Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Bonus Chapter from The Rules of the Game - the first half of Chapter 6

Bart Doherty looked at Colin Jameson. The two men had known each other almost every one of Colin’s twenty-eight years. From his early visits to his first trip to Minnesota in 1999, there was a mythology of his great uncle. After that, there was a hidden reality. Now, there was only the secrets that the two men shared about their combined S1 realities and all they had been through.
“Do you know any of these other guys, Colin?”
“Well everyone knows the Chief.”
And it was true that everyone did know Anthony Williams by his reputation and his appearance. Williams was a six foot four brute of a man who took on many of his mother’s Italian traits in both skin color and temperament. More importantly than those things, however, he took on his father’s muscular status.
Like his father, Anthony’s size was meant to be protective and there to enable an NFL quarterback in the entire scope of his offensive attack, but also like his father, life had taken him other ways than to do battle on the gridiron.
Anthony’s father’s fate was sealed when his offensive line wavered, and instantly, two hulking Notre Dame players blitzed the University of Texas quarterback into the ground. Normally, this would be a cause for celebration, but both men saw that Anthony wasn’t getting up right away, and they apologized to him profusely as he regained consciousness on the ground.
“Don’t sweat it. It’s the rules of the game,” he said, but he still couldn’t move, so he just waited for the athletic trainers, medics, and the stretcher crew to take him off to get x-rays to determine the extent of the damage.
The damage to this senior offensive juggernaut wasn’t catastrophic, but it was severe enough that no pro team would take a chance on the once great candidate for the Heisman. Instead, Anthony, as he insisted on being referred to, went to work for a trucking company out of Austin, where he never had problems with his back or spine again, but by that point, it was too late to be an NFL great.
Sadly, no Kurt Warner would rise from the ashes of the elder Tony Williams’s failed opportunities in football.
As he got married and older, Tony dreamed many things for his son. Some of these were the fulfillment of his football dreams, but where he saw himself leading a sports team, his son saw himself leading a military unit, so as soon as he could, he enlisted.
For years, this was serving as a US Marine. Then, fate, as it does in many things, intervened and led the man and his fellow USMC sergeant, Samuel Lucas, to Bart Doherty’s attention. Within hours of being introduced, the three men were together within the confines of an exploding Fallujah.
“Gentlemen,” Doherty said as he met the two Devil Dogs for the first time. “We have received word that something bad is going to be going down today. We have credible information, though we aren’t sure where. We only know that it is a deal struck between the Brigades of Martyr Ahmed Yassin and some very motivated ‘accumulators’ to make some bad things go down as a diversion while these looters, if that’s what you would call them, try to ransack certain historical and art collections in the city.”
“So you need a Marine to protect sculptures?” SSGT Lucas asked with obvious disdain for being relegated to a job he felt wasn’t far away from being a mall security guard.
“No, I need a pair of well-trained jarheads to help execute some serious art thieves who are looking to profit on the black market with priceless artifacts of cultural, religious, and historic significance. This will be completely off the record, so you don’t have to worry about some of the legal entanglements from Switzerland that would otherwise dictate the rules of this engagement.”
“So what does that mean for us?” Williams asked.
“It means that you will drop all rank and insignia from your uniforms. It means that you will go in with me in temporary ‘civilian’ capacity. Unfortunately, it means if you get caught and shit happens, well, shit really happens and you are officially missing in action never to return to the fold again.”
“Who are you in the employment of? You look too old to be military unless you’re a four-star general out of uniform,” Gunnery Sergeant Williams questioned the old man.
“Don’t worry. You never heard of the unit that I’m serving with, but I assure you all three of us take our ultimate orders from the President of the United States for this mission.”
“We get to hear GW’s voice?” Lucas asked.
“No, his handlers rubber-stamped this years ago, just in case.”
“Plausible deniability,” Williams added.
“Fair enough, Old Man,” Lucas said, and then he asked, “You got a rank even if you can’t wear it?”
“I did. It was a full bird colonel. Now, I gave that up to get even with the nastiest of bad guys and things that go bump up in the night before they started pulling some serious shit.”
“I wish I knew more, but it works for me,” Williams said. “If these things are enemies to the world, I’m in it to kill it.”
“What kind of serious shit do art thieves get into?” Lucas asked.
“Mostly, desecrating religious artifacts in the name of a different sort of religion, which is a looser term than you might think of. I don’t know if I’d call them a cult, but they aren’t far removed. They believe in the power of certain things in the past in an all-too dangerous way, and the sad part is that they’re right about these special powers that they are trying to accumulate. As they do this, other collectors are trying to get ahold of stuff with special powers in other places. That’s where my group comes into the equation,” Doherty informed the men.
“Like killing the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark, who were on the hunt for paranormal and metaphysical objects,” Lucas added. “I’d like to get my hands on Belloq or Toht. I’d mess those dudes up.”
“Yep. We have orders to shoot these terrorist piece of shits on sight. We don’t need to wait to be engaged. We aim for the center of the skull, and kill the brain. We kill ‘em like zombies. The messier the better,” Doherty added.
“Right through the eye socket, Colonel?” Williams said, making a gun out of his hand and pretending to fire it.
“Exactly. My employers want these guys dead in the most definite of ways. They do, however, expect the artifacts to stay safe.”
“They’re not zombies are they?” Lucas asked.
