Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Tyrant’s Dead Hand

“Hussain remembered the door code,” Colonel Andor said, “but the power was off for years, so it’s crowbars and hammers.”

Their Humvee drove beyond what people in the Iraqi desert would have called “roads,” if there had been people here. Smith checked the GPS and said, “Quarter mile--somewhere along that ridge.”

They found the cave among the boulders, tangled-hair roots hanging over the mouth. They checked their M16s, and followed their Streamlights in. It was good to be out of the sun. Andor said, “Saddam remembered the GPS--sharp until we hung him.”

Smith ventured, “We’re seeking Weapons of Mass Destruction?”

“We’re too late to turn back, so yeah, that’s what the old tyrant said. Maybe this was his final joke--didn’t want to call Fox News until I saw for myself.”

They crowbarred a door.

Smith had suspected as much, since WMDs were Andor’s all-consuming assignment until last year. But if Saddam had WMDs, why didn’t he use them?

Beyond the door was a brick-walled corridor with another door. “Airlock,” said Andor. They went straight at the four-way intersection and found a door to a white-walled bio-laboratory open. Streamlights illuminated ripped hoses, shattered glass, chemical drums, black trash bags, and two bodies. No, they were mummies, brown skin drawn over eyeless faces, staring into the void.

Smith said, “The Republican Guard killed them?”

Andor shook his head. “Nope. If anybody knew about this place, they’d have claimed a reward.”

Smith took four glasscrunching steps in to shine his light around overturned tables whose legs stiffly pointed back at him.

Smith froze.

The nearest body had been obscured by a trash bag. He said nervously, “Colonel? Why didn’t Saddam use these WMDs?” The body was missing below the ribcage and the ribs were ripped outward, opening up the chest. Smith’s Streamlight wandered to Andor’s doorway; Smith paled at the emaciated human shapes behind Andor.

Andor, oblivious, chuckled. “Saddam was afraid of them. Abandoned this . . ..” Andor yawped as three thin brown men wrapped him, and dragged him to the floor. Andor’s moan was drowned by layers of .45 caliber explosions from his Springfield. A punctured drum in the corner hissed out a stench. Smith fumbled, shifted his light, and tried to grab his M16. By the time he got a fix on Andor, the only sounds from the writhing bodies were smacking slurps. Smith sprinted to the door, hurdling the mass there. Andor weakly groaned, “God.”

Two more dark shamblers staggered this side of the four-way. One grabbed Smith’s arm. It snagged the gun strap and the M16 clattered to the bricks. He screamed as the other blindly reached out. He spun and ran.

He emerged, heart pounding, sickened that he had abandoned Andor, justifying to nobody, “Someone has to warn. Biologicals. So bad Saddam wouldn’t use.” He loped toward the Humvee.

When he opened the dust-coated Humvee, he smelled the chili powder from the MRE’s enchiladas, which were being messily devoured by the ash grey corpse in the driver’s seat.

Smith bellowed, blundering hopelessly into the Iraqi desert.

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