Friday, February 2, 2007
The Desert Fox
Familiar sounds and distinctive smells of the old Bahawalpur bazaar were reassuring. The car stopped after a sharp turn, engine idling, creaking of a heavy gate followed with some one whispering to the driver. Abdul could feel the slow motion and the unfamiliar turns. He has been called after a long idle spell from his village through a special messenger conveying the urgency of his master, whom he had served well and got paid fabulously.
A part of journey from his village Dera Baba Ali situated in Cholistan desert near Pak– India border has always been shrouded in deception and secrecy. He would buy and ship an inventory of auto parts and lubricants for his small roadside workshop from various sources and negotiate hard for a bargain, making his presence felt. Whenever needed, it was easy to go undercover for a short time to meet the master or his confidents to discuss logistics of the next venture across border in to India.
He has been to Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Ajmer, Jaipur and Delhi on important missions and always out performed others. Close relatives in Indian cities unknowingly helped in his secrete endeavors, but they never knew his real motives. The recognition and money followed dutifully in abundance, along with an apt nick name - the desert fox. He never shared the hidden, adventurous and lucrative ventures across the border to any one in the family, childhood chums and not even his dear unlettered wife. Abdul believed It was better that way to hoodwink the known family enemies and the unknown snooping American spies– the despised locals in service of the infidels who earned well and led a life of decadence until one day they were justifiably betrayed and destroyed.
The burly man silently sitting beside him carefully checked his blindfold. The car stopped and he was helped out with care reserved for a fragile piece of a pricy cutlery. Two unfamiliar voices were heard along with a detailed personal frisking by four hands, demeaning but an essentiality before an audience with the chieftain Aslam Wahid Mir; a man whom successive governments of Pakistan hated, yet feared not to encroach upon his area of influence. Many foolish attempts to undermine him were fiercely resisted by a fitting bloodbath. His political rivals were always after his head but Mir survived their meticulous assassination attempts and assassins and suspects were hounded out to be thrown before a pack of ferocious hungry dogs. The punishments were filmed and circulated. Mir managed to climb higher through every adversity and become a folklore hero to his fiercely loyal clan and elsewhere. This MIT engineer was forced to leave a hedonistic America to fill the vacuum created by assassination of his father, the charismatic chieftain Gul Wahid Mir, a powerful minister in the provincial government.
They rode narrow winding stairs, moving slowly one step at a time, he could feel the curved, rough stone wall and smell a new place– he had not been here before.
After the ninth round suddenly he felt an air-conditioned space . The demeaning blindfold was abruptly removed - a plush interior, high ceiling and muted lights greeted him.
There were two other persons in the room. One fat, balding man with black sun glasses and silver sideburns looked familiar.
Where has he seen him?
The man wore a dark brown pathan suit and looked like one of the Afghan war lords he met in Peshawar years ago.
The tall white lady in jeans and sweater, standing near the fireplace caught his interest. She seemed to look straight at him with deep interest, judging….. Abdul felt uncomfortable but he has always liked a direct and shameless female gaze. What she was looking at? His brooding eyes, handsome face or the strong biceps, he was so proud of? Who is she...an American? But it never mattered to him….he felt attracted to this unknown white female.
“How are you Abdul?”
“Salaam walekum….I am all right by the grace of your divine patronage, malik….”
Abdul turned towards the familiar deep resonant voice and replied automatically, as he has been taught since childhood. The tall and handsomely aging Chieftain Aslam Wahid Mir entered from the door at side and patted his shoulder affectionately.
“Walekum asalaam. Good to see you back after so long.”
Abdul dutifully took his hand and kissed with due religious reverence. Four alert, turbaned, Kalashnikov wielding guards followed and stood at a respectful distance, surveying the large carpeted room, lavish Persian furniture and the visitors with grave suspicion.
“ I will see you after some time, you must be tired and hungry.” Mir announced and proceeded towards his other guests with a distinctive regal swagger. The bald man hurriedly stood up, bowed and embraced the host.
