Mazen was used to Rami asking strange tasks. Mazen was paid to get things done quietly and not ask questions, and a man who paid well and on time was something a day laborer like Mazen very desperately needed when he met Rami, who even taught him how to shoot with a rifle. They actually met through Mazen's sister, Adara, whose profession over the past few years was never spoken aloud. Rami never had any interest in Adara's services, but instead paid her to attend parties as a favor for clan leaders and government officials where she would both plant recording devices and report to Rami on their conversations.
Mazen knew Rami well enough to know that Rami wasn't his real name. The traces of a foreign accent were shown through otherwise flawless Syriac enough that even Mazen's Bedouin ears could detect it. Rami didn't have any family that Mazen knew of but had many friends and acquaintances from both the high and low of society in this city and ran a modest pro-government news show. Now Mazen was heading to Mazen's house, assuming his call was to gather more information for the show despite tonight's planned blackouts. The war caused many hardships, not least of which was the frequent breakdowns of an already shoddy power station, and even when the plant worked they had to turn to load shedding due to lack of fuel. Mazen hoped he could make the trip across the neighborhood on foot before the few streetlamps went out.
Mazen walked through the narrow winding streets, ignoring the trash littering the road. The city had been like this before the war, but now the streets were generally empty as people hid inside their homes. A reminder of why materialized as distant gunshots echoed as Mazen walked. He looked down both ends of the street as he approached Rami's door, and knocked. The door opened quickly and Rami let him in quickly with a smile.
Inside the minimally furnished interior appeared to be almost every opposition man Rami was acquainted with. There were Shafiq, Abbas, Adham, and Azim. Men that continued to work with Rami despite his work's pro-government stance, and men whom Rami had taught how to fight and how to gather information. Shafiq and Abbas were both soldiers in the opposition, but Adham and Azim were not part of politics and simply defended their neighborhoods from everyone. Mazan knew for a fact Adham dealt drugs and Shafiq required "donations" from every business and didn't trust any of these men.
"Some of you have some of the details of the job tonight," Rami said as he gave Mazen a cold beer. "But the short of it is this is very dangerous and I cannot guarantee anyone's safety nor is the pay worth the risks." Rami sat relaxed on his cushioned sofa, "Tonight I plan to kidnap Hajj Jubari."
Silent suppressed emotion met this announcement as all men eyed Rami and each other to gauge reactions. Jubari was a pro-government clan leader who was regarded as something as an extremist, spreading rumors that the war was simply a grand conspiracy to loot homes in this city and demanding the government bomb neighboring states. However, Mazen's concern with him is that even before they started working for Rami, Jubari terrorized his sister in ways that Adara cared not describe.
Rami continued: "It is a moonless night, and we shall not be seen as we move to his house and take him to the dropoff point by al-Jisr." This was a point far outside the city near a hostile border and out of the control of the government. "We will take him in his house, hopefully while he is still asleep and his wife is not at home. And we have all the tools we need with us." He paused and said, "If any of you want nothing to do with this, now is the time to say so."
The silence was taken as agreement. Rami rose and removed the cushions from his sofa, revealing the weapons Mazen already knew were there. Rami gave Mazen the same AK-47 he had taught him to shoot, took another two out for Shafiq and himself, and each man received three magazines. The other three men had brought their own rifles, and Rami donned a backpack that had been sitting by the sofa.
He replaced the sofa cushions and started answering questions about the task, using that cheerful cordiality Mazen knew was a deliberate mechanism for relieving fears. All six men seemed to drink their beers much faster than they would under normal circumstances. After a short time of this, the lights went out as expected, and Mazen downed the last of his beer and tossed the bottle in the bin.
Rami lead them outside, and they walked in a loose file down the road slowly. Slowly because the likelihood of tripping over nothing was high, as the outlines of buildings could only be seen at the best of moments. These streets were familiar to Mazen, but he feared getting lost more than he feared being seen with an illegal weapon. It was nearly a mile to Hajj Jubari's house.
The night nothingness seemed to go on forever, but Mazen stuck near Rami who met each turn with enough precision that Mazen thought he must have rehearsed this night beforehand. No lights were lit, and only whispers were made, and Mazen doubted that even a man watching the street would have seen them.
