09 Escaped Bethesda MD - Sunday

Escaped: Fighting my way home

© Copyright 2009

Written by Banzai Ben and Amazing Anastasia

ben@banzaiben.com

 

 

Chapter 09 – Sunday 28 September 2007

 

Bethesda Maryland – Sunday Day Thirty

 

Son-of-a-bitch! The damn sea monster has me and I can't move my arms and legs. I'm fighting, struggling, and thrashing around. "Damn sea monster leave me alone!" I yelled.

 

"Ben! Ben! Wake up." I heard Jens's sweet voice calling.

 

I opened my eyes and there she is sitting beside me and smiling. "Where's the damn sea monster that's trying to take Frankie? I have to save her."

 

"My hero! There is no sea monster. There never was." Jens smiled at me.

 

I looked around the room and notice the greenish walls with a TV mounted on it, and a whole crap-load of flowers and cards everywhere. Shit not again - I'm in the fricken hospital. "What the hell am I doing here?" I ask and I realized that I'm also restrained, "And why am I tied down to this damn bed?"

 

Jens climbed in the bed with me. "Because last time you were in the hospital and woke up you tried to fight with anything and everyone. So this time I wanted to make sure that wasn't going to happen. Besides, I like having you tied up so I can have my way with you."

 

She started kissing on my neck and stroking my head.

 

I thrashed around some more. "Jens! What about Frankie?"

 

She pulled away and looked in my eyes, "You don't remember?"

 

"Hell no! The last thing I remember was hanging on to her and fighting some sea monsters that were trying to take her from me!"

 

Jens laughed and her voice sounded like tinkling glass, "My big hero! You saved her. She's in another room recovering. Those weren't sea monsters." Then she gave me a huge kiss and started crying, "I thought that I'd lost you!"

 

"Jens, you need tell me what's going on." I ordered.

 

From the foot of my bed I hear the general, "I'll tell you what the hell's going on."

 

I tried to jump up and salute but the restraints kept me from it.

 

"At ease Son. You saved the daughter of a US Senator and have become the hero of Washington DC."

 

Liz spoke, "No, you're the hero Marine for the whole nation."

 

I strained and looked past Jens and saw Mom, Dad, Liz, the news crew and a few other people I didn't recognize in the room. They all started clapping and I started blushing. I whispered in Jens ear, "Honey, do you think I can be untied and that we can have some time alone?"

 

Jens twisted around, "Ben wants this room emptied right now."

 

I was shocked to see how fast everyone left the room. I looked at Jens, "How about untying me?"

 

She straddled me, "I don't know…. I like you tied to the bed, this way you can't tickle me."

 

I thrashed around pulling really hard against the restraints and the bed started groaning.

 

"Okay! Okay my love. Simmer down and I'll take off your restraints."

 

She undid the restraints at the waist first, then the legs and finally the arms. I reached up, wrapped my arms around her and gave her a big hug. She hugged me back even tighter, "I thought I'd lost you!" She said and started crying again.

 

I tried to kiss her and show her my love for her, but it made my lips hurt like hell.

 

"You don't remember the rescue?" Jens questioned.

 

I shook my head, "The last thing I remember was fighting the sea monsters."

 

"Well my big strong hero. I could tell you all about it, but I want you to see Liz's video." Jens replied.

 

"Jens, please don't call me that." I requested.

 

"You'd better get real used to it. Because after Liz’s tapes were released, that's what everyone is calling you.

 

She gently kissed me again, "My hero Marine. What am I going to do with you? It seems like every time I turn around you're in the hospital again."

 

I looked at her and blushed, "I'm sorry my love. I don't feel like a hero. I just did what needed to be done."

 

She kissed me again on the cheek, "That's why you're such a hero. You almost always do the right thing and then get embarrassed when people make a big deal out of it."

 

I blushed even more.

 

She smiled, "You're so cute when you blush." I blushed even more and looked down. She held me and it felt so good.

 

I looked at her and said, "Do you think they'd let me see Frankie?"

 

Jens gave me an evil grin, "Right now you could ask for anything and get it. Let me take care of something first.” She walked to the door and stuck her head outside, said something I couldn't hear and came back in the room.

 

"What was that for?" I asked.

 

"The hallway is packed with news reporters and people wanting to see you. I told them all to leave. The only people left are Mom, Dad and Liz with the crew."

 

"Thanks my love, I don't think I could have taken that."

 

She walked over to the closet and pulled out a pair of camo pajamas. "We can't have a hero walking around in their underwear." She helped me get them on. I winced some when they went over my legs.  She put some salve on my lips, "Damn, I can't wait for your lips to heal so I can get a real kiss."

 

Stepping back and looking at me she said, "I guess this will have to do." Then she checked the hallway again, "All clear my love."

 

I went to stand up and almost fell over.. I quickly sat back on the bed.

 

"The doctor said you might be dizzy for a couple days." She helped me up, supported me on my right side and we walked to the door. She opened the door and we walked into the hallway.

 

Liz came over, got on my left side, and helped Jens. We slowly moved down the hall, all the staff stopped and started clapping when they saw me. I was blushing profusely.

 

We walked by a man in a wheelchair.  Both of his legs were missing but he snapped a perfect salute and said, "If I could stand I would! Semper Fi Marine."

 

"Orraaahhh!"

 

I looked at him and asked, "Sandbox1?"

1(Sandbox - Iraq)

 

"Yes Sir." He replied.

 

I pushed Jens and Liz away and stood ramrod straight and saluted him back, "You're the hero, not me." I could tell he wanted to talk some more, but I knew that I couldn't take anymore. "We can visit later but right now I need to see Frankie."

 

"I understand Sir, thank you!"

 

"No, thank you!"

 

Jens and Liz moved to my sides again and we moved off down the hallway.

 

Jens and Liz finally lead me to a door, "She's been asking for you all day."

 

The news crew scooted into the room ahead of me. Jens leaned over and kissed me on my cheek, "My hero. Don't be surprised, she looks worse than you."

 

"What do you mean? What do I look like?" I asked.

 

Liz opened her purse and pulled out a compact, flipped it open and handed it to me.

 

I looked like twenty miles of bad road. There were a couple of raw spots on my face, my lips were cracked and I had a huge black eye.

 

"Shit, I look like hell!"

 

Jens kissed me on the cheek again, "You've never looked more handsome to me than you do right now."

 

We opened the door and walked into the room. Frankie saw me walk through the door, "My hero is finally awake and came to see me."

 

Her face was a mess, with a bunch of raw spots and her lips were swollen and cracked. She never looked more beautiful to me.

 

A man walked over and shook my hand, "I'm Senator Williams, thank you for saving my daughter's life."

