Kabul : Naeem Baig’s Novel Kogon Plan Chapter 1

Kogon Plan
Kogon Plan : a novel by Naeem Baig serialized

Kabul : Naeem Baig’s Novel Kogon Plan Chapter 1

Chapter 1

March 2003

It was cold in Kabul that morning, raining but without snow. It was still early, yet the light would remain the same all day like Siberia or Finland in the north.

Sher Ali sat at a small table in a safe house in City Centre area near Masjid Shah Do Shamshera. The table was ugly, a stained round Formica top and peeling brown metal legs, but it was good enough for a student. At the moment Sher Ali wished that he were a student.

He looked through the small lead glass window, yet he could not see nothing of City Centre, for the kitchen faced the stone facade of other half of the building. The flat had been carefully selected. Second floor— you could jump off the kitchen window if you had to. Wooden stairs you could hear anyone on the landing. There was only one set of “scenic” windows and that was at the front of the flat facing the street along the Kabul River. If you set up camp across from a Mosque, anyone who wanted to observe you would first have to get past a Pesh Imam.

These things were always well thought-out.

Sher Ali sipped at a cup of tea, but he could not eat.

Baba Feroz on the other hand seemed to be having no trouble at all. His side of the table looked like a ravaged platter. He had finished half a litre of orange juice and was on his third cup of rich dark tea with sugar. Before him sat a large dish with two half-boiled eggs to be taken care of in the belly and he was violently jabbing buttered slice of a bread roll.  Adding to Ali’s gastronomic disbelief, Baba punctured his “light” breakfast with gnashing bites from the greasy roll.

“What an appetite” Ali’s tone was veined with disgust, though he knew, he was simply jealous. He wished he could eat too.

Feroz looked up. He swept his shaggy dark brown hair back over his forehead and stared out innocently from his bright brown eyes. His mouth was full.  “Don’t you feel hungry?”

Ali smiled and shook his head. “I’m not an animal”.

Feroz shrugged, taking no offence. “Ok…I am an animal.”

He returned to his plate. Then he reached across the table, picked up his packet of Marlboro and begins rolling a cigarette. That was another thing that Ali could not understand. Food that could sink a battleship and tobacco that could burn asbestos, what an Iron stomach and Iron lungs?

Then as if to dispel Ali’s envy, Baba glanced up again, grinned sheepishly and said “I guess I am nervous”.

“Yes” Ali nodded. Pleased to be once more in the company of a human.

You see, everyone has his own way of dealing with pre-combat jitters. Ali pushed his cup away, got up and walked through the lounge to the front window. He looked at his watch perhaps twentieth time. It was still only 7.30 AM.

He put his hands on the hips and stared through the freckled glass at the Masjid Shah Do Shamshera, whose Red dome wavered like a dream behind the smoky sheets of water that coursed over the window. He blew out a sigh and turned to gaze at the small flat.

Everything was Afghani. The furniture, the books, the piles of daily “Outlook” and weekly “Kabul”   and the fat volume of Omer Khayyam along with the Holy Quran wrapped in Red linen cloth on the upper part of the only wardrobe cabinet. His cloths were Afghani and Baba’s as well, right down to the underwear.

The only foreign items were their American .45 calibre Colt, yet these two were accompanied by forged licensing documentation associating both men with Afghan anti-terrorist team. Even the subsonic ammunition was American, designed to kill but not to penetrate the target and possibly injure a wide–eyed passer-by.  Someone brilliant enough to think of everything, which allowed Sher Ali a certain relief from responsibility, yet it also caused him to feel rather primitive.

He felt like a Doberman at the tail of wedding parade.

Something was gnawing at the pit of Sher Ali’s stomach. He swore to himself, for the hundredth time, that he would give up smoking that corrosive poison as soon as the mission is over. He was too dame jumpy. He had to begin changing gears, closing down emotions. The mission’s team leader had to command with cool objectivity and sharp reflexes, all the while seeming to his subordinates to be in complete self-control. As he had done many time in the past, Ali now searched for a focus which would help him attain this state.

On the far wall of flat was a large poster framed in glass and aluminium. It was a soft focused, warm and colourful of the lush green lawns and bird-bedecked ponds of the Taimoor tomb across Kabul River with a girl standing at the end of the street leading to tomb.

Ali had seen the poster countless time but it was only now that he really noted the girl who was grabbing a stick sneaking below the bush.  He really noted the irony and laughed out loud.

“What’s this” Baba called from the kitchen.

“Ssshh” Ali continued the stare at the poster. He had broken his mood.

He dropped his hands to the sides, willing the arm to relax, his fist to open, the fingers to dangle. He narrowed his eyes and saw his own reflection in the glass, short black hair, brownish eyes, and a strong neck and below that mid-length black leather coat.

His image reassured him, smoother and calmer now. He directed his mind to Operation Darkroom.

Amusingly, that Sardar Jagat Singh Khan had chosen such a name for this mission. In Urdu, the word for darkroom was a room where negatives are turned into positive, and the sound of that word was really too much like the Target’s real name and to eliminate its features. But since you never, ever choose a mission an operational code that remotely resembled reality, Sardar had surely done so intentionally. In this business to be predictable was to be finished and Sardar was never predictable.

By now Ali was sure Sardar Khan would have been in his office for over two hours. Ali was equally sure that the mission commander had been arriving for work at that hour since he had rented the vacant import/export office, if for no other reason than to quell any suspicious regarding his early arrival on this particular day.

The office was situated in Marhaba Complex close to the Kabul City Centre for obvious cover reasons. But the precise choice of office 234 seemed to have been selected to satisfy Sardar’s sense of comical-irony. For Sardar insisted on calling it “Raphar” in keeping his oft-repeated opinion that espionage was a “shitty business”.

Ali began to review the pre-mission details.

Bano Abagull would be moving into position, setting up her easel on her glassed-in veranda which over looked in the Kabul Bazaar Street in the quiet borough of City Centre. Ali had not, of course, ever set foot in Bano’s flat. But her detailed description enabled him to picture the environment.

Wearing a local Afghani Shalwar Qameez embroidered at small pits on its arms and breast. A telephone would be on her side next to a large pot of black coffee. Her petite black head would bore a number of items —dangling chain-and ball earrings, the earphones of a Walkman, and on her crown a pair of half spectacle, half opera glasses. The veranda would not be heated today, so that the window glass would remain clear. Bano would shiver along with the leave of her veritable greenhouse, as the cold March wind invaded through the still cracks.

As befitted an art student, she would have tens of brushes, tubes, trays, and ink surrounding her legs and as befitted the Team’s Communication Officer, her art-work would suffer today as she looked and listened in a coldly un-aesthetic manner. After a month of work the large canvas of City Centre across Kabul River was still only half-finished. Had Bano not been quite so attractive, friendly and aggressively eccentric, her neighbours might have asked her why it was taking so long.

Ali did not allow his thoughts to linger with Bano, for he had feelings for her that somehow were less than professional.

Barat Khan, now there was a man who could not possibly sit and wait; and fortunately for him he would not be required to do so. Barat’s triple duties as Transportation Officer, Primary tail and back-up would keep him moving all day long.

Already at dawn, Barat would have commenced his check of the “motor pool”. There were to the dismay of the Department’s Logistic Head, ten rental vehicle involved in the operation as well as a purchased Van and an ambulance. Each vehicle has to be inspected for fuel, oil and water and then started and warmed to its health.

The entire rental vehicle had been hired from different firms with one of three with   Master-Cards which were linked to relatively with small cash accounts in Egyptian Banks. Throughout the early morning, Barat would have gone systematically from one compartment to other compartment, inserting type written notes into each rental agreement. Long after the cars were abandoned, and hope fully recovered by their irate owners, the message in Persian would intentionally appease;

    “Terribly sorry for inconvenience, please forgive and charge our account”

Ali had developed a consummate respect for Barat and he trusted his technical judgements implicitly.

