Excerpt of The Company by Robert Littell
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Glancing again at Maria, he saw how miserable she was and tried to raise her spirits. "Man is a victim of dope in the incurable form of hope," he recited. He smiled in embarrassment. "I had a lit teacher at Cornell who made us memorize Ogden Nashhe said it would come in handy when we were trying to impress girls."
She smiled weakly. "Are you trying to impress me, Anthony?"
She shrugged back. "If we ever get out of here"
"Not if. When. When we get out of here."
"When we get out of here we'll start from scratch. You'll quote Ogden Nash and I'll be suitably impressed, and we'll see where it goes."
As Ibrahim made his way across the compound toward the two prisoners the next morning, a beardless young man wearing a dirty white skullcap fell in behind him. He had a dagger wedged into the waistband of his trousers and an AK-47 with spare clips taped to the stock slung from a shoulder. A yellow canary, one of its legs attached to a short leash, perched on his forearm.
Anthony had noticed the lean young man hovering near Ibrahim on the long trek across the mountains and had nicknamed him the Shadow. "Why do you need a bodyguard in your own village?" he asked him now.
"He is not here to guard my body," Ibrahim replied, "He is here to make sure that it does not fall alive into the hands of my enemies." He gestured with a toss of his head. "Come with me."
Maria and Anthony exchanged anxious looks. He tried to smile, then turned to follow Ibrahim and his Shadow toward the low building at the far end of the compound. Pushing through a narrow door, he found himself in a whitewashed room furnished with a long and narrow wooden table and two chairs. A 1979 Disneyland calendar was tacked to one wall. Three of Ibrahim's young fighters, scarves pulled across their faces so that only their eyes were visible, leaned impassively against the walls. Ibrahim's Shadow closed the door and stood with his back to it next to a pail filled with snow that had been brought down from the mountains earlier that morning. Ibrahim settled onto one of the chairs and motioned for Anthony to take the other one. "Do you have any distinguishing marks on your body?" he asked his prisoner.
"That's a hell of a question."
"Answer it. Do you have any tattoos or scars from accidents or operations or birth marks?"
Anthony assumed Ibrahim wanted to be able to prove to the world that the diplomat named McAuliffe was really in his custody. "No tattoos. No scars. I have a birthmarka dark welt in the form of a small cross on the little toe of my right foot."
Anthony stripped off his sock and Clark boot and held up his foot.
Ibrahim leaned over the table to look at it. "That will serve nicely. We are going to amputate the toe and have it delivered to your American Central Intelligence Agency in Kabul."
The blood drained from Anthony's lips. "You're making a bad mistake," he breathed. "I'm not CIA. I'm a diplomat"
Ibrahim's Shadow drew the razor-edged dagger from his waistband and approached the table. Two of the warriors came up behind the prisoner and pinned his arms against their stomachs.
Anthony started to panic. "What happened to that famous Pashtun moral code you told us about?" he cried.
Ibrahim said, "It is because of the moral code that we brought snow down from the heights. We do not have anesthetics so we will numb your toe with snow. That's how we amputate the limbs of wounded fighters. You will feel little pain."
"For God's sake, don't do this"
"For God's sake, we must," Ibrahim said.
The last of the warriors brought over the pail and jammed Anthony's bare foot into the snow. Ibrahim came around the table. "Believe me, when the thing is accomplished you will feel proud of it. I counsel you not to struggle against the inevitableit will only make the amputation more difficult for us and for you."
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.