15 Wounded


© Copyright 2009

Written by Banzai Ben and Amazing Anastasia




Wounded Chapter 15


Authors note: Any names that resemble the actually names of actually people might be a coincidence.


Flashback Natasha (Jens) – Kabul Afghanistan - Thursday 18 October


I woke up, and at first thought I had a nightmare. But I decided it was all too real when I saw where I was. Linus snored on the other cot and I sat up and felt numb - someone tried to kill us!


I felt like shit this morning! And I looked and (phew!) smelled even worse. I grabbed some fresh clothes and headed over to the jury-rigged shower in the corner. Without curtains there's nothing to keep Linus from seeing me, but I don't give a rat's ass. Anyway, he's still snoring.


The shower chased some of the cobwebs out of my mind, but there is nothing like a good cup of coffee to complete the process. I fired up the coffee pot, grabbed an MRE for breakfast and headed to the computer to do some more analysis on Stockman's data. I wanted the IP address of the bastard who had him send us on the mission.


I immediately knew something wasn't quite right since things had changed slightly from last night. I knew it looked different, but I couldn't really see anything. It seemed like there were a few small holes in the data. I looked over at Linus, since he's the only one who could have made any changes. The changes appear ever so subtle and sneaky - his trademark. The caffeine from the coffee finally kicked in, my mind cleared and I had an idea. Since this is the sorted folder of data and I still had the original, I wondered if he remembered to change the original. I ran a compare on the two folders and found the missing files right away.


They were emails between Stockman and a person called Madam X and once I started reading them I understood why Linus tried to hide them from me. Madam X is the one who directed Stockman to get rid of us - no that's not quite right. They wanted to get rid of Ben but was very upset I almost died. Oh shit! It can't be! Tell me it's not true!


Flashback Linus – Kabul Afghanistan


I'd been awake now for about fifteen minutes and watched Natasha do her magic at the computer. I loved her like my kid sister. Shit! She reminded me of my kid sister, the one the drunk driver killed. I rolled over and slipped into a dream…


Flashback Linus – The death of Jessica


It was such an injustice! Some old drunk bastard  (also a wife and child beater) killed my kid sister in a car accident. And as it so frequently happens, just got a slap on the wrist. The American justice system is so fucked anymore it's useless. But where the American justice system failed, the ex-military justice system didn't.


After Jessica's funeral, someone at the wake slipped a USB drive in my pocket. I didn't notice it until later that night as I worked on getting drunk enough to fall asleep. Jessica was fifteen years younger than me and my only family. After Mom and Dad died, I took an early retirement out of the Seals, studied my ass off in college and raised her.


I applied to the computer science department of Carnegie Mellon University in my home town. After passing the SAT tests, I was shocked when I was invited to enroll and gladly accepted. I guess I was a better student than I remembered. So Jessica and I spent the days, each at our individual schools, and the evenings trying to live with each other. Or I should say she tried to live with me.


I'd kick the ass of anyone who said raising a teenage girl is hell, because when I raised Jessica it was heaven. Oh yeah, we had our disagreements, especially over dating and boys. Shit I remembered the first boy she had come to the house to pick her up. I just happened to be in BDUs when I met him at the door. And I also just happened to be practicing dry firing my sniper rifle in the living room while he sat on the couch. He took her on one date and never asked for another one. But that was good because he was a fucking, liberal, prick head, and thought all guns should be licensed. Oh yeah, she was pissed as hell at me, but a year later she could laugh about it and even thanked me for it.


Anyway, I was halfway to drinking myself to sleep when I found the USB drive. It was labeled TSIFFTS1 on the outside. I stumbled to my computer, and after missing several times plugged the drive in the USB port. It had only one document on the drive. I tried to open the file but it was password protected. I spent the next two hours trying to figure out the password when it dawned on me: I looked at the date and time stamp of the file and realized it was my service number. I entered my service number as the password and the file opened right up.


1 I found out later this stood for The System Is Fucked – Fuck The System


I read the letter and got even more pissed-off! The first thirty-fucking-five pages were the bastard's police reports, arrest records and slaps on the wrist from fucking liberal judges. The last page just said if I wanted to get justice for my sister's death, go to a certain truck stop tomorrow at 0800 and I would be contacted.


I closed the file and it disappeared from the drive, in fact the drive itself became unreadable. I put the bottle away, set my alarm for 0600, jumped in the bed and thought about the USB drive. I tried to figure out when and who slipped it in my pocket. Then it hit me, one pretty lady gave me a long hug of condolence - it had to be her.


I was glad I'd stopped drinking early the night before, because I only had half a hangover to nurse in the morning when the alarm went off. So I didn't have to crawl into the shower this time, I just sort of stumbled and used the wall to hold me up.


One long shower, two cups of coffee, four ibuprofen and two slices of dry toast later I could almost function. I dressed, slipped a pistol in my coat pocket, headed to the truck stop and took a booth in the back away from the door, as instructed.


A perky waitress came up, "What can I getcha?"


"Coffee, black please, and lot of it."


She smiled, "Rough night?"


"Yeah, my kid sister died. It was her burial and wake yesterday."


She sincerely replied, "Sorry for your loss." And then came back a few minutes later with a pot of coffee and a full breakfast. She slid the plate in front of me and said, "It's on the house, you look like you could use some food."


I replied, "Thank you miss," and she took off.


Breakfast did taste good and I was hungry. I looked at my watch. Since it was almost 0830, I decided it was a mistake or some sort of sick joke. I was just getting ready to leave when a guy sat in the booth across from me. He looked to be in his fifties, had short gray hair, intense blue eyes, was wearing a flannel shirt and blue jeans, a Vietnam Vet ball cap and looked to be very fit. I could tell right away ex-Army, probably Special Forces.


His eyes pierced me as he said with a slightly Southern accent, "Torvalds, you're the most sorry assed looking excuse for an ex-Seal I have ever seen. Look at you: You're fucking over weight, out of shape, feeling sorry for yourself and a worthless piece of shit."


I started to bristle, then he smiled and said, "Don't you try it boy. In your shape I'll kick your butt so hard you'll be whistling Dixie through your ass."


I glared at him and threatened, "Fuck off and die ground-pounder. If I don't get a fucking apology from you immediately, I'm going to rip off your head and shit down your neck."


He chuckled and said, "Good, I got your attention and you still have some fight left in you. I do apologize for my rude way of introducing myself, but I wanted to make sure to get your attention and see if you're still a fighter." He reached his hand across the table and offered, "The name's Thom."


I thought to myself, I'll show this smug bastard as I grabbed his hand and squeezed like hell. He laughed and remarked, "Damn you're softer than I thought." Then he squeezed the hell out of my hand and said, "Now that's a hand shake."


I pulled my hand back, shook it and he said, "We've read some of your posts online and it seems like you're pretty fed up with the system."


He hit my hot button and I almost yelled. "God damn right! The system is so fucked up, I don't even know where to start…"


He interrupted my rant and said, "How about starting with the bastard who killed your sister. He should have been taken out years ago."


"I don't know where you got the information, but if what I saw is true you're fucking right!"


He smiled, "Let's just say I have friends in low places. It's all true and if you check it out you will verify that. Don't you think it's time you get off your ever expanding fat ass and did something again besides mouth off on the Internet?"


"Fuckin' A! I wished I really could do something."


Thom studied me for about a minute and said, "I think you really want to do something other than blow smoke up people's asses on the Internet, and I don't misjudge people very often. If you're serious, then here's what you do. I'm going to leave first, give me two minutes and then meet me out front. If not then this conversation never took place."


He stood up and walked out the front door. I looked at the bill and all it said was, "Sorry for your loss, if you need a friend give me a call." It had her name and phone number. I pulled a twenty out of my wallet, left it on the table and headed out front.


I looked for Thom but couldn't find him until he punched me lightly in the back. I spun around and put him in a wrist lock. Thom laughed at me and said, "Good, you may be older and fatter, but at least you're still fast as greased lightning. Now, that was only one minute thirty seconds, you ever disobey an order of mine again and I'll hit you for real. Hand me the pistol in your pocket, because it sticks out like a sore thumb, and then follow me."


I followed his order and we headed to the back of a semi trailer. He stopped, looked at me and explained, "Just to let you know, this is your last chance to decline. Once I open this door you're either with us or you're dead."


I answered, "Fuck, I'm not living now anyway."


He opened the door and another fit older guy grunted as he helped me up, then he wanded me and said, "Damn Thom, I haven't seen this much Seal blubber since we were in Monterrey watching the sea lions. How long are you going to give me to whip his fat ass into shape?"


Thom chuckled and answered, "Linus, meet your worst nightmare for the next month, this is Byron."


He shakes the hell out of my hand, "Shit one month, I'm going to need at least two."


Thom had closed the door, and said, "Byron, you only get one month so use it wisely."


I'd been looking at the inside of the trailer because it was a complete mobile command center. There were two other guys manning some consoles.


Thom continued, "Just to let you know, this trailer is Emsec2 and passive. So we're totally cut off from the outside world. Let me introduce you to some of the crew and let you know why you're here and what we're doing. You've already met Byron and he's going to introduce you soon to Byron's boot camp."


