Chapter 11

Walker Chapter 11

Copyright 2011 Banzai Ben and Amazing Anastasia

 

Present – Ben – On the road

 

As fast as we can we hurry from the scene of the Great Bus Battle. With what and who I saw arrive, I sure as hell don't want to be around there right now…

 

Present – Samantha Stevens – Truth Network report on the bus battle

 

I'm thankful my fiancé Frank, his brother Emanuel and the Mossad team with him have let me continue to do my reporting job instead of fighting with me over my safety. I smile at my cameraman Jon and declare, "Let's hit it!"

 

He turns on the camera and I begin, "This is Samantha Stevens reporting for the Truth Network at the scene of one of the newest atrocities perpetrated by the roving gangs of Mexicans and other hoodlums. As you know from my other reports, most of the Mexican army has been driven across the border but many returned to random guerilla strikes throughout this area. It leads to scenes like the horror of what we're seeing here.

 

Once again, they attacked a bus load of people. Unlike other times when passengers were found abused and executed and the bus missing, this time the hoodlums ran into stiff resistance. While they did destroy the bus killing close to forty civilians there were at least nine women that escaped and the hoodlums paid a huge price measured in their own casualties. While the other survivors fled in a truck they commandeered from the hoodlums, we are lucky enough to have found one witness to describe what happened. Please Ma'am tell America your name."

 

I move the microphone in front of her face and she says, "My name is Dorothy Gale."

 

I'm a professional so I don't laugh at the name her parent's gave her, instead I question, "Ms. Gale, would you please tell us how so many of you were lucky enough to escape this attack?"

 

She responds, "Well one brave man got off the bus right at the start of the battle and he gave them hell until the rest of us could escape."

 

This doesn't seem right so I reiterate, "So you are telling me just one man is responsible for the deaths of all these hoodlums?"

 

She corrects my use of language, "Honey, get your facts straight. They aren't 'hoodlums' they are terrorists. And yes only one man on the bus was man enough and prepared enough to fight them."

 

Before I started reporting, Frank and the Mossad told me how impressed they were with the battle that went on here - they were sure it was a team of three or four men. They were shocked at the damage in this area because all the shots were head shots. Now Dorothy tells me just one man did all this! This doesn't make sense to me so I again ask, "Ms. Gale, the team I am with was sure there was a small team of men but you're telling me all this carnage was perpetrated by one man?"

 

She smiles and chides me, "Listen sweetie, if you're going to keep asking me the same questions over and over, I'm going to stop talking to you."

 

I decide to change the subject and question, "How did you and the others get off the bus?"

 

She responds, "His girlfriend organized us and took all of us off the bus. We headed for the woods and we were doing great until the terrorists caught us out here."

 

I continue, "Would you please describe what happened here?"

 

She says, "Well, I guess a truck load of the terrorists chased us down. They started raping one poor woman and were going to rape and kill all of us until that man shot all of them from that building up there."

 

I continue, "So that's how the other women obtained the truck they drove away with. Why didn't you leave with them?"

 

She adds, "I was a nurse in Korea and the man who saved us was shot in the leg so I stayed and fixed his leg."

 

I have to ask, "Where is this mystery man now?"

 

Dorothy responds, "He and his girlfriend took the last truck and drove away."

 

I continue, "Dorothy, would you be able to tell America the man's name?"

 

She shakes her head, "Sorry honey, I never asked either of their names."

 

I could tell that was a lie, but I knew she would never give up that information so I end the interview with, "Thank you Dorothy Gale for the interview."

 

As the interview ends, I notice the men waving to me from the building so I say to Jon, "It looks like they found something up at the building."

 

I give my fiancé Frank a big hug then we run up the hill and find Emanuel and the Mossad team at the old building. I run in and ask, "Emanuel, what's going on?"

 

He replies, "Well, it does look like this is the place where our mystery man took out the rest of the Mexicans."

 

I respond, "So it really was just one man - that's also what Dorothy told me."

 

He answers, "Yes, all the evidence seems to point to just one highly trained man. From the looks of things, he was probably a sniper in the military at one time." Then he points to a pile of tape and says, "There's also a field dressing here so it looks like he or someone else was wounded."

 

I go over, look at the dressing, the duct tape and bandages and see it's covered with blood. Then I get an idea and comment, "Hey, I bet there are fingerprints and DNA on this that we can use to identify our mystery man. Dorothy also says they left in a truck." I take a plastic bag and collect the dressing.

 

Emanuel corrects my information, "Then she lied to you because we found two sets of footprints, one female leading away from the building."

 

I excitedly ask because I want an interview, "So are we going to chase them down?"

 

Emanuel shakes his head and declares, "I know men like this. If he left he will not want to talk to anyone about this. To follow him would be very dangerous…"

 

Present – Stacy – On the road

 

Ben has not slowed up at all, in fact we've been sort of running for several hours – it’s all I can do to keep up! But I'm sure as heck not going to complain like those women from the bus, even though I have a valid excuse. I think Dorothy took a little too much blood from me because I'm feeling weaker than normal and even a bit dizzy. I'm sure glad that the little trail has turned into a dirt road since it's much easier to run here.

 

Ben sure saw something at the battle scene that has him scared which is shocking to me, so I ask, "Ben why the big hurry to get away?"

 

He answers with his voice strained and I can tell he's in pain, "Two reasons: First the troops we saw were Mossad and I sure as hell didn't want to fight them; second I recognized Samantha Stevens the news reporter from the Truth network. If we had stayed, she would have recognized me and I would have been detained for Ms. Donaldson. Then you would have been taken back to your parents."

