Robert Clark Young


By Robert Clark Young

an excerpt from the novel

Chapter One: A Suitcase Nuke

Scuddy Scudalczyk was standing on the roof of the Abu Ghraib Prison, hitting golf balls with Flynn Parrish.  Scuddy always hit harder and more accurately when he was mad, and he was mad this afternoon, but also disgusted, and because being disgusted exaggerated his downswing, the effects of being mad and disgusted neutralized each other.  With a ferocious stroke, he hit a golf ball that flew over the compound and cleared the perimeter wall and sailed over the street before it finally arced down and struck an Iraqi woman, all in black, in the side of the arm, sending her spinning and yelping.

“Fucking typical,” Scuddy said.  “Just lost another heart and mind.”

“This mess won’t be all that bad,” Flynn said, bending over to set his next ball on one of the tees that was nailed into the prison roof.

“We’ve got the world media shining its flashlight up our asses now,” Scuddy said, “and that radical Senator McCain is going to be screaming like an Imam squatting on a barbed-wire enema.  I’m not taking the fucking rap for this, Flynn.  All of us screwed up, but not all of us are going down.”

“The trashies will go down.  Don’t worry so much.”  Flynn took a gargantuan swing.

Scuddy watched Flynn’s ball hit the top of the perimeter wall and go bouncing into the palm trees.  Scuddy reached down for another ball.  They were piled in a rust-streaked urinal that, somehow, in the perpetual chaos of Iraq, had ended up on the roof.  Scuddy stood there weighing the ball in his hand.

He said, “The trashies, don’t you count on it.”  That was what the CIA contractors and their handlers called the Army’s enlisted men and women, since so many of them were “white trash” from West Virginia, Kentucky, Bakersfield, places like that.  “Who the hell’s going to believe they thought up all this crap?  Where’d they get the hoods?  Where’d they get the dogs?  Where’d they learn the techniques?  We’ve got deaths here, Flynn.  I don’t like this motherfucking shit.  The next helicopter you’ll see is CBS News.  And to tell you the truth—I’m feeling all immoral and shit.”

“God damn it, Scuddy, nobody watches the Communist Bullshit Suckass News anymore.  You’re just feeling guilty because you think you’re going to land in some cesspool of public opinion.”

“Oprah, then.  Oprah’s going to find out we transferred operations here from Gitmo, she’s going to prove it goes all the way up to Rumsfeld, she’s going to be having each terrorist’s fourteen wives bawling on the couch.  I’m just saying I’m not taking this fucking shit, I’ve had enough, we’ve gone too far, we’ve gone skinhead.  Oh, and by the way, if you tell anybody I was here, I’ll fucking kill you.”

“If you tell anybody I was here, I’ll fucking kill you too.”

“Just so we understand each other, faggot.”

“Don’t call me a faggot,” Flynn said in a voice that Scuddy always heard as soft, Southern, and faggoty.

“You’re not ashamed of being a faggot.  You’re always going on about Hitler and his faggots.”

Flynn hit a lazy ball that landed short of the wall below.  It was true.  Flynn was always going on about Hitler in the bunker, how der Fuhrer had finally admitted, when it was too late, what a mistake it had been to purge the queers out of the party back in ’34, that the muscular German homosexual was the only German who really knew how to fight and kill, that the gay Nordic Nazis would have turned back the Russian waves at Stalingrad and saved the Thousand Year Reich.

“How would you like that?” Scuddy said.  “How would you like the entire world media to learn that you not only like to torture and kill ragheads, but that you’re a goddam queer.”  Scuddy hit a ball fast and long and it flew into the crowns of the palm trees and disappeared.

Flynn hit another thoughtful shot, short and lazy.  “The American people can forgive me for murder, but they’ll never forgive me for sucking dick, is that your point?”

Scuddy could see that he’d hurt Flynn, and he was sorry.  But Scuddy was sorrier about this whole goddam mess with the photos.  He hadn’t known the photos existed, but he knew what kinds of things were in them.  And now this new feeling:  Shame that his mother, back in San Diego, would see the photos.

