08 Wounded

Wounded

© Copyright 2009

Written by Banzai Ben and Amazing Anastasia

banzaiben@gmail.com

 

Wounded Chapter 08

 

Sunday 09 December

 

Present – Ben - Hospital – Ramstein AFB Germany – very early morning.

 

I certainly fucked up this time. After the son-of-a-bitch MP hit Jens, she went out like a light and her head bounced off the sidewalk. I went on a rampage and beat the shit out of him even breaking some bones. The other MPs all jumped me and I was holding my own until one of them smacked me over the head with his nightstick.

 

I guess I have a hard head because I woke up while we're still outside and Jens is being loaded on a gurney. As I struggle to my feet I yell, "Hey, what the hell are you doing to my fiancée!"

 

The MPs get defensive and the General walks up and orders, "Stand Down Marine."

 

I look at him and plead, "Sir, please listen to me. I will stand down and gladly return to my room if Jens can share my room with me. Otherwise I'm going to tear the hospital apart looking for her."

 

He motions me to the side, "Ben, sorry to be so hard on you. But Jens has been hell on Evelyn and me ever since you were captured. Most of the time she won't even talk to us unless it's to cuss us out. She has a pretty good concussion and needs to stay in bed for awhile. If you will talk to her for us, I would be very grateful. So with that understanding, I'm going to let you two share a room."

 

This really made me wonder what the hell has gone on between Jens and her parents, but I have a chance to be with her so I'm going to take it, "Sir, I appreciate the opportunity you've given me and I will try to do my best."

 

"I knew we could count on you. One more thing, you are going to have to answer for injuring the MP."

 

"Yes Sir! I knew I would. But he hit Jens and anyone who hurts Jens gets the hell beat out of them."

 

I hop on a different gurney and they push us into a new room with two beds. I guess they figure if I can beat the shit out of half the hospital I don't need to be in the ICU. I try to help as they slide her onto the bed, but they won't let me. I crawl onto my new bed and look over at Jens.

 

The nurse looks at me and says, "We need to get her into a hospital gown so I'm pulling the curtains."

 

"I'm her fiancé and it's not like I've haven't seen it all before."

 

The nurse smiles at me and gently says, "And I know you two are waiting until you get married, so be a good little Marine and behave while I pull the curtain."

 

I'm impatient as hell since I want to be close to my injured Jens and hold her. Finally the nurse pulls the curtains back and I see Jens. Ouch! She's going to have one hell of a black eye. The nurse puts an ice bag on her face to keep down the swelling. "I'd be glad to help with the ice bag if you just slide my bed over close to hers."

 

The nurse answers, "I really shouldn't do this, but you two are so cute I can't resist. You had better behave because if you do something bad and get me in trouble I will make your life hell in here."

 

I get an evil thought, "Thank you nurse I appreciate it. Because you've been so good to me I think I need to warn you about one thing."

 

The nurse gives me a serious look, "Okay, what's so important you need to tell me?"

 

I motioned her close to me, "Jens gets really violent when she wakes up from being in a fight. It might be good if she's restrained."

 

The nurse looks at me, "Are you sure?"

 

I smile, "Oh yes miss, after a fight, she can be very violent when she wakes up." I know I am lying, but I want to make sure Jens can't run away when she wakes up.

 

I keep the ice on Jens face - it seems to be helping. The nurse comes back with the restraints and I watch as she ties Jens down to the bed. She puts the call button in Jens hand and instructs me, "Keep taking the ice off about every fifteen minutes. Make sure if you fall asleep you don't leave it on her face."

 

The nurse comes back in, "I almost forgot. I need to change your dressing. Would you like something for pain first?"

 

"Thank you miss, but no."

 

"I'll try to be gentle." She takes my arm out of the sling and I gasp in pain. "Sorry this is going to hurt," she says as she unwraps the dressing. For the first time when I’m not drugged to hell I get a good look at the wound. I realize my arm is way past FUBAR! As she starts cleaning it out, it stings like hell and I watch the bubbles as she disinfects the wound.

 

I look at the nurse, "I know you're not supposed to do this, but I need to know. Am I going to lose my arm?"

 

She smiles, "They were worried about it at first, but you're doing much better. There's still a slight chance you could, especially if you keep doing stupid things like you did tonight."

 

I pump my hand and notice the fingers don't quite work right, "How about my chance of recovery? Can you tell me anything about how well they expect it to go?"

 

She gives me a worried look - a look which tells me more than her words can, "I really can't say anything. Different people recover from injuries differently."  She finishes dressing my wound and slips my arm back in the sling.

 

"Nurse, thank you for being gentle with me and most of all thank you for being honest with me."

 

She smiles and says, "You two are going to be fine. You've both been through so much but now you're back together again."

 

I lay back on my bed, look over at Jens, then look down at my arm and wiggle my fingers. I try to practice playing the piano and realize my fingers, especially the little and ring fingers don't move right. I try to practice pulling a rifle trigger and realize even my index finger isn't working quite right.

 

Again I look back at Jens. I hope she can still love me since I'm not going to be a sniper and probably not even a Marine. I have no idea what I'm going to do with my life. The only thing which comes to mind is how this is Hussein's fault. Yes, I'm going to go back over and kill the bastard: He tortured me and ruined my life.

 

I start getting sleepy so I pull the ice off Jens face, pull her as close as I can and drift off to sleep.

 

Present – Jens - Hospital – Ramstein AFB Germany

 

Son-of-a-bitch! My head hurts like hell and someone is tickling the shit out of my ear. I try to move but I can't, "I don't know what the fuck is going on and who the hell is tickling me but I'm going to kick the shit out of you!"

 

I open my eyes and see Ben laughing at me - he's been using my hair to tickle my ear. "….and to think the future Mrs. BTB talks like a sailor with the same mouth she uses to kiss her husband-to-be."

 

I try to move and realize I’m tied to the bed. I thrash around trying to get loose, but it causes my head to start pounding. I stop fighting and after thinking a bit ask, "Did you say the future Mrs. Bride-To-Be?"

 

"Not quite, I mean the future Mrs. Blaine-To-Be," Ben answers and starts touching my face.

 

"Ouch that hurts," I complain and try to move. "So why am I being restrained like this?"

 

"I didn't want you to run away from me again before we could talk." He grins at me, "And I also thought I could have some fun." He starts moving his hand down my neck. It tickles so I start wiggling and complain, "Hey cut it out that tickles."

 

"I bet it doesn't tickle as much as this," he says as his hand keeps sliding lower towards my breast.

 

I sing,

 

"Ah, ah, ah no touchy and no feely till I get a wedding ring."

 

He gives me a funny look, smiles and sings,

 

"My honey my baby don't put my love upon no shelf."

 

I grin at him because he knows the song,

 

"Don't give me your lines and keep your hands to yourself."

 

He starts singing,

 

"I got a little change in my pocket going jingle lingle ling.
Want to call you on the telephone baby I give you a ring.
But each time we talk I get the same old thing."

 

I add the next line,

 

"No huggin no kissin until I get a wedding ring."

 

He sings his next line,

 

"My honey my baby don't put my love upon no shelf."

 

And I finish the verse,

 

"Don't give no lines and keep your hands to yourself."

 

He grins at me,

 

"Cruel baby baby baby why you want to treat me this way.
You know I'm still your lover boy I still feel the same way."

 

I sing,

 

"Let me tell you a story 'bout free milk and a cow.
They'll be no huggin no kissin until I get a wedding vow."

 

He replies,

 

"My honey my baby don't put my love upon no shelf."

 

I finish,

 

"Don't hand me no lines and keep your hands to yourself."

The nurse came in, "Ms. Donaldson, it's good to see you're awake. You must be feeling better because the two of you are disturbing all the sick people. Was that the Georgia Satellites I heard you two singing? I haven't heard them in years."