“Not that I know of, nor are we worried about them coming back to life after death, though we are worried about them bringing something in a chest back to this world. As it never was alive, we aren’t sure exactly how to kill it, so we can’t let it happen.”
“So we’re dealing with real undead shit?”
“Those are your words, not mine, Sgt. Williams.
“That could be a tall order,” Lucas remarked.
“It usually is, but I have faith in you. Your C.O. does, too. He promised me the two baddest mofos in the business. I trust you are worthy of his compliments.”
The two Marines smiled.
“Let’s roll, home skillet,” Williams said. “We’ve got a job to do.”
Driving through Fallujah, there was a palpable air of a revolution waiting to decimate everything in its path when whatever had accumulated into this festering riotous attitude took over.
“Who are these pricks, Colonel?” Lucas asked.
“Ghazi Nasser is the name of the man who is orchestrating everything. Everyone with him is hired muscle. They plan on hitting the collection of a wealthy businessman named Kawi Nader. He’s been buying historical statues and trinkets off of random dealers and thieves for years. He generally seems to care about the materials he’s preserving. Before everything happened with the coalition forces going after Saddam, he had dreams of building a museum to showcase the history of Mesopotamia, at least he felt he could if Saddam ever ended up dead. I’d like to think he still does, but with all of the damage done to this city,” Doherty paused. “I don’t think this shithole will ever be livable again.”
“So who are these people looking to hit him? Private collectors or opportunistic suppliers who want to make money off of creating a museum?” Williams questioned the Colonel.
“Some of the items will be resold for funding, but mostly this is about the Following of Praznok, who was reckoned to be a vicious demon who existed in the days before the Prophet Mohammed.”
“So he was associated with Islam?” Williams asked again.
“Not at all. These guys hated all three branches of the tree. No Christian, Muslim, or Jew was safe from their wraith. Fortunately, long story short, a brave group of men in the Crusades era captured Praznok and were said to place his spirit in a chest.”
“So they’ve got a demon in a box. Well, ain’t that special?” Williams laughed.
“You could say that, but the good news is that they need to have a key to that chest as well as a stone tablet that reveals how to release Praznok.”
“Do they have the key?” Lucas said.
“Not on them or even in this country. However, we believe they are aware of where the key to open the box is located.”
“You believe that?” Lucas asked, smiling as he did.
“I’m here, ain’t I?”
“I guess we all are. Here’s to being a comic book hero,” Williams said.
“I already am one,” Doherty said. “You’re an American hero, but you’re not on my level, at least yet.”
“What do I need to do to get on that level?” Williams asked.
“Shoot a demon’s skull at close range so the beast incinerates into a white light explosion. Then you walk away and live to tell about it.”
“You have us killing demons?” Lucas said.
“Maybe someday,” the ex-Colonel said, smiling mischievously at his two companions.
The Marines smiled at their potential inclusion into Doherty’s ranks.
Twenty minutes later, the men were parking their truck behind a building that had never seen good days, and it was even worse now since it was crumbling under the weight of its own poor construction and lack of upkeep. As a result, it was abandoned by even the filthiest rats of the city.
“This is where we wait,” Bart told the Marines.
“For what?” Lucas responded.
“All Hell to break loose.”
“Then what?” Williams asked.
“Then one of the three snipers on the roofs above us will alert me to Ghazi and his crew coming to that building across the street. At that point, they will start shooting down everyone they can. Our job is to use our M-16s and Beretta 9mm pistols as well as a few well-placed grenades to keep their escape route in one direction, which is out the way it came. If it becomes necessary, we’ll have to call more of your Jarhead friends on the ground to intercept them up there. I was even promised air support and tanks if it came to that.”
“That’s a well-thought out contingency plan, Bart,” Williams replied.
“I’d say so. I designed it myself.”
“So were you a Leatherneck when you were a Colonel?” Lucas asked.
“Army all the way.”
“You should have been a Marine,” Lucas said.
“You should be one of my guys. Well, if you’re as good as your C.O. says. We need people who know how to go door to door and keep their cool when they’re facing out of this world dangers.”
“Where else you been in combat?” Williams said.
“Vietnam, Panama, and Iraq on official orders. All over Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, South America, Central America, and even some unpleasant situations in America.”
“You had to take out Americans?” Williams asked, thoroughly surprised.
“Mostly, we take out people who infiltrate the country. If we take out Americans, they were collaborating with some serious bad things and needed to go.”
“No Bill of Rights concerns?” Williams added.
“They forfeited them.”
“Home grown terrorists do that?” Lucas chimed in while he was still surprised to be looking out at the emptiness of the street.
“Not really. We tend to fight against things with less of an earthly origin or master. Any American conjuring these creatures is considered dangerous and a high-value target that has no business discussing their concerns in a military or civilian courtroom.”
“So do you also hide UFOs after killing aliens?” Williams said jokingly.
“Only once. It happened in a small town in Pennsylvania. Now that was some stuff,” Bart said. “For the most part, we fight against what you might call pagans and Satanists, but these aren’t bullshit kids looking to piss off their parents. These are people unleashing demons after swearing allegiance to destroy all of mankind.”
“I think I prefer crushing the insurgency,” Lucas said. “Marines were trained to be able to be especially dangerous at messing these wannabe martyrs up. We’ll send them to their seventy-two virgin camels.”
“I know you will. That’s why I like working with you guys on missions like this, but it’s also why we need more of you who have the internal fortitude to go to the next level with our missions.”
