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Authors: Derek B. Miller

Tags: #FIC030000, #FIC032000

The Girl in Green (6 page)

BOOK: The Girl in Green
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Lieutenant Morgan's rant may have begun as a walk-and-talk lecture, but it did not end as one.

‘You are in the worst kind of shit you can possibly imagine,' Harvey yelled in front of everyone. ‘You can't even spell the kind of trouble you are in right now. I'm going to have to go home tonight and re-read the entire Uniform Code of Military Justice just to understand what the hell just happened here. Are you getting this, Hobbes?'

‘Yes, sir.'

Arwood wasn't paying attention. Lieutenant Morgan was speaking to the gallery. Arwood was merely a prop, and he knew it. He didn't care. He was still looking at the girl who was looking at him.

Besides, this man wasn't going to take out a pistol and shoot him. This man wasn't going to stare him down with a Makarov pistol on his belt, and mock him. This man wasn't going to shoot a girl in the back. This man, whatever his faults, was not preternaturally evil, and there was nothing he could do to make himself matter in a moment like this compared to what Arwood had just experienced.

Or so Arwood thought until Lieutenant Morgan proved him wrong by saying this: ‘And for what? For what? You did all that for what? For some fucking Arab bitch.'

What struck Arwood in his gut, as a wordless pain that he could not articulate until much later, was a sudden understanding that the only thing worse than evil was deciding that evil didn't matter.

And for that reason, and that reason alone, Arwood Hobbes stood up in front of fifty other soldiers, without hesitation or regret, and beat the living shit out of Lieutenant Harvey Morgan.

Arwood Hobbes was collected by the military police. Thomas Benton was sent to Harvey Morgan's commanding offer, Major Alan Wilcox, and Wilcox told Benton calmly that he was to now consider himself
persona non grata
at Checkpoint Zulu. His credentials would be pulled, and he was to go away. Wilcox was a midwesterner, and did not raise his voice or use hysterical language or gestures. He communicated his decisions to Benton, and Benton said that he understood.

‘One thing, Major.'

‘What?'

‘If you court-martial Arwood Hobbes, I'll make sure it's covered in the press. I know people at the
Boston Globe
, the
Baltimore Sun
, and the
Washington Post
— people who cover the Pentagon and the White House. They will ask questions publicly and on the record about why Arwood Hobbes is being prosecuted.'

‘The army does not have to answer those questions,' Wilcox said. ‘We have procedures. I don't know how it works in Britain, Mr Benton, but in the US those questions will be ignored for reasons of due process.'

‘No, Major. They won't be answered. But they won't be ignored. Because it won't be the answers that'll hurt the Bush administration — it'll be the questions.'

Later, when Lieutenant Harvey Morgan was sent to the infirmary for general care, stitches, and a cast, he was advised — very quietly and without any hysterical language or gestures — that it would be best for him not to file a report of the incident. The problem, Major Wilcox explained, was that a few days earlier, on the twenty-sixth, General Schwarzkopf had made a major political gaffe by telling David Frost on international news that the US had been ‘suckered' into letting the Iraqis fly helicopters in the ceasefire agreement, and that in retrospect he thought the Iraqis had planned to use them against the rebellion the whole time. Now the White House was in full defensive mode over his comments, because every Iraqi civilian death suddenly seemed like America's fault as a result of Stormin' Norman having been hoodwinked by a bunch of carpet salesmen. This was tarnishing America's victory, and was seriously annoying the White House.

The simple fact was that there was no way to even describe, let alone explain, Hobbes's actions without using the word ‘helicopter.' And that was the word the White House didn't want to hear from the press anymore.

Lieutenant Harvey Morgan was purple and tender. He was also angry. ‘Let me get this straight. I'm supposed to take a public beating from Arwood fucking Hobbes just so the president doesn't get embarrassed in a press conference?'

‘It is my experience that most promotions in the military are the result of making your commanding officers look good, or else keeping them from looking bad,' Major Wilcox told Lieutenant Harvey Morgan.

‘Is that true?'

‘So far as I know, and I'm a major.'

‘What am I supposed to do with him?'

‘Something will come up,' said Major Wilcox.

Something did come up, and it didn't take long. Benton left as instructed, and opted for the first transport plane leaving the next morning for the north. Two days later he was in Erbil, Iraq. From there he turned around and followed everyone into the mountains when the Kurdish counterattacks against Saddam failed. Benton was now embedded again, but this time with the civilians.

He was there almost a week, reporting, meeting people, and sending back stories, before — to his surprise — Arwood arrived. It was not a coincidence: it was poetic justice. The refugee crisis in Turkey was so dire that the UN passed a resolution calling it a ‘threat to international peace and security', which opened the floodgates for thousands of American special forces and other troops to assist in the largest humanitarian relief effort since World War II without needing the permission of Iraq to do it. Major Wilcox told Lieutenant Harvey Morgan that this was exactly the sort of place Arwood should go. ‘If he wants to help the Arabs so much, then here's his chance.'

It didn't bother either of them that the Kurds weren't Arabs.

Benton first saw him sitting on a rocky outcropping, his feet dangling like a child's, in an area popular with reporters and staff at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Arwood acknowledged him, but at first said little. A press tent had been set up in a flat area at around 1,300 metres in altitude. It contained refreshments and desks, offered familiarity and free information, and so became a natural congregation and propaganda point.

Arwood didn't look well. He was thinner to the point of being malnourished. He carried no weapon, and, while still in uniform, seemed disconnected and aloof from the few other troops in the area. It seemed as though he wasn't reporting to anyone, and no one had any particular job for him to do.