“Forget that I said that shit about your faggotry, Flynn.  Listen, I’m glad the CIA is more inclusive now, I’m glad it has diversity and sensitivity and tolerance and all of that stuff, I’m glad you cock-sucking queers can work openly now in our foreign stations around the world.  I think it’s progress.  If you’re out of the closet, none of these goddam Al-Qaedas can blackmail you, that’s the fucking point.”

“Damn straight,” Flynn said.  “If that’s the right term.”

This time they teed off at the same time, and both balls cleared the compound and the wall and the street and went pounding into the marketplace, sending women scurrying with their hands over their heads.  Across the dusty landscape, the garbage fires sent funnels of soot up into the white sky—or maybe a few of these were the ashen funnels of today’s car bombs, it was hard to tell.  The mosque loudspeakers began to drone in unison, “Waaaaalah wadahaa waaaaaagfuck,” or at least that was what it always sounded like to Scuddy, and he leaned on his golf club and said, “Christ in a leather diaper, I hate this fucking place.  I hate what we’ve done here.  And I include what we’ve done to ourselves.”

Flynn turned to him and gave him an appraising squint.  Flynn Parrish was tall, six-foot-four, with a jug-headed cracker face, actual freckles at forty, out-pointing ears, and curly hair that was worn close.  Beneath his green T-shirt, he was a well-muscled Alabama queer who could kick your Yankee ass all the way across the weight room.

Scuddy wasn’t CIA like Flynn—Scuddy was only a contract employee, so he was allowed a little more latitude in grooming and sartorial flair.  He wore aviator sunglasses, a two-foot braided ponytail down his back, and a greasy black beard—one didn’t always have time for personal hygiene and creased sleeves when moving and working quickly in the Third World—he wore a pith helmet, a safari shirt, and orange Bermuda shorts.  His hairy legs were stuffed into U.S. Army boots.

The women in the marketplace were still hiding, crouching behind the vegetable stands.  “They’ve never even seen a golf ball,” Flynn said.  “They’ll try to eat it.”

“They’ll fucking think it’s the latest explosive device.  Hey, don’t make fun of them.  In fact, let’s stop hitting them over there; let’s hit them over there instead.”

“They’ll still try to eat it.”

“I tell you,” Scuddy said, “a fellow has a mind to bust out of here.  I am beside myself, Flynn.”

“Don’t use Southern expressions, you California carpet-muncher.”

“That’s what I really hate about you,” Scuddy said, “you’re a Southerner.  I hate all of you fucking crackers with your Southern traitor flags.  But I tell you”—and this time Scuddy concocted an archly hideous Southern accent—“a boy’s got a mind to bust the heck out of here.”

“How would a boy go about doing that, Scudser?”

“How much did you pay for that suitcase?”

Flynn squared himself, spread his legs, hit another ball, stood still, shrugged.  “Three million.”

“Get any change?”

“About two.”

“Sitting in Colonel Buttram’s office right now?”

“Best use of taxpayer dollars,” Flynn said, “since Franklin Roosevelt and the Japs blew up the World Trade Center.”

Again, Scuddy mocked Flynn’s accent, more soothingly now, drawling:  “Supposing a boy was to get it into his head to take that spare change and the suitcase—just as an insurance policy—and fly away from this great model democracy of Iraq?  Supposing a boy was to do that?”  And for punctuation, Scuddy hit another long ball, but this time away from the marketplace, toward the abandoned shell of a hotel.

“I’d have to go after that kind of boy.  It wouldn’t be no fun.”

“We both need a vacation.”

“We don’t need that kind of vacation,” Flynn said. “That’s not what I need.  Too much paperwork.  Too much electronic surveillance.  Too much hemorrhoid time in those little Gulfstream jets with those tiny seats.  Too much bad food in Cape Town or wherever the hell such a boy might get it into his head to go surfing.  Besides, I’d miss my Ay-rab boys too much.”

“Well, it was just a thought,” Scuddy said.

“Keep it that way.”


