Last Winter (2014) I got this novel sent to me by Khalid that was totally out of my ‘normal’ reading program but it sounded like all the movies I watch which are action movies chockablock with copious amounts of violence. I started the Agency Rules – Never an Easy Day at the Office I found it was so much heavier than Action Romance, so it took me a little longer than I had hoped to read it. That is underselling it. It’s an enjoyable mental workout and by heavy I’m not talking about it lacking the rosy road to romance; this book has parts that are titillatingly brutal in the extreme. Kamal Khan, the anti-hero, is not the misunderstood and wounded male that women, in this novel, are dying to find the soft side. Kamal is a well equipped, highly trained operative that sheds all of his humanity to become a ghost amongst both friends and enemies.
As I read Agency Rules – Never an Easy Day at the Office I became a fanatic of Kamal. Soon, Spring/Summer 2015, Khalid will release the next installment of Agency Rules will be released. I am counting the days. Khalid was happy to take on this Hashtag challenge because it was perfect for Kamal, and I was happy because it was perfect for Khalid!
I AM by Khalid Muhammad
In the world that I am in, I don’t have the luxury of taking a curtain calls, hearing applause or congratulatory statements. My career doesn’t give me the opportunity to be known to those around me in any personal manner. Everything that emerges from my mouth is a tale wrapped in a wealth of knowledge and experience that can’t easily be easily unraveled without the fine toothcomb that very few people possess, and that number decreases with each passing day.
My life is spent in the shadows, unknown to those I am watching, unnoticed by those who are my targets and unmemorable to those who have nothing to do with my objectives. I may be inconsequential to them, but as I log their interactions, conversations and movements, they never know their time to die is racing toward them that much faster.
I am a specialist in the art of destruction. I decimate a target’s mind before I take their soul. I am trained to make them doubt everything they think, feel and believe, to question every allegiance and association before I rip life from their body. Sometimes with a brutality that would horrify the common onlooker, and sometimes with a covert strike while they sit having a meal with family and friends. I live by words like goals, objectives, and missions.
But I didn’t start out this way. I was just like you… once. I had a childhood. I had teenage years of rebellion. I had a mother who tried to salvage my gentle spirit from the man who started the transformation. The man who stole my childhood and forced me to live in the image he had created in his mind. The demons tore at my soul and ravaged my spirit until I found my direction, a channel for my re-emergence. It all started the day I signed my name to the contract pledging my life and service to the protection of an ideal greater than any single person.
I was broken into singular parts and re-assembled into the most lethal form of prior self. I was trained to leave humanity at the door, find the target, gather what I could and then eliminate them in the most efficient manner possible. I am not like you anymore. I don’t share your mannerisms anymore. Hesitation has been replaced with patience. Morality substituted with duty. And humanity has disappeared with the blood and bodies that I have seen fall, both my own brothers and the targets that we hunt with a vengeance to do onto them as they have done onto us. No, I am not like you anymore. Not even in shades.
I am known by many incarnations, learning to be something I am not. It is the nature of my life, my work and my continued existence on this planet that I be able to draw people near while keeping my own emotional and personal distance. Being able to live this way is a character trait that I learned as a child for the environment that I was forced to grow in and has become the singular greatest advantage that I have achieved. I am who I need to be for each situation, for each interaction, for each individual, without remorse, without questioning.
When my superiors asked me to draft this, I was unsure of the purpose, unable to grasp the importance and magnitude. We don’t take curtain calls. We are not celebrated as individuals, but as a service. We are not part, but one machine that moves in fluid motion together to defend and protect a nation from threats seen and perceived.
You will know me by many names. Many personalities. You will hear whispers, catch glimpses from the corner of your eye of a person that seems familiar but you will never know that I am or that I was.
Today, you will know me as Kamal, an operative in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence division. Tomorrow, I will not be as you see me today and all of this will no longer matter, for it is just a legend crafted to fit this situation, this time, this requirement, because it is the nature of my life, my work and my continued existence on this planet.
Agency Rules – Never An Easy Day At The Office Synopsis:
Celebrated as a ragtag force that defeated and broke the Soviet Union, no one predicted the Mujahideen would bring with them a plague that would spread like wildfire through Pakistan in the years to follow. When the battle-worn fighters returned with no enemy or war to fight, they turned their sights on the country that had been their creator and benefactor.
From the same battlegrounds that birthed the Mujahideen, a young Kamal Khan emerges as a different breed of warrior. Discarding his wealthy family comforts, Kamal becomes a precision sniper, an invincible commando and a clandestine operative bringing intimidation, dominance and death with him to the battlefield. Ending the plague is his prime directive.
Shrouded in political expediency, hampered by internal power struggles, international espionage and doublespeak that makes Washington’s spin doctors proud, Kamal’s mission is a nightmare of rampant militant fundamentalism that threatens to choke and take Pakistan hostage. For him, the fight is not just for freedom, but the survival of a nation.
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Agency Rules – Never An Easy Day At The office Excerpt:
“Kaleem, Kaleem!” Kamal yelled, slapping him across the face. He paused for a second to reach down to check for a pulse. Faint, but he is alive. Kamal lifted Kaleem over his shoulder, wincing from the pain in his torso from by the repeated blows. “I’ll get us out of here,” he said to his friend, “just hang on.” He moved towards the door, knowing there was only one escape route, which would most likely end with confrontation with either Faheem or the Brigadier and his reinforcements. He could tell the Brigadier who he was, but not Faheem. That information would end up in Bajaur.
