Read The Prince of Bagram Prison Online
Authors: Alex Carr
“It's good, it's good,” he replied, waving off her apology. He handed her the scarf and a seventy-unit phone card, happily taking the twenty euros. And then, in the same way one might encourage a child, he made a brief pantomime to show Kat that she should put the scarf on.
To the old man's immediate delight, she did as she was told. Then she headed out to the back courtyard.
Time was of the essence now, Kat reminded herself. There was only so much of it to be explained by a bathroom trip. Keeping one eye on the door, Kat slid her card into the phone's slot, lifted the receiver, and dialed the number at Colin's farm.
Two rings. Three. Four. The flat double tones of the British phone system.
“Hello?” The voice was unfamiliar. Male, with the timbre of late middle age.
“Hello. This is Kat Caldwell. I'm calling for Stuart Kelso.”
“I was a friend of Colin's,” she offered.
Another pause. Perhaps she'd dialed the wrong number. She was about to say so when the man spoke at last.
“This is Donald Mitchell, Kat.” Colin's father.
Kat had not met him, but she had a picture in her mind: an older, more weathered version of Colin.
Colin had said once, describing his parents.
They don't know quite what to make of me.
Kat couldn't help wondering what they made of her.
“Mr. Mitchell. I'm sorry …” She hesitated, trying to think of something to say, knowing from experience that anything she offered would sound trite at best. “I'm sorry to bother you. Stuart said I could reach him here.”
“Stuart's dead, Kat.” Just like that.
“They found him last night in a communal flat down in Portsmouth. Appears he got in with some rough trade.” He seemed grateful to have something, anything, to talk about besides his own son's death.
Kat's head was spinning. “I don't understand.”
“Some bloke he picked up in town, they think. Apparently there's a lot of that down there.”
He was, she realized at last, telling her that Stuart was gay, and that he'd been murdered by another man.
“Everyone will know now,” he continued. “Of course he had to be careful about that, in his line of work. I can't say this kind of thing didn't cross our minds before. It's a dangerous business, all that secrecy.”
“Yes,” Kat agreed, “it's terrible.” And then, wishing she could say more, but conscious of both Kurtz and her fast-dwindling phone card, “I was calling about Colin, Mr. Mitchell. About your plans.”
At the mention of Colin, the man's voice shifted audibly. “We still haven't made any, what with everything that's happened. And there's the body to come back still. He would have liked to be in the mountains, so I suppose that's what we'll do. But nothing official.” He paused then, collecting himself. “You're welcome to come over whenever you can. I'm sure Colin would appreciate it. He liked you very much. But then I'm sure you knew that.”
The comment took Kat off guard. Suddenly, she was crying.
From inside the gas station came the sound of a door slamming and two voices. Kurtz's overbearing Arabic and the old man answering back. Kat pinched the bridge of her nose and took a deep breath. Kurtz would not see her like this. “I'm sorry,” she told Colin's father, “I have to go.”
HERE ARE NOT MANY
of us left,” Adil said, dividing the last of the tea among their chipped cups, listing the names of the others who had chosen to brave the trip north.
Jamal looked down at his feet. Their meal had been a feast, and he felt ashamed for having taken the guest's portions offered him. His own greed sickened him.
From somewhere in the distance, outside the walls of Ain Chock, the call to prayer could be heard.
Jamal thought, the day three-fifths gone already. There was a time when he would not have noticed the muezzin's call, but after so long away the day's division had become foreign to him. It would take some time to get used to it again.
Mahjoub downed the dregs of his tea and stood up from the vegetable crate that served as the abode's only table. “I'm going to the mosque,” he announced, then eyed Jamal one last time before ducking through the shanty's low door.
“Don't worry about him,” Adil remarked after Mahjoub had gone, sensing Jamal's discomfort with the young man. “He's not so bad. And he can get us things. He knows people at the mosque.”
Jamal nodded uneasily. He was familiar with this kind of charity.
