05 Escaped Bethesda MD - Wednesday

Escaped: Fighting my way home

© Copyright 2009

Written by Banzai Ben and Amazing Anastasia

ben@banzaiben.com

 

 

Chapter 05 – Wednesday 26 September 2007

 

Bethesda Maryland – Wednesday Day Twenty-Six

 

That’s very strange. It was all dark, dark as midnight on winter solstice. Except for the light I saw in the middle of a clearing in the forest. I stumbled towards the light tripping over unseen things on the forest floor. I stopped at the edge of the clearing and peered at the light. It was a fire with a large black pot on it. Around the fire were three diaphanous apparitions that looked more like vapors of ghosts than persons, dressed in flowing black dresses and pointy hats, one of them was stirring the pot. Shit, whatever they were cooking smelled bad, it smelled like ass.

 

One of the specters turned around and her gaze pierced my heart. It was my ex-girlfriend Jugs with a wicked looking green face. Jens probably would have thought that she looked perfect. She cackled, it sounded like echoes in a canyon. “Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.” She turned back and threw a cat into the pot, smoke and stench erupted from the pot.

 

The second specter turned her gaze towards me and it filled my heart with coldness. This one was Elle, the nurse from the hospital her face was an eerie yellow. She cackled and a lightning bolt flashed from an unseen dark cloud. “Thrice and once, the hedge-pig whin'd.” She turned back and threw a hedgehog into the pot, an ungodly steam filled the air.

 

The last specter turned her gaze towards me and it seemed to set my body and mind on fire. It was Jens, her face seemed flamed in red. Her cackle rolled through the heavens like thunder before a storm. “Harpier cries:—'tis time! 'tis time!” She turned, picked up what looked like bird with a woman’s head and threw it into the caldron. Flames shot upward, splitting the night sky with unholy fire.

 

The three of them danced around the caldron and sang with their harmony rolling like thunder, while adding ingredients:

“Round about the caldron go;
    In the poison'd entrails throw.—
    Toad, that under cold stone,
    Days and nights has thirty-one;
    Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
    Boil thou first i' the charmed pot!”

 

“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble.”

 

After the last chant and vile ingredient was added dense suffocating smoke enveloped the clearing. As the smoke dissipated, standing in the middle of the cauldron was a huge, nude, red she-devil. As she turned to face me, the devil took the shape of Ms. Elizabeth Morgan. Her wicked cackles boomed through the air nearly shattering my eardrums.

 

The three witches continued circling and singing.

 

“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble.”

 

She-devil Morgan saw me and instantly I was catatonic and couldn't move. Her long pointed tail snaked slowly towards me as her cackling continued. Closer the wicked tail snaked and no matter how hard I fought I couldn't get free. It reached me and started winding around me, tighter and tighter. Once I was totally constrained it picked me up pulling me towards the cauldron and the she-devil.

 

The three witches continued circling and singing.

 

“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble.”

 

The pot was red hot, seething and bubbling releasing a wicked stench that burned the inside of my nostrils. The she-devil finally had me at the cauldron suspended over it by her wicked tail. She slowly lowered me into the ungodly, unholy soup. I started thrashing and fighting to get free, my feet touched the surface of the elixir and the coldness of death crept into my body.

 

“Hey! What the hell’s going on?” Jens yelled waking me up.

 

I sat bolt upright, grasped my Kimber from the nightstand and flicked on the tactical light. Jens was sitting on her ass on the floor and didn’t look happy.

 

“What are you doing on the floor?” I asked.

 

“You started yelling, something about bitches and witches and thrashing around on the bed. I tried to hug you but you threw me off on the floor.” She grumped.

 

I flipped on the nightstand light, sat down the Kimber, jumped out of bed and helped her up. “Are you okay?”

 

Jens rubbed her butt, “I think you bruised my pride. You need to kiss it and make it better.”

 

I kissed my hand and spanked her on the butt.

 

“Hey! That’s not what I meant.” She complained.

 

I opened my mouth ready with a smart-alec answer when there was a knock on her bedroom door. We jumped in surprise. Dad yelled through the door, “Is everything okay? It sounds like you two were having a fight.”

 

Mom was there too and yelled through the door, “It sounded more like wild passionate sex.”

 

We both blushed. Jens walked to the door and opened it. “Ben was just having a bad dream. I tried to hug him and he went crazy and threw me out of the bed.”

 

Dad just smiled and mom looked disappointed.

 

I looked at the bedside clock. “It’s time to get up anyway. We’ve got PT to do.”

 

Jens whined, “Shit, I thought that we were on vacation.”

 

“No. We’re temporarily stateside and we need to keep up our training. We’ve already missed too much training due to my injuries.” I ordered.

 

Jens looked at me a grumbled, “I love and live to serve you. You old slave driver.”

 

“Just for that attitude, today you get penalty PT.” I quipped back at her.

 

“What the hell is penalty PT.” She grumped again.

 

“It’s not pretty and the longer you are grumpy the worse it gets.” I threatened.

 

“I’m going back to bed.” Jens announced and hopped into bed and pulled the covers over her.

 

I yanked the covers off of her and ordered, “Sergeant Donaldson ten hut.”

 

Jens leapt out of bed.

 

“Yesterday you told me I was grumpy and needed to fix my attitude and you were right. Today you’re the grumpy one. I’ve already decided that PT will be twice as long as twice as hard today. If you don’t fix your attitude right now, we will do PT all day long. And if you keep acting like a spoiled little girl I will order you to spank yourself.” I barked.

 

Evelyn laughed, “I’d love to watch that.”

 

I turned and gave her a dirty look for interfering. She looked shocked.

 

“Permission to speak?” Jens asked in a contrite voice.

 

I turned and looked at her, “Granted.”

 

“Sorry my love, you’re right I was grumpy. We stayed up too late last night talking and then I was too excited to sleep well. Please forgive me.” She looked at the floor.

 

“Sergeant Donaldson. Is that the proper way to stand at attention?”

 

She snapped her head up and looked straight ahead.

 

“Much better. Fall out and give me a hug.”

 

She ran to my side and gave me a big hug and several kisses.

 

“I guess the show is over. I’m going back to bed.” Mom announced turning and heading back to their bedroom.

 

"Gee Mom, I think you should workout with us. You're not getting any younger and I'd hate to see you too old to babysit your grandchildren." Jens asked.

 

Evelyn gave her a dirty look, "Ah what the heck, it can't be that bad."

 

“Well, I’m awake and if Evelyn is joining you two, I might as well to.” Dad announced.

 

Jen leaned over and whispered to me, “We need to take it easy on him. He doesn’t do PT as often as he should.”

 

I looked at him and then shot her a wicked smile. “He’s a Marine and needs to be ready at all times. He should be an example for his troops.”

 

Dad said, “Hey what are you two whispering about?”

 

“Sorry sir. That’s NALTS1.” I told him.

1 (Not At Liberty To Say. Another way of saying, “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”)

 

He looked at me and raised an eyebrow. I could tell he didn’t expect to be talked to that way by a sergeant. But then I was more than a sergeant I was his son-in-law-to-be and that came with privileges. It was time that the fat cat brass in the Marines was whipped into shape and I was going to start with the general.

 

“Jens, Dad and Mom. Be ready in ten minutes. Shit! I forgot. Where are we doing PT today.”

 

Jens smiled, “Daddy has a gym in the basement. But we might have to dust down there first.”

 

The light went on in Dad’s eyes. He figured out that he was in for PT from hell today. “You know, I think that I’m going to be busy today and might not have time for PT.” He tried to weasel his way out.

 

I looked at him and said, “I thought you were on vacation today. You wouldn’t be scared of a little exercise would you?”

 

Jens added, “Come on daddy, it’ll be so fun. We haven’t worked out together in years.”

 

He was just like me and couldn’t resist a request from Jens.

 

“Okay. I guess I can do PT.” He said in a dejected tone.

 

I just fixed Jens’s pissy attitude and I wasn’t going to put up with his attitude. “Now I know where Jens gets her grumpy attitude from. Just remember, because of Jens we’re already doing a double workout. If you don’t fix your attitude I’ll make it a triple workout.” I teased and hoped he wouldn’t call my bluff.

 

He opened his mouth like he was going to speak, thought better about it closed his mouth and they both left the room.

 

Jens jumped in my arms, “Damn. I can’t believe my man talked to my dad like that. You make me so hot.” And she smothered me with kisses.

 

I peeled her off me. “Come on Hon, we need to get going. I don’t want dad and mom to be ready before we are.”

 

I grabbed my workout gear and headed into the bathroom. “Hey I needed to go in there Jens complained.”

 

“You snooze, you lose. I’ll try not to stink it up too bad.” I yelled through the closed door.

