Welcome back to Two Navy Guys and a Novel, the blog series where you get to watch two ex-Navy guys co-write a military-political thriller. If you’re joining us for the first time, you can get caught up on past episodes at the Two Navy Guys web page.
This is the post we’ve been aching to write for a long time, the post where we start to release chapters of our work in progress.
These are exciting times for our writing team. If you check out the Writing Progress-O-Meter, you’ll note that we are 61% of the way through the second draft! The full manuscript goes to our beta readers in the next two weeks for their expert opinion and my regular editor is on tap for a February 1st delivery.
And now, without further ado:
Weapons of Mass Deception
Northeast Iraq, near the Iranian border
15 March 2003 – 0200 local
The Iranian was late.
Uday Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti shifted in the backseat of the black Range Rover, his face calm, but inside he raged. He checked his Rolex again—the fifth time in as many minutes.
Two hours! This Iranian asshole has kept the son of Saddam Hussein waiting in the desert for two hours!
He sniffed and wrinkled his nose. The bodyguards on either side of him, hulking men dressed in worn army fatigues—as per the Iranian’s instructions—averted their eyes. The two men in the front seat stiffened and stared straight ahead.
“Out,” Uday barked to the one on his right. “I will walk awhile.”
“But, sir, the—”
“Shut up and let me out!” First they fart in his car, then they try to stop him from getting fresh air.
Stay calm. Father trusted you with this mission—not Qusay—because you are the favored son. Keep it together. He brought his voice down to a conversational level, but kept the edge of authority. “You will walk with me, Baseer.” His head of security exited the front passenger seat and fell into step beside him.
The mountain air was sharp and clear after the stuffiness of the Rover. Uday breathed deeply, watching his breath steam when he released it. The very thinnest of crescent moons hung above them, casting a silvery sheen over the landscape. He moved to the KIA 2.5-ton truck, noting the Iraqi Army emblems had been sanded off and the doors repainted. Again, just as the Iranian had instructed.
He nodded to the men in the rear, waving his hand when they tried to scramble to their feet. Most of the space in the truck bed was taken up by the cargo, plain wooden boxes lashed securely to the deck. Again, per the Iranian’s instructions.
Why did his father even listen to this man? During the conflict that CNN called the “Gulf War,” when the Iraqi air force was being pummeled by the American bombers, this same man convinced his father the Iraqi Air Force would be “protected” in Iran. One hundred thirty-seven Iraqi fighter jets were flown to Iran. One hundred thirty-seven Iraqi fighter jets never returned home to Iraq. Why did his father trust this man?
He knew the reason: Saddam was afraid. Fighter jets were toys compared to what was in these plain wooden crates. Weapons that would turn the world against him, if they were discovered on Iraqi soil.
No, Saddam had seen the Americans enter Afghanistan. Uday had watched his father obsessively flip the channels of his massive TV between Al Jazeera and CNN, sometimes watching both at once. He had seen the Americans lobby the United Nations with their pictures and their money and their threats. Saddam knew in his heart that it was only a matter of time. The Americans were coming, and this time they would not stop at the border.
Still, it made his heart ache to think of the money they had sunk into the contents of these boxes. Had the crates been made of solid gold they would not represent a tenth of the treasure they had spent. Decades of work, and just the smuggling costs alone to move the equipment into Iraq had been enormous—and that was before they’d built a single bomb. He let his eyes run over the boxes and the handful of men guarding them and he felt a hot flush of anger in his throat.
And now they were giving it to the Iranians for safekeeping.
He shook his head, annoyed with his day-dreaming. The men eyed him nervously. Most of them had never even seen Saddam, or his sons, in the flesh. The ten men in the KIA had no idea why they were selected for this mission, and no idea what was in the crates. Just as the Iranian had instructed.
With a final nod, Uday turned on his heel and strode past the KIA, hands clasped behind his back. The roadside ended in a steep cliff. He peered over the edge of the fifty-foot drop. He couldn’t see the bottom, but he heard the trickle of a small stream.
