Elemental Faith: Chapter 1 Dust

Sometimes clients ask if I write "other things" beside copy and business plans.  Here are draft chapters about a character in development. 
Synopsis: Gus Reiver is a hard boiled good guy whose life was turned upside down during his last  tour as a Seal. His wife has been murdered. His 2 children have been missing. It's a situation he should be able to remedy easily. Except that he's been blackballed for something he did in Afghanistan. The CIA thinks he's twisted and untrustworthy.He's discovered that the target of his Team's last assignment, the wealthy arms-drugs-trafficking Achlan, has identified him. His best buddies survived the betrayal of their last assignment together, only to be murdered mysteriously in the states.  He's taken up as a Christian tour operator out of Atlanta. He needs time before the next trip to the Holy Land to plan. He needs to find his kids. He wants to find out who killed his wife and his team. But, it has been five weeks. He knows Achlan won't kill his children. He'll do far worse—to draw Gus back to kill him. Gus knows that Ramadan celebrations may offer his only chance. 


Preparation of explosive charges in the desert is a hot, dusty business. Discomfort normal. Sand in your clothing, cuts from wire, wood boxes, even paper cuts from ballistics wrapping are your best friends. Each slight irritation is heightened as the temperature climbs to 45°C in a windless world of sand, especially when you’re wearing dark clothing; body-length cotton tunic, in white, loose black pants tied with thick fabric, a dark vest and a thick tan turban. And your load? You’re packing a shouldered automatic weapon as you clamber 40 meters up a vertical rock face.

High up and tucked back inside the cave, the man turned the rotary gear of a diamond-tipped hand drill. It was relatively cooler there inside the high cave. The lack of air circulation helped keep the heat out, but not the bitter almond odor of decay. Machmed’s knees gripped the curved head of one of the three giant Buddhist sculptures in Bamiyan.[i]

He looked around to see this place was nearly as large as his house in Galalabad. He felt grateful to Allah that the cave reduced his exposure to the sun. The job here was simple and elegant–to carve out a series of cylindrical holes as large as his fist. The other man, Achlan, the technician on the ground below would fire off the charge.

It was up to Achlan to prepare the explosives, their wiring, and the detonators and place them in the holes Machmed had drilled. This hole was the last.  The other holes around the ears and eyes of the giant stone Buddha were ready for packing, and this last pivotal hole would receive the crucial charge that would split the great stone head down the middle. Gravity would take care of the rest.

Two others had been working with Machmed, but they were ordered to join a group returning to Kabul. They had jumped aboard the Toyota pickup and left without so much as a wave.

No wonder. The men had barely spoken. These were not friendly people. Just as well. Machmed had resisted becoming close to anyone in this group. Being here was simply expedient. He had decided it was the only way to have any stature in these harsh times. His wife had begged him not to. Her warning was too late. One late night a dozen men appeared at his door. Praise Allah that he had answered the door, and not his wife. She was educated, like him, but feisty. She might have shared her true thoughts. And that would have been very bad. Unthinkable.

“Are you finished your drilling?” Achlan screamed up to Machmed from far below. He thought as he slowed the drilling: He’s in a hurry now. He turned to see the sun, still bright, but no longer high in the heavens.

“I am nearly done!” Machmed shouted. Oh no. He wondered if he had sounded too scolding.

He was after all inferior in standing to this man—the Achlan. Here in the desert, anyway. In Machmed’s previous life, all of these men could have worked for him in construction of one of his designs. This Achlan was likely a close family member to one of the Mullahs. Machmed himself got his position because someone took note of his architect’s knowledge of buildings. It was how things worked. Now.

Achlan drew the wrinkles of his sunburned face and beard together and shielded his eyes from the setting sun. He saw nothing of the other man. Then his heart felt a sound that turned his attention. A deep mechanical whooshing of a fast approaching motor grew successively clear and loud by the second. The steady chop-chop-chop of the blades now vibrated around the rock shocking and ricocheting like someone pounding an empty oil drum.

Inside Machmed had strained his ear. He too heard the sound apporaching. What was that–he thought—a helicopter? He rushed to the opening that overlooked the expanse of desert at Bamiyan and restained a smile. The sound was strong and full. Not a Russian machine. He could see Achlan below, looking up toward the sound and squinting in the sunlight. This was an inconvenience. After decades of occupation, few Afghans felt any strong emotion.  In the past, a helicopter would have been cause for fear and would have torqued a deep rush of adrenaline. No longer.

Both men had been trained to observe, then weigh the situation. Then kill, in victory. Only then would they act, and always in Allah’s name. Machmed blew off the rock dust and dusted the larger fragments with his fingers. He smiled. His work was done.  The hole was complete. Perfect. He picked up his muslin bag and placed the tools inside. But as he turned, he noticed something in the dust at the back of the cave. Achlan yelled again from below. Urgent now. Maybe a bit nervous.

But Machmed was distracted by something that drew him to the back of the cave.

His workman’s hands gently brushed at the dust, recalling his previous, gentler life.  A box?  A package?  He sat down and carefully untied the string around the object, pursing his dry lips to blow the dust away as his fingers loosened the soft thick string. As he lay the string aside, his thumbs moved under the fabric several times, unwrapping the layers.  What it revealed disappointed him at first.

As the last, when the cloth fell open, Machmed was filled with glad recognition. Oh, how he missed this feeling. He stared at the cover of a book. A very old one. Gently opening it, he saw yellowed pages, brittle and powdery.  It was written in a language that was vaguely familiar to him—a series of symbols. There were some French references, and Latin. But the writing was mostly in English, he turned more pages. There were drawings.  Some of the sketches were done in bright colors. These caused him to smile. There were several columnar tables, numerous circles and spirals, some were pointed, some moved right off the page! Most of the writing and illustrations were drawn in brown ink. Several were very beautiful, he thought. Involuntarily he shivered, ever so slightly.

Thoughts about beauty made him uncomfortable these days. It was a hunger inside more profound than anything he could remember.