I am also the Author of Zeroes and Ones, which can be found in the High School Section. This story ties into the main series as an in-universe piece and a pivotal mystery in the early part of Book 2 of my series.


The Last Run to Mosul:

A Short Story of Zeros and Ones Series



Love is a battlefield worse than the trenches of France, worse than the jungles of Vietnam, and worse than the barren deserts of Iraq. Many men will go into the field, but only a few will be lucky enough to find glory or fame. The rest will live with scars both visible and unseen. These scars will re-open without warning at any time, creating misery in its wake.



A man will do anything for a pretty face and a hot body. Look at me; I was a good looking thirtysomething gay man with a flourishing nostalgia bar in the South End. Now, I am a naked unidentified white male body found near the old dockyards. Yeah, I am dead and about to be cut open at the Suffolk county morgue by a twitchy 1st year junior medical examiner's assistant. I will be identified as Adam Mallory, age 27, 193 cm, and 90.72 kg. My cause of death will be determined as a bullet lodged between the frontal and temporal lobe with two post mortem bullets to the heart.

How did I get to this point? Well, it's a long story that started when I was in high school...




When I turned 18, I was filled with a desire to do something with my life, but I had no real interests, nor any real prospects. My grades were decent B's, but there was very little chance of getting scholarships back in 2008 and my family couldn't pay to further my education. My folks did not have an issue with me being gay; my parents were supportive of me and Steve, my first and it now seems only true love. We chose to sign up at a recruiting office in town, went through the months of basic training, and then got sent overseas to Iraq during the end of the military surge of 2008-2009, just as sovereignty was transferred back to Iraqi government. No, I'm not some hunky military muscle head that you'd find in trashy gay porn. I was a motor transport operator of the US Army's 7th Transportation Brigade, or less fancy, I was a bad-ass ".50 Cal" machine gun wielding truck driver in the most deployed unit within the US Army. I don't really care about the distinctions to be honest, but Steve was fucking jumping up and down, when he found out we were both assigned to the same unit on the same routes. We went through a lot together from suicide attacks to the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the middle of our tour. It was an open secret in either case and few guys really bothered us about it, but it was still good to not need to hide the fact.

Near the end of our 4 year tour, we were doing "Milk runs", basically moving supplies and crap out of Iraq for the US withdrawal, while delivering equipment to the Iraqi military that we wanted to leave them. Steve and I were making plans about taking a VA loan and open a bar together. He had this crazy idea of going retro-1920's, so I came up with the name "Steve's Easy". We were listing out what kind of décor we'd need, researched prices for rent, and types of drinks we'd offer, and had intense debates over clientele being "exclusively gay or just gay-friendly". By our last run, we'd already planned out everything after returning home; we submitted the approval for a loan of $450,000, found the perfect space with a little loft apartment above, and created an awesome star cocktail called the "Green Zone" by combining some lime juice, absinthe, and a secret ingredient to give it a green grassy glow. Everything was working well, but Steve noticed something weird with this run.

For one thing, the stuff being shipped was sealed in a metallic cylinder with several extra Humvees serving as escort. Another weird thing was that we were instructed to hand it off 20 miles outside of Mosul to another group of Iraqi military personnel. I thought he was just being too nosy about stuff way above our pay grade. Our jobs are to get things from one place to another; it could be as innocent as spare MRE packs or as lethal as a cruise missile. We're soldiers with our own mission objectives and our own goals to accomplish just like the men and women who are flanking us doing escort work. In high school, history teachers taught us that military members should question their orders for morality and ethics, but that kind of stuff is for commissioned officers and people who can make decisions with an email or sitting behind a desk, not guys like us. I just told Steve to shut up and we should just get the job done.

When we reached the midway rendezvous, the Iraqi unit waiting for us there was just a small truck and four guys armed with AK-47's. They gave everyone the right call signs, but my gut was twisting a bit. I winked at Steve to stay in the truck even after the rest of our escort had departed their vehicles. I didn't step too far away from the truck or the protection of Steve's M2. Some of our guys began to walk over to the Iraqi truck, when I caught a glimpse at what looked like the tip of a "Nash", Russian made RPG-32, being aimed from behind the Iraqi truck. These weren't our guys and instinctively I yelled "It's a Trick!"