“Yeah,” Williams nodded, contemplating the thought.
“That’s the thing about Marines. We make the best teammates around because we’re focused on unit, trust, and the mission. My brother is learning that now,” Lucas said.
“Your brother joined up, too?”
“No, he’s a police chief in Blanding, Utah.”
“Where the hell is that?” Williams asked his colleague.
“Middle of nowhere, but since they gave Tony a chance to run the show he moved from our home in Naturita, Colorado, with his wife Katie to have a chance to get some leadership experience. He finally got to hire his own men, now that the old timers retired. His pick was a guy named Littleman who served in the Marines as a military policeman. He won’t regret that choice. Our guys have some serious presence and skill.”
“Not to interrupt you, Sammy, but it sounds like Colonel Doherty’s phone is going off,” Williams said.
“Give me a second,” Bart said, and with that he walked off to answer the phone while both men watched him.
When he came back, he looked into their inquisitive glances.
“We need to get our stuff ready to move. There is word that the diversion is started. People are rioting. They are up at one of the bridges on the Euphrates with a crew of contractors that they captured and killed. Word is that they’re desecrating the bodies.”
Immediately, both men looked at him stunned.
“This is war. The bull is bucking back. It doesn’t want to be sat on. This is how it wins. You had to expect shit like this no matter how much you don’t like it.”
Lucas looked at the men and interjected the remark, “I don’t dislike it. I loathe the hell out of it.”
“There will be time for justice later,” Bart said. “Be patient.”
“I know, but I just think it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better,” Williams said. “Should we be there helping?”
“No. You need to be here. Where we’re going is it getting much worse before it gets better. You have to know this. Nevertheless, what I need to know is if you feel that you don’t have the heart for this,” Bart asked him.
“I’m saying that I want to know how much your promise of immunity comes when I offer some serious payback to these dirt bags.”
“When it’s all over, you’ll be OK to put a series hurting on the Brigade. Trust me. Besides, you don’t have a uniform on, do you?”
The Marine looked at the civilian who had mysteriously come into his life and now changed it so much with such a bizarre mission. Could all of this really be true?
Sammy looked over, and he spoke out, “Where do you want us when we need to give these bastards the hot lead injection?”
“They’re going to be coming for this building,” Bart said pointing again to the warehouse. “Let’s set up in the front room of that building over there. Nobody fires until we get everyone into position to open up on them, all at once. Let their fear of the rooftop triangulation scare the shit out of them. We’ll add in to the mix by gunning the masses down and blocking their escape.”
“Works for me,” Williams said.
“Now grab the extra duffle bags, and let’s hurry. That bridge situation is going to last a while, but it’s not forever. Ghazi will be working out of a limited time frame.”
The men did just what Doherty asked, and with the time that was left, they moved furniture and other objects in the way of the door to block any attack that might come through the door. Fifteen minutes later, the next call came from the rooftop crew.
“They’re about to come into the kill zone. Trucks are moving, and radio chatter is coming on. The streets around here are emptying and quieting down for a reason,” the comlink blared.
“So we’re about to fire. Ready?” Bart asked his men rhetorically.
“When you give the order,” the lead sniper on the roof said.
“You didn’t need to answer. You’ve been down this path before. Have at it. Terminate with extreme prejudice.”
With that, the first of the gunshots ripped out silently through the tense heat of Fallujah. Soon, more of the silenced blasts from above claimed lives in the convoy of trucks, of which there were two Hemmet 8WD troop transports. In addition, there was a large moving truck, and there was a Chevy Impala wedged in between. Under the extreme time constraints, shot after shot rang out rather quickly, smashing into the drivers of the two troop transports and the moving truck, which were forced in the vice with nowhere to escape to.
The scene on the ground was absolute chaos as at least twenty men poured out of the transports and four more ran out of the back of the moving truck, firing upward at the tops of the buildings, blindly, as they fought back to keep the snipers down. All the while, the two men in the Impala dodged through the whole scene to find cover down toward the building they were headed toward.
“Can you see anything down there?” Bart radioed.
“Not in this mess of gunfire,” the radio chattered.
“How about any of the rest of you?”
“Negative,” a different sniper stated.
“I have movement down the street. I think that’s Ghazi and his bodyguard. I didn’t expect to see him here. What’s he risking his life for?” the sniper asked while staring through the scope at the unknown man running between the transports and the car.”
“Do you have a shot so we can end this?”
“Negative. It’s too uncertain with the angle I’m looking from.”
“Well don’t let that stop you, Wilson. You’re a good shot. Light this bastard up.”
“Yes, sir.”
And with that, the.50 caliber shot went off, missing the position the men were hunched in by mere inches.
“Did you get him?”
“Negative,” the radio crackled.
“Well, at least he’s pinned down. Fire again.”
Continued firing erupted. While it wasn’t finding a target, its routine presence scared everyone on the ground.
Nevertheless, despite their fear, the hordes of other terrorists who minutes earlier were set to be acting as moving men were still firing up at the rooftops, however randomly and scattered that their firing was.
In the building, SSGT Lucas looked at GSGT Williams and Doherty, and he spoke, “I’m not sure how long our guys on the roof can wait. I’m thinking it’s time to bring on another avenue of fire.”
“We’re quite a distance from those guys. We’ll be making noise and wasting ammo instead of dropping thugs in their tracks,” Williams explained.
“What do you suggest?” Lucas screamed.
