Khomeini's Boy: The Shadow War with Iran (6 page)

BOOK: Khomeini's Boy: The Shadow War with Iran
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Chapter Ten

 

It was the end of summer in Baghdad, 2006. Adam Malik kicked in the flimsy prefab door to the Sadr City apartment, and Ambrose was first through the breach, wearing dark unmarked fatigues with a .44 in his hand. Malik and the other three marines poured in after him.

Inside the apartment, there was a bearded man dressed like a Sadr City local. He started screaming, “
Raid! Raid!
” in Arabic as soon as the door caved in. He pulled a pistol from the table, so Ambrose dropped to one knee and took him down with three slugs in the chest.

Malik closed the distance and checked the man’s body. As he did, Ambrose screamed at the three other marines, “They were yelling for someone else! Check the back, check the back!” Tesoro and Young complied, while Laurence cradled his rifle and posted up inside the front door, scanning the streets for activity.

Laurence said, “Still quiet out there, but three pistol shots and that much yelling is gonna bring heat.”

Malik had already frisked the dead man’s corpse and come up empty. He looked like any Baghdad Iraqi living in a cheap apartment in a war zone: tired, wired, and old before his time. He was probably thirty, but he looked forty-five. Ambrose looked around the gloom of the apartment. This was his eighth nighttime raid since warehouse 4, and in addition to learning he was a dead shot with a .44, Ambrose and company had learned that he had good night vision, too. Good enough that battle-hardened marines would trust it in a dark apartment in the most dangerous part of Baghdad.

Ambrose gravitated towards the back corner of the one-room space, where a lumpy twin mattress on the floor was covered in what looked like recently-tossed bedding.

He said, “The intel from warehouse 17 was right. This mattress on the floor definitely makes the place look like a safe house.” He pointed at the wall nearest to the kitchenette, where posters of two bearded men glared down onto the table where Ambrose had killed the apartment’s sole occupant. The first poster showed a young, doughy-faced man shrouded in more black than an Amish mourner, with a beard that didn’t quite roughen up his fleshy features. That was Muqtada al-Sadr, the most powerful man in Sadr City, which Muqtada’s militia had named “Sadr City” to honor Muqtada’s powerful Shiite clerical family.

The other man was something new: he looked like a kind, slightly cunning grandfather in dark robes with a black turban. His silvery beard and lively eyes evoked a silver tabby with a mouse caught between its paws. That was Ali Khamenei, heir to the ayatollah Khomeini, Guardian of the Revolution, Supreme Leader of Iran.

“Corporal…” Ambrose said, taking care not to call Malik by his name, “This is the place. This is where our Iranian was.”

Malik frowned, tightening his rifle grip. He spoke through gritted teeth, “There were two seconds between me kicking that door in and you barreling inside. He couldn’t have made it down the back stairs that quickly, no matter who this guy is.”

Ambrose was on his knees next to the mattress, feeling the lumps for anything unusual. He smiled as his fingers slid into a slit on its bottom side. Ambrose reached into it, and felt the crinkle of a thick stack of documents pushing back at him. Grunting, he shoved his hand in further, pulling out what was easily thirty sheets of requisition orders just like the ones he’d been surreptitiously assembling for months from every other intel outfit in occupied Baghdad. All of the sheets had Farsi epigraphy in the margins, written in Sorcerer’s beautiful, swooping handwriting.

But the top document was different: it ended in a sentence fragment, reading, “Consolidate procured materials into warehouse 20, be ready by dawn tomo—” and it cut off. It was all Ambrose could do to keep from crying: they had caught Sorcerer in mid-sentence, and let him slip away.

Ambrose whispered, “Malik, this document is fresh. We need to hit warehouse 20 immediately.’”

There was yelling in the street outside. Laurence had shouldered his rifle, and was looking outward through his night vision scope into the stygian darkness of Sadr City, where looters had long since dismantled any power lines that would provide illumination at night. Streetlights could only aid the Occupiers. The locals would fire up floodlights on a target when they needed to strike.

“Guys,” Laurence said in his calm twang, “I’d stop caring about that shit right about now and head for the back. You’ve got your new paperwork to drool over and we’re not making it out the front without a firefight. Call it a win already.”

As if on cue, a white burst more intense than sunlight filtered through the broken doorway. There went the locals’ floodlights.