Things happened really fast after that, the RPG ripped through one Humvee and flipped a second one nearby to its side. Semi-automatic gunfire was being exchanged between our guys and several of their fighters, the 4 plus 5 or 6 more inside the truck. Steve was laying down suppression fire with the M2 and I was running back to the driver's seat, but a bullet got to me before I could reach the door. I was out of it.

When I woke up, Steve was by my side at an army hospital. He told me that after I fell, he picked me off the ground and got us to Mosul, where the remnants of the 811th and 812th Military Police Companies were still stationed. No one else survived the sneak attack, but the package we were delivering did not fall into their hands, at least on that day. The doctors performed all sorts of tests and psych evaluations, but overall, I came out fine. I am a chill guy usually and luckily PTSD did not affect me. Steve and I took the time to sightsee some of the old city; we even bought an old oil lamp, which Steve mockingly rubbed and demanded his wishes be granted.

After that bit of excitement, we both were happy to end our military service, return home, and open up our bar. The nostalgia bar was doing great business, selling watered down drinks to hipsters and metrosexual crowds, who enjoyed the retro-1920's Jazz theme with flapper waitresses and waiters in tight tuxedoes. Hell, we even got a few nights reserved for gays as a compromise to our debate; the gay crowd liked dressing up in our in-house rental costumes and danced the Charleston with their "pals".

After a year into the business, Steve and I were pretty much settled into civilian life with the occasional jokes about a few suspicious characters at the bar hiding "weapons of mass penetration". Marriage was on both of our minds, but getting the "right" priest to perform it was hard. Both of our families come from different backgrounds; he's Presbyterian and I am Catholic. For me, Father Roberts could do the ceremony for us, he was my family priest and pretty open to gay marriage, but getting the paperwork for it to be accepted through the archdiocese was a headache. Basically, it could not be allowed as an "official" marriage of the Catholic Church, but we could rent the church to perform the "civil" ceremony under Father Roberts. Steve wanted to have Reverend Edgars, his favorite childhood priest, perform the ceremony, but there was some weird family drama on his side with his grandfather arguing vehemently against our "marriage". No, it's not a gay issue as the old guy really seemed open to Steve on sexuality based on what I saw and what I heard, his grandfather just doesn't like the fact I am a white Irish Catholic. Yeah, old prejudices are harder to get rid of than homophobia in this liberal part of the world.

By 2014, we had just about enough of the marriage issues and decided if worst comes to worst, we'll just do the civil ceremony and hash out the rest of it with our families later. A marriage is about joining to two souls together, who deeply care and love one another; it is not a dog and pony show for our families and friends. We were already partners in everything else, except this formal acknowledgement of our bonding, which we just need to do for each other.

Around the same time we came to our conclusion, Iraq was facing new problems along with the rest of the Middle East. The insurgency had morphed into an Islamic fundamentalist movement bent on death. The once beautiful and populous city of Mosul had fallen to them and there were rumors of expanded fighting in Syria as well. One day on CNN, they were showing images of the civil war that was being fought in Syria and Steve noticed something that quickly took all the color from his face. Throughout the night of service, Steve was absentminded and deep in thought.

I tried to get him to tell me what was wrong, but he said nothing and left the bar. When he came back, he was slightly more relaxed, though tired in expression, and the night was like normal again. Later when we were in bed after a little cuddling, I tried to ask him again what was wrong and he responded, "Adam, do you think what we did in Iraq was right or wrong?"


I guessed it was the pictures of Syria and Iraq in flames, but there was more to his weary state.


"We did nothing wrong. We didn't torture anyone, shoot anyone who wasn't shooting us, and we were just moving stuff under orders from someone else."


Steve kept pressing, "The Atomic bomb wasn't built with raw materials found in New Mexico; people like us were moving stuff back then, too. It was the same picking list that they used for those materials that Soviet spies were able steal. Eventually, the picking lists help create their own atomic bomb two years after ours exploded. Without people like us, nothing could have happened later like the long cold war."


I was not a patient man even with him; I just asked him point blank, "Is this about what is happening back there? Look, no one had a clue these guys could have grown that big so fast. Besides, we didn't authorize military action. It was Congress and the American people. They sent us in with pieces of paper. We were just two high school kids, who needed a break and caught a damn good one that we risked our lives for. We didn't do anything wrong and owe nothing to those dying right now."