 

A woman ran over and hugged me, "Thank you, thank you, thank you," then started crying.

 

"Ben! Come sit beside me on the bed." Frankie ordered.

 

I was helped over to the bed and collapsed beside her, she grabbed me and gave me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. "Thank you for saving my life."

 

The TV was on and it was a news report about us. “Look Ben, it's about you!" Frankie said.

 

The video started with Jens and me pretending to be pirates. I was incredibly embarrassed because we looked so silly. The scene cut away and Liz was interviewing a suit.

 

"Doctor Sigmund, thank you for being our guest today. You've seen the videos of Ben and Jens pretending to be pirates?" Liz asked.

 

"Yes Liz. It was very interesting watching them." He moved forward in his seat.

 

"What did you find so interesting about them. Was it how childish they were both acting? Doesn't that seem out of place for Marines?" Liz queried.

 

I felt backstabbed and could have killed her for that. I looked at her and Jens and they both smiled at me.

 

"Not at all Liz. What I saw were two people that have the most stressful jobs in the world finding a fun and non-destructive way of releasing their tension. Many in their position turn to alcohol or other destructive behaviors. They've chosen to embrace their inner child and release that tension through play. We would all be better if we learned how to play like Ben and Jens can."

 

Jens came over beside me and rubbed my head, missing the knot. She leaned down, "I thought it was going to be bad when I first saw it too. Liz really covered our asses."

 

I looked over at Liz, she smiled and gave me a big thumbs up. I mouthed a big thank you!

 

Next the video showed Frankie falling overboard and me diving in after her. Frankie snuggled up close to me, "This is my favorite part my hero. I love see you dive in after me. You were the only one that knew what to do."

 

The video continued showing that no one on the sailboat knew what to do. I felt embarrassed for Dad. It stopped and showed Dad on the radio with the Coast Guard.

 

Jens leaned down again, "She cut the part about Daddy and me fighting about calling the Coast Guard. She even tweaked the video time to make look like we called the Coast Guard right away; when we really waited an hour."

 

Again I looked at Liz - she was smiling.

 

The scene shifted, they were inside a Coast Guard helicopter that was flying a standard search pattern. It zoomed in on Jens; she was scanning the ocean and crying. She squeezed my hand, "I thought I had lost you."

 

We heard the radio call stating that we'd been found. The chopper heeled way over and booked it. It arrived just as the first of the rescue crew from the other chopper went in the water. I heard Jens yelling, "Is Ben still alive? He looks dead."

 

The video showed a crewmember as he swam over in front of me and tried to get Frankie out of my right arm. I released the marker buoy and punched him in the face. He looked stunned and moved away from us.

 

We heard Jens yell on the video, "Ben's alive, he's alive.” Then it showed two crewmembers wrestling with her to keep her from jumping out of the helicopter.

 

It faded back to the ocean and the second rescuer was coming up behind me. I nailed him in the face with my elbow. He fell back and was obviously unconscious. The first helicopter moved out of the way and the chopper with the video crew moved in. Two more rescuers went into the water. The video helicopter moved back out of the way and the first chopper moved back in with the rescue basket lowered. The video faded to Frankie being loaded in the basket and one of the rescuers supporting me as I was then unconscious. Next they loaded me into the basket and hauled me into the chopper. As soon as the basket was secured the chopper booked it with the video chopper flying right beside it filming the whole thing.

 

We saw me break free of the basket and one of the crew fighting with me. It looked like I beat the shit out of him. Jens said, "That was Dave, the flight engineer, you really beat the crap out of him." There was a blur of bodies and then next thing you saw I was back in the basket and unconscious. "They gave you a sedative so you wouldn't go crazy again."

 

It cut to the chopper landing and showed us being wheeled into the hospital. After that it was just a bunch of boring medical reports on our conditions. My ears perked up when they listed our core body temperatures, mine was 31C and Frankie's was 33C.

 

I looked at Jens, "How long were we in the water."

 

"A bit over five hours," she sniffled. "Yes, you're both lucky to be alive."

 

Frankie hugged me, "It wasn't luck, it was Ben."

 

There was a knock on the door, Jens went over, peeked out and smiled. "You two have company." She announced.

 

The door opened and the other four girls ran right to the bed. They fell on us and started crying and sobbing incoherently.

 

I looked over and Jens and she was smiling and crying, I mouthed the words "Help me!"

 

She came over to the bed, "Okay young ladies. Ben is starting to get tired and needs to go back to his room and rest."

 

They all pulled away, but not until each had kissed me on the cheek.

 

Miranda said, "I'll never forget watching you jump into the ocean after Frankie. You're so brave. Thank you for saving her."

 

I blushed and all the girls said, "Oh, he's so cute when he blushes."

 

Frankie hugged me tight, "Promise that you'll come see me again?"

 

I looked at her and smiled, damn it hurt to smile. "I promise."

 

Jens came over to the bed and helped me up. Miranda grabbed the other side. "This is a change," she said, "helping a big strong Marine."

 

Liz walked over to the door, "The crowd is back. I can clear them out, but sooner or later you'll have to meet them."

 

I looked at her and she was right, "Let them stay. But tell them no questions and no interviews. If they have anything to ask they can get the questions to you and I'll answer them later today."

 

She walked out in the hallway and I heard a bunch of noise and what sounded like some complaints. A minute later, she walked back in and said, "Damn bunch of vultures."

 

I laughed, "Damn! It hurts to laugh. But now you know what I feel like."

 

I took a couple deep breaths, Liz opened the door and we were greeted with cheering and clapping and the flash of what seemed like a hundred cameras. It was disorienting at first and I stumbled a little but Jens and Miranda held me up.

 

Jens yelled, "Okay! No more flashes or we close the door. She looked to the side, “Marines clear the way."

 

Two Marines moved over and separated the crowd for us and we walked through. I tried to concentrate on getting to my room as quickly as possible as this was damn embarrassing. I rounded the corner and the both sides of the corridor were filled with wounded warriors clapping or cheering for me. I stopped and shook hands with each one of them and made sure to tell each of them they were the heroes. Finally, I saw my room and said, "No one but Jens in the room with me." Miranda was going to protest but Jens shushed her.

 

Miranda held the door, Jens helped me to the bed and I collapsed on it. She held me tight as tears rolled down my cheeks burning my already raw skin and gently comforted me.

 

"It's okay my love. It's all over."

 

I looked at her, "No it isn't. Did you see all those wounded soldiers? Shit! They were treating me like I'm a hero when they're the ones that should be thanked. They've given so much for our country."

 

Jens comforted me some more and I was starting to settle down.

 

There was a knock at the door. "Son-of-a-bitch, I don't want to be disturbed." I ordered.

