The Bazaar: Chapter 16

Results

Faisal felt seasick.‭ ‬His guts lurched from side to side.‭

His chipset’s motion cutoff routine hurled him from the app back into his jungle shack,‎ ‏where Don Carlos had been shaking him by the shoulders for god only knew how long.

“‏Turn that fucking thing off and talk to me,‭ ‬huh‭?”

Faisal dialed down the tags so Don Carlos would no longer see tiny lights winking on and off in his eyes.‎ ‏It drove the man straight out of his mind to see a hacker zoned out mid-conversation.

“‏I could have killed you,‭ ‬you know,‭ ‬spacing in front of a client like that.‭”

“I’m not paid to charm clients,‎” ‏Faisal said.

“‏Don’t be‭ ‬a smart ass.‭”

They were alone.‎ ‏The narcos had gone and Don Carlos‭’ ‬men with them.‭ ‬Suddenly,‭ ‬without the dozen stinking guerrillas taking up space Faisal’s shack seemed spacious as a banquet hall. The gas generator hummed steadily in the background.‭ ‬From time to time it hiccuped.‭ ‬Whenever it did the bare light bulbs suspended from the ceiling flickered.‭

“Where’d they go‎?” ‏Faisal asked.

“‏Outside.‭”

“They’re shit scared of the drones.‎”

“You take care of the drones,‎ ‏remember‭?”

“Yeah,‎ ‏I guess.‭” ‬In fact Faisal spent about two hours a day literally keeping the camp off the drones‭’ ‬radar.‭ ‬An easy fix.‭ ‬He just tweaked the AI pilots a bit to distract them.‭ ‬Kind of like dropping a titty mag in front of a security guard,‭ ‬except here it was machines he got feeling all horny and nasty.‭ ‬Faisal turned them on to something other than guerrillas‭ (‬frequently jungle rodents‭)‬,‭ ‬which kept them occupied away from the actual camps.‭ ‬The only way a human ops supervisor would figure it out was if he dug down into the actual code.‭ ‬That’d never happen‭ – ‬military men couldn’t code for shit.‭ ‬In Faisal’s experience even terrorists made lousy programmers.‭

“But they’re‎ ‏still‭ ‬shit scared of them,‭” ‬Faisal added.

‏Everyone who’d ever gone up against Americans knew drones worked best at night.‭ ‬They ran quiet.‭ ‬They were decked out with sound snooping and night vision gear.‭ ‬Drones scared the narcos and rebels shitless partly because their own night fighting gear consisted mostly of antique,‭ ‬battery-operated night-vision goggles out of North Korea.‭ ‬Those were hardly going to pick out a drone cruising at ten thousand feet.‭ ‬With gear like that you wouldn’t get a hint of trouble till you had a missile lodged halfway up your ass.

‏Don Carlos lit one of his Turkish cigarettes.‭ “‬They’re tired of waiting.‭ ‬I told them we wouldn’t bother them again until we had results.‭ ‬So now what I want from you is to know when we will have some results.‭” ‬Smoke drifted from the corners of his mouth.‭ ‬It formed a dense,‭ ‬low-hanging cloud in the humid air of the shack.

Shit’s fucking‭ ‬demonic,‭ ‬Faisal thought.‭ ‬Out loud he said,‭ “‬if they’re off the grid they’re off the grid.‭ ‬When they pop up I’ll fix them.‭ ‬It’s not my fault this place has got a dead zone.‭”

“It will have to be big.‎”

Don Carlos should have gone into entertainment.‭ ‬Entertainment management.‭ ‬He could have been a circus ringleader.‭ ‬With Don Carlos bigger was always better,‭ ‬especially if it ended up on the AP feed.

‏In Grozny Faisal turned the contractors‭’ ‬drones back around for some blue-on-blue action.‭ ‬In the DRC he’d really unleashed his creativity.‭ ‬A handful of custom-built AIs convinced a whole unit the place was haunted,‭ ‬to the point where HQ committed them to a special‭ ‬military hospital en masse.‭ ‬Far as Faisal knew they were still rotting in straitjackets.

