Authors: Derek B. Miller
Tags: #FIC030000, #FIC032000
THE GIRL IN GREEN
Derek B. Miller was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, and has lived abroad for many years in Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Hungary, and Israel.
Educated at Sarah Lawrence College, the Hebrew University, Georgetown, Oxford, and Geneva (PhD), Miller has worked in international affairs for over two decades with the United Nations, think tanks, and non-government organisations. His work has taken him to conflict and post-conflict zones around the world, including broad travel in the Middle East. His lectures on cultural research, history, policy design, and ethics have been presented to academia, the US military, NATO, and the UN. He continues this work as director of The Policy LabÂ®.
The Girl in Green
is Miller's second novel. His first novel was the international bestseller
Norwegian by Night
. He lives in Oslo with his wife, Camilla, and their two children.
For my wife
18â20 Edward St, Brunswick, Victoria 3056, Australia
2 John Street, Clerkenwell, London, WC1N 2ES, United Kingdom
First published in Australia and New Zealand by Scribe 2016
Copyright Â© Derek B. Miller 2016
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the publishers of this book.
A CiP record for this title is available from the National Library of Australia.
Inspired by many actual events
AN EARLY SPRING
Arwood Hobbes was bored. Not regular-bored. Not your casual, rainy-day,
Cat in the Hat
âstyle bored that arrives with the wet, leaving you with nothing to do. It wasn't post-fun or pre-excitement bored, either. It was, somehow, different. It felt rare and deliberate, entire and complete, industrial and inescapable. It was the kind of bored that had you backstroking in the green mist of eternity wondering about the big questions without searching for answers. And it wasn't in short supply, either, because it was being dispensed like candy on Halloween to Arwood and others like him at Checkpoint Zulu, at the rim of the Euphrates valley, in the heart of Iraq, by the world's largest contractor of boredom: the United States Army.
How long had he been bored? How long was he destined to be bored? Arwood couldn't even muster the motivation to care as he melted over his machine gun under the hot, hot sun that was pressing down on the sandy sand around him without a raindrop in sight and no one offering to cheer him up.
The M60 machine gun was the perfect height for leaning on. It was probably the perfect height for firing, too, but Arwood had no proof of that because he hadn't fired the gun since qualifying on it, and there was nothing to aim at because everything was far away, apart from a camel; and while he did point the gun at the camel for a while, it ultimately seemed a mean thing to do, so he stopped. That was eons ago. Nothing fun like that had happened since. Even the camel had gone away.
It wasn't that Arwood was unfamiliar with being bored and that his resistance was low. After all, Operation Desert Storm â now over â had really been just a month-long air campaign on exposed Iraqi troops, followed by a four-day ground war, which meant there wasn't a lot of ground war for him or his buddies, or much for people on the ground to actually do. For Arwood, the Gulf War primarily involved him doing a lot of nothing for three months, in the sand, jogging expectantly beside an APC with his gun for a few days, only to be told it was âover'. But at least back then there had been a sense that something might happen. There was a sense of possibility.
Possibility was but a popped balloon for Arwood.
And at the very moment they were all expected to go home, his company drew the shortest of short straws and they'd been deployed here to Checkpoint Zulu, 240 kilometres from the Kuwaiti border. He had no idea why. This time there was nothing to look forward to but peace. Endless, tedious, nondescript, fluffy-white peace.
You could eat a grenade, you really could.
It was into this stagnant vortex of quietude and for-nothingness that a form approached Arwood from across the desert.
Like everything else in Iraq, it came at him sideways.
Arwood didn't look. He sort of liked not knowing. Perhaps it was a guy wearing sandals who had a beard like Jesus. Or maybe it wasn't a man at all. Maybe it was the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, who was doing his rounds and was there to let Arwood know that â on account of global warming, acid rain, and El NiÃ±o, not to mention the global shortage of decent people and the high price of coal â Christmas was going to be cancelled.
Whatever it was was getting bigger, which probably meant it was getting closer. It probably wasn't something dangerous, though; it was approaching from this side of the ceasefire line. But it wasn't going to be anything good, either. It wasn't going to be one of Charlie's Angels. It wasn't going to be Daisy Duke. It wasn't going to be Kelly LeBrock in her blue-and-white panties appearing out of red mist from a doorway. No, it was probably going to be orders.