 

I shudder and realize once again Ben saved me from a fate worse than death! But somehow I must make Ben slow the pace because he could reinjure his leg. Finally I see my opportunity and say, "Ben, look there are horses over there. If we stop and catch them we can ride them instead of continuing to run."

 

Ben swears bitterly, "Shit! I hate horses!"

 

Again I am shocked and I state, "I don't the heck know what problems you have with horses that would make you hate them. But it's obvious to me, from the way you're limping and the pain in your voice, that we could sure use them right now. Now I'm great with horses and I'm going to stop and catch them."

 

I drop my pack and as I walk toward the horses, their ears perk up and they begin to nicker.

 

 Present – Ben – On the road

 

We've made pretty good time for me having a bad wheel. Dorothy did a hell of a job fixing up my leg. I saw the horses paralleling our trail a couple klicks back but ignored them and hoped they'd just leave us alone. Stacy finally saw them and of course she wants to make friends with them. What is it about women and horses?

 

Oh well, I guess we've gone far enough that we don't have to worry about the Mossad following us. Stacy makes clicking noises as she walks toward the horses. I limp over, sit beneath a pine tree, gather some pine nuts on the ground, start eating them and watch as Stacy messes with the horses – damn I hate horses! I yawn and decide to take a nap…

 

Dream – Ben – Home on leave

 

Shit! Walking and running back to my cabin in Leadville, while wearing fucking cowboy boots is not how I wanted to end today. That stupid damn horse! If I thought it would do any good, I'd hit it between the eyes with a two by four when I caught him again. Maybe that would knock more sense into its brainless head. I’m lucky I only had five more miles until I was back at my cabin, then another two miles to my neighbor's cabin, where the horse lives. I sure hope that damn horse was smart enough to return home because I'm not chasing his ass all over the Rocky Mountains…

 

Damn! Being home on leave is a son-of-a-bitch! I never did fit well in Leadville before I joined the Corps. And now, if possible, I fit in even worse. My last leave I'd gotten into some trouble with the Cobra – okay, I got into more trouble than you could shake a stick at with the Cobra - to the point the Corps was ready to bust the hell out of me. Frank my family lawyer, did the voodoo he does so well and fixed things. So this time I had promised the CO and Frank to behave myself. Other than one little race (the guy in the Vette should have known better), I had followed orders.

 

I went down to the Silver Dollar Saloon a few nights and did some drinking and dancing, but that didn't last. The small fucking town bastards there wanted to start talking about the politics of our current war and kept asking me if I thought it was right that our current President got us into 'this mess.' While I am a Marine and we swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and not the President like the other armed forces, I still knew better than to open my mouth and insert both feet on this subject. After my nemesis, Beverly, showed up one night and called me a baby killer (which gave me serious thoughts about killing her) I figured it was a wiser choice to avoid the Silver Dollar and Leadville completely.

 

I did take the Cobra for what started out being a nice drive to Denver, but after stopping by the 16th street mall, seeing all the homeless vets, and giving away hundreds of dollars, I came back home even more disgusted at the politicians than ever. When were they going to get their heads out of their asses and stop fucking up the best country in the world? The only bright spot of that trip was seeing the kids and their parents…

 

Well, I'm down to three miles until I get to my cabin…

 

But none of those problems were even close to the bullshit that happened today! My neighbor Henry and his wife Claire decided to take a vacation and asked me if I'd take care of their horses while they were gone for a week. I hated doing it, but sort of expected it because they did the same thing last time I was home on leave. Why they had horses I never understood, they sure as hell didn't ride them nearly enough. So take care of them I did – the Marine way - and I rode the hell out of them. I had to laugh because the first day I rode them so far I tired them out...

 

Henry and Claire were going to be home later today and I decided I would use their best horse, Star, to get me back to one of my favorite shooting areas. I didn't take Suzie, their other horse, because she had a loose shoe. While I could have fixed it myself, I also knew that she didn't like having her hooves messed with and I sure as hell didn't want to get bit or kicked.  So I saddled up Star after fighting with him about the cinch, more than once, and avoiding him stepping on my feet. I loaded up his saddle bags with food, ammo and water, slipped my Shiloh rifle in the scabbard and we trotted off.

 

A couple of hours later we arrived at the nice canyon and my thousand yard range. I tied Star off to a tree branch, grabbed my rifle and the saddle bags and moved over to my rock 'shooting bench.' There was no need to setup any targets because I had put out steel plates years ago. I really liked the way it sounded when I hit one…

 

Well, only about a mile left to go!

 

I started to set up to fire and heard Star whinny just as I looked over and saw the bastard pull his reigns loose and take off running. Son-of-a-bitch! I'm sure my mouth dropped open because I was shocked - when did that damn horse learn that trick? He'd never done that before. Shit! Once a horse got loose and took off there's no way in hell to catch them. I stood there a couple minutes and thought to myself, 'fuck, I'm not going to let this ruin my day of shooting'. I checked my mobile phone but of course it didn't work. I was pretty sure I could climb up out of this valley and find an antenna, but there was no need: Even though Star ran off it wasn't an emergency. So I spent a couple hours shooting. Since it was getting late, I was glad I took the saddlebags off Star because I had my ammo, my food and some water. It was one of my better days of shooting and quite enjoyable. I packed everything in the saddle bags and started humping back to my cabin. After I reached home, I still had to continue to my neighbor's house, hoping that the fricken horse had returned - I didn't want to spend all night trying to find a stupid horse…

 

I got to my neighbor's house shortly after they had returned home: Yes Star was waiting for them and they had already taken care of putting him away.