The mountain on the other side of the KIA climbed up less steeply, a jumble of rocks and shadows. He heard the distinctive yipping of a golden jackal in the distance, a sound any son of the desert would recognize immediately. They hunted at night, pursuing rodents or rabbits, and the occasional kid goat if the young shepherds weren’t vigilant.
The sound of an approaching vehicle interrupted his thought. Finally! A black SUV rounded the bend at a crawl, lights extinguished. It came to a stop fifty feet from Uday, its exhaust smoking in the night air behind it. Uday shot a hand signal to Baseer and began to walk slowly toward the new vehicle.
Behind him car doors slammed as his protection detail—the four men he most trusted on the planet—fanned out to either side. He walked boldly up to the passenger’s side door and put his hands on his hips to show the Iranian his displeasure at being kept waiting in the filthy, cold desert for two hours.
He could make out only two figures in the front seats. A light flared in the passenger seat as someone took a drag on a cigarette. That must be him, he thought. It was really all he knew about the Iranian. The man smokes like a chimney, his father had told him, laughing at his use of the American slang. He’s never without a cigarette in his hands. Uday composed his face into an expression of irritation.
The purr of the lowering window seemed loud in the stillness of the night. Uday opened his mouth to speak just as the cigarette flared again. He choked back his outrage when he saw the man’s face. It was a handsome face, high cheekbones, noble nose and brow, strong jawline. His neatly trimmed dark hair was shot with distinguished gray and brushed straight back from his forehead. And yet there was a shadow behind the dark eyes that offset the handsome features. A shadow that made Uday, who had seen and perpetrated all manner of evil in his life as Saddam’s son, fake a cough and avert his eyes from the man’s gaze. The Iranian’s brow twisted in what might have passed for sympathy. He held out a pack of cigarettes. Marlboros.
“Cigarette?” he asked. His tenor voice was soft, tender, but it gave Uday a chill nonetheless. Uday shook his head and stepped away as the car door opened.
The Iranian was slim of build and slightly stoop-shouldered. He stretched, the lighted tip of the cigarette arcing into the sky as he reached his arms over his head.
Uday looked from the Iranian to his driver, who had not moved from behind the wheel of the Rover. “This is all you brought with you?”
The Iranian gave a low chuckle and brought his wrist to his lips, muttering a short burst of Farsi. The rocky shadows shifted as a platoon of heavily armed men moved into the clearing. Uday’s heart skipped a beat. Iranian commandos.
Aware his own men were watching him and desperate to regain some control of the situation, Uday adopted a tone of outrage. “How dare you?” he hissed in English, the common tongue shared by both men. “You bring these men into my country—”
The Iranian stepped close to Uday, so close he could smell the man’s aftershave and the dead taint of cigarettes on his breath. “I am a cautious man, Uday, a trait you would do well to emulate. Stop this posturing and show me the weapons you need me to hide from the Americans.” His voice was pitched low, for Uday’s ears only, and his warm breath puffed against Uday’s cheek as he spoke. He wheeled away and walked toward the KIA. Uday followed, trailed by his four-man security team. Four of the Iranian commandos were still in place, weapons trained on the Iraqi contingent, mirroring their movement toward the big vehicle. The rest had disappeared.
The Iranian reached the back of the truck and said in flawless Arabic, “Get out.” The ten soldiers, without waiting for a confirming order from Uday, piled out of the truck. The Iranian waited until they were herded away from the opening before he hoisted himself into the back of the KIA. One of his commandos came forward with a crowbar and a flashlight. He lowered the tarp across the back entrance and positioned himself between the truck bed and Uday’s people.
Light seeped out from the edges of the tarp and a screech rent the air as the Iranian opened a crate. Minutes ticked by as Uday heard only faint rustlings from the truck bed. The light snapped off, but the tarp stayed down. He’s waiting for his eyes to adjust, Uday thought. He jumped as the Iranian dropped lightly to the ground next to him.
“Everything is as it should be. That is good, Uday.”
