Chapter 2, Ari Levin, March 12th, Year 0

I had been waiting for Bahsir Baglani for three weeks. The US government was willing to pay a cool million for his head, dead or alive. Dead was easier. Getting paid was simple. I didn’t have to bring his body in. All I had to do was be the first to report the time and location of death. Once intel came back confirming that he was dead, a million US would deposited in my Swiss bank account.

There were guys out there with bigger bounties. The leader of the Afghani Taliban, Mullah Mohamed Omar is worth 25 million. It’s my policy to avoid going for guys worth more than a million. The men with bigger bounties had too much protection. Killing a target is easy, getting away with is hard. When there is enough protection it’s almost impossible an assassin to get out alive. It’s a risk/reward thing. I kill to make a living; dying is no way to make a living.

I was in a small Afghan village in the middle of nowhere. I was undercover as a Tajik Taliban fighter. I’m fluent in the two most common languages in Afghanistan, Pasto and Dari and can make myself understood in a couple others. I speak Dari like a native which is why I was playing a Tajik. The village I was living in was small. When I arrived I announced I was Taliban, and then took over one of the eighteen homes in the village. There’s no rule of law in most of Afghanistan. To make the home mine and to be safe in it, I had to eliminate the original owners. I wasn’t happy about having to do this, but I had a role to play; the Taliban takes what it wants. All Afghanis have lived through decades of war and are used to having to fight to keep what they have, it would have been too dangerous and out of character to leave the original owners alive.

It’s fairly easy to convince Afghanis that you are Taliban. Act like a religious fanatic, have a gun, and use it. The best way to mimic a religious fanatic is to ask yourself, “WWAAD; what would an asshole do?”

Joining the Taliban wasn’t like joining the US military; it is an informal system. The majority of the middle management Taliban are guys like me. They show up with a gun, claim they are Taliban, and take over a village. The one’s who don’t die in the process, rise up in the ranks.

I was a scary enough that people started sucking up to me. Some of the locals actually “joined” my Taliban group and started lording over the rest of their neighbors; human nature, got to love it.

I’ve been hunting men for years. Men with bounties on their heads have to keep constantly on the move. The easiest way to find a man on the move is to wait for him. Bahsir Baglani had been the Governor of Baghlan Province before the US had invaded. He was still at large and the US government was willing to pay a million to have him killed.

Word on the street was that he was in this area and I figured sooner or later that he would pass by this village. On March 12, he arrived. He was accompanied by 14 bodyguards. As expected since I was claiming that I was Taliban, I made a big deal when he visited. I had a feast set out for Bahsir and his men. After dinner, I passed out traditional Afghan desserts and cigarettes. I made sure that none of Bahsir’s men were Aimak and then I told an Aimak ethnic joke.

“A fourteen year old Aimak boy is sent off by his family in Kabul to the countryside to stay with his relatives for the summer. Once there, he’s sent off with his cousins to herd sheep. He learns to his disgust that his cousins are having sex with the animals. Even though his relatives say that there is nothing wrong with this perverted practice, the boy refuses to do it.

Finally after months with his cousins and the sheep, out of boredom and curiosity, the boy runs out grabs a sheep, pulls it behind a bush, and does the unnatural. When he goes back to join his cousins, all of them are laughing at him. He says, ‘Why are you laughing at me? So what if I had sex with a sheep. All of you do it.’

His cousins respond, ‘Yeah, we have sex with sheep, but we don’t fuck ugly ones.’”

Right at the punch line, my forearm was in line with Bahsir’s throat. He had just started to laugh when I fired a dart I had under my sleeve. The dart was filled with tetrodotoxin, a poison I extracted from the liver and ovaries of a puffer fish. I get my puffer fish from an online fish store.

When I was a kid, my greatest ambition was to be a stage magician. I spent years practicing sleight of hand tricks. Those years of practice were surprisingly useful in my current career as an assassin. No one saw the dart fly out of my sleeve and everybody was too busy laughing to notice.