 

Jens dried my eyes and my face, "I'll go send them away."

 

She walked to the door and cracked it just a little, "Honey, I think you need to see this visitor."

 

I wiped my face and blew my nose, "Are you sure?"

 

"Yes my love. You need to see this visitor."

 

I composed myself and nodded to Jens, she opened the door and Miranda came in pushing the wheelchair of the first soldier I'd met. She was grinning, "I found this young man in the hallway and he wanted to tell you something." She wheeled him up to the side of my bed and put her hand on his shoulder.

 

I tried to stand up. "Please Sir, stay in bed." He admonished.

 

"Please don't call me Sir, I work for a living. Call me Ben or Banzai." I asked.

 

"Yes Sir-uh-Banzai. I'm Corporal Dave Armstrong and I wanted to thank you so much for taking time to see me. My fellow soldiers here asked if I would come and thank you for being such an inspiration to us. We were riveted to the TV yesterday when the news of your heroic actions came in. And then when you greeted each one of us the hallway it made all of us feel special."

 

I sat up in the bed and swung my legs over the side so I was facing him. "Dave, you need to go back to the other soldiers and tell them that I'm the one that's honored. When I turned the corner and saw all of you, it was the greatest moment in my life. Each one of you that have made a sacrifice for our country are the real heroes. And you are all much more special than I am." SEMPER FI Marine!"

 

"Orraaahhh!" He replied. "Thank you Banzai. I'll leave now and relay your message to the others."

 

Miranda smiled and wheeled him back out of the room.

 

Jens came over and hugged me, "That was so nice. And did you see Miranda? I think she might have found her Marine."

 

I looked at her, "What do you mean?"

 

"Sometimes men are so dense. You didn't see how those two were towards each other?"

 

"I have no idea what you're talking about." I said.

 

"You’re the proof of what I just said." She laughed.

 

We cuddled for a while on the bed; I was really enjoying just being with Jens.

 

She wiggled up close to me and I heard her start softly snoring. My poor girl was exhausted and needed to sleep.

 

I heard the door creak and Liz slipped into the room. She walked over by the bed, looked at Jens and smiled. Then she whispered, "Good, she's finally sleeping. She didn't sleep at all last night. Can I get you anything?"

 

"Pull up a chair and sit down. I'd like to talk to you." I whispered.

 

She brought a chair close to me so we could talk. "What's on your mind Ben?"

 

I looked at her, "First I wanted to thank you for your news report it was almost excellent." I saw a little anger flare in her face. "I'm concerned that Jens told me you modified the timeline so it looked like they called the Coast Guard right away."

 

She softly chuckled and smiled, "I knew you'd bust me on that. I'm going to ask your forgiveness, because it's easier to ask forgiveness than permission. If I hadn’t done that Glen might have lost his command. If he lost his command it wouldn't be good for America."

 

I looked at her and could tell she was telling the truth. "You're right. I owe you big time."

 

"No way, we owe you big time. You trusted us enough to give us a start in our own news network. That's unheard of in this business. Then you go and save a Senator's daughter, we're there to tape all of it and scoop all the other networks. You have no idea how much money our network has made off those tapes. Every time you see them run on TV just imagine a cash register ringing." Liz smiled.

 

I continued, "Thanks for the interview with the suit to keep us from looking like idiots."

 

"Dr. Sigmund is a well respected psychologist and gave his honest opinion. There were ten others that wanted to say the same thing."

 

"Well it looks like you have everything under control. Is there anything that we can do for you?" I asked.

 

She gave me a sly look, "Now that you mention it. I forgot to tell you that you have an interview scheduled in two hours."

 

"Oh no, I'm not going to put myself through that crap with all those reporters."

 

She chuckled, "Oh I also forgot to mention, it's an exclusive interview with me."

 

I looked at her and realized that I'd been setup.

 

She smiled, "Gotcha! Well, I need to go and talk to the rest of the press and get their questions for the interview. Take good care of your lady, she's pretty special." She left the room.

 

I looked down at my sleeping girl - yes, she is very special.

 

A while later the door opened again. Whoever said that you could rest in a hospital should be shot! Mom and Dad came in and quietly walked to the side of the bed.

 

"How are you doing Son?" Mom whispered.

 

"Much better knowing that I'm back in your good graces," I answered.

 

"It's good to see her resting; she stayed up all night with you." Dad said. "Sorry I screwed up the whole rescue so much. I've learned my lesson and we're going to be practicing man overboard drills the next time we go sailing."

 

I smiled and my lips hurt again, "Just as long as I'm not the one to go overboard next time."

 

They both chuckled and Jens started stirring; she yawned, stretched, opened her eyes and looked at me. "Mmm, I love waking up next to you."

 

Mom and Dad laughed and Jens turned and looked at them, "Oh, I didn't know we had an audience."

 

"Sorry we woke you up. We just wanted to make sure that you were okay." Mom replied.

 

She snuggled up close to me, "Now that Ben's back. I'm better than okay."

 

"You two might be interested, there's more news about Ben on the TV." Dad added.

 

I tried to figure out how to turn on the damn idiot box and ended up pressing the call button for the nurse. Jens took the controls from me and laughed, "You'd think as much time as you've spent in hospitals you'd learned how to do this." She pressed a button and turned on the TV, it was the video of my meeting with Frankie.

 

The nurse came in the room, "Did you need something?"

 

"Sorry, I pressed the wrong button." I answered.

 

The nurse left and Jens teased, "I hope you know which buttons to press after we're married."

 

"Well, I do know the tickle button." I replied and grabbed her waist.

 

"Young man, did you forget that she's still hurt?" Mom chided me.

 

I had forgotten, "Jens, you're still hurt?"

 

"It's nothing my love, just a little bruise." She answered.

 

"Since we're in the hospital maybe you should have it looked at?"

 

"No way, I can't wait to get you out of here and get my huge surprise." She said.

 

"Shit! I forgot about that. Would everyone please leave the room so I can make a phone call?"

 

Jens was not happy about leaving, "This had better be the best surprise ever."

 

I called my friend in Leadville and he gave me a ration about being a hero. But he confirmed it was all setup for tomorrow.

 

Several minutes later Jens and Liz came in the room. They walked over to the bed and Liz said, "Are you ready for your interview?"

 

"Not really, I feel sort of sick."

 

Jens looked at me, "Ha, I can still feel your lies. You're not getting out of this."

 

Jens crawled up in bed on one side of me. Frankie came in my room and crawled on the other side of me. They moved the bed away from the wall and Mom, Dad and the other four girls stood behind the bed.

