Alan was tired, his mind struggling to make sense of all that had happened. He chanced a look at himself in the rattling car’s cracked rear view mirror. The stress was showing in deepening lines, the furl of his strong brow filled with demons and secrets from more than thirty years as a war correspondent. He knew and had seen far too much. It was all coming back to him now, like some tragic drama of old that was coming to its final, lamentable end. The past had caught up with him, and no longer could he escape it.
It was an all night drive from Baghdad to Karkuk in Kurdish controlled Iraq. The road was still not entirely secure. More than once the Army convoy, in which Alan had tucked into near Ba’qubah, had come under fire from the inky blackness of the Iraqi countryside. Short on ammunition, the road-weary American soldiers had fired not a shot in response, allowing the guerrillas to fade away in the night. There were no casualties, but the ghostly fighters had made their message abundantly clear; no American soldier was safe in Iraq.
At dawn the convoy came upon the remains of a taxi on the outskirts of the city. It had struck a mine no doubt intended for the convoy. Pieces of the white Mercedes lay strewn across the road, as if some furious giant had ripped it to shreds. The mangled corpses of two men and a woman lay where they had fallen in a ditch along the road. As Alan looked over the bodies an Army Captain came up beside him and shrugged.
“Sucks to be them,” said the Captain without a shred of emotion. Alan understood the feeling and could see the strain and fatigue evident in the young Captain’s sweat streaked face. After a while the soul could accept no more of the misery of war and simply shut itself off. Alan understood well enough, but still felt rage boil inside him.
Back on the road Alan did his best to put the images of the dead Iraqis from his mind. It was easier than he expected. They were beyond help and there was no point in lingering over the matter. It was a self-defeating exercise to dwell upon the lives they led, or those they loved. Three decades as a war correspondent had steeled him to such horrors. Alan had seen more death and destruction than he cared to remember. He had much more pressing concerns now. The life of a friend was in the balance, and Alan had to believe that it was still possible to save him.
Time was running out for an old friend, and only one man could save him now, that is if Alan could reach him in time. The more Alan thought about it the more frantic he became, and perhaps worst of all, the more guilty he felt. Where had it all gone wrong, he wondered, or where had he gone wrong? He knew the question was pointless. Now all that mattered was to put things right…
From “Burn Down the Sky” available exclusively at Amazon Kindle, by W.C. Turck