Thursday, November 5, 2009

Adam Blue and the Bastard Boys of Fedaliya

This are the first five pages of a chapter in progress. I am nowhere near happy with it yet. So consider that a warning.

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Chapter 11

Night, Day 40: Adam Blue and the Bastard Boys of Fedaliya

The buildings in Fedaliya emerged from the sparse landscape like cracked clay pots; ragged mud walls framed the crumbling family compounds which had been loosely tossed over the landscape by the blind architects of momentary convenience to create a winding community of intermittent, populous and filthy estates. The gaps between these tiny fiefdoms were clotted with refuse, makeshift shacks and stagnant pools of water ranging the entire spectrum of spent automobile fluids, giving the entire impoverished Shiite neighborhood the feel and appearance of an occupied landfill. The passage between Fedaliya and the abutted, and only modestly better to do, community of Kamaliya was a rough and serpentine unfinished thoroughfare sitting atop a large dirt fill, comically referred to amongst Americans as “Dead Cow Road”, a name the locals seemed determine to immortalize by dragging their dead livestock up the steep slopes on either side to rot in the open air. The intended effect was two-fold: to dissuade Americans from entering the neighborhood and to make apparent their disgust with the broken incinerator they had once used to dispose of trash and that same ruined livestock. Their passive-aggressiveness failed to accomplish either of these ends. The soldiers charged with the daily patrols had grown accustomed to the stench and relished the opportunity to ferry unsuspecting officers, those who had grown bold enough to temporarily venture from safety of their swivel chairs on the FOB to test their mettle, through the putrid corridor.
At night, in the absence of an electric grid, the only sources of public lighting were the headlamps of American humvees and the flickering fluorescent bulbs bolted to the side of the Al-Kinani Beverage Market and Husayniya. It was a singular self-sufficient oasis, a one-room, concrete building bisected by a tarp to separate a small and reverent worship area from crowded shelves of dry goods and a single humming refrigerator filled to bursting with cans of juice and soft-drinks. With its steady supply of junk food and illumination, the shop was a popular destination for Fedaliya’s more listless, less well to do inhabitants: which is to say, most of them. The hubbub of activity made for a convenient stopping point for visiting Americans to connect with the locals, quench their pallets and generally jam an obtrusive thumb into what was in all likelihood the asshole of Baghdad.
Adam’s squad and an Iraqi interpreter, Buster, stood like hunched vagrants at the shining cultural nexus of that asshole, leaning against a tattered mural of Mohammad Sadiq Al-Sadr on the east facing side of the beverage market.
“I’ll tell you what, you know, when I went out on patrol with the armor guys last week I saw the weirdest fucking thing.” Jane glistened with sweat in the balmy night; her eyes were dark and plump from lack of sleep as she stepped away from the wall to address her companions.
“So there we are, down in Sumer Al-Ghadier, really nice neighborhood, sort of walled off with Ministry of the Interior roadblocks. Apparently, there’s some Iraqi high up there and he’s got guys in street clothes armed with AKs just standing around and looking tough, and he had a bunch of private bodyguards hanging out, fucking goons, biggest goddamn Iraqis ever. But anyway, we’re there and I see this dude on the other side of the roadblock looking over a fence, and here’s the thing… he doesn’t look Iraqi. You ever see an Asian hanging out on the street? I bet you fucking haven’t. Well, we go over and start trying to talk to this guy, and he doesn’t speak English or Arabic. Why? The motherfucker’s a Chinese national, just chilling out in Baghdad. What the fuck are the Chinese doing here?”
Sergeant Alcott’s spun to face his soldiers. A candy bar fell to the earth, a plume of dust rolled outward from the site of impact. Alcott bobbled quickly toward the group from the semi-circle of trucks providing security for the dismounted soldiers. His massive frame was made even more imposing by his protective vest and the huge assault pack slung across his back.
