Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Bonus Chapter Preview - Chapter 3 of The Rules of the Game
Ghazi Nasser sat beside his sidekick Wampaq Ganib at an open-air café called the Cedar Tree. This restaurant, which was located in a marketplace in Amman, Jordan, represented the height of decadence in this city. Across from them was an American dressed in a white spring suit with a powder blue shirt and stylish pink tie.
“I was told by my people that you were a military officer,” Ghazi stated, fishing for some kind of identity on the man.
“I am. I’m a major with the Army. I’m sure you heard that.”
“Yes, but you’re very stylish for that occupation,” Wampaq stated to the man, looking at his shoes that he was wearing without socks.
“I like to be comfortable, and I appreciate a fine suit.”
“As well as a fine fedora,” Ghazi complimented the man.
“But we didn’t come here to talk about fashion, did we?” the Latino American exclaimed. “Let’s talk business.”
“I generally like to do my research on people before talking to them, but with you I have made an exception for introductions, but I’ll need to know more if we choose to do business. All I know is that your name is Paolo. That doesn’t sound like an American name,” Ghazi stated in a very softly spoken, but forceful way.
“It’s Mexican. My brother still lives there, but I’m very American, I can assure you.”
“Do you have a family name?” Wampaq asked.
“Not that I can give you. My position in the Army is too close to people who could cause trouble for me if they knew that my friends and I are moving these specific things.”
“They must be very important items that you want moved,” Ghazi exclaimed. “I was once a man who moved a great many things.”
“I’m familiar with your work in Fallujah back in 2004. That’s how you came to my attention. Kawi Nader’s headless corpse was a fine piece of work. One of your colleagues, Abdul Halim, told me all about it. You do remember him?”
“But of course. We were very close. He was my trusted confidant.”
“I found the Kawi job very professional and expedient, but extremely terrifying and effective. You really sent a message back in those days. Can you still do that?”
Ghazi smiled, and he said, “I haven’t tried in ages, but once we learn, we never forget our skills.”
“What else did Abdul say to you, if I may enquire?”
“He said you put him in charge of a fireworks display in Fallujah. Abdul was reflecting on the face of the American soldier that he killed and the two others he wounded.”
“If he wounded them, they didn’t show it because they fought back and almost killed me. I’m lucky to have gotten away.”
“Well, he misses those days and wishes he could be back in the field more.”
“He made the choice to be good with computers, especially hacking and social media presence. His skills left him too valuable to risk with so many interests not liking what we are trying to do,” Ghazi replied. “But I haven’t seen him in years. How is he?”
“He misses you, and he suggested that I work with you to make things happen on this mission. He wants you to meet him in America, which is where he intends to do field operations again,” Paolo added.
“I would like to see him again, but why in America? Why not here today or in another corner of this vast desert?”
“He’s part of a bigger mission that needs to acquire specific religious relics. He is currently assimilating to the culture. He needs to be in place and moving by July, so it is important to be in motion with this transition by the end of April or early in May at the latest.”
“Well, Mr. Paolo, it seems you have an interest in precious artifacts,” Ghazi said. “What are you looking to purchase and how do we get this off the ground in a week or two?”
“I’m currently looking for your assistance in helping transfer specific items that I will provide to you to America with no legal interruptions.”
“That’s always a challenge, isn’t it?” Wampaq said. “Those are the type of things that cost extra.”
Ghazi silenced his friend with a wave of his hand.
“How will you do this?” Ghazi asked, enunciating on the word “will.” “I am not sure I can make this happen that quickly.”
“By my efforts to allow these artifacts to be stolen, they will need to be moved from our thief’s possession through other units to a cargo ship.”
“That’s a lot of people who could cause a lot of friction in the system,” Wampaq said. “I tend to go for smooth gliding.”
“I know, but you will have help making this happen.”
“From who?” Ghazi enquired.
“There’s a young man you need to get in touch with,” Paolo said handing a sheet of paper with a name on it.
Staring at the paper, Ghazi looked stunned. The name Nafis Salib was written on it along with the name of his associates and bodyguard.
“By the look on your face, I assume you’re aware of him,” Paolo added.
“So you’ll enlist him to our cause?”
“I will make him an offer, but his reputation is that he is unreachable to anyone he doesn’t want to communicate with.”
“That’s why his associates are listed on there. Sweeten the deal. We really need him to be a part of the team. He has the right makeup to be just the right level of brutal, which we need to strike fear in the heart of the infidel. He and his archaeologist friend Earnest Swanson are a big part of pulling all of this off. In fact, you could say that we couldn’t do this without them.”
“When you say ‘infidel,’ are you talking about a holy war? If so, I am not a political man, and from what I have heard, Nafis isn’t either.”
“Not a holy war, my friend. This, you could say, is an unholy war. If you help us pull this off, your reward will be a part of this eternal domination that we plan on achieving.”