 

I smile at her and it hurts my face, "It sure was! I was letting this perverted Marine, who had me tied to the bed know he wasn't getting any until we are married."

 

"Well, you sure don't seem violent now so I think we can take off the restraints," the nurse chuckles

 

"Excuse me miss, might I talk to you first." I look over at Ben and his face is a mask of worry. She goes to his side and he whispers in her ear. She gets a big grin on her face and says, "Sure SM Blaine we can do that for you. We'll see both of you in a couple of hours."

 

"Hey! Hey! HEY! What about these fricken restraints?" I yell as she walks out of the room.

 

I look over at Ben and he's grinning like crazy and goes to touch me. I try to wriggle away from him but I can't. He starts caressing my face and neck. It feels really good but I'm pissed because I'm still tied down, "Get your hands off me you perverted Marine!"

 

He chuckles at me, "You know, I sort of like these restraints. I think we should get a set after we're married." I suddenly realize I said almost the same thing to him during an earlier “discussion”.

 

"Are you trying to get even with me?" I snap at him!

 

Ben stops having fun and starts getting upset, "Hell no! I will never try to get even with you! Use the damn sense of yours to figure it out. I just want to make sure we can talk everything out before you run off again."

 

I finally use my sense and he's telling me the truth, oh shit! Now I'm trapped and I'm going to have to tell him everything. I bite my lip trying to figure out how to start, I'm so embarrassed.

 

"Jens, I'll make this easy for you and I will start. You know I was blocking you when I came back. Because I was worried about how you were going to react when you found out about the girls. And I have to say I'm proud of you because your reaction wasn't as bad as I thought it would be."

 

I blush, "Ben, I'm sorry I didn't take it very well."

 

"Shhhh, let me finish Jens. Yes, things with them got very confusing and yes, they do hope I will marry them, especially Yasmeen. But I never promised them I would marry them, I always told them I was marrying you and they were my little sisters. Use your sense and tell me if I'm lying."

 

"Ben I know when you're lying and will kick the shit out of you if you lie to me."

 

"I did promise them and their families I would bring them to America. I hoped I could do it at the Embassy, but I was unconscious when I got there. They are supposed to be waiting in a safe place for either myself, you or Liz to come and get them."

 

There is a long pause because I don't know what to say so Ben continues, "Jens, they both saved my life and I owe it to them to keep my promise."

 

He looks at me and I see tears in the corner of his eyes, "But I love you more Jens and even though it would kill me inside to break my promise to them, I won't let this decision break us up. If you tell me to leave them where they are I will do that, but I will make sure they are taken care of."

 

Oh boy! Ben really puts me in a tight spot this time. I really want to leave those two little conniving bitches wherever the hell they are. But I know what it would do to Ben if I make him break a promise. Shit! He's expecting an answer from me now…

 

Present – Ben - Hospital – Ramstein AFB Germany – talk with Jens

 

Well I'd just told Jens all about the girls and gave her the power to decide if we were bringing them to America or leaving them in Tajikistan. I patiently wait for an answer from her, hoping I know her well enough and she will make the right decision.

 

She's biting her lip the way she does when she thinks really hard - God I've missed seeing her. Even with her bruised face, she's still the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. I can tell by the change in her facial expressions she's made her decision.

 

"Ben, I'm not really happy about this and you know it! They are both conniving manipulative little bitches and won't be happy until they marry you. So the only way I will agree to them coming over here is if we are married first."

 

I smile at her, "Thank you my love! You made the right decision. I would have liked them to see our wedding, but I understand why you feel the way you feel and I honor it. I do hope once you meet them you will love them like little sisters. Zarika has been through more hell and torture than I have and will need some help with it. Yasmeen is young and doesn't know much about life but needs a strong role model just like you," I add

 

Jens looks at me, "Ben it sounds more like I'll be their mother than their sister. I'm not sure I'm ready for two teenage daughters."

 

"All I ask is you give them a chance when you meet them," I smile at her. "Okay Jens, I'm done unless you have any other questions."

 

Present – Jens - Hospital – Ramstein AFB Germany talk with Ben

 

I really don't like the idea of bringing the fricken girls over here. It will be better if we're married and I figure if they're too bad I will ship them off to military school. "Ben, I would like to talk some about what happened to you when you were captured and how you still feel about it. But I know now is not the time."

 

Ben looks at me, "Jens I love you and can't wait to marry you! I meant it last night when I asked you to marry me right away. I want to call the chaplain right now and have him perform the ceremony."

 

Oh my God! Now I have to tell him about my disgrace. "Ben, I don't know where to start on telling you this." I take a deep breath, "My love, I hope you still love me after I'm done."

 

He smiles at me and says, "Jens just tell me the truth. Nothing will make a difference in the way I feel towards you."

 

I start crying so Ben pulls me close, "Ben I failed you and I'm so embarrassed. I knew you were alive but I couldn't convince anyone other than Liz of the fact."

 

"Your Mom and Dad didn't believe you?" He quietly asks.

 

I sob, "Fuck them Ben, don't ever talk to me about them. I hate both of them. I found out they were 'secretly' happy when you 'died' because they didn't feel you were good enough for me. Glen blocked me from trying to rescue you and Evelyn didn't even come to see me in the hospital."

 

Ben holds me close until I simmer down enough to continue, it feels so good to be in even one of his arms again. "Ben, I'm so very sorry I didn't come and rescue you, but I couldn't." I cry a bunch more, still afraid to tell him why.

 

"Shhh, it's okay. You couldn't have rescued me. I was very lucky to even escape."

 

He is so comforting and supportive of me. I'm sniffing and Ben holds a Kleenex so I can blow my nose, "Thanks my love. Ben this is so embarrassing for me and please don't hate me. I couldn't come to rescue you because I was in Leavenworth." I break down and cry remembering the hell I went through in prison. Ben keeps holding me with his one good arm.

 

Ben says, "Jens it's okay and nothing to be embarrassed about. I knew you were in prison."

 

I stop crying and look at him, "How in the hell did you know, did someone tell you?"

 

He smiles, "I saw you every night in my dreams. My dreams were what kept me going and fighting to come back to you. In many of those dreams I saw you in cold gray room and felt how angry you were."

 

I wanted to punch him - this would have been much easier if he would have told me. "And you still love me?"

 

He taps me on top of the head, "Jens you're the smartest person I know but sometimes you're so dense. When are you going to get it through this hard head of yours I love you now and I love you forever? I can tell there's more you need to say, but it can wait until later if you want."

 

I smile at him and I think I might really believe him, "No, we need to finish this and put it behind us once and for all. Ben, I'm also no longer a Marine, they gave me a dishonorable discharge because I went AWOL to save you."

 

He pulls away and looks at me, "Jens, you're not telling me the whole truth here. You don't get a dishonorable discharge for just going AWOL. But it doesn't matter to me that you're not a Marine, in fact it's probably better for both of us."

 

I look at him glad to be changing the subject, "Why? I thought you loved being a Marine and if I'm not a Marine, I can't go on missions with you."

 

He looks over at his arm and moves his fingers, "Jens, I'm not stupid but sometimes I'm slow - especially when it's something I don't want to believe. I figured out last night when they changed my dressing that my arm will never be the same again. And because of my injuries, I can no longer be a sniper. I haven't told anyone but you yet, but I plan on taking a medical discharge from the Marines." I watch as tears slowly stream down his face and I want to - no I need to - kiss the hell out of him and hold him tight.

 

I start thrashing around in the bed, "Ben you'd better help me get out of these fucking restraints right now so I can love the hell out of you. Otherwise I'm going to tear myself up trying to get free." He slipped his good arm down and released the restraint on my right arm so I could use it to free myself. It took longer than I wanted because I was shaking so much. I finally got my last foot free, crawled into bed next to Ben and started kissing the hell out of him - kissing away each tear.