 

“Ewww, that’s gross. Jens yelled.

 

I wished I could follow through on my threat, but I didn’t need to right now.

 

I stepped out five minutes later wearing one of my favorite t-shirts. It has the USMC emblem on it. Above the emblem is says, “The more you sweat in peace! Below the emblem it finishes with, "The less you will bleed in war!” And a pair of comfortable shorts.

 

Jens had on a gray Marine workout t-shirt and a pair of short and tight red shorts. Across the butt they said, “Marine Booty.”

 

I laughed when I saw them. “Hey. You never wore those in Hawaii.”

 

She wickedly smiled, “They aren’t quite regulation. Besides, you’re the only Marine that’s getting this booty.”

 

I picked up the phone in Jens's room and called her mobile phone.

 

"Damn, who's calling me at this time of the morning?" She looked at the caller ID and noticed it was her home number, looked over at me and saw me on the phone.

 

She smiled and sang in a childlike voice, "Hello."

 

"Is this Miss. Jennifer E. Donaldson?"

 

"Yes this is she. Is this the biggest, bravest, sexist Marine in the world? Is this Bennie R. Blaine?" Jens answered.

 

"In person, I replied."I'm just calling to put in a reservation for a booty call."

 

She grinned at me with a twinkle in her violet eyes, "I have many times open, how about now?"

 

"I was thinking in about ten years from now."

 

She faked a pout, "You know, someone told me if you snooze you lose. I don't know if I can wait that long."

 

"What are you afraid of, that it might be too old to work by then?"

 

"I was thinking more like you might be too old to work by then." She shot back.

 

"I can always become a trucker."

 

She looked quizzically at me, "I don't understand?"

 

"Then I could get a new Peterbuilt2." I laughed and hung up the phone.

2 Peterbuilt – A brand of semi truck.

She hung up and came over and jumped on me, "Woooo Hoooo, the first call I've ever gotten from you."

 

All firsts with Jens required a celebration and this was no different. Several smoldering kisses later there was a knock at the door.

 

They opened the door and dad and mom walked in. "You two decent?" dad asked.

 

"Mmm, I wished they weren't." mom said.

 

I looked at them and couldn't believe it. He was wearing a very old set of Marine sweats that had seen better days and were too small for him. Mom had on an equally ratty set of sweats.

 

"We're decent but you two aren't. You look like refugees from Goodwill." Jens admonished them. "You can't work out looking like that."

 

I looked at Jens, "You take care of mom and I'll take care of dad."

 

Jens grabbed a couple things from her dresser and her and mom headed out of the room.

 

"You're going to die if you wear those hot sweats for this workout. Besides you need to be able to see your muscles while you work them to make sure that you're working them correctly. I don't have shorts that will fit you, but I do have a t-shirt that might stretch enough."

 

I dug in my travel pack and pulled out another t-shirt. "Here, try this on." On the front it said "USMC" with the Marine emblem on the back it said, "Pain is Weakness leaving the body."

 

He took a look at the back and grimaced. He pulled of his sweatshirt exposing his beer-belly and pulled on the t-shirt. It barely fit.

 

We walked out in the hallway and the girls were already done. "You look good daddy." Jens said.

 

Evelyn smirked, "You look like you've had a few too many beers to me."

 

There was nothing wrong with Evelyn and I was enjoying the sight. Jens had given her a nice pair of red shorts that weren't quite as tight or quite as small as hers. And a pink t-shirt that said, "I love my Marine," with three hearts on the front. Evelyn looked like an older version of Jens. Hot Damn. If this is what Jens will look like when she gets older we just might have ten children.

 

Jens smiled at me, reading my thoughts, "Thanks my love, that's the nicest thing you thought about me all day."

 

Then she leaned over and whispered to mom and mom blushed.

 

Being gentlemen we let the ladies walk in front of us to the basement gym. Besides we were both enjoying the view. Dad leaned over and whispered to me, "I don't know if it's a blessing or a curse. But all the women from Evelyn's side of the family retain their beauty until they die. You should have seen Evelyn's mom."

 

The ladies knew they had an audience so they were putting a little more emphasis in their walk, a little more bump in the trunk. As we reached the basement door they turned and smiled at us saying in unison, "Did you enjoy the show boys?"

 

I winked at dad, "What show, I don't know what you're talking about."

 

They looked mortified. Then Jens said, "You mouth may say that, but your body's giving you away," as she looked at my slightly tented shorts.

 

I turned red and mom said, "You're right he's so cute when he blushes."

 

"That's okay; just remember that you're teasing the person that's going to be your workout instructor today." I threatened.

 

Both their foreheads crinkled in concern.

 

"Hey, who made you the instructor today?" Jens argued.

 

"I did by the virtue of being the most fit one here. I'll gladly arm wrestle anyone for the position." I looked at all three of their faces and there were no challengers.

 

"Enough of flapping our jaws, it's time to kick butt and take names. You're in Ben's boot camp today and your asses are mine."

 

We walked down the stairs into a full basement that was awesome. It had a large finished family room with a pool table at one end and a wet bar in a corner. There was a large screen television hanging on wall at the other end and two very comfortable looking couches sitting in front. In another corner was a very dusty Bowflex.

 

I looked over at the general. "Tisk, tisk, tisk what sort of Marine let's their equipment look like this? Go get some towels and clean this up."

 

"Like hell I am. I'm the general." He'd finally had enough of my orders.

 

"Not today! Today you’re on vacation and you're my father-in-law-to-be. No disrespect sir, but you listen to me. Jens and I are going to have babies and I don't want their grandparents too be so old and feeble that they can't enjoy them. You're out of shape and overweight and with the stress of your job headed towards a heart attack. Besides that you’re a Marine and you should be an example to your men."

 

"So fine, you don't want to clean the equipment? You can run in place. Get those fucking legs moving!"

 

"Jens, will you please wipe down the equipment?"

 

 I looked at Jens and mom and could see a new respect in their eyes.

 

"Gladly my love. I love and live to serve you." Jens joyfully said.

 

"I'll help her." Mom added. I think she was afraid I would make her run in place too.

 

Dad was slacking, "Hey get those knees up." I barked.

 

They came back with the towels and had the Bowflex shining in no time.

 

"Excellent job ladies." I was greeted with stereo Jens looking smiles.

 

I let dad stop running, besides he'd already worked up a heavy sweat and was beginning to stink.

 

I explained our workout to mom and dad. Since we hadn't worked out in awhile and it was a double workout, I decided to do a full upper body workout. With four of us using the same machine it meant there was more running in place than normal. Great for Jens and me but not so good for them.

 

I started setting up the machine for our first exercise. "We're going to need some old towels to wipe up our sweat and some water to drink. Anyone want to go and get it?"

 

Dad volunteered and ran up the stairs.

 

Jen and mom came over and gave me a big hug. Then Jens planted a big kiss on my lips, "Thanks my love."

 

Mom said, "Son, it's been priceless to see you order Glen around. I've been telling him for years to start working out."

 

I looked at her and asked, "How was his last physical?"

 

"The doctor said he was in great shape just that he needed to lose forty pounds." She replied.

 

"No heart issues?" I checked.

 

"The doctor says he's got the heart of an ox."

 

I gave them both a wicked smile and they shuddered. "Good."

 

Dad made it back, "Hey, you guys aren't running in place?"

 

"Of course not, we were waiting for you." I replied.

 

I could tell that he wanted to get grumpy about it; he took one look at me and knew better.

 

I went first on the exercises. I wanted to demonstrate the correct form. The workout was a combination of my normal Monday and Tuesday workouts with the appropriate modifications for the Bowflex. Jens did great, Mom tried her best with the cast on her lower arm, but I could tell that dad wasn't trying is hardest.

 

I pulled him over to the side while Jens and mom finished their sets.

 

"General Sir. I've always been proud of you until today. Yes, I'm addressing you now as my general so you can court-martial me if you want. You've had a poor attitude and have been slacking all morning. I expected better from you. If this is the sort of man that leads the Marines perhaps I should resign and join the Navy." I turned and walked away. I was serious and I wasn't going to push him anymore.

 

I setup and did my next exercise. Dad came over and did his first decent set of the workout.

 

I clapped him on the back, "That was a good set dad."

 

Everyone got with the routine then. We were all congratulating and praising each other, it was a much more enjoyable workout.

 

When we finished I looked at the three of them, "You three made me proud today. That was a hell-of-a-workout." They all beamed.

 

"You do that every day son?" Dad questioned.

 

Jens piped up, "No, normally he only does the front or the back. Even though we did both today he took it easy on us. The first time I did Ben's boot camp I was so sore I could hardly move. But my Honey gave me such a wonderful massage."

