The twin black stretch Cadillac Escalade ESV’s remained as close to each other as possible as they passed through the Basra Airport Checkpoint. Heavily armoured and with windows darkly tinted, the Iraqi guards saluted smartly as the vehicles passed by, unaware of who was inside but certain that such a procession could only be for someone of great importance. The airport was roughly ten kilometres north-west of the centre of Basra, a relatively short trip between the two but a potentially hazardous one nonetheless.
Clayton Maynard, CEO of Levinstone Petrochemicals, had just recently stepped down off the steps of his company jet into the omnipresent heat of the Iraqi sun. He had a meeting in Basra at the Basrah International Hotel with a number of department heads that ran the petrochemical plant situated on the edge of the city. The meeting would take him the rest of the afternoon before he was back on the plane again on the return journey to his current home in Kuwait, ensuring that he stuck to his one rule, don’t spend any more time in Iraq than you had to.
Levinstone Petrochemicals was an important part of the financial rebuild of Iraq post Gulf War but there were certain political and sectarian factions that opposed the Shiite Governments attempts to get the country back on its feet. Parties still loyal to Saddam Hussein and militant groups, mainly Al-Qaeda, posed a real and ever present threat to Iraqi Government Officials and the large band of foreign businessmen who worked in the country.
Maynard waited for the van in front to gain speed and peered nervously out of the rear window to ensure no other vehicle followed. Satisfied, the Canadian leaned back in the plush white leather seat and gazed out at the dry and dusty landscape that flashed past his window.
“Jesus Christ,” he thought to himself as he surveyed the flat brown land, “I might as well be on Mars.”
Manning hated the Middle East, especially Iraq. The people had no concept of what he and his company were trying to do here. Levinstone petrochemicals could bring badly sought after financial gains to the country, improving the standard of living for all Iraqi’s and thereby creating stability in a region that had almost none. The wind suddenly increased sending a dense sandstorm across the road enveloping the vehicles. Manning sighed, he pined for his real home back in Montreal where the air was cool and clean and where you did not have to rely on personal protection every time you stepped out onto the street.
The first black Cadillac contained the driver, Craig Ellis and one protection agent, Harry Botha, both men armed with a PS90 semi-automatic carbine and a Heckler and Koch USP pistol. This car was used to scout the route ahead and retrieve the VIP if the second vehicle broke down or was disabled. Along with the driver in the second vehicle, another heavily armed protection agent plus the CEO’s personal bodyguard rode along in the rear of the Escalade with the VIP.
Clayton Maynard removed his black framed glasses and rubbed the red indentation on the bridge of his nose distractedly. Grunting, he poured himself a whiskey from the selection of bottles by his left elbow. Knowing better than to offer the other men in the car a drink he asked, “So how are you guys doing down here?”
Kerry Daniels (ex SAS) smiled. “You know how it is sir, always on high alert but nothing really happens. Not that frequently at least.”
“Well thank god for that,” replied Maynard with a smile.
“And how are you going, Rudi?” asked Daniels.
Rudi Meyer turned his attention away from the curtain of sand that surrounded the vehicles, running a hand through his short blonde hair as he did so. As personnel bodyguard to Clayton Maynard he found unrelated conversation a distraction from his job. Not a great talker at the best of times, Meyer believed small talk led to familiarisation which in turn led to friendship and emotive connection with the person you guarded and the men you worked with. In the Germans experience that situation almost always led to mistakes and lapses in concentration. Meyer looked ahead at the progress of the Cadillac in front of them before responding. “Everything is as it should be. Once we get Mr. Maynard to the hotel I will feel a hell of a lot better.”