It had taken me months to design and build my spring powered dart gun. Designing a dart gun is easy. The hard part was figuring out a way to attach a dead horse fly to the dart. My gun was only accurate to four feet because the fly messed up the aerodynamics of the projectile. The dart worked exactly like it was supposed to. It entered the right side of Bahsir’s neck going deep into the muscle next to his throat. The impact of the dart felt like a painful insect bite. He slapped at his neck and crushed the dead horsefly that was stuck to the dart entry site. I tried over 20 different contact adhesives before I found one that reliably glued the fly to the entry site. There was a dab of blood along with pieces of dead fly on his hand when he wiped his neck. No one, including Bahsir, made much of his insect bite.

The tetrodotoxin was surrounded by wax that would dissolve completely in 8 hours. Bahsir was dead, he just didn’t know it. A small percentage of a gram of tetrodotoxin to is deadly. It completely eliminates a man’s ability to move any muscle including the ones that he uses to breathe. I had timed it so Bahsir would be asleep when the poison took effect. He would wake in the middle of the night short of breath. The tetrodotoxin would prevent him from moving a single muscle. He wouldn’t even be able to open his eyes. In a few minutes, he would die by suffocation.

Men who have million dollar bounties on their heads have to be paranoid. Bahsir was going to be a guest in my house for the night and maybe for the next few days to weeks. Guys who have the US government after them don’t announce their traveling plans. There was also no question that while he was here that I would sleep in that same house. The US military and the CIA had a habit of using drones to take out terrorists in the middle of the night. It was standard procedure for men like Bahsir to keep any potential informant like me in the same house during the night. The thought was that traitors would be less likely to call a drone strike on a house while they were in it.

In the middle of night, right around the time the tetrodotoxin was kicking in, I set off the mines I had placed in each room of my house. I had lined one wall every room of my house with explosives mixed with lead shot, small pieces of metal, and stone. The explosives were placed in a horizontal line three feet off the ground. My house was a typical Afghani villager’s home. It was made out of mud brick; the explosives and shrapnel weren’t strong enough to destroy or penetrate the walls of my home.

I was pretending to be asleep on the floor right below the explosives. It was in the only place in the room that was not sprayed with shrapnel. Two of Bahsir’s bodyguards were in the room with me. One was dead. His entire face was missing; the poor bastard must have been sitting up facing the mines when they went off. The other was crouched forward moaning. His body was covered with blood. I took a small hatchet, the kind you find in farms and villages all over the world. I struck the back of the wounded man’s upper neck. The hatchet sunk an-inch-and-a-half into his spine. An injury that severs the upper spinal cord is instantly fatal. I pulled out the hatchet and dropped it on the floor. Blood seeped from the hatchet wound. I put my hands into the wound and rubbed blood on my face. I took off the wounded man’s jacket and put it on. I left the room moaning like I was injured. Everyone else in the house was either wounded or stunned or both. Only a couple people were dead. The explosives had been designed to preferentially wound rather than kill.

I went into the hall and into the room where Bahsir had been sleeping. Three of his men were in the room trying to get him up. He had a couple shrapnel wounds. I could tell that the tetrodotoxin was starting to take effect. He was weak. He couldn’t stand on his own. The roof was on fire and there was smoke everywhere. No one was paying attention to me. I palmed my cell phone in my hand and took picture of Bahsir. I helped Bahsir’s men pull his body out of the house. As we walked out, I set off a second set of explosions that collapsed my entire home. I yelled “Take cover, we’re being attacked by Predators!”

By the time we laid Baglani on the ground he wasn’t breathing. I raised my arms into the air and cursed the Americans who had killed a great man, a man who I had loved like a father. I swore vengeance.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve faked an aerial drone attack. I’ve been wondering for the past few years what percentage of the successful air based drone attacks in Afghanistan were actually planted explosives. Bahsir’s surviving men were wounded and were in shock. I sent a couple villagers off to get for help for the wounded. A larger village 20 miles away had a doctor. I knew that in the process of getting help villagers would spread the word that Bahsir was dead.

I yelled that I was going to tell my Taliban superiors what had happened. I got on my old Soviet military motorcycle and took off. About an hour away, I got my cell phone out and sent the picture I had taken of Bahsir Baglani along with text message that included the time of death, and special recognition code. Once Bahsir’s death was confirmed, the bounty would be deposited in my Swiss bank account.

Chapter 3