 

I snuggle up beside him and decide not to tell him for now, why I ended up in Leavenworth. I can tell it doesn't matter to him and there will be time for the rest of the truth later. I start daydreaming what our life will be like, living at our cabin and raising lots of children.

 

Then I sense the rage that's still in Ben about being captured and tortured and I realize we can never have the idyllic life of my dreams until Ben gets rid of the rage. Revenge! That's what Ben wants and that's what Ben needs to be whole again. He feels Hussein took his manhood and he can't be free until Hussein is dead. I mistakenly thought our battles were all done and behind us, but I realize there are even more battles ahead. Don't worry my man: I'll be right by your side for each and every battle. And we will both look into Hussein's eyes as the life ebbs from them.

 

Flashback Natasha (Jens) – Kabul Afghanistan - Monday 15 October

 

Liz and Bernie had everything else under control and left me to do the voodoo I do so well. I was busy trying to hack into the military networks to get the information I needed to find arms dealers and outfit Ben's rescue. They'd changed some of the encryption protocols and it was driving me crazy.

 

I felt a hand on my shoulder, spun around, grabbed the bastards arm, threw him on the floor, hopped on his back and held my pistol against the back of his head. "Who the fuck are you?"

 

"Jens, it's me, Linus."

 

I looked at him and realized it was Linus! I hopped off his back and helped him up, "You should know better than to sneak up on me. You're lucky I didn't shoot your ass."

 

"Shit Jens, I called to you five times. It was like you were hypnotized by your computer. What the hell were you concentrating so hard on?"

 

"Sorry Linus, they changed the encryption schema on MILNET and I was trying to figure it out so I could get some information."

 

"Why don't you just login?" Linus asked

 

"Duh, because I'm on the run and I don't want them finding me?" I sassed.

 

"I didn't think you would use your name, here try this." He reached in his pocket and handed me a card.

 

"Are you fucking kidding me, you have Stockman's login information? This is great." Then I saw the password, "That perverted bastard, look at his password: ru18qtpie."

 

Linus looked at me and said, "And if they were under eighteen it never stopped him. Make sure you proxy1 your web connection through an anonymous server."

 

1A proxy server is a computer which acts as a go-between for computers requesting data from other computers. Anonymous proxy servers, like TOR (The Onion Routing) allow you to interact on the web anonymously. Not all sites accept TOR connections.

 

I glared at him, "I've been out of circulation, but I'm not a newb2 you know! Come and watch this." I proceeded to connect through four anonymous proxy servers, finally connected to the server in Jalalabad and logged on as Stockman."

 

2 Newbie, someone that's new to using computers.

 

"Looks like you've still got some chops even after being away for so long."

 

"You bet I do, now let's get the intel I need." I proceeded to download maps, intel and then just poke around. "Hey, what's this?" I called Linus over because I found a whole encrypted folder with the date of our mission on it, I tried to get into it, but I couldn't.

 

"I can't open this folder and I think it's something about the mission Ben and I went on."

 

"Let me try." Linus sat down and he couldn't hack it either. "Shit, let's just copy the folder and work on it offline." He started copying the folder but said, "Son of a bitch, this is going to take awhile. We might as well go do something else."

 

I went over, sat in a chair and started wondering what the hell Liz was going to do that she needed body armor and a pistol under a burka?

 

Present - Liz - Friday 07 December – Dushanbe, Tajikistan

 

I am still pissed at Michael as the cab shows up and I consider asking the driver if he wants to make some extra money. I decide against it because I wonder that he might not be just a cab driver - he seems a bit suspicious to me. I give him the address for Vasili and hope he's not as much of a bastard as Michael is. I lean back in the seat and close my eyes. That was a mistake because when the cab stops, I wake up and notice we’re inside a garage. I don’t think this is Vasili’s place.

 

I look at the driver in the mirror and demand, "What the fuck is going on?"

 

He turns and smiles, "There's nothing to be worried about Ms. Morgan, we'd just like to ask you a few questions."

 

I reach in my purse and hit the speed dial for the emergency help number, "I'm an American citizen and I've done nothing wrong in this country, I demand to see my ambassador."

 

I see a couple men approach the cab, one opens my door, "Ms. Morgan, please follow us. Someone would like to ask you some questions."

 

"And if I don't what will you do?"

 

He bends down and looks in the cab, "Suit yourself, I guess we'll drag you." He reaches in to grab me so I pull a tactical pen out of my purse and stab him in the back of the hand. "You bitch," he yells, "I'm going to beat the shit out of you." He starts to get in the back of the cab and I begin kicking the shit out of him. I didn't notice the other door open, but I knew I was in trouble when arms wrapped around me. I slam my head back and catch the bastard in the face so he lets out a yell and turns me loose.

 

Crawling out his side of the cab I take off running as soon as my feet hit the ground. I'm almost to the door when someone yells, "Stop or I'll shoot!" I see some tires, dive behind them and a shot rings out but it's too late.

 

"Ms. Morgan, be reasonable. There's no way you can escape. You've already injured two of my men. You must know we have you trapped and we will shoot you if you try to escape. Come out peacefully and we'll let you go as soon as you tell us what we want to know."

 

I wanted to cuss him out, but I needed to buy some time, "I don't know who you are. How do I know you will keep your word?"

 

"You don't but you also don't have a choice. I could just walk over there, shoot you in the leg and then torture you until you tell us what we want to know. If you come out peacefully and give us the information I promise you we will let you go."

 

I think yeah sure you will but it will be in pieces, "Okay, one minute and I'll come out. I dropped everything out of my purse and I need to pick it up." I start making noise like I'm picking up things and pull a knife out of my purse. I hear a slight noise at the door behind me, look and see the snake cam under the door and wave at it. I watch as it scans the room.

 

"You're taking too long; I'm coming over to get you." The voice says.

 

I turn my head and shield my eyes. The door blows open then flash-bangs and automatic gunfire fill the room. An arm grabs me and pulls me outside into a waiting car and we speed off.

 

When we are a safe distance away the helmet and face mask come off, "You okay Liz?" Jim asks.

 

Matt adds from the front, "Make sure she didn't get hit, I took two to the vest. The guy with the pistol was good. Even though he was blind he still hit where he thought he was shooting."

 

"Thanks guys, I'm fine. But what the hell took you so long? I thought I was a goner."

 

Jim grins at me, "Sorry we were getting pierogi3 when your call came in."

 

3 Russian meat pie

 

"You guys and your eating - some day it's going to kill me," I complain. But really I'm so thankful we hired Matt and Jim after they got in trouble helping Jens trying to rescue Ben. With the places I went it was nice to know help was a quick speed dial away.

 

"So who were those guys Liz and what did they want?" Matt asks.

 

"I'm not completely sure, but I think they were Mafia, perhaps even Russian Mafia. They wanted information, but I can't think what it would be, and then my death. Let's get to Vasili's flat and see if I can get some information from him."

 

When we turn on the street for Vasili's flat, the whole street is in chaos with four police cars blocking everything. "Jim, you have the camera gear with you?"

 

"It's in the trunk, are we going to play reporters and see if we can find out what's going on?"

 

"That's my plan, dump the tactical gear and let's go. Matt, you've got our backs but stay hidden."

 

"You got it boss-lady." Matt replies.

 

Jim is ready and Matt pops the trunk. Jim and I get out of the back seat and grab the camera gear. We wander over by the crowd and the police. I nod to Jim and he pretends to video the scene. The camera attracts the attention of the police and one of them comes over, "You cannot film here."

 

I motion for Jim to cut the camera, "Hello, I'm Elizabeth Morgan from the Truth Network. Would you care to tell me why we can't film here when we have permission from your government?"

 

The policeman looks sheepish, "I will go get the detective in charge, please do not film until I get back."

