Execution Of Justice - Covert Ops Thriller
The young American did his best to look casual as he approached the Moroccan bar. His eyes constantly scanned for incongruities – anything more interesting than an infinite expanse of sand and about a dozen rugged four-wheel-drive vehicles. He saw none.
The bar itself looked ancient, having a wooden frame plastered with a tan adobe, making its color indistinguishable from the surrounding desert. The slate roof appeared on the verge of collapse. The windows were arched and glassless, about twenty feet from the ground, with heavy wooden shutters latched open with hasp locks.
Elan had selected attire generic to the region. His tan robes concealed his slightly trembling hands, as well as the Colt .45 automatic in his shoulder holster. Luckily, the desiccating atmosphere evaporated sweat, helping mask his anxiety.
The locals called the bar Shaqra, although it bore no markings either outside or in. Elan grabbed the huge iron ring serving as a doorknob and pulled. The thick wooden door eventually surrendered to his will and swung open with a creak, attracting the attention of some of the locals inside. Rheumy, bloodshot eyes turned toward the offending desert sunlight cutting through the dimly lit room, but quickly lost interest when they saw Elan.
Elan blinked as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. The main room was large, with about a thirty-foot ceiling. The only light had to fight its way from the open windows through thick clouds of hashish, opium and tobacco smoke. The air hung motionless. In the center sat a square bar. A solitary bartender cleaned his fingernails with a US Army issue bayonet. No wait staff was visible.
This is it, Elan thought, the next fifteen minutes will decide the course of my career. Elan knew his Arabic heritage was the main reason Major Briggs had selected him for Operation Sierra. Nonetheless, he prided himself on the progress he had made. For the past six months he had worked his way up through the Moroccan black market, establishing contacts and credibility through a series of increasingly larger business deals.
With a little help from Uncle Sam, Elan had been able to produce enormous quantities of valuable merchandise ranging from toilet paper to Soviet AK-47's. Now, he waited to meet the man who ran the most powerful and despicable enterprise in the region. Tartus ran an ancient business, one whose tentacles had only recently infiltrated Western civilization. President Nixon declared Tartus' operation a threat to national security and sanctioned the creation of the Sierra task force. Elan felt honored to be selected as the principle Sierra operative - Sierra One. Men such as Tartus stained the reputation of good Arabs all over the world. Elan would take enormous pleasure in bringing this heinous operation to its knees.
When Elan reached the bar he ordered whiskey in Arabic, with the hint of French accent so common among Moroccans. He had lost his university grammar and enunciation months prior. The bartender gave him a menacing look, but reached below the bar and placed an unopened bottle of Jack Daniels on the counter. When Elan did not reach for the bottle, the bartender begrudgingly produced a glass of questionable cleanliness, giving Elan a look saying now what; you want me to drink it for you too?
Elan paid the exorbitant price of fifty Dirham - equivalent to about twelve US dollars. Such robbery, commonplace in countries who forbade alcohol, did not surprise Elan. Still standing at the bar, he poured himself two fingers, neat. Just one drink, he vowed, I need my wits about me today more than ever. He took his bottle in hand and began working his way through the crowd; scanning for the red neckerchief Falon told him would identify Tartus.
Falon, perhaps the nastiest man Elan had ever met, frightened Elan despite his training. A calm sadism in the man's eyes distinguished him from Elan's other business contacts. Elan knew Falon would relish killing him at a leisurely pace if he suspected he were an American agent. He repeated the mantra to himself - Remember your training. This is your job. While others wanted American and European creature comforts, Falon shopped for dangerous merchandise – rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank weapons, heroin, and much, much worse.
In a city where black and brown were the predominant wardrobe choices, Elan had little difficulty spotting the red neckerchief. His pulse quickened. He smelled the fear on his upper lip as he considered the man he prepared to meet. It had taken months of courting Falon to gain an audience with Tartus. Men that cautious were not to be underestimated. He downed his drink in one motion and approached the man who would become the instrument of his destiny.
Elan estimated Tartus was about forty years old. Tartus' face - lean, taught, and weather-beaten from years spent in the desert – carried no expression. Elan felt Tartus' coldness even from a distance. The tables surrounding Tartus were all empty. All Elan's training and months undercover had led to this moment. He braced himself to initiate a conversation with one of the world's most venomous and clever men. Although Falon's treachery made him a local icon, he lacked the fear and respect Tartus enjoyed.
“Hello,” Elan said in Arabic, meeting Tartus' level gaze, “I notice the weather here is much harsher than in the South.”
“But the opportunities are so much better,” Tartus replied, completing the code phrase. “Please, have a seat and let us discuss such matters.”
The cordiality in Tartus' voice belied the brutality and heartlessness Elan knew were the staples of his trade. He forced himself to maintain contact with Tartus' soulless, obsidian eyes. Those eyes evoked primal fears from Elan's genetic memory. Images of alligators and sharks flashed through Elan's mind – ancient predators, machines designed exclusively for killing. Elan, a seasoned combat veteran, felt the first familiar tingling of fear. As always, he tried to let the adrenaline work in his favor.
Elan hoped his training had prepared him for this encounter. Although Elan did not subscribe to the Christian concept of the Devil, Tartus gave him reason to reconsider. Tartus had the presence of some supremely evil denizen of the underworld, visiting Earth in search of souls to steal.
When Elan sat, Tartus immediately began his business. “So, you have gone to a great deal of trouble to talk with me. What makes you think I have any interest in what you have to say?”
Elan calculated that Tartus would respect nothing less than complete candor, and replied, “Well, that you're here, for one thing. And that I have access to merchandise that would bring a much greater price than your normal wares.”
“So Falon told me. And what, exactly, is the source of this wonderful merchandise?”
“America, of course. West coast. California.” Elan paused to let the statement sink in. Tartus' eyes probed Elan, searching for any sign of weakness. “Surely there will be abundant profit for all parties involved.”
“You propose something with great risk.” Tartus' hard eyes bored into Elan's face.
“High risk, high return,” Elan quipped. “Besides, you don't impress me as a man afraid of a little risk.” This statement skirted dangerously close to arrogance, but Elan had to pass himself off as a calloused murderer, a man who knew fear merely as something he saw in the faces of his victims. He behaved as Tartus' equal.
“You should not confuse wisdom with fear, my friend.” Tartus' voice took on an icy, challenging edge. “However, I am still listening.”
“I have a friend who is a travel agent. His operation is a perfect front for moving merchandise of this sensitive nature through American customs.”
Tartus' eyes narrowed to slits. He leaned forward on his elbows until his face nearly touched Elan's. “Just like that? You appear out of nowhere and want to cut me in on your foolproof enterprise?”
Elan forced himself not to back away from Tartus. At this distance, he smelled curry mixed with alcohol on the man's breath. “Tartus, like you, I'm a businessman. I don't have the network you have, and I don't have access to the end users. That's where you come in. We're both familiar with the Brazilian and Philippine crap flooding the marketplace. I propose moving a top-end product into the market, the business opportunity of a lifetime. I can deliver in quantity. How does one unit per month sound?”
Tartus mulled this over for a few seconds that seemed an eternity to Elan before he responded, “You do make a good case. I'll discuss this with some of my high dollar clientele and meet you here tomorrow at the same time with an answer.”
As Elan stared into those reptilian eyes, he kept the most important poker face of his life. Inside, he surged with triumph. He looked at Tartus differently – meaner.
“This conversation is over,” Tartus said. He stood abruptly and walked toward the exit. When he opened the door, an intensely bright light flooded Shaqra, temporarily blinding anyone whose eyes followed him. After exiting the bar, Tartus turned left into the parking lot.