This entry is part 17 of 17 in the series Doing Laundry
Photo: Kim MyoungSung – (CC BY 2.0)

“We have a problem,” Eli whispered with the door shut behind him. Lucas stood carrying two bags of what looked like Chinese take-out, but the smell of doner kebab and mazgouf destroyed the notion outright.

“Mice?”

“Bigger,” Eli failed to articulate.

“Vats?”

“No! They know we’re here, they know about the power plant, and they wired your car to explode.”

“Eat virst!” Lucas demanded, as he motioned for Eli to move barrelling through the door, and into the kitchen.

“Don’t you think the room…ya know..could be bugged!?”

“No!” Lucas almost shouted.”No agenzy has ze time to go round and bug every zingle room. Not possible. He just knows high priority targets, like powver plants, in ze area.”

“But…”

“Did he say ‘zentrifuge’?”

“Well…no.”

“Then zere you go. Eatt! Fish taste terrible cold.”

Fifteen minutes later Lucas was explaining to Eli why they couldn’t form a new plan: the power plant company had already registered the car’s make, model, and plate number. Trying something different would only spell trouble at the first checkpoint.

“It’d be easy though. We could switch the cars!”

Lucas stared at Eli the way someone would stare at a German Shepherd if it managed a complete sentence.

“Nott bad…nott bad…ah, but zis vohn’t verrk. Can’t visk him installing a bohmb, but noh GPS.”

“Okay, what if we blocked the bomb from getting a radio signal?”
“Anozher bad idea. If he has installed kill svitch, ze car vill explohde once ze bohmb lozes zignal.”
“Hold on…can we test that…safely, I mean?”

Lucas inhaled as if to say ‘no’, thought for a second, and then exhaled.

“Howh do you mean?”

“Where are the keys?”

Lucas tossed them to Eli and followed him to the parking lot. They drove to the edge of Bagdhad. The call to prayer sounded over amber sunlight diffused in murky clouds of dust. Lucas wiped the sweat dripping from his brow.

“Zere!” Lucas pointed to the object of their search; an abandoned apartment complex with a parking lot in the basement.

“Okay, this is either one of my best or worst ideas of all-time. Hard to say, really.”

Eli parked the car at the top of the basement entrance, put it in neutral, and looked at Lucas.

“Ready?”

Lucas laughed.

“Yaa!”

Both bailed from the sides of the sedan. Now absent of Eli’s foot on the brake, it picked up speed as it rolled to the depths of the abandoned garage. Lucas’ dismount was graceful as he hit the pavement, rolled once, and began running away from the vehicle. Eli’s landing was more reminiscent of a skateboarding accident. Dazed, he crawled to all fours, stumbled to a run, and caught up where Lucas had stopped behind a thick concrete wall a hundred and fifty yards away.

“How… long… do… we…. wait?” Eli asked, completely out of breath.

An hour later they approached the abandoned building in the growing darkness. Lucas switched on the light to his smartphone and observed there was only damage to the front bumper.

“Do you have any signal?” Eli asked, wanting assurance.

“Not even zoaming,” Lucas said with an impressed smile.

#

When Eli awoke it was still dark outside. He walked to the window and stared out into the blackness. The cell phone jammer that Lucas threw together from an old microwave they picked up on the way back was sitting on the only table in the rented room. He hoped that the owner of the room couldn’t tell the difference between solder and cigarette smoke.
The stillness of the morning had lured him to process the last month. His mind wandered back to his small apartment on the other side of the ocean. Worthless. The first night he met Haley. Betrayed. And how sick he was of himself. That note. Haley might as well have rung a bell. And he still cared for her. Even though he didn’t want to. He was a criminal. He deserved to be betrayed. But her? The cocktail of emotions swirling inside him moved far too fast to be counted, let alone processed.

A small blinking light caught his attention. It was Lucas’ cell phone. There was a single text message from a masked number.

Can we reschedule to 0500? Change of plans.

Eli wondered who on earth would want to reschedule for such a terrible hour. He looked at the clock, 4:30 AM.

Well, whoever it is is just going to have to…

“LUCAS!!!” He erupted. “LUCAS wake up! We gotta go NOW!!”

“Vat!” Lucas snapped awake pulling a six inch tactical knife from beneath his pillow. He scanned the room, failed to find anything threatening, and lowered the weapon.

“Vy did you have to vake me up!?” He hollered, clearly annoyed.

“This,” Eli said as he tossed him the phone.

“Zey’re moving ze zentrifuges in 25 minutes! Get ze jammer.”

Lucas slid a gun case from beneath the bed as Eli did his best to focus on not forgetting anything of his own. Five minutes later they were racing to the outer wall of the power plant on the edge of Bagdad with the jammer plugged into the cigarette lighter.

“Howe do you know Hank vill be zere?”

“This shipment of centrifuges is the biggest thing happening in a three hundred mile radius. He’ll be there.”

“Vaht!? Noh, ze car show in downtown is much bigger, I sink.”

