An Old Prologue

This is the prologue of a novel I was working on years ago. I decided to post it here because it’s out of date. I like my thrillers to be contemporary and this prologue is obviously set during the war in Iraq, which has been over for a while now. I don’t want to throw it out and I don’t know what else to do with it, so why not share it. This is just the prologue, the rest of the novel is not included because I still might use it.

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The Tigris flowed as brown in the moonlight as it would during the daylight hours. The smell irked Paul. Raw sewage and decay. Drinking tap water in the city was discouraged, but not everyone listened. He remembered the treatment plant that the United States repaired a few years ago only to have insurgents raid the place and destroy it again.

He watched as Omar led his team to the front door of the three-story apartment building. They slipped inside and disappeared. Paul hung back with the American squad. The Iraqi soldiers would make the raid. Paul’s team was only to cover the outside of the building.

They had strong evidence that an apartment on the second floor housed three active members of the al Qaeda terrorist organization. But things were looking better in Baghdad than they have in a long time. The insurgents were still out there stirring trouble where they could, but the river of extremists was drying up as more and more grew weary of the war and encouraged peace. Just the other day Paul saw a man and woman walking hand in hand, free and happy, in an area that had once been declared unsafe.

But the war wasn’t over yet and no one expected the US troops to leave for another year or two. But things were getting better. Plans to repair the treatment plants were underway. The Tigris might never be clean again, but things were moving in the right direction.

Things were getting better.

A light came on in an apartment on the second floor of the building. A man walked past a large picture window. A moment later another light came on. It was 3 o’clock in the morning, most people in the city were sleeping and Paul had expected the people here to be sleeping too. Had the suspects spotted the troops outside, or were they somehow made aware of the troops inside? Paul was behind a large bush with another soldier and the rest of his team was just as careful to remain out of sight.

No, they couldn’t have been spotted. And if they were spotted, why had the suspects turned the lights on and given away their cover of darkness? No, something else was going on, and at three in the morning. Could be insomnia or it could be something else.

Two men appeared at the window, by their hand gestures Paul judged they were making small talk. Non-threatening behavior, he decided.

“Tell Omar the suspects are awake,” he said to Chip, who was down on one knee and weapon pointed through the branches of the bush. “They appear non-threatening at the moment, but his team should be ready for surprises.”

Chip spoke into his mouthpiece. Omar’s radioman rogered.

The two men at the second floor window turned to someone or something that could not be seen from the ground outside, and then their hands went up. A moment later three Iraqi soldiers came into view, their AK47s pointed in the faces of the two suspects.

Paul couldn’t make out the orders the Iraqi soldiers shouted at the suspects, but when the suspects did not react fast enough the soldiers grabbed them and yanked them to the floor. Two soldiers stood over the suspects while the third bent down to apply handcuffs.

Then Omar stepped up to the window and looked out toward the bush Paul was behind. His first finger and thumb formed a circle

“It’s all clear,” Paul said. “I’m going in. You guys stay out and watch the doors.”

Chip bobbed his head and Paul started away. The raid went well, not a shot was fired. He had no doubt the men who had been at the window were two of the suspects whose faces were printed on the paper he and Omar both had a copy of.

He entered the building. The landlord apparently cared a great deal about the place. The red carpet that made the floor of the foyer looked as if it had just been vacuumed and the walls had been repainted not so long ago. Photos of Baghdad’s more pleasant sites lined the wall beside the flight of stairs, but Paul didn’t waste time looking at them as he headed up to the second floor. A hallway cut across the top of the stairs and he looked both ways before stepping out into it.

He carried his M16, butt at shoulder, barrel pointed down and finger on the trigger, as he moved along the hallway. But there was no apparent threat. A few doors were open and people in their pajamas looked out, but Paul only had to glance at them to know they were simply curious residents.

At last he reached the door with an Iraqi soldier standing outside.

“The room is clear,” the guard said in English, his Arabic accent heavy.

