The Boltcutter: The Quarry
Deng and Reno arrived at the Old Quarry a few hours before dawn. None of the itinerants and refugees who worked the rock with their dented and battered tools slept there, and no one worked through the night. On the side of the tall hill that overlooked the city, and which was known in the local language as the Mountain, the Old Quarry would allow the Boltcutter to see them from about one hundred different perches and put a bullet in them, if that’s what he wanted.
Broken stones and jagged boulders flanked the rough dirt path that had brought them. Gravel crunched under the wheels of the Landcruiser, and its lights revealed no grass and very few bushes or stunted trees. The Mountain displayed green on the side that faced the city. Here, its business end, one saw no beauty, unless one considered the gouged earth and gray stone beautiful.
They sat in the Landcruiser, engine off but headlights on. Reno checked his weapon under an interior light. He had traded the MP7 for a suppressed Steyr TMP. It didn’t have the tactical sight, but Reno figured he’d be using it in close and personal situations where the iron sights would do fine.
“I am done.” Deng exhaled slowly, his balled fists resting on the steering wheel. “A dead NSS agent in my room, it does not matter what Alor decides. I can never come back.”
“No. That’s not how this will play.” Folding the stock, Reno slid the TMP into his messenger bag and put that at his feet. “You didn’t do this. You weren’t even in the country.”
Deng turned to him, a slight squint as the muscles around his eyes tightened. “What do you mean? How will we get out of this?”
“Not we, you.” Reno smiled. “No one from the NSS has seen you. There’s no record of you entering the country. John’s getting a flight to Nairobi. He might already be wheels up. Once we clean up this mess, you use his out. I can drive into Uganda, or I can head east to the next state capital and charter a flight. The record will be of me getting in and getting out.”
“And you think they will believe that?” Deng shook his head, looking down. “No, I don’t think so. I have spoken to people.”
“Yeah, but not on your cell, nothing the NSS can get a grip on.” Reno leaned back in his seat, tilted his head up and pinched the bridge of his nose. The stimulants had him awake and aware, but he was starting to feel fuzzy around the edges. “When this is all done, John can have a word with the NSS about bringing you in as a contractor, some kind of assignment that also benefits the NSS. We clean the slate, get you in good, and this can go away.”
“You think John would do that?”
Reno met Deng’s gaze. “Yeah. He’ll do that. He knows you and he trusts you. I hate to say it, but it’ll mean you owe him, and as good a guy as he is, he’s still a spook. He’ll collect. But he won’t fuck you. He’ll play it straight. He’s about the only guy outside of this truck that I can say that about.”
Deng didn’t reply, but slowly turned as a figure moved into the headlights’ field. Reno didn’t reach for his weapons: if this guy had wanted to put them down, he wouldn’t have made himself known, wouldn’t have sauntered in from out of the night while he watched them with undisguised disdain. He held his suppressed carbine with its PSO-1 scope – a modded, suppressed SR-3 Vikhr all right – loose but ready.
The two carefully exited the vehicles, hands always visible. This guy walked casual, but Reno didn’t want to test him.
“You’re Reno and you’re Deng.” He didn’t question, he stated. He stopped about three metres from them. He looked relatively non-descript. He had a scruff of whiskers, something resembling a beard, and hair cut short and neat. Maybe a little beefy, but Reno would put money that this guy was Somali, not Ugandan.
“They call you the Boltcutter, I hear.” Reno touched one of the pockets on his vest and raised his eyebrows. The Boltcutter nodded, and Reno drew out a battered package of cigarettes. He offered.
The Boltcutter’s thin lips warped on one side. “You’re trying to get on my good side, yes? I know you don’t smoke. I know a lot about you. When John said you wanted to meet, he warned me. He said if you didn’t walk away from this meeting, he would come and kill me himself. John does not make empty threats, so I guess there is a debt. I asked some people, and they had much to say. You are both interesting men. Why did you come back?”
Reno still held out the pack of cigarettes. “John didn’t tell you?”
“He told me I would not like it.” The Boltcutter’s lips parted ever so slightly to reveal the teeth behind them.
“We came back for a job, for a promise.” Deng pointed. “For you.”
“Then that is unfortunate.” The Boltcutter stepped forward, letting his Vikr hang on its tactical sling, and he took one of Reno’s cigarettes. “You’re going to fail at your job.”
“You don’t think we will kill you?” asked Deng.
“John is a Company man, yes, but he’s not one of them.” The Boltcutter lit his cigarette, drew in and released a long breath. “I am three things the Company does not like. I am a contractor, I am black, and I am African. In Mogadishu, two years ago, I expected to die because of that. John got me out. He brought me here. If he sent me to you, he did not expect you to kill me. Because he sent me to you, I’m not going to kill you.”
“But someone is going to die,” Deng said. “For this to end, someone has to die.”
The Boltcutter unslung his rucksack and reached into it. He pulled out a file folder. “This one? This spy? Samuel Chol?”