 

Mom gave Glen a romantic look and said, "I'd love to give you a massage but you stink."

 

I replied, "Those are toxins that he's sweating out. When his diet is better and he's in better shape he won't smell as bad when he sweats."

 

"I'd take two showers if I could get a massage." Dad answered, "In fact, I'm leaving right now for the first one."

 

After he left mom came over and hugged me and kissed me on the cheek. "Jens is right. You are a very special young man. Thank you so much for getting Glen to work out with us today. I don't know how I'll ever repay you."

 

I blushed just a little and didn't know what to say. Jens came over and rescued me with a kiss. "Mom, sometimes my big Marine doesn't know how to take a compliment. But know that what you said to him really touched his heart."

 

"So where are you to going now?" Mom asked.

 

"I'd like to go for a little run to cool down." I said.

 

"Maybe Glen and I could come." Mom questioned.

 

"Mom. You don't understand. A little run to Ben is at least ten miles." Jens added.

 

She looked at me and said, "Well, I don't think I'm up for that today. Why don't I go call the Secret Service agents to come and take you two for your run?" And she started up the stairs.

 

We both echoed, "Thanks mom."

 

As soon as she was out of sight Jens tackled me and straddled my body. "Damn you! From the way you dealt with Dad you've got me so damn horny. And we can't do anything about it."

 

I smiled at her and said, "What do you mean? Of course we can do something about it."

 

Hopefully she looked at me.

 

"We can run it out of you and then take cold showers."

 

She started pounding my chest, not hard enough to hurt. "Damn you! You're such a tease. One of these days I'm going to…"

 

Mom walked in and said, "You're going to what?"

 

"I'm going to make him pay for his teasing." Jens answered.

 

"I thought I'd tell you the Secret Service is waiting for you." Mom turned and left.

 

Jens looked at me, "I wanted to say that one of these days I'm going to be so horny I'm going to screw your brains out." and gave me a kiss that proved her intentions.

 

She jumped up and helped to pull me up. "Let's go. I've got other plans for today that just working out."

 

"What are those plans?" I queried.

 

"NALTS." Jens said and laughed.

 

We ran upstairs and grabbed a quick meal replacement shake for breakfast. Then walked in the living room.

 

The same two agents from yesterday were waiting in the living room.

 

"Good morning." Jens chimed.

 

"Good morning ma'am and sir. How are you today?"One agent replied.

 

"Please, call us Jens and Ben. And what are your names?" Jens asked.

 

"I'm Phil and my partner's Buddy."

 

We both held out our hands, "Pleased to meet both of you."

 

We walked out of the house and got into their black car.

 

"So where are we going?" Jens asked.

 

"Jens, we're taking you over to the track at the Chevy-Chase high school. It's the closest facilities that we can use." Phil replied.

 

"Oh goodie. I've ran there before, they have a great track." Jen gushed.

 

I thought, shit running on a track. That's an exercise in boredom, the only thing worse in running on a treadmill.

 

"Are you getting grumpy? If so you could always do penalty laps." Jens asked sensing my feelings.

 

"That depends on where you run." I answered.

 

"What the hell does that have to do with it?" She asked.

 

"Well it changes my point of view. Things look very different if you run beside me verses running in front of me. Especially with those shorts, when you run in front of me I Seymour Butts."

 

Jens started blushing and Phil and Buddy chuckled. "You two are a great couple. I wished that my wife and I still teased each other like that." Buddy said.

 

"Perhaps you should run in front of me so I can Seymour Butts." Jens shot back.

 

I looked at her and looked at my shorts, her eyes followed mine. "It won't work with these shorts. Only with yours."

 

Buddy and Phil started laughing. "You two are too funny."

 

Jens slipped her hand over and pinched me on the butt. "Ouch, quit pinching my butt."

 

"You know what they say? If you can pinch more than an inch…" Jens teased.

 

We pulled up to the school track just in time to save Jens from a tickle attack. The car barely got stopped when Jens bailed out and said, "Last one to the track is a rotten egg."

 

I was getting ready to bail out and Buddy leaned back and said, "Man you're lucky, you've got a great girl. Do whatever it takes to keep her." And shook my hand.

 

"Thanks Buddy. I'm the lucky one." I bailed out of the car and started chasing Jens. She already had a half lap lead on me.

 

As I watched her run, her hair blowing in the wind and sparking in the sun and that incredible body; I thought, I'm damn lucky.

 

She wasn't running fast so I caught up to her on the next lap and ran behind her for a bit. Yep Mr. Seymour Butts was here today.

 

"Are you watching my butt again?" Jens yelled back at me.

 

"No, I'm watching a partial eclipse of the moon." I teased and ran up beside her.

 

"What are you talking about now? I don't see any moon." She asked with a confused tone.

 

I glanced at her butt and said, "Well, if you didn't have any shorts on it'd be a full moon. But since your shorts are occluding most of your butt it's a partial eclipse of the moon."

 

She grinned at me," Damn. You called me horny today. All you've talked about for the last hour is my butt."

 

I opened my mouth, Jens interrupted. "Please not another joke about it being my best ASSet."

 

She ran closer to me and started sniffing. "Whew! You stink."

 

I lifted my arm and sniffed. "I don't smell anything."

 

She sniffed some more, "Well you were the last one to the track. Yep, you definitely smell like a rotten egg." And then she giggled.

 

"Well, if I smell so bad I'd better run behind you." I moved behind her and started singing:

 

"She has freckles on her butt she is nice.

And when she's in my arms it paradise.

This Marine gives her chase.

Because he loves her naval base.

She has freckles on her butt she is nice."

 

Jens started laughing, "Hey! I do not have freckles on my butt. But I am nice. And where did you ever learn such a goofy song."

 

"You don't know? I thought you knew everything about me."

 

"Well, I don't know where you learn all your silly songs." She said.

 

"I heard it once on the radio."

 

"You remembered it just from hearing it one time?" She asked.

 

"I thought you knew everything about me. That's right, for most songs I only have to hear them once or twice to remember them. I guess it's because Mama taught me how to play piano about the same time I learned to walk."

 

"Ah, that's why your band was so good." Jens replied.

 

I looked at her. "You know about my band?"

 

"Yep, all about it. You started it right out of high school after your Dad died. If I would have been older I'd been your biggest grouper, I mean groupie." She smiled.

 

I blushed. That part of my life was pretty embarrassing, I was a real asshole back then.

 

"Don't blush my love. It was a part of your life and it helped to make you who you are today. Besides your secret is safe with me." She grinned at me. "I don't know about you, but I think I've ran enough for today."

 

"Why don't you go take it easy Jens. I want to run a couple more laps." I wanted just a little time to myself. Jens figured that out and ran over to the car.

 

Jens mentioning the band had inadvertently brought back some really bad memories and I wanted to run them out of my head. I kicked up the speed and sprinted until I couldn't catch my breath and got a stitch in my side. I worked and chased the ghosts out of my head. I ran over to the car and Jens was talking to Phil and Buddy.

 

"You should have seen him when the bikers attacked him. Even with his arm in a cast he took them down." Jens was telling them.

 

"Then what are we doing taking care of you two." Buddy asked.

 

"We don't have CCWs here so we need you two. And don't listen to everything Jens says she exaggerates." I said after I caught me breath.

 

Phil replied, "Yeah right. We read all about that in the Washington Post. If anything she didn't tell enough."

 

"I hate the news. They lie about everything." I argued.

 

Buddy answered, "They don't lie about body counts. You single-handed took out a whole biker gang that the police had been trying to get rid of."

 

Jens gave him a serious look, "That's what happens when you piss-off a Marine."

 

"Remind me never to piss-off either one of you." Buddy laughed.

 

"Don't worry. I don't get pissed-off unless someone tries to kill me or insults my fiancée." I replied.

 

Jens smiled at me, "Thanks dear, that's sweet of you to say. I'm hungry let's go home and eat lunch."

 

"Sounds good to me; what are we doing this afternoon and evening?" I questioned.

 

She gave me an evil grin, "NALTS. But don't worry it won't hurt too much."

 

She started walking to the car and I balked. "Oh, come on Ben. Don't be that way. You'll see it's going to be so fun!" Jen walked back and grabbed my arm and led me to the car.

 

We jumped in the back and Jens slid right up against me. I scooted away. "Hey! Why'd you do that? She asked.

 

"Well, you said that I stank and I didn't want you to have to smell me." I teased.

 

"You know I was kidding." She said.

 

"How about now." I raised my arm up putting my armpit close to her face.

 

"Mmm, you smell sexy to me." She snuggled up against me.

 

Phil rolled down the windows letting the cold air blow into the car, "You two don't stink, but it's certainly getting too hot in here."