“And we will get these weapons back this time? Not like last time.” Uday puffed out his chest. “I need assurances.”
The Iranian’s lips twitched. “Of course, assurances. All you need to do is to call me.”
Uday nodded, setting his chin in satisfaction. At least he had managed to do that much in front of his men.
The Iranian spoke to the nearest commando in rapid Farsi. The man nodded with a quick jerk of his head, the other three commandos approached the soldiers and ordered them to drop their weapons. The Iraqi officer among them protested. The nearest commando jabbed him in the throat and the officer went down gagging. The Iraqi troops all dropped their weapons.
Uday’s men shifted around him in a protective circle. He heard the metallic snick of weapon safeties being released. He wished he had brought more men. The Iranian walked between Uday’s men and took his arm, gently leading him away from his security detail.
The Iraqi soldiers’s wide eyes glimmered in the moonlight. One of them, no more than a boy really, was crying softly and Uday smelled the sharp stench of urine. The boy must have pissed himself. Uday was very aware that his men were watching him, waiting for a signal.
The Iranian drew his own pistol from his holster, and cranked the slide back. He placed it in Uday’s hand. The metal was cold and heavy against his sweaty palm. He knew from the weight and the grip it was a Chinese semi-automatic, fitted with a suppressor. “Kill them,” the Iranian said, his tenor voice almost seductive in softness. “It is necessary.”
The officer fell to his knees, his hands clasped in front of him. “Please, I beg you. Spare us. Please.”
“Kill them, Uday.” The Iranian’s tone was insistent.
Uday felt himself hyperventilating, his pulse pounded in his ears. Baseer caught his eye, urging him to comply with the Iranian’s orders. Uday shot the Iraqi officer in the head, then handed the pistol back to its owner.
“Satisfied?” he asked.
The boy on the end, the one who had pissed himself, tried to run and one of the Iranian commandos cut him down with three-bullet burst of suppressed automatic weapons fire.
The Iranian nodded to his commando team. “Finish it.”
It was over in seconds. The soldiers, his security team—all dead. The only reminder was the ringing in his ears and the acrid scent of the discharged weapons. The Iranian commandos pushed the bodies over the edge of the cliff into the ravine. Uday jumped at the soft touch of the Iranian as the man reclaimed his weapon. He could almost feel the disdain in the man, the way he dismissed Uday now—
The Iranian’s posture stiffened, and his head snapped toward the rocks. He raised his wrist to his lips and spoke in rapid Farsi. An Iranian commando stepped onto the road fifty feet behind the Rover and made his way toward them, towing a struggling figure in white. He shook the boy hard before he threw him to the ground in front of Uday. He was all of twelve years old, dressed in typical shepherd garb and sandals. His eyes traveled up to meet Uday’s and grew wide as he realized who he was looking at.
Uday, who had seen hundreds killed in his lifetime, felt a sudden sense of connection with the boy. He held out his hand to help the boy up.
The Iranian stepped between them, grasping the boy by the front of his shirt and jerking him to his feet. His other hand passed behind the small of his back and there was a flash of silver in the moonlight. A knife, Uday realized. The boy’s body fell from the edge of the cliff like a rag doll.
The Iranian stepped close to Uday, the scent of aftershave and cigarettes now overpowered by the smell of blood. Uday shrank back.
“I am a cautious man, Uday.”
The Iranian barked orders and the commandos disappeared into the night, except for one man who climbed into the KIA truck, started it, and drove it east toward Iran. The Iranian stepped into his Range Rover, lit another cigarette, and with a final look toward Uday, pulled the door shut. His driver wheeled the Rover around and headed back the way they had come.
Uday was alone in the desert.
We hope you enjoyed this brief taste of WMD. We plan to release more chapters in the coming weeks. If you’d like to get a short email notification whenever new chapters are posted, you can sign up here.
David Bruns is the creator of the sci-fi series The Dream Guild Chronicles, and one half of the Two Navy Guys and a Novel blog series about co-writing the military thriller, Weapons of Mass Deception. Check out his website for a free sample of his work.