Reno held out his hand. The Boltcutter passed the file to him. “He’s already dead.” Reno leafed through the file. “Now we have to make everyone believe Alor did it.”
This caught the Boltcutter’s attention. “David Alor? Major General David Alor?”
“This should not surprise you.” Deng had retrieved another file from the Landcruiser. “He was your target.”
The Boltcutter didn’t respond, but chewed on his cigarette. Deng and Reno rifled through the two files, taking pictures from NSS agent Chol’s files and using them to replace photos in Alor’s file on the Boltcutter.
Reno glanced up at the Boltcutter, who watched them as he exhaled smoke. “So do I call you Ahmed? Do I call you Okema? What do I call you?”
He spit out some tobacco leaf before answering. “What does Major General Alor call me?”
“Qassim,” Deng said. “Ahmed Hussein Qassim.”
The Boltcutter laughed. He didn’t bother to watch them as he threw up his arms, laughing, and walking in a tight circle. “Ahmed Hussein Qassim?” The words came during breaks in his laughter. “Ahmed Hussein Qassim? Do you know Ahmed Hussein Qassim?” He stopped when neither answered. He pointed to the hood of the Landcruiser. “Samuel Chol. Samuel Chol is Ahmed Hussein Qassim. He worked for the North many years ago. He was one of theirs. He was security service. Now he is here, part of this country’s service and being called Samuel Chol, but he is Qassim.”
Reno and Deng quickly regarded each other, then Deng picked up the Qassim file and took it to the Boltcutter. “This is you. This is who Alor said you are.”
Interrupting his levity, the Boltcutter considered the file contents. He muttered as he did, the cigarette dancing in his mouth. “Qassim. Qassim. This.” The page the Boltcutter tapped had contacts, locations, sightings. “This is me, but these are Qassim. These are Chol.”
“Alor used Qassim’s background to give us reason not to question the mission.” He picked up the Chol file. “And this? Is this fantasy? Where did you get it?”
The Boltcutter looked from Deng to Reno, then shrugged. “I have a man in the NSS. I have more than one, but this one man, he can get me files and information.”
“What about tonight?” Deng asked. “When you mentioned Chol, did he speak? Did he tell you Chol was dead?”
With the cigarette spent, the Boltcutter dropped it to the ground and crushed it underfoot. “Nothing. The NSS do not know.”
“There was a team.” Reno scratched the back of his head. “There was a team at the site and they wouldn’t have waited so long before making an entry. Maybe twenty minutes at most. I can’t imagine they would just walk away when Chol didn’t respond. They were in place for an entry and to deny us a safe exit.”
“The NSS did not know.” Deng dropped the Qassim file back on the hood of the Landcruiser. “Maybe Chol still works for the North.”
“Or the rebels,” the Boltcutter offered. “It makes the NSS worried. They see spies everywhere.”
“Yeah, well, that’s the business isn’t it.” Reno tapped the Qassim file, then looked up to Deng. “This might actually work. If Chol just disappears, it can’t hang on you. If not, we plant this with Alor, and it’ll give the NSS what they want: a traitor.”
“You know where he is,” Deng said to the Boltcutter. “Alor. You know his home and his guards.”
Crossing his arms over his chest, the Boltcutter nodded. “I do. John did not tell me to help you. When I tell you where he is, you will go kill him. I will be out of a job.”
“This is going to end, and it can be surgical or a huge fucking mess,” Reno said. “We need to bury Alor, it’s the only way we walk away from this. There are ways to get to him, but not tonight and not before he’s figured out we’ve gone rogue. John’s out. He’s heading to Nairobi. If there’s a charter or a UN flight out, he’ll be on it. The ops’ scrubbed. You know Alor’s going to have to go, one way or the other. Maybe he’ll lead you to more connections, maybe not, but after tonight he’s going to be wary. If you want this op to run, you need to kill us both, because we won’t stop until we or Alor are dead.”
The Boltcutter reached into Reno’s shirt pocket and took the pack of cigarettes. He took one then stuffed the pack in his own pocket. He lit the cigarette and took a long haul on it. He exhaled, watching Reno the whole time. “You going to make this right with John after we are done.”
“I’ll make it right.” Reno collected the files off the hood of the Landcruiser. “We need what you have. We need to know what we’re getting into, and we need it within the hour. If we’re going to hit him, it needs to happen before sunrise.”
No sense of urgency propelled the Boltcutter. “There is not much time to plan. What if he is not at home?”
“Then we are right fucked.” Reno tossed the files into the passenger side of the Landcruiser. “We’re not asking you to make the assault with us, just give us what you have.”
“I did not think you were really ready to die.” Another cigarette disappeared under the Boltcutter’s boot. “But it seems you are. Okay. I am interested. I have a place we can plan, and then we will try to kill Alor.”
You can find part one of “The Boltcutter” here.
You can find part two of “The Boltcutter” here.
You can find part three of “The Boltcutter” here.
Look for more Friday Fiction here.