 

Liz gave us about ten minutes instruction and then started the interview. Even though she asked hard questions, it was the easiest interview I'd ever done. I was sure that we'd come out of this smelling like roses.

 

The taping was killed and Liz came over and smiled at all of us, "You guys all did great. It's so good to work as a team."

 

The girls all gathered around again, other than Miranda, "Sorry everyone. I need to go and see someone." She smiled and left.

 

Jens looked at me and said, "I told you so."

 

Michelle asked, "Told Ben what?"

 

"I told Ben that I think Miranda has found herself a Marine." Jens grinned.

 

All the girls were excitedly gabbing and giggling wanting to know the details. They didn't have to wait long because Miranda came back in pushing Cpl. Armstrong's wheel chair. The other three girls ran over and finally we had some peace.

 

Jen cuddled tight on one side, Frankie snuggled the other, and we watched as a real hero received the attention.

 

"It's good to see the girls paying attention to Cpl. Armstrong. I don't think his wounds even bother Miranda." I remarked.

 

Jens grinned, "Silly man! When you love someone you can overlook their faults."

 

"So which of my faults have you overlooked?"

 

"I'm not sure there's enough time for me to list all of them." She teased.

 

Frankie squeezed me, "Well I think Ben's perfect."

 

Jens laughed, "Boy do you have her fooled."

 

"Almost as much as I have you fooled." I teased and Jens faked a pout.

 

I was feeling better and looked around the room, "So when do I get to leave?"

 

Frankie hugged me, "Never, I hope."

 

"Frankie, we're both going to have to leave. We have jobs to do and we can't do them here. But we both promise that whenever we're back here that we will stop by and see you." Jens answered. "We can leave as soon as you're ready."

 

"Let's leave in thirty minutes. I want to give the girls more time to talk to Cpl. Armstrong."

 

Jens punched my arm, "You old romantic."

 

I kissed her even though it hurt my lips, "Thanks to you I am."

 

We didn't have to wait that long because Miranda came over. She was all sparkly and bubbly. "I hope you three don't mind. But we're going to go meet some of Dave's friends."

 

Jens smiled and said, "Just remember the warnings that I gave you about Marines."

 

"Oh yes ma'am we certainly will." Miranda said and skipped back to Cpl. Armstrong.

 

"What warnings were those?" I questioned.

 

"NALTS!" Jens and Frankie laughed.

 

Miranda and Cpl. Armstrong and the other girls left and the room became much quieter.

 

Frankie's parents came over, "Young lady say goodbye, it's time to get back to your own room." Her mom ordered.

 

"Goodbye my hero Ben. I'm going to miss you." She looked at Jens, "You'd better take good care of him."

 

One more hug and a kiss on the cheek and they left. Her dad came over one more time and shook my hand, "I don't know how to thank you. Francine, is the only child we could ever have. If she would have died, it would have killed my wife."

 

"She’s a wonderful young lady; I feel lucky to have gotten to know her so well." I answered him.

 

He shook my hands a few more times, I saw a few tears in the corner of his eyes as he turned and left.

 

The room was almost empty, "Well, I think it's time that we leave too." I announced.

 

Liz said, "Just so you know, it's going to be a huge zoo when you walk outside the hospital."

 

"Damn fucking news vultures." I replied.

 

"Hey! I resemble that remark." Liz laughed.

 

"Can't we sneak him out the back?" Jens questioned.

 

Liz just laughed, "No way. All the exits are covered. Ben's just going to have to face the music. He's a hero whether he likes it or not. Just remember, I'm your personal news reporter so it's better if you don't say anything to anyone else. And it pisses me off that we won't make much money off this because we won't have an exclusive."

 

Dad came up, "You're all wrong. I've already figured out how we're getting him out of here without anyone knowing."

 

Everyone stopped and looked at him.

 

"How do you plan on doing that?" Liz asked defiantly.

 

He looked at me, "Son, are you claustrophobic?"

 

Jens arched her eyebrow, "D-a-d-d-y! Just what do you have in mind?"

 

He smiled, "I should say NALTS. But I need all your help."

 

He explained the plan. "Are you fricken crazy? There's no way in hell I'm doing this." I complained.

 

He laughed, "It's either this or face the news vultures. So, which one is it Son?"

 

Damn! I hate it. I always seem to end up in a difficult situation. I weighed the pros and cons and decided that as distasteful as Dad's plan was it was the lesser of two evils.

 

"I guess we'll do your plan." I grumped.

 

Jens hugged me, "Don't worry my dear. It's not like it's for real."

 

Dad made a phone call. "Ben, go get dressed."

 

Jens helped me off the bed and into the bathroom. "You need some help changing my love." Jens asked in a sultry voice.

 

"I wondered when the sexy Jens would appear again."

 

"Don't worry about her; she's always waiting for a chance." Jens teased and left.

 

I dressed and had to be easy pulling my MCCUUs over my legs, they were still very raw. I stood up and walked out into the room. There were two orderlies and another Marine there.

 

Jens came over and gave me a kiss on the cheek, "Well see you on the other side my dear."

 

Liz said, "We're staying because the other news crews won't miss us. Besides I think this is going to be fun to tape."

 

Mom, Dad and Jens took off with the Marine. Jens was hanging on his arm as if he was the real Ben. We heard clapping and cheering in the hallway.

 

The orderlies asked, "Are you ready?"

 

I gulped, "As ready as I'll ever be." I climbed on the gurney into the transport coffin. They closed the lid and I heard the latches catch.

 

I felt the gurney being wheeled away; I was taking a fake ride that I hoped to never take for real. But I realized that someday this is a ride that we all take.

 

I never thought I was claustrophobic, but being in this damn coffin was different and was giving me the willies. I was freaking out and wondering what this would do to my karma. It took all my concentration and training to stay still and not start beating on the coffin. I felt a couple big bumps and wondered what the hell was going on.

 

Finally, we stopped moving and I could tell I was loaded into the hearse. I started banging on the lid. I saw Liz as she opened the latches, "Welcome back from the dead."

 

I tried to get up and she said, "You need to stay in there until we get a bit further away." Then, she started lowering the lid.

 

I put my hand up and said, "No way in hell are you closing this lid."

 

"What's wrong? Don't tell me you're afraid." She teased.

 

"No, I'm not afraid at all. I just don't like the thought of where I am right now. Perhaps you'd like to get in here when I'm done with it?" I replied.

 

She eyed me, "It can't be that bad."

 

"Spoken like Elvira." I teased.

 

"Elvira? Oh yeah, wasn't she that vampy vampire that did late night horror shows? So now I'm a news vampire?"

 

I laughed, "That's right, Liz the vampy news vampire, sucking the life out of every story. You know Elvira graduated from Palmer High School in Colorado Springs?"