 

I asked Henry, "When the hell did Star learn to pull his reigns loose?"

 

He shook his head and apologized, "Damn Ben, we were getting worried about you and we almost called the Sheriff. I should have warned you about that. He learned that trick about three months ago."

 

We talked a bit more and then I went home: Very pissed at myself. I made three survival mistakes; I was sloppy and if I had an emergency it could have cost me my life. The first mistake was I didn't notify anyone or leave a map of where I was going, SHIT I knew better than this. The second mistake was not hobbling Star, I'll never ever trust a horse again so when I tie them up I'll also hobble them. The third mistake was not phoning someone (like my neighbor) when I got into a place that had phone service…

 

What the hell, someone with nasty breath just sneezed in my face! I jump up and spook the hell out of a damn horse that was standing right in front of me! My leg hurts like hell and Stacy begins to laugh…

 

Present – Stacy – On the road

 

Well, Ben may not like horses, but this gelding sure likes him! He's been standing beside Ben ever since I went over and introduced myself to pair of them. He's a real beautiful American quarter horse showing three white socks and a blaze on his forehead.  As he snorts in Ben's face, Ben jumps up, spooks him a little and I laugh, "Looks like you've found a new friend."

 

Ben complains, "He's lucky I didn't shoot him for waking me like that."

 

I giggle, "I'll warn Bo to let you sleep in next time so he doesn't wake up Mr. Crabby!"

 

Ben gripes, "Listen we've wasted enough time and I sure as hell don't need a couple of hay burners to take care of. Now get down off your horse and let's go!"

 

I shake my head, "There's no way in heck I'm leaving my horse Patches here. I'm tired of walking and even though we don't have saddles, I'm going to ride her." I named her Patches because she's this cute little mottled Pinto – just like someone had sewn patches on her.

 

Ben says, "Have it your way." When he turns and starts to walk, Bo follows him and I notice Ben has a very profound limp. I kick Patches in the side, ride up in front of Ben, turn sideways blocking his path and say, "Let me see your leg right now mister!"

 

He of course begins whining!

 

Present – Ben – On the road

 

I complain, "My leg is fine I just need some more ibuprofen."

 

Stacy jumps off her damn horse and says, "Oh no, you don't! You almost died once and I'm not going to let it happen again. Besides you owe me!"

 

I give her a puzzled look and ask, "I owe you? Yeah, right!"

 

She shows me her arm where I see the bandage as she explains, "Yes Ben you owe me because I gave you my blood. Why do you think you feel so good and I feel so crappy? Now shut up and let me look at your leg."

 

Shit! While I'm sure she owes me a hell of a lot more than she is counting, I really don't want to waste the time fighting with her right now. She kneels in front of me and says, "I think you've done too much and we need to change the dressing again. Now come on over under this tree and let me help you."

 

My leg is stiff as hell so I lean on her as we shuffle to the tree. The damn horses follow us. Stacy helps me sit down and pulls her med kit out of the top of her pack. I look in the top of her pack and complain, "Your pack is a fucking mess. What did you do to it?"

 

She begins cutting the duct tape and answers, "Damn, stop your bitching! You're almost as bad as the fat cows I saved. I've been using my pack that's why it's messed up."

 

I laugh, "When did you start swearing? And don't you know you're supposed to keep the essentials in the top of your pack, that way if you need to bug out quickly, you can cut the straps, drop the major pack and still have your survival and evading gear."

 

She gives me an evil grin as she rips the tape off my leg, it hurts like hell! I bite my lower lip to keep from yelling as she responds, "Keep complaining and I'll be even rougher putting the duct tape back on. I guess you taught me that a few well-placed swear words are needed with some people to make them listen to you. Now look at your leg, I told you earlier you were overdoing it. It's bleeding again and we don't have Dorothy to stich you up."

 

I look at my leg and say, "Stacy, that's a normal amount of blood for the injury I have so don't worry. Now will you please clean it out for me while I get some new bandages? By the way, did Dorothy give me any antibiotics?"

 

She grins at me and answers, "Well! You finally said please! It's about time you stopped being so crabby. Dorothy didn't give you any antibiotics. Sorry I was so rough with your leg when I took the tape off. Do we need a new IV bag to clean out your wound?"

 

I hand her a squirt bottle full of premixed betadine, some four by fours and instruct her, "Use this and four by fours. But take it easy so you don't break open the stitches."

 

She laughs, "Yeah right, you're telling me to take it easy. I've been trying to tell you that all day."

 

I pull out all the gear I need, give myself a shot of antibiotics while she cleans out my wound and redresses it. I start to take another four ibuprofens and Stacy says, "Oh no, you don't! Not on an empty stomach, I'll make you another MRE."

 

I'm hungry so decide why not. Besides I've got a little prank in mind and the MRE has just the things in it for the prank to work. I say, "Yeah, an MRE would be good. And while you're doing that I will fix your pack and clean the m-4 and the pistols."

 

I start by taking the cleaning kit out of the top pocket of my pack and Stacy asks, "What about the A-Okay rifles."

 

I chuckle and correct her, "Stacy, they are AKs which stands for Avtomat Kalashnikova not A-Okays. They don't function like an m-four and won't need to be cleaned for a long time. But I will still check them."

 

First I fix Stacy's pack, then I start cleaning the weapons. The damn horse is standing so close to me it's making me uncomfortable…

 

Present – Stacy – On the road

 

I am glad Ben finally listens to me since he really isn't well enough right now to keep traveling by walking. Somehow I have to get him to ride his horse. I sure don't know what his problems are with horses, especially Bo. These are great horses and I've never seen a horse get so attached to a person as quickly as Bo did to Ben. I swear he would sit in Ben's lap, just like a dog, if he could.