2 Emissions Secure – Used to be known as Tempest – blocks all electromagnetic emissions.


One of the other guys came up, "I'm Jim and you're going to wish you were dead when Byron gets hold of you."


The last guy walked up, shook my hand and smiled. I noticed he didn't have a larynx. Thom added, "That's Todd, he's the quiet one of the group."


They all laughed and Todd flipped him off and they laughed even harder - even Todd looked like he laughed. He did a bunch more signing and Byron said, "He just cussed Thom out and let me tell you, when he cusses you out, you know it."


I looked at the four of them, "So you guys are some sort of paramilitary organization?"


Byron chuckled, "No we're a para-justice organization and were the only four members you will know about."


Thom added, "No one knows how many of us there are for security reasons."


I asked, "So what the hell is a para-justice organization?"


Flashback Thom – The death of Jessica


Shit! I'd wanted Linus to work for us for years! I've wanted him ever since he left the Seals to take care of his kid sister. He was one bad-assed Seal who made many of the other Seals I'd met look like choir boys. Then he went to college and became even better - a fucking computer genius. I hated that his sister was killed, but it was fortuitous for us.


 I answered Linus' question, "Let's just say we're the good guys who take care of things when the government can't or won't."


I watched as Linus scanned the room, seeing he knew what every piece of equipment was and what it did. He turned and said, "Okay, you were Army probably a Greenie, Byron was a Marine…"


Byron interrupted, "Excuse me, once a Marine always a Marine!"


Linus continued, "Okay, is a Marine, Jim was Navy. But I can't place Todd."


Todd came over, signed and grinned, I translated. "He said you don't want to know because he'd have to kill you."


He looked me in the eyes and said, "Okay, so you guys are part of an underground para-justice organization of unknown size but which has huge resources. And you want me to work for you guys. My guess is the carrot you're hanging in front of me must be the chance to get even for Jessica's death."


I corrected him, "You're almost right, we don't want you to work for us, we want you to work with us."


Linus reached out his hand, I shook it and he said, "Great, let's go kill the fucker who killed Jessica."


Byron laughed and said, "Not until we whip you into shape. I don't want to drag your fat carcass to safety if you get wounded or killed."


Flashback Linus – The death of Jessica


Shit! Byron kicked my ass for the next month. I thought the Seals were tough but he was one sadistic drill instructor. My business got in the way of the training so I sold it – I hated running it anyway and I didn't need the money.


Byron literally and figuratively pounded on me every day and turned me from a tub-o-lard back into a fighting machine. The whole time he used Jessica's death to motivate me. When I couldn't do another rep or run another step he'd say, "Come on Linus one more for Jessica."


Byron banged on my door and woke me up. It was the one month anniversary of Jessica's funeral and I was already dressed, ready and opened the door.


Byron said, "Good to see you're awake, I thought I might have to kick your sorry ass out of bed again."


I replied, "Not today, Jessica's funeral was a month ago and I'm ready."


He looked at me and grinned, "Yes I would say you're ready and it has been a month. Shall we go see what the other guys have been doing for this month?"


"Fuckin' A, then I want to have my carrot on the stick!"


We jumped in my car and Byron drove to a different truck stop. I scanned the parking lot for the trailer but didn't see it. He opened the car door and said, "Follow me."


We walked up to a very different looking rig, Byron opened the back door and there were the other three guys. This time I didn't need any help getting into the trailer.


Thom said, "Well, you certainly look different than you did a month ago. Perhaps I shouldn't have been so insulting the first time we met?"


I shook his hand, this time he pulled his back and shook it as I said, "No, I needed the kick in the ass you gave me so I would stop feeling sorry for myself. Thank you Thom, now let's go get the bastard."


Thom laughed and said, "Just hold your horses. That's going to happen soon enough. First I need to show you what we've done and give you your assignment."


Flashback Thom – The death of Jessica


Well Byron did his usual impeccable job. Linus was a lean, mean, fighting machine. Now I had to control Byron's weapon of destruction so he didn't do something crazy and get himself caught.


"Linus come over to the briefing table." We all sat down and I slid a briefing folder in front of him. I watched as he opened it up.


"Those are the bastard's wife and kids. Once you take care of him, they won't have any way of surviving."


He gave me a very pissed look, "Thom, what the hell are you doing to me. I thought I was going to get my revenge."


I smiled at him, "Do you want your revenge at the expense of creating future problems for America?"


I watched his face as he thought it through and finally he offered, "I will set up a fund to take care of his kids."


Good, even with his grief he still has a moral compass. I answered, "Linus, the money trail will lead the authorities straight back to you. You remember our name?"


He didn't pause, "Yeah, it's The System Is Fucked – Fuck The System."


"Good, let me show you what we've done." I handed him an insurance policy divided into a three way yearly trust fund for the bastard's wife and two kids.


He looked at it, grinned and said, "I hate fucking insurance companies so this is beautiful justice. The bastard's wife and kids will be taken care of after he dies. Okay, tell me where he is so I can go and cash in his insurance policy."


I looked him deep in the eyes, "Torvalds there are hundreds, no thousands of bastards like this who need taken care of. Are you so selfish you only want to do this mission with us or would you like to see justice for the others? Would you provide justice for people that can't do what you're able to do?"


He thought again and replied, "Thom, I feel sorry for the others and they need help too. But I want my justice first."


I grinned and said in my command voice, "You'll get your justice, but we're not going to let you get caught. Do you understand me?"


He snapped to attention, "Yes Sir."


I continued and ordered him, "Good here's the tactical plan. You will precisely follow my orders or Byron will kill you."


Flashback Linus – The death of Jessica


I think these guys misnamed themselves because they are not just a para-justice organization. They are a paramilitary-justice organization. I could tell Thom was serious about Byron killing me if I deviated from orders. And Byron was sneaky enough he could probably do it.


The plan was simple and effective. They'd been tracking the bastard for at least the month I trained and probably longer. We are creatures of habit and slip into a routine and we had all the bastard's routines.


Tonight he would go to the Gasoline Alley bar and get plastered until closing time. Then he would stumble out to his car, drive home, beat and rape his wife and then pass out. What a fucking piece of shit he was. I just needed to patiently wait for tonight. I sacked out on a cot in the trailer so I would be fresh for tonight.


Flashback Byron – The death of Jessica


Thom and I left Linus and headed into the truck stop to talk so we took a booth far in the back.


Thom asked, "Well Byron, is he as ready as he seems?"


I smiled, "He's cocked, and locked and ready to rock. You handled him perfectly so he didn't go after the guy today."


Thom smiled and answered, "You think he'll stay with us after this mission? We can really use his computer skills."


I replied, "Thom, we've given him a reason to live again. We’ve got him back into shape and shown him he can still do some good for the world. I think he'll stay with us but we won't know for sure until he has blood on his hands."


Thom almost laughed, "After what he did to earn the Navy Cross, one more body will mean nothing to him. I think you're right, I think he's going to stay."


With our conversation being done we sat and enjoyed our coffee.


"Tell me Thom, you ever miss it?"


He looked at me, "I used to miss the hell out of it. That's why I kept signing up to go back. It all changed once I joined you guys. I don't miss it anymore."


I said, "Yeah, I felt the same way until I joined - sort of old and useless. It's funny how that's all changed and how much more young and alive I feel. You know some of the shit we did in Nam I wasn't too proud of, but I feel I've redeemed myself now."


Thom looked at me, "Byron, are you thinking of retiring again?"


I answered him candidly, "Thom, I think about it occasionally, but I will never totally retire. I think with Linus and some of the newer blood we're bringing in, it would be nice to cut back some on our missions. I'd love to spend some evenings sitting on the porch with you watching the sunset over the desert."


Thom laughed, "Yeah old friend, I'm starting to feel my age too. I've always thought about taking some time to sit down and write a story or two. I've heard everyone has at least one good novel in them just waiting to come out."


I couldn't believe it and almost laughed until I realized he was serious, "Thom, you are full of surprises. An old warhorse like you writing books," then I teased, "what would they be romance novels?"


He was taking a drink of coffee and spewed it out of his mouth, "Oh Hell No! They would be action-adventure books."


"Hey Thom, that reminds me, I need a new book to read. Let's take the car and head into town. I hear there's a new author and I want to read his stuff. He's a Marine and writes stories about Marines."


Thom laughed, "Now that's the best joke I've heard in a long time, a Marine who's become an author. I thought you guys could barely speak."


I grinned at Thom, knowing he was kidding. We paid our bill, jumped into the car and went to the bookstore.


Flashback Linus – The death of Jessica


I had the same fucking dream of Jessica dying as I had every time I sleep. If it wasn't so fucking bad I'd laugh about it. As a Seal I killed hundreds of men and didn't have any problems with sleeping. But the death of my sister was a gaping, bleeding, wound in my heart. I didn't know if it would ever heal. At least getting back in shape let's me sleep without resorting to booze or drugs.


The door to the trailer opened. I woke up and Byron and Thom climbed in - they were a couple of crazy old coots but I envied the friendship they shared.


Thom teased me and said, "It's about time you woke up Sleeping Beauty."


