An excerpt from the book, Assassins, by Mike Bond:
Beirut, October 1983
FIVE THOUSAND DEAD CIVILIANS. Sitting on the creaky bed in his hotel room Jack tried to imagine all those people dying, how each felt, the piles of bodies, the sorrow and the pain. If the Marine bombing was payback for that, then who really killed Cole and the Marines?
Had Reagan truly killed the five thousand people in retribution for the Embassy bombing? But had that just been payback for some earlier atrocity? Did the cycle of murder just keep growing? Wasn’t that what he’d learned the night he’d smoked khief with the teenage hooker in Rawalpindi? When he’d seen through to the core of the world?
He could go home now. He’d finished the mission, learned why the Marines had been killed. And that the head of Islamic Jihad was Ismael al-Haji. Who could be found in Baalbek.
Suze, the little trailer, the owl calling in Cobbossee Woods, the bare trees of winter, all seemed too precious and what he was doing insane, and he had to stare a moment at the bright window to keep from choking.
Cole nonchalantly tossed him the football, the neck of his jersey black with sweat. “No, you turkey, you go deep.”
Find them. The ones who killed Cole. How could he go home till he’d done that?
HE FOUND KHALIL YASSIN in a bunker off Independence Avenue six blocks from the Green Line, the death zone separating Muslims and Christians. “You’ve got a bad image in the Western press.” Jack waited for the staggered thuds of incoming 155s to tail off. “What if you could tell your side of the story?”
“You’re not a journalist?” Yassin raised three fingers to his mouth, the sign for concupiscence. “Just a ‘mouthpiece’?”
Jack glanced at the disinterested young men with their guns and grenades, the sweating gray walls, the kerosene lantern dancing on its cord to the tune of falling shells. “Was it for retribution that Islamic Jihad bombed the Marines?”
“It was very stupid what Reagan did, killing all those people, no? We had to punish him… And he got the lesson – pulled out right away.”
“Perhaps Ismael al-Haji could give me details…”
“Mektoub.” With a long fingernail Yassin picked between two upper front teeth. It is written. There is no cause and no effect, no natural law, because God creates each instant anew… “I would be insane to send you to Ismael al-Haji.”
“He’d kill us both.”
IN THE PALESTINIAN markets he bought used clothes and leather sandals, two blankets, plastic bottles of cola and orange soda, goat cheese, dates, currants, and hard bread.
At the Commodore he poured the sodas down the drain, tore off the labels, rubbed the empty bottles on the tile floor to scratch them and filled them with tap water and two drops of iodine in each. He spread his map of Lebanon on the bed and memorized it again.
He dressed in the used clothes, holstered the Makarov under his left shoulder, wrapped the food, water, and spare clothes in the blanket roll, tied it across his other shoulder Afghani style, and followed Independence Avenue toward the Damascus road.
There was firing up ahead so he turned south toward the Hippodrome. Cars full of Palestinians raced toward the firing, shooting their guns in the air and screaming, but the people on the sidewalks paid no heed. At a crossroads he rubbed dust into his face and clothes, skirted Christian Beirut and took the Damascus road into the hills.
Before dusk he ate bread and goat cheese on the last ridge above Beirut then backtracked after dark to lie up in a deserted barn’s dry hay.
As kids he and Cole had once floated a gray plastic model battleship on a pond in Cobbossee Woods and shot it with a BB gun till it sank. He’d been excited, imagining the gun crews shattered and killed, the bridge blown apart, water rushing through holes below waterline. If the New Jersey hadn’t shelled Lebanese villages would the Marines still be alive?
Before dawn he walked north around the Syrian checkpoints. Stone villages lay in the folds of the hills and dwarf junipers marched along the crests. The baaing of goats and once the wooden thunk of a barley mill came up from a valley. Tiny red and yellow flowers hid in cracks in the rocks where the goats couldn’t reach them.
He crossed a dirt road with recent jeep tracks and continued north, stopping often to pull thorns from his sandals. In late afternoon he drank and refilled his bottles in a pool where water spiders skittered over his hands. At dusk he came upon a ruined castle and slept under the eaves by a crossbow slot where a scimitar moon shone through.
On the third day he crossed mountains he remembered from the map as Jabal el Mnaitra. Ravens soared high above on updrafts. Towns and terraced fields lay to the west, on the Christian side, and beyond them the gauzy sea. To the east on the Muslim side the Beqaa Valley spread north and south, green in its center where irrigated by the Litani River, sere and arid in the foothills and stony on the crests.
The sun set behind Jabal al Mnaitra, glinting on farmhouse windows on the Syrian side. He came to a pool where a river rushed from a hole in the mountain through the fallen columns of a Roman temple. This, he decided, must be the river above Yammouné. He filled his bottles, added more iodine, ate the last of his bread and cheese and slept in a ruined hut, wakened several times by mice scuffling in the straw.
In the morning he found the mice had chewed through a sandal strap. It seemed a bad omen and he felt lonely and afraid. He didn’t have to do this. He was going to get horribly killed.
Yammouné was a clean village with purple flowers in red clay pots and chickens scratching the dust, sheep and donkeys in pens beside the houses and children chattering on their way to school. He went into a little shop with clumps of garlic, tomatoes, onions, tangerines and lemons hanging by the door.
An old woman in black came through a bead curtain at the back. “Do you have leather?” he asked, conscious of his poor accent.
She cocked her head as if not believing what she’d heard.
He held up the sandal. “To fix this.”
“Ah, you must be sore-footed.” She dug into a cardboard box and tossed some twine on the counter. He bought hard bread, cheese, and a goat sausage, and followed a path by a lake where ducks quacked and dabbled. Out on the flatlands doves rose and fell in dizzy clouds; larks and blackbirds sang from cattails along the canals. Roman columns stood over dusty villages like relics of a giant race.
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