 

I watch as Ben cleans the weapons. Bo gets too close and Ben pokes at Bo with the rod, Bo grabs the rod in his teeth, yanks it out of Bens' hands and Ben yells, "Hey stupid, give me back my cleaning rod." Then I swear, Bo moves the rod so it's just out of Ben’s reach. Ben lunges toward it and Bo moves it a bit further away. It's the funniest thing I've ever seen so I start to laugh.

 

Ben gives me a dirty look and demands, "What are you laughing at?"

 

I try to answer, but I'm laughing too hard to be able to speak. Ben finally gets the rod back, looks at it, shakes it at Bo and says, "It's a good thing you didn't bend this rod, otherwise I'd take you to the knacker!"

 

I walk over, give Ben his MRE and say, "It seems to me it was your fault. Now eat your MRE and don't forget your ibuprofen."

 

Ben devours most of his MRE, while Bo keeps getting closer and intently watching him eat. Ben smiles devilishly at me and says, "Watch this!"

 

He takes the peanut butter and the jelly out of the MRE, puts all of it on the nasty cracker, holds it up and asks, "Hey stupid, want a treat?"

 

I watch as Bo takes the cracker, then gets the funniest look on his face. Neither of us can keep from laughing. Bo keeps making his funny face and smacking his lips. By now, it seems so funny we are rolling on the ground!

 

I'm finally able to regain my composure and say, "I didn't know horses liked peanut butter."

 

Ben laughs and explains, "Yeah I learned that when my neighbor’s horse ate all my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches one time when I was taking care of him. After that I made sure to never take peanut butter and jelly sandwiches around him again. Well, we've wasted enough time, let's get moving…"

 

Present – Ben – On the road

 

I stand up and quickly realize that with my leg being as sore and stiff as it is we're not going anywhere. As I sit back down, Stacy looks at me and says, "What's wrong? Did your leg get too stiff?"

 

I reply, "D'oh! Homer!"

 

She sasses me, "Hey, I thought you were Homer and I was Lisa."

 

I ignore her Simpson's comment and respond, "I think we need to move away from the road and camp here for the night because I really can't walk right now."

 

She grins at me and says, "Well, I bet you can ride a horse. That is if you're not too old and so senile you've forgotten how."

 

Now it's my turn and I say, "Look I'd love to make you eat your words, but there's no way I could get on the back of this horse with this leg and without a saddle."

 

She grins at me and says, "I bet you I can get you on your horse with no problem at all."

 

I love bets and respond, "So what are we betting?"

 

She says, "Well, if I can get you on the horse with no problems, then you will not only ride the horse but you will stop calling him stupid and call him by his name, Bo."

 

I counter, "And if you can't then we are leaving both of these hay burners here and walking."

 

She comes over, shakes my hand, helps me stand up and says, "You just stay right here and let me teach you something."

 

She brings Bo right alongside me pulls down on his lead, he kneels his front legs to the ground. Then Stacy comes over, helps me on the back of stupid… I mean Bo and then Bo stands up. I am uncomfortable as hell, grab two handfuls of mane and Stacy begins to giggle…

 

I bitch, "What the hell is so damn funny?"

 

Stacy jumps on her stupid horse and snaps right back, "You and Bo are so damn funny! Look at Bo, he's doing his best to keep you seated and you're acting like he's going to throw you off at any moment. Just relax. If you do your job Bo will do his job. Now let's get out of here." As Stacy takes off down the road, I try my best to relax. I gently nudge the sides of Bo and he catches up to Patches and Stacy.

 

Stacy grins at me and I say, "Look we need to talk about some serious things so cut out the clowning. First I need to apologize to you for bringing you into the middle of this war. I really thought things had simmered down."

 

She surprises me by responding, "Ben there's no need to apologize for anything you've done. If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't even have a life right now. Because you've not only kept me from being captured, you've also risked your life many times saving me."

 

I reply, "Well nothing dies faster in a war zone than a civi, especially a civi that wears panties."

 

She shocks me again when she says, "Well since I'm not going to stop wearing panties perhaps you should teach me to not be a civi."

 

I look at her and can see she's serious so I ask, "Stacy, are you telling me you could kill a person, because that might be what it takes?"

 

I study her face, watch her think it over and she replies, "There are times, like when those banditos attacked us that I could certainly kill someone. Besides they have attacked our country and deserve to die. But I don't think I could just walk up and kill someone."

 

I nod my head and say, "That's certainly the right attitude to have but you also need to know killing someone, even if they deserve it, always leaves baggage behind."

 

She looks deeply into my eyes and agrees, "Yeah, I can see in your eyes the baggage that's been left. It was worse when we first met, but it's better now."

 

I sure as hell don't want to go into my whole faces dreams with her, so I say, "Okay, let's begin your training as a soldier. First lesson, where is your rifle and where is my rifle?"

 

Present – Stacy – On the road

 

I really like Ben. Who the heck wouldn't if they had been saved by him countless times? One of the things I really like about him is that he never puts me down or treats me like a teenager; he treats me like an adult. I've felt bad because up until now, except for the transfusion, he's been the one saving me. Oh I realized we were in deep doo-doo when the bus was attacked and figured we could either turn around and go back, or keep going the way we're going. I'm personally glad we kept going because I sure as heck don't think my parents would come down here after me. So when Ben wants to teach me to be a soldier, I realize yet one more time he's trying to save me.