Steve hugged me tighter, "What if we did? Remember those cylinders from the last run. I saw one of them in the CNN pictures from the war zone in Syria."


"Things happen with munitions all the time, if they were high explosives, then the Islamic terrorists must have taken it and gave it to their forces in Syria. Stealing munitions is common in war. We delivered our goods, what happens later is not our fault. Steve, we are no way at fault for the deaths that happen today."


Steve whispered, "What if they weren't just high explosives?"


"Go to bed, Steve"


Looking back, I probably should have taken Steve more seriously. To be honest, he was the more conscientious person that I had ever met, but ironically, his conscience was also the reason why he wanted to join the army with me. Not everyone who enlists is doing it out of a desire for God and Country; the vast majorities have personal reasons like career, skills, money, or just doing some good in the world. I was the more mercenary one; I just wanted to do something and figure myself out, while making money and getting skills. Steve believed that there was a greater good to be created on top of the money and skills; he trusted the ideals of US military.

The next night, Steve was acting very skittish. He was looking around the bar for someone, but I didn't push him. It was Friday and we got a lot of business on Friday nights from weekend crowds, so I was too busy managing the front and kitchen areas. At some point, Steve left the bar without me noticing. I only realized he was gone at around 1 AM after everything was cleaned up and the staff left, when I began looking for him to lock up the place. I never saw him again alive.

On the next day, the cops delivered the bad news: Steve was found dead from what looked like a mugging. I didn't want to believe them, but I knew somewhere in my heart that the boy and man I had loved was gone. I didn't know what to make of his actions or what to make of what happened to happened to him. I tried to asking our former CO in the army, but he told me not to follow up on "dead" ends for my own good. I wanted to know if there was more to Steve's apparent homicide than a botched robbery.

Then, I began to notice, him. The guy looked like a twink from a Cockyboys production: small frame, cute boyish features, and a very masculine demeanor. He was watching every move I made and I was watching every glance he took. Maybe he was just attracted to me, I do have the body type of the boy next door twentysomething, but I was just anxious about finding Steve's killer or killers. One night as he was leaving the bar, I told my GM to handle things and I followed him out the door. He probably sensed I was tailing him as we crossed into Comm. Ave as he began to sprint down the long street. I followed in hot pursuit for several blocks, but after 5 blocks, I knew I could not match his speed for much longer. Then, serendipity hit him, or just a drunk driver from a side street with no headlights on. He flew across the pavement and was bleeding profusely.

He was in the hospital for 3 days before he woke up, but he suffered traumatic head injuries. Like a really crappy plot twist, he got temporary amnesia when he woke up.


The first time I got to speak to him, I was struck by how sexy he looked even in a hospital bed, "Hi, I am really sorry for chasing you down the street. Are you okay?"


He blinked at me like he recognized me for a moment, and then returned the same expressionless look, "I am sorry, I don't know who you are. How long have we known each other?"


"We really don't know each other; you were one of my customers at my bar. I saw you looking at me constantly and I just wanted to know why."


"Am I gay?"


"Um...I can't answer that question for you. I know I am, but my partner died recently."


"That's sad. I am sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable. When I saw you just now, I had a really strong feeling like I was supposed to do something, but I can't remember."


"The police cannot find you in their database and have tried to match you up to anyone


Of all the gin joints in the world, why did this guy have to come into mine and give me some attention? Yeah, my paranoia over Steve's death was still present, but I couldn't help feeling sorry for him. I felt horrible that I hurt a guy, whose only crime was being a horny gay guy. Hell, before Steve, I was jacking off five times a day with just the low quality printouts. That's how my second long term relationship started.

I visited him twice a day at the hospital until he was released. Luckily, the drunk driver had insurance and they settled really quickly. Throughout everything, no one else came to visit him, nor did the police have any indications of his true identity. I played out a scenario in my head to fill in the logical holes: he was probably a runaway gay teen estranged from his family, he was probably not a local guy based on his body type and complexion I'd guess Midwestern farm boy, and he seemed pretty knowledgeable about a lot of stuff from talking to him about restaurant work, so I guess he did a lot of temp work. I mean everything about him could be explained away really easily, if he was in love with me. He never took his eyes off me during my visits as if he were a puppy dog seeing his master come home every day. Since no one knew his name, I started calling him "Casey"; because I found out he had an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball stats.

