Sunday, July 17, 2005

Play of the Day

The open fields stretching out to the north and south of the road are empty and dead in the heat, the ground chalky with dust and cracked by the sun. For several kilometers in either direction, the gray-brown monotony is interrupted only by small mud buildings and the occasional yellow brick farmhouse. Small fields of gray palm groves look faint in the distance, and they dot the horizon in a haphazard pattern. To the south of the road runs an ever-present irrigation canal, its dry bottom filled with refuse and dead reeds.

The red 7-series BMW is parked on the north side of the road, its powerful engine purring contently as it idles in place. To its rear, a tan HMMWV rolls to a stop, blocking off any escape down route “Galaxy.” To the front, my vehicle pulls up just short of the BMW, its four-wheel disk brakes squealing in protest as 12,000 pounds of armored HMMWV come to a sudden stop.

Thru the dusty windshield, I can see the two male occupants of the car. The driver, in his mid 30’s looks quickly up, and then looks back down as he engages in a fierce but whispered conversation with his passenger, a dark, unshaven man in his early 20’s. The passenger, in a dark blue shirt and loose black trousers, is beginning to look nervous.

Two days previously, the TAC had been mortared, and intelligence reported that three cars were seen leaving the site of the mortars.

One of them was reputedly a red BMW.

I am going on a hunch.

Unlocking the combat lock, I swing open the door and dismount, my M4 Carbine held ready. Looking thru the close combat optic, I train the red dot of light onto the torso of the driver. The driver looks up again, and compresses his lips into a fine white line, his running argument with his passenger abruptly ended.

Thru my peripheral vision, I can see other soldiers in the patrol dismounting and securing the site. They sweep the roadside and the fields around the HMMWVs looking for IEDs.

They know that we are only 500 meters from a location affectionately called “the Circle of Death,” and no one is taking any unnecessary chances.

Moving away from the rear vehicle, one of the soldiers steps up to the driver’s side window. With his reflective black sunglasses and his body armor, the private looks particularly intimidating.

“Shut off the engine and step out of the vehicle.”

The driver, reaches into his front breast pocket of his blue and white plaid shirt, and pulls out an ID card. Waving it in the air thru his open window, he appears to be holding it out like it is a get out of jail free card.

An alarm bell goes off in my head.

“Hey, tell that motherfucker I don’t give a shit what kind of ID he has, tell him to shut off his engine, and get out of the fucking car.”

“Get out of the damned car!” shouts the private, and around the backside of the vehicle, a sergeant steps to the passenger side and opens the door himself.

“Get out!”

The two men reluctantly get out of the car, the driver still holding out his ID like a talisman.

Lowering my rifle, I indicate a patch of gravel on the side of the road. The private nods, and grabs a hold of the loose shirt of the driver, walking him over to the rocky patch of gravel. On the other side of the BMW, the sergeant takes hold of the shirt of the passenger and marches him next to the driver. Putting pressure on the passenger’s sweaty back with his forearm he forces the passenger to his knees.

The driver, a bright smile on his face, is nodding his head to me in a friendly fashion. He holds out his right hand and hands me his ID.

“Alright, search them and bring me all of their documents.”

Walking back to the hood of my vehicle, I lay out the ID card the driver has just handed me. It is a red and white ID card, with an Iraqi flag, and the driver’s photo laminated on the front.

In big black letters, it reads, “Ministry Security Office.”

So the guy is an Iraqi Ministry Security Guard. Big deal. Why was he waving the card at me?

Then, the title of the card catches my eye. It actually reads;

“Republic of Iraq, Minstry Security Office.”

“Minstry?” I mutter to myself.

You would think that the Ministry would know how to spell the name of their own department.

Then a thought occurs to me, and I look at the card more closely.

While engrossed in the details of the card, the private who has searched the two men walks over with their possessions and places them on the hood of my vehicle. In addition to a wallet, two cell phones, and two more ID cards, there is a very large amount of money.

“Holy Shit!”

I can’t help but exclaim as I undo the dirty rubber band and unfold at least thirty crisp and clean $100 dollar bills. Glancing at the hood, I can see that a second folded stack of money is thick with multicolored Iraqi Dinars, their colorful scenes depicting ancient Iraqi history.

Thumbing thru the stack quickly, I count at least 3,000,000.00 dinars. In my head I do some quick math; about $4,000.00 dollars. Some serious dough for an Iraqi.

“Where did these guys have all this cash?”

The private, flushing with excitement at his find, gives me a big grin.

“Sir, they had it all over, in every pocket, I just kept on finding more!”

Looking up I can see the driver watching me intently with expressionless brown eyes. His dark face a few shades paler than before. The passenger, knees folded beneath him, appears to be staring at the ground.

I walk over to the driver and instruct the private to move him a few feet away from the passenger. My translator, Steve, gets out of the HMMWV and walks over to assist.

The driver, seeing me approach, is quick to try to leave. He begins to stand, still with a smile on his face, and thru his fixed smile he says, “Thank you mister, thank you.”

The full weight of the stocky private standing behind him forcing him back to his knees quickly disabuses him of any notion that he is getting released.

His cocky smile no longer looks so certain.

“Whose money is this?