 

He starts my lesson by asking, "Where is your rifle? And, where is my rifle?"

 

I notice his is across his lap pointed away from me. I respond, "You're holding your rifle and mine is slung over my shoulder." I pull my rifle around, hold it in my lap and smile at him.

 

He grins at me, "See that tree ahead on the left? Shoot it."

 

I pull my rifle to my shoulder, aim at the tree, pull the trigger and the rifle goes, 'click!'

 

He continues, "Second lesson: Your safety wasn't on. Third lesson: When you're in the field always keep a round in the chamber. Hand me your rifle and I will teach you how to chamber a round and actuate the safety."

 

I skooch Patches right beside Bo, hand Ben my rifle and he spends about ten minutes giving me rifle instructions. When he's done, he drops the magazine, takes the round out of the chamber, puts it into the magazine and says, "Now, repeat everything I just taught you."

 

I repeat everything. When I'm done Ben says, "Okay, now shoot that tree over there."

 

I pull the rifle to my shoulder, fire but miss the tree entirely. Patches and Bo jump just a little so I reach down and pat Patches to calm her. When I look over and see that Ben has a death grip on Bo's mane, I start, "Because you are teaching me about being a soldier, in return I will teach you about being a horseman. Now your first lesson is to learn to control your fear of horses. They can sense your fear and it makes them nervous. Now release your death grip on Bo, reach down and rub his neck like I'm doing with Patches."

 

I watch to confirm Ben's trying his best to follow my lessons. I know he likes to bet so I offer, "I'll bet you a big bottle of your favorite bourbon that I become a soldier faster than you become a horseman."

 

He smiles and accepts the challenge, "I'll bet you a bottle of champagne that you're wrong."

 

We shake on it and I feel great because I know this is a sucker bet. He's afraid of horses but I'm certainly not afraid of becoming a soldier - it's yet one more great adventure for me!

 

Ben continues with the soldier training, "Okay, you missed the tree because you jerked the trigger instead of squeezing the trigger. But you did a good job because it was close enough for now and we will work on your trigger control later tonight. For your fourth lesson, consider this question: Should we really be riding down this road?"

 

I look at the terrain noting the road is in a valley with hills on both sides of it. It seems like it's the easiest place to be. I think about it and then respond, "Well, this is the easiest place to be, which probably means it's the wrong place to be."

 

Ben smiles at me and says, "You're right! In the military, places like this road are called 'funnels of death' because you are naturally funneled into the place that's the most dangerous. If a vehicle came down the road, or if there was someone in the trees, we are easy targets. Now where do you think we should we be?"

 

I look around, analyze the area and answer, "Well, the top of the hills wouldn't be a good place either because everyone would see us, so I guess we should be on the sides of the hills."

 

Ben confirms, "Very good job! We actually want to be about one-half to two-thirds of the way up the side of the hill. I would prefer two-thirds because it keeps us further from the road. When we are there, we can go over the top of the hill if we are attacked from the road and go down the hill if we are attacked from the top of the hills. Now let me take the lead and I will show you where I think we should travel."

 

We head off the road, into the trees and Ben finds a trail which parallels the road and then he whispers, "In many places where there are wild animals, you will find side trails like this. Animals are smart and know if they walk down the middle of a road, they are likely to be shot. Now it's time for your fifth lesson: When I hold up my hand like this it means to sells, that's the acronym S-L-L-S and means, Stop, Look, Listen and Smell. Now tell me what you see, hear and smell."

 

I do all three and whisper, "I see some squirrels playing ahead of us, I hear someone talking very far away and I smell the horses because they need grooming."

 

Then he says, "Lesson six will be one of your most important lessons: You need to keep your head 'on a swivel' and keep it moving at all times. I bet you missed the other horse following us."

 

I remember watching how Ben's head is always moving but never understood until now why he did that. I turn and see there is a new horse behind us and ask, "How long has this new horse been behind us?"

 

Ben replies, "He's been following us on this side trail ever since our rest spot. I noticed him right away and heard him fall in behind us. Teach yourself to always move your head, look for movements and listen for changes."

 

I twist further and say, "Ben, the new horse has been hurt. We need to take care of him."

 

I can tell the new horse is skittish so instead of jumping off Patches, I turn her and slowly ride towards the new horse while talking to him in a comforting voice. I tell Ben, "This is another lesson for you. Look at the ears on this horse, they are telling me that he's afraid. If I had jumped off Patches, he would have run off. But because he seems to know Patches, I can carefully approach him and then I will grab his lead."

 

Present – Ben – On the road

 

I'm very thankful Stacy is teaching me about horses, and I have already noticed she's right about stupid… I mean Bo. I never liked riding bareback, and with my leg being wounded I can't really squeeze against Bo like I want to. There have been a couple times I've almost fallen and he's moved so I wouldn't fall. He sure is a better horse that Star!

 

I heard the voices shortly after Stacy fired her rifle and knew we needed to get off the road so I used it for a training exercise. She catches the new horse, pats him to make him more comfortable and says, "It looks like someone shot him but I don't think it's too bad."

 

I whisper reminding her, "Even though you're concentrating on the horse, are you remembering to keep your head on a swivel and SLLS?"

 

She responds, "Heck no, that's why you're here."

 

I softly chuckle but remind her, "You need to whisper; remember how those voices we heard carried. And because of the wrong answer, you now owe me twenty pushups tonight. Remember this: 'Two are one and one is none'."

 

She's off her horse and loudly whispers, "What the hell! Twenty pushups! When did this start? And what the heck is this two plus one crap?"

