Spear Garden

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Chapter 24

Sabzawar, Afghanistan

04:14 (01:14 GMT)

June 22nd

The old truck rattled and squeaked as he drove into Sabzawar and located the safe house. There was no indication that he’d been followed. His constant observance in his mirrors assured that. Absence of headlights behind him didn’t mean he wasn’t necessarily being followed. Underestimating your enemy was one of the biggest factors leading to defeat. Someone knowing where his meeting with Rafaela was had his senses peaked. The incident made him see danger and death around every corner and in the faces of every man he saw.

The whole area was decrepit, as was most of Afghanistan, but this place was close to the bottom. Blake was sure that its residents looked at other parts with envy. Across the street was a dilapidated building. Half of its roof had caved in from neglect. Next to that was an empty lot, dotted with various merchant tents made with torn and tattered canvas that many used as their homes.

Blake backed the truck in through the front of a building that was missing its façade. A collapsed wall was leaning against the adjacent wall and provided him with dark cover but still a clear line of site to the house across the street. His watch ticked away the remaining minutes till first light. Twenty more minutes. He scrunched down in his seat, pistol in hand, and waited for the team of Afghan Soldiers to arrive.

It hadn’t been fifteen minutes when two sets of headlights caught his eye. They drove in two separate vehicles, each approaching from a different direction to avoid any suspicion. One car parked in the alley next to the house and the other parked in the lot just out of Blake’s view. He watched the first group enter the home. Moments later, the rest came into sight while they crossed the street. Ten more minutes passed before he exited the truck with a vague idea of what he was going to do.

His pack on his back and rifle in his hand, Blake ran across the street and peeked into the car parked in the alley to make sure it was empty. The door to the home was adjacent to the car. Blake heard voices on the other side as they were approaching. He ducked into the shadows just past the opening. He set his rifle down and drew his blade. One of the soldiers came out of the house and retrieved a bag from the car.

With his knife in hand, he crept up behind him and pressed the blade to his throat. He grabbed the soldiers arm and pinned it behind his back. “I’m assuming that you understand me?”

“Yes… Yes, I do. You are the American that we are supposed to meet?”

“I am, but we’ve already run into a problem. The man that was sent to meet me…”

“Rafaela?”

“He’s dead. Someone was there to meet us and tried to kill us both, now you don’t know anything about that do you?”

The man didn’t move his head. Blake assumed, and was probably correct that the razor sharp blade pressed against his throat had something to do with that.

“I do not. I knew nothing of your meeting place with Rafaela. Only that we were to meet you here before the sun rises. My name is Akbar Khan and I am here with the team you selected.”

That name rang a bell. Blake had read his dossier. His father was tortured and murdered by the Taliban after they suspected him of giving information to U.S. Soldiers.

When the U.S. came in to help rid the country of the Taliban, they had found some of the men that committed the crimes against his family. Before they were executed, he found that they also raped his fourteen year old sister and nearly beat her to death before they sold her as a sex slave. She had never been heard from again.

Blake released Akbar. “I’m sorry. Being that Rafaela was murdered no more than two minutes after I got here, you’ll have to forgive me if I’m not too trusting.”

Akbar turned around to face Blake. He swallowed hard and sighed deeply. “I completely understand. Come. We are fixing breakfast and tea inside. Are you hungry?”

Almost serendipitously, his stomach growled. Blake put his knife away. “Yes, thank you.”

“Very well. Follow me inside and introduce you to the rest of the team.” Blake kept his hand near the butt of his Glock strapped to his thigh. He didn’t want to walk inside in a threatening manner. That wouldn’t look good to his new team, but he was sure to keep all his senses on high alert. He motioned for Akbar to proceed and he followed behind.

The house was typical sand colored brick walls, but was large on the inside compared to other dwellings in the area. It had a worn linoleum floor that looked like something from the 70’s. Bits and pieces of it were missing and in many of the high traffic areas; the plywood visible below it. It had a main room with two couches and three worn easy chairs and a small television with rabbit ears sitting on a small table in the corner.

The kitchen had a sink, running water, which was also a luxury; a small stove with two cooking eyes, a refrigerator and even a microwave oven. In the middle of the room were a well-worn wooden table and six chairs. The rest of the house was used for bedrooms and one squat toilet.

When Blake entered the side door behind Akbar, there were three other members of his new “team” in the kitchen unpacking the supplies that they had brought in. They all turned toward Blake. Akbar wasted no time in introducing Blake to the team.

Abdul Sabur Amin and Barbrak Zahir Shah were the two medics and Sardar Kamal was the demolitions expert. Akbar was the sniper. All four men were skilled in tactical operations but were experts in their field for which Blake chose them. Blake picked two medics because he knew that in this part of the world, someone was bound to get injured and he wanted to make sure that all of his team made it out alive.

Abdul Sabur Amin was the first to speak. He was of average height for men of this part of the world, but his stature was nothing less than impressive. He weighed every bit of two hundred and thirty pounds and it was all muscle. “Where is Rafaela?” he asked.