 

"I don't think it's hot enough." Jens climbed on my lap and started to making out with me.

 

"You're supposed to be wearing your seatbelts." Buddy ordered.

 

Jens unfastened my seatbelt and hooked it around both of us. "There, now we are." She continued playing tonsil hockey with me. Things were certainly getting hotter now.

 

"We're here." Phil interrupted.

 

I opened the door and we jumped out, "Thanks for the ride guys." Jens looked in the passenger window.

 

"Our pleasure Jens and Ben. You two have a great evening." Buddy responded.

 

"See you tomorrow?"

 

"Unfortunately no, we have other duties tomorrow." Phil replied.

 

"Bye-bye boys" Jens said as we walked up to the house.

 

She smiled big at me, "You know why they didn't get the door for us? The both were too excited and had tents in their pants?"

 

"I bet their girlfriends or wives are going to get a workout tonight." I said.

 

"How about if you give me a workout tonight?" She pleaded.

 

"Okay." I said and saw her get excited."I thought you'd be too tired from today. But I if you think you could do another full workout on the Bowflex I'll give you a new routine."

 

She pouted, "You know that's not what I meant."

 

"Well, what did you mean?"

 

"Uh, I was sort of hoping that we could…" Jens was interrupted when mom opened the door.

 

"Well, it's about time you two are home. We have many things to do before tonight." Mom said.

 

"What's going on tonight?" I hopefully asked.

 

"NALTS." Jens and mom giggled.

 

We walked in the living room and dad was sitting in one of the chairs snoring up a storm.

 

Jens ran over and jumped in his lap and scared the hell out of him. "Hello daddy. We missed you on the run. Perhaps you'll come with us tomorrow?"

 

He gave her a dirty look. "You know young lady. You're not so old that I can't spank you."

 

"I'll help you by holding her down." I volunteered.

 

Jen shot me a dirty look, "That's not fair, You're ganging up on me. I thought you were supposed to protect me."

 

I looked at Jens and said, "Didn't you're parents ever teach to leave sleeping devil-dogs lie?"

 

We all laughed and Jens jumped up. I could tell she was headed towards the shower and I was closer to the room and took off running.

 

"Hey first dibs on the shower." She yelled after me.

 

"Will you two please stop running in my house." Evelyn barked.

 

"You snooze you lose again." I shouted back.

 

I beat her to the bathroom and closed and locked the door. She banged on it, "Come on my love, I really need to shower first. You know how long it takes to dry my hair."

 

"What's it worth to you?" I asked through the door.

 

"Mmm, whatever you want." She moaned through the door.

 

"Okay. I want to know what we're doing tonight."

 

"Okay, anything but that." She wrangled with me.

 

"Nope, you said whatever I wanted."

 

"My love, don't be unreasonable. Mom would kill me if I told you. Come on. Anything else and I'll do it."

 

"You're not lying to me this time?" I teased.

 

"Hey, I resent that. I don't lie to you." She got all huffy.

 

I didn't answer.

 

"Are you still there?" she asked"

 

I didn't answer and flushed the toilet.

 

"Come on please talk to me." She pleaded.

 

"Sorry I can't. I just committed sewercide." And laughed at my own joke.

 

"Okay, I promise. Anything but telling you about tonight. Please my love." She wheedled.

 

"I want you to be my slave for a day." I negotiated.

 

"Oh goodie. Can I wear a little slave girl outfit? Perhaps like Princess Leah in StarWars?"

 

The thought of that had never occurred to me and it was quite enticing. "Not this time, but someday when we're married."

 

Jens said dejected, "Oh. I sure am getting tired of this someday crap. I wonder if someday will ever come."

 

I opened the door and pounced on her driving her back on the bed. "You bet that someday will come. I promise you!" And then I attacked her neck with my mouth.

 

"No, don’t give me a hicky. Not tonight. Please my love." She begged.

 

"I thought you liked hickys." I stopped and looked in her eyes.

 

"I love your hickys and I'm always proud when you give me one. Just not tonight; after tonight you can give me all the hickys you want."She pleaded.

 

I leaned over and gently kissed her. "Okay my love. You're worth waiting for."

 

Her eyes lit up and she smiled, "You really mean that?"

 

"I always have and I always will."

 

She gave me a passion filled kiss. "I'm going to make the wait so worth it." Her eyes filled with the promise of many good times to come.

 

"Let me up so I can get ready." She asked.

 

I rolled off the top of her and watched her walk towards the bathroom. She got to the door, stopped and slipped off her shorts and threw them at me. "Here, entertain yourself while I'm getting ready."

 

I grabbed them as she scampered the rest of the way into the bathroom and closed the door. "I didn't lock the door; just in case you'd like to watch or maybe join me."

 

I ran out of the room and into the kitchen. "Mom, do you have a bucket?"

 

"What do you need a bucket for?" She asked.

 

"NALTS."

 

"Okay, it's under the sink."

 

I grabbed the bucket and filled it up with cold water. Opened the freezer and threw in all the ice I could find.

 

Dad walked in and looked at mom, "What the hell is he doing?"

 

She replied, "He said it was NALTS. But I think it's payback."

 

I carried the bucket down the hallway into Jens's bedroom. Mom and dad followed. I opened the bathroom door and heard Jens singing. She stopped, "Is that you Ben?"

 

I dumped the ice water over the top of the shower, "Paybacks a bitch." I yelled.

 

She let out multiple screams, "Son of a bitch, mother fucker that's cold. You even used ice."

 

Mom and dad were laughing so hard they were crying. Jens opened the shower door slightly and peeked out. "I didn't know you brought an audience." And her face turned redder.

 

Mom said, "Young lady. I should wash your mouth out with soap."

 

She stuck her tongue out and gave mom a raspberry. "I learned those words from you." Closed the shower door and continued singing.

 

Dad laughed and mom elbowed him in the side. "So you think that’s funny." She turned and left.

 

We both laughed again until our sides hurt.

 

"So dad, can you tell me what's going on tonight?" I asked.

 

He looked at me; "NALTS," then laughed and left the room.

 

I thought about going back in the bathroom and flushing the toilet a few times just to aggravate Jens some more. But I was bored with that prank. My stomach growled, hey we didn't get lunch yet.

 

I yelled at the bathroom, "Jens, I'm hungry so I'm going to go eat some lunch."

 

"Don't eat too much my dear. Save some room for later."

 

Ah, something about tonight involved food. Perhaps I can get some more clues if I'm sneaky enough.

 

I walked down the hallway through the living room and dining room and into the kitchen. Mom was sitting at the table.

 

"Hi mom, I was wondering if I could get something for lunch."

 

"Sure Ben what would you like?"

 

"I'm really hungry because all I had for breakfast was a shake. I was thinking three or four sandwiches some chips and maybe a beer or two."

 

She gave me an astounded look, "Uh - I don't think you should have that much for lunch. It will ruin your appetite."

 

"That doesn't matter. I just won't eat tonight."

 

She gave me a frantic look and Jens walked in wrapped up in a nice robe with her hair in a towel. She looked at me and immediately I felt guilty. "Why you sneak. You're trying to find out what's going on tonight. Just for that we shouldn't give you any lunch at all."

 

I looked back at her, "That's okay. I can get Phil and Buddy to take me to a burger joint." And started walking towards the front door.

 

"Young man!" Evelyn commanded, "Don't you dare leave this house and get something to eat. Sit down at this table and I'll give you a sandwich and some chips. But no beer for you."

 

I thought for a second about making a break for it and then I looked at the eyes of Mom and Jens and knew that this was one battle that wasn't worth winning. I pulled the chair out and sat down, I was not happy.

 

Mom looked at me, "He's adorable when he pouts."

 

Jens pulled out my chair and sat in my lap. "Come on my love don't be this way. I promise that if you don't have one if the best times in your life tonight that I'll be you slave until we head to Iraq."

 

This deal sounded good to me. I had visions of Jens fetching me a beer and feeding me grapes and fanning me. All the things I had seen in cheesy old harem movies.

 

"I'm the one that determines whether I have a fun time or not?" I asked.

 

Jens crinkled up one eye, "Normally I would say yes - but I'm not sure this time. I think that we'll let mom and dad be the ones that decide."

 

I thought some more and figured it was worth it, "Okay, it's a deal and mom witnessed it."

 

"Yippee, you'll see this is going to be so fun." Jens gushed, "Okay fix your attitude."

 

Mom slid the sandwich and chips in front of me and even gave me a beer. I think that did more to improve my attitude than anything else. I started wolfing down my food.

 

"Hey, it's not healthy to eat so fast. You'll get sick." Mom complained.