Paul gave a nod and relaxed his finger on the trigger before he entered the apartment. He made his way through a short hallway and emerged in a nicely kept living room. Nice in a manner that it was clean and fashionably furnished, but on the coffee table was an automatic handgun. An Iraqi soldier reached under the couch. He gave a bark of laughter and fished out an AK47.

There were other things in the apartment. Black ski masks on one chair and questionable articles of clothing. When Paul glanced into the kitchen he saw three artillery shells, one was on the table with tools scattered around it.

Paul didn’t have to ask what the suspects were doing with the artillery shells. He had been in Iraq long enough to know the effect of IEDs. Just about every Humvee on patrol was equipped with a Warlock because of these things. But the Warlock devices were not perfect. The devices attempted to block the radio waves from the cell phones insurgents used to set off the IEDs. The Warlocks worked much of the time, but not always. The roadside bombs still remained the enemy’s most effective weapon.

The suspects lay facedown on the floor, their hands cuffed behind their backs. Omar knelt over them and lifted each head by the hair so Paul could see the faces of the men. They were positive matches to two of the men pictured on the paper he had folded in his breast pocket.

Omar stood up. “Malik Zaid isn’t here.”

Malik Zaid al-Ahmad was the third man pictured on the paper. Age 42, six feet tall, slender and he had a wicked scar running down his right cheek. He was also the primary target of this raid. A man highly educated and overly intelligent, he was believed to be the mastermind behind countless pranks that took more lives than Paul wanted to know about.

“We need to search the building,” Omar said. “Are your men still outside watching the doors?”

“Yes,” Paul said.

“Good, leave them there. If he’s here somewhere, he must not leave.”

Malik Zaid had been responsible for the deaths of more Iraqi soldiers than American soldiers. He was also responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians. Malik Zaid didn’t operate out of anger like many of his comrades; instead he was in it for the pleasure. Or that’s what people said. Paul didn’t know one way or the other, but the attacks that were supposedly laid out by Malik Zaid seemed to have been conducted with a humorous mindset.

Omar wanted him caught as badly as Paul did.

The radioman called in three more squads to help search the building. He also sent a confirmation to Chip that the Americans were to remain outside and assure no civilian left the building.

A soldier who had been searching a bedroom came into the living room and handed a metal file box to Omar. He said something in the Arabic language and then returned to the bedroom.

“He says there are documents in this box, but he can’t read them.” Omar sat down on the couch and opened the box. Inside was a folder containing a few sheets of paper. Omar looked at the first page and scoffed. “My English is good, if I’m speaking,” he said. “I have not learned to read it yet.”

Paul accepted the folder and lowered himself into the cozy armchair behind him. The pages were handwritten, a little sloppy, but in English. He read the first page. It was a letter to someone, very likely any of the three men who had resided in the apartment. The writer had taken care not to address his “friend” by name. He also referred to a “meeting place”, but gave no hint as to where the meeting place was located.

There were ten pages altogether, none were dated, but each was a new letter with the same handwriting, and each letter was signed The Doctor. That was all the identification the writer would give. Paul suspected the letters had been mailed out over a period of time, months or even years could have passed between the first letter and the last letter for all he knew.

The letters told about the transferring of money and the willingness of the Doctor to see something through, if only his Friend could deliver the necessary products. In the last letter the Doctor said he had received the delivery, he would be at the meeting place when his Friend arrived—no time specified—and they could go for a cup of coffee before “activating the mission”.

I have applied the device to six of my patients and I will continue to do so as long as we are working together. You only need to lay in the final touches and the rest will take care of itself.

Paul read the last letter twice. He didn’t know what the Doctor was talking about, but that such letters were found in this place troubled him. It might be nothing or it might be something. Chances were high that they wouldn’t be able to track down the Doctor and get to the bottom of this, but Paul decided he needed to get the letters to his superiors so an investigation could get underway.

He closed the folder and stood up.

“This is important,” he said and started for the door. “I’m not sure what it means, but we have to check it out.”

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