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Authors: Mark Terry

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Gravedigger

BOOK: Gravedigger
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GRAVEDIGGER
Mark Terry
OROX
Books

GRAVEDIGGER
Copyright ©2013 by Mark Terry
OROX Books 2013

NOTICE: This work is copyrighted. It is licensed only for use by the original purchaser. Making copies of this work or distributing it to any unauthorized person by any means, including without limit email, floppy disk, file transfer, paper print out, or any other method constitutes a violation of International copyright law and subjects the violator to severe fines or imprisonment.

Cover art: Judy Bullard, Jaebee Creations
eBook Design: Natasha Fondren, the eBook Artisans

ALSO BY MARK TERRY

Derek Stillwater

The Devil’s Pitchfork
The Serpent’s Kiss
The Fallen
The Valley of Shadows
Dire Straits
The Sins of the Father

Standalone Novels

Hot Money
Edge
Dirty Deeds

For Kids

Monster Seeker
Monster Seeker 2: Rise of the Dark Seekers (Ian Michael Terry with Mark Terry)
The Battle For Atlantis
The Fortress of Diamonds

Collections

Deadly By The Dozen
Catfish Guru

Nonfiction

Freelance Writing For A Living
31-1/2 Essentials For Running Your Medical Practice

1

Afghanistan – January 1989

Captain Mikhail Zavko stood and
smoked a cigarette, watching his two men load boxes into the helicopter. The chopper was a Mi-24, an attack helicopter, a feared beast. His team had dubbed it the Crocodile. It bristled with guns. What had the mujahideen said?
We do not fear the Soviets, but we fear their helicopters.

But it hadn’t been enough. After ten long years the Soviet Bear had been chased from Afghanistan. With the help of those fucking Americans and the Chinese.

Forty yards away a group of
muj
waited. Two were in a truck, the Sheik and the Mullah, and a handful were on horseback. Horseback! Zavko hated this country. He’d been here for six years. His own little corner of hell.

His men had finished loading their own cargo into the
muj’s
truck, and were loading the crates into the Crocodile. Ducking low, the rotors blowing his red hair around his bony head, Radovic tripped and fell. The box broke open. Paper money began to blow wildly around. Radovic frantically tried to capture the banknotes, which were American dollars and Saudi Riyals.

But the money disappeared.

The
muj
laughed. Except the Sheik, who climbed out of the truck, sober and silent.

Zavko tossed down his cigarette and jogged toward the helicopter, dust and grit blowing into his face. Shielding his eyes, he ran up next to Radovic and shouted, “Get the rest in the chopper. Don’t drop any more.”

Radovic nodded, started loading the remaining ten boxes into the Mi-24. The other man, Ivan Efinov, moved quickly.

Finally all the boxes were loaded. The Sheik climbed into the truck, which drove away, the horses and their
muj
riders cantering after it.

Zavko waved for Radovic and Efinov to follow him away from the helicopter. Radovic talked the whole time. “Did you see all that money? Man, I mean, those were hundred dollar bills and I don’t know what that other stuff, that colored money was, but it had 500 written on it.”

Yes,
thought Zavko.
You let about a million dollars or so blow away in the fucking wind.

He pulled out his Makarov and shot Radovic between the eyes. Before Efinov could even hold up his hands in surrender, Zavko shot him twice through the heart.

Looking down at them, he fired another shot into each of their heads, then walked back to the helicopter. The pilot looked at him. “You need me, don’t you?”

“I do.”

“But don’t shoot me when we land.”

Zavko slowly reloaded the Makarov. “No promises. Now get me the hell out of this godforsaken country.”

2

Islamabad, Pakistan - 1992

It was raining in Pakistan
when Derek Stillwater flew into Islamabad. He passed through customs easily due to his diplomatic passport. It indicated he was with the U.S. State Department. That wasn’t quite true – he was actually with the Central Intelligence Agency – but the CIA routinely used State Department credentials. Derek figured it fooled absolutely no one and probably made everybody around the world instantly skeptical of people in the State Department.

He had never been to Pakistan. His first impressions were reasonably positive. The streets were wide and there were a lot of green trees and shrubs, a chain of hills nearby. The rain made it dreary, but the driver of the white Suzuki mini-bus that was driving him to the embassy was cheerful enough.