 

I didn't stop and gulped down the rest of the food and slammed down the beer. "Thanks Mom, that was good. I was so hungry. Are you sure that I can't have a couple more sandwiches?"

 

"No. Now get out of my kitchen and go shower. You stink." Mom replied.

 

I looked at Jens, "Yes my love, you do stink."

 

I was indignant. "I think I'll just sit here and stink up the kitchen." I declared.

 

Jens gave me an evil look, "Okay, have it your way. I was just going to ask mom about feminine products."

 

I looked at her and thought she might be serious. "I can take a hint, let me up." Jens got off my lap and I stood up.

 

"I think I'll go shoot some pool." I declared.

 

Jens and mom echoed, "Go shower. You stink."

 

I wandered back into Jens bedroom, took off my shirt and gave it a good sniff. I guess I did stink a little. I grabbed my shower gear and change of clothes and headed into the shower. Wait a minute, this smelled like a trap to me. I went back out to my travel bag and grabbed the door stop that I always carry and went back into the bathroom. I locked the door and slipped the doorstop under the bottom edge of the door. There, now I should be safe in case Jens had any ideas about a retaliatory strike.

 

There were no interruptions to my shower. I stepped out, dried off and got in my clean house clothes. I unlocked the bedroom door and peeked out, the room was empty. I walked over and pulled my book out of the travel bag, stretched out on the bed and started to read.

 

I woke sometime later and Jens was rubbing my head. I opened my eyes and blinked at her.

 

"Hey sleepyhead, it's time to get up."

 

I yawned and stretched, "How long did I sleep?"

 

"All afternoon and I missed you and was so bored." She snuggled up beside me and started kissing me. "You didn't even wake up when I came in the room."

 

I yawned some more, "It must be the weather. I think I'll go back to sleep and sleep the rest of the night." I rolled over and she pinched me on the butt. "Ouch, what did you do that for?"

 

"Oh no you don't. No more sleeping. You need to get up and change." Jens demanded.

 

I rolled back over and looked at her and then I noticed she'd hung my full dress uniform on her closet door.

 

I groaned, "Not that uniform. What sort of formal-function-torture have you and your mom devised for me tonight."

 

Jens swatted me on the butt, "Hey this is important. This might be the most important formal function you'll ever go to."

 

I grinned and teased, "That means I'm either becoming the fricken General or I'm retiring."

 

She swatted me again, "No! This is the formal reception announcing our engagement; you silly goose. I'm finally going to get to show off my man to the whole world."

 

I looked at her and was going to complain and make some jokes. But I noticed the seriousness in her eyes and from that determined that this was very important to her.

 

I jumped up and said, "I love and live to serve you."

 

She let out a whoop and jumped up into my arms. "Damn! You're the man! I thought you were going to give me crap about this."

 

I looked at the love in her eyes, "I can tell this is important to you. So now it's important to me. I'm sorry that I've been such a pain-in-the-ass about it all day."

 

She gave me a huge kiss, "You won't regret this. I'm going to make sure that you have so much fun tonight. Let's get dressed."

 

I set her on the floor and grabbed my full dress uniform off the door. "I need a place to change."

 

She was already peeling off her clothes. "What's wrong with here?" and shot me a smile.

 

"There are too many distractions." I walked out the door and down the hall to the guest half bath.

 

It's an ordeal getting into and making the full dress uniform look right. I was lucky because I paid a tailor to make mine fit just right. I finished and looked in the mirror and it fit just right.

 

I walked back to Jens bedroom and knocked on the door, "You decent?"

 

"No, I'm fantastic." Jens replied and opened the door. She was so lovely that it took my breath away. She was wearing a strapless violet ball gown that cascaded down to the floor. It had a sash that ran down one side and as she turned I saw a low cut back.

 

"Da-am-amn woman!" was all I could say.

 

She kissed me lightly on the cheek, "I'm glad you approve. I bought this dress just for tonight."

 

With Jens looking like this things were certainly looking up for tonight. I was going to be the envy of every man at the function. I puffed up my chest like a proud peacock and offered her my arm.

 

As we walked towards the living room Jens nervously said, "Please don't be upset my love. But Ms. Morgan and the news crew is here."

 

I started to get upset then I looked over at her and saw the hopeful and pleading look in her eyes. This was more important to her than I could ever comprehend.

 

I smiled at her, "Good! I'm going to be the envy of every man in this country." And I was serious.

 

She turned and kissed the hell out of me. "You bet you will, I'm going to be such a flirt with you all night long."

 

We walked in the living room and Ms. Morgan and the crew was videoing us. Jens stopped and waved and turned pressed her body tightly against mine and gave me another huge kiss.

 

Mom and dad were in the corner and started clapping. There were even photographers taking pictures of us.

 

We followed mom and dad out the door and there was a huge crowd that started cheering for us. Even the nosey neighbors watched from their front porches.

 

The driver opened the door and we all climbed in the limo. Right after the door shut dad leaned over and said, "You did good son. I wasn't sure how you'd handle this."

 

I looked at him and then Jens, "This is very important to Jens, so it's very important to me."

 

He slapped me on the back, "Damn! That's the attitude. How about a drink?"

 

"Sure, I'd like tonic water with a splash of lime juice." I answered.

 

All conversation stopped and everyone looked at me.

 

"Are you feeling okay?" They all asked in unison.

 

"Sure, this is so important I don't want anything to dull me senses tonight. Because I might say or do something stupid." Jens hugged me tight and mom and dad looked at me with respect.

 

"Well, I don't have that problem."Dad said and poured himself a bourbon and handed me my drink.

 

"Semper Fi," and we clinked glasses.

 

I looked over at mom, "Sorry, I forgot to mention, you look almost as beautiful as Jens."

 

She smiled, the same type smile at Jens and elbowed dad in the side, "At least someone remembers how to compliment a lady."

 

Dad was taking a drink at the time and sputtered almost spilling his drink, "Yes, I want to say that both my girls look lovely tonight."

 

"It's about time you said that." Jens admonished him and turned to mom. "Just because he took so long I think we should go on a big shopping trip tomorrow and spend bunches of his money."

 

Dad groaned and mom said, "That sounds like a great idea to me. I'm dying to get some new workout clothes."

 

I was feeling evil and added, "Good, I think you should take dad with you. He needs better workout clothes."

 

He gave me a dirty look that changed to a grin when Jens said, "Good we'll all go shopping."

 

"I'm sorry, I can't tomorrow. I'm busy." I answered.

 

"Oh really. What sort of plans do you have?" Jens replied.

 

"NALTS." I laughed.

 

Jens pouted, "You've never gone shopping with me. I hoped that we could do that at least once before Iraq."

 

Dad laughed, "Ha, you're trapped just like you trapped me."

 

I looked at Jens, "I'll go shopping with you if we do one thing."

 

"What's that love?"

 

"I want to make sure that we go to Victoria's Secrets."

 

Dad groaned and mom and Jens laughed, "It's a deal, you can even come in the changing room with me." Jens teased.

 

"You're invited in my changing room too Glen." Mom added.

 

He just looked at all of us and poured another bourbon and slammed it down. "You three are crazy."

 

We all replied, "We never claimed to be sane."

 

Dad looked flustered and we were saved from his caustic reply when the limo pulled up and stopped. The driver got out and opened the door for us.

 

Dad exited the limo and helped mom, I did the same with Jens. I looked up and we were at the Washington Plaza Hotel, this was a top notch place and had to be costing dad a small fortune.

 

The red carpet was down and the paparazzi were in full force. The flashes were blinding and the noise was intense, "Look this way."

 

"No, over here."

 

"How about you give him a kiss."

 

We finally made it through the gauntlet, through the lobby and into the hall. It was packed with people. They all turned when we walked in and started clapping.

 

Jens leaned over to me, "I know you don't like big crowds. Just know that someday I will make this up to you."

 

I whispered back to her, "I sure am getting tired of this someday crap. I wonder if someday will ever come."

 

She turned and gave me a passionate kiss that left no doubt that there would be a someday and it would be a good day.

 

We were ushered to our table at the front of the room and sat down. As we were seated the rest of the crowd found their seats and dinner was served.

 

Form dinner each table was served a basket of French baguettes with a selection of seasoned butters. That was followed with a very tasty bistro mushroom & sherry soup – A smooth bisque flavored with a hint of dry sherry that tantalized the palate.

 

Then they served the wine, a nice selection from the Michael David Vineyards. I was watching and after I was sure that everyone had their wine I stood up.

 

"Ladies and gentlemen and even Marines." Everyone chuckled.

 

"Sorry to interrupt your dinner. But I was taught that no glass of wine should be raised without a toast." I took Jens's hand and she stood up, I looked in her eyes and said:

 

"Here's to the woman that's good and sweet,
Here's to the woman that's true,
Here's to the woman that rules my heart,
In other words, here's to you."