Daniels stared at the man opposite for a moment waiting for more but it was soon clear that Meyer had said his piece and would not be offering further conversation without some prodding. For his part Daniels knew only a little of the Germans history. By all accounts an efficient bodyguard that remained professional and alert 24/7. He knew that Meyer was ex- Kommando Spezialkräfte or Special Forces Command, KSK, for he had seen the tattoo of the gold eagle over a black arrow on the Germans right bicep. The KSK was more or less the German equivalent of the SAS and had an impressive reputation across the broader military community. How Meyer had become the CEO’s bodyguard or why he had left the KSK, nobody knew for sure or was game to ask. He had heard rumours of course, the most common one being that Meyer found his superior officer sleeping with his girlfriend. Rather than confront the man privately, rumour has it that Meyer knocked the guy out with one punch in the middle of the parade ground. Somewhat of a career ender, decided the Englishman. One thing Kerry Daniels did know was that the man sitting opposite him in the comfortable leather seat was as professional as they came and a tough son of a bitch to boot.
Craig Ellis in the lead car took his foot off the accelerator pedal as an ageing cream Mercedes, steam pouring from under the front of the car, tried to make a turn back towards the airport. Basra Airport Highway was not as wide a road as the title would suggest and was raised well above the surrounding landscape to minimise sand covering the bitumen surface in times of high wind. The driver of the lead Escalade cursed under his breath as the old Mercedes stuttered forward once, then again before stalling in the middle of the road, effectively blocking it. Two Arabs, one elderly wearing a white keffiyeh, the traditional Arab headdress and a younger man in a blue polo shirt and gray slacks slowly alighted out of the vehicle, the elder of the two holding is thin brown hand up in apology.
Rudi Meyer peered through the front windscreen of the second Cadillac as he felt it reduce speed.
“What’s up?” asked Maynard.
Meyer removed his sub-machine gun from the concealed compartment in the door by his side and Daniels followed suit.
“Probably nothing sir,” replied the German. “I can’t quite see the problem, the sandstorm is getting heavier. Give me a moment please.”
Meyer leaned across the front seat and spoke briefly to the driver.
“Phillip has just spoken to Craig in the lead car. Some Arabs are having trouble with their vehicle and are blocking the road. We need to sit tight while Harry sorts it out.”
The protection agent in the lead car stepped out into the middle of the road, the wind snapping fiercely at his black suit as he un-holstered his pistol. Yelling in Arabic, he instructed the men to push the Mercedes to the side of the road so that the two Cadillac’s had enough room to pass. The younger of the two men yelled something back in return but in the air-conditioned confines of the Escalade, it was impossible for Ellis to hear what was said. The older of the two Arabs opened the driver’s side door and while still standing, grabbed hold of the steering wheel while the younger man went to the rear of the Mercedes, ready to push. Botha considered helping the men to expedite the cars removal but training dictated that he stay focussed on the job at hand. Sand blasted his face as he watched the old man struggle with the steering wheel, the security agent unaware that the younger Arab had slowly reached into the unlocked trunk of the Mercedes. The young man grinned as his fingers found the wooden stock of the AK 47 hidden beneath an old blanket. With a shout the young Arab brought the weapon to bear and loosed off two shots in quick succession. The first went wide and high to the left of Botha but the second smashed into his body armour, slamming into his chest, bringing him down to his knees. Botha staggered for a moment, breathless, as he tried to rise and bring his own weapon to bear but the assailant squeezed off another burst and a slug hit the protection agent in the left temple, felling him in a spray of blood and bone before he could return fire.
Ellis stayed behind the wheel of his vehicle as the young Arab shot at his partner. Every instinct told him to get out of the Escalade, join the fight and assist his fallen comrade. But his training dictated that the priority was the safety of the man in the vehicle to the rear and as he keyed his mike to inform them what was happening he gasped in alarm as two more armed Arabs appeared from behind the banking on the side of the highway. Both bearded Arabs wore gray slacks, one in a white business shirt the other in a faded green polo. The man in the business shirt began to spray a volley of shots from an AK 47 at the lead Cadillac, the bullets cracking the toughened glass of the windshield but unable to penetrate. Ellis momentarily turned his attention back to Botha and it was immediately clear that the man was dead, his blood already congealing with the sand on the hot desert road. Ellis revved the Cadillac’s engine, prepared to ram his way through the barricade that blocked their path. Staring at the armed men through the spider web of cracks that covered the front windscreen he groaned in fear as the Arab with the green polo shirt produced a rocket propelled grenade from behind his back.