“I will do my part, but remember my work isn’t cheap.”
“Of course not,” Paolo said smiling. “I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
Nafis Salib had walked the thin line of so many different personalities for so many years that 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 things. 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, Salib 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 intermediary 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. Salib 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.
He filled his days with business dealings while he spent his evenings in the company of 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 Salib to the real Promised Land. This moment of clarity and arrival was when he met a man named Ghazi Nasser. On that fateful day, the two men met one another at the most expensive restaurant in Doha, Qatar. It seemed like fate that the two of these men from opposite ends of life’s cycle would meet one another despite their seemingly different paths to these places.
“Why do you think I wanted to meet with you, Nafis?” Ghazi said after sitting down.
Salib looked at Ghazi and then over to his friend Sharif, and then 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.
“None 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, knives, and bombs. If only they knew what they and their cause could be, but yes, it’s good for men like both of you and me that they don’t. If they did, we wouldn’t have become what we were meant to be. Better they serve as an intermediary to our ends, right, my friend?”
“Which is what?” Nafis asked.
“In both cases, this is the search for real power and glory.”
Salib 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, a pair of blonde haired Western beauties accompanied him. 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 Nafis’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 silicone parts at best.”
The guests at the table snickered at Ghazi.
“Old man, you offer the past, but I don’t hear the present in your voice, much less the future,” Nafis 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?” Nafis 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. Is that it? Is my inventory of relics why you came to me? What would you like to buy?”
“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 have 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. I don’t have time to waste with idle chit chat when I could be partying or making money.”
“Then chase your monkey boy and these high-priced whores away. We have private business to discuss.”
Nafis lazily pointed his finger at the bar, and chased them off as he waved it to oblige the men.
“Come with me, Nafis. 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, Nafis wasn’t any more a businessperson 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, Nafis 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 Sharif and his business associate Mahdi, too. They were all liabilities to his newfound cause, which was now to pursue obtaining the relics for 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 the gods would forgive him with the promise of eternal life in their company. 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.
As for Mahdi, he was nothing. It was easy to go to his apartment and pull out the silenced pistol to blow the top of his head clear off. That was just a day at the office for him.
No, what hurt wasn’t the killing. He had killed before, and he would kill again. 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. Selling archaeological relics was the closest thing he was to fully realizing his purpose in life 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?
What did it mean to be dealing with a group named the Left Hand of Death? What had prepared him for this moment? Why was here with all of these conflicting ideologies and players?
In the old days, when it came to ISIL, he was known by his archaeological sales associates to make money off “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 loyalty lasted by how other people they knew treated their own connections. These men had seen death for double-crossing others or appearing as a threat to their power. Sometimes, just looking like a snitch was enough. With the notion that their failures to conform could end up in a similar death, they remained obedient to the rules of the game. On the other hand, if his own suppliers annihilated the remains of the historical past, no matter how small or how valuable they were to him, 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 fear the code that many people in these illicit trades lived by.
Make people rich by staying in their good graces or die a dog’s death.
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. These buyers and armed gunmen all knew that for Nafis, sex and violence were the only ways to 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 Nafis’s mind, his young and busty accessories even whispered that having disobedient and chaotic men killed by his crew. made him more sexually charged. Other times, he would execute 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 Nafis 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 real as compared to these other surgically enhanced beauties. For the other women, it was a cautionary tale to stay in line. These women had come to believe that his men would hunt down these “traitorous bitches” for their “ungrateful ways.”
All the same, it wasn’t all about what Nafis’s men would do to someone who betrayed the man. 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’s agents who paid bounties for insurgents, preceded him. Paolo knew about all of this through his secret ways. That’s one of the reasons why he initially contacted Ghazi.
Nevertheless, wiping out looters wasn’t all about these things. In return for his arranging of targets for drone-launched assassinations, other killers were contracted to eliminate the men who didn’t work hard enough to collect his treasures. Nobody who he met would dare wreck and pillage the historical world that their twisted God loathed. However, it wasn’t all about running through a temple like a bull in a china shop. Sometimes, it was about these men being so stupid that bringing in unwanted attention was going to cause an ending like this to happen eventually. Either Nafis would find himself ensnared in this scenario’s ugly outcome, or he could do something about it proactively.
When the barn went up in flames, 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 their warehouses and stockpiles. Like taking a drug dealer off the street, it only meant that another person could profit from the lack of competition, and for this fact of 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 Nafis 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 Nafis, 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 architecture and treasures 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 get the Americans to deliver them to their makers from the safety of outside their sanctums.
“They’re operating out of the café. They’re always there at 2PM. No, there aren’t many civilians there at that time. That’s why they’re in there.”
Down rained the Hell-fire missiles.
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 fellow insurgents ratting out opposition forces like ISIL would happen from time to time, and for this, they never suspected him 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 these actions led to expendable troops and vehicles being demolished into ashes and scrap metal? 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 if they profited off him?