The moment the clattering Humvee was through the Main Gate of the Green Zone, Scuddy jumped off with his suitcase swinging at the end of his arm and his duffel bag over one shoulder and his AK-47 over the other shoulder.  The weapon wasn’t what was really scary about him, though—in Iraq, every hunch-backed, dead-eyed, seven-year-old girl running down the sidewalk in black sheets was toting a fucking AK-47.  What was scary about Scuddy was the way he looked, and all of it was calculated—the orange Bermuda shorts and the Army boots, the beard and the braided pony tail, the pith helmet, the aviator sunglasses worn cockeyed over the practiced and demented grin—the point was to look so completely and so obviously like a CIA contract agent, so thoroughly like a crazy gringo who’d just piloted in on a black-and-tan Lear Jet from Tora Bora, to look so convincingly like an ad hoc maniac who was capable of the most casual atrocities, that all of these Halliburton civilian contractor cunts, National Security geeks, visiting congressional albinos, and United States Army pussies would be too scared to look at you, never mind try to fuck you up.

He was through with all of that now.  Yes, ashamed.  And even a little embarrassed that there was no way to escape without maintaining the charade of his get-up.

That persona, however, was the reason why everybody in the Green Zone was stepping aside in front of Scuddy Scudalczyk as he went loping through the steamy air of the Jacuzzi Room, exited through the video-game room, marched through the Burger King kitchen and then through the miniature Wal-Mart and enormous Blockbuster Video, went sideways through the Starbucks with its bullshit female folksinger music, then more slowly through the crowd in Mama Bush’s Bushwhack Cantina, then straight through the weight room that was used only by the black guys with their ghetto blasters blaring kill niggah kill, then with deliberation through the aroma of the See’s Candy concession, and then quickly down the aisle of slot machines in the Iraqi Vegas Canteen, on his way to Colonel Buttram’s office.

Scuddy was hoping not to run into the Colonel himself (though at least that would mean the Colonel was not in his office, good news for what Scuddy was planning)—but sure enough the son of a bitch was right here, standing against the wall of the next room Scuddy came slouching through, the Officers’ Smoking Lounge.  It was too late to turn around.  The Colonel had already spotted him with those big red eyes that were like watery radar.

Scuddy had no option now but to go stand against the wall with the Colonel and chat.  The smoking lounge was the smallest room in the Green Zone, just six feet wide and twenty feet long, with officers in sweaty khaki lining either wall, their large guts almost touching the guts of the men on the opposite side.  The air was a mass of smoke, like a big white spider web that you had to struggle to walk through, your eyes stinging.  Even here in Baghdad, smokers had to be kept segregated from normal, healthy Americans, a grim confirmation of the fact that the American smoker had finally lost all of his rights throughout the world.

“Hell of a thing,” Colonel Buttram said.

Scuddy stared straight ahead through his sunglasses.  “How many of us are going down?”

“The trashies will get hit with all of it, I can assure you.”

“Yeah, I heard that answer,” Scuddy said.  “I don’t believe it.  It’s going to go straight up through the sergeants and lieutenants and by the time it winds up with you colonels, you’ll be shoving it off on the Company boys like me and Flynn.  Before it’s all over, it’ll probably land on the generals and straight into Rumsfeld’s lap, but by then it’ll be too late to help the poor sons of bitches like me.  That’s the score, isn’t it, Buttram?”

“You contractors on the ground are always catastrophizing.  Why don’t you just take the night off, Scudalczyk?  Go down to the Christian Servicewomen’s Association.  Get yourself laid.”

“I guess maybe you think you’re safe, and maybe you are, with your intelligence-officer rating.  Nobody will think you ever knew too much, will they, Buttram?  Everybody in the whole fucking world understands that the words ‘intelligence’ and ‘officer’ go together like ‘jumbo shrimp.’”

“Stop belly-aching; we’ve got it all worked out.  We’re going to lay it all in the lap of General Janis Karpinski.  You remember that big dyke, popped her face in here for about seven minutes about seven months ago?”