“Let’s move our show up from behind. We can move up a good block or so by going out the backdoor of this place and winding up from the street behind here to sneak attack them there. If we can move back left toward this street and hide behind those broken down trucks, we can relieve a lot of pressure on our sniper team,” Doherty added.
“This will still leave us exposed. Is it a good thing to put us all in danger?” Williams said.
“You got a better idea?” The former Colonel added.
“Their eyes are on those buildings, so yeah. Well, let’s take your plan, but instead of hitting them from the street, let’s get up on the rooftop, too,” Lucas said.
“That will give us a clear opportunity to throw grenades down on them while pulverizing them with a lot of 5.56mm hugs and cuddles,” Williams explained to the men.
“That could work,” Bart said, feeling uplifted by the prospects of the Marines’ understanding of how to control the situation definitively.
“Damn right it will,” Lucas said. “That’s Marine Corps know how. OOH RAH!”
With this, the men proceeded to grab their gear and head out the back of the building. As they moved out the back of the house into the street, which had been abandoned for the entire time that the men occupied the building beside it, they walked out and found themselves face to face with the building that these terrorist forces were coming to loot.
“So this is what we’ve been protecting,” Lucas mumbled.
“It seems so,” Williams began to say.
“Nondescript,” Doherty said, finishing up his sentence. “I’ve got a feeling I don’t trust guys.
The Marines nodded in agreement. At first, it was an inconspicuous feeling regarding how abandoned that the streets were, but for the most part, there weren’t even birds peeping anywhere.
Now, they saw their first person on the street, who was a younger boy who was down the street about forty feet from them as he came out of another building that also appeared to be abandoned. The body of the person in question wasn’t tall or muscular, but it was definitely male from how he was dressed, though his clothing appeared bulky at first.
“Hey, you!” Williams screamed out in Arabic. “What are you doing here?”
The boy turned around to face the men. Even though he was a local who would know the language that was spoken, he didn’t seem to understand the words the men were saying.
“I think he’s autistic. Look at the way his hands are stimming,” Lucas said. “My friend has a son who does that.”
“But what’s he doing out here in the middle of a war zone?” Williams asked.
“He’s not meant to be stuck inside, Colonel. He can come and go as he pleases,” Lucas responded to Bart until he was interrupted.
“No, I’m not trying to be an insensitive asshole. I mean we’ve got no other people wandering around out here. What’s a kid, much less a boy with autism, doing on this street?”
“Let me go see, guys. Out of all of us, I’d say that I’m the most used to working with kids with these problems. I know some tricks that might help him relax a little bit,” Lucas said, immediately walking up to the boy.
“Friend,” Lucas said in Arabic, pointing to himself and then smiling.
The boy continued to flap his hands while making repetitive sounds that appeared to show he was frightened.
Lucas stepped back and reached into his pocket, and he produced a Hershey’s chocolate bar, and then he took a bite before he spoke again, saying, “Mmm… good stuff.”
Instantly, he smiled again, and then he broke off a piece of the bar and handed it off to the boy and repeated the Arabic word for friend.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this, Sam. You need to,” Williams said.
“Get the hell away from that kid!” Bart screamed. “He’s rigged with a bomb!”
“What?” Lucas said, obviously confused, but Bart and GSGT Williams didn’t take the time to hear since they were now immediately running away from the heinous trap that was left for them by the dastardly terrorists who would use an unsuspecting person with disabilities as a vehicle for their evil intentions.
In the instant of panic, SSGT Lucas looked at the boy’s loose fitting clothes and he saw what appeared to be a metal box on the child’s chest. Instantly, he knew why the boy was here. These inhuman bastards had taken this child and converted him into an IED. It wasn’t something that happened all the time, but terrorists had been known to be using children with disabilities as delivery devices in their insidious plans for quite some time. Now, the Marine was face to face with the boy...

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Bonus Chapter Preview - Chapter 3 of The Rules of the Game

Abdul Halim had walked the thin line of so many different personalities for so many years, it was hard to keep up with who he actually was.
On one hand, it was obvious that the Saudi Arabian-born man was of Arabic descent. This created a superficial sense of community in many of the places that he traveled while gliding throughout the darker and more dangerous parts of the Middle East. For him, infiltrating the camps of various fanatic and fundamentalist groups was easy. He looked the part, and he could spew hatred toward the West on command, performing the part as the perfect actor since a large part of him did feel this way about many thing. This connection to job beliefs allowed him to fit in with groups like ISIL, which worked well enough that he would have access to their looted archaeological findings and historical artifacts that he and his other business associates would buy and then resell to wealthy American and Western art collectors.
Anything to make a dollar, riyal, dinar, pound, or dirham, Halim would remark.
Over time, he met many leaders and aspiring wannabes. He met bagmen who could bring him artifacts and cash. All the while, he kept a different set of identities as well as credentials that never interfered with his ability to travel unharmed amongst the radical fanatics of Islam in order to find the most unique and profitable of commodities to move to whatever corner of the world that he needed it to be delivered to.
To the ignorant, greedy, and desperate elements of groups like ISIL, he was a wealthy benefactor and middle man who would pay for their weaponry by giving them money for the looted treasures of museums and historical sites. To gain their trust, he claimed to sympathize with their larger political causes, though truth be told, his sole interest in meeting up with them in the early days was getting filthy rich. Halim played the “terrorist / freedom fighter” part well enough to be able to get the priceless historical treasures before these men would destroy them on camera. It was a good business for him since he was more than able to pay back his creditors for his financial backings, avoid the potential danger, and equalize his time investment to live a life of happiness in Dubai.