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 a corporate concern. This was was being waged by a smaller group of businesspersons 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, the community would preserve these relics, 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 a more mysterious type of jewelry and eerie funerary objects, which historians attributed to an ancient evil race that had lived in the ancient Mesopotamia.
At first, Nafis didn’t care about this pagan history or even the stories of which of their artifact was which, but then Ghazi told him about something else that was out there, and it reminded him of things that he had accumulated.
“The key is to look for the right hieroglyphics. Some are different from 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, those who claimed to possess knowledge of ancient stories and knowledge of him disputed the oral histories and perplexing hieroglyphics and artwork. To Ghazi, Praznok was most likely all three of these things rolled into a ball of unstoppable aggression and hatred of a world that warriors from the ancient times had trapped him in. This fact inspired him completely.
To Nafis, finding clues to locate 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. It used to be that you could risk it all for nothing or everything, but recently that changed,” Ghazi stated, calmly and efficiently. “Here, I must be truthful to you. We know that this is there.”
It sounded so obvious, but it was a lottery ticket to a completely new place in the world, which would be unlike anything Nafis ever saw.
Recently, it had come to Ghazi’s attention that archaeologists and anthropologists had found many artifacts together. The Arabic men in the employment of the CIA were now transporting the relics back to the American military so that they wouldn’t be given additional attention by terrorists, thieves, and religious extremists. One of the men who was doing this, 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 contact he was told about within 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 Nafis.
“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. If you are to be killed or sacrificed, it is for a much greater cause than I can fathom.”
Nafis thought about that for a few minutes, and then he spoke to his new colleague.
“Why would you be dead if you see this man?”
“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 transport, we move because of ISIL’s intervention. It’s just whether they get to live or die when they share it with us.
Admiring the necklace from up close, Nafis could see that it had some of the hieroglyphics he saw earlier on the Xeroxed pages.
“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 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?” Nafis 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.”
“Am I cursed for having it?”
“Only if you open it,” Nafis said, thinking quickly.
“If I open it, can you remove the curse?”
Nafis felt a certain worried anger that the man would open the chest if he wasn’t scared immediately.
“I know men who can dispose of it. If you open it, it will destroy you or possess 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. That’s what I’ve been doing with all of these particular artifacts.”
“Well, then, if this is true, 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 or hidden away.”
“So how much do you want?”
“The bidding starts at $5 million.”
“That’s a lot of money, sight unseen.”
“You have to trust me as I trust you. These pictures should go a long way to satisfy your curiosity.”
“Perhaps, you can bring me a video on your cellphone. Pictures can be faked.”
“That will cost you money to see.”
“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. Only giving me the pictures 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, Nafis could see the gears grinding. Perhaps he did have other connections, but Nafis was taking the chance that the man was bluffing.
“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 $4.5 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 their respective locations, pacing nervously. Suddenly, little phone chimes started to ring.
“They are coming into your 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. It was at least twenty feet long in the storage area alone. Nafis 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 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.” Rushdam announced.
“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?” the black marketer questioned.
“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,” Nafis demanded.
“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,” the militant commander remarked.
“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,” Rushdam announced in a way that suggested a used car salesperson trying to sweeten a deal.
“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,” Maloof added. “I’m just telling you how eager you should be to get me the money.”
“I don’t know if I could verify them or would want to try.”
“Bring someone who can. I’m willing to sell 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 learned that you have a knack for making important things disappear. I appreciate that as much as your money.”
“How much for the nails?”
“If you want them, I want an extra $5 million dollars. That’s $9.5 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 $6 million on the spot tomorrow.”
“You’re $3.5 million short.”
“What if you and I went into business together, Rushdam?”
“You get on a boat with me. We take these items to New Orleans. You give ISIL their share of $6 million. Then, you and I split $2.5 million more that I can make off various pieces here and there. Half of that is for my men and me. 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 $6 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. “That is why I do not trust my son to ride with you. No, I will take you at your word, and if you go back on it, I will have you broken, and then I will kill you myself.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment. But know that this attitude is why I am still alive today to bargain with you,” Salib 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. I have just the man in mind, but you need to be aware that we have to get this out of Sidon soon,” Nafis 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 $1.25 million?”
“Rich men who like to pay in more cash than I can give you. They pay bigger boats to take things to them. That’s what I am aspiring to, and I know that each sale puts me closer to the goal.”
“That sounds like music to my ears and wallet.”
“I’m sure it is. So you are coming with?”
“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.”
“For you maybe, but I’d rather traffic in money than hopes of holiness,” Nafis said, and with those words, he smiled.
It seemed like fate that many of the objects that Ghazi, Nafis, and the Left Hand of Death needed for the events that were about to transpire in Blackrock Canyon were all coming together into their evil clutches. 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, Nafis felt satisfied that he was about to score the biggest transaction of his life, and that’s just what he was dealing with in terms of money.