He could picture the diminutive, muscled ex-motorcycle racer gleefully flying through the rainy streets of Kabul, flitting from one machine to other, fretting like a Pit Manager.

Then there was Shabana Mir, as secondary tail and emergency decoy, Shabana was going to have an extremely unpleasant day.   She would spend all morning outdoors within five hundred meters of the City Centre North-west Street facing River Kabul wearing her Walkman waiting for her cue. If she had ever harboured fantasies about the romantic life of an espionage agent, today she would surely be cured of such notions.

Shabana’s task was somewhat more difficult than Bano’s inasmuch she was the Team’s “character actress”. Inherently she possessed all of Bano’s dynamic qualities, yet she could play her own type and was therefore called upon to do so with regularity. Her speciality was going completely unnoticed, and she had practiced donning this cloak of invisibility until details of her physical and personality traits were obscured and encounters with her quickly for-gotten.

Her form was slightly athletic, so she wore over-sized shirts and fatigue like trousers. Her hair was dark brown and of naturally groomed texture so she refrained from washing it much while in the field. She would pull it back into a tight bun and thick glasses to dull the liveliness of her hazel eyes. Everything suggested a total lack of sexuality that man can look at her with fairly grimace.

Today Shabana would fairly disappear within her operational area. Wearing a dull raincoat, a scarf covered his head and earphone of Walkman. She would be forced to listen and she would move from cafe to cafe, never lingering more than half an hour, yet constantly forced to order food for which she has no appetite.

She would wait and by mid-afternoon she would be sick to death of eating…

Ali moved forward with his mental checklist, arriving at the image of one of his favourite comrades.

Faizi Jaffar was the elder of the primary field team, and thought of him always sure to improve Ali’s mood.

Karachi born, Faizi frequently amused the younger members of Special Operations with his tortured dialect in twisted “Punjabi”. He was close to forty, tall, bony, stooped and mostly bald. His sharp eyes were creased with smile lines, his side burn going grey. His hawkish sly nose with quick smile completed the character of some sort of comic master, constantly on the verge of tossing off one-liners which served to force someone to smile even in the gravest situation.

On ‘Darkroom’ Faizi would be serving as the team janitor, with a secondary function as Emergency Decoy.

As with all complex intelligence missions, operation Darkroom had a window within which it would have to be executed. After a certain amount of elapsed time, the operation could no longer be considered secure and it would have to be abandoned until some future date and place. Today was Darkroom’s final day.

Ali still lost in half-thoughts of pre-mission review, did not realise that he was smiling stupidly.

Kis ki yaad Aa rehi hey” Baba had finished his dish washing. He had removed his waste coat and his pistol was down on the table.

“Thinking of Faizi” Ali said.

“He is getting too old for his work” Baba wilfully teased Ali.

“Oh, No… He’s at his peak, relaxed and unlike us. And don’t do too many push ups to spoil your aim.”

Baba obediently switched to sit-ups, but first he took a drag from his cigarette, which was perched in a metal ashtray on the kitchen table.

The smell of the tobacco made Ali want one too. He dragged his own pack of Rothmans from his coat’s pocket and lit up with a disposable lighter.

The Great Game— as the seniors liked to call the intelligence business— took its toll.

All of the primary team members were fit, but all of them were smokers. Ali wondered that if the entire team was rounded up for questioning and deprived of their cigarettes, they might all begin to sing a Qawwali in chorus.

Sardar Khan, Ali was sure, would also be smoking at this very moment… he would be hunched over his desk at office 234, his bogus toy import/export firm Toy House, staring at three black telephones like an optimistic vulture. The small office filled with maps, catalogues and shipping forms would be foggy with smoke. Sardar would not move from his chair, the only evidence of his anticipation the ruined red-and-white pack of Wills filter at his fingertips.

Sardar’s usually optimistic expressions would be devoid of all humour as he waited for word from his team of Casuals. The Casuals were local resident operatives whose only function would be to identify moves of the Target, report in, and then quit the mission.

Ali thought of the mission again and sighed as he marvelled at the complexity of the operation, the number of personnel involved. Ali took pride in his fellow colleague’s ability to cooperate, maintain security, compartmentalize issues and still execute a difficult mission. Today Darkroom would involve the facilities, the personnel of Diplomatic Security, Civilian Intelligence and Special Air Operational Unit. If it succeeded the credit would be consumed by all. But if failed everyone would lodge their logistic claims with the Directorate.

Perhaps this attention to operational details served as psychological compensation for the missing factor—Unknown quantity. The single indistinct entity was inevitably the Target, for a while preparations might be perfect. Everyone in proper position, you never knew precisely what He was going to do.

Razmak Bilal.

Was he still in his room in the Spinzer Hotel on Kabul River? The watchers had been on him all night, sealing the hotel as best as they could without blowing the mission. At last report at 0210 hrs. Razmak had retired. But who could be sure.

And then if and when he finally appeared, would Razmak play the game. Would he proceeds, as he had done for last four days running to his “office” beneath the Central Pamir Cinema, and if he did so, when he finally emerged, would he still have his romantic appetite for a risky call to his girlfriend. So many variable, so many chances, you never knew the next step, so much reliance on the luck and chances. It all suddenly seemed to be foolish to Ali, bordering, in fact on the impossible.

They had been tracking the Target across the Middle East for the last three months, yet he always seemed to escape their grasp, like a magician. At times Ali had to remind himself of the importance of the mission and he would hard back to the initial briefing when the team was assigned to Operation Darkroom.

“What did he do now” he had asked Sardar when the commander first announced their Target. Razmak certainly had bloody resume. He had blown up a Police HQ in Nowshera. He had operated several bomb blasts almost in all the Provincial HQ which killed almost more than 350 innocent people including women and children besides an attempt to blow up an Official Convoy of the Governor. In the last year he had himself plotted to kill a Diplomatic entourage which instead under a sheer unfortunate chance targeted a friend country’s Ambassador who died instantly with his three embassy personnel in “Black Ultimo 2.5”. He was moving around in Margalla Hills on a personal trip without the knowledge of local police. The case was later taken up by the Americans with its code name ISD-3355.

“If this is the case, then why doesn’t this friend country itself catch him and execute him for the murder of his one ill-fated Diplomat”. Baba never could stop his slip of dialect but the question had a merit.

“Because they would have to have eye witnesses, Razmak’s fingerprints and Act of parliament to do it, and above all this incident happened in our country. Sardar Khan had said with a mixture of pity and scorn.

Ali needed no more reasons, for Razmak was now responsible for mass murders that cut across international lines, but he also wondered whether the team had finally met their match.

He sucked on his cigarette watching Baba to perform his exercise and his stomach began to churn again.

The telephone rang.

Baba stopped in mid-sit-up. Ali flicked head towards a corner of the lounge where the dirty white instrument sat on a small wooden table.

It rang again.

Baba sprang to his feet but Ali was there first, snatching up the receiver. He forced himself to produce a normal tone, even a touch of drowsiness.

“Suba Bakhair” It was Sardar’s basso voice. “Is this Bus Company?”

“I am sorry, it’s not, may be wrong number,” Ali was already nodding to the expectant Baba.

“I am sorry too… have a good day, Sir” Sardar hung up and Ali put the receiver into the cradle. He was already moving to pick up his small overnight bag. Baba threw his jacket on and pulled a black smoky cap onto his head. Neither of the two men spoke as they examined the rooms, quickly one last glance. They had done it twice already. It was just habit.

“Ready” Ali faced Baba in the middle of the room. Baba patted the small bulge under his jacket.

“Ready”.

Allah pe Rakh

—–

The cold rain sounded suddenly like ball bearings on the steel plate, but Ali cap-less, ignored it. Alone he slowly walked across the street to the dull Blue Corolla parked in front of the Mosque, opened the door, slipped into the front seat, briefly warmed the engine and slowly eased out from the street. The rain was bouncing up white halos around the parked cars and hardly anyone else was driving. He swung around the Mosque, headed north and stopped forty meters up the block.

