, eyes on the ground, but walked or ran about with ebullience. Mai thought it too soon, but it was Salim who voiced it.

“They think because the Taliban have left Kabul, the war is over,” he said.

“True,” Mai replied, “only battles have been won, and there are others to fight. Some are too stupid to realize it.” She looked at O’Keefe. “Might want to include that in your first report.”

“Definitely,” he said, smiling.

“We are not far from my sister’s,” Salim said. “She will have tea and some food.”

“I’m sure she has little to spare,” Mai said.

“When we returned to Kabul, I made certain she got re-provisioned,” Salim said. “She is my oldest sister, from my father’s first wife, who died. She and her husband are both lawyers, but the Talibs wouldn’t let her work. Her husband didn’t want to practice the Taliban form of law. She would be honored to give us refreshments.”

“Then, we won’t disappoint her,” Mai said. “Lead the way.”

“And, enshallah, perhaps woman to woman, she can succeed where I have failed in getting you to understand how to cover your hair,” Salim said, his eyes brightening with his joke.

No matter how well she started out with the keffiyeh covering her hair, it took only minutes for it to slip and show more than she should. Keeping it covered would help her credibility when they dealt with sector elders.

“I’ll never be a good Muslim woman, Salim. Surely you know that by now,” she said.

“Oh, but you are a legend,” he said. “The woman who fights like a man, the wife of Saradi.”

“A legend in my own mind, maybe,” she replied. She didn’t know which she was more uncomfortable with—being a woman who fought like a man, or Saradi’s wife. “Why don’t you mind taking orders from a woman?” she asked Salim.

“Well, you have never met my mother—she is far worse than any drill sergeant I ever had. She has all my brothers and brothers-in-law hopping. And, of course, Mohammed, may he be blessed, had a favorite wife who led armies for Islam. That is the history the Taliban are too afraid to accept. Women are the other half of the world. Where would we be without them?”

“I’d be on a boat on the intercoastal or on a Harley in the Rockies if it weren’t for mine,” Hatfield said.

“If she would let you,” Salim said, and they shared a laugh. “Here is my sister’s home. I’ll go in and tell her I bring friends.”

Mai looked the structure over. Like most houses in Kabul, it had a surrounding wall which would lead to an inner courtyard then the entrance to the house proper. She watched him enter the gate, then the rest of them formed a semi-circle, facing out, watching for danger. From doorways and street corners, people watched mostly with curiosity or at least masked any hostility.

“This ain’t a trap or nothing, is it?” Hatfield muttered.

“Of course not,” O’Keefe said. “Salim’s part of the team.”

“Is that our team or the Allah team?” Hatfield said.

“I see,” Mai said, “you’d rather he be part of the Jesus team.”

“Yeah, well, that would make me sleep with both eyes closed,” Hatfield said.

“Dude,” O’Keefe said, “put a lid on it.”

“And you still need to keep one eye open,” Mai said. “I’m an atheist.”

(c)2013 by Phyllis Anne Duncan

NaNoWriMo – Day 13

Lots of errands today, starting with a doctor’s appointment and followed by a run to Costco. It’s important I have my Sobe Life Water and Alaskan Krill Omega tablets. I had a short night’s sleep–I hate going to the doctor–so I grabbed a nap and didn’t sit down to write until about 1500. However, I did manage 2,415 words in a little over two hours. The first total word count came to 66,667, but, of course, I had to go in and delete one word so the total would be a diabolical 66,666. Bwahahaha!

I finished Chapter 23, Recalled, and added Chapter 24, Partial Reunion. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 23:

“I need for you to understand something,” she began.

“I understand all I need to know,” he said.

“No, you don’t. Alexei and I didn’t marry each other for love. Well, I may have had a serious crush, but to him I was just another agent he was training, albeit one he was sleeping with, among several others, but there was no real love between us.”

“You were pregnant. He did the right thing by you,” Kolya said.

“Yes, he was rather old-fashioned in that aspect.”

“No, he was a man, living up to his responsibilities,” Kolya said.