 

"I didn't know that. But then you would know being from Colorado." She answered.

 

"So, you are coming to Colorado with us tomorrow?"

 

"We wouldn't miss it. I've even hired two extra cameramen." Liz proudly replied.

 

"Can they be trusted?"

 

"You bet. I took them from CCCN and they know the terms." She quelled my fears.

 

The hearse stopped moving. "Great! Let me out of here!" I demanded

 

The back door opened and Jens peeked in. "Enjoy your ride my dear?"

 

"Hell no! Get me out of this damn coffin!" I struggled and actually made it harder to get out. Finally, I was free and even hopped around a little.

 

"Was that the Ben's dance I just saw?" Jens teased.

 

"No way, I was just stomping the shit out of death and putting her back in her place." I boldly answered.

 

Liz remarked, "So death is a female?"

 

"Hell yes she is! She takes all your money and all your time and all your possessions and leaves you in a cold dark place." I laughed.

 

Jens grabbed me and started sniffling, "You really think I would do that to you?"

 

"Uh-uh-uh, no, I was just teasing."

 

She pulled back and smiled at me, "Gotcha! Let's get Ben out of this could night air and get him home."

 

The other Marine was smiling as he watched everything. I walked over by him and shook his hand. "Thanks for taking my place."

 

"The pleasure was all mine Sir. It's not often that we get too fool the press and it was such a sweet victory today."

 

"So it worked well?" I wondered.

 

Jens laughed, "It worked great until we got to the car and he took off his cap and waved. Then the press realized they'd been duped and ran back inside trying to find you. But they were too late."

 

Liz added, "We even have tape of this. From what I hear, it's hilarious. I can't wait to see all those assholes getting fooled."

 

We piled in the limo and headed towards Mom and Dad's house.

 

"Shit! When are we going to get rid of this fricken limo and get a Humvee." I complained.

 

Dad replied, "You can always go back and ride in the hearse."

 

I shuddered, "No fricken thank you!" Everyone laughed.

 

"Hey, how about some celebration music?" Jens shouted and started messing with the audio system.

 

She found a classical station. They were playing Vivaldi's Four Seasons with Yehudi Menuhin playing the violin solos. Mom said, "That sounds good to me."

 

"Pul-e-e-eze. Ben and I aren't dead yet!" She shot back and changed stations.

 

I looked at Mom, "Do you know who makes the best violin mute?"

 

"No, I don't."

 

I grinned and winced because of my lips, "Smith and Wesson."

 

Everyone started laughing except for Mom. Dad leaned over and explained the joke to her. "Well, I never…?" She acted all indignant.

 

I continued, "You know what's the difference between God and a conductor?"

 

Mom turned and wouldn't even answer so Dad said, "What's the difference?"

 

"God knows he's not a conductor."

 

Even Mom laughed at that joke.

 

Next Jens found a country station, "You can stop right there young lady." Dad ordered.

 

She stuck her tongue out at him, "I don't want to listen to any damn chicken picken music." And moved the dial.

 

I wanted to be an equal opportunity joker so I looked at Dad, "How many country & western singers does it take to change a light bulb?"

 

He gave me a dirty look, "I don't know, how many?"

 

"Three. One to change the bulb and two to sing about the old one." Dad didn't know what to say but the rest of us were sure laughing.

 

I smiled and hurt my lips again, "What has 154 legs and 8 teeth?"

 

Mom answered, "I don't know. But I'm sure you'll tell us."

 

"The front row at a Garth Brooks concert!"

 

Jens and Liz were rolling on the floor laughing so I took over and found a classic rock station and started enjoying the music.

 

Jens gave me a wicked look and said, "What do classic rock songs and strippers have in common?"

 

I bit, "I don't know what?"

 

"They both need G2 strings."

2(For those of you that don't play guitar, the G string is the standard tuning of the third string from the bottom of a guitar.)

 

I started laughing and wished I hadn’t. "Damn, my lips hurt."

 

"Poor baby", Jens came over and gently kissed them.

 

Liz got in the mood, "What do Kurt Kobain and Freddie Mercury have in common?

 

Mom said, "I don't know, what?"

 

"Both sucked on a tube and died."

 

I laughed so hard I fell on the floor.

 

Mom and Dad didn't understand so Jens leaned over, "Kurt Cobain was the lead singer for Nirvana and committed suicide with a gun. Freddy Mercury was the lead singer for Queen and was gay and died from AIDS."

 

Dad started laughing and Mom turned all red, "I thought you were more cultured than that young lady."

 

Jens finally found a pop station and was happy. She started singing:

 

Cause it makes me that much stronger
Makes me work a little bit harder
It makes me that much wiser
So thanks for making me a fighter
Made me learn a little bit faster
Made my skin a little bit thicker
Makes me that much smarter
So thanks for making me a fighter.

 

Mom asked, "Who's that?"

 

I answered, "It's Christina Skank-uilera!"

 

Jens stopped singing, "Hey! That's not her name. It's Christina Aguilera."

 

"The only one skankier in the music business is Madonna - I heard that Christina had to get a revolving door put on her bedroom. And there's a sign over her bed that says, Open All Night." I quipped.

 

Jens punched me in one arm and Liz in the other, "You just made that up."

 

"You're right, I think the sign said, No Shoes No Shirts No Problem!"

 

They kept punching me, "That's not true."

 

"You're right, "I think it was more like McDonalds, Billions Served."

 

Dad was laughing his ass off, Mom was shaking her head.

 

Jens and Liz were seriously upset and giving me shit.

 

The limo stopped."We're at your house." The driver announced.

 

He got out of the limo and opened the door.

 

Jens and Liz were poking the hell out of me, "Ow oh stop! I need to say something." I faked.

 

They stopped and looked at me. "I just want to say one thing."

 

"What's that?" Jens asked.

 

"I want to be a busboy!" I stated.

 

They both gave me a puzzled look.

 

"And get the fork out of here." I jumped up and ran out the open door.

 

I was feeling much better and hit the yard running around raising both arms in victory. I saw the press being held back by the Secret Service.  So I ran past them a couple times just to tease them. I was getting ready to drop my pants and moon the shit out of them.

 

Jens walked up, "What the hell are you getting ready to do?"

 

I blushed.

 

"That's what I thought! You'd better not moon them. I'm the only one that gets to see that booty. Besides, do you want to make an ass out of yourself on national TV."

 

Liz walked up, "Making you look like an ass is my job. Are you going to take away one of my few pleasures?"

 

They each grabbed and arm and hauled me into the house taking me right to Jens bedroom.

 

"You're going to bed and rest right now." Jens ordered and pulled down the covers.

 

I bent over and sniffed the bed.