“It is mine.”

“What is all this money for?”

“I live in Balad and I am building a house in Baghdad. This is money for building my house. I am on my way there now.”

I stare at him for a minute. He begins to shift and fidget under the strength of my gaze.

Finally, I nod my head and walk over to the passenger, still sitting despondent on the side of the road.

“Whose money is this?”

“The money is all mine.”

“What is it for?”

“I have the money because I am on my way to Tikrit to buy a car.”

You would think with all the time they had to whisper to each other that at least they would get their stories straight.

“Really, so the money is yours. How do you know the driver? Where were you going in his car?”

The young man looks even more nervous than usual.

“I don’t know him. I only know his face. I don’t know his name. I only see him around.”

“Really? So what were you doing in his car?”

The passenger begins to speak, and then falls silent, his attention still firmly fixed on the ground in front of him.

I hate being lied to.

Turning my back on the man I walk back to the hood of the car to sort thru the rest of their possessions.

Opening the wallet of the driver, I pull out several pieces of paper, another ID card, and a small, folded paper envelope. In the billfold, I notice another two crisp, US $100 bills.

Someone is bankrolling this guy.

Putting aside the wallet, I pull out the second ID. The ID is a photo ID for a construction company, proclaiming that the owner of the ID is a general contractor.

Is this guy a general contractor, or is he a ministry security official?

The alarm bells have been ringing nonstop in my head.

Unfolding the white envelope, I tip out the contents into the palm of my hand.

Nine identical postage stamp sized ID photos of the driver.

In a fold in the wallet, there are another three ID photos, all three of different men, but each with the same thick, black, Saddam-like moustache that almost all the old regime men here have.

The alarm bells have turned into a five-alarm fire.

Looking up, I catch the attention of my squad leader. “Sergeant, go get the X-spray, and give them a test while I sort thru this.”

“Roger sir.”

The General Contractor ID is poorly made. It looks almost as if it is two pieces of paper printed out on a computer, put back to back, and then sent thru a laminating machine. The blood type catches my attention.

The blood type on the General Contractor ID is B+.

The blood type listed on the Ministry ID is A+.

So which is it?

Then the nine ID photos catch my eye.

They are the same photograph used on the Ministry ID. A well dressed, self-satisfied man with a rainbow background.

The date on the back of the photographs is only a few weeks old. The Ministry ID must be brand new.

I turn my attention to the passenger's ID. It claims that he is in an Industry Defense Force Battalion, whatever that is. The spelling of the ID also looks peculiar.

“Batalion” is missing its second “t.”

My initial hunch must be right.

With multiple, poorly made IDs, misspellings, the un-matching blood-types, and the envelope with all the photos, these can only be fake IDs.

Apparently whoever made this guy the ministry ID, must have told him that it would bear some weight with US troops, which is why he was so quick to show it to us.

Too bad for him.

Fake ID’s. Several thousand in sequential $100 dollar bills, their stories aren’t straight, and their vehicle matches the description of a vehicle seen leaving a mortar attack….

I carefully place everything back the way it was brought to me, and I stuff each item into a ziplock bag.

I finish just in time for the sergeant to walk up to me with two X-spray test papers.

They are both bright pink.

Positive for nitrates and other explosives.

That makes it easy.

“Alright, we are taking these guys in for more questioning.”

The sergeant nods his head. “Roger, what are we going to do with the car?”

I smile, “we are going to take it with us.”

I always did want a BMW.

Ten hours later I leave the brigade holding facility where I have finished filling out the half dozen forms and sworn statements required to detain a suspected insurgent. The driver and passenger have changed into their orange jumpsuits for an extended stay, courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Walking into the Command Post, the First Sergeant stops me with a smile.

“So I heard you guys were hit by an IED on your way back to Camp."

I smile wearily back at the First Sergeant, while making a bee-line over to my stack of mail.

"Yeah, when we got hit and opened up with the crew-served weapons, the suspect I had in the back of my vehicle was so scared that he pissed all over himself."

That was not fun.

The First Sergeant grimaces wryly at the thought.

"Well, good job anyway today Sir. Did you hear that you had the Play of the Day?”

“The play of the what?!” I demand, not sure that I heard right.

The First Sergeant continues with his smile, delighted that he is the first to tell me.

“You had the Baghdad Area of Operations ‘Play of the Day’ as deemed by the Commanding General. It has just been released over the net that your catch of those two insurgents has been deemed the most important catch in the entire Baghdad area of operations today, and that is out of 60,000 troops. Rumor has it that they are talking.”



Anonymous Craig and Heather said...

Soooo... you're sending me the money right? :)

I'm glad that the wall held up just fine, and damn boy... we might just have to start calling you Sherlock!

Love you tons Adam,

Watch how you go...

Craig and Heather

5:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You rock, dude. Good job and keep up the good work.


4:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey A.,

What did you say last month about "a Righteous Catch"???? You're getting pretty good at these, Mr. First LT. Obviously,
the angels have your back!

Keep'll get that BMW yet ;-0



3:38 PM  
Anonymous ryan said...

you are the man!

3:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Incredible read. Great imagery in your writing. Can't wait for the book.

9:28 PM  

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