I snapped right back, "You notice I slept with my back towards the wall. I didn't trust my ass pointing the other way since the Army is now, 'don't ask, don't tell'."


Thom shot back, "Hey it wasn't that way when I was in the Army and we had our own ways of dealing with those perverts."


Byron laughed his ass off and continued, "We never had those problems in the Marines since all of those types became sailors."


Well that got Jim going and soon the whole trailer was full of military posturing.  Finally Todd came over, did a bunch of signing so everyone simmered down and laughed.


I asked, "What did Todd say?"


Jim replied, "He said if we didn't kiss and makeup he was going to kick all our butts."


I looked at Todd and wondered what the fuck he used to do that would get three of the toughest old bastards I'd ever known listening to and obeying him. Someday I need to find out his background - perhaps after this mission they will trust me.


Thom called everyone over to the briefing table and laid out the mission again. "Okay Linus, this is your carrot as you like to call it so you’re the primary and Byron is your backup. You two will wait up in the hill behind Gasoline Alley. Ten minutes before closing time we will kill all the power in the area and you two will proceed to the parking lot. They will shut the bar down because of the power failure and he will have to leave early. Linus, when you take him make sure you make it look like a normal robbery, not a professional hit, so be sloppy. Grab his wallet and his watch. Byron, you make sure to plant the fake evidence at the scene. Now are there any questions?"


We didn't have any questions. Byron and I got dressed, headed out to the car and crawled in the back seat. Thom came out and drove the car to the drop off point and said, "Don't fuck up and don't get caught. I'd hate to have to kill two of my friends."


We found a good place to wait and Byron asked, "Are you nervous?"


I'd thought about this a lot and came to the conclusion this bastard needed to die. I replied, "Byron, he's a bastard and he needs to die before he inflicts more damage on anyone else. I know his wife and kids will probably miss him some, but time will heal their wounds." I secretly hoped killing this bastard and enough time would eventually heal my wound.


We waited until the lights for the whole block went out. Byron clapped me on the shoulder, and said, "Let's go."


We went down the hill and crouched by the bastard's car. It wasn't long until he stumbled towards his car, drunk as a skunk and swearing his fool head off. "God damn fucking power company can't even do their fucking job."


I stood up and he slurred, "What the fuck are you doing by my car."


I walked up to him, covered his mouth, drove a knife into his gut and spun it around a bunch of times. He slumped to the ground, dead. For the first time ever, I felt happy about taking a life. I took his wallet and his watch, Byron put some hair and other incriminating evidence on the body.


We returned into the hills. Thom met us as planned, he gave us Tyvek hazmat suits and booties to cover our clothes and we jumped in the car. We headed out of town as he asked, "How did it go?"


Byron replied, "Perfect. Linus precisely followed your orders."


Thom asked me, "And how do you feel Linus?"


I thought for a bit and answered, "Thom, Byron, it's not the same as the others I've killed. I'm concerned because I actually enjoyed this one. The others were just business."


Byron asked, "So are you upset or worried about it?"


I answered, "No, I'm not because he was a pariah, a cancerous tumor to America and like any tumor needed to be surgically removed."


We went to a mortuary in another town. We took off our clothes inside the Tyvek suits and booties, Thom made sure they were cremated.


We changed into business clothes as I looked at Thom and Byron and asked, "Well now what?"


They both smiled at me and Thom said, "Let's get breakfast and talk about it."


That was the start of what I like to call my real life. Fairly often you'd hear about an unsolved death blamed on a mugging, a gang or an unknown party. If you looked really close you might see it was more trash being taken out by The System Is Fucked and we were Fucking The System. The bastard's death didn't bring back my sister, but it did rid the world of one more asshole and maybe gave his wife and kids a chance at a better life with his insurance money.


I felt someone kick me in the ass and it woke me up….


Flashback Natasha (Jens) – Kabul Afghanistan


I kicked Linus in the butt and yelled, "Wake up you sorry sack of shit! You've got questions to answer."


Linus rolled over and looked at me. He had some tears on his face and answered, "Oh, sorry Natasha, I was having a bad dream."


I felt bad for waking him so roughly, but I wanted to know what the hell he was doing hiding the emails from me.


He sat up, suddenly realized what I wanted and asked, "You found them?"


I was angry and said with a stony glare, "Hell yes I found them! You forgot to take them out of the original file folder."


He was upset now, "Shit, what a newb mistake! I'm getting old and tired."


"Linus get a cup of coffee and come over to the computer. I have a couple thoughts I want to run past you. And then I want to do something, but if it proves what I'm thinking is true, I'll need you to protect me from myself."


I went back to the computer but he took his own sweet time. I could tell he didn't want any part of this. He sat beside me in the chair, I looked at him and said, "Linus, I expect you to tell me the total truth on this. Otherwise you're going to have one very pissed off woman on your hands."


"Natasha, I'll try my best to tell you everything."


I was satisfied and continued, "First, I found the emails, did you hide anything else?"


He shook his head and replied, "Nothing else, I didn't have any more time before I went to sleep."


I bit my lip and asked, "I want your honest thoughts on the identity of Madam X."


He looked at me and said, "Natasha you don't want to know my thoughts on this."


I banged my hand on the table and almost shouted, "Linus, I think I know who it is. I just want to see if you feel the same way."


He looked down and said in a whisper, "Natasha, I think it is Evelyn, your mom."


I cried softly. "Yes, that's what I think too. Why Linus, why would she do this to me?" I asked as I broke down and sobbed.


Linus hugged me around the shoulders to comfort me, "Natasha I don't think she approves of Ben."


I answered with more tears, "Why? Linus, it can't be money. Look at all the money Ben and I have made."


Linus held me close, comforted me and said, "Natasha, Evelyn is the sort of woman who's motivated by power, not money. That's why she's pushed Glen so hard. I think she was planning on you and your future husband taking over from Glen while she and Glen went into politics. She realized with Ben only being a Sergeant Major, he would never be able to take Glen's place."


I cried like a little girl and sobbed, "If that's true Linus, she's been lying to me and manipulating me for a very long time."


He held me and let me cry. Finally I worked up the courage for my last question, "Linus, do you think she had anything to do with the drugs?"


He continued to hold me as he answered, "Natasha, I don't think so. But why don't you see if she used her home computer. If she did you can hack it and get more details."


I was too upset so I requested, "Linus, I'm too upset right now. I need you to do this for me."


Flashback Linus – Kabul Afghanistan


Jens found the emails and figured it out. Dammit! I was mad because I was too tired and didn't hide them well enough. I planned on hacking Evelyn's home computer anyway, so now I'll have to do it with her watching and I won’t be able to hide anything.


I even gave her some of the information I had from TSIFFTS about Evelyn's motivations and ambitions. Shit! I wished I could use those guys now, but they were so busy taking out the trash in America, they didn't have time for overseas work. I silently made a promise to see if we could expand things to include other countries in the future.


I grabbed the IP address and did a quick Internet look up on the address and it came up with a street address. I didn't have to ask Jens if it was her address - the gasp and tears confirmed it for me. I held her some more as she cried. When she settled again, I connected through four proxy servers and said, "Jens, log me into your email."


She sniffled as she did and I said, "We're going to send Evelyn an email from you." She created the email, replete with several very choice swear words. Then I took a picture of Jens, went to my server, embedded an executable file in the picture, attached it to the email and sent it."


Jens looked at me and asked, "Now what?"


I looked at her and grinned, "Now we wait. When Evelyn views the picture, she will launch the executable. The first thing it will do is turn off the disk activity light on her computer, then it will download her whole hard drive to a secure server."


She grinned at me and I was so relieved because it was the first time she'd smiled since she kicked me in the butt to wake me up.


Flashback Glen – Kabul Afghanistan


Captain Pierce walked in my office and said, "Sir, Ms. Morgan threw away her purse and the cameraman threw away his wallet so we lost the tracking devices."


I asked, "Did you assign someone to tail them."


"Yes Sir, he watched them get into a black Mercedes six-hundred and speed off. It's licensed to Dariush Faisal. He's thought to be an arms dealer."


I dismissed Captain Piece, kicked back in my chair and thought. I really hated the fucking little bitch, coming in my own office and insulting me. I knew Captain Pierce and my secretary heard. Since they both had loose lips, soon everyone would know.


I picked up the phone, then I put it back down again and grabbed a throw away mobile phone. I dialed a number and when the other end answered I said, "You don't know who this is and I never made this call. Elizabeth Morgan was last seen in the Mercedes owned by Dariush Faisal." Then I hung up the phone and thought with delight - let the fucking little bitch deal with them.


I sat down and started reading the sitreps on my desk about the current conditions in Kabul. With BW and the Muslims being all fired up I've had to pull troops away from looking for Jens to try to keep the two factions apart. And then I've had meetings with both sides trying to broker peace.


My normal mobile phone rang. I looked at it but almost didn't answer it because it was Evelyn. But I knew she'd chew my ass even more if I didn't answer so I said, "Greetings Evelyn, how are you doing?"


"Glen it took you fucking long enough to answer the phone. This is important!"