Feroz waited by the apartment house-door, as he was reluctant to brave the downpour. He counted to a full twenty seconds and was satisfied that no other vehicle had followed; Ali went out into the street. Baba walked casually towards the corner and then jumped into the passenger seat, welcoming the growing warmth of the engine.

Aik aur Musibat”, Baba spat, complaining about the weather. He stuffed his bag into the rear seat, while Ali pulled away taking slow right onto service road and heading west towards Kabul River Bridge and then to City Centre.

“It’s going to stay this way”. Said Ali, tried to concentrate keeping his speed slow. Nothing above third gear, he told himself. “Better get used to it”.

Baba blew out a breath and looked at the little cloud, “Can I at least take an umbrella”?

“As long as you don’t use it” Ali smiled on him.

They were already on the main road alongside the Kabul River.

“The Radio” Ali ordered.

Baba sarcastically obeyed.

The Corolla’s cheap Panasonic had been extracted from the Dash Board, and in its place as with the entire primary’s team vehicles, another Cassette player had been placed which was a creation of the department’s magician.

On the outside it was black high-tech AM/FM and on the inside it was all connected with special UHF technology wireless transmission.  The receiver contained some unusual features uncommon to simple car stereos.

Below the tuning were six pre-set buttons. The three on the right functioned normally and could be pre-set to choice commercial stations. The three on the left were set to engage only the operational frequencies of Darkroom. While the hole for cassette contained no apparent tape rather it was fixed with a sixty minutes continuous-loop microcassette.

Pushing the radio’s power knob, rather than turning it activated only the cassette and the operational frequencies. The tape played a pre-recorded local pop station, from which all references to time, day and date had been edited. The disc jockey was a female. From her chilly veranda of Bazaar Street of City Centre, Bano Abagull would control all broadcasts to the primary team. Though her modified Walkman, she would monitor Kabul police traffic. Her telephone seemingly one of those push-buttons clock-radio extravaganzas, served a dual function. It received incoming call, yet through it Bano could also broadcast to the car radios. She could switch operational frequencies with numbered combination on the push-button handset.

Bano’s coded message would be brief. When necessary she would override the sultry taped disc jockey with a “weather report” or a “birthday greetings”, offering team updates, instructions or frequency change. Excepting a special alteration to Ali’s Radio, there was no provision for two-way transmission.

Bano liked it that way. No one could talk back to her.

Feroz reached over and pushed the power knob on the radio. Immediately the tape engaged in the middle of a recording of Radio Kabul on Indian old songs. Baba laughed but Ali was concentrating on the traffic. He was following a Blue-ended serene police car, and his knuckles tightened under his leather gloves.

Baba pushed the far left pre-set button, engaging the first operational frequency. It added nothing to the tape broadcasts as only Bano’s voice could actually open the wave.

Ali stared past the droning wipers of the Corolla. He blew out a breath when he turned onto Jaime Street as the police car continued on the main road. The traffic was still light and he wondered if weekend late night activities had kept most of Kabul in bed today. It was not good. No traffic means less police work and he wanted the police to be very busy today.

The National Museum appeared ahead, the grey stones of the building pressed under a white curtain of thin steamy fog. Ali turned onto the sideway and stopped the car near the cemetery.

“Go and see your friends” he said.

Baba groaned and walked off into the sideway entrance and went inside on lawns area.

Ali moved on and quickly found a space and parked the car. He left the engine running, the radio on. He turned off the wipers and opened the window half way and lit a cigarette.

After a moment there was a knock on the passenger window. He opened the door to admit a tall red-scarfed girl, who fairly fell into the front seat, shivering under her long woollen coat.

“Hello” he smiled.

Long ago the department had decided that a single man waiting in a car was a suspicious sight. However a loving couple usually does attract nothing more than a smile.

The girl was a resident consular employee, totally compartmentalized, knowing virtually nothing. Her cover was light and to an inquisitive policeman, she would respond with blushes and confess to more than a recent one-nighter with Khan as she had been told to refer Ali. She opened her coat and then moved closer to Ali, who stretched his arm around her shoulders.

“Could be worse” the girl said, smiling shyly. “At least you are good looking”. It would probably be the most exciting day of her diplomatic career.

“Shh” Ali whispered in her hair…. “Let’s listen to the radio”.

He wondered if this couple routine might be as usual. He was certain that the Department must know it too; soon they will be using pairs of childrenor worse than those midgets.

He thought and the image brought a smile on his face, quickly vanished by a glimpse of Baba outside along the grill around the cemetery garden “mourning” no one in the rain.

At 09.30, Razmak Bilal had finally left the Spinzer Hotel, prompting his grateful watchers to make a public telephone to office 234 Marhaba Complex. In turn Sardar had promptly dialled Spinzer, got the desk at the hotel and asked for room 515. He had held his breath for five rings, and when no one answered he hung up and began dialling again sending all the primary members into streets.

The chase was started, but from this point forward it had to play courtship rather than a pursuit. The Department’s military psychologists had made extensive studies. Animals in the wild sensed while they were being hunted. Sentries guarding enemy bases seemed to feel it when they were about to be taken down. Even in the crowded streets of a major city, Targets could often smell a tail.

So Razmak Bilal could not now be followed in the classic manner. He would be picked up by the Casuals at various points, the sighting not even reported and left to go on his way. If he did not adhere to the pattern required by the mission that would be reported and the operation would be postponed. This was where luck would become a major player in the game.

So far, Razmak was cooperating. He walked out of the Grand Hotel Spinzer and stood under the large green fibre-glass shelter for the waiting people in front of the outside of Hotel, seemingly sniffing the weather, or perhaps someone other’s scent. He was wearing expensive brown leather long raincoat. A shocking pink silk scarf with delicate paisley ends was wrapped around his throat. His short silky black hair was covered by a soft gabardine pea cap. He carried a brief case in one hand and a folded umbrella in the other. It would be fairly easy to track him today, if he did not alter his attire.

He went into the hotel‘s underground parking lot and came out driving a four door immaculate Blue Mercedes SEL-500. He switched on the wipers and moved down to the service lane which connecting main road to Kabul Bazaar Street, at least seemingly heading towards Kabul Central Pamir cinema. That was when the first set of casuals made their call, describing Razmak’s dress for the day.

While the primary team hurried out to assume their first stage positions, Razmak continued driving. Now as long as he did nothing totally unexpected, there would be no more casual reports to Sardar until the second stage.

On the corner in front of the River Complex a middle aged man was walking with a shivering German shepherd. He watched the Mercedes as it passed the River Complex, but he was not alarmed. The wide double thoroughfare was one way on this side. Razmak would have to take U-turn and back if he was indeed headed for Pamir Cinema.

The man crossed over onto the broad medium strip. His shepherd seemed happier to be among the tall trees, though they were winter dark and threadbare, dripping with water. The man stood staring up at the huge white Coca-Cola sign over the curved set of five-story stone offices on the north side of the square. He looked as though he longed for such a luxury vehicle, though he was actually counting the endless seconds.

When the Blue SEL-500 passed him, headed back the other way, he smiled and bent down to pat his grinning companion.

For the past four days, Razmak had been coming from his hotel to the Pamir Cinema, some time he made elaborate detours through the Kabul bazaar Street, but he always arrived at the same place.  Even in winter the Pamir cinema was one of the Kabul’s most visited square. Above ground there was a large circular fountain with tens of jets ringing the circumference spraying into a central geyser. Lining the stone square on its north and southeast were two semi-circular business edifices of an unappealing yellow colour.

Grand access to the Pamir Cinema was from the east, through the grey medieval arches which looked like the entrance to a moated castle. Below the cinema accessed by wide stairs was sprawling shopping centre and pedestrian mall with passages leading to the bus stop and taxi stand. One of the many shops was a small jewellery concern. It was owned by a man named Jabil, who was under cover representing Boris Yaakov, a senior intelligence officer of the Russian External Services. Apparently Razmak had some interesting business with Boris whom he had not met, but as far as the Darkroom personnel were concerned, at this point the said information was irrelevant.

