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Expending bullets for the nation was nothing new to Ahmed Osaro; he had been doing it for the past nine years. It was a crucial part of his job as an officer of the elite, ultra-secret and ultra-powerful DX department, a branch of Giberia's security apparatus which was only known to a few. Nominally, the DX was a branch of the National Security Service, but you could count on your fingers the number of the NSS hierarchy who knew what the DX really was or what it did. Actually, the DX was that compact department which existed in every country's secret service: the infamous but necessary 'wet specialists' who engaged in 'active measures.'
And thirty-four year old Ahmed was one of DX's super-agents. He ranked DXA-3 in the department's elite squad, the crème de la crème. He was one of the best security agents to darken the portals of the anonymous-looking headquarters. Armed with a first-class degree from the Military Academy he had been transferred from Infantry to Intelligence by the previous military government after proving his skills as a marksman in a high-powered inter-services shooting competition which had pitted crack shots from the military, the police and the security services against each other. Ahmed shocked everyone with his uncanny success with virtually all manner of firearms. Coupled with the quality of some of the papers he had written for his Strategic Studies course, he had won the admiration of the brass. Fortunately for the young army officer this was during the era of the stopgap general who had taken over following the death of the military dictator at his breakfast table. He found his way into the DX after passing their rigorous training with flying colours, and the succeeding civilian government retained him.
Since then he had done his duty for his country. Often, the call of duty had been a dangerous one. Bloody, tasking and mind-churning. Ahmed would never forget the first time a man fell under his gun. But all the inhibitions, all the conscience wracking, all the questioning, all the doubts, had been resolved by the ideal: the salvation of the nation from either enemies within, enemies without or a combination of both. So expending a bullet for the nation had not been an undue cause for concern.
He could still visualize the cold, calm, cat-like eyes as their owner issued his orders. The orders were duly signed and affixed with the presidential seal. Only the numero uno could affix his personal seal on such an order. Taking out enemies of the state was a primary duty of the DX and orders to that effect did not often require the physical presentation of the president's fiat. Summons by the Director-General of the NSS, Dangoti Dosu, to the agent unfortunate enough to be assigned the mission was usually enough - Dosu also doubled as the head of the DX department. But whenever the summons was accompanied by the paper then matters had taken a super-sensitive turn. A death sentence, which called for the presidential decree's physical presence, was no ordinary killing assignment. The agent who was picked for such a job ought to feel highly honoured, if killing your fellow man was a cause for elation.
But such feelings were far from Ahmed's mind as he contemplated the eyes of Bakari Kazama and looked at the death sentence. In his wildest imagination he had never thought a day would come when it would be his lot to pull the trigger on retired General Dangoti Dosu, the doyen of military and civilian espionage in Giberia, nay the whole of sub-Saharan Africa; the man during whose tenure he had been recruited and for whom he had put his life on the line carrying out several hazardous 'black' operations. Dosu was highly regarded, even by his enemies during the brutal military dictatorship. Not a few bated breaths wondered how he had successfully evaded their painstakingly planned plots to rope him into coups or worse because he refused to put his talents at their disposal. The stopgap general, who had been a brigadier when Dosu left the army as a five-star general, begged him to give credibility to the country's security service by heading the NSS. Dosu accepted the job, and within seven months, NSS was moved out of the dark days of the dictator's reign of terror. Of course, he could not clean up the rot overnight, but the process had commenced with the stealthy vigour characteristic of the general.
The civilian government kept Dosu on. He was the kind of formidable citadel they needed to protect the country's nascent democracy and he spoke the language of almost all the powerbrokers in the country. His retention was one decision the president had never regretted.
But now the president had signed his death warrant.
Ahmed sighed and looked at the packet of St. Moritz on his table. Only two sticks were left.
Unlike most of his colleagues he had had no need to 'psych' himself up with anything before an operation. His cool nerves had earned him the nickname of 'Wired Man' in the DX. But this was not just an ordinary hit. For God's sake he had to bring down the final curtain on Dosu. Dosu had committed the unpardonable crime; he had sold out his country. He was a traitor.
Dosu's treachery had been uncovered barely five months after he voluntarily retired following a heart bypass surgery. Unconfirmed rumours had it that the president had assured him that anyone he deemed fit to head the NSS would succeed him. But Dosu refused to accept the honour of handpicking the new Director-General. Kazama succeeded him, the culmination of a ruthless power struggle between 'the old hands' (senior spies who espoused Dosu's ideals) and 'the super stars' (those wanted to move the NSS in a new direction).
The investigations had been top secret and when the facts were collated, it was as clear as night following day that the retired spy chief, now living on his king-sized farms, had made himself quite a few billions by selling state secrets. Only the gods knew how he had kept his tracks so well covered but then he was a first-class spy. When the matter was tabled before those who had to take the ultimate decision quite a few eyebrows were lifted. Dosu's antecedents did not meet the profile of a man who would sell his country for money. True, he never raped the national treasury like many of his military peers who had access, and he had literally put his life on the line for the country. But then Robert Hanssen of the FBI never fitted the bill of an internal mole in the US security and intelligence agencies, either. Dosu's treachery was unnerving. What made it so scary was that though the chief was out, he still had deadly information and sources stored up in a variety of places, and was still in a position to continue his nefarious deeds.
Few traitor-busting operations are totally covert in the shadowy espionage world. But this one was one of them, so Ahmed's legs had nearly buckled from beneath him when Kazama showed him the warrant.
The president took that decision after sounding out the DG, the Minister for Defence, the AG and the Chief of the National Security Force. Ahmed had only seen the warrant once in his career.