There was a small group of protesters outside the U.S. Embassy. The mini-bus dropped Derek and his duffel bag and backpack off and he was checked through security. He was brought in by a heavy-set woman in a gray pantsuit who asked him all the usual questions about his flight and his drive to the embassy. She had paperwork she wanted him to fill out and indicated he had a meeting in two hours. Did he want coffee or a shower?

He said yes to both, but he’d take the coffee first with the paperwork.

With the paperwork and the coffee and shower out of the way, he was escorted to a soundproof conference room. A grizzled gray-haired man in khakis was sitting at the conference room looking through a file. He glanced up at Derek and grinned. “Well, well.”

“General, what are you doing in Pakistan?”

General James Johnston stood up and the two men shook hands. Derek had left the Army with the freshly minted rank of Colonel. During Desert Storm he had worked closely with General Johnston, although the promotion to general was very recent.

“A little of this, a little of that. At the moment I’m involved in evaluating what’s going on in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and trying to figure out what the Russians left lying around. They told me I’d be working with an Agency specialist. Didn’t know it would be you. How do you like being a spook?”

In truth, Derek wasn’t really certain. He had a double PhD in biochemistry and microbiology and was a specialist in biological and chemical warfare. Having infiltrated the front lines during Desert Storm and investigated chemical and bio weapon depots, he’d had enough of the military, mustered out and joined the CIA. In terms of bureaucratic red tape and unfocused missions, he thought the CIA was far worse than the military had been. As recent debacle in Cuba that forced him to flee for his life in a stolen kayak across the Straits of Florida had left him wondering if that was better or worse than spending his days in an underground cubicle in Langley reading and writing reports.

“I don’t think I can discuss that without a couple bottle of beers between us, General.”

“Jim, now that you’re out of the Army. Jim. That’s a deal.” Johnston glanced at his watch. “Cameron’s late.”

Frank Cameron was the CIA Station Chief in Pakistan. Derek hadn’t met him yet. He headed over toward the coffee pot to pour himself a cup when the door opened and a man and a woman entered. The man, he presumed, was Cameron. Slender, short, with close-cropped blond hair and blue eyes, he wore a crisp blue suit with a white shirt and Harvard tie. “Derek Stillwater, then?” Cameron shook hands and introduced himself.

“And this,” Cameron said, gesturing to the woman, “is Noa Shoshan.” She shook his hand. She was medium height with black hair cut short. Her face was a delicate oval, cheekbones high and sharp, brown eyes almond-shaped. Pretty, but somehow fierce. Derek thought she had the intensity of a raptor. “She’s from our friends in Israel.”

Derek cocked an eyebrow. An Israeli, let alone a female Israeli, working in Pakistan? “Bet that’s fun,” he commented.

The woman’s expression was sharp. ”What’s fun?”

“A Jewish woman working in a Muslim country.”

“Fun isn’t a word I’d use,” she said. She sat down at the table. Johnston caught Derek’s gaze and twitched his mouth as if to say,
nice try.

“Well,” Cameron said, sitting down at the head of the table. “Let’s get down to business. The three of you are going to work as a team. We’re sending you out to the border with Afghanistan. Since the Russians left, we keep tripping over weapons and mines they didn’t take with them. That’s part one of your job.”

Derek already knew what his job was, but he let Cameron do his thing.

“As you may or may not know, the Agency was supplying the mujahideen with weapons to fight the Soviets. We filtered them through Israel and Pakistan.”

In this, Derek knew the broad outlines. Noa muttered something, presumably in Hebrew. Cameron looked at her. “What was that?”

“I said, ‘strange bedfellows.’”

“Indeed,” Cameron said. “And now that the Russians are gone, Afghanistan has gone back to being a backwater. But the Pakistan government has some concerns that some of the Afghan tribes are getting, hmmm, organized, I guess you would say. And they’ve got a lot of those Russian weapons lying around to do it with.”

“There is also a lot of traffic going on between them and Sudan,” said Noa.

This was news to Derek. “What’s going on in Sudan?”

Noa said, “Many of the
muj
were Saudi. But they were Saudi extremists. And they are not happy with the U.S.”

Johnston said, “Now that we’ve got military bases in Saudi, there’s a very vocal component of the Muslim community that is opposed to that. The argument is we are infidels in the land of two holy sites.”

“Medina and Mecca,” Derek said. “Yes, I had the briefings when I was there. As you remember. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Sudan is in African. Between Sudan and Afghanistan there are, what, two countries and a couple bodies of water? What does Afghanistan have to do with Sudan?”