On the first two days, after spending some hours with Boris, Razmak had gone to visit a woman in Kabul downtown area near King Tomb. He has been seeing the woman on and off for a year, and by the nature of her appearance blonde and athletic, the encounters were assumed to be sexual. An extremely loose tail was placed on her, although no electronic surveillance. Yesterday she had been out of town visiting a girl friend in Ghazni. Today she was back at home and it was hoped that Razmak appetite had caught up with him in the past forty eight hours.

The casual and his canine watched that Razmak’s Mercedes passed on the northern corner of the Pamir Cinema. The car pulled into the indoor parking lot. The casual knew that attendants received the vehicle, so the target whose name and function he did not know, would shortly emerge. He waited for a break in the traffic, and then hurried across the road with his shepherd. The downpour had turned into a chilly drizzle and he sat down on the one of the large stone stool near the foundation. He began to play with the dog, who happily responded to cuff on the ears and short woofs from his master.

The casual was no amateur. In his youth he had worked for the British intelligence as a deep cover agent in Kabul. Though long retired over the ten past years, Babul had performed many brief but essential tasks for Sardar. He had a vast wealth of street experience and would watch a target almost without looking at him.

Razmak emerged from the parking lot, crossing the path using his black umbrella as walking stick. Babul was confident that Razmak was heading to the mall. In a moment his role would be over, another clean entry would be weathered old intelligence diary he kept in his head.

But Razmak made a sharp left and headed straight for the arches.

Babul continued playing with the shepherd, yet he blinked in the rain as he watched Razmak receding back. The quarry was passing below the large Billboard on the east side of the square, heading for the endless expanses of the pedestrian way on the Street, where he could disappear in a half minute.

Babul walked quickly to the south end of the square. He stepped into a telephone booth, threw coins in to the slot and dialled a number. The shepherd whined sensing his master’s discomfort. It was 9.46.

Sardar answered before the first ring stopped.

“Morning”

 “Sardar… this is Babul. Listen, I know we were supposed to meet Razi for the luncheon, but he had to go east for the day.”

“Really?”  Sardar voice barely betrayed his concern. “Are you sure?”

“O, yes I am sure. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

“Not at all, Perhaps some other time. I guess you will have the day off then.”

“Yes… thank you.”

Both men terminated. Sardar now had a difficult decision to make. Razmak had deviated, had not entered the Mall. He was moving east to a new place. Babul has used the word go, so Razmak was on foot. He might do something unexpected. If he had already sensed a tail, then Darkroom was blown anyway.

He called Bano. When she hung up with him, she made her first broadcast on the frequency A. Her voice was as casual as that of female disc. Jockey now chattering over the weather etc, cut in with a brief commercial announcement.

“Now, all you lovely Kabul girls, I know it’s raining a bit today, but there is a big sale on at Mall in Pamir Cinema shopping centre. You really should not miss it, Hat, business cases, umbrellas and coats 30 percent off.”

The message was intended for Shabana Mir, as Pamir cinema area was her operational area. But every one of the primary team knew what the relay meant.

Still parked next to the cemetery garden, Ali recoiled from the redhead and lit up a cigarette. She did not immediately realize what had happened and took it quite personally.

In an open parking lot of the Kabul bazaar street, Barat Khan sat in silver Audi. It was the only power car in the primary fleet, and as Barat heard Bano’s first report, he realized that all of his motor pool work was going down the toilet. He slammed the steering wheel with his fist.

In Wazir Akbar Khan area, Faizi was inside a large, leased private garage. The cab of his long grey Corolla delivery Van was open, and he sat on the running board, listening to the radio munching on a sandwich. Hearing Bano’s report, he did not miss a bite. He had been on too many missions. It was still early in the game.

Shabana stopped short when she heard Bano’s announcement. Her Walkman used the same three frequencies as the mobile wireless, but it played no decoy tapes.

She was two hundred meters away from the National Museum area, walking north to the pedestrian mall on City Centre. She cursed herself for having lost concentration, wandered too far from the first-stage area. She quickly spun from the distant vision and hurried back towards the spoke of her assigned compass. She cut west into the side way nearly running.

If she reached quickly, she might beat Razmak, if he had not yet turned into the side street. Her stomach was bloated, the Diana’s lifestyle & short Biography heavy in her bag. She was sweating, panting and she struggled to remember what Bano had just said. “Hat, brown leather business case, umbrella and coat.” Alright she had seen over twenty recent photos of Razmak and now she had a good description of Target as well. She had to try and pick him up.

Perhaps only two minutes passed and Babul was still standing in the Booth miming a conversation into the dormant instrument. He squinted through the fogged glass and began to smile. Yes, Razmak was now strolling casually back carrying a newspaper.

Razmak Bilal was not amateur either. He had simply engaged in a brief detour before he descended to visit Boris Yaakov. If he were being classically tracked, he would feel the resultant shake up, sensed the panic moves in the environment.

Babul called Toy House, hoping that his relaxed appearance was a sufficient mask to his hammering heart. He began to laugh, gesturing grandly and making his presence in the booth completely innocent. “My God, I am such a fool Sardar.” He said. “I was looking on the wrong date, of course, we‘ll have lunch with Razi today.”

“Are you sure Babul?” Sardar asked.  “You can make me crazy sometime.”

“I’m sure my friend.”

Within seconds Bano was excusing herself to her radio audience, announcing a correction. The sale at Pamir Cinema Mall was for tomorrow.

Shabana suddenly snapped her head to the gorgeous sound of Bano’s voice. She sat down on wooden bench, leaned back, closed her eyes and then let the rain pour on her face.

For the next two hours Razmak Bilal stayed beneath the Pamir Cinema, and despite the continuous rain, the Kabul people did not forget their lunch break, excepting a professional’s team who had immediately replaced Babul and his dog and all the Casuals had been called off. Now the only operatives remaining on the Darkroom were the primary team and a few emergency backups and a mother and daughter in down town area. The local people who had briefly participated would only learn of the mission’s nature if it succeeded and news reached the morning papers.

    The two remaining non-primaries sat in the Kabul down Town Street 13 taking an extremely long waiting. The mother was not really casual, but an analyst from the department. The daughter was a clerk from the embassy. They were happily engaged in addressing invitations for the daughter’s upcoming wedding, and no one bothered them.

    On a signal from Bano, a reference to a possible improvement in the weather confirmed Razmak’s return. Everyone else had gone to Stage Two position.

    Ali reluctantly dismissed his parking companion, who had belatedly come to realize that she was attractive and used an erotically disturbing eau de cologne. He pushed the car horn twice, and Baba came out of the cemetery, looking not too much wet. He had found a tomb under which he had properly engaged his grief.

    They drove to the down town area, moved the car every thirty minutes and took turn grabbing something to eat and relieving themselves in public areas.

Barat Khan happily put his Audi into gear, left the open lot and drove west to the downtown area. He moved, then to the north along the river and parked by the sloping bank, fifty meters short River Kabul’s Bridge. He sat in the car studying the enormous steel ropes hanging on the bridge, watching a single elderly woman as she leaned on the metal fence on the bridge.

    He did not dare to leave the radio unattended, so he munched on various nuts from a paper pack and drank coffee from a thermos. On occasion, he slipped over to the passenger side, opened the door and peed onto the grass from a sitting position.

Faizi left the garage in Wazir Akbar Khan area, drove across the river and parked his delivery truck in a side street near a small children park. The neighbourhood was dead quiet, and he went through the copy of Kabul Weekly.