“To our dear director,” Adil said, smiling as he raised his teacup in a toast. It was a joke from the old days, an expression of what the boys had always been too afraid to voice.
“To the director,” Jamal replied. Then, suddenly: “I'm in trouble, Adil.”
Adil set his tea down. “You are home now,” he said, his expression serious.
“No.” Jamal shook his head. “I should not have come here.”
“Shh,” Adil scolded him gently. “You are tired. You will sleep here tonight and in the morning things will not seem so bad.”
Jamal knew he should go, but the thought of leaving the relative comfort of Ain Chock was too much for him. In his exhaustion, he began to weep. “I will leave in the morning,” he said. “I promise you.”
Adil reached over and put his hand on Jamal's shoulder. “Brother,” he said, “you will stay as long as you need to.”
The morning of Jamal's departure, Kat stayed in her tent until she heard the early transport lumber down the runway on its way to K-2. By the time she finally reported for her shift, shortly after nine, the facility was in chaos. Climbing up to the ICE, Kat could see that the main cages were packed to capacity.
“Where the fuck have you been?” the day-shift officer in charge, an Iowa business-school grad named Kyle Hewson, snapped when Kat walked into the ICE.
Kat shrugged. “I'm here now.”
“We could have used you five hours ago,” Hewson grunted, then turned back to his computer, too busy to waste any more time on Kat. “Hariri needs help in seven. He'll bring you up to speed.”
The choice to pair two of the unit's few Arabic speakers was an idiotic waste, but it was typical of Hewson, whose decisions were guided by some oblique management calculus, the reasoning behind which only a fellow MBA could have understood. But Kat was in no position to argue. Grateful for the reprieve, she headed out of the ICE and onto the catwalk that ringed the main prison floor, along which most of the interrogation booths were located.
The VIP cells, including the one where Jamal had been housed since his arrival, were off this same walkway, and Kat was conscious of a knot in her stomach as she approached the boy's quarters. Someone, perhaps even Jamal on his way out, had thrown the blanket that normally covered the doorway aside, and Kat could not keep herself from peering into the space as she passed, half expecting to see the boy's gawky face grinning back at her. He'd left behind his army-issue Koran and a pile of dog-eared comic books, but what little else he'd had in the way of possessions—a calendar of beach scenes that Kat had bought from a Hawaiian nurse for a ridiculous price, a Manchester United jersey Colin had won in a poker game at the British camp—were gone. Kat forced herself to keep moving.
Time in the booth is like dog years, in that one hour spent with a prisoner can easily feel like seven. Kat didn't know how long Hariri had been at it that morning, but when she ducked her head through the makeshift doorway of his booth she could see that he was already well past his limit.
“What's going on?” Kat asked when Hariri joined her outside the booth. “Hewson's in one of his moods.”
Hariri stepped closer to Kat and lowered his voice to just above a whisper. “No one's confirming it, but the word from the MPs is that there was an escape last night.”
Kat couldn't keep from laughing. She might have believed such a thing at Kandahar, where security at the hastily constructed facility was dodgy at times, but the idea of someone slipping out of the Bagram prison was utterly incredible.
The cages themselves were entirely transparent, lit from above and monitored by live MPs twenty-four hours a day. The only time the prisoners left was for interrogations, and then only under the strictest security, passing through one locked door and into a sally port before being shackled and led through a second locked door. At every step of the way, the men were accompanied by at least two MPs. And this was just the first line of defense. Anyone who managed to somehow outwit the cages would then have to negotiate a series of walls and electrified fences before encountering, just outside the prison, one of the most heavily mined strips of land in all Afghanistan.
“You've got to be shitting me,” Kat said. “Spider-Man couldn't escape from this place.”
But Hariri shook his head, serious. “I heard it was the second Iranian, the one whose friend died out at the civilian facility.”
Kat was incredulous. “You're telling me he just strolled out of here?”