 

Jens whacked my butt, "Yes I changed the sheets from the other night."

 

"Whew, I'm so glad because it smelled like ass and a half."

 

The women tackled me on the bed.

 

"I'll show you ass and a half." Jens said and started poking me.

 

"You're a big one to talk. I heard about your bathroom escapades with that fart bomb." Liz said.

 

"Keep poking me and I won't need a fart bomb." I idly threatened.

 

They both stopped, "You wouldn't dare." Jens stated.

 

I pretended and they both took off running out of the room.

 

I changed out of my MCCUUs, slipped under the covers, grabbed my book and started reading.

 

Jens came in later and made a real show out of changing into her sleep clothes. I put the book down and gave her my undivided attention.

 

She grinned at me, "I see that I can still get your attention." She sexily walked towards the bed.

 

"You most certainly can!" I told her as she slipped under the covers next to me.

 

I turned out the light and she cuddled up close to me, "I thought I'd lost you." Then she started sniffling.

 

I held her tight, "If it hadn’t been for thoughts of you, I would have died. The whole time I was in the ocean I kept thinking that I had to do whatever it took to get back to you."

 

I felt her tears on my chest. There was nothing more that we could say so we drifted off to sleep.

 

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

 

Damn! What's that noise?

 

Wait! I'm actually hearing something beside the roaring in my ears. It sounds like – people yelling and popcorn popping.

 

Shit! That's not popcorn! That's gunfire.

 

I jump up throwing Zarika and Yasmeen off me and start looking for my rifle but I can't find it.

 

"Ben, what are you looking for?" Zarika asks.

 

"Someone's shooting and I need my rifle."

 

Yasmeen yawns and says, "Ben they're watching a movie. Come back to sleep."

 

"Wait, you heard the TV?" Zarika asks.

 

"I did and I hear both of you now." I tell them.

 

They both jump up and give me hugs, "Good, now you can finally hear us scold you."

 

"Huh, I can't hear you." I fake putting both hands over my ears.

 

They both start in on me at the same time. All the noise attracts Ivan and he comes in the room and starts laughing.

 

I look at him, "Ivan! Shut the fuck up!"

 

His mouth drops open, "You can hear."

 

The girls are still haranguing me, unfortunately." I tire of the verbal barrage and look at them, "Good –fucking –bye. I don't deserve to be treated this way. I'm getting the fuck out of here!"

 

I turn and walk away from them, leaving them standing. Ivan starts laughing so hard I think he's going to have a heart attack. I walk over to him, "Fuck you! It's getting pretty damn old everyone laughing at me."

 

I turn and walk towards the door and see my rifle, I grab it and head outside. I have no idea where to go, all I know is I want to get away from here. So I start a slow run up the road. I hear a little noise behind me and I see Zarika and Yasmeen running after me, so I speed up. I can't run well, but it feels good to run so I keep it up.  I hear another noise and see Ivan's truck driving up behind me; I stand off to the side of the road, cross my arms defiantly, and wait for him.

 

He pulls up and rolls down the window, "Do you even know where you're going?"

 

I smile, "I'm going to hell, just like you!" I look past his truck and notice the girls are still coming.

 

"If you keep running in that direction and without water you'll get there sooner than me."

 

"So be it." I reply, turn, and start running again.

 

He guns the truck and pulls in behind me. Ignoring him, I keep running. He sticks his head out the window and yells at me so I flip him the bird. After about thirty minutes the road gets wider and he pulls up beside me, "I'll make sure to send your body to Jens."

 

Stopping, I look at him, "Shit! That's not fair to use her against me."

 

He smiles, "It made you stop didn't it? So, my old friend why are you so upset?"

 

"Ivan, I miss the hell out of Jens and I want to get back home to her. But it seems like everything is conspiring to keep me from doing that. I rescued the hostages and blew the hell out of the terrorist camp for you, so you need to get off your fat ass and help me, dammit!"

 

"I can see by the look in your eyes that you are very upset at me."

 

I interrupt, "Upset hell! I'm damn pissed off!"

 

"Listen to me Ben, I haven't been just sitting on my fat ass, as you call it. I have been busy making plans for our trip." Ivan smiles

 

I look him in the eyes, see the truth and then feel like shit. "Sorry Ivan, you didn't tell me and I assumed nothing was happening."

 

"What's that famous American saying? When you assume you make and ass out of u and me. You've certainly made and ass out of yourself. Ahkmed is worried that he offended you and is thinking of giving you more wives to make up for it."

 

"Son-of-a-bitch! If that happens it, looks like you're going to have even more wives Ivan, because I'm not taking any more women with me! The two little girls that I have are already driving me crazy."

 

He got a serious look on his face, "Tell me you're kidding me, because this isn't funny."

 

"I'm as serious as a heart attack."

 

"You bastard, you'd do that wouldn’t you. Come and get in the truck. Let's head back and see if I can work things out with Ahkmed."

 

I hop in the truck, he turns it around and we head back. I take a big drink of water out of his canteen. As we approach Zarika and Yasmeen, Ivan starts to slow.

 

"What the fuck are you doing?" I ask.

 

"We need to pick them up." Ivan answers.

 

"The hell we do. Running back to the house will be good for them."

 

"Sometimes you're a real bastard." Ivan tells me.

 

"I'm tired of them giving me shit and it's time they learn that I'm the boss. Keep driving past them."

 

They stand at the side of the road and are all smiles until the truck moves past them and I throw the canteen to them.  I stick my head out the window, "Have a nice run back to the house." I look in the rearview mirror and see them both in the middle of the road. Zarika is flipping me off.

 

Ivan laughs, "They are so upset at you. They're going to give you hell when they get back."

 

I looked at him, "Like hell they will. You're going to get Basma to have a talk with both of them."

 

"Do I have a say in this?" Ivan questions.

 

"Sure, how many more wives do you want?"

 

"You bastard." Ivan answered. We rode the rest of the way back to the house in silence.

 

We pull up to the house. Ahkmed and a bunch of women greet us. He starts jabbering at me and I look at Ivan, "Tell him, I was more upset at Zarika and Yasmeen than him."

 

They discuss things for several minutes; I notice some of the women giving me the look, so I smile at them and they begin to giggle. Ahkmed starts laughing so hard that he almost falls down. Some of his wives help to hold him up.

 

Ivan comes over, "Ahkmed thinks it's the funniest thing that you left the two of them on the road. And, we have both been lucky and neither one of us have more wives."

 

"Too bad, I think that you need at least two more. I think I'll talk to Zarika about this when she get back." I tease.

 

"Oh no, I'm happy with the two I have."

 

"Are you going to send Basma out after them?" I wonder.