 

I shush her and say, "It started when you decided to become a soldier. Now for the saying 'two are one and one is none.' What it means is always practice redundancy. If something is important enough to have one of, you should carry two of them; because sooner or later the one item will break or be lost and then what are you going to do?"

 

She says, "Some bastard did shoot this horse, it's a good thing it only grazed him. Now please come back here and hold him will I clean out his wound and put a field dressing on it. So you used the 'two are one and one is none' with me to say that I'm your redundancy?"

 

I respond, but in a whisper, "Keep your damn voice down! That's right you're my redundancy or partner. And just like I have your six, you have my six. Will I need to tie up or hobble Bo?"

 

Getting with the program she whispers, "Heck no! The way that horse has taken to you, he will probably try to sleep with you. Now what's this 'six' crap?"

 

I throw my good leg over Bo, get ready to jump down when the damn horse kneels again and I easily step off him. I'm sure glad he did because as it is I almost fall as I reach the ground.

 

Stacy demands, "Make sure you praise the heck out of him for that."

 

I scratch his neck and tell him he's a good horse as he nudges me with his head. I continue the training, "In the military we use the hours on the clock to define a position. So when I say 'cover my six', I mean keep an eye out behind us."

 

I walk over to the horse and Stacy scolds me in a whisper, "Well if I owe you twenty pushups, you owe me fifty. Never just walk up to a horse you don't know without talking to it. Look at his ears and eyes and notice what you did." She begins to talk to him and pet him…

 

I describe the horse’s condition, "His ears are pulled back along the side of his head and I can see the whites of his eyes."

 

She then explains to me, "You bet. You almost never see both the ears being back and the whites of the eyes when a horse is around humans. If you ever see that, you know that the horse is getting ready to seriously kick your rear. Now start talking softly to him as you approach."

 

I slowly walk towards the horse while saying the first thing that pops into my mind. Stacy giggles softly and says, "You really don't have any idea how to do this…" Then I decide that it's about twice as hard to understand horses as women…

 

Present – Stacy – On the road

 

Ben walks towards the new horse and recites:

 

" There is a wolf in me . . . fangs pointed for tearing gashes . . . a red tongue for raw meat
. . . and the hot lapping of blood—I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go."

 

I softly giggle because I don't know anyone, at least any sane person, that recites poetry to a horse (Oh, I'm sure there are some old cowboys that were in love with their horses who did). I also realize the bottle of champagne is as good as mine and state, "You really don't have any idea how to do this so let me give you a clue. Approach a horse as you would a woman you wanted to seduce."

 

I almost fall down laughing when he takes me too literally and says, "You are one fine looking piece of horse meat…"

 

I suddenly realize Ben's never had to pursue a woman: They have always chased him. So just as he has no idea what to say to the horse, he has no idea what to say to a beautiful woman. I can't control myself and begin to laugh but Ben shushes me, "Stacy, you're making too much noise. Remember those voices we heard? At first I thought it was the ranch which owned the horses, but after seeing how this one has been shot, I think there might be some more banditos."

 

Well that bit of news shuts me up right away! I even get angry, the new horse senses my anger, so I squelch it and whisper, "If it is the bastards who shot this horse, I want to kill them. Now hold this horse so I can take care of them."

 

Ben holds the horse's lead and I carefully take care of his wound. It's not too bad, so I just clean it out and apply some antibiotic cream. I'm not really sure if human antibiotics work on horses, but figure it won't hurt. Then I cover it with a bandage to keep out the flies. I look at Ben and say, "Let's go find the bastards behind the voices!"

 

Present – Ben – On the road

 

I calm Stacy, "We can't be sure the voices we heard are responsible for the horse's wound. By the way, what are you going to name this new horse?"

 

She replies in a whisper, "Oh, I'm pretty damn sure it was them and I decided to let you name this horse. So what's the horse's name?"

 

I softly chuckle look at him and realize he's pretty old and say, "I think I'll call him Knacker."

 

Stacy is not amused and says, "That's a terrible name for a horse."

 

I smile, "Would you prefer Rendered?"

 

She shakes her head and says, "You're impossible sometimes - now can we go find those voices?"

 

I command, "Yes we will, but I need to tell you some things. First, we will not go flying in there with guns blazing; we will establish an ORP – Operational Rally Point where we will leave you and our packs. Then I will sneak up and reconnoiter the area, slip back to the ORP and then if it's called for, I will devise an operational plan. From this moment on we will talk very little - all my communication will be through hand signals if possible. Above all remember to keep your head on a swivel and cover our six. One last thing, so you don't blue-on-blue me, when I come back to the ORP, I will say, Foxtrot, you will respond Uniform. If you have any questions speak them now."

 

Stacy whispers, "Only one: What's a blue-on-blue?"

 

I look at her and explain, "That's military terminology for when you accidentally kill one of your team. Now remember, if anyone approaches and doesn't use the challenge response, shoot them. And if you give me any other response than Uniform I will know you're in trouble. Now let's mount up and get going."

 

I walk up to Bo, he sees me coming, starts to nicker, then kneels so I can get on his back. I decide this horse is twice as smart as most of the women I've met. I check behind me, Stacy smiles and gives me the thumbs up, I point to my eyes, move my head around to let her know to keep her head on a swivel, she grins and gives me the finger which shocks me. I press on Bo's sides and let him set the pace toward the voices…

 

Present – Stacy – On the road

 

Ben keeps harping on keeping my head on a swivel but he doesn't realize that I have a total of three sets of eyes and ears watching and listening. Yep that's right: My eyes and ears along with Patches and (I shudder) Knacker. It makes me wonder what the heck he would name our… I mean his children!