The days were filled with business dealings and the evenings were filled with sex, alcohol, drugs, and exclusive entertainment facilities, strip joints, and discos.
However, as all phases of life do, this rich businessman image soon became just as much of a lie as was his role as a financial savior to ISIL and the various terrorist groups that walked through the power vacuum of Iraq and Syria in the days since the American invasion of Iraq.
Sure, at one time, life was all about rolling in money, excesses, women, and the other trappings of power, but life had a way of bringing Halim to the real Promised Land. This moment of clarity and arrival was when he met a man named Ghazi Nasser. On that fateful day, their introduction was made at one of the most expensive restaurants in Doha, Qatar. It seemed like fate that the two of these men from opposite ends of life’s cycle would be introduced despite their different paths to these places.
“Why do you think I wanted to meet with you, Abdul?” Ghazi said after sitting down.
Halim looked at Ghazi and then over to his friend Sharif, and he spoke, “What do you think has him so intrigued that he personally phoned Mahdi to look for a meeting with me?”
“He shares your interest in art transactions,” Sharif answered.
“To a degree, I love the aesthetic beauty of what you sell, but I love its power, too,” Ghazi replied.
“Well, then he shares your interest in the cause of justice for the people of Islam,” Sharif said.
“Neither of us have a true undying connection to the cause, Sharif, even if we say that we do,” Ghazi added. “At least not in the ways of our barbaric neighbors. They’re so uncivilized with their guns and knives and bombs. If only they knew what they and their cause could be, but yes, it’s good for men like you and me that they don’t. If they did, we wouldn’t be what we were meant to be. Better they serve as an intermediary to our ends. Right, my friend.”
“Which is what?” Abdul asked.
“In both cases, this is the search for real power and glory.”
Halim was a twenty-eight year old man with all of the accoutrements of having more money than a bank, but none of the sense to use it right. At the time he met Ghazi, he was accompanied by a pair of blonde haired Western beauties. They were the best women money could buy in a sexual sense, something their distant gazes and skimpy clothes confirmed, and they were smart enough to say nothing about what they heard when he spoke to men like Ghazi. Instead, they drank their wine, and minded their business, which was to look good on Abdul’s arm and underneath him when they retreated to his bedroom.
“What could be more powerful than to drive with one of these beauties in a Maserati 450S for a night on the town with no limits, either speed, excesses, or expenses?”
“Youth, money, and excitement are all well and good,” Ghazi stated, “But more importantly than good times with these women, I can offer you eternity. They can only offer you a temporary orgasm and silicon parts at best.”
The table snickered.
“Old man, you offer the past, but I don’t hear the present in your voice, much less the future,” Abdul said.
“You see gray and you think death, and that may soon be true. However, I want you to know that there are greater truths. I know that there is death out there, which will bring a fountain of youth to my life. I will walk through the blackness, and I will find it, with or without you. When I emerge, I will come out stronger and more vibrant than ever.”
“You must be speaking of Viagra or Botox. I’m young and handsome. What do I need with your fountain of youth?” Abdul rhetorically asked his companions while laughing.
“I’m speaking of the ruins of the past. These little treasures you sell had to have come from somewhere. Did you ever think about that?”
“Of course, I did. This had to be why you came to me.”
“You thought, but you never really thought about their historical paths. You only thought about living this princely life.”
“My Maserati came to me for one small box of jewelry, of which I have many other boxes, if you’re looking to buy. My life is only princely in that I’m not settled down yet. When that moment comes, I will be the king of kings.”
“You speak excitedly, but the truth is that a king can be overthrown. I offer you something more absolute than a chance to be assassinated by some slobbering dog looking to fulfill his chance at your role.”
“What’s more powerful than a king?”
“What if I told you that one item in one small box could give you the world? Would that interest you?”
“I’m listening, but you must talk clearer with specific detail to keep my attention.”
“Then chase your monkey boy and these high-priced whores away. We have private business to discuss.”
Abdul pointed his finger at the bar, and chased them off as he waved it.
“Come with me. We must talk, my youthful know-it-all friend. You have much to learn,” Ghazi said.
After a few exchanges of dialogue, the men wandered off outside and stood on a balcony, continuing their conversation as the traffic went by all around them. An hour later, when he came back, Abdul wasn’t any more a businessman than he was a friend to ISIL.
He stood alone and gazed into the bar where the women sat with his friend. The evening he expected with wild drunken debauchery was now no longer an option. Instead, Abdul would be asking Sharif to help him kill the women and to then bury their bodies off in the endless dunes of Qatar. Of course, he would also have to kill his friend, too. They were all liabilities to his newfound cause, which was now to pursue obtaining Ghazi’s cause.
While the moment Sharif died had hurt him to have to betray his friend for his own selfish interest, he knew that should his mission succeed, then he would be forgiven with the promise of eternity. If not, he was already doomed to an eternity in Hell, both for this offense and never subscribing to Islam, an option that many of his family and associates felt would at least get him a temporary sentence until he rehabilitated.
What hurt wasn’t the killing. He had killed before. No, what hurt was the knowledge that a part of him, which he actually liked, had died when he was thrust into a new role that was for real and would last him for the rest of his days. Archaeological sales was the closest thing he was to being fully realized in his late twenties. Playboy businessman was just a temporary thing. He would live that life until he physically couldn’t live it anymore. Radical Islamic fundamentalist was a clever ruse that served as a means to an end. How could he ever be what he never was?
