A gentle reminder that this is fiction. I don’t make moral judgements on fictional characters, especially those operating in a morally ambiguous setting. If you find it upsetting, read the comments instead, although I know nobody actually does. I am assured that the realities of ISIL are far worse than anything I could or would want to write.
Just remember: People sleep soundly in their beds because rough men (and women) stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do them harm.
Ash Shaddadi, the Syrian Governorate of Al Hasakha, December 2017
Ripley left the fetid basement with relief with Halward in tow and it was obvious that she was furious. Ellis followed them at a discreet distance, also glad to be away from the insanity below ground. It was daylight and Ripley looked like the Wreck of the Hesperus. This was no comely, dusky Scheherazade. She was more like Annie Wilks crossed with Elizabeth Bathory. They were heading for the Yazidi lines where Halward sought out their leader and the Americans. With Ripley interpreting for the locals, they explained what they had found inside the factory.
“So you have proof now,” Martinez said thoughtfully.
“Yes, we know that at least one of them got out, but we’re still no closer to finding out what happened to them. We’ve taken some photographs, which I can let you have copies of, but I suggest you get a forensic investigation team go through the building. We also have a number of prisoners, male and female who are responsible for the murders in the factory.”
“Please accept our sincere sorrow for the dead women and children. We believe that they were killed when the building was stormed,” Ripley said in Arabic, ever conscious of the human dimension and local sensibilities, “I request that you lend me four of your toughest, female fighters. I would like them to see what we have found and then help me.”
She translated for the British and American officers.
“Help you do what, Ma’am?” asked Martinez.
“Find out who the bastards were who did this and where they are now.”
Four women fighters were introduced to them and as she was greeting them female to females, Ripley hugged them warmly, apologising for having to speak in Arabic, because she found the Kermanji dialect very difficult. She led them to the factory and down into the basement. She and the troopers remained discretely out of the way while the Yazidi fighters wailed in grief, as was their custom. It was four very grim-faced female fighters who left the factory and followed Ripley to the vehicles and the prisoners.
“James, could you please get me a small can of petrol from the generator room?”
“Err, why, Ripley?”
Back at the laager in the olive grove, Ripley cadged some tea off Carson and the women sat cross-legged under the trees while she explained what she wanted them to do.
“I want you to make them scream, but here are the golden rules. Don’t kill them, don’t permanently damage them and don’t leave any marks, but apart from that after what I’ve seen in that factory you can do what you like to them.”
As they finished their tea, Ellis came up with a jerry can of petrol and a new set of American body armour, “Present from Major Martinez. He asked what happened to your old set, so I told him. He said you had balls. I told him I wouldn’t know.”
“Oh thank you. James, would you please do me a favour?”
“Anything, just ask.”
“Go away. Go back to the factory and stay there because I don’t want you to see and hear what we’re going to do.”
“Do you care what I think, Ripley?”
“Yes, James. I do. It won’t be nice and I’ll feel bad enough about myself without you hating me.”
There seemed little to say, so he went back to that awful basement to help in the search for intelligence material. Ripley watched him go sadly and then she led the four Yazidi women into where the female prisoners were being held.
“Right you ISIL whores. These four women have seen what you did to their fellow Yazidis and now they are going to even up the score. They are going to kill each one of you very slowly, but I will stop them if you tell me where these men are,” She pulled three photographs out of an inner pocket of her smock and showed the pictures to the women. If they turned away or refused to look, she slapped them, “They came from Britain and their names are Gamal Kirmani, Daffi Hashmi and Parinoush Mahar. They may have told you that the British are weak and would never harm you, but they were mistaken. You are nothing to us and the only thing keeping you alive is the information you may or may not hold. I hope you do know and tell me for your sakes.”
Ripley turned to the four fighters, “That one is a Chechen. They think they are tough and superior to people like you. Take her first.”
A few minutes later the screaming started and Ripley shut her mind in that compartment of the brain that she could lock away. But in her dreams she often went there. Instead she closely scrutinised the faces of the captives, most of them openly weeping with terror. There was a particularly curdling scream that was cut short and two of the Yazidi fighters returned.
