Excerpt of The Company by Robert Littell
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On the evening of the tenth day of the journey, Ibrahim led his band and the two prisoners to the edge of a riverbed that cut through a valley. A rusted Soviet tank lay on its side, half submerged in the water. In twos and threes, the mujaheddin crossed the gushing torrent in a bamboo cage suspended from a thick wire and tugged across by hand. Maria clutched Anthony's arm as the two of them were pulled over the raging river. Once on the other side, Ibrahim set out in the pale light cast by a quarter moon, clawing up steep tracks filled with the droppings of mountain goats. After hours of relentless climbing they reached a narrow gorge at the entrance to a long canyon. Steep cliffs on either side had been dynamited so that the only way into and out of the canyon was on foot. Inside the gorge, the trail widened and the terrain flattened out. Hamlets of one-story stone houses lay half-hidden in the tangle of vines that grew over the slate roofs. Vintage anti-aircraft cannon covered with camouflage netting could be seen in the ruins of a mosque and the courtyard of a stable. In the pre-dawn murkiness men holding gas lamps emerged from doorways to wave scarfs at Ibrahim. The Pashtun headman of one hamlet buttoned a Soviet military tunic over his Afghan shirt, buckled on an artificial leg and hobbled over to shake hands with the mujaheddin as they passed in single file. "Your courage is a pearl," he intoned to each. Further up the trail, the group reached a mud-walled compound with a minaret rising from a mosque in the middle and a line of mud-brick houses planted with their backs against a sheer cliff. Smoke spiraled up from chimneys, almost as if Ibrahim and his warriors were expected. A young woman appeared at the doorway of one of the houses. When Ibrahim called to her, she lowered her eyes and bowed to him from the waist. Two small children peeked from behind her skirt.
"We are arrived at Yathrib," Ibrahim informed his prisoners.
Lighting a gas lamp, Ibrahim led Anthony and Maria up to an attic prison. "This will be your home until the Americans agree to deliver missiles in exchange for your freedom. Food, tea, drinking and washing water will be brought to you daily. The ceramic bowl behind the curtain in the corner is to be used as a toilet. You will lack for nothing."
"Except freedom," Maria said scornfully.
Ibrahim ignored the comment. "For one hour in the morning and another in the afternoon you will be permitted to walk in the compound. Guards will accompany you at a distance. If you hear the wail of a hand-cranked siren, it means Russian planes or helicopters have been spotted so you must take shelter. I wish you a good night's sleep." He looked hard at Anthony. "Tomorrow, God willing, we will begin your interrogation," he said softly. "Prepare yourself." With that Ibrahim backed down the ladder, lowering the trapdoor behind him.
Anthony looked across the room at his companion. Her collarless shirt was soaked with sweat and plastered against her torso just enough for him to make out several very spare ribs. Maria removed her boots and stretched her feet straight out and, unbuttoning the top two buttons of her shirt, absently began to massage the swell of a breast. Shivering in her damp clothes, she shed for the first time the tough exterior that she had gone to great pains to projectthe ballsy female journalist who could hold her own in a male-dominated profession. Out of the blue she said, "We're fooling ourselves if we think we're going to get out of this alive."
Anthony watched the flame dancing at the end of the wick in the gas lamp. The truth was that the mention of an interrogation had shaken him. He remembered Ibrahim's account of being tortured by the Iranian intelligence service. In their place I would have done the same. I have been in their place, here in Afghanistan, and I have done the same. Anthony wondered how much pain he could stand before he cracked; before he admitted to being a CIA officer and told them what he knew about the Company's operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Excerpted From The Company: A Novel of the CIA, starting at page 716 (hardback) by Robert Littell by permission of The Overlook Press, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © April 2002, Robert Littell. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.