 

Ten minutes later a very distinguished looking older gentleman walks up to us, "Hello, I am officer Kostia, I recognize you Ms. Morgan from your excellent broadcasts. I would like to apologize for the policeman that bothered you." We shook hands, I held onto his hand after the shake for about half a minute all the time I was gazing into his hazel eyes.

 

"Thank you officer Kostia, I can tell you're not military so you must be NSC4?"

 

4 NSC – National Security Council – Tajik secret police.

 

Present - Kostia - Friday 07 December – Dushanbe, Tajikistan

 

This has been a very busy morning for me and now with the appearance of Ms. Morgan has become quite interesting. She is a beautiful lady but I also feel she is as deadly as a cobra. Interviewing her will be a pleasure and will tax all my skills, I decide to flirt with her some so I give her a big smile and answer her question, "Shall we say I am just an interested party and leave it at that."

 

I look at her cameraman, and can tell right away he is much more than a cameraman, "I must say, you travel with very large cameramen. It might be better if he took a little walk so we could talk about a few things in private."

 

She nods at him and he takes off as I motion for one of my men to follow him. I take her arm and stroll down the street. "Okay Ms. Morgan, I think I know what your interest is here. After you went and saw Michael this morning you decided to come here and talk to Vasili. They were both guards on duty when SM Blaine showed up at your embassy. You must be doing a story on SM Blaine's escape."

 

"That's right Kostia. I'm doing a special interest story on SM Blaine's escape. He's one of the few to ever escape from the Taliban."

 

I can tell it is not quite the truth. "So you decided to start with the two gate guards at the embassy?"

 

"Yes then I want to interview the Marines who were on duty." She flirts with me trying to make me believe her story.

 

"Did Michael give you any information?"

 

"Unfortunately no, his price was too high." I feel her tense up when she answers.

 

I laugh, "I bet the price was sleeping with him. His sexual appetite is insatiable, especially for young girls and incredibly beautiful women like you." I gaze into her eyes.

 

"I wouldn't take that bet." She giggles trying to distract me.

 

"Oh Ms. Morgan, you are a cagy one. I'm not sure which one of us is doing the interview. Shall we stop beating around the bush, as you American's say, and put all our cards on the table?"

 

She pulls away and looks at me, "Sure but you go first."

 

"Let us discuss this over a cup of coffee?" We stroll arm in arm to a little street café, I order two espressos and we sit at a table far away from everyone else. She notices the other officers following me. I'm going to have them reprimanded for being so clumsy. "Do not worry Ms. Morgan, those men are my business associates."

 

I plan on telling her part of the story to see if I can get more information out of her. "Here's what we have. You and your crew came into this country and you went to the embassy where you were able to obtain the home addresses of Michael and Vasili. You went to Michael's flat this morning and he would not tell you anything unless you slept with him. You left in a taxi and disappeared and then Michael turns up dead."

 

She gasps, but I'm not sure it's real, "He's dead, how did he die?"

 

"It was not very pretty. He was brutally tortured to death. At first we thought you might have been the femme-fatale, but after meeting you I know it wasn't you. It is much too brutal a murder for such a lovely lady to commit." I flirt and continue, "Then you disappear for close to an hour and show up at our new crime scene - Vasili's flat. He, his wife and even his daughter were tortured to death earlier this morning. It's a horrible, horrible mess up there. I don't know what sort of animals we are dealing with, but when I find them they will die."

 

"Okay Ms. Morgan, I have told you most of what we know so I'm not telling you more until I hear your information, especially where you were for the hour you were missing."

 

"No offense Kostia, but first I'd like to see some identification." I reach into my coat pocket and pull out my badge. "Do you mind if I call to verify your position with the government?"

 

"Here is their number," I say as I hand her a business card. She says she miss dials the number the first time, but I don't believe her. It must be some sort of code for her compatriots. Then I notice from the tones on her mobile phone she doesn't call the number I gave her. She's a smart girl and must have her own numbers to my government.

 

After a short discussion she looks at me and says, "Thanks Kostia, I just had to be sure." She leans close to me and puts her hand on top of mine, "I didn't come here to do a story on SM Blaine since we've already done a great story on his escape. I came here to find the two girls he traveled with and find out if they are his wives. Since Michael and Vasili chased them away I figured they might know where the girls went."

 

Good she is telling the truth, "That is a lot of work to find two little girls, why are you so interested in them?"

 

"Jennifer Donaldson is my best friend and I am trying to keep her from getting hurt."

 

"What would you have done if you found them and discovered they were married to SM Blaine?"

 

"Kostia, I haven't decided yet. I'd probably leave their asses over here and go back and kick SM Blaine's ass for being so stupid."

 

I laugh, "I believe you would do that. Thank you for telling me the truth. I will save you the time. We looked into this issue and from everything we uncovered SM Blaine did not marry the two girls. But they are pretending they are married to him."

 

"How do you know he didn't marry them?" She is always asking questions

 

I shrug my shoulders, "You have your ways and we have our ways. Now will you tell me where you were for the missing hour?"

 

"When I left Michael's flat he was still alive but a little bit sore. He tried to stop me from leaving his flat so I kicked him in the balls. I called the cab, left his flat and waited for the cab on the street. I was a little tired in the cab, closed my eyes and maybe even dozed off for a bit. When I awoke the cab was in a garage and some men wanted to ask me some questions."

 

I wonder if she will tell me the truth here, "Did you leave his door open?"

 

She pauses a bit too long and I can tell she wants to lie, "I was going to lie to you and say I didn't. But I was really pissed off at him after what he was doing to those two teenagers so I followed my impulse and left both doors wide open."

 

I smile at her, "It is good you are telling the truth. Now we know how they got into his flat. Tell me did you have anything to drink at his flat?"

 

"Just some tea and some confetti," she answers.

 

I decide to see if I can shake her up, "Did the tea taste a little bitter?"

 

"Now that you mention it, it didn't taste very good."

 

I lean back and smile at her, "How much tea did you drink?"

 

"I only had a couple of sips. The two underage teenagers came in and interrupted us. Then I got pissed at Michael and left. Why all the interest in the tea?"

 

Time to see if she is really as cool as she acts, "Ms. Morgan, I have to say you are a very lucky lady. Michael had a very bad habit of drugging women and then raping them. We're sure the tea was drugged. Had you've drunk the whole cup whoever killed him would have probably killed you too."

 

She did not even flinch, God what a woman! "Then that's why I was so tired in the cab and didn't realize when the driver took me to the garage."

 

Ah, but she made a mistake by bringing up the garage again, "Tell me more about the garage incident Ms. Morgan."

 

I can tell she is upset she mentioned the garage. She opens her mouth to say something when all hell breaks loose and there is a huge explosion outside. I jump over the table and knock Ms. Morgan to the ground and fall on top of her to protect her. It's quite nice lying on top of her.

 

Present – Jim - Friday 07 December – Dushanbe, Tajikistan

 

I see the tail on me when I head back to the car to drop the camera gear. He knows where I'm going so I won't lose him now. Matt's already left and he's tailing Liz to make sure she's safe. I slip the picture I took of the guy into the computer and wait while it spits out the info. Damn! This guy's Kostia. He's big time NSC, one of their best. I call Matt and let him know and Matt tells me Liz has four guys tailing her.

 

I grab a long black coat and take off for a shop, making sure my tail is following. I walk into the front of the shop, take off running towards the back and slip out the door before the tail even comes in the front door. I run around the corner,  go back out into the street and blend in with the crowd. It was almost too easy.

 

I take my time getting to the café where Liz and Kostia are having their discussion and circle around several times just to make sure I'm not being followed. I almost laugh when I see my tail slip back to the café because I know Kostia will ream his ass for losing me.

 

It's fascinating, watching Liz and Kostia talk, I feel like I'm watching a death dance between a snake and a mongoose. This guys good, but Liz is going to hand him his ass because no one's better than she is.