“Before she died, she told us the woman from France killed our sisters with the long knife, stabbing them and cutting their throats. She said the French woman is the youngest of them,” one of the Yazidi women said, stinking to the pre-arranged script.
Ripley scrutinised the faces of the five women who were left, “That must be you then, dear. Bon voyage. Take her next.”
This time the shrieking seemed to last for endlessly drawn out minutes and Ripley was becoming concerned as to what they were actually doing to her. One of the prisoners could take no more and bolted for the door. Ripley drew her automatic and was about to shoot the woman when she started yelling as she clawed at the door, not easy with her arms tied behind her back.
“Raqqa, two of them went to Raqqa when the Americans came. Please stop it!”
“Come with me.”
Ripley led her out and got her to sit down well away from and out of sight of the buildings, while she cable tied her legs.
She went to find the Yazidi who were persuading the French woman to scream by placing wooden sticks between her fingers and squeezing her hands. The Chechen was slumped on the floor exhausted but obviously still alive. She had been beaten on the soles of her feet.
“I thought I said no marks on the bodies,” As if she could actually give a toss, “You can stop now, but we will keep them separated until I make sure that one of them really does want to talk to me. Don’t let them talk to each other.”
She went back to the captive who was wailing softly. Ripley squatted down next to her, cut the cable tie on her wrists and offered her a piece of chocolate. The woman burst into tears at this unexpected kindness and Ripley smiled to herself cynically. It was the oldest interrogator’s subterfuge in the book.
“What is your name?”
“Salib,” said the woman.
“But Salib is a Coptic Christian name.”
“I was a Copt, but they forced me to convert to the true faith. I had nothing to do with killing the unbelievers,” she sobbed.
Ripley hardened her heart. This was the aspect of religion that disgusted her. The labelling of different groups and beliefs, in order to dehumanise them. Once you considered that a group of people was no longer human, you could justify any barbarity committed against them.
“Perhaps you didn’t dear. But someone did. Why don’t you start by telling me who ordered the killing and who carried it out?”
“The man with the grenade from the north that you killed. The French woman and the woman from the north did it with their knives. The man you have in the other building. His name is Najjar and he is from Egypt.”
“The woman from the north? Do you mean the Chechen?”
Ripley looked away and thought for a few moments. She knew that all three of them would be dead by the following morning when the Yazidis found out, or rather when she told them. They would welcome death when it eventually came. Ripley showed her the three photographs again.
“When you saw these, you said Raqqa. Is Raqqa the city?”
“Yes it is a very big town. Away to the west.”
“Look at the photographs, Salib. Do you recognise these men?”
“Yes. They are the Englishmen.”
“Did they go to Raqqa?”
She hesitated and then clammed up, as though realising she had said too much.
“Answer my question, Salib. Otherwise I will give you to the Yazidi women, who will hurt you a great deal before they pass you on to their men.”
The Egyptian woman was openly weeping. Ripley felt not one jot of sympathy for her, nor cared about the lies, “The Chechen and the French woman are dead. They are no longer recognisable as human beings. You enslaved the Yazidis and now they want revenge. Only I can protect you.”
“Daffi Hashmi and Parinoush Mahar said they were going to Raqqa, to join up with the other European fighters. They all have beards now. Gamal Kirmani said he was going home.”
“Where is home?” Ripley demanded, “Pakistan or England.”
“I don’t know. Truly I don’t.”
Ripley stood up. She went to the vehicle and filled a water bottle mug with water. She carried it back and gave it to the woman to drink.
“Now this is very important, Salib. Have you heard about the English pilots?”
She was terrified, “I was not here then. We came later, me and Najjar. We had nothing to do with it.”
“Nothing to do with what?”
She sobbed and Ripley hit her across the side of her head. Be nice, be bad. Keep them disorientated, “Is Najjar your husband, Salib? I could have him flayed alive in front of you.”
“The pilots were here, before we arrived. One was a woman.”
“Where are they now?
“The man is dead. They buried him out in the desert. I don’t know what happened to the woman. I just know they hurt her for many days.”
“Was the male pilot murdered?”
“Who killed him and who tortured the woman? That’s what you mean isn’t it?”