"Sorry Evelyn, I've been busy. All hell's breaking loose here. Blackwater is going crazy, someone has them chasing Jens and they won't listen to me. They got in a huge fight with the Muslims and the whole area is getting ready to explode."


"Glen, stop babbling and listen to me. I just received a nasty e-mail from Jennifer. She used about every swear word I know, and told us to 'leave her the fuck alone and let her rescue Ben.' She even attached a picture where she's flipping me off. One more thing, she dyed her hair so now she’s a brunette."


Evelyn had become such a huge pain in the ass, I hated talking to her. "Thank you Evelyn for the information. Send me the picture and I'll use it when I can start looking for her again."


"Glen what the fuck do you mean when you start looking for her again? Aren't you looking for her now?"


I wanted to tell her to fuck off and hang up the phone. "Evelyn, I just told you all the BW and Muslim crap has made me reassign the troops I had looking for Jens to keeping the peace."


"Glen, you'd better have at least one team looking for her. She is so distraught, she's not thinking straight and she might do something crazy."


My desk phone rang and I silently thanked God. "Listen Evelyn, I'm doing my best to find Jens. But I have to go." I didn't wait for her answer and hung up the mobile phone.


I picked up my desk phone and was talking with the BW commander when Evelyn's e-mail arrived at my computer. She'd forwarded Jens' whole e-mail so I opened it and had to stifle a chuckle: Jens could sure swear like a sailor when she wanted to and she'd called Evelyn every bad name in the book and made up a few I'd never heard. I went to open the picture, but it wouldn't open. The computer said something about the file being corrupted. Damn, I looked forward to seeing a picture of Jens with dark hair.


I finished my phone call with BW but didn't get anywhere. I sure wish I knew who was paying them because they weren't telling and it had to be a small fortune.


Flashback Bernie – Kabul Afghanistan – Thursday October 18


Liz was pissed as hell but it was not about the rooms being tossed. The BW guys made a huge mistake when they used her underwear for their dirty deeds. They didn't know Liz like I did. Pranks which reminded her of the abuse she went through when she was a girl just pissed her off.


I could tell by her expression while she packed, she had already worked out a way to exact revenge. I did need to ask her one question, "Liz, aren't you worried they planted tracking devices in some of our gear?"


She smiled at me and answered, "That's what I'm counting on Bernie. I'm sure they did because they are so predictable. Watch this."


She took out a microphone, twisted the end and exposed a row of LEDs. Then she waved it over the suitcases and gear. I watched as the LED row grew higher as it passed near the tracking devices. "Bernie, Linus gave this to me to scan all our equipment. We can identify everything that's been bugged in any way."


I grinned and knew BW was in big trouble. I couldn't wait for Liz to kick their ass!


Flashback Liz – Kabul Afghanistan – Thursday 18 October


My anger had about simmered down and I was ready for revenge. I couldn't wait for the BW commander to come crawling to me, begging me to stop. He was going to kiss my ass before I'd let them off the hook.


"Bernie, make sure you film all of this because we're going to be releasing a bunch of news reports."


Ahmil came back into the room and said, "Ms. Morgan, I just finished a very long conversation with Mr. Faisal. He wanted me to tell you how upset he is about all which has happened and wants you to know you can count on him for support."


I smiled at him and said, "That's good because if you think Blackwater is upset now, just wait until I start releasing my news reports."


Ahmil continued, "I called the bellhops for you so they can carry your bags to the Mercedes."


The bellhops showed up and we were just getting ready to leave when Ahmil's phone rang, "One minute Ms. Morgan, it is Mr. Faisal." I watched as Ahmil became more concerned, he hung up the phone and said, "Ms. Morgan, Mr. Faisal just told me General Donaldson called the Blackwater commander and told them you were riding in Mr. Faisal's Mercedes. They have many troops waiting to attack us when we leave so Mr. Faisal has made other arrangements for your transportation. We need to wait here for him to arrive."


We waited and soon Ahmil's phone rang again. "We can now leave, but we will be going out the back door, not the front."


I wondered what the hell Dariush had planned as we walked through the kitchen and out the back door. I was shocked when I saw a flat black Russian T-72 battle tank. The hatch opened and Dariush grinned at us, "Welcome Ms. Morgan. I am sure this will not be as comfortable as the Mercedes, but it will be much safer."


I wanted to ask him how he got a Russian tank, but a few shots rang out so Bernie and I ran to the tank and jumped inside. Dariush helped us get situated, "Ms. Morgan, you will be safe in here, Blackwater doesn't have anything that will stop this tank and the Marines or Army would not be foolish enough to attack my tank with one of theirs."


I grinned at him, "You know Dariush, the only difference between men and boys is the size of their toys."


We all laughed and Dariush said, "It was a good joke and made me laugh almost as hard as the video of you with the Desert Eagle. Please excuse me because Ahmil has never learned to drive this beast so I need to be your chauffer today."


He went up front, I looked around and saw two more crew members. Bernie said, "Look Liz those are actual one-twenty-five rounds, I think the cannon is operational in this tank."


I sat back and relaxed as well as I could in a tank, and thought – Dariush has some very BIG toys.


Flashback Dariush – Kabul Afghanistan – Thursday 18 October


I was very upset when Ahmil told me what Blackwater did to Ms. Morgan's room - they are disgusting. The American military is tolerable here, but we all hate Blackwater because you never know what they will do.


I was extremely appreciative when my informant told me about the General's phone call to the Blackwater commander. I can understand the General's concern for his daughter and I know right where she is. But I would never tell him because Ms. Morgan and she are friends and I will not tolerate him putting Ms. Morgan in danger even if she embarrassed him in front of everyone.


I am glad because this gives me an excuse to drive my tank. I bought this wonderful toy, as Ms. Morgan called it, from a drunken Soviet commander when they left Afghanistan. It took me and my men weeks to clean out the inside, getting rid of vodka bottles and vomit. Then I acquired several more just for parts. I made sure to have it painted so the American troops would know it was mine.


We had an understanding, I left them alone and they left me alone. I knew my T-72 was not a match for their M-1 Abrams but we enjoyed playing cat and mouse with each other when I had the tank out. And it taught me their tactics and made me a better tank driver. There were even times I scored a pretend kill on one of their tanks.


I knew the Americans would come out soon to play, and I looked forward to impressing Ms. Morgan with my expertise.


Flashback Glen – Kabul Afghanistan


My secretary told me the BW commander was on the phone again! I wondered what the fuck he wanted since I already tossed him a bone by giving him the fucking Morgan bitch.


"This is Glen."


"Glen, this is Aaron, I wanted to ask you a favor."

I thought of course you did you dumbfuck, that's why you called me. "Aaron we're pretty busy right now cleaning up the mess you made of things with the Muslims. So I'm not sure we can help you unless it's an emergency."


"Listen Glen, this is important to us. You know we've been after fucking Liz Morgan for shooting and running over some of our men."


I interrupted, "And I also know someone has you chasing my daughter and you refuse to listen to me and call off the hounds."


He chuckled as he countered, "Glen it's just a money thing with us. Don't worry, when we catch her we'll turn her over to you without damaging her. But with the Morgan bitch it's personal so when we catch her she's going to be very sorry."


"Aaron, did you just call me just to annoy me and waste my time?"


"Glen, someone gave us a tip the fucking Morgan whore was in Dariush's Mercedes. You know how he is, so he found out about it and has picked her up in the damn T-seventy-two of his. We don't have anything big enough to stop him and sort of thought the Marines might be able to help. Especially since she cussed you out in your own office."


The fucking bastard knew about my fight with the fucking whore and his last statement had me pissed off. I said, "Aaron, sometimes you're a real asshole and this is one of those times. After all you've done and then made your last statement, you can go fuck yourself. I hope Dariush drives the T-seventy-two up your ass and out your fucking pie hole." I slammed the phone down and decided perhaps it's time for me to go and talk with Dariush about Jens.


I sat down and started the paperwork to transfer Captain Pierce to Thule. Those two fucking Sergeants I sent there need a commander to chew their asses. I called my secretary and gave her the nastiest, biggest jobs I could think of. When she left to complete those I requested a 'temporary' replacement for her.


Flashback Dariush – Kabul Afghanistan


My phone rang and I answered it with my hands free headset. I was too busy driving my toy to talk long. I found out the Marines weren't going to help Blackwater stop my tank and was relieved. I was worried they might talk the General into attacking my tank.


We roared through the streets and people scattered even more than when Ahmil drove my Mercedes. I loved the feeling of power I had from the big V-12 engine and of course the cannon. I had never fired it at anything other than targets, but that could change today.


I rounded a corner and Blackwater had the street blocked with two Humvees. I stopped the tank and they yelled through a megaphone. "Dariush, we know you have Elizabeth Morgan inside your tank. We don't have any issues with you but we would like to talk to her. Release her and you won't be harmed."


It was time to see if I could impress the esteemed Ms. Morgan. I ordered my crew to battle stations and then it was time to show off some of the modifications on my big toy. I touched a button, the tactical display and the side and rear cameras came online and lit up the interior of my T-72.


I looked back, smiled at Ms. Morgan, and said, "Do not worry Ms. Morgan because they do not have anything which can stop us. And the phone call I just received told me the Marines will not help them. Please hang on because the ride might get a little bumpy."