 

We took a sip and everyone clapped, Jens held up her hand and they stopped, "You don't think I'd let Ben have the last word in our relationship." The crowd laughed. "Here's my toast:

 

Because I love you truly,
Because you love me, too,
My very greatest happiness
Is sharing life with you."

 

There were shouts of acclimation and people started tapping their glasses and yelling, "Kiss, kiss, kiss."

 

I took our glasses and sat them on the table and we shared a passionate kiss that caused everyone to cheer and whistle.

 

We sat back down and we were both blushing. Jens reached over and squeezed my hand, "Thanks my love! You almost always do the right thing."

 

The main entrée was served, we had our choice between: Salmon En Croute – A delicate puff pastry that surrounded a succulent salmon and creamy herb cheese with lemon herb sauce or Chicken Montrachet – A chicken breast stuffed with Montrachet cheese, a white chevre from Burgundy, & demi glace sauce.

 

I had the salmon and Jens had the chicken. We ended up sharing and feeding each other. The meal was interrupted several more times with demands that we kiss, it was such torture but we honored each request.

 

Desert came and it was a chocolate truffle cheesecake - creamy chocolate filling in a chocolate crust dusted with cocoa & topped with a chocolate swirl and coffee and liqueurs for the drink.

 

I looked at Jens, "Well, that was fun. I guess you won't be my slave."

 

She smiled, "Silly boy, I'm already your slave. All you have to do is just ask me and I'll do anything. But tonight's not done, it's just beginning."

 

The general stood up and gave the typical speech about how he wasn't losing a daughter but gaining a son. With the typical jokes about how with Jens gone he could finally afford to save some money. What I remember of it was funny and good, but Jens had slipped off her shoe and was running her foot up my leg and distracting me.

 

I was glad that she didn't keep it up much longer or I would have had a tent in my pants when he introduced us as a couple and we stood up.

 

Jens hugged me and said, "It's time for our dance."

 

We walked out to the dance floor and the music started, it was Endless Love by Diana Ross & Lionel Richie. I held Jens close and she put her head on my shoulder and we danced, oblivious to the others. We were in our own world where only the two of us existed. Every movement and every sway held a promise of things to come and every sigh of moments that we would share in the future.

 

The song ended and we kissed and the crowd clapped. Then other joined us on the floor and we danced each dance with until almost midnight.

 

I held Jens on the last dance and said, "We need to go soon Cinderella. Otherwise your clothes will turn back into rags."

 

She sighed, "This was wonderful and I did feel like a princess with you as my prince charming. All the women were so jealous."

 

"And all the men were too." I added.

 

"So Ben, did you have a good time?"

 

"Yes only one thing would make it better." I answered.

 

"What's that?"

 

"If I could take you home and make sweet love to you the rest of the night." I passionately answered.

 

"I wouldn't stop you!"

 

I smiled, "I know." Someday will come.

 

Somewhere Northeast of Khudabah, Pakistan - Close to China – Day Five

 

I wake feeling like a sandwich. Where I'm the meat and the girls are the bread.

 

I didn't think that three people could share such a small space. And I don't know how it can be comfortable for them sleeping so close to me and half on top of me.

 

I do feel much better today. The nausea and cramps are gone along with the chills and the sweats. But it does feel like someone spent all night punching me in the guts. Damn. They're sore. The cure didn't kill me so I hope it made me stronger.

 

I need to find a way to extricate myself from this tangle of arms and legs without waking the girls. I start slipping out the top of the bed, the girls are groaning and complaining in their sleep but I work my way out without waking them.

 

I stand up on very shaky legs. When I first try to straighten my guts feel like they're on fire. I gently massage my abdomen. It feels better and I can stand erect.

 

I look back at the bed and the girls have claimed the space that I left and are now hugging each other. They're so cute when they're sleeping and such a pain-in-the-ass when they're awake.

 

I grab my AK from beside the bed and head outdoors. The air is fresh and clean today so I take a couple of deep breaths and enjoy the morning odors of the desert while watching the sun rise over the hills. Looking at the outhouse and not enjoying the thought of the obnoxious odors I head out to the field.

 

While squatting behind some bushes I hear a truck drive up. So I finish my business as fast as I can and peek through the bushes. Aamir with his old bolt action rifle, Dhuha and the girls are out of the house and I watch them meet the two men getting out of the truck.

 

Being too far away to hear, it's still evident from the hand waving there's a serious discussion happening. The men bring up their rifles and aim at my adopted family. Aamir puts his rifle on the ground. Shit! They start marching them towards the barn.

 

Lying down I take aim with my AK for what should be two easy shots; at just over 100 meters. I sure hope that the first shot doesn't scare the second bastard and he shoots someone.

 

I need to wait until their closer together – wait – wait - good. I line up the iron sights and slowly squeeze the trigger. The AK fires and the first towelhead falls, it scares the crap out of the second towelhead. He looks around and I fire again and he goes down.

 

I hear the same Queen song start echoing in the recesses of my mind that I hear on every kill:

 

"Another one bites the dust.
Another one bites the dust.
And another one gone, and another one gone.
Another one bites the dust.
Hey, I'm gonna get you too.
Another one bites the dust."

 

Well fucking Hussein may have screwed up my health, but he didn't take my skills. Damn! It feels good to shoot terrorists again. I want to jump up and start shouting but I need to stay hidden in case someone might still be in the truck.

 

Aamir, Dhuha and the girls are running around. It's quite comical they look like frantic chickens with their heads cut off. And it's even in beat with the music in my head. It would be easy stay and watch this all day, but they need to calm down.

 

Standing up the girls finally see me and start running towards me. And Aamir moves towards his rifle. Not being sure what the dead towelheads told him, and how he'll react. I know I can't let him reach his rifle.

 

"Yasmeen! Tell Aamir not to pick up his rifle or I'll shoot him."

 

Shouldering the AK I aim at Aamir. Yasmeen turns back around and runs towards Aamir shouting my orders. He hears the admonition and looks at me. He's looking down the barrel of my rifle and knows he doesn't stand a chance so he stops and raises his hands.

 

Dhuha comes to his side and they run towards me with their hands up and babbling in Arabic.

 

Zarika reaches my side, "Ben do not shoot them."

 

"But Aamir is a terrorist." I reply.

 

"No he is not. You do not understand. Trust me Ben. Lower the rifle." She orders.

 

She did help save me from Hussein and the other rat bastards. She always tells me the truth, so I lower the AK.

 

Yasmeen is faster than them so she reaches me crying. "Please do not shoot papa and mama."

 

Zarika tells her that I think Aamir is a terrorist.

 

"No Ben, papa is not a terrorist. He's a good man." She urges me.

 

"He dresses just like a terrorist." I argue.

 

"You dress like a Tajik but you are American." Yasmeen yells at me.

 

Damn. She's right. I completely lower the rifle and Aamir and Dhuha come up and they're both carrying on.

 

Zarika translates, "They are so happy that you're American. They never dreamed that they would be so lucky. Now they will be happy knowing that Yasmeen will have a good life in America."

 

"They aren't chewchemek?" I ask.

 

Aamir and Dhuha start yelling and spitting on the ground because they recognize the word.

 

Yasmeen comes over in front of me and yells at me. "You have terribly insulted papa and mama. They just pretend to be muslim because they have to or they will be killed. You need to apologize to them."

 

"Yasmeen, I didn't know. Tell them I'm very sorry that I've offended them. And ask them to forgive me."

 

She explains to them and they simmer down; then they walk over to me and start telling me something. Zarika translates, "They say that they accept your apology. And they are still very happy that you will take your wives to America with you."

 

I look at Zarika, "Should I tell them that you two are really my sisters?"

 

"Ben, do not insult them more. They will not understand."

 

Aamir says with Yasmeen translating, "Come on, we need to get rid of the bodies and the truck."

 

We walk over to the bodies and Aamir and I load them into the back of their truck. He hops in the truck and drives off.

 

"Yasmeen, where's he taking the bodies and the truck?"

 

"He takes them a short distance away to a Russian friend that used to fight in Afghanistan. He will dispose of the bodies and the truck. Papa will make good money for that truck."

 

I look at her, "He taught you Russian?"

 

"Yes Ben, he was wounded and came here many years ago. We hid him from the chewchemek and nursed him back to health. When he was well, he went back to Russia but found out that his wife thought that he was dead and had another man. He had nothing left in Russia so he came back here to live. Now he has a beautiful wife - my older sister, and a baby."

 

"I want to meet him." I answer.