Whatever, she thought. “I’m not going to debate that part of my history with you because I didn’t even know you existed then. Listen to me, please, without interrupting. I was Alexei’s partner, yes, and that came before being his wife; but he wasn’t beyond manipulating me, using me however he could to complete a mission. I wasn’t particularly happy about that then, but as I grew in operational experience, I understood it. He used me to cover up the fact he gave that map to Dostun, and he knew he could succeed because I was at the stage of our relationship where I’d do just about anything he wanted to keep his attention,” she said. “You seem to think he and I had this fairy-tale romance, but we didn’t. I loved him, then I didn’t. He didn’t love me, then he did. He broke my trust more times than I want to think about, but I never once betrayed his trust.”

Kolya gave her a skeptical eyebrow.

“Terrell doesn’t count because that was once and a long time ago,” she said. “Professionally, on a mission, I never once betrayed his trust. Then, I discovered he used me to back him up on that fucking map, and you know and Nelson knew, and Nelson let him do it. So, I’m not particularly happy with Alexei Bukharin right now, but what else is new? Regardless, I have a duty to him, and I’ll fulfill that duty.”

“And that’s all it is? Duty?” he asked.

“At this moment, right now, yes. He’ll get a chance to explain himself, if he doesn’t get himself killed before we find him,” she said.

“That would make it easier for you, wouldn’t it?” Kolya asked.

She wanted to hit him but didn’t have the strength. She settled for pushing him hard enough he almost slipped off the rock where he perched. “Be a shit, Kolya. I don’t want him to die,” she said.

“Why?” When she didn’t respond, he said, “You can’t even say it. Why is it so hard for you to admit you love him?”

“Because,” she began, feeling her throat tighten. She cleared her throat and tried again, “Because every time I do, something happens to damage my trust, and most of those times, he’s the one responsible for that. If I say it, I’ll jinx it, but you need to understand if I lose him, it will kill me. It will, quite literally, kill me.”

NaNoWriMo – Day 12

We had a threat of snow today, but I may have seen one flake. The sky was pretty gray and gloomy, but it was a bright writing day inside the house–5,216 words. I broke the 60,000-word milestone, with a grand total of 64,251 words.

I finished two chapters today, Chapter 22, Ground Zero, and Chapter 23, Recalled. Here’s an excerpt from Ground Zero:

Harzat Ali was alone in his tent when his lieutenant told him a messenger had arrived for Abdullah Ignatsiev.

“Send him in,” he said.

The young man, a boy really, came in, shoulders hunched, his fingers twisting the pakhool he had removed in deference.

“Come in, come in,” Ali said. “What is your name?”

“Rishaad, sir.”

“And you are related to Abdullah or his wife?” Ali asked.

“I am the youngest son of the youngest wife of Tarife Ignatsiev’s uncle, Najibullah,” he replied.

“And everything is all right at the Ignatsiev household?” Alexei asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“Then, why does Abdullah’s wife bother him at a time like this?” Ali asked.

“I do not know, sir. I do not know what is in the letters,” Rishaad replied.

Ali saw his manner made the boy even more afraid, but he didn’t soften his gaze. “Give me the letters,” he ordered.

Rishaad debated briefly between his duty to his family and angering a warlord of Ali’s reputation. He reached inside the layers of clothing and produced the two letters. Ali took them and lay them aside.

“Were you told to wait for a reply?” he asked Rishaad.

“No, sir. I was to return at once,” Rishaad said.

“Very well. My lieutenant will pay you and give you some food. Did you come by mule or vehicle?” Ali asked.

“Vehicle, sir.”

“My lieutenant will give you some petrol as well. Thank you for being diligent in carrying messages for your family,” Ali said and waved a hand in dismissal.

When he was alone, Ali opened first the message addressed to Abdullah Ignatsiev. A short, simple message: “You and Saradi must come here at once.”

When he was a young Mujahideen, Ali had been sent to infiltrate a Russian unit by serving as a translator. He read and spoke Russian quite well and easily recognized the language on the second letter. That one was longer, and he pondered it after he finished reading it.

Saradi’s wife, whose death drove him to revenge, still lived and was, in fact, too close for Ali’s comfort. If Saradi were to learn this news, he would leave to go to her bed, leaving a gap in his army. Ali, who could understand the lure of a woman, better understood the needs of war.

He took both letters to the brazier and burned them.

(c)2013 by Phyllis Anne Duncan

NaNoWriMo – Day 11

First of all, I wish all veterans out there a wonderful Veterans Day. It’s great to see the flags and the good wishes for our vets, but I’m one of those people who think every day should be veterans day.