But what did it mean to be the Left Hand of Death? What had prepared him for this moment?
In the old days, when it came to ISIL, he was known by his archaeological sales associates to make money off of “dropping a dime” on radical Islamist groups over his hatred of them and their destructive tendencies.
On one hand, it kept his associates honest. They knew just how long his loyalty lasted by how he treated his connections, and with the notion that their failures to conform could end up in a similar death, they remained obedient. On the other hand, if their suppliers annihilated the remains of the historical past, no matter how small, he would mark them for death. If they wouldn’t let him skim off the valuables before they did a complete devastation attack on a temple or site, then they were as good as camel shit. This led his associates to know the code he lived by, which would help make them rich by staying in his good graces.
If this meant having to kill someone for Ghazi or helping him kill people in general, it was part of the arrangement and the rules of the game. They all knew that for Abdul, sex and violence were the only ways to truly show that he was alive, so he spent as much time doing these things as he could while accumulating mysterious, exotic, and beautiful relics from the past.
As for the state of Abdul’s mind, it was even whispered by his young and busty accessories that he would be more sexually charged after having these men killed or executing them himself. For this reason, a notable amount of these women would leave him as soon as they experienced his deviant behavior and unquenchable appetite. What did Abdul care? He told them no secrets or anything else for that matter. Besides, he could always buy another woman who was younger and more obedient with parts that were less plastic than some of these other surgical beauties. For the other women, it was a cautionary tale to stay in line, for they were always led to believe that his men would hunt down these traitorous bitches for their ungrateful ways.
All the same, it wasn’t all about what Abdul’s men would do. He could do this, too. If it became necessary, he was more than prepared to rain death down on whoever got in his way.
His historical accomplishments, save many of the secret dealings with the CIA, preceded him. Ghazi knew about all of this through his secret ways. That’s why he contacted Halim in the first place.
Nevertheless, wiping out looters wasn’t all about these things. Another thing that these convenient tips to the Americans gave him was quick spending cash when he was paid off on the spot by CIA agents looking to win hearts and minds with cash exchange offers for collaboration and playing nicely with the Americans. In return for his arranging of targets for drone-launched assassinations, the men who didn’t work hard enough to collect his treasures for him were eliminated from being able to wreck and pillage the historical world that their God had no use for. However, as was stated previously, it wasn’t all about running through a temple like a bull in a china shop. Sometimes, it was about being so stupid that bringing in unwanted attention was going to cause an ending like this to happen sooner or later.
When it did, he didn’t want his name mentioned. He wanted to live long enough to be free and clear of the shit storm that was following closely behind him.
There were plenty of people coming upon treasures. If he stayed anywhere long enough, he could find more people and loot. Like taking a drug dealer off of the street, it only meant that another could profit from the lack of competition, and for this in the post Iraqi war power vacuum, there was always another angry band of marauders looking to radicalize for the sake of Allah, money, or both of the above. What’s more, there was always a parent organization waiting to arm and fund these Mohammad Come Latelies for their adventure. This thought made Abdul laugh and cry at the same time for the problems it caused.
This venom towards ISIL and their like-minded counterparts originally stemmed from his love of the history of the Middle East, which actually excited him more than many of the women whose company he bought. To Abdul, the key was to obtain and protect the treasures he wanted, sell off what was valuable but nonessential, and to swallow his beliefs if he had to witness the archaeology of the region’s past destroyed by the hands of fundamentalist “buffoons,” as he readily called them. Well, at least that’s what he did until he could deliver them to their makers from the safety of outside their sanctums.
“They’re operating out of the cafĂ©. They’re always there at 2PM. No, there aren’t many civilians there at that time. That’s why they’re in there.”
Over his days in the archaeology business, he seemed to witness another devastating occurrence every month or two. Each time, it felt the same: Like he was witnessing his family killed in front of him. Each time, the same results occurred. He dropped a dime or he personally executed the offenders. While the last option was risky, he wasn’t afraid to do it if he knew he could get out unscathed. Better to let the Americans risk life and limb than to drop a speck of blood on his Tom Ford suit if he couldn’t.
With so many deaths happening in the Middle East, it was obvious that things like ISIL getting ratted out would happen from time to time, and for this, he was never suspected by them of aiding and abetting in their murders. Why would he be? His money spent well on the larger group’s cash for relics operation, and he always paid in cash. So what if expendable troops were turned into Hellfire missile fodder. In addition, he made sure he was always untouchable when it came to making things happen. Thus, the terrorist entity as a whole always kept his cash, so how could they accuse him of creating the situation?
However, for as much as he sympathized with some of their causes, primarily the hatred of the war-like actions of Western, Jewish, and Christian aggression to his homeland, he didn’t feel his actions were about a reenactment of the Crusades or some other holy war. Instead, his actions represented an unholy war, which was being waged by a smaller group of businessmen who were funneling artifacts and finances out of the hands of other archaeological players to give them to private curators who were looking for pieces of significance. There, they could be preserved, even if they were in another culture in a distant corner of the world. Some of these relics were Jewish, Christian, and Islamic in nature, but others were more mysterious jewelry and funerary objects, which were attributed toward an ancient evil race that had lived in the ancient Mesopotamia.