Clayton Maynard jumped in alarm as the first shots rang out. Kerry Daniels wound down his window and looked forward just in time to see the bloody fate of Harry Botha.
“Shit. Man down, man down, I think Harry’s dead,” shouted Daniels as he collapsed back in his seat.
Maynard looked pale as Meyer roughly grabbed Daniels arms, preventing the protection agent from leaving the vehicle.
“We can’t do anything for him now, stay in the car,” responded the German. “Phil, get on the radio and tell Craig to get us the hell out of here.”
The driver lifted the microphone to his lips just as a tremendous explosion lifted the leading Cadillac a metre off the ground in a ball of yellow flame. The men in the second vehicle watched in horror as the van hit the road with a thud, the burning wreck coming to rest on its side at the edge of the highway.
Maynard seemed to shrink back into his leather seat as a stunned silence filled the interior of the vehicle. Daniels and Meyer had their weapons on their laps ready for use but were reluctant to meet the threat head on, leaving Maynard exposed and alone.
Phillip tore his eyes away from the carnage in front of him and glanced in the rear view mirror. A fifth attacker appeared out of the veil of sand, this one alone, slowly walking along the bitumen approaching the rear of the vehicle. Like his partner, he too carried an RPG.
Phillip cried out in warning and Meyer wound down his window, aiming his PS 90 at the approaching Arab. The wind was very strong now and the black cloth of the attacker’s keffiyeh obscured most of his face. The Arab raised the RPG but dropped it abruptly as a round from Meyer’s semi-automatic caught him in the upper thigh. Phillip stomped on the accelerator and the Escalade surged forward, hitting the gutted Cadillac in front, sending the burning van spinning down the embankment. The vans sudden impetus unbalanced Meyer and he was thrown back into his seat hitting his head on the door frame in the process.
Unwilling to risk rolling the stretch Escalade on the gravel verge, Phillip aimed for the centre of the Mercedes, with the younger Arab leaping out of the way in panic. The older man, still holding the steering wheel had poorer reflexes and pathetically threw up a hand in defence as fifteen hundred pounds of Cadillac pinned him to the side of the Mercedes. Smoke from the spinning tyres engulfed the two vehicles as the Cadillac pushed the Mercedes down the road. Blood poured out of the old man’s open mouth before he collapsed, practically cut in two, onto the hood of the Escalade. Phillip twisted the steering wheel slightly, then straightened it again as the Mercedes was pushed aside. The Arabs behind them continued to fire their weapons into the pall of gray smoke that surrounded the fleeing van.
Maynard leaned forward and vomited loudly onto the pristine white carpet at his feet. Daniels and Meyer waited for the impact of the second RPG. Whether it was fired off or not, neither man knew, for they were soon out of range, leaving the danger and two dead comrades behind.
The Basrah International Hotel, formerly the Sheraton, on Corniche Street overlooks the blue waters of the Shatt Al Arab River on the eastern side of Basra. Not a luxuriant hotel by Western standards but one of the better hotels in the region. Clayton Maynard had hastily showered and changed, composing himself as best he could before his business meeting downstairs. Rudi Meyer allowed himself a gin and tonic as he leaned on the balcony, admiring the view along the river. The wind had eased and the sandstorm was now just a dirty smudge on the horizon. Parts of Iraq, where the scars of war could not be seen or had been meticulously erased were actually quite attractive and Meyer could easily imagine himself in a safer, quieter city such as Istanbul or perhaps Alexandria.