“We’re just going over it,” Cameron said, “so we’re all on the same page. The gist of this is, some of these Saudi mujahideen returned to Saudi as heroes, because they managed to defeat the Soviets. Now some of them are going after the House of Saud. There are quite a few militant Saudi Muslim groups. A few of them have gotten kicked out of Saudi, so they went to Sudan. But they have contacts in Afghanistan.”

Noa said, “Just another bunch of crazy Muslims. They’re like a hydra. Cut off one head, three more grow back.”

“And now these groups want us out of Saudi, and they seem to be getting organized in Sudan,” Cameron said. “Big supporters of the NIF.”

That one was new to Derek. “Who?”

“The National Islamic Front overthrew the Sudanese government in 1989,” Cameron said.

“Just one big happy family over here,” Derek said. Trying to keep up with Middle Eastern and North African internal politics was a full-time job.

Johnston snorted. Noa glared. Cameron said, “Your job is to go over to the border with Afghanistan, which is porous—”

Johnston said, “That means it’s pretty much nonexistent. It’s mountainous and rural and pretty much run by tribes, both Afghani and Pakistani.”

“As I was saying,” Cameron said. “We have a list of about twenty-five villages and locations on both sides of the border that we think might have stashes of leftover weapons, or that might be collecting weapons. It’s possible they’re shipping them to Sudan, it’s possible they’re planning on using them in Pakistan, or it’s possible they just want to use them in their own internal power struggles. Your job is to figure out what’s there, who’s got what, and what their plans are.”

“The three of us?” Derek said. “Just the three of us?”

Noa said, “You should stop shaving. Let your beard grow. Maybe you can blend in. How’s your Pashto?”

“Nonexistent. How’s yours?”

“Fluent.”

“Great. Your expertise?”

“Islamic militants and terrorism. Yours?”

“Biological and chemical weapons. And I was Special Forces, so I know my way around a gun.”

General Johnston said, “How are we getting over there, Cameron? Gonna walk?”

“We’ve got a reliable truck for you. You’ll leave Islamabad tomorrow, head to Peshawar. You’ll meet up with one of our people there, John Landing, for a further briefing. Any questions?”

“If we get into trouble?” Derek asked.

“You shouldn’t. This is simply a recon and inspection trip.”

Derek, Johnston and Noa exchanged a look.
This
, thought Derek,
is what I hate about the CIA.

3

The Range Rover was a
little beat up and now covered with dirt and grime, but the embassy had made sure the engine was in good shape. It handled the 460 miles from Islamabad to Peshawar in reasonable comfort, even though the closer they got to Peshawar the worst the roads got. There were plans to build a major highway between the two cities in a year or so, but so far nothing had been done about it.

Noa was driving. First impressions had not been deceiving. She was not friendly. For the early part of the trip she adopted the traditional clothing of women in Pakistan, the shalwar kameez, which were loose fitting pants, almost like pajamas, but narrow at the ankles, and a long shirt. She wore a headscarf. She’d explained that once they got into parts of Afghanistan she would probably have to wear a burqa. She’d shown it to Derek, who wasn’t familiar with it.

He was startled to realize it covered her from head to toe, even covering her face. Even the area for eyes was mesh. “It makes you look like an alien.”

“In the most reactionary parts of Islam, women have all the rights of camels. Maybe less. And the Koran makes women completely subservient to men. In Saudi Arabia the women can’t leave the house without a chaperone – a husband, brother, adult son – and they have to wear a veil all the time. So as not to tempt men.”

The tone of her voice made it clear what she thought of this.

“Yeah, but this—” He’d waved at the burqa. “It’s—”

“Dehumanizing,” Noa said. “Yes. On the other hand, I can be very well armed under it.” And she was well armed. They all were. Johnston and Noa had insisted. Derek had come into the country with a go-pack – a backpack filled with gear he might need – but no weapon. Johnston had made sure that he had plenty of arms. Derek had spent part of the trip trying to learn a few words and phrases in Pashto, Farsi and Arabic.

They rolled into Peshawar late in the evening three days later. The city had been surrounded by tent cities. It reminded Derek of refugee camps he had visited in Africa growing up with his missionary doctor parents.

Noa said they were
muj
. She now wore a scarf to cover her hair and face. Derek and Johnston had head starts on beards, but were wearing western clothing.