He moved in with me and I gave him a job as a line cook, which he quickly made a name for himself by creating new small plates that went with our cocktails. Business had never been better. In the bedroom, I had to admit that he was an awesome versatile guy. Somedays, I felt like I needed to blow off steam, I'd fuck him sideways over the coffee table. Other days, when I start thinking about Steve and little things that remind me of him, Casey would literally slap some sense into me and flip fuck me on the couch with my legs in the air. Our relationship was more sexual than emotional, but it was that new quality that really spiced up my life and probably kept me from learning the truth until a reporter came knocking on my door.

It was 7 months after Casey moved in with me, 10 months after Steve was killed, when I got a visitor. His name was Richard Cort; he was my classmate in high school, who ended being an editorial writer for the New York Times after someone picked up his blog for national syndicated piece on millennial trends. I hadn't spoken to him in years, but he seemed more than a little relieved to see me.


Richard quickly blurted out, "Adam, I am glad I found you before someone else did."


"Huh...Richard it's been years since we talked, what is the big deal?"


"Your life is in danger. Steve had told me to look into something before he died and I think I know why he was killed."


"Hold on, Steve died due to a mugging."


"No, he died due to looking too deeply into something he was not supposed to know about. The rest of it was all a shell game, but...is there a place more private than the bar we can talk about this."


I led him up the two flights of stairs to my apartment, where "mighty" Casey was swinging his bat between his legs for another round until it turned flaccid with the sight of Richard Cort. He went straight to the bedroom for clothes.


Richard smiled absently, "I see you have recovered from Steve's loss."


I shook my head, "I still love him, but Casey has made it easier...Anyway, what is the big secret? Did you find out something from Steve?"


"Yes, actually, he approached me before he died about the metal cylinders you were transporting. He said that they might have been chemical weapons."


Then, Steve's reaction to the footage of the Syrian slaughter made complete sense, but why would chemical weapons be in the hands of ISIS. Surely, the Iraqi stockpile was safeguarded after we left. I know we had helped them secure Saddam's stash before Steve and I had arrived in Iraq. Then another point came to my mind, the ambush outside Mosul should not have occurred and those guys were well prepared for our arrival; even armed well enough to take out two Humvees full of US troops. There was no reason...


"Why did we deliver chemical weapons? How could the terrorists know we were there? Why was Steve killed to protect the knowledge of these weapons' existence? It makes no sense."


Richard gulped and released his throat, "You were meant to die there and those chemical weapons were meant for the terrorists to take. It was an arms deal with plausible deniability. If it was ever discovered that the weapons fell into their hands from us, it would have been blamed on you guys, since you would all be dead for illegally selling weapons. You and Steve ruined their timetables as you spotted the ambush too quickly and Steve was a damn good driver. The chemical weapons were delivered to Mosul instead."


I couldn't believe that we were set up, "Who would sell us out?"


Richard scratched his chin, "I heard only one thing from my Washington sources before they went black, "Project Antioch". There's something going on that's so dark and deep; even legislative leaders are too scared to learn the entire truth. All I know is that there are multiple operations going on here and abroad for some kind of clandestine goal."


"There must be proof somewhere."


"Steve said he had the item inventory list from your last run photocopied, which would have shown the tracking numbers and details. If I could get that list, we'd blow this conspiracy into the stratosphere. It would make "Fast and Furious" or "Watergate" look like an episode of the West Wing."


My mind raced with possibilities, "I've got no clue where he hid it. Why are you coming to me now almost a year after he was killed?"


"I had to wait until the story died down and they were off you. They might have still suspected that you had the list and placed surveillance on you."


Casey joined us eventually and the rest of the afternoon winded down without new revelations. Richard told me to be very careful, if I do find the list, I needed to tell him immediately. He could arrange for my protection with a few friends that he had on the police force. I was not worry about them finding me; I'd love to get a chance to repay them for killing Steve and the other men in Iraq for nothing more than their intrigues. In mind I was comparing myself to a Washington suit like a senator, I had been trained in firearms and had basic combat training, plus I also had a P226 Elite in case someone tried to rob me. I was a fool; I would never face down someone at the top like that, they were too smart and clever to ever come out of the shadows.

