er below Believers’ Palace: A Short Story
By Paul Salvette
Copyright 2011 Paul Salvette
The Bunker below Believers’ Palace
Lieutenant Nixon sat at his desk, browsing FunnyorDie.com to see if the new GI Joe parody videos were up. The early warning sirens blared, “Incoming, incoming.” A rocket impacted somewhere close by and shook the room, but the lieutenant sighed in frustration at the horrendous lag time of his internet connection. What the hell are these IT contractors getting paid for?
“All clear, all clear,” the familiar voice said over the loudspeakers. Lieutenant Nixon continued staring at his computer screen, waiting for the next search page to load.
Colonel Stotz stood up at his desk and put his hands on his hips. He remarked to no one in particular, “Damn it. Sadr’s boys are getting better with their aim. I’ve never seen the IZ take so much indirect fire.”
He mumbled something to the Air Force major, whom Nixon regarded as a lummox. The colonel then headed toward Nixon’s desk as the lieutenant quickly clicked open his Outlook window to show a list of unread e-mails.
“Nixon, I need those numbers on Anti-Iraqi Forces KIA in Baghdad. Report status.”
“Almost done, sir. I just need to put the data into tables in Excel. Um, aren’t we calling them ‘Al-Qaeda in Iraq’ or ‘AQI’ now?”
“Whatever the hell we’re calling the bastards, just label them correctly. Also, make sure you put the data into Powerpoint for me. I need slides to show General Pichek tomorrow afternoon, and he’s a real stickler for detail.”
Despite being a career-staff weenie in the Army with a graduate degree, Colonel Stotz had not yet figured out how to import from Excel into Powerpoint.
“Of course, sir. I’ll have it done by tonight.”
“Good work, Nixon. I’m going to hit the gym for a couple hours. Looks like we won’t get hit for the rest of the day.”
The lieutenant’s eyes followed the colonel as he exited the room. He re-opened his web browser and noticed FunnyorDie.com was still loading.
“Goddamn it,” he said under his breath. Nixon ran both hands over his hair and winced in anger. He had already finished the slides the colonel wanted, but he held off on giving them to him to avoid being assigned more work. He didn’t care how many insurgents had been whacked in Baghdad over the last six months, much less about Colonel Stotz impressing General Pichek.
To cheer himself up, Nixon double-clicked on the “Countdown to Happiness” desktop icon. A picture of a naked woman on a motorcycle appeared holding up a white board that read:
“Arrived in the Sandbox: January 12, 2007
Leaving the Sandbox: January 12, 2008
Today’s date: September 29, 2007
Days left in this Shithole: 105.”
Lieutenant Nixon was encouraged he’d be down to double digits next week, but he knew he still had a long way to go before he could catch that plane ride home.
Life as a staff pogue in Iraq was frequently referred to as “Groundhog Day” because every day was exactly the same. For Lieutenant Nixon, however, each new day was worse than the last.
Nixon was one of the many Navy officers stationed at the United States Embassy, formerly Saddam Hussein’s Presidential Palace, in the International Zone in Baghdad. The media call it the Green Zone, but military personnel have been ordered not to use this term because it’s offensive to Muslims for some reason. Now the Navy had seen fit to pick at random young lieutenants finishing up their 3-year sea tours and ship them over to Iraq or Afghanistan. “This ambitious new program will truly help our friends in the Army and Marines,” Nixon had once read in Navy Times from some admiral, who was probably an asshole.
The Individual Augmentee program also promoted professional development in young officers, but no junior officer saw it that way. Nixon had been trained as a submariner to oversee the nuclear reactor and not collide with other shit while steaming around the Pacific Ocean. He knew little about combat in Iraq and even less about working on a joint staff with a bunch of career-weenies from the Army, Air Force, and Marines. He despised their gung ho attitudes with a passion.
Nixon, fed up with the wait, turned off his monitor and walked out of the office. He headed toward the Green Beans coffee kiosk located in one of Saddam’s old ballrooms. Drinking overpriced coffee and masturbating in the palace’s marble bathrooms was all that kept him from going insane.