Abdul was ushered in an another room, where a large sumptuous breakfast awaited him.
“ How efficient and trustworthy is your man?” The tall lady asked.
“ He is the best, we call him the desert fox.” Mir waved his hand ridiculing her enquiry.
“Educated?” The lady persisted further.
“The tea is getting cold madam…..seems you are not adequately briefed about my resources ?”
He impatiently turned to the bald man who seemed to turn a little pale.
“ Brother I hate to be probed by a woman ...take it or leave it… I have no great interest in your proposal and tied up in a very busy schedule today.”
He turned to the lady and smiled.
“I am sorry, if you are offended but we are brought up that way. Please feel at home and enjoy the breakfast, the site seeing and market visits have been arranged, but be careful and stay with my people for your own safety. Some foreigners have disappeared recently and sold to the Americans by the police. I have one hour free this evening to finalize the deal if it is honorable. Have a good day.”
He stood up and elegantly moved towards the exit. A battery of
turbaned servants silently entered and wheeled large trays of food towards the stunned guests.
“What an arrogant bastard, your Mir…” The tall lady fumed.
“ You can’t do business in this part of world with out him.”
“Are you sure?”
“ Now you are insulting me, Olga.”
“ I won’t mind, if that gets me convincing answers.”
“ I told you, it is a one way tunnel, once we get in we only get out at other end. No back tracking is allowed…….. once we initiate a deal it has to be done. And for that we ought to have lots of faith and funds. It’s a team work you know.”
“ What other alternatives you have in mind?”
“Are you mad? Non-at all. Never even mention it again.”
Olga looked away.
“ Ok. You try any alternatives and see what happens?”
“ Are you threatening me?”
“ Not at all Olga. Just telling you a simple hard fact. It will be a huge mess if you try to back track now. I must remind if you have a soft memory that I am not a game for a dud deal, only hard serious businesses interest me. Mir is the most powerful person here; even the local police treat him with kid gloves. He has a personal prison and army of five thousand, mostly of his own loyal clansmen. Any one who initiate a deal with him and dares to approach his rivals, is never seen again. Such people are hacked to pieces live and thrown in a crocodile infested marshland. He is in to crocodile farming too.”
“ A macabre method indeed but how does all that help me? All I need is a small coordinated, smart group to deliver my cargos across border in India by land route and by air drops.”
Fat man leaned forward with great effort, his large belly restricting movement.
“ Mir has been briefed and be sure that man Abdul is the right choice for such a delicate job. He is an expert automobile technician, and computer savvy
with history of various successful ventures across border. He is personally loyal to Mir, fiercely secretive and resourceful. His education was funded by Mir.”
Olga silently smoked, looking out of the window.
“ Mir will be expecting us to conclude the deal this evening.”
“ So we have to deal on his terms?”
“ Exactly, how much you are ready to pay?”
“ No idea. What he wants?’
“ Come on don’t tell me you started all this with no budget in mind?’
“ Tell me his price.”
“Half a million dollars.”
“Impossible.” Olga played her cards carefully.
“ Its not a real price for your job. Some other person will be happy to pay double the amount and yet feel immensely grateful. This price is for a friend and trusted relative like me.”
Olga remained silent. She was calculating how much can be made secretly to make her and her daughters life comfortable.
The fat man threw the bone in the plate and picked another drum stick, watching her closely.
“ Delicious …. I liked the stuff.”
“Make it half. I did ask you to tell me the price before we come here.
The fat man laughed and picked up another drum stick and pointed at her.
‘Why do you think I am here Olga?’
“I didn't get you?”
“ I knew you wouldn't.”
“ I am not here for money. I am here to pay an old debt. Me and your father fought the Americans together.”
“ I know that.”
“ You know nothing…….The fat man shouted and continued.
“You have the guts to question me and trying to negotiate? Shameful indeed.”
Olga remained silent.