Read an Excerpt
AUGUST 2, 1990 KUWAIT
n the light of the lemon-slice moon, a rawboned, shadowy figure crept across the desert sand, his bruised and blistered feet scraped raw by his sandals. As he took refuge among the towering palm trees that edged the superhighway, his cotton robe flapped at his ankles. Under the robe, his camera and infrared binoculars jabbed his ribs.
Jon Winters had grown gaunt and skeletal from dysentery. His angular body felt wasted, his face pinched. Dawn would bring its searing temperatures and the intense humidity of another August morning. Even now beneath the Kuwaiti headdress, sweat dotted his feverish brow. For weeks hed hidden from the scorching sun, sleeping through the daylight hours. Night after night hed stolen from Hamads house and crawled through the darkness, a deepcover operative noting the Iraqi buildup around the Rumailan oil fields. Tonight he noted the increasing number of tanks and troops fanning out along the border. An attack was imminent.
Jon leaned against the tree, willing the strength to come back into his body. He had entered a country braced for an Iraqi invasion. Security was tight, foreigners unwelcome, a non-Arab viewed with suspicion. His passport bore another mans identification and nationalityand his own blurred photo.
How many more nights could he avoid capture? Or fight off the chill of the desert nights as he crawled across the dunes, risking encounters with scorpions and sand beetles and desert snakes? Without weapon or survival equipment, he had only his wits and ingenuity to fight the elements. And if he was discovered with his infrared binoculars and camera and the coded messages in his pocket, he would surely be killed.
Hawks swooped low in the clear desert air. He called back to them in Arabic, his words harsh, angry; it was as though they knew he had entered their country under false pretenses. Between their cries, he heard the faint click of his miniaturized transmitter, his watcha trick of the trade. He dropped to the ground and flattened himself on his belly.
As he pressed the wristwatch to his ear, Hamads tension crackled over the high-frequency transmitter. My friend, the Iraqis have crossed our border.
I do not lie, my friend. My father says you must leave at once. You must try to reach Saudi Arabia.
Jons stomach muscles tightened. They wont let me in without proper identification. Tell him I have done nothing wrong.
My father says you overstayed your visitors pass. His debt for our friendship is paid. I begged him. It is no use. My father has known you too long to think that you are just a visitor in our country. Remorse filled his voice. He found the ground transmitter in your room.
Tell him its a shortwave radio for rock music.
He sensed Hamad smiling. Do you think you have sheltered with us these three months and not aroused my fathers curiosity? My father is a wise old man. He saw you slipping out of the house night after night.
He must know Im a restless sleeper.
My friend, he has guessed that you are an intelligence agent, part of Americas increased surveillance against the Iraqis. He loathes the danger that puts us in. He loathed himself. His adrenaline kicked in with a futile attempt to defend himself. But your father never questioned me.
Because I begged him to help you. But now he calls you a deceiveran infidel playing the part of an Arab.
I have never lied to him.
Nor have you told him the truth.
Hamad was right. For weeks Jon had carried his covert assignment in his memory, his fear of discovery stuck like a burr in the back of his mind. He did a rapid mental replay. He was to do intelligence reconnaissance: monitor the threat of war and report back, ferret out Iraqi agents, recruit and run sources within the country, form a Kuwaiti resistance group, and send back operational status reports through the American embassy.
How much had Hamads father suspected?
Tell your father Im sorry.
Your apology comes too late.
Had he wasted his efforts? Trained the wrong man? Has Mahmoud guessed that I recruited you for the resistance movement?
Melancholy crept into Hamads voice along with the static. With Hamad, loyalty died at a snails pace. I would shame him if he knew. He would disown me. You must understand. As part of the ruling family, my commitment is to them. The resistance belongs to those without royal ties.
You cant back down now, Hamad. The resistance needs you. Have you told your father that a terrorist cell has a stronghold in Kuwait City?
Anger burned in Hamads answer. Many of those men have sworn allegiance to the resistance movement.
And you believe them?
They are my Arab brothers.
Let me talk to your father. He treats me as a son.
No, my friend, you can no longer pass as one of us.
The grit of the desert sand stung Jons eyes. Is this over that heated discussion I had with him at mealtime?
You were wrong to tell him there would be a war.
As if he didnt know. Jon switched the transmitter to his other ear. I just wanted to convince Mahmoud of the imminent danger.
Hamad fought back with disdain. He was right. You have such limited knowledge of the Middle East. You and your book learning. What do you know of us as a people?
Earlier in the evening Jon had sat cross-legged on Mahmouds carpet, dining on Mahmouds mutton boiled with onion and garlic and sampling the spiced seafood. As they sipped biting black coffee, Jon had argued about the possibility of an Iraqi attack on Saudi Arabia and the certainty of one on Kuwait.