 

"I'll do it right away. Can she drive them back here?" Ivan questions.

 

"Tell her she can but to take her time and not bring them here until they understand." I order. "Before you go can you tell them I'm hungry?"

 

Ivan tells them that I'm hungry and then takes off. A couple of the women escort me inside to the cushions and the feast begins.

 

I have two very nice looking ladies feeding me and for once I'm enjoying the hell out of it because we don't speak any of the same languages. Ivan comes in well after the start, sits down, and starts eating.

 

He looks over at me, "You are enjoying yourself too much. The little ones are going to be very upset when they come in and see this."

 

I grin evilly at him, "If they are then you didn't do your job well enough. And if that happens, it's more wives for you!"

 

He jumps up and takes off, "You bastard."

 

I'm taking my time eating. I have way more wine than I should and I'm feeling a good buzz from it. The women get bolder, sit right up against me, and touch me when they aren't feeding me. Ahkmed is watching and nodding his head. I shake my head no at him and point to the door, trying to let him know that I want to teach the girls a lesson.

 

I see Ivan, Basma and the girls walk in. At first, I see the fire flare up in both of their eyes, they start to open their mouths and Basma sharply says something to them. They close their mouths and look down at the floor. Then I see a few tears start to roll down their cheeks.

 

Ahkmed’s gaze is bouncing back and forth between me and the girls. Shit! I can stand most anything other than a woman crying; that always tears me up inside. I gently push the women beside me away; the girls look up at me. I hold out my arms and say, "Come." They fly to my side.

 

"Ben, we are so sorry." Zarika says as she cries.

 

"I won't be bad again." Yasmeen tells me.

 

"Please don't leave us here." They both tell me sobbing against my shirt.

 

Ahkmed is laughing and jabbering. The other two women give me very nasty looks as they leave and I feel like SHIT! Zarika and Yasmeen are both smelly and sweaty but I don't mind. I have my girls back and now they're acting like girls, not bitches.

 

I pick up some food and feed them, and Ahkmed claps his hands and starts carrying on again. Zakira translates, "Ben it's a big honor that you're feeding us and Ahkmed want his wives to see."

 

The other women all come in and I make such a big show of feeding the girls, it makes them blush. The women start chattering and looking at us with envy. Ahkmed put his hands over his ears at the noise, yells at them and they left.

 

I tell both the girls, "I'm sorry some for making both of you run back to the house. But you both deserved it."

 

They started crying again. "Basma told us what we did wrong."

 

"What did she tell you?" I wanted to make sure that they understood.

 

"She told us that wives need to respect and not scold their husbands." Yasmeen said.

 

"At least not in public." Zarika added.

 

I held both of them, "That's close but not quite right. Remember that you two are my sisters not my wives and we are pretending you are wives while we're here."

 

They both started crying again. "Come on you two, I've explained this to both of you. When we get to America, Jens and I will help you find boyfriends your own age."

 

"What's a boyfriend?" Yasmeen asked.

 

I look at her and realize they don't have that concept here. "Zarika, why don't you and your sister get cleaned up and you can explain boyfriend to her. Make sure that you only tell her in Russian."

 

They jump up and head out of the room. Ahkmed smiles and says something to me. Ivan smiles and translates, "He says you're a wise and patient man and are a good husband to your young brides. He wants to know if you'd like a couple more wives."

 

I threaten Ivan, "For every new wife I get I'm going to make sure that you get three." The smile falls off Ivan's face, he has a short discussion with Ahkmed and says, "Okay no more wives for either one of us."

 

"So Ivan, tell me what you've done instead of sitting on your fat ass."

 

He comes over, sits by me, and switches to English, "I've done many things my friend and I think you will be happy with it."

 

 "Were you able to contact any American troops?" I anxiously ask.

 

"Unfortunately, no. We tried but none are close and we were concerned that if we kept trying the Taliban would find us."

 

"Shit! Well what did you do?" I reply.

 

"We've found a relatively safe path through China for you. And we've found guards we think can be bribed. We have to get ready tonight and leave tomorrow."

 

"What's this we crap?"

 

"I'm coming with you." Ivan replies.

 

"Like hell you are! You have two wives and a child to take care of. Besides, I need you here just in case."

 

"In case of what?"

 

"In case I don't make it. I need you to get the girls to Jens. And I need you here for when I come back." I answer.

 

"Ben my friend, if you make it out of here you must forget your anger and never come back."

 

"Ivan, dogs get mad, people get angry but Marines get even! I will not rest until Hussein is dead."

 

Basma and Ivan's new wife come into the room, obviously arguing. He heads over to them and they both start going after him. Ahkmed and I look at the scene, back to each other and we both start laughing. They leave the room and it's just the two of us left in the room.

 

"Ahkmed, sometimes I wished you understood me." I say in English.

 

He clears his throat and replies, "I never said that I didn't."

 

"Shit! You speak English and have understood everything all along."

 

He nods his head, "I have found that many times it is better to listen than to talk."

 

I smile, "You're a cagey old bastard. So give me the benefit of your wisdom."

 

"I think Ben that you still have a very hard road ahead of you. That road will not end when you get back to America. Ivan is right, you need to let go of your hatred and anger and watch out for the girls. They plan to make you their husband." He sits back and smiles.

 

I look at him still in disbelief. He knows all the stuff I've been trying hide from him. I file it for future reference to make sure I never trust that speaking a different language is a guarantee of secrecy.

 

He looks at me and laughs, "This is the best joke of all."

 

"Yes it is."

 

Ivan came back, "I need a drink."

 

I laugh, "Trouble with the wives?"

 

"You won't believe it. My life was great when I had one wife, but it's hell with two wives. I can't get any rest. If I do something for one of them, I have to do the same for the other. My new wife is driving me crazy wanting children."

 

"A big strong man like you should be able to take care of two little women." I tease.

 

"I'm worn out; please let me go with you." He begs.

 

"Ivan, you're a family man now and your days of fighting, well at least outside of the home, are over." His wives walk into the room and head towards us, "And here come one of your battles now."

 

Ahkmed laughs. I look at him, "You speak Russian too?"

 

He nods his head.

 

"Yes, you've pulled the best joke on us of all. I will always remember not to trust sneaky old farts."

 

He laughs, "That is a good thing that you have learned."

 

I know that we have a bunch of stuff to do before leaving tomorrow. "Ahkmed, your hospitality has been outstanding. But I am afraid that we need to leave now and prepare for tomorrow."

 

"Ben, may I call you my friend?"

 

"You most certainly may."

 

"My friend, I hope that your travels are quick and without problems. If you come back here know that you and all that travel with you will always have a place to stay." He winks at me, "Now are you sure you wouldn't like another wife?"