My mind wandered over where he could have hidden the list, but the answer was obvious as I grabbed the antique lamp. There was nothing visible inside or outside, but I knew Steve was inventive. I poured a bottle of Vaseline into the lamp and shook it around. After about a minute, I opened the lid to find a small piece of folded paper drifting to the top of the oily mess. I had the evidence that we needed and quickly called Richard. He told me that it might be best to get out of my present location and find some place safe to stay after I gave him the list.

I opened up the safe where I kept the Bar's weekly income before I made deposits on Saturday morning. I had probably $75K for me and Casey to run off somewhere until this blows over. My first instinct was to book a plane ticket, but that would be too obvious and I couldn't take the risk of the TSA would record my travel plans. Instead, I chose a lower tech method of travel, I had heard from some friends that Freighters allowed people to rent cabins out for trips at discounted rates, sort of like a cruise without all the insane characters and casino floor. I quickly found a freighter heading to Nova Scotia, which would be a good hiding place if any. I wrote out an email to all my staff, saying I was closing the bar for a few days and told all the staff in the kitchen to consider this break a paid vacation for all their hard work.

In a hurry, I told Casey to pack lightly and we both ran downstairs. I must have driven like an insane New Yorker, but I wanted to get rid of this list as quickly as I could. I had told Richard to meet me at the old dockyards, which was not that far from my freighter. As I was about to exit the car, Casey held my hand.


He looked very reflective in ways I had never seen him before, "What is wrong Casey?"


"Don't go out there, they already killed Richard and you will be dead, before you reach your rendezvous point."


"I know you are afraid, but..."


He glared at me, "This is bigger than you and me. I am sorry."


Then it hit me, "You were sent to spy on me, is that why you kept looking at me back then?"


He nodded, "I am sorry Adam. You weren't that far off about my backstory, I was born in a rural town within Idaho, kicked out of my home when my folks couldn't "pray the gay away", and did odd jobs for a while. What you didn't add in was that I was able to get into college with a scholarship, and then get picked up by the Agency. They trained me and made me a field agent."


I was shocked and angry, "How long have you been lying to me?"


"I started remembering things after a few months, then told my superiors that I would go into "deep cover" to investigate how much you knew."


"Why not just kill me?"


"We had no idea where the list was and needed your help. The agency was monitoring Richard Cort as well, but he did not come to you immediately after Steve's death."


"So, are you going to kill me now?"


"No, I want you to drive and go to that freighter. I will report that I let you go and face my punishment."


"Why? You caught me and you duped me. You tricked me into giving away my position and secrets. You've won."


"I...I can't let them hurt you. I already owe you too much for the kindness that you have shown me and what I have taken away from you."


"You killed Steve!"


"Yes, when he was going to meet one of your old commanding officers for classified information to be released in tandem with the list in his possession."


"What the fuck is Project Antioch? Why do we need to give Terrorists chemical weapons? Why is it worth so many lives to hide this secret?"


"I don't know and I am not supposed to know. That's how it works; I am just a soldier in this like you were. I have orders I had to follow."


"But you are violating your orders right now by telling me all of this."


"You're a good man and I can't let you die."


"What will happen to you?"


"Most likely, I will disappear forever. An asset that cannot obey commands is too dangerous to be allowed alive."


"Then just kill me, you never loved me to begin with and you don't really owe me anything."


"You need to leave..." he began opening the door, but I pulled out my gun.


"You are not going anywhere. I am a dead man either way; even if you sacrifice yourself and I get to the freighter. How long until your people find me? I've heard the stories about the CIA; I'll be dead in a few days due to food poisoning. Take my gun and kill me!"


"I can't"


"You might not regret it today, maybe not even when they kill you tomorrow, but is a few more hours or days of life of one man worth another person's death."


"Why are you doing this Adam, I killed Steve, I lied to you, and I manipulated you for my own goals?"


I exhaled, "Because, I loved Casey"


He grabbed the gun and cocked the trigger, "My real name is Jason Riley..."


The bullet went through my skull in a clean shot. I felt no pain. Jason shot two more times at my heart and as my senses dulled, I heard him whisper in my dead ears.


"Casey loved Adam, too".





If you like this story, please feel free to send feedback to time_391@hotmail.com