“Technically we are in Pakistan,” Noa said, “but many of these people are Afghans. And there’s no telling what their allegiances are.”

“Let’s find John Landing,” Johnston said. “But keep an eye out for hostiles.”

Finding the CIA’s
man in Peshawar wasn’t that easy. Cameron had given them several places to start looking. The Old City Centre at the Qissa Khwani Bazaar. The streets were narrow, the buildings two or three stories high, and clogged with pedestrians, fuming, stinking motorized rickshaws, and battered old cars circa 1971 or so.

“It is famous,” said Noa, “for a British massacre in 1930.” Everywhere they looked were bearded men carrying AK47s. Like many places in the world, Derek noted, the AK47 was as ubiquitous as briefcases in the western world.

The Qissa Khwani Bazaar was everything one would expect from a middle eastern bazaar – open shops carrying dates and tomatoes and pomegranates and goats and scrawny chickens, rug merchants, and tea shops, and tobacco shops, grilling kebabs, people haggling, shouting, talking. Occasionally people glanced at these two westerners, but didn’t pay much attention to them.

They worked their through the bazaar, having locked their truck nearby. Johnston had seen some kids eying the truck. He waved them over. “English?”

They shook their heads. Noa tried in Urdu, then Pashto. They responded. She bargained with them for a few minutes, then dropped coins in greedy hands, a finger raised, voice harsh. The boys nodded.

“Guarding it?” Derek asked.

“More money if it’s here when we get back.”

“Think it will be?”

She shrugged.

Now, deep in the bazaar, Derek was sort of enjoying himself. He was getting hit up by every vendor, and some of the men glared at him, but others seemed to be just interested in selling him something. He stopped at a shop filled with copper kettles. The proprietor, a fat little man in a turban in a white shirt and khaki pants, jabbered at him.

Noa said, “He’s offering you a cup of tea.”

Derek nodded. “Thank you.”

The man poured him the tea into a battered china cup and nodded. Derek tried to give him a coin, but the man waved his hands. Derek tasted the tea. Sweet green tea. Not bad. Through Noa, he asked the man what he was selling.

“Pots and pans. Tea kettles.”

“How is business?”

“Do you wish to buy a kettle?”

“How much?”

He rattled off a price. Derek looked at Noa, who counter-offered. After a few minutes of haggling, Derek was the proud owner of a copper kettle. Johnston looked at it. “I always did enjoy working with you. You get to carry the kettle.”

“You don’t like tea?”

“Actually, I love tea. And now you’re in charge of making it.”

“Guess I’d better find a tea shop.”

“With any luck it’s right next to the restaurant where we’re supposed to find John Landing.”

The restaurant had about six outdoor tables. The food was cooked outside on a grill. Lamb, goat, chicken, or maybe they were ducks or geese. Behind the grill a bearded guy cooked on a couple woks. It smelled terrific. Noa asked about John Landing.

The cook muttered something. Noa said, “He’s not here. And he doesn’t know where he went.”

“When was he here last?” Johnston asked.

She asked and came back with, “A couple days.”

Derek pointed at strips of meat. “Is that like jerky?”

Noa glared at him. “We have a job to do.”

“Ask him.”

She spewed off some Urdu and said, “Smoked goat.”

“I’ll take some.”

She shot him a disgusted look and bargained. “No,” Derek said. “I want a bunch. In a bag.”

“Hungry?”

Johnston merely watched with a bemused expression on his face.

Goat jerky packed away, they wandered further into the bazaar. Derek stopped at a rug shop, looking at the gorgeous rugs. He picked through some, finding a small one. “What do you think?”

“I think if you want souvenirs, you’re in the wrong business.”

Derek turned to Johnston. “You like this one?”

“Doesn’t match my décor.”

“I like it. It’s small.” He gestured for Noa to start bargaining. Her expression was mostly covered by her scarf, but there was no doubt about the body language.

“Just do it,” he said.

The rug merchant watched the exchange with interest. With unconcealed disdain Noa turned to the Afghani and started bargaining. Finally she got a price she deemed was reasonable and Derek paid for the rug and slung it with a cord so he could carry it over his back.