 

I could tell he was teasing so I said loud enough for Ivan to hear, "Sure I'd like two more wives and that means Ivan needs six more wives." Ahkmed said something in Arabic, I think he repeated what I said. Then Ivan's wives really started going after him.

 

'No-no-no! No more wives for me; one is enough, two is too many and eight would kill me." Ivan yells and we both laugh.

 

Ahkmed claps his hands and all the women come in My two girls walk over and stand beside me. He says something in Arabic and Zarika, and Yasmeen start hitting my arms. "What's this about you choosing two more wives?" Zarika asks me.

 

Ahkmed laughs and says a few more things. The girls stop hitting me so I guess he told them it was a joke. "My friend Ahkmed, one of these days your jokes will bring you trouble." I tell him.

 

He looks at his many women and says, "How do you think I got all these."

 

"If they are troubles for you then may your troubles double before I see you again."

 

For once, he looks concerned, "I see you wish to multiply my troubles too. Remember what I told you."

 

All of them wish us goodbye. Many of the women make their hugs longer and tighter than necessary causing Zarika and Yasmeen to be upset. They start to complain so I swat them on the butt, "If you keep it up you're running to Aamir's." They stop immediately and hug my arms, "Please don't make us run again. We will be good girls."

 

Ahkmed laughs and Ivan looks at me, "I'm not sure how you do that?" Ahkmed said something to Ivan's wives, they started hitting him, and he takes off running. "He told them that Ivan was going to make them run to Aamir's." Yasmeen tells me.

 

I hug my girls, "I have the best little sisters in the world."

 

We walk out to the truck and Ivan's wives are chasing him around the truck. "If you three keep it up, you're all running back to Aamir's." I yell and Zarika translates as the three of us jump in the truck, start it up and drive off. I watch in the rear view mirrors as Ivan and then his upset wives hop into the back of the truck.

 

"Yasmeen, do you know how to get to your house from here?" I ask as I realize I have no idea where to go.

 

"Ben, I'm not a little girl. I most certainly know where home is. She gives me excellent directions, it takes about thirty minutes and we drive up to Aamir's house.

 

He and Dhuha walk out to welcome us, "When did they get here?" I ask.

 

"Mama and Papa left earlier to make sure everything is okay." Yasmeen tells us.

 

I stop the truck and Ivan boils out of the back with his wives still chasing him. Dhuha yells something at them and they stop and slowly start coming over to her.

 

Yasmeen giggles, "They are in trouble. Mama is going to yell at them for being mean to Ivan."

 

They knew they were in trouble and were taking their sweet time. Dhuha got upset, went over, and grabbed them by their ears and started dragging them in the house - yelling at them the whole time.

 

Ivan came up to me, "Finally some peace."

 

"Perhaps you could tell Dhuha how bad Yasmeen and Zarika have been to me?" I tease.

 

They both get “deer in headlights” look in their eyes, "Please Ben. Do not do that. We will always be good to you."

 

"Don't worry my little sisters, I was just teasing. Let's go and get our truck ready." I order.

 

We walk over to the barn, "I need to get something out of the back."

 

"Ben, do not mess the back of the truck up again," Zarika orders.

 

"Ivan, call Dhuha. Zarika is being mean." I yell.

 

"Oh no Ben. I'm sorry." She says.

 

I climb up in the back of the truck, move one of the boxes of gold to the back of the truck, and of course accidentally knock over some stuff. I see Zarika biting her lip knowing better than to say anything.

 

Ivan shows up, "Is that what I think it is?"

 

"It certainly is, help me unload this." I ask.

 

We both struggle and are barely able to get it to the ground.

 

"Damn! That's heavier than it looks." I say and open the box.

 

Yasmeen's eyes light up, "Ben is that gold?"

 

"It certainly is and we're leaving half of this box for Ivan and half for your parents."

 

She squeals and jumps into my arms, "I didn't know my husband-uh-brother was such a rich man that he can give away a fortune in gold. Wait until I go tell Mama and Papa." She breaks free of me and takes off running and shouting.

 

"My friend, you are a good man and we don't deserve this." Ivan tells me.

 

"Shit Ivan! We have more gold left than we will ever spend so why not help you two."

 

Yasmeen came back and everyone is following her. Ivan's wives are much better behaved and walk up and stand on each side of him. Aamir notices the box, I pick up a bar of gold and hand it to Yasmeen, "Go give this to your Papa and tell him it's my dowry for you."

 

She practically drops the bar because it's so heavy. She struggles to get it to him and beams as she tells him what I said. Zarika sniffles, "Don't worry my little one, I plan on paying your dowry to your relatives when we get to your city." She jumps up and hugs me, "I never thought any man would pay a dowry for me after what the chewchemeks did to me."

 

"Just remember you two; this is a dowry for being my sisters, not for being my wives." I remind them. They both give me such innocent smiles.

 

They all start jabbering in Arabic and I use it for my chance to escape and start working on getting the truck ready. I open the hood and double check the engine, making sure to take the rag out of the air cleaner. Everything looks fine. I check the fuel and notice that it needs topping off and start doing that. Afterwards, I check our weapon supply and make a list for Zarika of the items we need. I've already pushed my luck by messing up the back of her truck and don't want to try it again.

 

I head around back and they're still jabbering. "What's the problem?" I ask.

 

"Papa says it's too much and doesn't want to take it." Yasmeen tells me.

 

"Then you tell your papa that the deal is off and you're staying here with him." I order.

 

She looks at me and I see the tears start in the corner of her eyes, then she tells him and runs off crying.

 

Dhuha slaps him on the back of the head, yells at him and takes off after Yasmeen.

 

Aamir talks some more and Zarika translates, "He says it's too much but he will take it to keep peace in the family."

 

"Make sure you tell him that half the gold in the box is his and half is Ivan's."  I mention.

 

Zarika tells him and it starts another big discussion. I throw up my hands, grab my Dragunov and walk away disgusted shaking my head; sometimes things are just too difficult.

 

Zarika runs after me, "Ben what is wrong?"

 

"Nothing, I'm just tired and don't want to deal with this right now. Would you please make sure the rest of the truck is ready to travel, I want to get the hell out of here first thing in the morning."

 

Thank God, she listens to me and realizes that I need some time alone. I walk out into the field, sit down, and start messing with my rifle. It's been awhile since I've used a Dragunov and I should be more familiar with it. I pop out the magazine, empty the chamber, and try the trigger a couple times. Someone did a nice trigger job on this rifle. I look through the scope and see it's nice too.

 

Damn, I miss my rifles. I never thought I would say this - I miss Jens even more.

 

No Jens – NO PEACE!