 

He holds up a fist I stop and SLLS. While he keeps moving, now what the heck is he doing? I figure it out when he moves about 25 yards, stops and motions for me to come forward. I slowly ride up beside him and he whispers, "This is called bounding overwatch and we will travel like this from now on. You will stay and SLLS while I move. Then I will SLLS and you will catch up to me. If there's a soft contact I would prefer to hold POS and wait to see if we are observed, if so then we will ex-fil over the top of the hill."

 

I whisper my questions, "Okay what's a soft contact, hold pos and what's ex-fil?"

 

Ben whispers, "Sorry, I keep forgetting you don't know military terminology. A soft contact is when we get eyes on the OP FOR or the opposing forces. A hard contact is if fire is exchanged. Hold POS means hold your position. An ex-fil mean ex-filtrate or leave the AO – Area of Operations, while an in-fil means infiltrate or enter the AO. Now you see that big rock with the overhang ahead? That's going to be our ORP. You will need to dismount and stash all our gear in a hidden place and then hide yourself. I'm just taking my two rifles, a bunch of mags for both and my binos. Remember to keep your head on a swivel and one final order, if you hear any firing or if I'm not back in 45 mikes, you need to bug out. Any questions?"

 

I ask, "A mike is a minute?"

 

He nods his head, then holds his fist up so I SLLS while he rides ahead to the ORP. He holds his fist up and I notice how his head moves as he scans the area. He's finally happy and motions for me to come forward. I ride up, dismount, move forward, he hands me the bottom half of his pack then points to a small cave. I understand and put his pack in there. Then he points to me and the top of the rock. I turn the horses so they face rear to rear and tie them off to some trees. Then, I scramble up the slope and crawl up on top of the rock. I peek over the edge as he holds up four fingers then five fingers. I check my watch, nod my head and he slowly rides off.

 

At first it's easy doing the SLLS and keeping my head on the swivel. I start to worry because he's been gone forever, I look at my watch but it's only been ten minutes! Then I decide the whole SLLS and bobble head thing are much harder than I initially thought. I keep checking my watch and trying my best but I'm worried because it's been thirty mikes. Then I notice Patches ears slant forward and I begin to look down the trail where Ben left. But I still don't see anything.  

 

Finally I hear, "Foxtrot."

 

I reply, "Uniform." And check my watch: It's been forty mikes…

 

I barely see Ben ride in because he and Bo are covered with so many branches they look like a moving bush! No wonder I didn't see them earlier. Ben motions to me to move back down. I slide down the slope, grab Ben's pack and hand it to him. Then I jump on Patches and we head away on the trail. I'm dying to know what Ben saw, but I know I need to wait.

 

Present – Ben – On the road

 

I was back for ten minutes and spent the time observing Stacy. She was doing pretty well for her first time on LP/OP (Listening Post/Observation Post) duty. Waiting and the time it takes to get into position and staying alert are always the worst part of any mission but it's where the great are separated from the good. I can remember back in sniper school how many students washed out because they were impatient and pushed things. I still proudly remember the day when I snuck up on the instructor, stood up ten feet behind him and tagged him by throwing my practice knife! Possibly the only time an instructor had ever taken a knife kill. But it was hell and took me all day! I was the last one left and it took me three hours to crawl the last fifty feet to get into position. But that's a story for another time…

 

When we get a reasonable distance away, I hold up my fist and we both SLLS the area. I reach down, pat Bo and he kneels to the ground. I hop off and scratch him behind his ears. Stacy runs up and asks, "What did you see?"

 

I whisper, "First keep your voice down. Second, I watched you for about ten minutes and you did a great job. I even thought you'd seen me when I first came close, but then you looked away."

 

She interrupts, "Yeah, Patches perked up and I was sure it was you, but with all those branches I didn't really see you."

 

As I add that tidbit to my repertoire of knowledge, I hold up my fist. She stops babbling and I continue to define all the military terms, "Sorry, but let me give you a SITREP – situation report and then lay out our OPPLAN – operational plan. Then we can talk while we both have something to eat and drink."

 

I proudly notice how she SLLSes the area and how she's also watching the horses for additional clues. I tried to teach Zarika and Yasmeen how to SLLS, but they never did learn this skill; perhaps they were too young. I wonder how they are doing and I wonder if they are in American yet?

 

I commend her, "You're doing an excellent job. Now here's my SITREP. Yes, there is a ranch house up the road, the closer I approached the house, the more Bo became nervous. Once I had eyes on the house I knew why: There were four decayed bodies by the side of the road in front of the house. I can only assume from the size of the bodies it's the husband and wife and a couple of children. And from the way Bo acted I was sure he once lived at the house, but he had no desire whatsoever to get any closer so I didn't force him. I scoped the house and saw at least five OPFORS – Opposition Forces moving around the inside and outside of the house. They seemed to be upset; I’ll bet they heard your shot earlier. They worked like hell on getting an old truck started without any success, so I believe that they are stranded at the house with no way to escape. That's the end of my sitrep, any questions?"

 

I notice she still SLLSes as she asks, "Just one, when do we kill the bastardos?"

 

I look at her and answer, "Well, we aren't killing anyone. I will be killing them tonight. Now let me tell you my OPPLAN…

 

Present – Stacy – OPPLAN

 

After I find out the bastardos not only shot Knacker (I still hate that name) but then killed a whole family, I was ready to ride in there like Jessica James and send them all to hell! Ben simmers me down, tells me his OPPLAN. Thank God I have a big part in it, because I sure as hell wasn't going to sit on my rear.