Kerry Daniels who was stationed in Basra, talked in the foyer with some of the high ranking police officials whose task it was to investigate the ‘unfortunate incident’ that had occurred on the trip from the airport. The Englishman had a sturdy if somewhat strained relationship with the local authorities and was by far the best man to handle the endless stream of questions thrown to him by the police. All parties knew that it would be a fruitless exercise. By the time the police arrived on scene, every trace of their assailants had gone. Only the burnt out Cadillac, the damaged Mercedes and the bodies of Harry Botha and what was left of Craig Ellis remained. There would be a lot of posturing and promises as the Iraqi Government tried to ensure the safety of foreign investment but in the end the incident would be blamed on a small minority of troublemakers who had once again disappeared into the heat and obscurity of the desert.
Meyer turned and walked back into the hotel room as he heard the door unlock. Kerry Daniels shrugged his shoulders to Meyer’s unasked question, collapsing into a chair by the bed.
“So it went as expected?” asked Meyer.
Daniels placed some ice into the glass on the table by his side. Slowly he poured himself a whiskey.
“Oh yeah, it went as expected. Publicly the line is a sectarian issue, Shia versus Sunni, usual shit. Privately they have been experiencing guerrilla attacks on the outskirt of town most likely from Al- Qaeda. The police do not think it is a targeted attack and neither do I. Well, that’s not completely true. We were certainly targeted as foreign nationals, maybe the terrorists have a man inside the airport. But I don’t think Maynard was targeted specifically, at least there is no evidence to support that line of thinking. What I do know is that the Iraqi’s are hopelessly undermanned and in some areas are just holding on to their control by the skin of their teeth. How is Maynard by the way?”
Meyer shrugged. “He’s okay or at least putting on a brave face. He made a big deal about the coin toss at the airport. Reminded me that if it had gone tails it would have been us in the lead vehicle and most likely toast on the side of the road.”
Daniels attempted a smile. “Luck of the draw.”
Meyer nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, luck of the draw. Look, I’ve been thinking it over and this is going to be my last job for Maynard.”
Daniels stiffened, slowly placing his glass back on the table. “But you’re one of the best bodyguards we have got. Shit Rudi, you are the best. Don’t overreact just because of a close call.”
“It’s not about today, not really. I have been contemplating this for awhile and today just tipped the balance in favour of leaving, that’s all.”
The Englishman stood, looking Meyer squarely in the eye. “But what are you going to do, go back to the KSK?”
“No, when I left there I swore I would not return. I have something else in mind.”
Daniels stared at his colleague. “Can’t exactly see you working at K-mart.”
Meyer poured himself another drink and sat down, returning Daniels stare. “What I have been thinking about needs some explaining so bear with me. When I was with the KSK we were the aggressors, you know what I mean, you would have felt the same in the SAS. I left there because the conditions were hard and the pay was crap. Working for Levinstone, the pay is very good but I no longer like the work.”
“How do you mean?”
Meyer stared up at the ceiling fan rotating slowly above his head as he contemplated his answer. “It’s like a game of football. I am tired of playing in defence. We have to wait for an attack and then defend as best we can. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an important job that needs doing it’s just that I want to play forward for a change just like I did in the KSK.”
Daniels tried to rub the tiredness out of his eyes, staring at the ceiling for a moment before responding. “Best of both worlds, huh? But where are you going to find a gig like that?”
“I have made some enquiries, have you heard of Minotaur Resources?”
“Word is they have their own private army that protects the company’s assets. A reactive force but an aggressive one. By all accounts a pretty tough fighting unit. It would be very much like the old days but from what I have heard the pay is infinitely better.”
Daniels stared at the German in disappointment. “And there is no way me or Maynard are going to be able to change your mind, is there?”
Meyer shrugged. “I haven’t contacted them yet. Don’t even know for sure if there is a position currently available but either way I am out of here. Once we get Maynard back on the plane and home to Kuwait, I’m done.”