The Straitjackets
Spring 2009
page 9

Operation Cloudburst (or How to Dress in Chemical Warfare Drag) Operation Cloudburst (or How to Dress in Chemical Warfare Drag)

By Tom Fillion


They were in Saddam's splash zone.

Richard Wellman sat in front of the television watching CNN’s REPORT ON CHEMICAL WARFARE featuring Chemical Ali and a cast of thousands.  Saddam's look-a-like had drip-dried the Shiites and Kurds with acrylic paint by numbers.

"I've got my protection," Wellman said.

A few minutes later he came out in a silver jogging suit with a red stripe on it. The suit was made of plastic and was torn in several spots.  He carried two black garbage bags. Extra large. Extra Glad.

"If they hit us with chemical or biological, this stuff goes on and then you're supposed to get in the shower and run water over you," he said.

The water on their compound looked like skim milk, two percent on a good day.

 "What are the chances Saddam will fire on us?  I didn't think they had anything that reached this far," Tierney said.

 "Nobody knows if he has intercontinental ballistic missiles," Wellman said. "If he does, there are MRE's in the closets in case we get stuck here with no food.  We got thirty boxes of water too."

 "We can't sit around worrying about this.  If things get rough they're supposed to fly us out of here on a military transport," Tierney said.

 "How they going to fly us out if Saddam cropdusts us?"

 "I don't know.  There's still a chance that it'll all be called off at the last minute."

 "They're not going to back down. It's all about Arab pride," Wellman said. He sat down in his homemade chemical warfare suit and overlapped his garbage bags.  He continued to watch CNN and chewed off the edges of an egg salad sandwich before downing the middle part.

Tierney went to his room to listen to transport planes fly directly over the compound.  C-5's and C-130's flew low enough to rattle their prefabricated villa.  Fighter jets streaked through the sky in six packs of ninety proof, jelly-filled donuts heading northeast toward King Khalid City bordering Iraq. Helicopters landed and took off at the Saudi National Guard outpost. The roar of planes mixed with the old time radio call of the imam in the mosque.  Wild dogs barked, feral cats in the sewers screeched, and large generators from a chicken farm hummed burnt feathers into smoke signals.

The next day was the meeting about demobilization, the day they would find out. Iraqi ICBM's wilted with erectile dysfunction. Leave or stay. Would Saddam try to curdle them? Turn them into splish splash, slop buckets of whey?

Company managers Edward Barry and Clint Weatherspoon stood in front of the small auditorium to answer questions. It didn’t take long before the meeting turned to shouting.

 "The American Embassy has advised us there is no need for demobilization in the Western Province," Colonel Weatherspoon said.

 "Dependents will have an option to stay or leave in the Eastern Province only, mates," Edward Barry said.


Tierney listened from the back of the standing-room-only auditorium.  A short man with stooped shoulders stood nearby, dressed in gray sweat pants with a navy blue sweatshirt.  He was a computer technician in a flight simulator who made the best beer on the compound. The man took a few steps in one direction, stopped, pirouetted, and marched in the other direction, mumbling to himself.  He walked by Tierney with deranged eyes, no longer simulating sanity. He paced and babbled.

 "If we get the word, we can get everyone out of here in forty-eight hours on a transport," Colonel Weatherspoon yelled to the crowd that didn't salute him like they did the underpaid Pakistani at the security gate.

The meeting was on the verge of going hopscotch and Kurdish.

 "We could all be dead in forty eight minutes," one man yelled back.

Colonel Weatherspoon had no answer and stood in front of the crowd like a wooden Indian taxidermed in a Connecticut Yankee blackjack reservation.  Finally, he deferred to a weapons specialist in the audience.

"Carl, what do we know about their chances of hitting us here?"  Colonel Weatherspoon asked.

Carl stood up. Everyone quieted. The brewmaster sipped the babble and foam hanging his lip.

"The most up-to-date information is they don't have anything that can reach us here in the Hijaz," Carl said.

 "Are you a hundred percent certain?" the forty-eight minute man asked.  "I've got my family here.  I want to know."

"That's the only thing that I can tell you.  That's the intelligence we've received.  We've been over all the photos," Carl said.

"That's not good enough.  If we're not safe here, then the company should get us out of here NOW.”. 

Weatherspoon and Barry were speechless. The man battered their meek response. 

The meeting resolved nothing.  The company’s plan to fly them out of Saudi Arabia was androgynous, neither here nor there with jogging suits and garbage bags. The plan was bound in a black, three-ring binder entitled “Operation Cloudburst.” Edward Barry blustered and waved the binder in front of the crowd, but the loud, C-5 grumbling of people meant it was worthless. Non-alcoholic. From their pale enthusiasm it was obvious that Colonel Weatherspoon and Edward Barry hoped the plan would never burst.

After all, there were high-ranking officers on the compound to protect. Villas were guarded by four-legged Germans with sharp teeth and automatic weapons from the Office of Security and Intelligence. They had triple garbage bags for their jogging suits.

Carl, the weapons expert with U2 family portraits of Saddam and his country of simulators adoring their dictator, stormed out of the auditorium. "Fuck off!" he yelled, flinging a crumpled piece of top secret security against the wall. He passed in front of Tierney.

The brewmaster picked up the paper and uncrumpled a new recipe for Kurdish beer. He turned the paper into saliva before anyone from the Office of Security and Intelligence sharked it from him.

Tierney went outside the auditorium where the downtown Filipinos set up a donut shop every week to catch churchgoers in an Islamic country before they converted to glaze or chocolate. He bought old-fashioned cake donuts with sprinkles of Joseph's many-colored-coat, all in remembrance of Operation Cloudburst. When he got back to the villa, Wellman, dressed in chemical warfare drag, exchanged an egg salad sandwich for a donut.



Tom Fillion

Tom Fillion is a graduate of the University of South Florida. He teaches mathematics and coaches golf and tennis at a Tampa public high school. His short stories have appeared in Ramble Underground, Hamilton Stone Review, Cautionary Tale, Word Catalyst, Decomp Literary magazine, Storyglossia and Tonapah Review. Forthcoming at Shelf Life, Word Riot,, Rose & Thorn, and Fiction Circus.


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