I wrote an additional 3,576 words today for a grand total of 59,035, so tomorrow’s goal will be to pass the 60,000-word mark. I finished Chapter 19, Fuel for Hell; started and completed Chapter 20, One Standard of Courage; and started Chapter 21, Hopes and Dreams.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 20, One Standard of Courage, and because it is Veterans Day, there’s a veiled political message in it:

Winston Everette had long since grown tired of the routine where he busted his ass to show up at the exact time the Vice President requested him, only to have to wait for Stodden to arrive, always cranky and occasionally inebriated. Today was one of those days.

How did you get this job, he asked himself.

Oh, yes, Daddy—big Republican fundraiser that he was. He’d asked for nothing for himself when the Arbust-Stodden ticket won, but everything for T. Winston Everette, Jr., his only son and heir.

The T stood for Thaddeus, which Everette would croak before using, formally or informally, and the Winston was after the cigarette company his grandfather had worked for and made a fortune from; Everette had dropped the junior in the faint hope everyone else would stop calling him that.

The CIA had recruited him in college as a chemical weapons analyst but he’d been more interested in the operations side. Whereas his father had grumbled at his becoming a “faceless bureaucrat who gets paid shit,” he’d been impressed it was the CIA. Daddy, of course, had managed to get out of service in Vietnam, along with many of his friends, like Stodden, to an extent Arbust, and many of the high-ranking Republicans now agitating for expanding the current war into Iraq. His grandfather had paid a physician to declare Winston Sr. 4F because of flat feet. Now Sr. was the biggest blowhard, gung-ho, and hawkish uber-patriot around. Sometimes listening to his father and his cigar-smoking, skirt-chasing friends made Everette want to puke.

But, then, Daddy’s contributions to the winning team had gotten him the job here in the White House, when he could be going native in Afghanistan and getting his ass shot at, though days like today made him question if it were worth it. He missed his days in the bullpen, working on some problem, developing a strategy, outlining a mission, though one he never got to carry out. His group had been tight, but since he’d made the move to the White House, he didn’t hear from any of them.

(c)2013 by Phyllis Anne Duncan

NaNoWriMo – Day 10

Yes, I’m still writing because even though I have exceeded 50,000 words, the rough draft isn’t finished. Working with some of my writer friends in Shenandoah Valley Wrimos on word sprints, I managed to add 4,630 words for a total of 55, 459 words. I also won one of the sprints, and my prize was a picture of Viggo Mortensen. Sigh.

I worked on two new chapters today, Chapter 18, Heavy Handed Inducement, and Chapter 19, Fuel for Hell. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 18:

“I hear she roughed up a CIA guy in Qala e Jangi,” Dan said.

“Yeah, he fucking deserved it. If she hadn’t kicked his ass I would have. The guy abandoned his partner in the middle of that prison riot and saved his own ass. She could have killed him, but she didn’t. Ask the SpecOps who were there. They’ll tell you the same thing.”

Dan grinned, though it was so detached from his eyes his face looked as if it were halves from two different people. “How many of you are fucking her?”

“I won’t even dignify that with an answer.”

“Then that must mean you are.”

“As far as I know, she’s not fucking anyone, including her husband because she’s here and he’s not. Look, she’s a helluva commander. I don’t know what someone’s been telling you, but our team has scored more kills with fewer casualties than any other team. There are a couple of CIA guys who don’t like that, and I suspect that’s where the sour grapes are coming from. Do I think she should be in combat? I don’t think any woman should be, but reality is different from my perfect world. I have no problems with her.”

“Where is she now?”

“On a mission for the CIA Director,” O’Keefe said.

“What kind of mission?”

“I’m not need to know. Again, talk to Frank about that.”

“No need to get defensive, Mr. O’Keefe. So, here’s what we want you to do. When she resumes leadership of your team, you keep an eye on her and make note of anything suspicious she says or does, any political opinions she might express about the President, the Vice President, or the Administration’s policy. Am I clear?”

“What is this? 1984? The Stasi?”

“I need an answer from you, Mr. O’Keefe. Am I clear?”

“Oh, you’re perfectly clear, and here’s my answer. Fuck off.”

Dan reached down to his side then put a cloth briefcase on the table. “Open it,” he said.

His eyes narrowed at Dan, O’Keefe unzipped the briefcase and removed a box and a small envelope.

“Open the box first,” Dan said.

O’Keefe did and saw a solar-power chargeable satellite mobile phone.