Hariri shrugged. “I'm telling you he's gone.” He lowered his voice yet again, and glanced cautiously over his shoulder. “Everyone knows those Special Forces guys can walk through walls.”
“What are you saying?” The implication was clear, but Kat wanted Hariri to say it to her face. It was no secret in the ICE that something was going on between her and Colin.
“I'm sorry, Kat, but I just can't imagine any of those guys are too broke up about this.”
He was right, of course. If something out of bounds had happened at the salt pit, Colin's team had both motive and opportunity to see the Iranian gone; besides them, he was the only possible witness to the other prisoner's death. But Kat still wasn't buying it. “I know the guys on that team,” she insisted. “They may not always play by the rules, but they wouldn't do something like this. I mean, come on, think about what you're saying.”
Hariri nodded. “I'm sure you're right,” he said without conviction.
Kat motioned to the booth. Better, she told herself, to let it go and concentrate on the demons they had at least a chance of slaying. “Hewson said you'd bring me up to speed.”
OLIN AND NOW STUART
, Kat thought, wrestling with the unsettling fact of Stuart's death as she and Kurtz hurtled south through the smog-drenched Casablanca suburbs. She had been prepared to accept Colin's suicide, had seen the gesture as yet another mark of just how little they really knew each other, an extension of whatever misunderstanding had passed between them that last night at Bagram. But the two deaths together seemed like an uncomfortable coincidence.
Kat looked over at Kurtz, at his face in hard profile, his hands on the wheel. Did he know? she wondered. Had he known about Colin all along?
Kurtz shifted his eyes from the road and glanced at her. “Something wrong?”
Kat shook her head. Just days before the court-martial was scheduled to begin, she thought, and Stuart and Colin were dead. They were dead and here she was with Kurtz, looking for the boy who had come in with the Iranians in the first place. No, there was more than mere coincidence at work.
“I was wondering about Jamal,” she said, struggling to keep her voice steady. “What happens if we find him?”
Distracted, Kurtz glanced over his shoulder, then wheeled the Peugeot around a clot of merging cars. It was late afternoon, nearing rush hour, and the road was clogged with traffic, all of it moving at a near-suicidal pace. “How much farther?” he asked, nodding toward the map he'd given her after their last stop.
Other than what Kat had gleaned from Jamal's sketchy descriptions, she knew little about the Ain Chock Charity House. Jamal had mentioned several times that it was south of the city, but where, exactly, was not something Kat had had the time to pursue during their conversations at Bagram. But Kurtz knew. Clearly, he had been prepared to come this far.
Kat reached for the map and unfolded it, let her eyes move down the paper and come to rest on the
Kurtz had drawn in the city's southern suburbs. “Another mile or so,” she guessed, looking around for landmarks, finding their position in relation to the map.
“Good,” Kurtz remarked, glancing out the window toward where the sun hung low in the sky.
Conscious, as she was, of what little daylight was left to them, and of how utterly at a disadvantage they would be once darkness fell. It is one thing to be a stranger in a place like Casablanca during the daytime, quite another after the sun goes down. If they didn't find the orphanage soon, they would have no choice but to wait until morning.
“Jamal,” she persisted. “What are we going to do with him?”
Kurtz's eyes focused back on the road. “I suppose that depends on what he tells us.”
It was an odd thing, Kat thought, to say about someone in danger. “But there must be a plan. For getting him out of here, I mean. Will he be coming back with us?”
“Yes,” he said distractedly. And then, making a point of turning and looking her directly in the eye, as only someone who is lying will, “It's all arranged. He'll be coming with us.”
After all her years of training and all her hours in the booth, there were still times when Kat could not say with any certainty whether she was being lied to. But this was not one of those times. It was clear to her that Kurtz wasn't telling the truth. And though his dishonesty came as no surprise, she was taken aback by the recklessness of his lie. As always, he did not think her up to the task. It was, she thought, the worst kind of hubris.