Without warning, Mahmouds words had grown impetuous, vehement, his usual pleasantries abandoned. Iraq will not attack us. You do not understand my people. Arab brother will never go against Arab brother.
But Arab brother had done the unthinkable.
Now Hamads voice broke through the static again. It will not go well with us that we have harbored you, not with my father serving as a cabinet minister.
Jon had depended on Mahmouds position, depended even more on the fact that Mahmoud was a distant relative of the ruling family. Mahmouds home was the perfect place to hide, to headquarter. Hamad, please destroy the equipment in my room.
His throaty whisper crackled over the line. I cannot. My father has already threatened to use it against you if we have to. Remember, Jon, my father says you are no longer welcome. You must leave. You speak our language well, but it will not take the Iraqis long to know who you arewhat you are.
And what will happen to you, Hamad, when your father or the Iraqis find you are working with the resistance? Every muscle in Jons body ached. Without the tree bracing him, he would topple to the ground. He had entered Kuwait with no escape route marked out for him. If caught, there would be no official inquiry about his safety. But he had to get word to Langley about the increased buildup along the oil fields and his concern about terrorists infiltrating the resistance. Whatever happened to him, he must get one final report through to the American embassy, and from there to Langley.
Hamad, I need the ground transmitter.
If you come back, my father will treat you as the enemy. Be careful, my friendand may Allah go with you.
The transmitter went dead. His skin prickled. The silence was deafening, the seconds endless before sheer bulldog courage set in. He waved his knuckled fist into the desert darkness. My survival is not dependent on you, Hamad. But your survival is dependent on me.
Jons one hope lay in slipping through the enemy lines and reaching the embassy in case its communication lines were still openin case one more diplomatic pouch could make it out. He struck out, darting through the night on silent sandals. As he neared the city, the pain in his feet hindered his progress. Iraqi helicopters swooped down like birds of prey through the darkness, bringing in their loads of Special Forces. He heard the distant explosions. The rumble of tanks. The sound of vehicles approaching. A row of cars came into view, fleeing from the city with their headlights off.
Suddenly the nerves at the back of his neck tingled. He was not alone. A short distance away, someone shared the shadows with him. He fumbled for his binoculars, cursing the darkness and his fears. Sudden streaks of light illuminated the sky around him as a lone chopper skimmed the treetops. An Iraqi soldier fired from the chopper. Death rained down on the long row of cars. A vehicle careened off the highway, its gas tank erupting in flames.
In the blaze that followed, Jon saw the man who shared the darkness with him signaling the pilot. An Iraqi perhaps. An enemy, but a man like himselfa foreign agent on Kuwaiti soil. The blades whirred as the chopper lowered. If the Iraqis took Jon hostage, Islamic law would label him an infidel in Arab dress. Hed be tortured. Executed.
Jon ran, stumbling in his sandals. As he fled, he loosened the wide band from his watch and lifted the tiny transmitter to his mouth. Hamad. Hama
The strafing exploded around him. Searing pain tore through his leg then through his shoulder. He pitched forward; his wristwatch slipped from his fingers into the sand.
Moments later he came out of his stupor as rough hands tossed him on his back. His wounded leg twisted beneath him. Jon screamed as the bone snapped, tearing through the skin. Blood spurted.
An angry face loomed above him. Confused, Jon choked out the words. You! Not you. I thought
Yes, me. The hands probed, searched. Where is it, Jon?
I thought you were an Iraqi.
His bloody shoulder throbbed. Hed never known such pain, such fear. He had no strength to fight back. Last weeks bout of dysentery had weakened him. His intestines rumbled and cramped. He knew he would spew his guts, or his bowels would explode. Retching, fighting off the unbearable pain, he stared up into the face of the man hovering over him. What are you doing?
Deft fingers snatched the papers and camera from beneath Jons robe. You wont need these any longer.
Ive got to get that report through to Langley.
Youre a fool, Jon. You should have left Kuwait while you had the chance. You were told to leave before your cover was blown. His words were as scorching as the pain. You gave your location away using that transmitter.
Hamad, dont call back. Dont signal back.
Come on. I need the whole report. Dont waste time. Dont make things worse.
Jon remembered the third man on their team. Rickwheres
He left. But you had to stay and play the hero.
Jon retched again. The sand in his mouth was wet with the acrid taste of blood, the bile of his innards spilling out. He heard the click of the transmitter, muffled by the sand. Stop transmitting, Hamad. Stop trying to reach me.
He screamed as he stirred the sand with his good foot. Burying the transmitter was one safety measure he could offer Hamad and his family. That, and dying as an unknown Arab.
He looked at his betrayer. Please. Please help me.
You have come to begging, my friend. You, the boy who had everything. My orders are to leave you behind, Jon.
Your orders? Whose orders? I dont understandwe came in together. We
You volunteered for this mission.