They continued on to the remaining possible locations of John Landing. Along the way Derek bought dried fruit, a bag of dates, tea, candy, and three small cooking pots. Finally they arrived at a hookah restaurant. Men lounged around small tables, smoking the water pipes. Derek wondered if they smoked tobacco, hashish or opium. Most of the men seemed reasonably alert, but the further into the shop they went the more stoned they seemed to be.

Toward the rear, back to the wall, was a westerner. Johnston looked at him. “Landing?”

Blowing out a smoke ring, he said, “You Johnston?”

Johnston made introductions as they joined Landing at the table. Landing wore wrinkled khakis and an unbuttoned white shirt that revealed a chest full of wiry gray hair. Similar wiry hair covered his head. His skin looked like it had been left out in the sun for a couple dozen years, the creases around his eyes deep as if he spent most of his life squinting at the horizon. He gestured at the hookah. “Feel free.”

Noa looked at Derek. “You going to buy one, too?”

“Nope. I’ve had the privilege. Not my thing.”

“Stillwater? Heard about you. Had an adventure in Cuba, didja?”


Si
.”

Landing grunted. “Okay. Guess you’re here for the next stage of your snipe hunt. Any of you guys got a map on you?”

Digging into his pack, Derek supplied a map. Noa had one in her hand as well. Landing took the two, and tossed Noa’s back to her. “Crap. Think Mossad would do better than that.” He held up Derek’s, which was a detailed topographical map. “My kind of guy. Got a pencil?”

Johnston supplied a pen. Sucking on the water pipe, Landing spread the map out on the table and started making X’s and circles. “’kay. Here’s the deal. Most of these sites are over in Afghanistan. Afghanistan, in my opinion, is made up of a bunch of fucking barbarians. Pardon my French, Mz. Shoshan. But Pakistan is the goddamned center of civilization compared to Afghanistan, which is a mountainous, desert wasteland. You children familiar with the Durand Line?”

Derek raised a hand. “Yes, Mr. Landing.”

“Oh good. A smartass. You, general-sir?”

“Sorry, no.”

“How about you?”

Noa nodded.

To General Johnston, Derek said, “Back in the 1800s Britain imposed a border between the two countries. For over a hundred years everybody in the world treats it as the legitimate and official border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

“But?” Johnston said.

“Everybody but Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

“Swell.”

“My point,” Landing said, “is that some of these places are Afghani and some are Paki, but it might be kind of hard to tell until the people tell you which is which. Anyway, here’s why you’re here, right? Reds left a bunch of hardware lying around when they left. Afghans laid claim to it. So do the Pakis. The
muj
, lot of those guys weren’t Pakis or Afghans. They were just Muslims from wherever.”

“Saudi,” Noa said.

“Sure. Saudi and Egypt and Algeria and Sudan and Syria and everywhere there’s a poor, angry Muslim who wants to shoot somebody.”

“Doesn’t narrow it down much,” Noa said.

“No, it doesn’t. Anyway, we’ve run into some folks that think the Ruskies might have left a few things besides AKs and S-8 missiles lying around. That’s where you come in.” He tapped a particular X on the map. “Seems like some folks here died of mysterious symptoms, like they got exposed to nerve gas or something. I guess that’s where you come in.”

Derek peered. “Zin. That’s why I’m here.”

“And more?” Noa asked.

Blowing a series of smoke rings thoughtfully at the ceiling, Landing said, “Couple things. In addition to a lot of guns, and possibly, y’know, some bio and chemical munitions, it’s possible there’s a stray nuke or two laying around – doubtful, but possible – and of course, we’re fairly concerned about angry Muslims getting their hands on anti-aircraft missiles. Hell, I’ve heard a rumor there’s a Russian chopper pilot living back in there somewhere who for the right price will shuttle people and weapons wherever they want to go.”

“Bullshit,” Johnston said.

“It’s a rumor. Haven’t been able to verify it.”

Noa rested her elbows on the table. “It’s a rumor I’ve heard too. The Afghan tribes are still fighting over control. They get in wars with each other. If one of them can get enough money together, they can hire this Russian and his killer helicopter to provide a little air support.”

Derek cocked his head. “Enough money to pay for fuel? Selling opium?”

“Rumor is he’s hooked,” Landing said. “So, you know, as a bonus, it might be useful to know if this is just a rumor.”

“Anything else?” Derek asked.

“Well, if you can find out if any of these stray nukes, bio or nuclear weapons are getting in the hands of the Pakis or some Muslim terrorists, that would be good. And, you know, stop that from happening.”

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