‏Yeah, he’d come a long way from Palestine.

‏Another thing about Don Carlos was that he never slouched.‭ ‬He stood ramrod straight with his shoulders back and head up.‭ ‬Never perched on the edge of a table.‭ ‬Never leaned into anything for support.‭ ‬Faisal’s father would have liked that about him. ‬Good posture.‭ ‬Firm handshake.‭

“You know this job isn’t about the money,‎” ‏Don Carlos said.‭ ‬His tone made it seem like he was thinking out loud.‭ ‬Faisal rarely heard him speak like this and it confused him.‭ “‬This is home.‭ ‬The prodigal son returns.‭”

Faisal knew very little about Don Carlos‎’ ‏past,‭ ‬other than that he’d come from here.‭ ‬Not‭ ‬here,‭ ‬exactly,‭ ‬but somewhere in the Free Trade Zone.

‏It wasn’t like Don Carlos ever sat down with Faisal and explained his life story.‭ ‬He wasn’t that kind of boss.‭ ‬Nor was this your typical start up IT gig where the boss was basically obligated to lay out the back story in the interview.‭ ‬Where the idea came from,‭ ‬how it was destined to change the world,‭ ‬a rough time line till IPO,‭ ‬equity options,‭ ‬etc.‭

What Faisal did know about Don Carlos he’d culled from rumor and speculation,‎ ‏most of it digital.‭ ‬There were a range of different stories.‭ ‬The most common went something like this:‭ ‬once upon a time Don Carlos was a middling military police officer.‭ ‬After years and years of confiscating piles of cash he got to thinking the drug biz might be a more lucrative career path.‭ ‬So one night he ripped off the evidence room and went into the drug business for himself,‭ ‬becoming so wildly successful that instead of killing him the‭ ‬Ninos bought him out.‭ ‬Another story alleged that Don Carlos once had a wife and kid.‭ ‬The military police accidentally killed them during a raid.‭ ‬In that version he joined up with the narcos for revenge and took special delight in bombing police barracks.‭ ‬And again a buyout made him big.

‏Faisal didn’t care which story was true,‭ ‬or if any of them were true.

‏What he took from the rumors was Don Carlos was ambitious.‭ ‬Also exceedingly competent.‭ ‬As time passed his ambition grew, from local to national to global.‭ ‬Don Carlos aspired to more than pushing dope.‭ ‬He wanted a piece of the global insurgency industry,‭ ‬to be War Incorporated.‭ ‬Not a brown man pushing dope but a brown man helping other brown men fight white devils on their own terms.‭

All for a modest fee,‎ ‏of course.
‎ ‏
Yet suddenly Don Carlos couldn’t care less about the money.‭ ‬It was starting to look to Faisal like he’d spent all these weeks in a hot,‭ ‬humid jungle hammering away on a shit connection just to feed his boss’s ego.‭ ‬He didn’t pretend to understand people’s psychological needs.‭ ‬He wasn’t good at it and he didn’t care much about people’s ‬feelings.‭ He was a hacker,‭ ‬not a therapist.‭

‏Faisal’s stomach turned over.‭ ‬His throat dried up.‭ ‬He realized he felt disturbed.‭

He straightened up in his chair.‎ ‏The hair on the back of his neck stood on end,‭ ‬as if someone had come right up behind him and begun breathing down his neck.‭ At first he took this to be another symptom of his general level of disturbedness.‭ ‬But as the feeling intensified he remembered the physio alarm he’d set earlier,‭ ‬for when the professor and lady merc popped up on the grid.

“‏What‭?”

Faisal slapped at the back of his neck.‎ ‏The alarm cut out.

“‏What the hell is wrong with you‭?” ‬Don Carlos asked.

“‏Mercs are back on the grid.‭”

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