“Yes. The Englishmen.”
Ripley dragged her back to the building and pushed her back inside. She was almost breathless with anger and had to calm herself with slow, deep breaths from below her diaphragm. She had some important intelligence but needed another source for certainty.
“Frank” Carson was manning the radio set on the command Supacat and he watched Ripley walking purposefully towards the vehicles, “Morning, Ripley.”
“Hello Frank. I haven’t had anything to eat since dinner time last night. Got any Scoobie Snacks.”
“Just an oatmeal block and some Primula cheese.”
“Perfect.” She ripped open the green foil wrapper and squirted a dollop of cheese spread on the oatmeal block.
“Much happening?” she asked, munching with her mouth full.
“No. Boss and Mr H are still searching the factory and Mengele is down at the river doing our washing. Not as busy as you by all accounts.”
She finished the biscuit and took a swig of water, “Do we have any jute sandbags and could I have a length of camouflage netting pole?”
“Sandbags are in the back of the other truck. The poles are in that bag.”
Ripley took a length of pole, a sandbag and headed back to the buildings, pausing to pick up the can of petrol. She went to the other building with its single occupant who was still hogtied and must have been in agony by now.
“Good morning, Najjar. I’ve been chatting to your lovely wife and she’s told me all about you and your adventures.”
His eyes looked up at her, burning with hatred.
“Now Salib has been very helpful, but I’d like you to confirm a few facts for me.”
“Adhhab tabaa nafsak!” he spat at her.
“Fuck myself? What a terrible waste when there’s a fine specimen of manhood such as yourself in here. What girl could resist your charms?”
She swung the length of metal pole and smashed him twice across his shins. The Egyptian screamed with pain.
“This is going to get hot work, Najjar. I’d better dress down a bit. Try and contain yourself,” Ripley took off her body armour and smock and he looked away. She produced the three photographs and put them on the ground in front of his head.
“The three you call the Englishmen. Daffi Hashmi and Parinoush Mahar are supposed to be in Raqqa and Gamal Kirmani said he was going home. Are they in Raqqa, Najjar and where is Gamal Kirmani’s home?”
Kol kahara ya kalb!”
He was soon screaming again as she swung the camouflage netting pole, concentrating on his shins.
“Where is the pilot buried and what happened to the woman, you son of a whore? You’re a worthless yah kara.”
She continued to beat him until he vomited on the floor.
“I’m getting tired. But I’m ready to keep going for as long as it takes. Then I’m going to drag you down to the river, smear pig grease all over you and let the desert dogs do the job. No passage to paradise for you. Where are Gamal Kirmani, Daffi Hashmi and Parinoush Mahar?”
Ripley was getting fed up of being called a shit-eating whore.
“I’ve had enough of this. You have outlived your usefulness,” She dropped the sandbag in front of his face and poured some petrol on it. He started to moan and then cough and gag as she pulled the sandbag over his head and pulled the drawstring tight round his neck.
“We need some more petrol on this. You’re going to look like a badly cooked kofta when I’ve finished, “She poured more liquid over the sandbag and his back. It was actually water, but he could only smell the petrol. Ripley pulled out her zippo and the metallic kerching as it opened was universally known.
“See you in hell you piece of shit,” He was screaming as she started to rotate the flint ignitor, “Come on and light you bastard.”
“IN THE DESERT. IN THE DESERT! I’LL SHOW YOU. KIRMANI IS IN PAKISTAN, THE OTHER TWO WENT TO RAQQA.”
“Where is the woman pilot?”
“I don’t know what they did with her. I SWEAR IT!”
Ripley pulled off the sandbag, “If you are lying to me, I will come back and crucify you the Roman way, with nails through the wrists and ankles. And after two days watching your agony, I will personally smash your legs with a sledgehammer and laugh as you asphyxiate.”
She went out, slamming the door behind her, suddenly feeling sick and dizzy. It must have been the smell of the petrol, mustn’t it? She went round the back of the building and vomited up the oatmeal block. Back in the building she collected her smock and body armour, not even bothering to look at the broken man writhing on the floor. He was already as good as dead.
© Blown Periphery 2019