Ambrose growled, “Fuck the crowd, this isn’t a win. We tossed warehouses and Sorcerer never noticed because we left without a trace. This time we kicked in a door, killed a local, and I’m straight-up stealing documents that were deliberately hidden. If we don’t strike now, Sorcerer’s going to know we’re onto him, and he’ll vanish,” Ambrose turned his eyes towards Malik, “So I’m not leaving this room until I know that we’re getting into that car and striking warehouse 20 immediately.”

Two bullets blew holes in the boarded up front windows. All three men in the room coughed as the air filled with sawdust. Their ears were ringing, but Malik still managed to holler, “We’ve never done two raids in one night, and we’ve never tried to enter Sadr City when the militias were out in the street like this on high alert.”

“Fuck that,” Ambrose snapped, “We’re already
in
Sadr City, so the militias couldn’t stop us from getting in. They don’t know where we’re going, so if we move quickly, we’ll be at warehouse 20 before anyone can warn Sorcerer we’re coming.”

Malik’s handheld radio crackled on his belt. Tesoro’s voice came through in a tinny whisper, saying, “Hey assholes, me and Young are hiding in the jeep with the lights off, surrounded by ten Hajis with guns headed toward the front of the apartment. Most have black headbands, so you’re looking at the entire local cell of Muqtada’s goons coming your way. Get. The hell. Out the back.”

Malik had fallen to a crouch, and he responded, “On it. When you see the first of us hit the back staircase, start that fucking engine and
drive
. Don’t kill anyone you don’t have to, but if you do have to, use the front of the jeep. We’re leaving as few American bullets at the scene as possible.”

Laurence rolled along the floor and joined Malik in a crouch, at which point both shuffled towards the back door. That left Ambrose standing in the middle of the room, holding a balled-up Iranian requisitions order in his right hand with a fist so tight it trembled.

“Fuck,” he incanted again. Another stray bullet went through the cheap outer wall of the house and whizzed by his head. It sent plaster spraying into the back of his hair. He barely registered the shot.

“Fuck.”


Hayes!
” Malik shouted, “Alright, we’ll hit your goddamned warehouse 20. Now drop low and get your ass over here.”

Ambrose walked over to them upright as bullets ripped through the air around them and turned the apartment into a cloud of flying powder mixed with splinters. He only bent down when Laurence physically grabbed the front of his fatigues and pulled him downward.

Laurence spoke quietly, “Get it together, Statey. You led us into this shithole, so you’re damn well gonna lead us out.”

Malik interjected, “Tesoro and Young are in the jeep. They’ll rev it the second we hit those back stairs. Since these assholes have started unloading their clips, they won’t have the ears to notice an engine revving. Do you know an exact address for warehouse 20?”

Ambrose nodded. He’d memorized them all, the way people used to memorize the phone numbers of friends and family.

The three of them made it down the stairs and into the dark jeep, which exited the scene at a slow crawl with its lights turned off. Tesoro was driving, but the other three marines were looking at Ambrose, even if they should have been looking out for hostiles.

Malik asked, “What was that up there, Hayes?”

Ambrose reached into his front vest pocket, took out a cigarette, and lit it before responding. He took a drag and replied, “Nothing. Let’s end this,” even if he wasn’t sure he wanted to.

 

* * *

 

Warehouse 20 was the final piece in the clockwise, circular pattern that mapped Sorcerer’s movements throughout Sadr City. That meant it sat on the slum’s northwestern edge, deceptively close to the outskirts of Baghdad proper, where Occupation patrols could wield a heavy hand and thereby keep some measure of order in the shattered Iraqi capital. That order ended at the northern border of Sadr City, south of which the rough justice of the Shiite militias ruled. They had never raided warehouse 20 before because it sat just inside one of Sadr City’s most heavily watched, impermeable borders. Ambrose had argued for a direct strike before, but Malik had always talked him out of it, once even using an analogy about walking into Mordor. But Ambrose knew he was right, this time; they were already deep in Sadr City, so no one would expect them to come at warehouse 20 from the rear. It represented a real chance, albeit a tenuous one.