“I don’t rely on big dykes to rescue my ass.”  Or my sense of guilt, Scuddy thought.

“She’s a woman; the PC media will toss her and turn her a bit, and then they’ll leave the whole mess alone.  You know how the Commie feminist media always believes a woman can do no wrong.  So can we talk about something more constructive?  You know, Flynn’s back from Mosul.”

“Yeah, I heard, with a pretty package.”

“That should put a smile on all our faces.  You know the Qaeda hajis were planning to vaporize all of Baghdad.”

Scuddy lifted his sunglasses and looked sideways at the Colonel.  “That would’ve been a real shame.”

“That’s what I hate about you contractors.  You don’t believe in anything but the buck.”

“I believe in loyalty, you human donut.  And lately I’ve started believing in a little piece of Communist propaganda known as the Geneva Convention.  I don’t like what I’ve been doing here, I don’t like how far it’s gone.  I suppose you’re going to punish these trashie grunts for releasing all of those prisoner-abuse photos to the media?”

“They’ll do their time in Leavenworth.”

“That’s evading the issue,” Scuddy said.

“You’re talking about lining them up, aren’t you, right here in front of the fucking Starbucks.  You’re talking about drilling their fucking heads.”

“No,” Scuddy said, “that’s not what I’m talking about.”

The Colonel talked over him:  “Goddam it, Scudalczyk, we’re not here to execute human beings.  We’re here to execute the Moose-slimes.  What are you doing back at HQ anyhow?”

Scuddy had his excuse ready.  He let the duffel bag slip off his shoulder, untied the knot, and pulled out three of the black hoods.  He held them up to Buttram’s face.  “What we need in this country is a good Jewish drycleaner.  There’s West Virginia spunk all over these.  You know how hard it is to get semen out of leather—you must’ve spent a weekend in San Francisco at some point, Buttram.  I have to go to your office now for some fresh hoods.”

“Oh Jesus, don’t wave those fucking things around here. They smell of vomit; they’re fouling the air for every decent man who wants to smoke.”

The officers were indeed squeezing more tightly against either wall, away from Scuddy and the hoods—he’d been scary before, because of his crazy looks, but now, confirmed as a man who worked with black leather hoods, a man with the unseen and unlimited power of torture, sexual humiliation, and perhaps even death, he was more frightening to these men than the ancient, blurred, and cracking photograph of Osama bin Laden that was tacked to the Wanted Dead or Alive wall of the Green Zone FedEx Mail Center.

“All right,” Buttram said, “go get some new hoods; you know where they are.”

Scuddy stuffed the hoods back into the duffel bag.  The officers relaxed, exhaling their collective smoke.

“Is that an order, sir, or just a suggestion?” Scuddy said.  “Care to repeat it in front of the Red Cross as they inspect for POW human rights?  Are you going to issue all of the prisoners Sony PlayStations for the inspection?”

“You contractors always think you’re so damned entertaining,” the Colonel said, accepting the spliff that was offered to him by the officer standing next to him.  “Just because you can make a few people laugh—and cry.”  The Colonel took a long and weary drag and passed it along to Scuddy.

Scuddy inhaled the pot modestly, just to be polite.  He didn’t hold it long, blowing it out the edge of his mouth.  He would feel it, if he felt it at all, five minutes from now, just enough for the slightest edge—he must be totally primed for what he would do next.

He told the Colonel, “If you tell anybody I was involved in this, I’ll kill you.”

“If you tell anybody I was involved in this, I’ll kill you too.”

Scuddy laughed.  “You can’t kill anybody.  You’re only in the goddam Army.”

Robert Clark Young is the author of the books One of the Guys and Thank You for Keeping Me Sober. Since 2008, when his parents both suffered strokes, he has been working as a caregiver in their home. He is completing a book about this experience, The Survivor: How to Deal with Your Aging Parents, While Enriching Your Own Life. His stories and essays have appeared in dozens of magazines and newspapers around the world. One of his greatest pleasures is serving as the Creative Nonfiction Editor for Connotation Press: An Online Artifact.

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