 

"Don't worry Ben. Papa will bring Ivan and my sister Basma and their baby Alex. I will say goodbye to them because I do not know if we will ever be back."

 

I think: there goes our chance of an early start.

 

Yasmeen tells me, "Ben, I know you want to leave early today. But do not be sad. Ivan knows the roads here very well. He smuggles supplies through China all the time. You will learn many things from him that will help us on our trip."

 

Damn. Waiting feels like we're wasting time. Time that we could use to get back to Jens. But the information is invaluable and might save us.

 

There isn't anything else to do than wait. Dhuha and the girls walk to the house while I check the truck and weapons. Damn. The sandstorm covered the truck with a layer of dust, I'm glad I took the time to protect it. Using a rag I knock the dust off the windshield and side windows. At least it didn't get in the cab.

 

Being careful not to mess up the back of the truck, and risk the wrath of Zarika, I check our supplies. There's just a small amount of dust in the back and a rag wipes it up.

 

Satisfied that the truck is ship-shape it's time to wander back to the house and see what the girls are doing. Opening the door the aroma of food hits me in the face and my stomach starts loudly growling. Loud enough that the girls hear it and start giggling and walk over to the door.

 

Yasmeen says, 'Roar, roar, roar, Ben has a lion in his stomach." And then they both giggle more.

 

"I'll show you lion. ROAR!" And I start chasing them around the room acting like a lion and roaring. I would have easily caught Jens, but with two of them it was harder. I would go after one and the other would sneak up on my and swat my butt.

 

Finally Dhuha came out of the kitchen and even though I didn't speak Arabic I could still tell a scolding when I heard it. The girls simmered down and came over to me.

 

"See, I told you he is just like a big kid." Zarika tells Yasmeen.

 

"He's not like I thought he would be. When I first saw him and he hit you and kicked you I thought he was a typical man. Now I see that you're right."

 

"Hey, Zarika. Tell her that I never really hit you or kicked you. I don't hit women unless they try to kill me." I indignantly replied.

 

They lapse into Arabic and I should scold them for it. But instead I'll enjoy the chance to be alone with my thoughts.

 

It's too nice of a morning to be in the house, besides the house is dingy and depressing. I wonder why Aamir doesn't fix it up. Oh well, if I stay away from the nasty outhouse the outside is where I'd rather be.

 

I walk out and sit on the front porch and look out across the desert. Growing up and living in a semi-arid region helps me to respect and enjoy the desert. Instead of seeing a wasteland like most people, I see the signs of an eco-system teaming with life. It's still early enough in the morning that some of the life isn't hiding from the coming heat.

 

My thoughts are interrupted by an approaching vehicle. Grabbing my AK I run into the field and hide behind some bushes. It's a different truck and the driver honks the horn in a pattern that sounds like a code.

 

Dhuha and the girls run out of the house and look excited. It must be papa and Ivan and his family. Staying hidden to make sure. I watch as the truck stops and people pile out, from the greetings I can tell that my assumption was right.

 

The hugs go on for several minutes and the girls realize that I'm not around and start yelling for me. Everyone else joins in and they all start looking around trying to find me.

 

Damn, I'm enjoying the freedom of my time alone, hating for it to end so soon. But it's rude not to meet the guests. Standing up and walking around the side of the bushes the girls see me and point so that the others notice. I slowly run back to the house. Hey, I just realized, I'm running again and it feels so good

 

Approaching the porch I can make out Ivan. He's a huge man that looks more like a Russian bear, a well fed Russian bear. With dark hair and a beard. He's not carrying a rifle but I do notice a sidearm. Standing next to him must be Basma, she looks like a taller and older version of Yasmeen and is just as beautiful. She's holding a baby in her arms that is squirming and trying to get free.

 

The girls run out to meet me and we all jog up to the porch.

 

"Zdrastwicha.1" I yell as we got close.

1(Formal Russian hello)

 

"Zdrastwicha." Ivan replies.

 

I can tell as we run up that Ivan is not just casually glancing at me, but he's giving me a professional once over. As I get closer I see him start to smile, this is a very good sign because Russians rarely smile at strangers.

 

I hand Zarika the AK, "Please carry this for me." She looks at me funny but does what I ask.

 

I stop in front of Ivan he grins and says, "I never forget a face, especially yours." He closes the distance between us and gives me a huge hug that pops all the vertebra in my back. "It's a small world my old friend. I never thought I would see you again – not here."

 

"Ivan, I've never seen you happier or healthier. What's an old FSB2 agent doing in the middle of this hellhole?"

2(Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti  is the main domestic security service of the Russian Federation and the main successor agency of the Soviet-era KGB.)

 

Zarika looks at him and I notice the fear growing in her eyes. I whisper in her ear, "Don't worry my dove. He's a good friend."

 

"Hellhole! Is that what you call someone's home?" Then he laughs, "It seems that Russia fell out of love with me and I fell out of love with Russia."

 

"But what are you doing here? When my good friend Aamir started describing you I couldn't believe it was you. But now my eyes tell me the truth. I haven't seen you since two-thousand-four and the road from the Moscow hospital to here must have been hard on you. You looked like hell in the Moscow hospital but you look even worse now."

 

"Some chewchemeks and I had a few disagreements."

 

Zarika became brave and interrupts, telling Ivan the story of our capture, torture and escape.

 

He closes one eye and looks at me, "Now I understand my friend. You have been through hell."

 

"Don't worry now, you're safe here. I remember the debt that I owe you."

 

"I almost forgot. I brought a gift for you."

 

He walks to his truck, pulls out a rifle case brings it over to me and puts it in my hands. "It's not an M403 but it's the best I have."

3 (The M40 is a bolt-action sniper rifle used by the United States Marine Corps)

 

I unzip the case and pull out a Russian Dragunov SVD4 sniper rifle. Damn! Finally I have a real rifle in my hands! I look at it and it's in great shape and even has the IR scope on it.

4 (The SVD (Snayperskaya Vintovka Dragunova) was the first Russian rifle designed from scratch as a sniper rifle, and was introduced in the 1950's. It has very limited similarities to the Kalashnikov series of rifles. The SVD can be expected to shoot 2 MOA with quality ammo. And is very accurate out to 600 meters.)

 

Tears start to form in the corner of my eyes, "Ivan, your gift is too much. I can't take it."

 

"What! Who better to have this fine rifle? I'm too old and my eyes are too old to use this rifle. But let's not call it a gift, let's call it payment."

 

I look at him. I should have known, he's still a cagey old bastard, "Payment for what?"

 

"Ah, let's get out of the heat and discuss this later. We need vodka!"

 

I lean over and ask Zarika, "I haven't had any food yet. Do you think I can get something to eat before I try to drink Ivan under the table?"

 

Her face shows the shock when she realizes she hasn't fed me yet. She starts talking to Yasmeen and then everyone except Ivan and I get all excited. The girls drag me in the house and start taking care of me. They take off my shoes and make me sit on the cushions while they bring out a big bowl of rice with meat and fruits in it. Yasmeen even wants to feed me until I take the bowl and do it myself.

 

Ivan sits across from me and chuckles, he's watching Zairka and Yasmeen play with little Alex. Then speaks to me in English, "Ben. How is it that you always seem to find beautiful women? I remember that one beautiful nurse in Moscow; I thought that you two were going to get married."

 

I blink for a couple seconds, "Ivan. Excuse me, I haven't heard English in a very long time and it's good to hear again. Even with your bad accent."

 

I explain to him how things didn't work out with the nurse. I revel in telling him about Jens and how I'm trying to get back to her. And I try to tell him the confusing situation with Zarika and Yasmeen. All the time his smile grows bigger.

 

"My friend. There is an ancient Chinese proverb or curse, 'May you live in interesting times.' Your life has become very interesting."

 

"So the old bachelor now has a harem of women." He laughs, "You know those two little ones are in love with you?"

 

"I look over at the girls."Yeah, I know. There's nothing I can do about it. I love only Jens."

 

"Even though they are young. They are still women and can be devious. Be careful that you do not get trapped."

 

I look at him and look at them, he's right. I finish my food and feel much better. For once my stomach is only a little upset. "So what's this payment that you're talking about?"

 

"Did you forget all the manners we taught you in Russia? We can't talk business until we have vodka."

 

Aamir brings out the bottle of wedding vodka from the other night and three nice shot glasses. I wonder where those nice glasses came from? Ivan pours the vodka and passes the glasses around.

 

He holds up his and looks at Aamir saying, "to new friends." He looks at me and says, "and to old friends." Then he waves the glass and says, "May we all be bold friends." We slam down the vodka.

 

The girls see me drink the vodka and come over. Zarika bravely says, "Ben, you just got over being sick. No more vodka for you."