 

My phone rings, I check the number it's Liz's phone, the three following digits tell us we need to go into hiding. I slowly walk away from the café towards the car and meet up with Matt when we have three blocks to go.

 

I see someone messing with the rented Beemer, "Fuck me Matt! It looks like someone's trying to jack the car."

 

"Son-of-a-bitch you're right. Let's hump it."

 

We take off running towards the car, the jacker opens the driver door and the car explodes in a huge fireball which knocks us to the ground. There's death and destruction everywhere. I look at Matt, "Let's get Liz and get the fuck out of here."

 

Present - Matt - Friday 07 December – Dushanbe, Tajikistan

 

Some son-of-a-bitch blew up the Beemer with all our gear in it and we had a fucking arsenal in the car.  The way it is burning it won't be long until the ammo starts cooking off. Once that happens, Kostia will probably arrest Liz.  If not then, he will when they examine the wreck. It looks like we're going to get our hands dirty on this one.

 

The explosion attracts the attention of the other NSC officers and they leave Kostia and Liz. I run up behind Kostia, Liz doesn't even blink an eye, and I put a gun to the back of his head. "Ah this must be one of your cameramen. I congratulate you Liz on a very well played game. You can tell your man to put his gun away because I am not going to arrest any of you."

 

Liz stands up and smiles at him, nods her head and I put my gun away, "Sorry Kostia, but I need to run. I just have one more question for you. Why is the NSC and Tajik government so interested in two little girls?"

 

Kostia leans back and laughs, "You do not know, do you?"

 

Liz gets a frustrated look on her face, "I have no idea."

 

He says, "I shouldn't tell you but this might save your life. You are up against some very determined people here. I guess SM Blaine did not tell you the truck he stole from the Taliban had a fortune of gold in it - gold stolen from the Kuwaiti government. There are so many governments, terrorists, criminals and mercenaries looking for the truck and those two girls you'll be lucky to ever find them alive."

 

Liz glares at him, "And what does the Tajik government want to do with them?"

 

Kostia smiles, "I will not lie, the government would love to get their hands on the gold. But I really want to keep the two girls from getting killed. I tell you what, you and your men would be a great asset to me – oh – and the Tajik government. How about you three coming to work for me."

 

Liz crosses her arms and starts tapping her foot, "How do I know you're not lying to me?"

 

Kostia laughs, "Because I have you and your men surrounded. All I have to do is give the signal and you will all be taken into custody. Tajik prison is no place for a lovely woman like you. And if your men resist my men will kill them."

 

I do a quick three-sixty, see the men and the snipers on the roofs and realize he's right. Damn! I hate it when this happens. I look at Liz and nod my head.

 

Liz knows we've been had so she pours on the charm, "Kostia, I want my cameramen and I made temporary NSC officers until the girls are found. Then I'll agree to work under you."

 

He understands the implications, stands up and says. Good then it is a deal, I look forward to working with you. Let's go back to the office and get you three your papers.

 

He turns around and shakes my hand, "You two are really good, if it would not have been for me having a hundred officers here today you would have escaped."

 

I ask, "Did you blow up the Beemer?"

 

He gets a serious look on his face, "No it was not us, it was meant to take you three out of the way. You're lucky the young punk tried to steal it. I told you we're dealing with very determined people."

 

Liz takes Kostia's arm, Jim falls in beside me and we head towards his car. I notice about five men and ten incredibly hot looking women follow us. Shit I didn't even think about the women standing around. I need my butt kicked!

 

We walk up to an ebony black Porsche Cayenne which glimmers in the sun. Kostia opens the door for Liz, she slides in and scoots towards the center. This hot looking woman walks up and opens the door for me, "Please get in and slide over." I get in and slide to the middle where Jim is already sitting, he looks like a deer caught in the headlights of a car. I look across and have to blink because it looks like the same lady who opened the door for me is now sitting by Jim, then I notice a warm body next to mine and I look and see the same smile and the same face. They reach over and lock the doors.

 

Liz turns around and giggles, "You four look very cozy."

 

We were packed in like sardines in a can. Kostia says, "I would like you to meet Mira and Ira - as you can tell they are identical twins." One of them interrupts with a very sexy and sultry voice which has a slight hint of accent, "That is not quite right, we are identical mirrors. I'm right handed," the other finishes, "and I'm left handed." Kostia continues, "They are two of our best officers and are assigned to you. They will be, ah what do you call it, yes your shadows. They will follow you everywhere."

 

"Everywhere?" I question.

 

"Yes everywhere. You two will work under them." Kostia chuckles, finishes and starts the car. The stereo cranks out a song in Russian. I remark, "That sounds just like an American song, but I don't remember which one." Mira, or is it Ira laughs and says, "The title is, If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you’re with."

 

I look at Jim, "Our wives are going to kill us."

 

One of the twins chuckles, "We have a saying in Tajikistan – and she says a bunch of words and her sister finishes." I don't understand any off it but Liz starts laughing her ass off, "Guys, they basically said, what happens in Tajikistan, stays in Tajikistan."

 

The twins cuddle closer to us, I look at Jim and say, "We're dead men." Liz starts laughing and Kostia takes off, while I try to find more space in the back seat.

 

Flashback - Liz – Kabul, Afghanistan - Monday 15 October

 

I hated leaving Jens behind and could have really used her help, but she had no idea how to act in this country and our cover would have been blown. It's hard enough being a woman in a burka but being alone on the street makes it worse and I'll have to lie through my teeth many times.

 

I'm not ten blocks from our house when I'm hassled the first time. I tell the bastard my husband is sick and I'm out getting medicine and food for him so he leaves me alone.

 

The area I'm walking through goes from bad to worse to terrible. I sweat more than normal and not just from the burka. I finally get to the market and start walking slowly, looking for Dariush. I finally see him in a stall that's selling fruits. I walk past the stall three times checking things out until I'm sure he's alone.

 

I walk into the stall and he says, "I wondered when you were going to get brave enough to stop, Ms. Morgan."

 

I thought about bullshitting him but decided to be up front with him, "So Dariush, how did you know it was me?"

 

"You have a grace when you walk that few women have, and even with the burka I could recognize it. You need to try to hide it better. What brings you to this hellish part of the world?"

 

"Why does anyone come to see you?"

 

He looks around, "I think we need to take this conversation inside. Follow me." We walk into a shop behind the stall, several people look at us and Dariush waves his hand. We travel down a small hallway into a back room. He bends down and moves a rug out of the way opens up a trap door and says, "After you Ms. Morgan."

 

"It's not that I don't trust you Dariush, it's just that I really don't trust you. You can go first and I will follow."

 

"As you wish Ms. Morgan," he says starting down the stairs. I slip my hand under my burka, take the pistol out of its holster and follow him down. I check and he's standing off to the side of the room. He's not surprised when he sees the pistol. "Now Ms. Morgan, you will not need your pistol here since I have no desire to incur the wrath of the news community by bothering you. Besides I owe you."

 

I look at him and he seems genuine, "A girl has to be careful these days." I slip the gun back in its holster and take off the burka, flipping my hair as it falls free. I was hot as hell under the burka because of the extra clothes and body armor.

 

His eyes glisten as he watches me take of the burka, "I will never tire of watching you take off a burka, it is one of the sexiest things I have ever seen."

 

"I bet you say those words to all the good little muslim women of yours," I tease.

 

"Ah yes in fact I do, but they normally don't wear clothes and body armor underneath their burkas. You must be expecting trouble."

 

"I wasn't sure so I was being careful. I came today for some information."

 

He looked at me, "Just information and no weapons?" He points to the walls, they are covered with weapons, many of which I don't even recognize.

 

"No just information."

 

He motions to a table and chairs, "Let us sit and see if I have the information you want."

 

We sit at the table and he waits for me, "Dariush, what do you know about Khudabah, Pakistan."