On they trudged through simple drab buildings in various stages of decay. They stopped when they heard shelling. They stopped for what felt like forever, but Rami seemed pleased when he realized both the shot and the explosion sounded far away despite being loud enough to wake the dead.
When they got to Jubari's neighborhood, Rami lead them up the outdoor stairs of a restaurant that lead to their rooftop dining places. This was deserted, and all were careful not to bump into anything with only partial success. The buildings were crowded enough in this area that the group simply walked from one roof to the next, approaching Jubari under the cover of stars. The pace continued to be slow, and they crossed between roofs deliberately one at a time in the dark. At one point they stepped across a roof of corrugated metal, and Mazen was sure that anyone inside would have heard that, but he was also sure anyone inside would be too afraid to be probing outside if they didn't need to.
They arrived on Jubari's small balcony, where he usually surveyed his little kingdom for anything out of place. The door to the home was closed, and Rami took out his backpack and retrieved a metal punch, pliers, and hammer. The hinges of the door were on the outside, and Rami carefully and as quietly as possible removed the pins from the hinges, and with Shafiq's help removed the door. Rami retrieved a flashlight from his backpack and held it in his offhand while still carrying his rifle.
The bedroom was just behind this door, but Mazen's heart sank as he saw the bed was empty. Rami was unconcerned, and it occurred to Mazen that Jubari likely hid from the shelling. They stepped through the house, but heard someone come up the stairs and say "Who's there?"
Mazen's first thought is that one of them should have been posted by the front door so Jubari couldn't run away. But Rami turned on his flashlight blinding the familiar face of Jubari as they all moved forward to grab him. Azim and Abbas had ahold of him by his arms and neck respectively, and Mazen and Shafiq had rifles pointed at his chest. Rami kept the light in Jubari's face and relaxed his rifle saying with an amused smile "Bet you didn't see this one coming."
Jubari's face turned to intense disgust and rage so it was a while before he spoke. "Do you have any idea who my wasta is?" This is the Arabic for connections but in this context, it meant connections to men with guns.
Rami replied, "Yeah, same to you."
They brought Jubari to the ground, and Rami took his backpack and injected Jubari with a tranquilizer and the tension went out of him. Rami took the pieces of two poles and a cloth and assembled them into a stretcher, and they all put Jubari on the stretcher. Rami then wrapped much of Jubari's face, limbs, and torso in white bandages. If anyone were to ask, they were taking a fallen comrade to a field hospital.
No one would ask as they quietly marched out of the city, Rami in the lead and Mazen guarding the rear with the other four easily carrying Jubari's lifeless sleeping body. This part of the journey seemed even longer, not only because it was but because they all feared detection. Their pace became faster when they left the city, and they moved at a brisk adrenalin-fueled walk. They marched for a couple hours until they came to al-Jisr, and sat down next to a boulder hiding them from the view of the dirt road.
A helicopter was heard, with the sound becoming louder quickly. It was right above them in a few seconds, with the loud rush of wind in their ears but Mazen realized still quiet for a helicopter. The craft set down a few dozen paces away, and they took the stretcher and approached as a silhouette of several men left the craft. When they got close, Mazen saw they were all in military uniforms and donned body armor, and oddly enough all but the pilot wore full beards. Rami and these men exchanged a few words in English as the blades turned and they bound Jubari's hands and feet with zip ties.
The helicopter went back the way it came, and all six men parted ways. Rami even let Shafiq and Mazen take their rifles home with them. Mazen had no idea what time it was when he got home, but his sister woke him up late in the morning wondering where the rifle haphazardly concealed under Mazen's mattress came from. Rami never liked Mazen talking about their work, but Mazen told Adara enough that she didn't worry about Jabari anymore or asked what the rifle was for.
No one seemed to notice Hajj Jubari's disappearance. Nothing was reported in any news source despite Jubari's presence generating such fire in the press and in crowds before. Mazen wondered what Jubari's family must be doing that they did not tear up the town looking for him. Mazen also wondered who his employer really was, and wondered if all the horror stories about "slaughterhouses" torturing prisoners until they gave up information were true.
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