“If Fisher sees you with that, tell her SpecOps gave it to you to field test,” Dan said. “Open the envelope.”

O’Keefe took out a penknife and slit the envelope open. From it he took a stack of four by six photos. When he turned them over and began to look through them, his hands trembled.

“What the fuck is this?” he demanded.

“Your daughter, going to and from school, to and from soccer practice, having dinner with her mother. The mother’s quite a looker, by the way. It would be a shame for something to happen to them. You know, a break-in, rape…”

 (c)2013 by Phyllis Anne Duncan

NaNoWriMo – Day 9

No one is more surprised than I am that I crossed 50,000 words today, 50,829, to be exact. For the most part of the last nine days, I’ve done nothing except write, which the pile of dirty laundry, the dishes in the sink, and the unmade bed all attest to, and the rough draft isn’t finished.

I finished Chapters 14, Believers; 15, Widow Maker; and 16, Undisclosed Location, and started Chapter 17, Words of Truth. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 15, Widow Maker:

“Quiet, woman!” the man said and took a step toward her. Abdullah jabbed the butt of his rifle into the man’s back. He went to his knees and stayed there when Abdullah put the rifle’s muzzle against his head.

Alexei turned to the woman, struggling to keep the anger off his face. He squatted so he wouldn’t tower over her.

“I need to know where the Sheik is headed next,” he said, his voice soft, some pleading in it. Abdullah translated in the same tone.

“I do not know the route, but his intent is to go up into the mountains in Tora Bora,” she said. “From there, he can use caves and tunnels to elude the American forces.” She caught his expression and continued, “The men think we understand nothing we hear. We were in the kitchen, but some of us were close enough to hear bits and pieces of the dinner conversation.”

“What did you overhear?” he asked.

“The Sheik and this Saudi mullah talked about the American buildings, the ones the planes flew into. The Sheik laughed. He said most of the martyrs didn’t know they were going to die, that they thought it was just a hijacking.”

Her husband again told her to shut up, that was apparent no matter what language you spoke. Abdullah jabbed him again with the rifle to silence him.

“Then, he talked about how he knew the buildings would fall because he knew about construction. He laughed again when he talked about the death of infidels. With the mullah, he talked about his plans to leave Afghanistan through Tora Bora and to go to Pakistan. The Taliban are to escort him there and form a barrier between him and the Americans. My husband videotaped it all. There, in the cabinet, is the camera.”

Alexei nodded to one of his men, who went to the cabinet and retrieved the camera. He took the camera himself and placed it in a bag slung over his shoulder. Then, he lay his hand over his heart. “Mother,” he said, “what can I give you in return for this knowledge?”

She narrowed her eyes at him, but her decision was swift. “Harzat Ali is my cousin,” she said. Ali was an Eastern Alliance commander, now in a loose coalition with the Americans and the Northern Alliance and moving against the last of the Taliban. “He and I were raised like brother and sister. He will take me into his household. These two, I don’t care what happens to them.”

She removed her arms from the embrace and leaned forward, her eyes inches from Alexei’s so he could see the conviction in them.

“Make me a widow,” she said.

(c)2013 by Phyllis Anne Duncan

NaNoWriMo – Day 8

I feel as if I’ve run a marathon since I wrote 9,600 words today. My shoulders ache, my wrists ache, and I’ve had a return case of numb butt. The good news is, I should hit the 50,000-word mark no later than Sunday. Of course, the rough draft won’t be finished, though it will be about two-thirds finished.

I wrote three chapters today: Chapter 11, Aftermath; Chapter 12, Enshallah; and Chapter 13, The Map. Chapter 13 is a flashback, from 2001 to 1982, so I’ll include an excerpt from that chapter below.

In death, Sergei looked in better shape than his living brother. Alexei hadn’t shaved in days, and his eyes were ringed in exhaustion. Bloodshot and bleary, they moved to rest on her and registered nothing. Still filthy, Alexei reeked of sweat and dried blood.

Sergei’s body on the cold, metal table formed a barrier between them. She looked at Sergei’s face again. Death had wiped every care from his face, made him look as if he were a teenager. He hadn’t yet been embalmed. Beside his body on the table was a Makarov.

A scene, she decided, from a very bad movie.

“Captain Burke,” she said, “what are you doing here?” Not taking his eyes from her, he took a long drink from the bottle. “And I’m doing fine, thank you, other than a bloody great cast on my broken ankle.”