Now he lit another cigarette and glanced at his watch. He would be moving out in thirty minutes at the head of the execution squad. The plan was to make it look like a robbery. Dosu would not be easy meat; the man knew all the tricks in the books, and despite all the heavy surveillance mounted on him, he would be more than equal to any showdown.
Ahmed sighed. He had his doubts about the mission. Dosu a traitor? Satan might as well decide to honour the Ten Commandments. He could not bring himself to accept that. Not that the most unlikely things had never happened before, but it was all wrong. What bothered him most was that Kazama was at the head of this traitor-busting mission. How could his own hands be clean when he had occupied the super-sensitive position of Deputy Director (Intelligence and Investigations) during Dosu's tenure? Was he paying Dosu back for not anointing him as his successor? It was an open secret that Dosu had not liked Kazama's approach to espionage – he was rather too steeped in the mentality of Africa and Third World security chiefs in the continent's pre-democracy era – and the two men had worked with each other in the army. But then was this enough to label Dosu a Judas?
Who were the others in the plot? Ahmed slapped himself mentally at the thought. If there were others he would never know. He had no need to know. All he had to know was that the president had warranted the termination of Dosu for betraying his country, and Ahmed and his team had to punish him for the crime.
The agent glanced again at his watch. Time to get cracking. But his soul surged with unease. Dosu a traitor? James Agee was right when he said that each man was responsible for his own soul, and as the Psalmist had written, no man may make agreement unto God for his brother. Yet as he checked his automatic pistol for the last time his mind was in a whirl.
If this were a cleansing of Dosu, would his lieutenants still in the system be spared? Ahmed was one of his recruits. But then why put him in charge of the execution of his own mentor? What was Kazama's game plan?
His pager beeped. Time to meet Obi and Yala.
It was one hell of an operation. The DX killers had studied every detail about Dosu's daily regime and familiarized themselves with his guard system and routes. So they mounted what was to all intents a car-snatching operation at what appeared to be the most effective time: on a Sunday morning as Dosu, his wife, two grandchildren and chauffeur returned from Mass. Just in case the car was armour-plated Obi had an M-16 to which a grenade launcher was affixed. This was in addition to other lethal hardware he and his colleagues had. Yala drove their getaway car.
With a wild screech of tyres, the 504 shot out and blocked the BMW old model right in the middle of the road. Ahmed and Obi jumped out, heavy automatics in their hands. Both men were donned in black, from head to toe. Only the slits in their masks revealed their eyes and noses.
"Keep calm!" screamed Dosu at his family even as the chauffeur braked sharply to avoid a nasty crash.
In a flash the doors were brutally yanked open. Strong hands dragged out the old general and his family. "Down on the ground! Face to the earth!" growled Ahmed, his voice muffled by the mask. Obi had already jumped into the BMW.
The chauffeur and Dosu's family nearly burrowed themselves into the laterite road. As he stretched out Dosu called out in a trembling voice, "Osaro! DX!"
Ahmed froze. How had the old bastard known him?
Everything he had learnt and done in his career told him to spray the man and his family on full automatic now. But he stopped.
"Tell me the truth, General. Did you betray the country for a billion dollars?"
Dosu's face looked like he had a heart attack. "God! Did Kazama...?"
His words were cut short by a deadly volley. Obi's Swiss automatic blasted from the door of the BMW. Ahmed was already moving before the first shot but two bullets slammed into his back, shattering the upper part of his backbone. He rolled near the left front tyre, dropping his weapon.
Dosu was already diving with the speed of a first-class athlete. Obi's second bullet slammed into his left arm as he grabbed Ahmed's gun. He opened desperate but point blank fire. The shots were just lucky; Obi collapsed across the front seats.
Yala was already firing. Dosu screamed as he dived under the BMW. But his wife and kids were not professionals. Yala blasted their heads open. The chauffeur, an ex-soldier, went for Obi's weapon as the gunman and his boss exchanged fire. The driver was brave; he persisted even though Yala's slugs slammed into his back and buttocks. Just as his fingers closed around the butt of Obi's gun a bullet from Yala's gun slammed into the back of his head.
At that moment the last bullet in Dosu's gun slammed into Yala's forehead.
Dosu crawled towards Ahmed. The young spy was bathed in his own gore but he was still alive. His voice was surprisingly clear. Tears stood in Dosu's eyes as they stared at each other.
"Te-- did you do it, General?"
"I didn't, Ahmed. Believe me."
Ahmed sighed. "Guess Kazama told them to silence me as soon as we killed you. Standard procedure."
Dosu nodded. "But you still came. You and your idealism."
Ahmed smiled weakly. "What does Kazama have against you?" The jarring sound of fast approaching police vehicles was faint in the agent's ears.
"I stopped him from becoming the Army Intelligence Corps chief. Too brutal. I wrote a report against his misdeeds as his superior. The NSS story, you know."
Ahmed sighed. He looked directly into the General's eyes. "Sorry, sir."
"Sorry, too, lad." But Ahmed did not hear the words. He would never hear any word from the mortal realms again. Dosu gently closed his eyes and straightened up as the police cars sped into sight.
Kazama slipped out of the country three hours later. He had learnt about the fiasco through unimpeachable sources. But he could only run, not hide. Barely forty-eight hours later an armed, faceless team of men surrounded his hideout in Spain. He was no fool. Once they took him back home he was a goner. The president would not be exactly overjoyed to find out how he produced a fake death warrant bearing the numero uno's signature.
So he did the wise thing. As the Spanish and Giberian agents rushed in they heard a single shot.
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