Just as I thought, some sneaky Blackwater scum are trying to get to the back of my T-72. I jammed it in reverse, almost ran them over, then I floored it forward and gave them an answer by crashing through and over their Humvees. It was funny watching them shoot at the tank with their little rifles and scatter as the Humvees were destroyed.


I checked the tactical display and saw the Marine tanks coming after me, just like they always do - they are too predictable. A Blackwater scum fired a RPG at my beauty but it made just a little noise as it hit the armor. I let go with some machine gun bursts and sent the rats scurrying towards their holes.


I let the Marine tanks get behind me like I'd done in the past but was surprised when the lead tank radioed me, "Dariush we have orders to stop your tank and take Ms. Elizabeth Morgan and her cameraman into custody. Please stop your tank right now or we will be forced to disable your tank. If it happens we will not be responsible for any injury."


This was certainly not what I heard so someone must have bought off the tank commander and I needed to do something. I did a hard right turn down a very narrow alley and the M1s followed me. I reached up and hit a switch for another one of my surprise modifications. Anti-tread tank mines started dropping from the back of my tank. I gassed the T-72 and departed as fast as I could.


My radio crackled just about the time I heard two whumps and felt the T-72 shake. I looked at the back camera and saw the lead M-1 crash into the side wall of the alley.


Then I heard the lead tank commander radio, "This is tank commander one our tank has been disabled by Dariush's T-seventy-two tank and the tank following us has run into us."


I flew out of the end of the alley and moved into another small alley, stopped and made a phone call. When the phone was answered I said, "General Donaldson, this is Dariush. I thought you might want to know, your tank commander threatened to attack me unless I turned Ms. Morgan over to him."


The General said, "Like hell he did, he had no such orders."


I replied, "Then listen to this," and played the audio I recorded from him earlier.


The phone was quiet for a moment then the General said, "They did it without authorization. They were only tasked to follow you."


I answered, "You are lucky I am in a generous mood and called you first instead of the Taliban. One more thing, Ms. Morgan is under my protection and if you talk to Blackwater again about her, I will be very upset."


He lied, "Dariush, I didn't call the Blackwater commander about her."


I laughed, "General, I did not say you called, you gave me that information. But I already knew it was you and I have a recording of the phone call if you would like to hear it. Now call off the tanks you have which are still able to move or my next call will be to the Taliban."


He answered, "Give me a minute." While I waited I moved the tank, in case he decided to double cross me. He came back on the phone, "Dariush the one tank which can move has been ordered to stand guard on the two disabled tanks until we can recover them." I checked the tactical display and he wasn't lying, but there was a helicopter tailing us.


"General Donaldson, what about the helicopter you have watching us."


I heard him start swearing and then he came back on with me. "I don't know what the fuck is going on here, but it looks like the whole command staff needs to be replaced. Is there anyone else under my command bothering you?"


I looked at Liz and smiled, "Well, I wish you controlled Blackwater and could have them stop harassing Ms. Morgan, but I know they are not listening to you. So no General Donaldson, you have been quite helpful."


He asked, "Good Dariush, now since I've helped you I was wondering if you could help me?"


I had expected this, "It depends on what you are asking."


He instantly asked, "I thought you might be able to tell me where my daughter is."


I replied, "General Donaldson, I do know where she is but I will not tell you because she is Ms. Morgan's good friend. Besides, she is just trying to rescue her fiancé."


He started swearing at me so I said, "Goodbye General. I hope your next phone call with your wife is better than the last one." To which he swore even more. I hung up the phone and we took off again.


Flashback Liz – Kabul Afghanistan


I must say, my appraisal of Dariush had grown by leaps and bounds. He really came through for us. I had no idea he had a tank and he even took on fucking Donaldson for us. Plus I picked up some huge intel, it sounded like there was some corruption in the Marine leadership in Kabul. He even disabled a couple of Marine tanks. I was very impressed and said, "Dariush, your Arab wives must be very proud to have such a strong husband."


He laughed and replied, "Ms. Morgan, I have tolerated you calling me Arab ever since we met, but you should know I am Persian, not Arab."


I was shocked because it wasn't what I had heard. "Dariush, this isn't what I've heard about you. Does this also mean you're not Muslim?"


He was busy driving the tank and didn't answer right away. "Excuse me Ms. Morgan, I had to go through a very narrow alley. You are right, I am not Muslim. It is just to my benefit that everyone thinks I am."


I had to ask, "What about all your wives?"


He laughed, "You mean all my girlfriends since I am not married to any of them. Just like I enjoy the many different aspects of life, I enjoy the many different aspects of women."


I was going to ask another question when he said, "Hold on, it looks like Blackwater has another road block."


He yelled something to his crew and the next thing I know they are firing the cannon. The whole tank shook when they fired and I had to cover my ears. The turret turned three times and each time another shot shook the tank. The crew cheered and Dariush turned the tank quickly and took off in another direction.


I felt a couple more big bumps and Dariush laughed, "You think they would know better than to try to stop me with Humvees." We must have finally made it into the open because the speed of the tank substantially increased. Thirty minutes later he stopped the tank and said, "Ms. Morgan, we are safely out of the city and can transfer to my Mercedes."


He opened the hatches and I, Bernie and Dariush climbed out and into the Mercedes. The crew drove off with the tank. Ahmil spirited us away in the Mercedes while Dariush opened a bottle of champagne, poured three glasses and said, "To the success of our recent battles!" The bubbles in the champagne tickled my nose and I laughed as we drove away.


Flashback – Mira and Ira – Dushanbe, Tajikistan – about one year later from meeting Kostia


Our life was very bad and we were both very sad. We had been terribly fooled by Kostia. He pretended at first to be our friend but he ended up being a beast.


During the days things seemed fine. He took us to a very fine school in the morning and the school took us to special classes in the afternoon. Three days a week it was hand to hand combat, one day was art and the last day was something called etiquette.


He would pick us up in the evening and then one of us would make dinner while the other cleaned the flat. If we didn't do a good job he would punish us and it was the worst type of punishment for us. If I did a bad job, he would punish Ira and make me watch or sometimes help. And if Ira did a bad job then I would get punished. It was so much worse than if he would have just punished the one who did a bad job. It seemed like he punished at least one of us each night and he had a nasty smile on his face the entire time. We were always afraid of doing a bad job or making a mistake. But as bad as the punishment was, it was still much better than the training because it was terrible.


"Ira, I cannot take it anymore. I want to kill myself and be with Mama and Papa."


"Mira, you cannot do that. You know you would go to hell and never see Mama or Papa again."


"Then I am going to run away."


"Mira, yes let us run away; living on the streets would be better than living here."


"I think we can do it right before they are going to take us to class today."


"We will have to run very fast and very long."


"Good Ira, then it is a plan."


We waited until normal school was over and walked outside with the other kids. Once we were on the street we both began running. We did not know where we were going, we were just going away. We came to a park and stopped.


"Mira, we are free."


"Yes Ira, I cannot believe it. This was so easy."


We enjoyed the being in the park so we sat on the bench and watched the squirrels. They would come over and beg us for food and it made us laugh.


It started to get late and the sun was setting. "Ira, we need to find a place to sleep tonight."


"Yes Mira we cannot stay here. It will be very cold tonight and we do not have warm clothes."


"Let us go to the mall and hide out in a store."


The mall was a short distance away so our walk was short. We walked inside and it was bright and warm and we felt better.


"Mira, I have the money. Let us get something to eat and drink."


I giggled because we had been taking a little bit of money from Kostia's wallet when he was busy and hiding it from him. We held hands and walked to the food court and everything looked so good we could not decide what to get.


"Mira, I think a man is following us. He has been with us at each food shop."


"Yes Ira he is following us. We will walk towards the bathrooms and hide."


We went to the bathroom and both hid in a stall. We heard someone come in and heard the voice we hated - the beast. "Mira and Ira, I know you are both in here. If you do not come out I will send one of you to one orphanage and the other to a different orphanage in a different city."


I looked at Ira and we both started crying not because he caught us, but because he threatened to separate us. We opened the door to the stall and walked out. He was very upset at us.


"Alright, which one of you was the bad girl and thought about running away?"


Ira yelled, "It was Mira she told me you would never catch us."


I was upset not because she told Kostia it was me but because he would punish the other one. Ira was going to take the punishment I deserved.


I ran over and took Kostia's hand, "Kostia, she is lying. She is the one who thought up the plan."


He looked at both of us. "I cannot tell which of you is lying so I will have to punish both of you. Take my hands and follow me to our home."


We each took a hand and he marched us out to his car. It was then I realized there were many men and women who had been watching us.


"Ira, look at all the people he had watching us."


"Yes Mira, we never had a chance."


"Ah yes my little girls, you finally noticed the people I have watching you. They followed you from the school to the park and then here to the mall. You should know you can never, ever run away from me. If you ever try again I will separate the two of you and send you each very far away from each other."


We both started crying a little bit. "Quit your crying you ungrateful little girls or I will make it even worse."