 

I'm happy and say, "Ben I like your plan, I just wish I had a bigger role. But, I understand why you're doing what you're doing and I will follow the plan."

 

He replies, "You're as important to the proper execution of this plan as anyone. And just so you know, you will follow orders or I will tie you up and leave you here."

 

I can tell it's not an idle threat so I smile and say, "If you will stand watch I will make us some food. Then I'd like to hear about how things went with Bo and how you were able to camouflage him so well." As I prepare the meals, I still find myself practicing SLLS and remembering all Ben has taught me today. I smile as I see Bo is standing next to Ben and Ben is scratching his neck, those two have sure bonded to each other.

 

I walk over, give Ben his MRE and say, "Thanks for everything you did today and thanks for starting to teach me how to be a soldier. Something tells me this war down here isn't over yet and I think all you've taught me will come in handy. So now tell me all about your experiences with Bo today. I especially want to hear about the camouflage."

 

Ben laughs and says, "Well, I've got a good teacher and I listened to what she said. Bo is probably the smartest horse I've ever known. Somehow he knows I'm injured and somehow he knows when I want off him so he helps me all the time. Plus, you're right. He's not going to let me fall off his back. At first he was a little afraid of the bushes I put around him, so I did what you told me and talked to him and stroked him."

 

As Bo starts nosing Ben's MRE, I giggle because he wants the peanut butter and jelly again. I say, "I'm sure that Bo smells the wound on your leg and knows you're hurt. But I sure hope you didn't recite poetry to him, like you did to Knacker."

 

Ben smiles and says, "Nope, I just talked to him. But I did discover he likes Russian better than English."

 

I give Ben a skeptical look, but Ben laughs and says, "Damn, I can't pull the wool over your eyes. Let's finish up and get in position. Remember we want to do this at Stand Two."

 

I watch as Ben feeds Bo his peanut butter and jelly - Bo gets the same stupid look on his face and smacks his lips. I feed Patches mine and I am surprised that she gets almost exactly same look on her face and smacks her lips. I decide I'll ask Ben about this later.

 

Ben orders, "Weapon check." I check my AK47 and my pistol and reply, "Locked and loaded."

 

He continues, "Let's mount up and ride."

 

I watch as Bo kneels so Ben can get on his back and I decide that horse is smarter than most of the boys I've known…

 

Ben said because we don't have NVG (Night Vision Gear) we need to be in position for Stand Two – that's the time of evening when the light conditions change. He says if we are in position and we don't move too much our eyes will adjust better.

 

We slip along the trail doing bounding overwatch and I can tell you, my head is sure on a swivel and I'm SLLSing like crazy. I'm really nervous and wonder if everyone feels this way on their first mission. We stop at the ORP, drop our packs then continue.

 

We get to Ben's AO, Bo kneels, he gets off then he begins to cover himself and Bo with bushes. BO shocks me when he lays down right in front of Ben and Ben scratches him and covers them. Then he whispers, "Stacy, please bring me some more brush and make sure you follow the OP PLAN and things will be fine."

 

I bring over some more brush and cover both of them until they look like a big bush and whisper, "Ben, I will follow the OPPLAN but I'm nervous as hell."

 

He says, "Good because I am too! If you are ever perfectly calm at the start of a mission then something is wrong. Now, go and do exactly what we planned and don't fuck up on the Stand Off."

 

He holds his fist out and whispers, "Semper Fi, do or die, hold em' high at eighth and I."

 

I'm not sure what he wants, until he waves his fist around, I bump fists with him and say, "Semper Fi, do or die, shoot the bastards in the eye." I know I didn't get it right, but Ben softly chuckles and I figure I can ask him later.

 

I ride down the side trail to the edge of the road, tie Patches and Knacker to a tree and start walking up the road. Yep, I'm the bait and I'm going to lead these bastard banditos into what Ben calls a hasty ambush – a small ambush manned by one or two soldiers."

 

I reach the pre-determined Stand Off – the safe distance I'm supposed to keep from the OPFOR's and I yell as loud as I can, "Hello! Is anyone there? I'm lost and need some help."

 

And Ben is right: My yelling is just like kicking a hornet's nest. The bastard banditos turn on all the lights, see me standing there, start swearing in Spanglish and fire a couple rounds toward me. I take off running like hell and hear them chasing me…

 

Present – Ben – OPPLAN

 

I didn't waste the time I spent observing Stacy when she was doing LP/OP, I used the time to formulate my OPPLAN. Every way I looked at it, and I looked at everything a hundred ways to Sunday, I had to use Stacy as bait because of my fucked up leg. Normally I would have left her at the ORP, used my Recon skills to slip into the house and then my Ka-Bar would have tasted their blood. But when you can barely walk and you need to clear a house, you have to be creative.

 

The first thing I did when she left was to say a silent prayer for her safety. I would never forgive myself if Stacy was injured. But she's a damn fast runner and if she held to the Stand Off she should be fine.

 

So far the OPPLAN is going perfectly as she hits the Stand Off, she has the perfect intonation in her voice, the banditos turn on all the lights – it upsets me when they fire at her but she ran immediately and they chase her so the OPPLAN is still working…

 

But that's the thing about OPPLANs: They never work exactly as you plan. I watch Stacy like a hawk as she's leading the banditos right into my hasty ambush. She's almost to the side trail and then… Oh Hell No! She falls to the ground and doesn't move. Shit! I don't know if one of their shots hit her or what the hell has happened!

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