    Shabana Mir having no transportation, had to rush for a taxi. Just a hundred meter away from her next station Taimoor Shah Tomb, she left the taxi and found a small cafe. For the first time all day, she was happy to be inside a cafe. She went to the washroom, took off her sobbing scarf and dried her hair as best she could with a paper towel. Then she took a table near the front, readjusted her Walkman over her ears and actually managed to read a newspaper as she sipped coffee from a porcelain cup. She had already eaten enough for a week.

Sardar remained hovering over his desk at his Marhaba Complex. He did not eat or drink, but he finished another pack of Wills.

    Bano made contact once, to change frequencies, and every one switched to channel B. They waited; it could happen in next five minutes or not for five hours.

At 12.25 Razmak Bilal appeared at the top of Pamir Cinema stairs. He walked around the fountain and headed for the parking lot.

The woman timed it perfectly. They collected their invitations, exited the Mall entrance and strolled arm in arm across the causeway. They walked slowly further reducing the pace as they crossed under a big Neon Sign, chatting and giggling like school girls. The nose of the Razmak’s SEL-500 poked from the parking garage, offering a momentary side view of his face through the smoked glass of the Mercedes as he eased out into traffic and headed south at Kabul Bazaar Street.

The two women quickly turned towards a telephone booth.

“Sardar” JS snatched at the phone like a cat after a bird.

“Sardar, it’s Ezra,” the elder woman said, not even bothering to conceal her pleasure. “Don’t forget to pick up Uncle Khan at the Station.”

“Has he left yet?”

“Yes.”

“Did you see him off?”

“Yes, yes.”

It was critical moment. Sardar had to be absolutely sure that the target was positively identified. If ‘Ezra’ was really convinced, then he could be as well.

“Ok, just tell me again what he looks like.”

“Brown raincoat, pea cap, umbrella and a brief case, Ezra added a touch of drama. “I told you dear. You are so forgetful.”

Sardar ignored her playacting. “What was it you said about his skin?” He asked.

“Light fair, dear.” A Circassia had given Razmak a somewhat non-Semitic complexion.

“Earlobes?”

“Detached.”

“Yes.” Now he tried to trick her, just to make sure that she was not being overly enthusiastic.

“Did he limp?”

Ezra hesitated for a split second. Then, she said. “No, silly, of course not”

“You are a good girl.” Sardar voice was smiling.

“I know.” Shararti Bachey.

“Acha Aunty Jee” He hung up and made his decision in micro second, and called Bano.

“Just a short interruption before we get on with some fantastic tunes, Believe it or not, Kabul tomorrow looks to be a sunny day!  Aye Shamina Tuk, Tuk… Maybe even good enough for a fascinating picnic”

At her cafe table, Shabana Mir lifted her eyes from the paper. Picnic. That was it. Razmak was mobile.

She dropped a few coins onto the table, gathered her bag, pulled on her floppy scarf and left the cafe. The rain had almost completely let up and it was now turning to a light powdery snow.

Shabana walked briskly north on Kabul Stoor Bazaar; she had to make the intersection before Razmak reached there. The midday traffic was thickening, and she was sure to beat him, but she kicked out a pace anyway.

In planning sessions, Barat had made a strong case for this route. He had been over it in his own car possibly ten times at all hours of the day and night. If Razmak was going to cut through and cross the river towards Kabul Bazaar Street, this was always the best route. If he had other plans what the hell did it matter?

Shabana waited at the corner, fiddling inside her large handbag, her eyes shifted under the brim of her scarf towards the Grand Shopping Plaza. Three minutes passed. Nothing. Then suddenly SEL-500 appeared right next to her, having come from behind her. Razmak turned the corner onto Plaza towards west. Shabana ran her checklist:  Blue Mercedes SEL-500, single passenger, last four license digits 7742.

Barat was right. Razmak was following the pattern. Shabana would make no report. Now it was up to her Jawans to take care of him.

She had one more assignment, and she walked happily after Razmak car watching it blend into traffic towards the river. Her steps were lighter now, her enormous tension fading as her chilled neck muscles begun to relax.

She reached the German Consulate at the corner. The German had great respect for their flag, and it had been pulled in from the rainy weather. A pair of guards stood outside at the main entrance to the old stone structure. Shabana felt sorry for them.

There was a trash receptacle at the corner. She reached into her bag, came up with an apparently empty can of Coca-Cola and dropped into the trash container. Then she walked across the street to the King Mosque down to the large pond and stayed there, watching the ducks, keeping her eye on a pair of public phones not twenty meters away.

Barat picked up Razmak as the SEL-500 cruised onto the Shah Bridge. He allowed three other cars to follow the Blue Mercedes, and then he cut into traffic and crossed the river. He smiled tightly as he drove. He had read the bastard’s mind.

Faizi had already left the Children Park and driven down to the west side of the Kabul Street Bazaar. He swung the truck along a large High School and parked 30 meters south side of Kabul Street Bazaar. Traffic from the west side of Kabul Street flowed naturally to the east through this narrow funnel. Faizi was smoking now; he used a plastic cigarette holder, something he could bite down on. To the west he could see the low red-brick facade of a Church hospital. Further to the west, but not far enough he knew was the Kabul Street Police Station.

On the icy veranda at number 1 Kabul Bazaar Street City Centre, Bano’s body began to go rigid with tension. She had heard nothing for two hours when she had issued her last operational order. While she knew that no contact meant that Razmak was following the plan, the waiting was torturous.

She turned her rocker more to the west, reached over and wiped the porch window with a soiled rag. Below her the red roofs of City Centre Kabul Bazaar Street stretched away like gingerbread housetops in a fairy tale. The quiet borough was being dusted with light, flour-white snow, the narrow street traversed by the occasional cautious driver. A few hunched figures emerged from the quaint houses and neighbourhood shops. In the distance, Kabul spires stabbed at a slate-grey sky beneath the already fading daylight.

No one had arrived yet. It was good time to change frequencies. Then she thought better of it. At this crucial juncture, someone might have a microchip failure.

She removed one of the Walkman’s pronged phones from her right ear, leaving the left one in. She turned up the volume. She would be monitoring Kabul Police Band and simultaneously transmitting through the telephone handset.

She chewed on the wooden shaft of the paintbrush, Bazaar Street, the main street of the neighbourhood, stretched away to the west until it curved around the little Mosque and disappeared. Traffic was one way coming towards her. From the north the small size street was also one way, cutting south across Bazaar Street. Traffic-wise, it was a good spot for an entrapment.

Sher Ali’s blue Corolla was the first car to appear. It came cruising down Kabul Bazaar Street and parked in the middle of the next block, south side between two big shops.

Bano worked her telephone set, switching briefly to normal function. She called Sardar on the speed dialler.

“Toy House.”

“Are you open today” Bano asked quickly.

“Tomorrow, we are closing early.”

“Yes, maybe the weather will be better. Thank you.”

Sardar hung up and opened a desk drawer, removing a Walkman similar to Bano’s. Yet with his device, one ear phone was tuned to the Police band, others to Darkroom operational frequencies. He had learned to be a team-leader. He pushed the headphones onto his dry bald pate.

The next car was Barat khan’s silver Audi. Like Ali’s, Barat has detoured in order to overtake Razmak and arrived in the operational area first. He cruised past Ali and Baba, quickly swung north to Small Street and came down the one way parking half down the block facing Bazaar Street.

After a few more seconds, the blue Mercedes turned the corner the Mosque. Bano dropped the opera-glass spectacles down over her eyes. A single driver. Last four plate digits, 7742.

Her breath was coming faster; she tried to calm it, the heat would fog the window. She worked the telephone handset and said, “Here’s birthday greeting from Jolly Komal in Ghazni to her Uncle Shah in Bazaar Street.

In their stage three positions all over Kabul, the backs of the primary team members went stiff. A room becoming ‘darkroom.’

Razmak parked his car on the north side of the Kabul Bazaar Street just twenty meters ahead from Ali’s Corolla. Baba mouthed silent nonsense to Ali, and Ali watched only Razmak.