He walked past three Blackwater contactors, clearly on steroids, who were flirting with a woman from the State Department. She had an okay body, but her face was covered with acne scars. By IZ standards though, she was a goddess. Nixon never bothered to hit on the civilian women, since his salary was about one-fourth of what the dickhead contractors were making.
He shuffled past a bulletin board announcing Salsa Dancing Night on Thursdays and felt an urge to rip it down. Walking into the massive ballroom filled with civilians and military personnel lounging on couches, he kept his head down to avoid eye contact with anyone. He headed toward the Green Beans counter and ordered an iced coffee. The jolt of sugar and caffeine would be the highlight of his day. After paying three dollars for this luxury item, he collapsed onto one of the couches. He looked around for today’s Stars and Stripes paper, but they were all gone. Sprawling out in his desert cammies, he let out a sigh.
“Hullo, Lieutenant Nixon. How are you today?”
Nixon looked up and saw Hans, who often got coffee at the same time he did.
“Hey, Hans. Sorry, didn’t see you there. How’s life in the shit?”
“Haha, you are so funny, my friend. I am doing well. And yourself?”
“Hanging in there. I’m almost down to double digits.”
“That is nice. Lieutenant, I always wondered what a Navy officer is doing in Iraq. Are there any ships you must take charge of?”
“Not exactly. I got piss drunk at my hail and farewell party last December, and I woke up on the shoulder of a highway with a cop tapping on my window.”
“I see. So you were sent here as a form of punishment?”
“Yeah, the Navy doesn’t like their officers getting DUIs. But enough about my sorry life, what’re you doing in Iraq? Shouldn’t you be retired on the beach in Thailand with some young babe half your age?”
“No, no. I am here for the excitement. These are interesting times in our world.”
Nixon looked curiously at the gray-haired man but couldn’t read the eyes behind those wire-rimmed glasses. This was a strange response. The young contractors usually give bullshit answers to why they’re in Iraq, like “I want to serve my country.” The older ones, however, are usually more truthful and admit they need the money for retirement or alimony payments.
“I don’t think I follow.”
“There are so many things happening in this country. You do know this part of the world was the cradle of civilization, ya? And I think it will be the last place remaining when the End Times finally come.”
Nixon had no idea what this German was talking about. He quickly stood up and threw his half-finished iced coffee in a trash can: “Well, I should be getting back to work.”
“Wait, lieutenant. Would you like to see something interesting tomorrow? There is a bunker below Believers’ Palace that I want you to visit. Do you know about it?”
Fidgeting with the leg holster for his 9mm, Nixon responded, “That’s the palace that got hit with JDAMs, right?”
“Yes, Believers’ Palace was bombed during the invasion in 2003, but the bunker is still completely intact.”
Tomorrow was Nixon’s one day off for the week, and he thought abo
“Alright, Hans, let’s do it.”
“That is wonderful. I will meet you in front of the palace at 8:00 a.m.”
“See you there.”
Lieutenant Nixon walked down the road that ran from the Embassy toward Believers’ Palace. Ten-foot high concrete walls stacked together to form a corridor down each side. Baghdad’s morning dust was gritty on his teeth. He looked down at the small, black squares from spent rocket propellant here and there. He had experienced the morning chill when he first arrived in Iraq, but today his back sweated as he trudged along. An up-armored SUV passed him on the deserted road, and he paid it no mind.
In the distance, he saw Hans waving at him near the gates to the destroyed palace. He waved back as he crossed the road, listening for any incoming fire that would wake up the late-rising State Department pukes.
He had actually heard of this bunker before. It was one of those rumors floating around the IZ, like Saddam’s hidden stash of seven million dollars or the Ba’ath Party sex dungeon. Nixon brushed these off as tales concocted by desk jockeys with too much time on their hands. Nevertheless, he was curious about this secret bunker where Saddam had conducted high-level meetings with his generals as the bombs pulverized Baghdad during the invasion. So he hoped this visit would break up the monotony.
Hans extended his arm to shake