Old Ventures 2, Ch 23

Note: Apologies for the late posting. Family drama and the Pacific Northwest heatwave collided to destroy my productivity last week.

Twenty-Three, Bakdida, Iraq, 2015

“This feels serendipitous,” Ian said, pointing at Jack. “You’re here to rescue hostages- hostages taken by Isis while they were studying the cultural artifacts that you are here protect,” he pointed to India.

“He and I have a pleasant working relationship; you we could do without,” India said.

“Ah, but I’m far more than simply an attractive visage,” Ian said. “Jalal?” A thin Iraqi in an ill-fitting green uniform came in from the other room. “This young man is a skilled interpreter.”

“My Arabic is excellent, my Turkish more than adequate, and my Urdu at least passable, though I believe today I’ll let my guns speak for me,” she said, pushing out her chest to emphasize her twin shoulder holsters, each housing a blued revolver. She caught a glint off Ian’s eye, and added, “Including in retort to any poorly considered innuendo from you.”

“My innuendos are always very well considered,” he replied, “and I meant interpreter in the way the US Army uses the term. He functions as guide, knows the local players and culture, as well as pressure points.”

She thought a moment, as she shoved a satellite phone into her satchel. “You could have said that from the start.”

“And missed all this fun? I assure you, I could not.”

“He’s trustworthy?” she asked.

“The Americans have been using him for years. He’s scheduled to emigrate there, as reward for his exemplary service, and because as a result of his service the insurgents as well as ISIL want him dead.”

“And he’s sticking his neck out for us because?”

“Because he’s a good man,” Ian said. “Sure, I’ve offered him some compensation, and to aid in whatever way Jack or myself can in getting him and his family to safety… but he agreed to help before I offered anything; I simply believe that loyalty rewarded is loyalty reinforced.”

“I love my country,” Jalal said, tearing up. “I loved her enough to help the Americans rehabilitate her- knowing that my service would likely mean I’d never see her again. And I love her enough not to want to see that work, and her progress, crushed by the Islamic State. Including her culture. We cannot let them wipe our works out of our history.”

A thin smile crossed India’s lips. “A man after my own heart,” India said, cinching her pack shut, then thrust out her hand for him to shake. “My parents named me India, because they suspected I wouldn’t stay- they barely did- but they wanted me to carry their love, and pride, for our home, wherever I went.” He shook her hand delicately. “It also taught me to appreciate those thoughts in others, rare as they can sometimes be.

“And I’m not sure Captain Jack Simon requires much in the way of introductions,” Ian said.

“Of course, Captain,” Jalal said, his posture stiffening as he raised his hand in salute.

“I ain’t been active duty for a while, son,” he put out his hand, “and I always preferred to take a man’s hand- mutual respect, as opposed to deference.”

“I,” Jalal licked his lips nervously, “am not sure I agree, but I am joyed at the sentiment, nonetheless.” He enthusiastically shook Jack’s hand.

“I did, um, actually bring along some support of my own,” Jack said. “Hon?”

His wife entered from the opposite room as Jalal had. “Rose!” India gasped, and rushed to hug the larger woman. “I was just thinking of you.”

“Of course,” Rose said, smiling. “We first met defending a holy site from the Khmer Rouge.” She sighed. “We’re still fighting the same old fights.”

“But we’re still fighting,” India said. “And I have to believe that people are even more against ISIL than they were the Khmer Rouge, though we still haven’t discovered a proper counter to megalomanical and culturally destructive insurgencies.”

“That’s the work of generations,” Jack said. “And Jalal, my wife, Rose-”

“The Riveter!” Jalal gushed. “I had your poster, vintage, of course, from the Second World War. The man who sold it to me claimed it hung in the British base here.”

“I may have left it behind,” Jack said sheepishly.

“You had one of my posters?” Rose asked.

“You had a nice smile,” Jack said, staring at the floor.

“Still do, of course,” Ian said, “though he’s too embarrassed to look up and see it.”

“You never told me,” Rose said, putting her arm around his chest and resting her cheek on his shoulder.

“I didn’t put it together, at first,” he admitted. “I knew who you were, when we met, but… I’d forgotten the poster. I bought it because I wanted to remind myself what we were fighting for, what the world back in the US was while we were gone. Especially while I was fighting here and in Africa, it was a different enough world I, I needed that connection. And when I was leaving, I couldn’t stand the idea of damaging that poster to take it with me, so I left it here, a little reminder to the Brits who stayed behind, and anybody else, really, what the world we were fighting for held.”

“You inspired me,” Jalal said, and flexed his arm in her direction. “I’ve done many more push-ups, though I never could match your guns.”

“They look plenty impressive to me,” she said, and touched his bicep.  

“Would you sign it?”

“Your arm?” she asked

“My poster,” he said with a laugh. “When we are done. It would,” he stumbled to find the next word.

“Of course,” she said. “It would be my pleasure.”

“And my honor,” he replied, putting his palm against his chest.

 “Splendid,” Ian said, “and now that we know each other, I’m told Jalal has an idea as to securing the site. Time is of course of the essence, so let’s out with it.”

“I grew up here, on the outskirts of town. It was the cheapest place to live, further from work and the market, but for a boy, it meant the whole world outside of town was my backyard. Including the shrine. It was frowned upon, of course, but we were young, and stupid, and did not understand what ‘sacred’ truly meant. There is a tunnel from a well outside of town. I believe it once was used to get water to the shrine, but as the water level in the well shrank, the tunnel dried out. A frontal assault on the shrine would likely lead to the death of the hostages, and if they’re to be believed, ISIL have already rigged explosives to the site’s most important art and structures. The Iraqi army has the ISIL force isolated; they can’t escape, but the Iraqis have thus far refused any attempts to negotiate.” “He and I discussed sharing this infiltration strategy with the Iraqis,” Ian started, “but the tunnel’s size would prevent a large force from entering at a brisk pace, and the Iraqi army is still too young, too green, to have a special force likely to succeed. This will boil over into madness shortly, before any hope of reinforcement. We’re the only hope these people have. To say nothing of their important cultural artifacts.”

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