 

I watch as the smile leaves his face, "Ms Morgan, I know much about Khudabah and all of it is very bad. Please tell me you're not thinking of going there."

 

I look at him, "I'm not sure I would tell you if I was. How do I know you wouldn't sell me out?"

 

I'm shocked when I momentarily see a hurt look cross his iron face, "Ms. Morgan, I will never forget the time you shielded me from the fanatics. You went through hell until you were rescued. It would have been much easier to just give them my name. I could have dealt with them."

 

I shrug my shoulders, "A reporter never-ever gives up her sources: How much for information on Khudabah?" I pull out a big wad of bills.

 

He looks at the bills, "Ms. Morgan, I know you do not trust me because I have been known to play both sides against each other. But I owe you, not just for the fanatics, but I know many times you have shielded me in your reports. Let me tell you something. Many have come to me to find out information on you, several just this week, and I tell them I  do not know you. Put away your money, it is no good here."

 

He pricked my curiosity, "Dariush, who came this week?"

 

"They were American agents. They are looking for the General's daughter you helped escape," He routinely said.

 

Shit! They might know I helped. "Did they know I helped her escape?"

 

He laughed, "They are American and they did not know anything. They were looking for you because they thought she might try to contact you. By the way, how is Ms. Donaldson or should I say Natasha Akunin feeling?"

 

I look at him in amazement, "Dariush, I don't know how you do it. Ms. Donaldson is my best friend and she is fine."

 

He shrugs his shoulders, "I just keep my ears open and my mouth shut. By the way, I like what you did to the bastard forger at the airport. You're not a woman to cross. So shall we talk about Khudabah?"

 

I knew it was much more than what he said. He was rumored to have spies on the street in almost every city, town and village in Afghanistan and Pakistan because he paid very well. Plus he was ruthless as hell. I'd heard if you ever gave him false information you'd die a very slow and incredibly painful death. "Yes let's talk about Khudabah."

 

He laid out the situation for me and it was worse than I thought, much worse. Any thoughts of a frontal attack was out, it would take a large army. There was a little hope a very small and very good team might be able to sneak into the town, the problem would be getting back out.

 

I had one final question left and I was hoping, and praying for the right answer, "Dariush, do you know if there's a captured soldier in Khudabah?"

 

He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his beard, "Ms. Morgan, I have not heard about a captured soldier in Khudabah." I slumped down in the chair and he noticed, "However, with all that is happening there I have wondered if they might have a prisoner. It is the most logical explanation of their actions. I wish I had better news for you, but I cannot even get news from Khudabah right now."

 

"Thank you Dariush, you're a good friend." I smile at him, "I need to be leaving."

 

"And thank you Ms. Morgan, I am sure our paths will cross again. Would you like for me to arrange an escort for your trip back to your building?"

 

I considered it for a moment and dismissed it as unnecessary, "Thanks for the offer, but I think I'll pass."

 

I slipped back into the burka and he was watching, "You are almost as sexy putting it on as when you took it off. If you ever get tired of being a reporter you could always work with me."

 

"Don't you mean under you?"

 

I saw him grin, "I should know better than to banter with a pro. Just remember it is an open offer."

 

We went back upstairs, through the store and back into the stall. I turned and headed towards our building and remembered to change the way I walked so I wasn't so graceful. I kept nervously glancing around because it felt like I was being followed.

 

Flashback – Zarika  – Tajikistan Day Nineteen

 

Yasmeen and I stayed awake all night taking care of Ben, kissing him and playing with him. He was so sleepy he never woke up, not even when we touched his chest or changed his dressing. He was very hot so we kept constant cold rags on his head.

 

I was going to wake him and make him drink some water, but I remember he said not to give him drinks when we were close to Dushanbe and we were very close to Dushanbe. I was so excited because once we got to the Embassy, they would fix Ben and we would go to America with him.

 

"Yasmeen, we are almost in Dushanbe. Can I use your mirror?"

 

She handed me the mirror without complaining and I made sure my hair looked good, "Zarika, let me help with your hair." Yasmeen came over and brushed my hair for me and it felt really good.

 

"Thank you Yasmeen let me brush your hair." I took the brush and noticed her hair was much smoother than mine. "How do you get your hair so smooth?"

 

"I use some things my sister Basha told me about. When we get to America I will show you. Then your hair will be soft too."

 

I looked at her, "Do you think Ben will really marry the Jens girl instead of us?"

 

Yasmeen grinned at me, "Zarika, we are prettier and younger than she is. I bet she is an old woman, at least sixteen years old. He would be crazy to marry her and not us."

 

I was still worried, "Too bad we couldn't get him to marry us here because then she would be wife number three and have to obey us."

 

Yasmeen got a twinkle in her eyes, "Zarika, I have a plan."

 

Flashback – Yasmeen – Tajikistan Day Nineteen

 

It was good Zarika and I were friends again because we had three things in common. Getting Ben well, getting to America and getting Ben to marry us and not the Jens girl.

 

I had thought about the last problem because if Ben married the Jens girl I did not think he would ever marry us and as far as I was concerned he had promised to marry both of us. Zarika had saved him from the bad men and I had done my dance for him – those things made him our husband. And what had the Jens girl ever done for him? I bet she was one of the fat American cows I'd seen on television who sat on their fat American butts and ate chocolates all day.

 

"Zarika, I might have a way we can keep Ben from marrying the Jens girl."

 

I had Zarika's full attention, "Yasmeen, do not torture me. Tell me now."

 

I told Zarika my plan she smiled and then frowned, "Yasmeen, where will we get the money?"

 

I pointed at the box of gold, "Remember this, we have lots of money."

 

"But that is Ben's money, we cannot spend it."

 

"Zarika, do you think we would make Ben much happier than the Jens girl?"

 

"Of course we would Yasmeen. We are younger and prettier and there are two of us."

 

"And since we would make him happier, then do you not think he would approve of spending the money that way?"

 

"You are right Yasmeen, that is a great plan."

 

The driver yelled back to Zarika, "Yasmeen, we are in Dushanbe and headed to the embassy.”

 

“Help me wake Ben."

 

Zarika and I gently shook Ben but he wouldn't wake up. "Zarika, wake Sasha perhaps he can get Ben awake."

 

She shook Sasha very hard, "Wake up Sasha we need to wake Ben and we need help."

 

He slowly woke up, "What is wrong Yasmeen?"

 

"Sasha, I'm Zarika. We are almost to the embassy and we cannot wake up Ben."

 

He moved over by Ben, looked at him and listened to his heart. He pinched Ben's arm but he did not move. He took his knuckle and pressed very hard right in the middle of Ben's chest, he moved his knuckle up and down but Ben still didn't move. Finally he took a needle out of the medical bag. Zarika grabbed his hand, "What are you doing with the needle?"

 

"Zarika, I need to test Ben with it - let go of my hand." He took the needle and started poking Ben in a bunch of different places but Ben still didn't move. "It looks like Ben is in a coma. It is like a very deep sleep and is very dangerous."

 

I started crying, "Sasha what can we do?"

 

"We need to get Ben to a hospital as soon as possible."

 

Zarika yelled up front and the truck started going really fast. "Yasmeen, I told them it was an emergency and we need to get him to the Embassy as soon as we can."

 

It did not take long until the truck stopped and Alexi yelled to Zarika, "We are here, let us get Ben into the embassy."

 

We all jumped out of the truck, took Ben on his board up to the front gate of the embassy and were stopped by two Tajik guards. They argued with us. We told them Ben was an American Marine but they told us we are crazy and to get ourselves and the bum on the board the hell out of here.

