Sins of the Desert
If Alamar Kraft shot the bastard, that unpinned percussion grenade in his left hand would hit the cave’s stone floor, and they all would die: himself; his men, Jared and Kareem; the boy, and the boy’s captor—the warlord Muammar Mu’adh Shareef.
A single, naked light bulb hung from noosed wiring and cast shadows that danced upon the stone walls—the color of a decayed tombstone. The light caught each spectered breath and somehow played with it, mixing it, and maneuvering it with the shadows. The cave had probably stood for thousands of years, carved for those in need of shelter. Today, today it would weep blood. And if that grenade went off, they’d be a ring of corpses.
Shareef screamed in Farsi, “I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you all!”
Course he would, the bastard.
Alamar’s heart beat slow and hard and steady. Shareef needed to die, he’d ruined, and tortured, and murdered too many to count. Mostly innocents. And there were the orders. But if Alamar shot—well, that wouldn’t work. He lowered his HK 417 assault rifle some and began forming a plan.
He watched Shareef’s chest for any sign of movement. And a thrill of panic chilled through to Alamar’s toes.
Oh god, no. No—
He swallowed and almost brought the gun back up. He couldn’t be seeing that—he couldn’t—
But the word treachery floated on the warlord’s chest. It literally floated there above his gray shirt and rifle strap as though it were backlit by a computer screen, or projected on him some how. Alamar blinked, and his mouth dried. Not again, dammit, not again. The word whisped like a flag, growing larger, then softer, and then vanishing.
Had the others seen? Jared and Kareem were somewhat behind him, and Alamar didn’t dare turn his head. It was a trick of the trade—you watch for any sign of movement or when someone starts speaking, and then you act. A guy like Shareef would probably know that as well. Alamar had seen floating words on people before, back when his mother had died, and he’d thought he was going insane. He was past all that, wasn’t he? Wasn’t he?
Had to keep his head though; he’d survive—he was a United States Green Beret, born and bred in Alabama. His boys weren’t going to die. Not today. Maybe he could use the knife strapped to his shoulder, and, if he threw it hard and fast enough, he could pin Shareef’s grenade wrist to his body. That could work. The hand was close enough. He—
The boy that Shareef held met Alamar’s eyes, and Alamar’s breath caught. What if he died? There was just something about him, something innocent and good. The boy was no more than ten years old; he was thin and basically wearing rags. His eyes were jaundiced and large and full of fear. “Please, sir,” the boy said, his accent so thick Alamar had to strain to understand.
What had this boy done? Was he simply in the wrong place? Had one of his family members betrayed Shareef? Life wasn’t as important over here. Not like back home. His fiancé, Lucy, once even saved a baby robin and fed it wet dog food till it grew large and strong enough to provide for itself. Here? What would Lucy think? If he died today, would she ever know what he was doing? And if he let this boy die because of a mistake—what would she think of him? What sort of life would this boy miss out on if Alamar made a mistake?
Alamar nodded to the boy ever so slightly. And in that moment there was silence, there was understanding. This kid needed saving, and Alamar would see it done. He lifted his hands in surrender and arched his right hand just enough so that he could reach the shoulder-strapped knife.
Muammar grinned. He had a gap between his front teeth. “You Americans know—”
Alamar whipped the knife out and launched it at Shareef’s grenade wrist. The handle skimmed the tip of his thumb, guiding the blade to fly true. The knife pierced Shareef’s wrist, pierced his gut, and pinned the grenade to him just enough that it didn’t drop to the ground.
Kareem dove for the grenade on Alamar’s right.
Alamar flipped up his rifle and—
Shareef shot the boy in the back of the head.
No. Shareef didn’t have a gun to the boy’s head—he didn’t—
The boy’s body sailed into Alamar’s arms. No. His throat ached. No. Not the boy—not the boy. Alamar caught the boy, and fell to his knees. No.
More shots, and Jared stood above the warlord’s corpse.
Alamar held the boy close, unable to get up. And why should he?
It was over. One of Afghanistan’s deadliest warlords was dead–and so was one innocent, little boy.
Alamar would be reporting the mission to the world–but with the child in his arms, how could he?