We rode home in silence and walked into the flat knowing a terrible punishment was coming. We walked to the second bedroom. Kostia pushed Ira through the door, closed it and locked it. She banged on the door and screamed, "Mira, Mira, Mira!"


I hit him and said, "I want to be with Ira."


He hit me very hard, "Do not ever hit me again or I will send Ira very far away. Follow me." He took me to the third bedroom pushed me inside and walked in behind me. "First I am going to punish your sister and you will hear her screams all night long. Then when I am done with her, I will come and start your punishment."


I could hear Ira as she banged the door and screamed for me. I begged, "Kostia, please do not punish Ira. I will take all her punishment."


He laughed at me, "That would be too easy. No, I will punish both of you so you will never ever do this again. And if you bang on the door or scream like your sister is doing right now I will make her punishment even worse. Be quiet and listen to your sister's screams."


As he started to leave the room, I ran over and kicked him very hard. He turned around and hit me across the face. "Just for that I will make Ira scream even more."


That Friday started off the worst weekend of our whole life. Somehow he stayed awake all weekend and switched between the rooms punishing me and Ira. We learned how terrible a beast he really was. We did not know there were so many ways to cause someone pain without putting marks on them.


I was relieved when I heard Ira's screams stop because it meant he would leave her alone and come to my room soon.


Sunday night was the worst. I heard Ira's screams stop and then it was a very long time until he came into my room. He looked at me and said, "Mira, I am sorry your sister just died."


"Noooooo! I screamed, fell on the bed and cried." He closed the door and left. I heard the apartment door open and close and I snuck out and into the second bedroom. Ira wasn't there and there was a bunch of blood on the floor. I ran over and touched the blood. I thought it was all that was left of my sister, my only friend.


Kostia came back later and I was lying on the blood and crying. He commanded me, "Mira clean up and go to bed."


It felt like my insides had died but I did exactly what he told me.


Flashback – Ira – Dushanbe, Tajikistan – about one year later from meeting Kostia


After Kostia punished me the last time, he put a gag in my mouth, a bag over my head and tied me up. Then he did some things in the room and left to punish Mira. I heard Mira yell very loud and then I did not hear anything else. He came in my room picked me up and carried me out the door. He put me in the back seat of his car and said, "Ira, I hate to tell you this, but Mira was not as strong as you and she just died."


I tried to yell and scream but the gag kept me from it. But nothing kept me from crying. I cried so hard my nose got plugged and I could not breathe. I thrashed around on the seat and felt the car stop. Kostia took off the bag and saw I could not breathe so he took out the gag.


"Miiiirrrraaaa!!!!" I yelled.


"Shut up. It is your fault she died. I am taking you a different apartment until I can have our apartment cleaned."


"Kostia, I am dead without my sister."


"Do not be silly. You are strong and still need to learn many things."


I didn't go to school for the whole week and Kostia would come and spend time with me, then tie me up and leave me alone, but it didn't matter anymore. Mira was gone I was hollow inside.


Friday came and he walked into our temporary apartment and announced. "It is time to go back to our real home."


I followed him out to the car, he looked at me and ordered, "Open the door for me." I opened the door and he got in. I walked around and got in the passenger seat. We drove to his flat in silence.


I followed him upstairs and he told me. "Go sit in the living room." Like a robot I did what he ordered. I looked up as he walked in the room and blinked my eyes, behind him was Mira!!!


Flashback – Ira and Mira – Dushanbe, Tajikistan – about one year later from meeting Kostia


I ran to Mira, hugged her tight and cried.


"Ira, you are alive! Kostia told me you were dead."


"Mira my sister, he told me you were dead too."


Kostia then came over and ordered, "Both of you face me."


We reluctantly let go of each other and stood in front of him. "I have taught both of you a big lesson this week. You know what it will feel like if one of you dies. If you ever try to run away again, I will kill one of you and the sister I kill will be the lucky one because the other sister will live the rest of her life alone. Kneel in front of me."


We both knelt.


He held out his hand, "Kiss the back of my hand and promise me you will be my slaves and do everything I say and you will never try to run away again."


We both kissed his hand and promised him. "Remember I will kill one of you if you ever disobey me. Now get ready for bed."


We were so excited but knew better than to giggle because it upset Kostia. We ran into the bathroom and hugged more while we cleaned up. We took too long and Kostia punished us some more that night, but it didn't matter because we were together again.


Flashback – Zarika  – Tajikistan Day Twenty-one


I did not tell Yasmeen, but without Ben I was very scared. I heard rumors many people found out about the gold and were looking for us. I was happy we were headed towards the big road.


I looked at the gauge and it said we needed more fuel. I yelled at Yasmeen, "We need to put fuel in the truck."


She crawled up front and said, "Zarika, we have only watched Ben do this. Do you think we will remember how to do it?"


Ben had left one big barrel of fuel for emergencies and I decided this was an emergency. I replied, "I think I remember how to do it. But I might need some help from you."


I found a flat spot beside the road and pulled over, "Yasmeen, please keep watch and let me know if you see anyone."


I was glad my husband Ben moved the big barrel close to the fuel tank because it was too heavy for me to move. I looked at the hose and pump thing on the top of it and thought that this isn't going to be so hard. I jumped out of the back of the truck and tried to take the cap off the fuel tank and it wouldn't move. I started swearing at the cap.


Yasmeen asked, "Zarika, what is wrong?"


I answered, "This stupid cap thing will not come off." I found a hammer and started hitting the stupid cap as I continued swearing at it.


Yasmeen said, "Let me come and try." She came out, I showed her what I was doing and she said, "I think you are turning it the wrong way." She turned it the other way and it came off.


I looked at her, "How did you know which way to turn it?"


She laughed at me and said, "It is just like opening a jar."


I was upset she laughed at me, but did not do anything right then. I wanted to get the fuel in the truck and leave. I pulled the hose out under the top and put it in the tank. "Yasmeen, turn the handle on the pump thing."


She turned it and fuel splashed all over me, "Stop you are turning too fast I yelled! You come down here and I will turn the handle." We switched places and I spun the handle on the pump thing as fast as I could. Yasmeen yelled, "Zarika, you are turning it too fast too, now I am all covered with stinky fuel."


I giggled a little and Yasmeen said, "Stop being a suka!"


I was very upset now, looked around the back of the truck and said to her, "What did you call me you stupid little brat?"


Yasmeen teased me, "I called you a suka for getting fuel all over me. This will make my skin rough and you did it on purpose."


"Like you didn't do the same thing to me, you spoiled little zhopa2."


2 asshole


Yasmeen replied, "Ti durak3."


3 You're a moron.


I was very upset and said, "Kooshay govno suka4."


4 Eat shit bitch.


Yasmeen said too much when she said, "Oo tebya, galava, kak, on a bizyanie jopuh 5."


5 Your face looks like a monkey's ass.


I jumped out of the back of the truck and started fighting with her. We rolled around in the dirt swearing at each other. I punched her in the nose and she bit my hand and pulled my hair. I was sitting on top of her pummeling her face and didn't hear the truck drive up.


Flashback – Yasmeen – Tajikistan Day Twenty-one


Zarika was very upset at me. I guess I sassed her too much but she had it coming, getting me all covered with fuel. She was kicking my rear until the mouthy boys' papa pulled her off me by her hair.


He said to another man, "I have the mean one, you grab the little one."


This big fat man started reaching for me but I rolled out of his grasp, pulled Sasha's knife and stabbed him in his big fat belly. He let out a huge yell and ran back towards their car. The bad man holding Zarika yelled, "You stupid little bitch, I'll make you pay for that." He hit Zarika real hard and she fell down.


Then he started coming towards me. I held the knife in front of me and said, "I will poke you in the belly too if you come after me. You need to leave."


He laughed at me, "Not without the gold. And since you've hurt Housyar, I'm going to make you pay."


He jumped towards me but was old and slow and I moved out of the way and yelled."You had better leave or I will kill you!"


He laughed and said, "A little girl like you cannot hurt me. I am going to take pleasure in raping you and then giving you and your bitch sister to my sons."


I got very upset and threatened, "I will cut off your-your-your thing before I let you touch me."


He laughed again, "You do not even know what to call it and I think you are still a virgin. What is wrong could not your dead husband make love to you?" Then he jumped towards me again and I slashed his arm with the knife.


He pulled back and yelled, "You stupid little whore, just for that I will cut you after I am finished with you."


He jumped towards me again but this time he grabbed me and knocked the knife out of my hand. He threw me on the ground and fell on top of me then he tried to kiss me and put his hands on me. I fought back very hard and he laughed in my face, "You cannot escape so you might as well relax and enjoy this. I am going to enjoy it very much."


He went to kiss me again and I bit his nose very hard and could taste blood in my mouth. He screamed, "Ayee you little bitch, now I'm going to hurt you very badly." But he never got to do it because I heard an AK fire and he stopped moving.


Zarika said, "Yasmeen, are you okay?"


I cried for help, "Zarika, help me get this pig off me." It took both of us to roll him off me. I stood up and kicked him many times then we heard the car start behind us and Zarika turned and shot the car full of holes. Housyar, slumped over behind the wheel.


I ran over and hugged Zarika. It scared her and I said, "Thank you for saving me. I am sorry I said those bad things to you."


