Blood Rain In Trieste - Thriller
I squinted at the winding ribbon of black road that rose up through hairpins from the valley below and snaked along the cliffside opposite. The convoy of vehicles carrying my wife and child's murderer would soon appear and my search would be finally over. My finger twitched impatiently near my rifle as my excitement bubbled like our tea water in the blackened pan on its pile of burning twigs. I listened to my thudding pulse counting down the seconds. Flies buzzed. Prayers came and went. The blistering sun and bone-dry wind continued to beat my skin into the texture of a cheap leather handbag. As I twisted my cap to protect my burning eyes, I thought the next time I want to kill someone, I'll avoid the desiccated wasteland of southern Afghanistan—I'll choose Miami in December and celebrate by downing a cocktail with a little umbrella at a bar in a swimming pool and watch the ladies flaunt their goods in minimalist bikinis.
I glanced from time to time at the two men beside me. They'd become my friends since I'd joined them eight months ago before the harsh winter had set in and kept us huddled together for warmth in the stone refrigerators Afghans called homes. Our leader, Muzafar, scanned the desolate panorama, an Admiral Nelson using a pair of binoculars as a telescope on his one good eye while his fellow Tajik dozed. A deep grunt and a ponderous nod had been his response to his first sight of my burned cheek and partially webbed neck that tilted my head slightly to the left. My back was the pièce de résistance—stitches where the car bomb had implanted parts of a shredded Toyota and hideous keloid scarring that crisscrossed my back and buttocks in a torturous game of tic-tac-toe. My back had elicited nods and growls of approval from Muzafar. And when he'd heard how I'd been captured by the Taliban but escaped after killing six of them, he'd accepted me as a warrior worthy of his group with a grin that could have passed as a bite except for his lack of teeth.
The odd bullet wound, unstitched shrapnel scars and the loss of an eye were badges of honor for Muzafar, a grizzled veteran of the war against the USSR back in the 80s when the mujahideen had eaten raw Soviet conscripts as easily as slices of naan: a Siberian for breakfast, a Cossack for lunch and perhaps a Kyrgyz or an Uzbek for dinner. Muzafar told me all his old war stories in the endless hours we spent on marches and sitting around campfires. I impressed him with tales of killing presidents and ex-presidents of tinpot countries, anti-Western opposition leaders and a variety of scumbag drug lords. In fact, anyone Margaret Brooke, my boss in CSIS, the Canadian Secret Intelligence Service, thought would help her climb up the food chain in Ottawa.
Next to Muzafar lounged Mohammad the Silent, the bodyguard for Shabani, my world famous photographer wife, whenever she had traveled through the Tajik-controlled areas. He exhibited the metabolism of a relaxed, Arctic fish idling beneath an ice floe. He rested, eyes closed, a kind of Rip Van Winkle with an AK-47 rifle, a silver-gray Tokarev pistol and a belt of hand grenades as his closest friends. The crocodile skin that indicated he should have used more sunscreen was taut across his skull and his skinny frame, resembling a fishing rod in a blanket, showed he rarely ate. On hearing through the Tajik grapevine of hushed whispers in the scattered stone villages who I was and why I was on his land, he'd appeared, a wordless ghost from the mountains, ready for revenge, not asking about the hourly wage, the medical plan or the vacation days. Now, he caught my eye and grinned his pitted gums below red-rimmed eyelids. I knew we had forty teeth between the three us and twenty-eight of them were mine.
Between Muzafar and Mohammad, two loaded grenade launchers lay in the shade of a deep fissure in the rocks. A Kalashnikov rested across Muzafar's thighs. His light machine gun was set up by his side, parallel to my rifle, and aimed across the gorge. We were armed to what teeth we had and were ready to rock and roll, although that was currently banned in most of Afghanistan. We'd eaten, prayed and killed across Kandahar province and north beyond Kabul toward the Tajik homeland and today my deal with the Tajik leaders for my sniper services to kill our mutual enemy Ajmal Ghaznavi was going to pay off. Muzafar's single eye flared with violence when I told him how Ghaznavi set the car bomb meant for me but instead killed Shabani, a Tajik and a distant relative of his. Muzafar met and befriended Shabani when she flitted in and out of Afghanistan shooting images of their war with the central government in Kabul and the ousted Taliban. Her bravery with the men on the front lines and her compassion with their families in the ruined villages earned her their respect—no mean feat for a Muslim woman.
I'd sought out Muzafar since I'd known how loyal Tajiks were to family members even if they were so far across the tree they couldn't be seen for the leaves and branches. On the other hand, I was a Westerner and therefore suspect, but having apparently converted to Islam and able to speak Tajik I gained their trust. I was accepted—sort of—but I always felt watched. Muzafar scowled a lot less after I killed a few dozen of his enemies from so far away he couldn't see them—not necessarily that far. He was immensely proud of what we'd achieved—ending the miserable existences of more than a hundred soldiers and Taliban tribesmen. I was tired of it.
When the others weren't looking, I slid my hand inside my dusty robe that had long since become beyond old and smelled like a donkey's ass and pinched some more brownish powder. I sniffed it deep into my sinuses, closed my eyes and the numbing wave glided gently through me. My breathing slowed. The warmth of a duvet calmly descended on me. My mouth became even drier. The sun shone even brighter. I didn't feel hungry anymore.
Dust rose in the distance.