Benton collected him, then led him into the tent and opened a can of cold Coke.

‘Drink,' Benton said, and Arwood did.

‘I didn't expect to see you here,' he said to Arwood.

‘Major Wilcox heard you were up here, filing stories. He thought it was fitting we be together. Harvey put me on the plane himself.'

‘You didn't come find me when you got here. Why not?'

‘I haven't been doing much of anything.'

‘Do you have an assignment, a mission, a CO?'

‘Harvey said they're dropping aid to the refugees. I could catch it.'

‘What I mean is, who are you reporting to?'

‘No one. He told me to come up here, and that I couldn't come back until they called me, which would be when my company ships off home.'

‘I've never heard of such a thing, Arwood.'

‘I'm starting to think we don't hear about the weirdest stuff on this planet.'

‘I'm in touch with some of the aid agencies here. The Red Cross is here. The Turkish Red Crescent. The High Commissioner for Refugees. I want you to come with me. Get some food and rest. Tomorrow I'm doing an interview. I guess some of the first pallets are going to be dropped — frozen chickens, other sundries. We have equipment to lug around, and some questions for the staff. I'm sure you could be very helpful.'

‘Can I ask you something?' Arwood said.

‘Of course.'

‘Did you know her name?'

‘Who?'

‘The girl in green. I guess you knew her, right?'

‘We'd been crouching behind the same truck. We ran together. I never learned her name.'

‘So we'll never be able to tell her family what happened?'

‘Arwood,' Benton said, ‘I don't think you appreciate the enormity of the catastrophe that's happening here. Tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, are dead. There are mass graves. Starvation. Exposure. The state of Iraq is ripping itself apart. America thinks the Shiites are backed by Iran, and they're letting them die. And Turkey doesn't want support flowing to the Kurds, lest they create a new Gaza Strip here. Everyone's hoping for a palace coup in Iraq, and it isn't happening. Saddam is trying to hold power by any means necessary that won't draw in the coalition again. It's hell on earth, Arwood.'

‘Yeah, but—'

‘But what?'

‘Well … a person's a person, no matter how small, right?'

‘Drink your Coke, Arwood. You need to get some rest.'

Arwood sipped his Coke, but did not respond to Benton. Instead he muttered softly to himself, ‘I thought that was the whole point.'

6

Märta Ström was a project officer for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, based in Dohuk. She was Swedish, thirty-four years old, and had been working in humanitarian affairs since graduating with her master's degree from Uppsala University when she was twenty-five. She was scheduled to meet a reporter from the
Times
,
and was killing the time before it happened by leaning against a rock with a cigarette and marvelling at the worst humanitarian disaster since World War II.

The British were calling it Operation Safe Haven, and the Americans were calling it Operation Provide Comfort. Märta refused to call it anything but a nightmare. The temperature at altitude was below freezing. The refugees couldn't get farther into Turkey, couldn't return home, had no military protection other than the lightly armed Pershmerga fighters, and the situation was volatile. The death count was untallied. Thousands. Thousands and thousands — a tremendous number of them children. They weren't warm enough. They weren't fed enough. Many had been separated from their families. She had watched a three-year-old boy die of starvation. She couldn't save him. She decided she'd never have children.

She could have a cigarette, though. Cigarettes were especially satisfying when the smoke mixed with the cool air. They were best with a stiff drink. There was none of that around, unfortunately.

There was an airdrop coming in soon. She'd been tasked with speaking to the press about it. It was not her preferred job. The guy she was to meet — Thomas Something-or-other — was to photograph it and ask her about the general situation. Saddam had been fully victorious by around the fifth, and was now calling the airdrops the ‘ostentatious dropping of crumbs' by the West. Whether he was the devil or not, it was hard not to agree with him on that point.

Two white men, both clean, approached her from over a small ridge. One was in his forties and the other in his early twenties, or possibly a teenager. She took the older one for the journalist, but couldn't make sense of the younger. He wore a T-shirt that said,
If I were an Iraqi POW I
'
d be home by now
. She decided she didn't like him before he'd even stopped moving.

The adult one readjusted his shoulder bag and then extended his hand. ‘I'm Thomas Benton. You're Ms Ström?'

Märta tossed the cigarette away and shook his hand. He was all business, and his handshake was firm. He didn't smile at her, and she didn't smile back.

The younger man just stood there, and she decided not only to dislike him but to ignore him entirely.

‘This is Arwood Hobbes,' said the Brit, slightly complicating her plan.

‘OK,' she said.

Arwood Hobbes said nothing.

Märta checked her watch. They had a few minutes, assuming the airdrop was on time.

‘We could set up over there,' Benton said, pointing to a flat area not far from where an armoured personnel carrier was parked. It was American, and occupied by two men — one black, one white.

‘You want to photograph the truck?' she asked.

‘No. I want to stand on a flat surface as we talk and I take pictures. It seems a reasonable place. Is that all right?'

‘Yes. Of course,' Märta said.

As they walked, Benton did not ask questions or make small talk, and Arwood also said nothing. She realised that Benton hadn't explained who Arwood was or what he was doing there. She opted not to ask.

‘Just arrive in Iraq?' she said, perhaps a little too loudly. There were many refugees seated and sprawled across the mountain. No one was moving. Everyone was talking. She'd adopted a louder register of speech from the moment she'd arrived three days ago.

‘No. I've been here over six weeks. I was in the south.' He didn't elaborate.

He had a handsome enough face, but it wasn't especially memorable. He reminded her of a man from a postwar photograph from the 1950s: not the dashing one in the middle with his arms around his buddies; one of the others … toward the back.

BOOK: The Girl in Green
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