“Not for the Iraqi nuclear weapons program it’s not. And we’re driving a tenuously disabled car bomb right towards it. Perfect.”

Lucas stopped at the power plant’s first checkpoint along the outer wall. The guard slung his M16 behind his back, and peered inside the sedan. Lucas pulled a collection of papers from in between the seat and the center console and handed it to the guard. Satisfied, the guard handed the papers back and motioned for Lucas to drive through.

“So far so good…”

The outer wall encased another one of Iraq’s many abandoned neighborhoods. Lucas drove for several minutes until the checkpoint disappeared from his rear-view mirror. He turned onto a deserted side street and parked in front of a dilapidated apartment building.

“Two minutes!” He howled as they flew from the vehicle. Lucas began scaling steps three at a time. Eli surmised he had picked this building intentionally. It made sense, he needed to be reasonably close to transmit the activation command to the viruses, but far enough way to escape. Lucas bailed into a corner room with two windows. One faced the main road that curved away to the plant’s main entrance, while the other faced back to the first checkpoint. Within seconds, he had an impressive sniper rifle positioned fifteen feet from both windows giving him a near forty five degrees of coverage area.

“Vat does your friend look like?” Lucas asked, ominously.

Eli described Hank, took up a position beside Lucas, and grabbed a pair of binoculars. They didn’t have to wait long. A lone white pickup came bouncing along the dusty road. They came into view simultaneously; Hank with his unusually laid back demeanor smudged onto his face, and Haley, a black bruise creeping out from beneath her sunglasses. Livid blood poured into Eli’s veins.

“Can you take him from here?” Eli asked greedily as the the truck moved steadily closer.

“Ov course…but ven ze convoy of zentrifuges vill reroute, securittee vill tripple, and ze Iraqi’s vill be able to nuke Germany vithin a vew years time. Oh, and ve vill be dead again.”

The truck left the checkpoint window frame.

“Then why did you bring a rifle!?”

“Lina…iz here for latter on, after ze convoy has stohpped.”

Eli had to do something.

“What about a flat tire? Can you give them a flat tire? He’s got Haley!”

The truck re-appeared on the main road.

“I zink I can do zat. But if you’re zinking of sneaking onto ze back, at lesst vait for ze convoy to pass. The dust vill hide you.”
Nothing but a violent crack of air left the suppressor followed by the much louder decompression of the truck tire as it shredded off the wheel.

“GOH! Ze convoy iz coming!”

Sure enough, a convoy of six eighteen wheelers with black canvas draped over their trailers came into view through the checkpoint window. Eli flew from the corner room, descended the stairs, and was sprinting towards the disabled truck. He figured he had a little over a minute before the convoy would pass and he would lose his cover.

He hated running in jeans, especially in the blistering Iraqi heat. He could feel his undershirt soaking through to his long-sleeve. Sweat poured from his brow as his feet pounded the dusty earth.

She’s just past those buildings.

He kept running, hoping that his expenditure of energy would somehow count as enough to win Haley back. He jumped over a rusted gate. That if he would just work hard enough none of the past would matter. He ducked beneath a clothesline, long forgotten in the dusty ghost town. The hood of the white truck came into view. From a nearby alley, Eli peered around the corner just enough to see Hank’s back as he changed the blown tire. Any more and Haley might spot him. He reached for the .45 that Lucas had lent him and flipped off the safety.

Not yet. This is bigger than you.

Eli threw his back against the alley wall fighting bitter tears and the urge to empty the magazine into Hank’s unsuspecting backside.

He put her up to everything. This is all his fault. All of it.

It felt good to absolve Haley. He wanted to. His heart swelled with rage at the injustice of innocent Haley being used. This was it. Hank would die. Three…two…a diesel roar interrupted his aggression. The convoys were passing.

Too late. Back to plan ‘A’.

He moved out of the alley and took up a position to board the pickup.The dust was already beginning to clear when Hank finished with the tire. Eli waited until Haley wasn’t paying attention before he approached from the blind spot on the trucks passenger side. Eli gracefully rolled into the bed and under a canvas tarp protecting a smattering of construction equipment. He waited. The truck didn’t stop. He made it.

I wonder how Lucas is faring.

Thankful the tailgate was long-gone, Eli could see the long dirt road leading back to the checkpoint station from beneath the tarp. He struggled to think through how far away the plant should be.
We should be there by now…

The front gate passed without the convoy or even a guard in sight. Eli could feel the centripetal force of the truck turning, a long side of the immense power plant coming into view.

Lucas!

His mind screamed. There was only one way Lucas could get the transmitter back in range now. The truck jerked to a stop. He caught glimpses of heavy equipment that told him their destination had been some kind of makeshift parking lot for the centrifuge installation.

“GET OUT! And no funny business, Haley. It’s important to a lot of people we live through this,” Hank’s voice demanded. Two car doors slammed. Eli could hear their voices tracking away. He slid out from the bed of the truck. A lone guard patrolled the parking lot, while three more walked up and down the centrifuge convoy.