A different mind, a different person, might have welcomed orders because it would have ushered in âchange'. Not Arwood. The only thing worse than boredom was labour, and he didn't want to wash anything, dig anything, move anything, stack anything, fill anything, load anything, unload anything, peel anything, or â and this was critical â smell anything awful. Given that he was twenty-two and a private, rather than, say, fifty and a nuclear physicist, all these things were on the shortlist of the possible.
No, he wasn't going to look up. He would cherish the uncertainty for as long as he could.
Which fate had decided would end right â¦ about â¦ now.
âWant a cigarette?' asked a man who was now man-sized and to his right.
The man stood next to Arwood's sandbags. Arwood considered them his sandbags, not so much because he was manning a machine gun behind them, as because he was the one who had filled them.
Arwood accepted the cigarette by opening his mouth. The man placed it in and lit it. Arwood inhaled, grateful only that it gave him a pretext to keep breathing.
âI'm Thomas Benton,' the man said.
âWhat's your name?'
âHobbes. Interesting name to take into a war zone.'
âNo reason. Where are you from?'
âYes, I figured, given the uniform. Any place special?'
âNever felt like it.'
âI'm from a village in Cornwall,' Benton offered.
âI don't know where that is.'
âCornwall is in England.'
âThat's overseas, right?'
Thomas Benton squatted down behind Arwood's sandbags because it was cool and shady there. Benton looked across the desert to the still town a kilometre and a half away.
âYou're a journalist?'
Arwood did not move from his resting position. âWhen is this war gonna end?'
âIt did. The war is over. This is the peace. Now the lawyers are drafting the UN permanent-ceasefire resolution.'
âWe're waiting for paperwork?'
âIt's the Western way of war. Even Hitler filed his paperwork. Without it we become confused. What's your job?'
âI'm maintaining a vigilant perimeter.'
âSafwan,' Benton said, âif you're curious, is way back there. That's where your general, Stormin' Norman, met the Iraqi high command. It is also where he made the mistake of letting them fly helicopters, which is what they are using to kill everyone connected to the uprisings down south and up north. It's a bloodbath.'
âI thought that was Safwan,' Arwood said, not bothering to motion to the town at the end of his machine gun.
âWhen do I get to go home?'
âThe Americans are the ones sticking around the longest, though some of you shipped out on the seventeenth. It could be a while.'
Arwood finally moved his head by shaking it. âIt's not fair that we have to sit around here like the Breakfast Club.'
Benton shrugged and wiped his face with a red bandana. He was not smoking. He had eaten something in the morning that disagreed with him, and he'd opted not to push his luck further with a cigarette.
âIt might not be calm for long. You should try and enjoy it.'
Arwood perked up. âWhat do you mean?'
âDoesn't your commanding officer explain all this to you?'
âYou mean Harvey?'
âI don't know his name.'
âLieutenant Harvey Morgan. No, he doesn't explain anything. He's full of shit, and never makes sense because he keeps reading quotes from the government, and they speak in riddles. What do you mean it won't be calm for long?'
âThe Iraqi civil war. It'll have to get here eventually. You see that green flag over there? On top of that onion-shaped water tower?' Benton pointed to a tower in the middle of the town.
âYeah. If you watch it really, really closely for hours, it sometimes moves,' Arwood said.
âIt's a Shiite flag. That means they've overthrown the Sunni government in the city. It's only a matter of time before Saddam sends troops here to change that back.'
âYou're actually in the eye of a storm. You are the American soldier deepest in Iraqi territory. Did you know that?'
âWhy are you here?' Arwood asked. âAt my post?'
âThe view, mainly. It's as close as I can get without crossing the demarcation line. I'm embedded in your company. I've been reporting on what's been happening with your fellows.'
âWhich is nothing.'
âWell, there was the mass surrender.'
âYeah. That was fun.'
Arwood had enjoyed the mass surrender. Once the war reached its tipping point, all the Iraqi soldiers gave up. A French journalist had reported that Saddam had forbidden his soldiers to wear white underwear lest they use it to surrender. Arwood had wondered about the mechanics of that. Usually you surrender in really dire circumstances, which is not when you want to be taking your pants off.