At first, Abdul didn’t care about this pagan history or even the stories of what artifact was what, but then Ghazi told him about something else that was out there.
“The key is to look for the right hieroglyphics. Some are different than others. This is what you must look for,” the man said, showing him pictures from Xeroxed pages.
“I have seen some of these.”
“I’m sure you have, but where?”
“I must take time to remember and reflect if you want me to be exact.”
“I will. They will lead us to our destiny.”
“What will they say?”
“Much of the writings from these people were lost or changed ages ago when they were killed off and their remnants were hidden away or destroyed, but it was said that some of it still remained. One in particular, the Chest of Praznok, was said to be the most powerful of all of these items,” Ghazi added.
Whether Praznok was a demon, an alien, or a poltergeist, was disputed amongst those who claimed knowledge of him. To Ghazi, Praznok was most likely all three of these things rolled into a ball of unstoppable aggression and hatred of a world he was now trapped in.
To Abdul, finding clues to find this chest was an opportunity for worldly riches if he just wanted to sell them to Ghazi, or if he was willing to risk it all, a chance at an eternity that he and Ghazi would share with this Praznok creature.
“The trail to this chest had long since dried up. You can risk it all for nothing or everything,” Ghazi stated, calmly and efficiently. “Here, I must be truthful to you.”
It sounded so obvious, but it was a lottery ticket to a whole new place in the world, which would be unlike anything Abdul ever saw.
Recently, it had come to Ghazi’s attention that many artifacts had been found together. They were being transported by Arabic men in the employment of the CIA so that they wouldn’t be given additional attention. However, one of the men, a man who identified himself only as Aahil, was helping to transport these back to a team from the Smithsonian; however, he was an opportunist himself. For greed and opportunity, he killed the three Western collaborators and drove the materials straight to ISIL, who had been safeguarding both them and him from the reprisal of the coalition forces. Now, their local leader, Rushdam Maloof, wanted to make a deal while it was still possible to get rid of the goods and provide himself safety before the Special Forces assassins ended his whole existence in the blink of an eye.
Ghazi looked at Abdul.
“I want you to work with them to get this stuff. You know them. They will trust you. If they see me, I will be dead.”
“Maybe I will be dead for being seen with you.”
“Perhaps, you were already marked for execution, but I think you’re smarter than assuming that I would be the finger on the trigger.”
Abdul thought about that for a few minutes, and then he spoke to his new colleague.
“Why would you be dead?”
“They know I’d kill them. I’ve executed their kind before. I was able to take this,” he said holding up a medallion on a necklace. “Most things we move, we move because of ISIL’s intervention. It’s just whether they get to live or die when they share it with us.
Admiring it from up close, Abdul could see that it had some of the hieroglyphics he saw earlier.
“So if I do this, how do we coordinate the plans?”
The old man patted his younger companion on the shoulder.
“I’m so glad you asked.”
“I am not sure all of what I have, but I see that there are markings similar to things I know to look for. They resemble some of the pagan and animist images from the time. These things do not look human. Some appear to be hybrid. Others appear to be sexual in nature,” Rushdam, the ISIL leader, said. “Those representations are always more popular in the West when it comes to driving up prices.”
“Can you describe anything specific?” Abdul asked him. “As you’re not an expert and we are not in the immediate vicinity, I need to know what I’m getting myself involved in.”
“Some looks like ancient Greece where women are seduced by some false god in the form of an animal, but there is a wooden chest here. It is tightly sealed. I cannot recognize the writing on it, and I’ve seen many ancient languages in what I’ve given you.”
“Don’t open it, Rushdam, for it is cursed.”
“Can you remove the curse?”
“I know men who can dispose of it. If you open it, it will destroy you if it is what I think it is.”
Statements like that always worked to scare men like Rushdam, though this time, he didn’t take the bait as he anticipated a trick from this youthful businessman.
“I know that you have bought and sold many things. How do I know that you aren’t trying to get bargain basement deals?”
“Because I’m going to pay you for it from my personal bank account. I want to dispose of this. I’m not reselling it.”
“Well, then, we shall deal, but know that just because I’m in a hurry to make a deal, it doesn’t mean that I’ll take any price you try to stick me with.”
“How much do you want for the chest?”
“It’s not just the chest. It’s the truckload deal.”
“That’s obviously going to cost a lot, and it will require even more effort.”
“This isn’t just any cache of artifacts. I know what I have based on what I don’t have?”
“What don’t you have?”
“Records on this material. It is real, but it is unheard of. Nobody knows what these things are. Neither the Americans nor the Smithsonian Institute scientists are making a peep about this. That must mean that their identity is top secret or at the very least intentionally forgotten.”
“So how much do you want?”
“The bidding starts at $50 million.”
“That’s a lot of money, sight unseen.”
“You have to trust me as I am trusting you. These pictures should go a long way to suffice your curiosity.”
“Perhaps, you can bring me a video on your cellphone. Pictures can be faked.”
“That will cost you money to see.”
“How much?”
“That would be $1 million. We can call it a holder’s fee for storing your inventory. Think of it as a down payment. We’ll take it off the price if we agree to shake hands.”
“I’m willing to pay you that $1 million, but I need substantial proof. I want pictures and video. Pictures only isn’t enough. I’m familiar with how to use Photoshop.”
“Are you in a place to demand?”
“Are you in a place to hold out for more money?”
“Perhaps. I do have other offers.”