Blake’s lips curled down and he took a deep breath. “Dead, I’m afraid. Someone shot him no more than two minutes after I met him. Which reminds me; his body is in the back of his truck. It’s parked across the street. We’ll need to get him out of there just as soon as possible.”

Blake heard footsteps come in from the main room and turned to see Farishta Taraki, the female member of the team. Blake was pleasantly surprised at how beautiful she was. Most of the women, when out in public, wore burqas that covered them from head to toe. They had to abide by strict Sharia law and they had nothing but a small slit for their eyes.

Not only could you not check out their bodies, but you didn’t even have any idea of what they looked like. They could be beauty queens or coyote ugly; you had no way of knowing. Being a member of the ASA elite forces, she was exempt from having to wear traditional clothing, something that was not passed without strong opposition.

Farishta’s thick black hair came to the middle of her back that she wore loose. Her green eyes bore into him with an intensity that made it hard to be the first to break eye contact. The BDUs and tight fitting tee shirt did little to hide her alluring physique. Once he broke from her enticing glare, he found it hard to keep his eyes off of her chest. She reminded him of Adriana and his mind drifted even further away. It wasn’t until she spoke up and introduced herself that Blake snapped out of his daze.

Blake placed the last of the new team’s gear in a corner of the kitchen.

“Is that everything?” he asked.

“Yes,” Akbar said

“Great. I need you, Abdul and Sardar to help me with Rafala’s body.”

Blake backed his truck next to the door. He and the other three men carried and stored Blake’s things in his room. Next, they grabbed the body of Rafaela, which was still wrapped in Blake’s parachute. They made it snug and duct taped the ends and middle to keep his body protected. The best place for it was in the back of the truck until they could get it back to his family.

They ate breakfast consisting of hard boiled eggs, breads, jam and tea.

Blake finished swallowing and took a sip of tea. “So you all know why we are here. I want to hear what you all know of al Hamwi’s men, where they stay and if you have heard anything about al Hamwi’s location.”

Akbar said, “The building is located on the Northwest side of the city, approximately eight kilometers from here. It is a two-story office building in a district that is a mix of residences and businesses. We are not certain, but we think that it has a basement.”

“What makes you say that?” Blake asked.

“Because we’ve been in the buildings on either side of it and they both have basements. We also have the schematics to the building to its north if that will help you,” Akbar said.

Blake pulled out a map of the city. As he unrolled it, the others removed the plates and glasses. He spread it across the table. “It certainly won’t hurt. Farishta, can you show me on the map exactly where the building is?

As she pointed to the coordinates, Blake took out his laptop and booted it up.

He connected to the internet through the satellite phone and opened up the CIA’s version of Google Maps. It was more detailed and could zoom in and read license plates with ease. It also updated the photos each time it passed overhead instead of years. With special clearance, Blake could even call for a live shot, complete with infrared and night vision. This unfortunately, was not one of those times.

He zoomed into the location to get a bird’s eye view of the building and said, “Look, there is a narrow alley behind the building and also one to the south. The building to the north; look at the shadows, that building is taller. We’d have a good vantage point from there.”

“That is correct. It is three stories,” Farishta said.

“What kind of building is it? Is it a residence or a business?” he asked.

“It is a merchant that sells silks, baskets and other general merchandise,” she said.

“What’s the upstairs? Is that the residence or is it offices, or used for storage?”

“I do not know.”

“Okay, well that’s one thing we’ll need to find out. If we can get on top of that building, we can get down on top of al Hamwi’s and use that as another entry point in our attack,” Blake said. “Okay, tell me about the occupants.”

Akbar replied, “From our observing, we have confirmed ten men entering or leaving the building.”

Blake was pleased that the intel that he was getting from this team fell in line with the other intel he’d received. So far, there was nothing to give him any doubt or suspicion. “How long have you been watching the building?”

“Two weeks. Ever since the disappearance of the other American that was watching them,” Akbar said.

Blake thought for a second and then asked, “And you haven’t seen any sign that they may have him?”

“No. No sign,” Akbar said.

Blake rubbed his hand down his chin through his emerging beard. There’s got to be something in that building that can tell me what happened to Jim. “Okay. What else can you tell me?”

“There is no continuity to their behavior. They come and go at different times all throughout the day.”

“That is not true,” Abdul said. “They send someone down to either of the two café’s down on the corner for lunch. They go around a quarter past twelve, every day. One of those café’s was Rafaela’s.”

“Would you recognize any of his men from a photo?” Blake asked.

“Yes,” Akbar said. “We have taken photos of all of them over the past two weeks.”

Blake took out his phone and showed them the picture of the man he’d killed just a few hours earlier. “How about him? Is he one of the men?” Blake showed the photo to all of the team. They all shook their heads or answered ‘no’. Blake then asked, “How about at night? Do they have anyone stand guard?”

“Sometimes yes and sometimes no,” Akbar said.

“Okay then. We need to head over there anyway to deliver Rafaela’s body to his family.”

“You want to do this now?” Akbar asked.

“Yes, now. Akbar, you drive your car and I’ll follow. Farishta—please come with me, I have an idea I want to run by you.”

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