Eli ducked behind the front of a crane truck to let the parking lot guard pass.

“Lieutenant! I need to tell you something about those centrifuges!” Hank’s voice rang out.

He’s going to tell them right here!

Eli moved on instinct, he didn’t actually have to hit Hank, just break up the conversation. He swung around the side of the crane with the .45 and fired a shot just past the parking lot guard and in Hank’s direction.

The guard spun to see where the shot had originated, but to Hank, it looked too much like running away. He had three bullets in the guard before his second step. A pause. Another volley of shots. Through the window of the crane truck he saw the back of Haley’s ponytail diving for cover.

Maybe if he could just get a clean shot…

Eli took another look around the front of the crane in time to watch Hank drop two of the patrolling guards. Only the Lieutenant and the last guard were left. Suddenly, Eli heard a faint, throbbing of an engine. He looked out past the parking lot, towards the outer wall of the power plant and saw the black sedan kicking up a dust cloud in the open desert. Unlike the north side of the plant, the south side did not provide the same cover of abandoned structures. Eli moved to where he could see Hank.

“I need to tell you something about those centrifuges Lieutenant!” Hank yelled.

“Don’t listen to him, Lieutenant!” Haley shouted.

It was the break the third guard had been waiting for. A second later Hank had a bullet in his left shoulder, but returned fire with fatal accuracy.

“Guess it’s just you and me now Lieutenant!”

“That’s where you’re wrong Hank!” It was Eli’s turn to roar.

“Eli? Didn’t know you got an invitation too. Listen, I really don’t want to kill the Lieutenant here, but I’ve had an open shot since this thing started, and I’m losing patience. Get up Lieutenant, nice and slow. I have something to tell you.”

The Lieutenant slowly rose to his feet with his hands up.

“Drop the gun, or he dies Eli. You wouldn’t want to be the cause of this poor guys death would you? Did you know he has three children? Yeah. It’s his oldests birthday tomorrow. I hope he’s around to tell Lavan happy…” The distant crack slightly louder than a pellet gun punctuated thet scene. Hank looked towards the source of the sound before ducking instinctively. Lucas missed. Eli watched a glint of recognition etch across Hank’s face before he disappeared behind cover.

Eli’s head snapped to the sedan.

“No…” Eli whispered in hopeless defeat. A half a second later the sedan exploded sending a shudder through Eli’s body as the shockwave swept through him. Rolling flames licked across the desert as the fireball subsided. Eli could no longer contain his anger.

He tore off towards Hank’s cover, .45 in hand. Hank inhaled to speak, but Eli silenced him with a single drop of the .45’s hammer, but he still didn’t feel any better.

“On behalf of the United States Government, I would like to offer you the sincerest of apologies for the murder of your troops, and the multiple attempts made on your life by this man, a discovered mole, and a traitor to the US and her allies,” Eli spoke with as much authority as he could muster. “After holding one of our own diplomats hostage, he proceeded to what we believe, sabotage the peaceable installation of Iraq’s new nuclear centrifuges. I offer you $2 million USD to take full credit for the elimination of this American traitor, and leave our names and presence off of any official report and recordings,” Eli finished.

The Lieutenant was covered head to toe in the Iraqi dust. He looked over his deceased men, the burning sedan in the distance, and then back to Eli nodding in slow assent.

#

“Hey…thanks,” Haley paused. “Really…Thank you. I don’t even understand why you would…or did,” She whispered to Eli under the drone of the 777’s engines. “But you did. And I’m alive, and…”

“Why’d he do it?” Eli interrupted.

“He had a price, Eli, and he found someone willing to pay it.”

“Tsh..yeah, got him killed, but I guess I’m not that different. I paid everything I ever…uh…made to get out of that. I just got lucky that my buyer was standing right in front of me.”

“That’s because you still think of yourself as a criminal. The way I see it, you sacrificed everything you had for everyone around you, while Hank sacrificed himself for everything he didn’t. It’s that old saying “he is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose”.

“It sounds way better when you say it like that, and I had plenty of self-interest in mind…”
“Hey…shut up,” Haley whispered as she moved towards Eli’s lips.

“Not yet,” Eli turned away before stared blankly at the try table in front of him. Haley could see the struggle in the dim light of the cabin. The ‘fasten-seat belt sign’ toned off as she rested her head softly against his shoulder.

“This okay?” she asked.

“Yeah…yeah, that’s okay. I’m sorry,” Eli offered weakly.

“You don’t owe me an apology Eli,” Haley took a long pause as tears filled her eyes. “I’m so so sorry for what I did to you. What Hank did to you. It wasn’t fair.”

“I forgive you. Really,” Eli spoke as he gently kissed her on the top of the head. Tears in his eyes matching hers.

“I’m broke, by the way,” he said.

And it was in that moment that Eli realized he wanted nothing more than to make Haley laugh, not only then, but every day for the rest of his life. It was also in that moment that he became the happiest man in the world when she did.

Series Navigation<< Doing Laundry – Part XVI

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