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Chapter One

June 6th 2010 20.00hrs Arbil Northern Iraq

It was a work of art he supposed; certainly the proprietor appeared to think so. He was treating the thick black coffee like the ambrosia of whatever God he followed. Porter really didn't care. At that moment he'd have settled for a cup of Spar's own coffee; that was how badly he needed the shot of caffeine to keep him awake. The man returned the coffee to the heat for the third and final time watching it carefully. 

Just at the moment it came to the boil he transferred it to a small white cup. He placed it in front of Porter, with a glass of water to accompany it, and smiled

"You will like, no better coffee in Arbil."

"Thank you" He pushed a note across the counter to pay for the drink.

Money had been a problem over the previous weeks. He'd had to steal to eat. It was a dangerous thing to do in any society but especially in the Middle East where, if caught, the punishment was to lose a hand.

"Not many westerners get this far north. What brings you here?"

"I heard about the great coffee."

The man laughed whatever answer he'd been expecting that hadn't been it.

"You are a wise man. Enjoy and drink coffee while it is hot."

Porter nodded his thanks and took a sip. Christ, he thought no wonder they served it in such small cups. He'd never drunk such hot or strong coffee, and he'd had his share of the thick dark variety served all over the Middle East; more than a thimbleful would put a hole in the stomach. Still this level of caffeine would keep him awake; shit he'd be high for a week.

He looked around the café, with a little bit of luck in another couple of hours he'd be out of Iraq, and entering another country illegally. The only passport he'd had was back at his hotel in Afghanistan. It wasn't his name on it anyway; his name on this last op had been Tom Wallace. He sighed; that op had gone spectacularly tits up. Damn he was tired; it had taken him a month to get this far. After Collinson's death, aware that the Americans considered him armed and dangerous he'd been making his way across the Middle East through Afghanistan, Iran, and then into Iraq.

It was no coincidence that he'd chosen to make for Arbil he never left anything to chance. In a country as unsettled as Iraq this city was relatively calm. Since Saddam Hussein had been overthrown there had only been sporadic outbreaks of violence. He didn't want to be near any trouble or large numbers of coalition forces if it could be helped. The city was also close to the Turkish border, the border he hoped to cross tonight. He'd made a few contacts in the couple of days he'd been in the area and had managed to secure a lift into Turkey. His contact had said the man would come into the cafe at nine.

He took another sip of the coffee which was a little cooler now. He was attracting a fair amount of attention; other customers were giving him curious glances, but none approached. That was hardly surprising he was a big bloke not just tall but broad as well. He knew he exuded an air of danger which his unkempt appearance added to. He ran his hand across the thick dark beard. The opportunities for shaves had been few and far between in the past few weeks.

The proprietor had been right in his observation that westerners didn't normally get so far north. The man he was meeting would have no trouble spotting him. The door of the café opened and a group of young men, more locals, entered but apart from a cursory glance they paid him no particular attention. His lift wasn't with this group of boys. He was taking another sip of coffee when he saw him out of the corner of his eye. Not his lift, but a face from his past; a scarred face. As'ad, Porter would know him anywhere. He wasn't likely to forget him they shared too much history. He also couldn't ignore him, the young Iraqi boy was his only chance of absolution.

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