“This isn’t about you,” Alexei said.

“What is it about, then?” she asked.

His eyes shifted away from her, and he looked at Sergei. “When he was a boy,” Alexei murmured, “he was afraid of the dark.”

That moved her, and she wanted to touch Alexei, to hold him, but she stayed still. “Alexei, Soviet sappers destroyed that cave network today,” she said. He drank again and shrugged. “How did they know about it?”

“It wouldn’t have taken much for them to figure it out,” he replied.

“Not the whole network, Alexei. Where’s the map Terrell gave you?” she asked.

“I burned it.”

“When?”

“At one of our rest intervals. I had the watch while you and Sergei slept. I memorized it then I burned it.”

“Then, how did the Soviets know about the caves, Alexei?”

“I’ve answered that question,” he said. “If you’re accusing me of something, at least be straightforward about it.”

 (c)2013 by Phyllis Anne Duncan

Keep Calm and Be A Friday Fictioneer

Friday Fictioneers LogoAnother short post for Friday Fictioneers. You can probably see from my earlier post that I’m rocking National Novel Writing Month this year–I’ve already passed the 30,000-word mark after one week. (Insert shit-eating grin here.)

I did manage a little extra creative juice for a 100-word story entitled “Sentinel.” If you don’t see the link on the title in the line about, scroll to the top of the page, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, and select the story from the drop-down list.

And tune in later today for another excerpt from my NaNoWriMo project.

NaNoWriMo – Day 7

Thursdays are the days I babysit my grandchildren while their mother is in school studying to be a respiratory therapist, so those are usually writing dearths, until after they leave. Sometimes, they wear me out, and I vegetate before the television. Today, they were very good and sweet, which they are most of the time, so I was pretty energized after they left with Mommy. (BTW, that’s the best part of being a grandparent–giving them back.)

No new chapters today; just additional scenes for Chapter 9, Last Stand. Let me set up this excerpt: Mai Fisher is interrogating Taliban prisoners at a makeshift prison in a fortress named Qala e Jangi. Her technique is to offer them medical attention in exchange for answers to her questions, and she is tending to a young Egyptian man sent to fight with the Taliban because his father, a prominent lawyer in Cairo, decided one of his sons needed to fight in a holy war. Another CIA operative has blurted to the prisoner that he could lose his wounded leg.

Mai knelt again by the Egyptian. “Sorry for the interruption,” she said.

“Is he right about my leg?” he asked her.

“I don’t know. I’m not a doctor, just a passable medic. I’ll finish cleaning it, dress it, and give you a super dose of antibiotics.” She waited.

“Ah, yes, the fee for services part of the deal,” the boy said.

“Perceptive lad. Let me make it easier for you. I could give you to them,” she said, jabbing a thumb toward the knot of American soldiers. “They’ll take their time getting you to one of their mobile medical units, and once you arrive any wounded Americans or allies will have precedence over you. It could be a day or two or more before anyone pays any attention to that leg. Talk to me, and I tell them you know nothing. That way I can refer you to Medicines sans Frontieres, and treatment for you leg begins right away.”

“And the fee?” he asked.

“Your name, your father’s name, the name of the Muslim charity he used to funnel money to bin Laden, where you went to training camp, the names of others who were there with you. The more the merrier.”

“Isn’t that the same thing the American Army wants to know?”

“Oh, what you tell me will go into a report for the intell community, but your leg will already have had proper treatment,” Mai said, “which could start today.”

He closed his eyes and pursed his lips in thought. “He is my father,” he said.

“That’s your leg,” Mai replied. “It takes two of them to be an airline pilot. Tell me what I want to know or take your chances with a U.S. Army surgeon days from now.”

She watched the inner debate still rage. All right, then, she thought, time for the clincher.

“Besides, it was your father who put you here,” she said.

He talked for ten straight minutes without interruption, Salim scribbling frantically as he talked. Mai barely tuned him in; all she’d really been interested in was his information about Mir Saradi.

NaNoWriMo – Day 6

A whirlwind trip to DC today to help a friend. She was a “Donut Dolly” in Vietnam and is arranging a reunion over Veterans Day weekend in DC. I drove her up to work out some last-minute details. I got back in time to write for a couple of hours. Just 2,324 words today, for a 29,860 total. So, tomorrow I’ll break the 30,000-word mark. Woo-hoo!