“Can they traffic in this money or guarantee the safe export of your materials and guarantee their anonymity wherever they should end up?”
Behind the older man’s bearded face, Abdul could see the gears grinding.
“How soon can you take these things? We need money. Our oil exports have been hampered by the coalition forces,” Rushdam said. “We need money to continue this war. Praise Allah.”
“Are you selling now? If so, we might have to talk price negotiations.”
“I will drop the price to $45 million if you can agree to the deal based on these pictures I will have sent to us now.”
“These pictures must be pretty impressive.”
“They are,” Rushdam said, and with that, he walked off to place a phone call to his colleague.
For the next few minutes, both men wandered around, pacing nervously. Suddenly, little phone chimes started to ring.
“They are coming into my phone as we speak,” Rushdam said.
One by one, the text messages with their photos appeared. The final one took some time as it was a video of the truck as a whole. Abdul could see its entire bed was filled with crates and boxes. More importantly, he saw the chest and the hieroglyphics. They were unmistakable.
“How soon do we transfer these?”
“We will figure out a way to do this safely. To bring these pieces into the light of the day is a risk to both of our safety. I will find a way to get you access to the truck, and you will take them. I will not be with the truck when you purchase it. I will only tell you how to find it after you give me the money.”
“What will I have to ensure a fair trade?”
“My word.”
“That’s unacceptable. I want you there, and what’s more, I want your youngest son to ride with me to the place where the relics are stored. I will give you the money, but he will be my assurance that I get out of there alive.”
Rushdam paused for a long while, and then he spoke, “That is fine. You may bring two men with to help you move the items. If there are more men, I will take that as a double cross, and I will kill you outright. Do you understand?”
“If that’s how it must be. Can we use your men for loading assistance?”
“Then I will bring my bank numbers and phone. You know I don’t like to travel with more money than I might need. This is how art dealers get whacked.”
“We seem to have a mutual understanding, but I know what I’m carrying due to my premonition of the danger it leaves me susceptible to. I don’t want to do this until you make me do it. If that time comes…”
“Yes, I do understand that. As for us, we’ll stay close until we aren’t.”
“You’re too cautious.”
“I’m not cautious enough.”
“Come to the bazaar tomorrow afternoon at 2:00PM. Sit yourself at the fountain. I will have my son take you to where the items are, and we will both part with smiles on our faces.”
“Thank you, my friend.”
“Oh, I may have something else, but I don’t know. There are many fakes in the world, but I have another chest I did open.”
“What could be in there that isn’t in the other chest?”
“This one has nails in it.”
“What are you saying?”
“It is possible that I have the Nails of Christ.”
“That’s impossible. I thought they were hidden by the Vatican.”
“I’m no expert. That’s your job.”
“I don’t know if I could verify them.”
“Bring someone who can. I’m willing to deal them for solid cash as part of a different deal. He may assist you as one of your helpers.”
“But you know what we could do with them if we had them.”
“If my men had them for any length of time, the Americans would fly a drone right up my ass or send in a SEAL team. Either way, they would kill me before I could do anything with the contents. I’d be a target. I am told that you have a knack for making things disappear. I appreciate that as much as your money.”
“How much for the nails?”
“If you want them, I want an extra $50 million dollars. That’s $95 million for everything.”
“Where the hell do I raise that cash from?”
“I don’t care. Make your calls. Get additional bank numbers.”
“I am good for $60 million on the spot tomorrow.”
“You’re $35 million short.”
“What if you and I went into business together?”
 “Doing what?”
“You get on a boat with me. We take these items to New Orleans. You give ISIL their share of $60 million. Then, you and I split $50 million more that I can make off of various pieces here and there. Half of that will be to me and my men. The other half can be to you and your men.”
“I have a cause to stay here for.”
“You have a reason to live for. Think about it. You can do this, and you can live high on the hog out of the line of fire.”
“Are you sure I should trust you? You could save $95 million by simply whacking me.”
“Don’t think I haven’t thought about saving all of my money and taking these relics.”
“I knew you were that kind of man,” Rushdam said with half a snarl and the other half a joking smile.
 “Thank you for the compliment. That is why I am still alive,” Halim added.
“You’re welcome. In the meantime, this is a two-man discussion. We need to do this quickly. Get your archaeologist friend, and meet me at the bazaar.”
“That is fine, but we need to get this out of Sidon soon,” Abdul declared.
“Why not Beirut? It’s bigger. There might be more boats. It’s what I’ve always used,” Rushdam said.
“I prefer to use Sidon. Their harbors attract less watchful eyes. We can move it to Tobruk in Libya, and then we will take everything to America if they are what we think they are.”
“What is in America, which will give us each $25 million?”
“Rich men who like to pay in more cash than I give you. They pay for bigger boats to take things to them.”
“That sounds like music to my ears and wallet.”
“I’m sure it is. So you are coming with?”
“I am.”
“Good. Bring twenty men. Between you and those twenty, I and my two companions will meet with an additional group of my men to safeguard our passage.”
“Allahu Akbar.”
“But money is a close second,” Abdul said, and with those words, he smiled.
It seemed like fate that many of the objects that Ghazi, Abdul, and the Left Hand of Death needed for the events that were about to transpire in Blackrock Canyon were all coming together into their hands. Could this be the sign that they were meant to harness the power of the twins to take control of the world?

Only time would tell, but for now, Abdul felt satisfied that he was about to score the biggest transaction of his life.