She hugged me back and answered, "We are even now. But we need to put fuel in the truck and get out of here. Go in the back and pump the fuel carefully this time."


I did what she said, we finished and then we both jumped into the cab and drove off. A short time later we found the big road and turned towards the place Ben wanted us to go.


Flashback - Jack – Late 1999 SSN-22 headed back to Diego Garcia


Banzai finally came limping into sickbay with the help of a sailor. The Seals saw him and started cheering so I about busted a gut laughing at his embarrassment.


The medics came over to help him and he said, "I'm fine it's just a little flesh wound."


The sailor who helped him into the room said, "Like hell it is, get in the bed."


Banzai looked over at me and I was still grinning at him when he said, "What are you grinning at?"


I laughed, "Anna's going to kill you when we get home."


The Seals started hooting at him some of them said, "He's in trouble with his girlfriend."


Banzai countered, "She's Jack's girlfriend and she's going to kill both of us."


Well that wiped the grin off my face. I watched as they worked on Banzai's leg.


Flashback - Ben – Late 1999 SSN-22 headed back to Diego Garcia


My leg hurt like a son-of-a-gun and I had to fight hard Ben because he wanted to take over. Plus Jack and the Seals were distracting as heck. Sometimes I wished everyone would just leave me alone.


The medic started to cut off my wetsuit and I complained, "Hey, I can take this off just fine."


He barked at me, "Let me do my job and stop fighting me!"


Jack yelled at me, "Banzai let him do his job."


I grinned and replied, "Okay Hopalong."


Jack sassed, "Hey, you're the one who got shot in the leg. Doesn't it make you Hopalong Banzai?"


I sassed back, "At least I got hurt for real instead of stepping on a nail."


One of the Seals added, "That would make Jack the grizzled old sidekick, Windy Halliday."


I quipped, "Well he's certainly old enough and grizzled enough and definitely talks enough to be called Windy."


They all laughed and Jack threatened, "You'd better be careful or I'll kick your ass with my good foot."


I teased, "You'd have to catch me first gramps."


Jack was going to say something, but the Medic interrupted, "This is more than a little flesh wound, this is going to hurt like hell." He started cleaning it out and I yelled, "Son of a gun that hurts."


The Seals laughed and one remarked, "This might be the first Marine I've ever known who doesn't cuss."


Jack added, "Then you've now met two. I don't cuss unless I have to talk to Seals because they don't understand it when you don't cuss at them."


The medic laughed and accidentally poked my leg, I yelled, "You poke my leg again and I'm going to start cussing."


He replied, "Sorry about it. Well you got pretty lucky because it passed through the side of your leg and didn't hit anything important. But it's going to hurt like hell when I irrigate it."


I tensed and watched him irrigate the wound. He was right - it hurt like hell! I asked the medic, "So when can I go running again?"


He gave me a crazy look and answered, "No running for several weeks at least."


Jack grinned at me and I said, "Jack, I'm still going to run your ass off when we get back."


Flashback - Jack – Late 1999 SSN-22 headed back to Diego Garcia


I had a huge problem and it wasn't going to be easy to handle. I was proud as hell of Banzai! He really did the right thing, but he also disobeyed my direct order and I couldn't let it go unpunished. Normally I'd just kick his ass, but I knew I couldn't do it unless I was sneaky as hell.  I watched him carefully as they irrigated his leg and saw he was in a huge battle with something I couldn’t see. I decided to distract him. "Hey Banzai, I wonder if we'll have the same flight on the way back home?"


He looked at me and blushed like crazy. "Jack, I hope we don't."


I thought that was a funny answer and asked, "Why not, I thought it was very enjoyable. I slept really well."


Banzai gave me a dirty look and replied, "It was a little distracting to me."


I watched him tense when they hit a really bad part, so I suggested, "Banzai, why don't you take something for pain."


I knew I'd pushed it too far when he said, "Jack why don't you shut the hell up."


The mouthy Seal (aren't they all) said, "Wow the mouse just roared!" And they all cracked up.


I was a little pissed and said, "Keep talking Banzai, and I'll have you busted to Private."


He yelled, "Fuck you Jack. I don't care if you do bust me. I did what was right when you were busy being a Marine. Throw my ass out of the Corps and lock me up for all I care."


The Lieutenant looked at me and ordered, "Sergeant, what the hell did he just mean when he said, 'I did what was right when you were busy being a Marine'."


I looked at him and replied, "I told Banzai we needed to follow orders."


He countered, "And your orders did not include rescuing us?"


"Sir, they didn't know any of you were alive."


The Lieutenant was pissed off and declared, "They sure as hell did know we were alive. They even had me talk to command to try to broker a deal for our release. I guess they didn't tell you?"


I answered, "No Sir, they didn't give us that information."


He started to swear, "God damn fucking spooks, I'm going to kill someone when I get back. So when you ordered Banzai to follow orders you ordered him not to rescue us?"


I thought I was up shit creek without a paddle when Banzai interrupted, "Sir, yes he gave me the order because he had to. But he also knew me well enough to know I would disobey the order. He even gave me the time and means to slip away while he slept. I did disobey his direct order and I will stand for the punishment."


The Lieutenant looked at Banzai and said, "I'm not sure what you told me isn't a bunch of bullshit. But I can tell you this, if your Sergeant tries to do anything about you disobeying orders, I will make his life a living hell."


The Captain walked into the room and asked, "Lieutenant, who's life are you going to make a living hell?"


Flashback - Captain – Late 1999 SSN-22 headed back to Diego Garcia


I'd been listening outside the door to a very interesting dialog between the Marines and the Lieutenant. I'm sure I will never know all the details of what went on during their mission, but it sounds like the kid did the rescue without permission. I needed to make sure things worked out correctly here and keep him from getting in trouble, because sometimes a Captain has to be a psychologist.


After I walked in the room and asked my question, the kid tried to jump up and stand at attention again. I smiled at him, "At ease Marine."


He sat back on the bed and relaxed, however the Lieutenant and Sergeant were all upset.


The Lieutenant answered, "Sir, I was just discussing some things with the Sergeant and we had a little disagreement."


I looked at both of them and asked, "Would you care to tell me what it was about? I could make it an order."


The Sergeant piped up, "No Sir, it wasn't important."


I watched as things started to calm then the kid interrupted so I thought he was going to mess things up. "Excuse me, Sir, I was just explaining to the Lieutenant how my Sergeant did the right thing by ordering me not to rescue the Seals because it deviated from orders. And how he knew me well enough to know I would disobey the order. Then he even gave me the opportunity to plan and execute the rescue."


The kid's story had a ring of partial truth to it so I looked at the Sergeant and his expression confirmed my belief. I announced, "Well I for one think both of you showed extreme initiative and wisdom. Sergeant, it was wise for you to give the order knowing your sniper would disobey and do the right thing. And LCpl. you planned and executed an excellent rescue mission and also completed your primary mission."


Everyone seemed happy but I had one more thing to add. I looked at the Marines and said, "I know this won't happen because it will all be redacted from both your records and besides we're not at war. But when I file my mission report it will include a recommendation for both of you to receive the Navy Cross."


The Seals started clapping and I think I saw some tears in the kid's eyes. He said, "Sir, I don't need a medal, I just did the right thing."


I smiled at him and realized my opinion was just confirmed: Yes one of the few good men. "Now that's enough talk about disobeying orders and that's my order. Does anyone care to challenge the mission report I will be filing?"


No one said a word so I smiled at them, turned and walked out of the room because my mission was finished. Now I’ll go write my reports and send them.


Flashback – General Donaldson – Late 1999 SSN-22 mission reports


I looked at the reports on my desk and couldn't fucking believe it. The first is the e-mail copy of the mission report from the Captain of the USS Connecticut. My fucking sniper team rescued five Seals and killed the rat bastard target! He even recommended both of them get the Navy Cross. Too bad we can't do it because it would be great publicity for the Corps.


Next I looked at a personal e-mail from the Captain telling me LCpl Blaine and Sergeant Reynolds are two of the most honorable men he has ever met and a bunch of other praise. And how he would gladly provide support for them on any future missions. I wondered if he was drunk on his ass when he wrote this letter. I might be able to believe it about Banzai Ben because he's a good kid. But not the irascible old Sergeant Reynolds, he's always been a real son-of-a-bitch. I've lost track of how many times he's made rank and then got busted.


The next is an e-mail from Admiral Hastings, the commander of the Seals. He'd received the mission report and a copy of the personal e-mail and wants to come and personally shake the hands and congratulate my sniper team when they get back to base.


The final e-mail is a complaint from the spook who sent them on the mission for deviating from orders and risking the mission by rescuing the Seals. That one goes in the shredder.


I sit back and think about everything that has happened. This mission has been a strange one. It started with the whole contest between Banzai Ben and the sailors. I still remember all the money I made on that one. I knew they had to be betting on the boat, but I heard a strange rumor my Marines had given back the money they won. That's not like Sergeant Reynolds. Then the whole crazy rescue of the Seals and the killing of the rat bastard, it did extremely deviate from orders and while Sergeant Reynolds is a royal pain in the ass, it's not like him to go so crazy. It must be the LCpl! I hoped I didn't have certified loose cannon to deal with.