Reaching the door, Kamal poked his head out to see if anyone was in the corridor. He saw a shadow move in the corridor and quickly pulled back into the hall. Glancing around, he found a dark corner where he could put Kaleem, while he dealt with the shadow in the corridor. Setting him down, Kamal heard a noise in the hall behind him. He sat motionless, protected from sight by the darkness that engulfed the area around him, surveying the area for clues to the direction of the sound. He had been struggling with dark spots in his eyes since the goon struck his head, but he was sure that he saw something move to his right.
“You might as well come out,” a voice hollered. “We have you surrounded.”
Kamal quietly moved from his location to one closer to the voice, and called out, “Who the fuck is we?”
“We are the Frontier Constabulary,” said the voice, giving Kamal a better indication of where the person was standing in the darkness. “Come out now, Dawood! Or we open fire!”
Open fire? Is he kidding? He has no idea where I am. Kamal called out again, slowly moving closer to the voice, “Open fire. You will only kill your own.”
“Do you think this is a negotiation?” the voice yelled. “Show yourself.”
“If you are FC, you’re a ranking officer,” Kamal called back. “Protocol demands that you identify yourself.”
Suddenly, the tone of the voice changed. That the intruder was familiar with the keyword protocol followed by the military for hostage situations made him realize that he was dealing with someone who either is or was military.
“Name and rank, solider!” the voice called out, booming through the warehouse.
“Fuck you and your name and rank!” Kamal answered, moving again in the darkness behind the Brigadier. “You know who I am. Tell me who the fuck you are!”
The silence was deafening as Brigadier Imtiaz contemplated his next move. Is my luck really this shitty? Did I authorize the capture and interrogation of an ISI operative based on faulty intelligence? His mind spun in different directions, contemplating the fallout from this hurried decision that had been backed only by his over-ambitious ego.
“Men, lower your…” the voice shouted out. His sentence was stopped midstream, as Kamal snatched his sidearm and placed its cool barrel against his temple.
“When you were told that the ISI had a deep cover operative, why would you carry out this mission?” Kamal growled in his ear. “Are you really that stupid? Tell them to lower their weapons and come out of the shadows.”
The Brigadier could feel his throat closing from the chokehold Kamal applied. Tightening it slightly, he ordered him again, “Tell them!” before slightly releasing the hold to allow the Brigadier to speak. In the cover of darkness, no one had seen him take him and not being seen would facilitate his escape without having his cover blown.
“Men, we have a friendly here.” The Brigadier’s raspy voice quavered as he called out to his troops. “Lower your weapons and show yourselves.”
“Wait one minute and then turn on the lights,” Kamal whispered into his ear. He released his hold on the Brigadier’s throat. He had no intention of being there when the lights came on.
Someone pulled a lever, bringing all the lights in the warehouse on. Kaleem’s bruised body lay motionless in a corner. The two closest soldiers ran towards him to check his vital signs, tripping over another body as they ran towards him.
“Men, fan out and search the warehouse,” the Brigadier ordered. “Make sure there are no hostiles left inside.” The Brigadier glanced around the hall for the person who had, moments earlier, had him in a chokehold, but saw no one. His hand instinctively dropped to his sidearm, finding it in his holster, creating even greater confusion in his mind. Why would he leave the gun? He didn’t know how many men I have with me. Looking around the warehouse, all he saw were bodies and blood trails, and his own soldiers, gingerly moving through the building.
Kamal stood on the roof of the warehouse, watching the entire show below. He knew that he had escaped with his life. Kaleem had been sacrificed as the friendly in this encounter, but the bloodlust that the Sheikh had for Dawood was not going to be quenched with just one sacrifice. He would want Dawood as well. Below him was a contingent of FC personnel patrolling the street and making his escape from the building roof impossible. He would just have to wait them out. The Colonel knew that there was a friendly there and the ISI would not confirm the identity after such a brazen attack on an operative. He would have no reason
to leave anyone behind for surveillance, and even if he did, Kamal was confident that he could slip away unnoticed.
Realizing that it may be a while before he could move, Kamal relaxed against the concrete roof, finally taking stock of the various injuries that were battling for his attention. Slumping down against the short wall that surrounded the roof, he slowly slipped into unconsciousness. His last thought was a growing desire to even the score with the Sheikh.
Meet Khalid Muhammad:
By day, Khalid Muhammad is a mild-mannered business executive keeping busy running a marketing and brand management company. By night, his alter ego emerges; one that has a penchant for sadistic retribution towards those who wrong others, and that spends its time devising intricate and detailed plans for a nefarious end.
Born in Pakistan’s troubled Swat Valley, educated and raised in the United States, Khalid returned to Pakistan almost 17 years ago and fell in love with his country. His debut novel, Agency Rules – Never an Easy Day at the Office, is a journey behind the headlines about Pakistan, the world’s most dangerous place, to deliver an intense story that will challenge the reader to question everything they have been told about the country.
He began writing to let the wickedness escape, as the other option means a great deal of blood, numerous torture implements and… well, infinite ways to dump a body. It’s safer for everyone involved and less dangerous for the guilty… until he writes another book.
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