 

Ivan splits the house with his laughter, "Oh my friend. I never thought I would see the day that you would have women controlling your life." He looks at Basma and says, "Take my advice and do not fight it. You will be happier and live longer."

 

Zarika sits at my side to make sure that I listen to her. Ivan tries to give me more vodka but she won't allow it and scolds him.

 

He laughs, "Yes you live in interesting times. How long did it take this little one to figure out that you're a push over?'

 

She looks at him defiantly, "I'm not a little one. I'm a woman."

 

He laughs again, "Yes Ben. You're going to have some interesting times."

 

 Zarika tells Yasmeen to bring me some tea. She gives the baby back to Basma and runs into the kitchen. A minute later she comes back and hands me a cup of tea. I sniff it first to make sure it's not that damn wormwood tea again then I take a sip.

 

I look at Ivan's sidearm, "Don't tell me that's the same piece-of-shit Makarov4 you've always had? Why don't you get a real sidearm?"

4 (The Makarov PM is a semi-automatic pistol designed in the late 1940s, by Nikolai Fyodorovich Makarov, and was the Soviet Union's standard military side arm.)

 

"Ah I forgot, I must be getting old." He looks at Basma and yells something in Arabic. She jumps up and hands Alex to Yasmeen then runs outside.

 

He leans over to me and says in English, "That's what I love about these women. You tell them to do something and they do it."

 

Zarika, who's English is improved, says in Russian, "Just remember we only do what you tell us if we feel like doing it."

 

Ivan laughs again, "This little one-uh-woman looks like a lamb but has the bite of a lion."

 

She smiles at the compliment.

 

Basma interrupts handing Ivan an M125 holster with the grip of a pistol protruding from it. He tosses it to me. "Here you can probably use this."

5 (Designed by Bianchi in the 1980’s the M12 is the standard issue holster for the U.S. Armed Forces.)

 

I catch it in the air and pull out the pistol - it's an M9A16. I check, it's got a loaded mag and one in the pipe. It's not my favorite pistol but it's better than nothing. "Thanks, this will come in handy. Where did you get this, it's Marine issue?"

6 (A 9mm pistol the U.S. military adopted in the 1980s. It is essentially a military specification Beretta 92F.)

 

"I have connections, which have connections, which have connections." He replies.

 

"So you can get me an M-Nine, but you can't get me an M-Forty?" I tease.

 

He eyes me, "If you stay here long enough I can get you anything you want."

 

I call his bluff, "How long would it take you to bring Jens here?"

 

His eyebrows rise, "Why would you want to bring her here?"

 

"Mother-fucking Hussein is still alive. I can't totally rest until I've killed him."

 

"Ah, revenge. I learned from watching you in Ossetia it's not a good thing to get a Marine pissed-off."

 

Zarika's eyes lit up. With Ivan's statement she is able to put two and two together. "Ben you were at …"

 

I interrupt her, "… Shush Zarika, I don't want to talk about this. Not now, not ever. There are some things that I can't tell you."

 

She pouts and Ivan laughs, "Do not be angry at Ben. There are secrets that his government will not let him tell anyone. This is one of those."

 

That cheers her up some but she's still pouting. I know that I should confront her about it, but that can wait for later.

 

"So Ivan. You've stalled me long enough. We've had our vodka and our pleasantries it's time that you tell me what is this mission."

 

He reaches up and scratches his beard; I've seen this before when he didn't want to talk. I decide that I can wait as long as he can.

 

We're looking in each other's eyes finally he blinks and says, "Shit, you are a hard-headed bastard. I might as well tell you then you can say no."

 

"Make it worth my time and I won't say no."

 

He looks at Basma and the girls, "All women out of the room now." He orders.

 

Zarika starts to complain and Basma tells her something in Arabic and they all leave.

 

Ivan looks around the room nervously, "Not here the walls have ears, let's go for a walk."

 

We stand and grab our weapons and walk out the door. The sun is blinding and the heat is stifling. This must be serious for Ivan to endure these elements.

 

We walk a good distance from the house and Ivan stops and looks around. "My old friend Ben. It is providence that you are here. The Taliban have moved a training camp into this area and we need to take them out. They've been raiding the locals and taking whatever they want, animals, food even women and children."

 

I remember the tortures of the American aid worker and young boy and I feel the anger rise in my throat, "How many men do you have?"

 

He scratches his beard again, "Just us three."

 

"And how many are in the camp?" I question.

 

He talks with Aamir and looks at me, "Between fifty and sixty."

 

I look at Ivan; he's old, out of shape and has a family. I look at Aamir and he's old and isn't a warrior. I squat, pick up some sand and let it slip through my fingers while I think.

 

Damn! The odds are really bad and I need a plan. Damn! I could really use Jens right now she came up with the best plans. I try to think of what she would do if she was here.

 

I stand up and look at them, they have so much hope in their eyes.

 

I say to Ivan, "Vsyo govno, krome mochee7."

7(Russian Transliteration - But for some piss, the world is full of shit.)

 

I can't let them down, "I'll do it, but we'll do it my way and I'm the commander. I need to see the camp before I can come up with a plan."

 

Ivan says, "Nu ti dajosh8!" Then tells Aamir and they both slap me on the back.

9(Russian Transliteration - Exclamation of amazement at someone's courage or actions.)

 

"Here's the first thing. We can't let the women know about this."I order.

 

They talk for a couple minutes. Ivan says, "Dhuha already knows about it."

 

"Shit! That means the girls know."

 

"You're probably right Ben."

 

"Then I'll deal with that later. Let's go take a look at the camp."

 

We walk back to the house and I see all the women waiting for us on the porch. We walk up and I can tell that Dhuha has told all of them.

 

Zarika starts to speak, I hold up my hand, "Listen to me! I've made up my mind, I'm going to help them. You have a choice. You can help and support me like my sisters and earn my respect. Or you can act like spoiled little girls and I'll be embarrassed of both of you."

 

She looks at Yasmeen and I see them both fight to hold back the tears. "Ben, we are afraid that you will die."

 

I look at both of them, "You know how bad I want to get back to America and you know the reason why. If I didn't believe that I would live through this I wouldn't do it. Now what's your decision?"

 

Zarika runs to me and hugs me, "I don't like this but I will do anything I can to help you."

 

Yasmeen runs up next and hugs my other side, "Ben I will not be a spoiled little girl."

 

I look at both of them, "I know how hard this is for both of you and I promise that I will come back."

 

Zarika interrupts and tells Yasmeen, "Ben never breaks a promise."

 

"Here's what I need from both of you. I need you to find some cloth and it needs to be the color of the desert. You two are going to sew my warrior outfit."

 

They get all excited and take off with Dhuha and Basma.

 

"Let's go take a look at this place and then let's see all the weapons that you have." I order.

 

Aamir tells them where we're going and we walk out and get in the truck. Ivan drives us as close as he dares and tells me the camp is just over the top of a hill.

 

He hands me some binoculars. I take them and look at him, "I'm going to be gone for at least an hour so don’t worry if I don't come right down. If you hear gunfire get the hell out of here and get those girls to Sergeant Jennifer Donaldson."

 

I jump out of the truck and reach down and rub dirt all over my face. I look in the mirror and made sure that my face isn't shiny. Ignoring my weakness I run close to the top of the hill, fall on my belly and crawl over the top. I'm in a great place for observation and the sun is right so the binoculars won't reflect any light to the camp. I settle in beside a bush and watch.

 

It doesn't take long for me to figure that this might work, if I'm lucky. Just to make sure I watch for at least an hour then I slip back down the hill to the truck. I hop in the cab, "Let's see what else you have for weapons."

 

We drive over to Ivan's and I go through all his weapons, selecting some that I need and loading them in the back of the terrorist's truck from this morning. There are some old desert camo BDUs that fit so I change into them. After that we take both vehicles back to Aamir's house.

 

The women met us when we drove up in trucks. They're acting brave but I can see the worry on their faces. I explain to Zarika and Yasmeen how to make a ghillie suit and tell them how important this is. They explain to Dhuha and Basma and they run off to get started.

 

I tell Ivan my plan and what he and Aamir are going to do.

 

He starts arguing with me, "Ivan poshol nahuj10! You and Aamir are going to do exactly what I tell you to do. I don't want any shit from you or Aamir. You asked me to help and agreed that we'd do it my way."

10(Russian Transliteration – Fuck you.)

 

 

"Now, I need it quiet in here. I'm going to take a nap so I'm ready for tonight. You both know what you need to do. Get your asses busy and get it done. Wake me up at zero-hundred hours."

 

I climb on the cushions to take my nap and next thing I know Zarika and Yasmeen are right beside me.

 

"Good night my sisters."

 

"Good night our brother."