 

It was a big fight and a crowd gathered. Finally a man in a different uniform came over. He looked and Ben and started shouting at the guards. A bunch more men ran out and worked on Ben. They started taking him away and Zarika and I screamed we were his wives. The other men didn't understand us, but the two Tajik guards did and laughed at us. One of them said, "You two little sluts cannot be his wives." Zarika punched him in his face and he fell to the ground. The other guard hit her over the head with a black stick and she fell to the ground and didn't move. "I am calling the police," the nasty guard stood up and said.

 

Sasha and the other men grabbed us and took us back to the truck. Zarika wasn't moving but I fought them and couldn't get loose. "Girls, we need to leave before we get arrested. They will fix Ben, he will wake up and tell them you are his girls and things will be fine."

 

They put us in the back of the truck and drove away from the Embassy. I cried so hard I couldn't even see. I tried to wake up Zarika but she wouldn't wake up. Sasha looked at her and said, "Yasmeen, she is unconscious and probably has a concussion. Be very careful with her and do not shake her very hard."

 

I crawled down beside Zarika, hugged her and cried like I had never cried before. I didn't know I had so many tears in my eyes. I felt sick. I was dying inside and thought my heart was going to explode it hurt so bad!

 

Nothing went like it was supposed to! Ben promised he would take us to America and now he was gone, Zarika was hurt, I was all alone and didn't have anyone to help me. The men tried to comfort me, but I didn't like them. They were mean and smelled bad.

 

I screamed, "Ben, Ben, BEN!" Over and over again, then I shook so hard my teeth rattled and I fell asleep.

 

Flashback - Jack – Late 1999 SSN-22.

 

Damned kid! I'm so angry and so proud and so worried about him all at the same time. But I'm more pissed at myself because I didn't stop the competition.

 

When he shook and passed out on the bed I figured I'd really fucked up and wrecked the mission. I hoped he could move in the morning. If he could move, then I might be able to rescue the mission. He could be the spotter for me.

 

Only one good thing happened - he made thousands of dollars. Most were in IOU's but the Captain said he'd make sure they were paid so they were just like cash. I stacked them on the foot of his bed so he could see them in the morning.

 

I glanced over the top bunk at him and watched him sleep. He was on his side curled up in a ball - the same position he fell asleep in. I switched off the light and cursed myself until I went to sleep.

 

Flashback - Ben – Late 1999 SSN-22.

 

I was exhausted, needed to rest and needed to let hard Ben go. He'd done his job - he kicked butt and took names. Jack was worried and I wanted to tell him I'd be fine. But I passed out before I could say anything. The competition brought back the memory of the one time dad told me he was proud of me…

 

Flashback – Ben – Nine years old my 'bar mitzvah'

 

Note: this section has some mild child abuse at the start. If you don't want to read it skip down about eight paragraphs

 

I woke up early because this was going to be a very special day for me. I touched my back and rubbed one of the scars which hurt this morning. Most days they didn't bother me, but some days they seemed to want to remind me of the beating dad gave me. I'd grown a lot since that day - I was bigger, stronger and smarter.

 

Dad had grown too, but he was older and slower. His leg which was wounded by the mortar in 'Nam' bothered him more. There were days he didn't even get out of the chair except to eat or go to the toilet. And when he got up on those days he had to use a cane. A couple times he'd even fallen and I had to help pick him up.

 

He wasn't as proud as he used to be and he didn't seem as mean as he used to be, but there were still times I felt his anger and his lashes. I didn't mind because hard Ben had grown too so he was stronger than ever and liked to taunt dad. I remembered the first day he taunted dad, dad beat and beat and beat hard Ben until he couldn't beat him anymore and dad fell to the ground exhausted. Hard Ben laughed in his face and went out for a run. When I came back from the run, dad was still on the ground where hard Ben had left him - he couldn't stand, he couldn't even crawl. I walked over, helped him up and put him to bed. I went to find mom but she was missing again so I sat by dad's bed and took care of him.

 

That seemed like it was years ago, but it was really only about six months back. Today I was excited because dad was going to let me go deer hunting with him this fall, if I passed my test. He had me practicing with Grandpa's old 1903 Springfield and I could shoot the head off a squirrel at a hundred yards every time. Now I had to do what dad called my 'bar mitzvah.' He told me it was a family tradition and Grandpa made him do it when he was about my age. For some reason I didn't believe dad because it didn't seem like something Grandpa would do. I got up, dressed, went out and did my morning PT. Dad never bothered to watch me anymore because I did more PT than he required, but I didn't run this morning.

 

I'd been practicing for this day my whole life and especially this summer - I was ready for it. I walked into the house went into the kitchen and made a big breakfast, twice what I normally ate. Then I fried up some more eggs and bacon for Mom and dad. I made a plate for each of them, took it back to their bedroom, knocked on the door and said, "Breakfast." I sat it on the floor and went to the living room and practiced piano.

 

An hour later dad shuffled into the living room and it looked like his leg was bad again today. I stood up and snapped to attention. He walked over and got in my face, "Good morning worthless little shit, thanks for the breakfast. Did you do your PT?"

 

"Yes Sir, I did more than yesterday."

 

"Do you think you're ready for your test?"

 

I yelled, "Yes Sir! I'm going to kick butt and take names!"

 

"Then move your lazy ass and go get Grandpa's possibles bag and your knife. Meet me at the truck." I took off for the basement, slipped my knife off my quick draw holster and tested it, even though I had been sharpening it for a week. I tested it by shaving my arm just to make sure.

 

I grabbed Grandpa's possibles bag and it was the lightest it had even been. The only things dad let me keep in the bag were three pieces of cord, a very basic first aid kit, several plastic bags and a very small piece of blanket - just enough to cover my shoulders. I slipped my knife on my belt, threw the possibles bag over my shoulder and met dad at the truck.

 

I ran up and stood at attention, "Let me see the bag shithead."

 

I opened the bag and held it for him. He pulled everything out and threw it on the ground, he found my toothbrush (it wasn't approved). I hid it in the blanket hoping he wouldn't find it but I should have known better. "God fucking damn! You worthless little shit, what's this toothbrush doing in your gear. I didn't say you could take it. I should make you leave everything here."

 

"Sorry Sir, I didn't think you'd mind if I brushed my teeth. I didn't want to get cavities because it would cost you money for the fillings."

 

He glared at me, "For a worthless shit, sometimes you come up with a good idea. Pick up all this crap and put it in your bag. And hurry the hell up or I'll drag you behind the truck again."

 

I just crammed everything in the bag and hopped into the passenger side of the truck, "Scoot over by me shithead." I slid across the seat and he put a blindfold over my eyes, "If I catch you peeking I throw your ass out of the truck and shoot you."

 

"I won't peek Sir!"

 

He started the truck and drove around in a circle for a long time then we took off in a straight line. I think he wanted to confuse me about where he was going, but I knew there were only two directions he could go. I could tell by the road we were headed into the woods, but that's where I figured where we would go anyway. It was the only direction which made sense. The sun on the side of my face confirmed my assumptions.

 

He didn't take my watch and I made sure I looked at the time when we left. The first thing I would do is check my watch when we stopped and I'd have an idea of how far we traveled. I leaned my head back on the seat and relaxed to conserve my energy for the coming ordeal. I smelled alcohol and knew dad brought a bottle with him. I hoped he didn't get so drunk he'd wreck the truck. He circled around and headed in different directions and I think he even doubled-back several times. I wasn't sure if he was trying to confuse me, was lost or was drunk.

 

The truck stopped, "Get your ass over here and let me take off the blindfold." I slid over and he took off the blindfold, I blinked my eyes and looked at my watch - six hours and ten minutes. With all the goofy driving we could be between forty-five and over a hundred miles from home.

 

He handed me a map and a compass, "We're somewhere about here." There was a red mark on the map. "You know where the cabin is on the map, so I'm not gonna bother to show you. I'm heading back in a different direction just so you can't follow. If you're not back in seven days, you fail and I might come looking for you, or I might just let you die. Now get you fucking ass out of my truck." I opened the door, he smacked me across the mouth and I fell out on the ground. He floored the truck and I rolled out of the way just in time so the rear wheel of the truck didn't run over me. I heard his evil laugh as he sped off.