All three of us did
The man kicked Jons leg, sending excruciating jolts through his body. Did you think I could let your reports go through? You wanted to convince Washington that a terrorist cell has infiltrated the resistance movement. You fool. Couldnt you let well enough alone?
He roughly toed Jons leg again. You dont get it, do you? You were never intended to leave Kuwait. You wouldnt have gotten far anyway. Youre bleeding. Your leg is shatteredI can see that even in the darkness.
Fighting against the blinding agony, Jon slid his hand down his thigh and felt the jagged fragments of bone. He felt his friends betrayal even more. You sold out
I didnt plan it this way, Jon. But I have my orders. Theres only transportation out of here for one of us. The crown prince and his father are already en route to Saudi Arabia. They will be safe. That should please you. He stood and gave a mocking farewell salute. For three months you hid and lived like a Kuwaiti. Now die like one of them.
on took inventory as he grew faint: Mouth dry. Throat tight. Thirst unquenchable. Breathing difficult. Pulse irregular.
He feared dying. Dreaded the eternity of the damned. He forced his eyes open. Sucked in another breath. His body was clammy with sweat and blood. What if blackness and emptiness lay ahead? What if his fathers God did exist?
He had thrust faith aside in his anger at Godumbrage at the God who had allowed his fathers humiliating downfall. But hadnt Dad called his dismissal from Paris Father-filtered?
Now Jon had stared into the face of his own betrayerand realized it was the face of his fathers betrayer as well. The truth fanned out from Paris, circled the globe, and ended at Winterfest Estates.
Minutes passed with the drone of more planes overhead. Jon dragged himself in an agonizing crawl to the next tree, his breathing compromised. He had no strength left to push himself to a sitting position. With every move, his leg bled more. He rested. Drifted. Fought his way back to write his fiancées name in the sand with his fingerthat pretty girl with the faint splash of freckles across her cheeks. He would never caress her again. Never make
her completely his own. He had called her from Paris three months ago to propose. No kiss to seal the commitment. No ring to sparkle on her finger. He had asked her to tell his folks to tell them
What was it he had wanted her to tell them? Jon blinked against the encroaching blackness, but it did no good. The blackness won.
When he came to, his homesickness was as overpowering as his nausea. The grinding roar of the helicopter was gone. His betrayer had left him as he would an Arab, dying in the desert sands. As Jon lay sprawled in a shallow depression, time lost all meaning. Through the predawn clouds, the moon had spread a gossamer whiteness over the desert sand. Now the chill of the night was giving way to the first rays of daybreak. He tried to focus his eyes and saw a gushing pool of water cascading over the sand dunes. The mirage bubbled. Sparkled. He stretched his hands toward itand the pool evaporated.
In his confusion, the illusion turned the hills into snow-covered slopesthe beloved Colorado mountains where he sometimes skied in the winter, where he hiked in the spring. He sensed the old exhilaration of standing at the mountaintop, felt the utter freedom of taking the slope on skis. He reached again, his fingers weightless.
But his mountain disappeared. Gone. Like his strength.
Something wet and sticky trickled from his mouth and over his bristled chin. He tasted it. Blood. It took a long time to die. Agonizing minutes. The sands of Kuwait were splattered with his blood. He hadnt known how dark his blood could make the sand. A muddy brown, like the ocean waves washing a sandy beach, pooling into a childs bucket. His bucket.
The beautiful, bratty kid sister with her light, skipping steps on the stairs at Winterfest. He wanted to tell her the land would be all hers now, but the dusty lump in his throat choked him. He should have warned her about Parisshould have taken her into his confidence about their fathers betrayer.
He tried to move, but the stabbing pain in his leg drove him to the edge of madness. He would never ski again. Could I have imagined the betrayer as I imagined the mountain?
He forced his eyes open and watched the desert sands turn into the blazing shades of autumn. He was climbing. Climbing higher. He struggled to turn over, to lift his head, the effort monumental. In the distance, his beloved mountain turned to realitya skyline of mosques and domes and minarets, an ultramodern city where the new and the old existed side by side.
Kuwaita place without alpine trails or snow-covered mountains. A citya countryunder siege. He imagined the familiar wailing that called the faithful, oil-rich Kuwaitis to prayer.
His thoughts drifted. His leg no longer throbbed. He felt nothing.
He awakened sometime later and knew that within hours he would die with the sweltering Arabian sun beating down on him. Again blurred images of his family and the pretty face of the woman he planned to marry gripped him.
Behind him he heard muffled steps on the sand. A stray camel? A goat? An Iraqi soldier creeping up on him?
Please, God. Not my betrayer.
In his uncertainty, he called out for help. Cried for his sister, his girl, his mom. Adrienne Kristy Mom His speech slurred. Hamad?Allah!
No, not Allah.
A prayer formed on his lips to the God of his boyhood. He fought to stay alert, but the pictures of those he lovedand those he fearedfaded into nothingness as a canopy of darkness closed over him.