Razmak Bilal’s paramour lived in a small apartment house on the North-west corner Bazaar Street. Next to that was small cafe and grocery shop with a green awning. On all of his visits, Razmak never went directly into the apartment. Sometime he would just in the car for a moment, but usually he would enter the grocery shop, take a table, and watch the street for a while and then exit with a freshly baked gift.

Razmak got out the Mercedes.

“Nikal aya hey” Baba whispered inside the Corolla. Both men eased back on their door latches.

Razmak went into the Grocery shop.

“Could be a few minutes now” said Baba, but now Ali was also watching the shop, his muscles pulled like steel suspension springs. His heart was hammering against his leather coat and his breathing was ragged. Inside his tight leather driving gloves, his hands were soaked. He quickly dragged the gloves off, threw them on the dash and smeared his palms on his slacks.

In less than sixty seconds, Razmak came out of the shop carrying two long paper bags, but he did not turn left towards the apartment. He turned right and his keys were dangling from one hand.

“He is going for the car” Baba hissed.

“Keep the machine slow and get close,” said Ali

They watched and cruised slow on the line along the pathway. They registered a small blond child as the scarf figure darted out of his way. He knew Baba was keeping his right hand flicked upon his coat emerging with the glistering Colt with silencer ready to catch him from the other side, the moment they would step out to reach him.

Fifteen meters, now ten, now five.

“Get out,” said Ali and he was out of the Corolla, spinning quickly as he left the door ajar.

They mounted the sidewalk and closed on Razmak’s back. They cocked the slides. It was then Razmak turned and Ali was expected to see snout of the Makarov pistol that he knew Razmak carried. But instead, what faced him was an expression of initial greeting that quickly turned to surprised horror and would haunt Sher Ali for the rest of his unnatural life. As he reached close the target to grab his both wrists in one stretch, a burst of .45 magnums automatic suddenly sprayed on the chest and belly of the target blowing him off in the air backward. Ali knelt down and shouted over to Baba to get back in the car. A semi-automatic medium range fire, Ali was sure.

A shot sounded coin dropped in front of him after hitting wall. Another rubbed his left shoulder. Ali squeezed it for a moment, turned his face left and then shot three rounds from the Colt taking shelter of Corolla over to the window on his left side building from where he could see a mild smoke of gunfire.  He quickly got up and emptied his pistol aimed on the invisible shooters and jumped in the car. No sign of shooters in window.  They might by now have left the window.

It was all over in ten seconds, and then Ali found himself on the front passenger seat. His hands entirely their own masters, worked the mechanism of his Colt, reloading. He heard Baba breathing behind the wheel already; they looked at each other quizzically. Outside their footsteps stamped the light dusting of new snow.

“Fast”… Ali said to Baba though he, too, was staring at the growing form of the Corolla, longing for its comforts, its shelter, its speed.

At the moment, he certainly felt the onset of insanity, for he was convinced that his target, now lying in a pool of blood on the sidewalk, was victim of tragic misidentification. Yet in the eternity of that moment, he had no choice but to behave as if the operation had been executed to perfection in a sense. He was responsible for the follow through, the safety and escape of his people, and any incursion of self-doubt could mean doom for them all.

“Are you OK,” said Baba.

“Yes, it has just blown my jacket’s shoulder,” Ali checked the hole in the leather jacket. Feroz turned right down, somewhere, hissing a sigh of immense relief as he achieved second gear, then third.

It was at that moment that the Uzbeks appeared. No one had seen them. Not Bano, Ali, Baba or Barat. They had been sitting in a white Mitsubishi Gallant, two blocks back on the Bazaar Street. The perfect loose tail, they had not followed the team. They had been there all day.

Barat Khan started cruising, seeing Ali’s car moving up ahead, knowing that they had failed to arrest the Target. But as he reached in front of the grocery shop, a screaming woman running across the road from where she had just had a close look at the bloody corpse. Barat was forced to slam his brakes; the nose of the Audi swerved in the slick snow and a white Mitsubishi Gallant screeched and went careening after Ali’s Corolla.

Bano Abagull knew that something had gone wrong. Her heart fluttering like a trapped bird’s, she watched Razmak falling down and her team members getting back into the car hurriedly shooting over their left side. Yet almost immediately Kabul Police Band began to chatter like a cage-full of apes.

“Kabul BS One, this is Lion.” We have a reported shooting in your area Bazaar Street.

It just couldn’t have happened that fast. Even the most vigilant citizen would be temporarily shocked into inaction.

Bano reached quickly putting out a public service announcement.

“Kabul’s driving conditions are worsening. Please be on your best behaviour this afternoon.”

As soon as Faizi Jaffar heard this driving condition announcement, he moved. He had already heard banging of police siren approaching from the North and he knew that the ambulances would momentarily emerge from the Church hospital. His task was simple yet exposed and dangerous.

He spun the wheel of the Van and drove the big Toyota down towards the intersection of City Centre and Kabul Bazaar Street. He gathered speed, hesitated as red-Nissan Lancer crossed in front of him, then stabbed the accelerator and almost simultaneously stood hard on the brake pedal. The wheels locked and the Van swerved, its nose dipping towards the slick pavement. The rear wheels rocked up for a second and Faizi thought he might flip it, but then the vehicle settled perfectly, completely blocking the fork as car horns blared all around him.

He cut the engine, reached down and pulled the choke handle all the way out. It had a modified cable and valve, and in two seconds the carburettor was irreparably flooded.

Three blue and red Corolla police cars came speeding down the River Kabul from the north, their beacons turning and sirens hawking. The first car with a large number 101 painted on its hood, stopped just short of the side of Faizi’s Van. A young police officer jumped from the cruiser throwing his arms up and screaming all at once.

“Aye you madman, move that goddamn thing!”

Faizi obediently reached for the keys. He turned hard and the engine whined, coughed and gurgled. But it did not start.

Faizi rolled down his window, shrugged at the policeman and smiled a stupid smile.

Bano had also seen the white gallant cut in and follow Ali. Just to make sure, she ran over the operational fleet in her mind. We have no such car.

She called Sardar.

“Yes” Sardar snapped.

“It’s Zahra, father”

“What film did you rent, dear?”

“Marlon Brando. The Chase.”

“Sounds lovely. I am looking forward.”

“See you later then.”

Sardar JS had also been monitoring the police band, and he also knew that things were happening too fast. But The Chase?  Someone, other than police was after his team leaders. He called a number in King Tomb.

“Galaxy-Air” A man answered in typical Hindi accent.

“This is Sardar Jagat Sing Khan. Are you flying today?”

“We can be Mr Khan.”

“Thank you. I may have a delivery”

“Very good sir.”

Ali Sher, Baba Feroz and Barat Khan each had three tickets for three different commercial flights. But if things were really too hot, the outgoing flights were covered by a special private security agency working for the HQ, then an alternate was in order.

“Galaxy-Air was owned by a Singaporean Pakistani Firm. Its facilities were available to Pakistani Missions abroad. One of their aircraft a modified DC-9 “Cargo and Medical” transport had been sitting on the repair runway at Kabul International Airport for the last two days, a victim of mechanical difficulties. Within minutes it was going to experience a miraculous recovery.

Shabana Mir’s code had popped in her ears less than a minute after she heard Faizi receives his go. Bano’s voice sounded rather pleading.

“Kabul Girls, now please listen carefully out there. We had a sad request from baby Shirin’s mother from Kabul’s King residential area. She misses you Shirin a lot, where ever you are. Please call her and all will be forgiven.”

Shabana had hoped that she would not be required to perform this next bit. She liked Germans so, they always were so friendly and generous, wanting to be everybody’s buddy. However things were apparently not going too well, and besides no one would be harmed by her gambit.

She had already reached at a small cafeteria opposite German consulate cross the dual carriage road. Thanks to the weather, no one was in the area. She reached into her coat pocket and removed the body of her Walkman. She opened the cassette player door which was empty, and she pulled the plastic sprocket off the left-hand nub. There was a small button underneath.