Young had tried to make conversation, but the other four of them told him to shut up and keep his eyes peeled for ambushes. Whatever they did, someone in the darkened apartments above them was marking their movements. The rogues’ only hope was that their black jeep—Tesoro’s latest find—looked like a militia patrol as it rolled through the empty streets with its lights off. A civilian resident of Sadr City could have made a lot of money if they called in a strike on Occupation forces. They could also earn a bullet if they made the call wrong. Ambrose had come to realize it was a surprisingly effective tool in their favor, once they’d learned to cycle through vehicles and had adopted the counterintuitive strategy of driving through enemy territory as slowly as possible.

Other than its forbidding location, warehouse 20 was no more remarkable than any of the other Qusay Hussein warehouses that Sorcerer had commandeered. It was a concrete and sprayed stucco hulk dominating most of a block, surrounded by an empty parking lot that someone had once upon a time tried to secure with a chain link fence. The fence had vanished, leaving only an orphaned spool of razor wire to suggest it had ever existed. There were no bullet holes in the building. That probably meant the brushfire of Iraq’s war simply hadn’t washed over the place, but Ambrose in his fever could also imagine that the dreaded auras of Qusay Hussein and now Sorcerer had kept bullets from daring to strike the building.

Tesoro stopped the jeep around the corner from the loading docks, where their team normally stashed the vehicles before a raid. He killed the engine, but no one budged from their seats. They all sat with their eyes fixed on nameless points in the distance, even if that point was just on a dashboard or a seatback. Ambrose didn’t know what the rest of them were thinking, but he knew his own mind well enough: he’d spent months believing Sorcerer was the deadliest man in Iraq, without ever bothering to ask himself whether he actually wanted to
confront
such an enemy. Now that they’d approached the midnight hour, he didn’t think that four marines and a civil servant would be enough.

Malik’s hard voice cut through the silence, “We’re entering on the assumption there are live targets who will provide heavy resistance. This one time only, everyone will forget our stealth protocol and use as much firepower as needed to complete the job. Hell, I think we can all agree that at this point we
want
the bastards to see some American bullets in massacred terrorists. Hayes,” he punched Ambrose on the arm, making sure the civil servant’s brain was back in focus, “Will Sorcerer be recognizable on sight? This gets a lot easier if we can lay down suppression fire on his underlings and go right for our target.”

Ambrose blinked, feeling pretty sure that he’d never liked another human in his life as much as he did Adam-fucking-Malik of Dearborn, Michigan. “No,” Ambrose answered, “He won’t be in uniform, and an Iranian doesn’t look different enough from an Iraqi for me to confidently make a snap identification.” He lit what he considered his last cigarette, feeling a crackle of energy shoot up his spine from whatever implacable mojo Malik had just breathed into that car. “They all need to go. Everyone in the building that we see, male or female.”

“Right,” Malik responded. Then he cast his deep-set eyes over each marine, and didn’t look away until each one echoed his affirmation.

Malik flung open his door and said, “Okay, let’s go.”

Red light filled the warehouse. The fluorescents overhead were dark, leaving only the crimson bulbs of the loading dock to light the space. The thirty-foot ceiling vanished into shadow, but the red permeated everything else, providing good visibility down several rows of high Costco-style shelving that filled the middle of the warehouse.

Malik’s steely presence had galvanized the marines, and they barreled past Ambrose quickly enough to make him the last man into the warehouse. As each marine entered, he heard them bark out commands that echoed through the cavern of concrete, but none had started shooting. When he entered the bubble of red light, he understood why.

A man stood in the middle of the center aisle, fifty feet from them. His hands were raised, and his handsome, chiseled face was impassive as a Grecian statue. He had big dark eyes and perfect curly hair that completed the rugged half-beard on his face. His colorless fatigues suggested the outlines of a tall, powerful frame. He wasn’t moving. He didn’t even blink as Ambrose cursed and trained a fifth gun on him.

“I surrender,” the man said in Tehran-accented Farsi.

Ambrose answered in Farsi without thinking whether it was a good idea to reveal who on his team was whom, asking, “Are you Sorcerer?”

The man’s unblinking eyes homed in on Ambrose as he replied, “Sometimes. Did you hear me surrender?”

Malik growled at Ambrose in English, “Do
not
start a fucking conversation with him. What does he want? Is this Sorcerer?”

BOOK: Khomeini's Boy: The Shadow War with Iran
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