This story is by Max Müller and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
His eyes adjusting to the bright flickering fluorescent light Ahmed awakes to find himself in a cold, damp room. There are no windows, only a thickset reinforced steel door to offset the smooth concrete walls. His wrists ache from the too-tight handcuffs which are chained to the bolted-down table in front of him. The only other object in the room is a chair, identical to the one he is sitting on, placed on the other side of the table. The room reminds him of a CIA black site he once visited, except he had been there as an intelligence officer to interrogate a suspect, rather than as a prisoner, as he now seemed to be.
Sitting up straight, Ahmed is jolted by searing pain emanating from the back of his head. He can feel blood running down his neck, but there is nothing he can do to stop the bleeding. He can barely move his hands. As if the pain has jump-started him, Ahmed suddenly begins to remember.
He had flown to St. Petersburg, Russia. His assignment: to assassinate the President of Russia in a covert operation. As a deep undercover agent there was no papertrail linking him to the CIA or the US. Every trace of his previous existence had been erased by the government. No database in the world, not even Interpol, contained any mention of him. He was a ghost.
Everything had gone smoothly. He had met his contact at a safe house in St. Petersburg, received his equipment and had set off for the Winter Palace. Arriving an hour early, Ahmed had settled into a good position in an empty apartment overlooking the square. He had an excellent view of the stage where the President was to give his speech. Ahmed was meticulous to make certain every part of the rifle was in perfect condition. The scope had been set in already, accurate to hit a penny at 500 yards. Usually Ahmed would have preferred to set in his scope himself, but time was of the essence.
The President had barely begun his speech when Ahmed framed his head in the cross hairs of his scope. He exhaled slowly and gently squeezed the trigger. The head in his scope should have exploded like an over-ripe watermelon. Yet as the screaming masses ran in all directions, Ahmed watched in despair as his target was whisked away by security, seemingly unharmed. With no time to reflect on what had gone wrong, Ahmed made to get up and run. It was the last thing he remembered before blacking out.
The faint shuffling of footsteps forces him back to the present. His gaze fixed on the door, Ahmed swallows nervously, waiting to lay eyes on his interrogators. The Russian intelligence service was notorious for its torture techniques.
A middle-aged blonde man enters the room, pushing a trolley with documents and a small television on it. The door ominously shuts behind him with a bang. Surprised, the hairs on the back of Ahmed’s neck rise. He knows this man. It had been his contact in St. Petersburg. Ahmed was in a CIA blacksite. But why was he chained to the chair and why did the man, who had now taken the chair opposite, have such a stern expression on his face.
‘Agent Qureshi’ the man addresses him calmly, ‘welcome to the US embassy in Tallinn.’
Why is he in Estonia, Ahmed wonders. But he has little time to ask any questions before the dour CIA agent continues.
‘At roughly 10am there was an assassination attempt made on the Russian President in St. Petersburg. The suspect fled the scene, but we were able to intercept him on the Estonian border. After a struggle, in which the suspect injured his head, we managed to subdue him. He was taken to the US consulate.’
Ahmed gulps as the realization of what has happened dawns on him. He looks up at the roof while the man continues in the same monotonous tone.
‘We identified the suspect as Ahmed Qureshi. A Syrian national with ties to Syrian Intelligence.’ The man passes Ahmed a file. ‘We immediately sent word to the Russian Government with the news.’
Ahmed can’t believe what he is looking at as he peers at the file detailing his purported Syrian nationality. ‘I am a US citizen. I have served this country for years. Why?’ he shouts angrily.
A flicker of sympathy washes across his interrogator’s face, before hardening again.
Without another word the man walks to the TV and switches it on.
A pretty brunette from a familiar cable news channel flashes onto the screen.
‘Breaking news alert!’ she says seriously as the camera zooms in on her. ‘Russia is withdrawing its troops from Syria following a botched assassination attempt on the President.’
Ahmed drops his head, dumbfounded. The realization that he is a pawn in a political conspiracy finally sinking in.
The man sitting in the interrogator’s chair taps the table, motioning for him to look at the television again.
The camera has now shifted away from the newsreader to show video footage of the failed assassination attempt.
The camera returns to the studio where the woman continues.
‘Sources inside the State Department have confirmed that the suspect was apprehended on the Estonian border last night in a joint operation by US and EU forces.’ The presenter pauses for dramatic effect and touches her earpiece.
‘We have just received an unconfirmed report that the suspect, who is believed to be of Syrian origin, took his own life after being taken into custody in the US embassy in Tallinn.’
Ahmed stares at the television, aghast at the news.
The man sitting opposite Ahmed stands and turns off the television. It turns pitch black.
‘You should have set in the scope,’ he states without looking at him and makes toward the entrance.
At the doorway the man halts, looks back and smiles grimly.
‘Your country thanks you for your service…’ and closes the door.