She turned towards the German consulate facing the building; grey store hulk could be clearly seen through the trees. She pulled the earphone off her head, for she had been told that they might squeal madly and she pressed the button.

Inside the litter bin can lying in the trash receptacle the gunfire simulator went off. It issued frightening reports, one after another, although it hardly gave off smoke, both of the guards on duty went to their knees.

Shabana could hear the dull popping as it echoed through the chilly air. She was already on the telephone, dialling 119 the police emergency exchange.

“Kabul Police, how can we help you?”

Shabana was breathless; she needed no encouragement.

“For God’s sake come quick! Someone is shooting at the Germans!”

“What’s that please… calm yourself, young lady?”

“I told you… gun firing at German Consulate.”

She hung up the phone.

Her hands were shaking. She began walking slowly back. There was a car waiting for her in the parking lot at Grand Shopping Plaza. She was trying to remember what kind of car.

In Sardar JS Khan’s ear the police band went mad. Half of the Kabul Police spun from their positions and headed towards the Grand shopping Plaza area. In response to requests for clarification, a Senior Police Officer came on the frequency and briskly announced that the security detachment at German Consulate had indeed confirmed gunfire, and if they didn’t want to have another Kabul Massacre on their hands, every available unit should get its ass over there.

But Sardar was still terribly concerned about his team leaders. Through the wild radio traffic, he realized that a certain ambitious Lieutenant Farzai, car 101 was still at his position. He was about to arrest the driver of the Corolla Van and then ram the stalled vehicle out of the way.

Jagat made a dangerous decision. He picked up the third black phone on his desk, punched the “hold” button and cut into the police band.

“Farzai 101, forget about the minor street crimes, you idiot and get to the German Consulate now!”

There was a moment of hesitation and then the young Lieutenant’s challenging voice broke over Sardar’s earphone.

“This is Farzai 101, who the hell is that”

“Ghazi… This is Ghazi, you stupid swine, and if you ever want to see your family or pension, you will move, NOW!”

Ghazi, as Jagat Sing well knew, was the code name of Kabul Police Chief. He usually avoided coming on the band due to the bureaucratic reasons, unless something happened very crucial in the city. Normally junior police officers had just heard his name only, but hope fully in the confusion no one would immediately call him back to reconfirm orders.

Farzai radioed other cars in his convoy. They backed out from the intersection and headed east for the German consulate.

Sardar sat back and lit another WILLS. His bald head was finally glistering. Thanks God the Afghans had not lost their penchant for obeying orders under the situation.

At City centre and Kabul Bazaar Street intersection, Faizi stepped down from his stalled Van. The only official remaining on the scene was an angry Ambulance driver. His vehicle stood behind him, its beacons winking in frustration.

“I’ll just go and call the office,” Faizi apologized. “They will have a service truck within five minutes.”

“My patient will probably die in five minutes.” The attendant snapped.

Faizi just shrugged and walked away. Hopefully your patient is already dead, he said to himself.

He walked cross the intersection towards a small grocery shop and lunch counter. Barat Khan had already checked it all out for him. He asked to use the bathroom, made for the facilities in the rear, and then kept walking to the back of the store and went straight out to the delivery door.

He crossed the small street on the back of the houses and emerged into a parking lot and got into a dull beige Lancer. He would drive the car to his garage in Wazir Akbar Khan. There he would eat and change his clothes from a supply in the trunk. He would also switch the plates from rental to civilian and then wait a full twelve hours. No matter the crime, Kabul Police did not maintain serious traffic disturbing roadblocks for longer than 12 hours.

In the morning he would begin his long drive to the Jalalabad.

Sher Ali and Feroz Khan knew they were being pursued, but they did not know by whom.

They were already out of the town and heading for the Airport, passing huge Silos for storage of grains by the roadside. The white Gallant may be at hundred meters back, but it was gaining. Turning in the seat Ali could see the two occupants. They might have been plainclothesmen, but their white faces had that squared-off shabby look of Russians’ Intelligence muscle. The passenger was sitting in the rear seat and seemed to be holding a mobile phone. That was not a good sign. Shooters rode in the rear seats.

If they were Americans, Sher Ali and Feroz would have to lose them or give it up. There would be no battle with Americans Authorities.

Barat’s silver Audi was behind the Gallant but still blocked by one car between them. As the Gallant gained speed on Feroz, Barat swung dangerously out into the right lane around his civilian interloper, pulling back in behind the Gallant.

“Who are they” Feroz asked, flicking his eyes from the rear-view mirror to the road. He was concentrating on making the next leg without having an accident. Traffic to Airport was picking up.

To Ali’s dismay, he peripherally noted a spectral oscillation from the south. He turned again in his seat to see three police cars approaching up the access road from the Silos. They were clearly in a hurry.

“I don’t know, who the hell they are, but they are using a radio phone and they are not calling my mother.”

Then the Uzbeks floored in.

“Here they come.” Baba hissed. He had his own foot to the floor, but it didn’t help. Tell Barat from now on I want a goddamn Mercedes.

The Gallant swung open in the right lane, growing larger. Sher Ali could see now that its rear windows were open.

“Do you have a plan?” He asked hoarsely.

“No, but I will do something.”

The Gallant pulled alongside and Ali saw the pair of meaty hands holding an ugly object.

“Scorpion” He yelled.

Baba slammed the brakes as the machine pistol began to chatter. The Gallant dashed by and the shooter had to shift quickly and awkwardly, but the burst of 9millimeter punched low through the right side of the Corolla, the first three hammering into Ali’s right leg and knee as he screamed and a fourth bullet shattering Baba’s window as he snapped his head back.

Baba Feroz immediately pushed the accelerator again turning the wheel hard to left, nearly denuding the steel guardrail, and he shot out around the nose of the Gallant before they could get off another burst.

Barat Khan saw the whole thing and like a good back up man, he did not hesitate. The Gallant driver had pumped his own brakes, swerving tail to the right, giving Barat a perfect target. Barat punched the gas, aimed for left front wheel, touched the brakes once before impact so that his bumper would dip and smashed into the Uzbeks at hundred kilometres per hour.

It was not a deflecting blow. He drove straight on, hurling the white Gallant off the right shoulder, where it impacted with a metal light pole.

Barat regained his course. He shook his head. Something was dripping into his left eye and he swiped it away with his glove. He had not remembered to attach his seat belt and he looked at the steering wheel top. It was deformed. Some racing driver, he thought and he actually smiled. The car was still functioning. That’s why he loved German cars.

He looked in the rear-view mirror. Three police cars. He looked ahead. Baba was fading. Barat Khan would not get away, but he could make sure that Feroz and Ali did.

There was a big road Sign up ahead on the left. The guardrail was down and a few tractors and trucks collecting snow on their roofs. Barat spun the wheel, dash madly across into the oncoming traffic and headed south amid a cacophony of car horns, back towards Kabul.

Obediently the police followed him.

Sardar and Bano Abagull both heard the radio chatter of the massive police convoy that went after Barat Khan. They listened helplessly as it closed on him, south to the Presidential Palace then onto St.33 and East to the State Park. From the frantic exchanges of the hunt, they could visualise his mad dash, not knowing why he was performing it, but only that Barat Khan most certainly had a good reason. The voices of the Afghan policemen took on the heated excitement of the kill.

“This is two-nine. He just drove right into the trees.”

“Forty-seven take your men to the north.”

“This is HQ, don’t lose him now.”

“Two-one, he is out of the car. He’s hurling something away.”

“What is it, two-one.”

“Six-two, he is in the park.”

“Don’t lose him, Six-two! Or we will be in there all goddamn night.”

Sardar JS had no time to despair, for something else crackled over the police band. Something worse.

Sher Ali’s blood was collecting in a pool on the floor of the car. He could not move, and he didn’t dare touch his leg not even to apply an improvised posture.