“Why didn’t you tell me you caught spy, Sergeant? Goddamn inter-fuckin-national espionage, that’s what that was. Anyone say what the interrogators got out of him? Probably some sort of wonton eatin’, commie superspy. Good job, Davenport, nothing gets by my soldiers. Highly trained. Combat ready.”
“We let him go.” Jane shrugged. “He wasn’t doing anything.”
Alcott’s jaw dropped. Cowboy slammed his hat against the horizon and let out a drunken holler. The two were stunned. Cowboy collected his rage first.
“Dagnab, woman! How you gonna go and let the Red Chinese slip outta yer hands! You listenin’ to this horseshit, Adam? What’s she mean he weren’t doin’ nothin’? He was there weren’t he? He was bein’ Chinese plain as day weren’t he? Since when don’t that constitute somethin’ ain’t right? Need him to hand ya a fortune cookie says, ‘Golly, miss, I been up to some no good commie bullshit’n tryin’ to destroy yer way of life’ or somethin’? Hot damn, that gets me riled.”
“What do you mean he wasn’t doing anything? Did you search him, did you search his house?” Alcott spat a brown lump of cud at his feet, it splattered on his toe. “Anything?”
“No, he was just standing there. We asked some of the neighbors and they said he was a fixing satellite service or something. It’s not like I was in charge, they said leave it alone. I did.”
“Satellitin’ yer goddamn location right back to them goddamn Maoist cocksuckers!” Cowboy’s face flushed, thinking about far away pandas and all the evils they embodied.
Alcott drew a hand up to the side of his head, blood pounding in his ears, his mind skirting a terrible realization: the Chinese had turned American Army officers against their own government.
“Davenport, come here. We need to talk offline. Get in the truck.” Alcott grabbed Jane by her sleeve and led her away from the group.
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“You guys been taking dumps off the side of the tower or something?” Lieutenant Brenard called over the push-to-talk radio clipped to Peter’s chest.
Peter grasped at the radio, tugging it from its perch.
“Maybe, why?”
Peter had been put in charge of the squad communications. This all important social distinction primarily came about because Peter had lobbied Brenard personally, pitting the Platoon Leader’s hatred of Alcott against every reasonable objection to having to listen to Peter’s incessant and often distracting diatribe against the social injustices perpetuated by the American military industrial complex.
“You got some kids eyeballing the fuck out of you. Where’s fatty going?”
“He’s all worked the fuck up because Jane let a Chinese super spy get away.”
“What?”
Peter thumbed the transmitter, letting static pour over the connection for a moment to create a sense of the dramatic.
“Word on the street is he’s smuggling the secret location of an all-you-can-eat buffet. Only one man can keep all those pork wontons out of terrorist hands.”
The occasional clever wise-crack at the expense of Alcott and Alcott’s blubbering inexpressible rage at the political content crackling through the device filled Brenard with such a deep satisfaction that he couldn’t help but intercede and buck the tried and true system of giving the coolest shit to the people with the highest rank. By all rights, the radio should have gone to Jane. The only time this system of distribution could be bypassed was when, as in Peter’s case, a soldier had immediate access either through social privilege or by virtue of job position. This common supply loophole explains why soldiers busy prosecuting the war outside the American barbed wire encampments often had to make do with substandard equipment, while soldiers who were in charge of distributing new gear were armed with state of the art implements of war. Often one could determine a soldier’s proximity to the supply chain simply from the accoutrement festooning his or her rifle. Peter was proud of the number of widgets screwed into his gun, not so much because they made him a more efficient killer as for the fact that they clearly illustrated his gilded position within the military social hierarchy. Alcott often glanced from the bareness of his own rifle to the cluster of infrared lasers, high-powered scopes, ergonomic handgrips and personalized slings crowding the actual functioning parts of Peter’s rifle with disgust and wonder. The brand-spanking-new bipod affixed to Peter’s barrel was left ever open and extended for all the world to envy, the firearm equivalent of a shameless public hard on. It was a hard on equivalent that Alcott couldn’t look away from.