 

I stood up, looked up in the sky and shouted, "Thank you he's gone!"

 

I was in a clearing and could see the mountains on three sides of me. I didn't know if dad meant to, but he made this too easy. Grandpa and dad had me reading maps from the time I was a little boy. I took the compass and found north and then I pulled out the map and oriented the compass to the map. At first I forgot about the declination, but then I remembered and made the minor adjustment. I looked at the map, looked at the mountains and figured out dad had put the red mark in the wrong valley. For a second I wondered if he wanted me to get lost, then I thought he was mean but he'd never do that to me.

 

I figured out where the cabin was and figured out the best route. It looked like I had about sixty-four miles to travel to reach the cabin, which meant I needed to travel over nine miles a day if I took all seven days. I could push it and make it to the cabin in three days, but since I had nothing at home why would I want to rush my trip. I decided I wanted to do it in four or five days so I needed to travel at least thirteen miles a day.

 

I found a good landmark, repacked all the gear in the possibles bag and took off at an easy trot. It needed to be a short day today because of the time so I planned to run about four hours until mid afternoon, taking compass readings to make sure I was still on track. I'd stop, try to snare a squirrel or spear a fish, make a fire and try to find some shelter for the night. It didn't look like rain tonight but things could change in several hours. Dad always said, "If you don't like the weather in Colorado, wait five minutes and it will change."

 

I'd ran about two hours and was pretty thirsty. I looked at the little creek beside the trail and shuddered remembering the beaver fever I caught before. That was a different creek but I didn't think it mattered since I read most creeks in Colorado weren't safe for drinking. All I could do is drink as little as possible and hope I made it home before I got really sick. I went over to the creek and took a nice long drink of the cold clear water.

 

I pulled out the map to check my location. I'd made good time and let myself rest for ten minutes. This was the life, well this was almost the life. I wished I had my revolver and my rifle and then it would have been perfect. Someday, if I planned right, the dream would come true.

 

I noticed a nice sized brook trout in the stream so I moved up the bank, cut off a six foot sumac branch and tied my knife to the big end with a piece of cord. I slowly slipped back down the bank and moved towards the fish. I remembered to adjust for the water changing the light rays and speared him in the side. He almost slipped off my spear but I was able to raise it up in the air before he got away.

 

It was too early for dinner, so I cleaned him, put him in a plastic bag and loaded him in the possibles bag. I again found my landmark and trotted towards the cabin. I could run for another hour now because I had dinner in the bag.

 

There was an old campsite a little bit off the side of the trail, so I took a few minutes to explore and see if I could find anything useful. I hit pay dirt as I looked in the fire ring and pulled out a burnt out but usable can with the lid still attached, it looked like a Dinty Moore Beef Stew can. I walked over to the stream and cleaned it out really well. t was old but now I had something I could cook in.

 

I kept my eyes open as I ran, and would stop and collect some edible wild plants. I found a bunch of peppermint, lamb's quarters, wild onions, dwarf sagebrush and hit the jackpot with some wild strawberries.

 

I checked the sun and knew it was time to find a camp for the night. I found a nice rock which shielded me from the wind on three sides. It wasn't so close to the creek I'd be cold tonight, and wasn't so far I'd have problems getting water. Plus there was a good supply of dry firewood.

 

Going to a dead cottonwood tree, I tore off a piece of bark and took a bunch of nice fluffy under bark and stuffed it into one of the plastic bags. I found a nice flat rock by the stream with a little depression in it and threw it in my bag. Finally I took a flat piece of the cottonwood tree and a small stick about as big around as a broom handle and ran back to my campsite.

 

I found rocks away from the creek to make my fire ring because I remembered the time I used a creek stone in the fire ring and it blew up when it got hot. Dad beat me for that one so I'd never make the mistake again. I gathered up a bunch of dead wood of all sizes and set it up like a teepee in the fire ring. I made a nice fire board with a slight depression and a notch in the side and sharpened one end of the fire drill. I pulled out some of the under bark and put it on the big piece of bark, grabbed a piece of cord out of the possibles bag, made a bow out of it and proceeded to start the process of making a fire. Fifteen minutes later the fire was going, I fed it until it was blazing well.

 

I took the trout, put him on a stick and propped it over the fire. There were a couple rabbit trails down by the creek so I made a snare over one of them. I didn't think it would work, but sometimes I got lucky. When I turned around there was a rabbit so I picked up a rock and tried to get close enough to throw it at him but he took off running and went down a hole.

 

I covered the hole with a big rock, ran back to the creek and cut off a long piece of willow branch and ran back to the hole. With the knife I sharpened the end and put a bunch of deep slices in the willow branch, took the rock off the hole and pushed the branch in the hole until it stopped and moved some. I backed it out just a little shoved in into the hole as hard as I could while I twisted the heck out of the branch. It must have worked because the stick was wiggling like crazy. I carefully pulled the stick back out of the hole. It was hard right when it got close to the opening and I thought the rabbit would escape. Finally I saw him and smacked him with my knife. I was shocked it worked but I smiled and looked up at the sky, "Thank you Grandpa for teaching me how to go fishing for rabbits." Now I would have fish for dinner and rabbit stew for breakfast.

 

I dressed the rabbit and put him in a bag in the stream until morning. I took the can and filled it with water and walked back to the fire. The trout was a little burnt on the one side and I scolded myself as I turned it. I threw the lamb's quarters and one sliced up onion in the can and sat it in the coals to boil, twenty minutes and it would be time for dinner so I sat and watched the fire.

 

Grandpa's voice came to me, "Little Chief don't waste time when you're trying to survive." He was right so I got up and started finding pine needles for my bed tonight carrying them over by the fire on a big piece of bark. It was going to be clear, and clear meant cold. With only my shirt and pants I would be cold tonight.

 

The food was done, but the fish was overcooked so I reminded myself next time to make sure I cooked it last. I sat back, ate the fish right off the stick while letting the soup cool. Even burnt and overcooked the fish tasted wonderful but things always tasted better outdoors and cooked over a fire. I was very hungry so I devoured every bite. The soup wasn't very good, the lamb's quarter was a little old so it was bitter and I should have used two onions, but I drank and ate it anyway. I took the remains of the fish down by the creek and threw them across to the other side - no need to attract any animals.

 

Then I rinsed out the can, took it back and put some peppermint leaves and juniper berries in it, set it on the coals and waited for my tea. I made sure to gather all the firewood I could because I was sure I'd be feeding the fire every couple of hours when the cold would creep in and wake me. I took a break leaning back against the big rock to drink my tea and eat the strawberries. It wasn't the best meal I'd had when surviving because I'd made some mistakes, but it wasn't bad and would give me the energy I needed for tomorrow.

 

I prepared the can for mornings rabbit stew by putting some sage, more lamb's quarters and the rest of the onions in it and closed the lid. Then I built the fire up big because I wanted to warm the rocks for the night. Twilight was here and soon it would be dark. I sat with my back to the fire and watched the woods for the nighttime animals to come out. I remembered how the city kids at school were always afraid of the mountains and were worried about all the animals, especially the bears. But I was a mountain boy and loved the mountains. They were my friends and fed me well. I already knew when I got too old, I would walk off into the mountains, lie down and die. There were only two things which scared me in the mountains: pumas and lightning. It was clear tonight so there wasn't a chance of lightning, and I'd tried to keep a clean camp so I hoped I wouldn't attract a puma.

 

Darkness fell fast but I stayed up and watched the stars even seeing a couple shooting stars and several satellites. But drowsiness descended upon me and I crawled over to my pine needle bed. I covered my upper body with my little piece of blanket and drifted off to sleep.

 

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