Baba had reached back to his bag and dragged it into the front seat. He extracted an electric razor and cracked the cover off it against the dash board. He pulled the right knob of the Cassette player and seated the razor cord plug in the open receptacle. It was a last resort. He spoke into the microphone breaking directing into the police band.

Enjaye 121 ust, Enjaye road accident shud.”

Sardar Khan fairly bolted from his chair at Toy House. It was Baba’s voice and in this case road accident meant a badly wounded soldier. Sardar immediately picked up his police line and slammed the hold button.

“One-o-one, you may investigate” He hung up and called Bano.

“Khan’s Residence.”

Baby, its father.

There has been a road accident or something. I’ll be home late. Why don’t you get some rest?”

There was silence on the other end.

Bachey

“Yes, father, fine.”

Sardar hung up and dialled another phone number. When it rang through, he said, “Hello, This is Toy House, I had liked a room sweeper in here to clean up please. Yes, now.”

He collected his things and left the office.

Ali was gripping the dashboard with white knuckled fingers. His eyes were squeezed shut, but he made no sound. Feroz was looking for the prearranged exit, only a kilometre from the Airport. He snatched a glance at the partner. For the first time since leaving Islamabad many months before Baba suddenly burst into Urdu.

    “Oye… Ullo ke pathey…Sahel, kia howa hey.”

    Sher Ali despite his pain, admonished his partner in Persian.

    “My name is Sher Ali, Baba.” He groaned. “And I don’t know what the hell happened. But you will speak Persian until we are dead, or at home. Understood.”

    “Ok, Ali.” Feroz spat the name, “But don’t worry, in the next ten minutes we will be either dead or on our way home.”

    They pulled off the High way and drove straight down an industrial road for half a kilometre. It was growing dark. The ambulance was waiting, its rear door yawning. The beacon was unlit.

    It took the doctor and his assistant less than twenty seconds to lift Ali into the rear of ambulance. They were not gentle and he tried not to yell.

    In the meantime, Feroz stripped the Corolla. He took the bag, pulled the cassette player from dash board, the microphone, Ali’s gloves, but there was nothing to do about the blood. He hoped that it would snow hard for days and no one would bother about the abandoned car.

    Then they were all in the ambulance and it began to move slowly towards the airport. The doctor was combat surgeon and ex paratrooper and he worked quickly, snapping at his male assistant.

    “Morphine.”

    “No morphine,” Ali grunted.

    “Shut up,” the surgeon barked. Then he turned to Baba. “It’s bad, but he‘ll live. Strip him.”

    Sher Ali lay on the folded stretcher. The blood had stopped flowing, mostly due to the cold. Feroz began to gently remove his clothes.

    “Get them off him! We have got ten minutes.”

    “They worked quickly, injecting Ali with a double dose of morphine extract and changing his clothes to hospital attire from a small wardrobe. The doctor dressed his wounds, covered the leg with a plastic sleeve, and then quickly wrapped his both limbs in elastic bandage as if the patient suffered from circulatory problems. He attached an infusion bag to one arm and hung it from a steel keg on the ambulance inside wall.

    “Shave his head,” the doctor ordered

    The assistant hesitated.

    “Shave it, he has to look like as it’s his last cancerous week, not liked some fucked up commando.

    A disposable razor came out and in two minutes Ali’s hair was wiped down from the scalp.

    “And clean it up every hair.”

    The assistant bent to his task. From a black satchel, the surgeon removed a pair of ugly steel rimmed spectacles. He roughly placed on Ali’s face. Then he snapped a plastic bracelet on one wrist.

    “There is a uniform in the closet.” The doctor said to Baba. Feroz stripped out of his clothes and destroyed his airline tickets, keeping the British Passport, one for himself and one for Ali. He donned a white lab coat white trouser and a stethoscope.

    Ali’s pain was now becoming tolerable, but he hated the helpless drowsiness that was engulfing him. He felt the rolling of ambulance, but he didn’t register the crucial dangerous juncture as they arrived at Kabul International cargo gate.

He heard the driver say, “Galaxy Air, we have got one has to go to London.”

When the security personnel, with their hard faces, grey uniform and dangling Americans submachine guns, opened the rear doors, Ali closed his eyes.

“Ssssshhh, he is not long for this world.”

A custom official checked their passport in silence.

Ali dosed off for a short time, and then he awoke inside a hazy grey tube as the DC-9 taxied down the runway. He was strapped to a mobile stretcher. There were regular airline seats to his right.

A door opened up forward. He managed to lift his head. Sardar Khan appeared from the cabin, stone-faced, dressed as flight engineer. He lumbered down the aisle.

Sardar fell into a seat next to Sher Ali. He drew off his hat and tore open his tie, as if it might kill him.

“How are you?” He asked in Urdu.

“Okay,” Ali slurred. “But I might be gone again in a moment.”

“Who were they,” Sardar asked.  “Razmak’s people?”

“No,” It was Baba’s voice from somewhere else. “Seem Uzbeks maybe from South-eastern Russia.”

“Where is everyone” Ali’s own voice sounded strange to him, a fragile echo.

“Mostly away,” said Sardar. “Bano stays on, but off course, she‘ll be fine.” Sardar lit up a wills, but unhappy to have relay the rest. “Barat took the police off you and headed for State Park. Took them on wild goose chase, but they have him now. He did it for all of us. It’s the only reason; we are in the air now.”

Ali stared up at the ceiling. He was weak; still he tried not to let the tears well up. The air craft banked heavily to the right. It was flight- planned for London, but it would not see England tonight.

“Dilshad,” Sher Ali suddenly called Sardar by his real name.

He was not sure if he could go on. In this state, he knew that his judgement was hazy, his logic distorted. “It didn’t feel right,” he said. The Target I mean.”

“I know” said Major Dilshad Hussain. He patted Ali’s hand. “You and I, we may be opening a fruit stand together.”

Sher Ali suddenly very awake. He stared at Hussain, his eyes asking the question that was stuck in his throat.

“I just had a report from Col. A.K. Zawri.” Dilshad smiled painfully. A team of Watchers just made positive ID, in west Kabul.

“Let me guess.” Said Baba’s tired voice.

“That’s right,” said Hussain, and he blew out a wreath of smoke, “Razmak Bilal.”

Sher Ali turned his head and stared back up the ceiling, and this time the water filled in his eyes and he blinked it onto the sheets.

He was alive and he was going home but he was leaving too many things behind, a captured colleague, an operational fiasco, political bomb shell and a murder of innocent human.


Continued….Chapter 2 in next issue please

About نعیم بیگ 141 Articles
ممتاز افسانہ نگار، ناول نگار اور دانش ور، نعیم بیگ، مارچ ۱۹۵۲ء میں لاہور میں پیدا ہوئے۔ گُوجراں والا اور لاہور کے کالجوں میں زیرِ تعلیم رہنے کے بعد بلوچستان یونی ورسٹی سے گریجویشن اور قانون کی ڈگری حاصل کی۔ ۱۹۷۵ میں بینکاری کے شعبہ میں قدم رکھا۔ لاہور سے وائس پریذیڈنٹ اور ڈپٹی جنرل مینیجر کے عہدے سے مستعفی ہوئے۔ بعد ازاں انہوں نے ایک طویل عرصہ بیرون ملک گزارا، جہاں بینکاری اور انجینئرنگ مینجمنٹ کے شعبوں میں بین الاقوامی کمپنیوں کے ساتھ کام کرتے رہے۔ نعیم بیگ کو ہمیشہ ادب سے گہرا لگاؤ رہا اور وہ جزو وقتی لکھاری کے طور پر ہَمہ وقت مختلف اخبارات اور جرائد میں اردو اور انگریزی میں مضامین لکھتے رہے۔ نعیم بیگ کئی ایک عالمی ادارے بَہ شمول، عالمی رائٹرز گِلڈ اور ہیومن رائٹس واچ کے ممبر ہیں۔