As Russell was sipping his second cup of coffee later in the morning, he played back some of the more satisfying moments of the day so far. Flynn was out with the troops and would be coming in soon. Even in a logistics unit, exercise was necessary. It wasn’t quit eight o’clock yet.
Gazing, without focusing, at the phony walnut paneling, his eyes found and focused briefly on plaques from two Special Forces Groups and the 82nd Airborne Division. There were no mementos from other, special assignments—well, the leg. No one ever mentioned the lack of family photos. Just as well.
When the MPs arrived at the compound gate, his interpreter, who’d been genuinely puzzled, had already joined him. Dawoud had been hired and attached to the supply and services unit for more than three years. An early call, such as this, from the commander was strange. He’d never worked with a combat soldier before.
The scenes played out in Russell’s memory like video.
“Major, sir, why do you need me so quickly this morning and so early?” “Dawoud, I need you to translate the words of some prisoners and tell them what I say.”
The interpreter was more confounded than before, but after meeting Russell’s eyes for a short moment, he was silent.
The MPs were different. They were led by a second lieutenant.
“Good morning, Sir. Why did you call us out? The duty sergeant said you had prisoners and needed a medic. Major, I don’t see prisoners or the need for a medic,” the lieutenant said.
He was a big man, taller than Russell who was six-one. He had meaty shoulders and heavy hands. Thick lips curved readily into sneers. He’d probably been on the defensive line at some northeastern college. His accent put him somewhere in Pennsylvania. His tone betrayed impatience.
“Lieutenant, if you’ll shut up and ask rather than assuming, I’ll direct you to the prisoners. If you have a problem with that, I can discuss it with your commander. Now tell your driver to follow me.” Russell said.
The lieutenant flushed and saluted. He turned away and instructed his driver in a voice louder than necessary. The driver was silent, but watched the major more closely.
Russell suppressed a grin. The oversized asshole thinks because he’s some sort of cop, he can run over senior officers. Good thing he can’t give me speeding tickets, though.
At the barn, the prisoners lay in the hay. They were conscious. Boyd had stayed until he heard the convoy arrive, and then vanished. The Afghans he’d captured never knew he was there.
The thieves were scared and in pain. The nylon restraints were tight. Their heads ached in the aftermath of a thumping from Boyd’s lead-filled leather sap. Their misery was visible. The MPs, following Russell’s instructions, sat the men up in the straw. The lieutenant was silent.
When Dawoud began translating Russell’s questions, the thief who’d been positioned outside the fence began babbling. His eyes were red with pain and stood out like grapes with dark centers.
“What’s he carrying on about?” Russell said.
“Sir, he says he’s not guilty of anything. He’s the son of a Village Elder and promises that his father will not allow his arrest. He says that a demon with steel teeth attacked them to steal their property and damage their minds. Sir, his father is a Village Elder, but the rest is bullshit,” Dawoud said.
The interpreter had obviously learned a bit of American G.I. vernacular. He believed the rest to be bullshit, besides the fangs were titanium, not steel.
“Tell him we know that he and his two buddies were robbing the warehouse. We have their pictures and fingerprints. Ask him about the ladder that has his prints on it.”
The Afghan Russell had identified as the leader of the group, the only one who’d spoken so far, spit out a torrent of invective in sounds that told of punctuation by curses. He focused bulging eyes on the major.
“Sir he says you lie. He also says that you will die in Afghanistan.”
“Dawoud, tell him if he doesn’t start telling the truth, he may die here in the barn. Tell him the demon of his dreams, the one with steel teeth, will carry him away. He’ll never get to deflower his seventy-two virgins.”
The interpreter hesitated.
“Sir, the demon isn’t real. If I tell him that, he will not believe or be afraid.” Russell bent over the defiant Afghan, stared into eyes flooded with hate and smiled.
“Dawoud, translate these words exactly.”
Russell squatted before the prisoner, grinning as if he too, could bare flashing
“You threaten me, and have no idea that you have condemned yourself. I will call on the demon of your nightmares to come and bite off your testicles before he chokes you with pig fat. You will die screaming for your lost balls and gagging on pork in your miserable throat. No virgins will await you.”
Dawoud’s eyes had swollen almost to the degree of the prisoner’s, but he spoke carefully and deliberately. The bound man answered, but his voice was not as strong as before.
“Sir, he says you can’t do this.”
“Tell him to wait for night. The demon will come for him in darkness. Unless he confesses, the American angel of death will do these things.”
Russell’s leg ached, and he stood, facing the other two thieves. His expression could have graced the face of an Asian cobra.
“Dawoud, ask them what they were doing when they were captured.”
The interpreter belted out rapid-fire questions. The two men talked at the same time and ended on a simultaneous questioning note.
“Major, they say they don’t know anything. Someone knocked them unconscious and brought them here.”
Russell turned to the MP lieutenant and his men.
“Take these men to your facility and hold them until I come. I’ll send digital pictures of their actions and fingerprints from supplies they were stealing. I’ll bring more hard proof when I come.”
“Major, on what basis can I hold these men? I see now why you asked for a medic, these people have been brutalized. These are local people and aren’t under your jurisdiction or mine,” the Lieutenant said.
“Lieutenant, follow my orders. I will notify the Afghan authorities to come and pick them up this afternoon.”
The MP officer had saluted and directed his men to take the thieves. His jaw muscles looked like he was chewing thick, tasteless jerky. He didn’t meet Russell’s eyes before leaving.