I added a short chapter today, Chapter 8, and started a longer one, Chapter 9, so today will be another two-fer.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 8, Dead Man:

Once the meal was done and cleared away, Tarife and Abdullah went behind their curtain. This time, Alexei didn’t go outside. He went instead behind Sulimah’s curtain. In the light from her lamp, he saw no trepidation when he entered. She sat up and faced him, smiling, her eyes expectant until they fell on the large duffel bag he carried.

He knelt beside her pallet. “I want you to safe-keep something for me,” he whispered. He unzipped the bag so she could peer inside.

“Merciful God! How much money is that?” she asked.

“A great deal.”

“I cannot be responsible for that much money,” she protested, holding a coverlet up to her chin.

“Yes, you can. I need you to do this for me,” Alexei said.

“Why me?”

“I trust you,” he replied.

“How do you know you can trust me?” she asked.

“I’ve trusted my instincts for a long time,” he said.

“And they tell you I can be trusted—or used?” she asked, chin thrust out in defiance.

“I trust you,” he repeated.

She looked away then looked back at him. “What am I to do with this money?” she asked.

“In the bag is a list of my men, your father included. Beside each name is the amount we negotiated for their service to me. The money is in dollars. Can you deal with that?”

“Yes, but what is it you want…”

“When these men or the family member they have indicated on the list come to you and ask for payment, you pay them the specified sum,” Alexei said.

“Why would they come to me and not you for this payment?” she asked.

“Because the Taliban and al Qaeda will have been defeated, and the war will be over,” he said.

“You didn’t answer me. Why wouldn’t they come to you?”

“I won’t be coming back,” he said.

Sulimah shook her head. “You are Saradi. You have killed many. Why wouldn’t you come back?”

“I told you this before. To make certain the man who killed my wife dies, I will die with him. There will be money left over. It’s yours,” he said.

Anger flashed at him. “Do you think a bribe will make me do this?”

“I ask you as a friend to do this for me,” he said. He saw tears travel down her cheeks. “I’m sorry, Sulimah, forgive me. This was too much of a burden to place on you.”

Her fingers swiped the tears away, and she let the coverlet drop to her lap. “Make love to me, and I’ll do this for you.”

Yeah, pretty evil to leave that open. Will he or won’t he? And from Chapter 9, Last Stand:

The battle for Mazar e Sharif ended with a whimper rather than a bang. It took very little fighting to convince the Taliban there to surrender, and they did. Afghanistan was back in the hands of the Northern Alliance.

One hundred fifty years old, Qala e Jangi fortress was distinctly medieval. More than a quarter-mile long with sixty-foot walls, its northern half held comfortable (for Afghani standards) living quarters, a military operations center, and a staging area. Its southern half was now a prison holding several hundred Taliban fighters who had surrendered at Mazar and Konduz. Their arms lashed together at the elbows, they walked about the open courtyard or sat in desultory groups. Those who weren’t being examined by the Red Cross were being questioned by the CIA.

That same end of the fortress also held a well-stocked armory, well-guarded by the fortress’ commander and self-proclaimed leader of Afghanistan, General Dostun.

Mai thought the prisoners would fare better under American supervision, but the U.S. was currying favor with Dostun and had promised him he could ransom the prisoners back to their families. They had no plans to put him in charge of the country and had to offer him something in return.

The CIA was there to glean intelligence, such as it was, from the detainees, identify any potential al Qaeda, who would be transferred to U.S. bases, then determine if Iraq had had anything to do with 9/11.

Mai knew where those instructions had originated.

In addition to the native Afghanis were Saudis, Yemenis, Chechens, Bosnians, and other Muslims from around the world who had heeded al Qaeda’s call to fight for Allah. The captured Taliban received, as customary, the opportunity to switch sides. Many of them had relatives in the Northern Alliance, and the battle had seen frequent truces to allow safe passage of the Afghani “pony express”—riders on mules who brought letters to and from the combatants. Family was a significant part of Afghani life, and even the binds of distant relations were tight. Those family ties, more so than the obvious American might, had induced Taliban by the hundreds to remove their turbans and adopt the pakool, the rolled-brim beret favored by the beloved NA commander Massoud. Those who hadn’t heeded their relatives’ pleas had died in battle or been taken prisoner.

(c) 2013 by Phyllis Anne Duncan.