I put the reports back into the folder and gave them to my secretary to redact and file.


Flashback – Jens – Late 1999 Megan reports


I lied crosswise on my bed bored out of my gourd and daydreamed about – yes you guessed it – my Ben. He was still on the mission where he was fighting the whole Navy. I wondered when he would kick their rears and come back to the base. I really missed him and worried about him, I even prayed for him each night before I went to sleep and then when Mommy and Daddy left the room, I pulled out my picture of him and gave him a big sexy kiss good night.


I paged through a PC Magazine on the floor not really paying much attention to it because it was soooo boring with nothing but old stuff. I liked the computer things my friends and I did much better because we had created our own little computer spy club and tried to get into other computer systems. We never did anything bad, well we did send one man's wife a bunch of nasty e-mails from his girlfriend, but he was married and shouldn't be doing those things. We mostly just looked around. Now that was fun!


The phone rang and scared the heck out of me! I didn't bother to answer it because it was probably for Mommy since she spent so much time on the phone it even drove me crazy. Poor Daddy, she was pretty mean to him and said some bad things about him behind his back. Sometimes I really disliked her. Mommy yelled, "Jennifer, the phone's for you. Please don't take too long."


I picked up my camouflage princess phone and asked, "Hello?"


"Jens, it's Meg. You have to get on the computer and check your e-mail right now. I just sent you some information about you know who."


I was so excited as I answered, "Thanks Meg, I was so bored and can't wait to see what you have for me." I hung up the phone and started up my computer. Yes I have my own computer in my room and yes it was a huge fight getting it but that's another story.


Once the computer was up I noticed Mommy messed around with it again trying to spy on me. She was such a newb, so I purposefully left things for her to find, nothing too interesting just silly girl gossip, and when she opened them it changed the date on the file so I could tell she was being a snoop again. I even had one fake e-mail account she snooped around in. One day I'm going to be mean and pretend to ask a friend if she knows how to tell if you're pregnant. Wait until Mommy reads that e-mail!


I log into my real email account and see I have three emails from Meg they all have attachments.


OMG Jen$, J00 W0N't 8eLi3VE +3h 3-m4il$ i $WIped pHr0M MoM'$ compUter Ab0u+ 83N. I +HINK He d1D 50me 50r+ 0F 31337 MIs$10N. h3 IS 50000 K3WL 4Nd $exy, J00 @r3 @ LUCKy grrl!!! 6


6 Leet (Elite) speak - Oh my god Jens, you won't believe the e-mails I swiped from Mom's computer about Ben. I think he did some sort of elite mission. He is soooo cool and sexy, you are a lucky girl!!!


I had to giggle about Meg's leet-speak because she was sooo good at it. Mommy even found one once and had no idea what it said.


I read the first attachment, and I owed Meg big TIME! It was the mission report about Ben's mission. I didn't understand everything and was confused because I thought he was fighting the Navy, but it said he rescued five Seals and accomplished the primary mission. It was from the Captain of the boat and he said my Ben should get a Navy Cross. I quickly looked up Navy Cross on the Internet and thought, YES my Ben deserves a Navy Cross. Daddy's reply was they deserved a medal but because of the situation they wouldn't get any medals.


The next e-mail was a personal e-mail to Daddy from the Captain telling him what a good and honorable man Ben and his grumpy old spotter were. I'd met his spotter and I didn't think he was anything but crabby. I didn't bother to read Daddy's boring reply.


The finally attachment was from an Admiral in charge of the Seals; he was going to come and thank my Ben and shake his hand. Okay, somehow I need to be in Daddy's office for this meeting.


I sent a reply to Megan,


mE9, +h@NK YOu!!! j00 4R3 Th3 8oM8 @nD 1 0We j00 81g +1M3. I'M Go1nG to TrY t0 90 to The M4LL L@+ER +0d4Y, 1 w@nT TO bUY 50m3 +H1NG$ PHOr 4 $UrpR153 PH0r 8en. $ee 1f your m0m W1LL L3+ J00 c0M3 Wi+h u5. 7 


7 Meg, thank you!!! You are the bomb and I owe you big time. I'm going to try to go to the mall later today, I want to buy some things for a surprise for Ben. See if your mom will let you come with us.


I ran into the living room and started bugging Mommy but she was on the phone. "Mommy, I'm bored and want to go to the mall and I want to bring Megan."


She replied, "Jennifer not now, I'm on the phone."


I grinned and said, "I guess I can't go to ballet because my leotard has a hole in it."


She looked at me, and said into the phone, "Just a minute Sally," then she said to me, "Jennifer, how did it happen?"


I smiled shyly and said, "I was practicing and it snagged on something." I had my fingers crossed behind my back because it was a little lie. I was practicing all right, practicing using it as a slingshot. I found out leotards only stretch so far.


She gave me a dirty look, and said into the phone, "Look Sally, we'll have to finish this later. I need to take Jennifer to the mall and get her a new leotard. Yes I know I just got her one, somehow they keep falling apart."


She hung up the phone and it rang, it was Megan's mom and she gave permission so Megan could come. I was all excited until Mommy said, "Jennifer, I'm not taking you to the mall in your BDUs. I'll come up to your room and help you change into a nice dress."


Rats! Mommy was getting smart and figured out if I went to change by myself, somehow my dresses were always wrinkled. So she'd been coming to help me change clothes for a while. The first time she did I threw a huge fit because 'I was old enough to change clothes by myself.' It backfired on me because she left and then bought me really ugly things to wear, things like she wore. So now I tolerated her helping me change my clothes. Besides I needed to spend some money on my Ben today.


Mommy and I argued for fifteen minutes about dresses and finally compromised on one which didn't look like a church or funeral dress, but it also didn't look like a Britney dress because it was too long. Double Rats!!! I would try to roll it up some while she wasn't looking. I knew Megan would look hot because her mom was cool and let her wear clothes just like Britney's. Triple Rats!!! At least Meg was a good enough friend she didn't tease me about it.


I grabbed my camo purse and put all my money in it. I'd saved up forty whole dollars and I hoped it was enough to buy what I wanted to get Ben. Mommy gave me a dirty look about the purse and I said, "Come on Mommy, we're going to be late," and I dashed down the stairs, ran out into the car and started honking the horn.


Mommy came to the door and yelled, "Jennifer stop honking the damn horn! I still need to get ready." I waited until she went back in the house and honked it one more time.


She came back to the door and shook her finger at me. I just smiled, waved and yelled, "Hurry up Mommy. I want a nice pink leotard."


She finally made it to the car and we dropped by and picked up Meg - she looked so hot. I was sad because I was so frumpy. She leaned over and whispered in my ear, "Jens, I hid a Britney dress in my purse for you. You can change at the mall." It made me so happy because she is such a good friend.


We hit the mall and Mommy said, "Now you two, be back here in two hours. And don't get into any trouble."


We tore off for the nearest bathroom, I took of the frumpy dress and put on the short little Britney dress - NOW I was happy. Meg said, "Jens, you look much better now. What sort of ugly dress did you have on?"


"I don't know Meg, it was some ugly thing Mommy bought me. You are so lucky because your mom is cool."


Meg asked, "So what do you want to get Ben?"


I looked at her and smiled, "I want to buy him one of those medals we read about."


We tore off through the mall on our medal mission and every store we went in looked at us like we were crazy. One store they tried to sell us a pen with an anchor on it, the salesman called it a Navy Cross pen.


Meg and I sat on a bench and I was very discouraged, "Gee Meg, I thought buying a Navy Cross in the mall would be easy. I thought you could buy everything here."


She answered, "Yeah Jens, who would think you couldn't find a Navy Cross to buy."


A sailor was walking by and overheard us so he came over and said, "Excuse me young ladies, did I overhear you saying you wanted to buy a Navy Cross."


I was shy so Meg said, "Yes, we are looking for a Navy Cross for her boyfriend."


He looked at us and said, "I hate to tell you this, but you can't just go into a store and buy one of those. They are very special medals and have to be earned. You might be able to find a replica online though."


Meg thanked him and he walked away. "Quadruple Rats! Meg, I don't think I have time to order one online and I don't know how I would hide it from Mommy."


Meg leaned over and whispered in my ear and I jumped up and said, "Meg, those are the best ideas ever. I bet he will love both of those ideas."


We ran off to the beauty shop and I bugged the heck out of a hair stylist until she told me how to do what I wanted to do. Then we ran over to the cheap store and bought all the supplies. I looked at my watch and we had ten minutes to make it back to Mommy. We flew to the nearest restrooms and I changed back into my ugly dress but it sure got wrinkled in Meg's purse. Oh Mommy would be upset!


We ran back to the entrance and found Mommy just in time but we were both all out of breath. Mommy looked at us and said, "You two look," then she sniffed, "and smell disgusting. What have you been doing the whole time? Jogging?"


I shook my bag at her, "We had some serious shopping to do!"


She smiled, "Can I see what you bought?"


I got very nervous and begged, "Oh no Mommy! It's a big surprise."


We headed home and Mommy made us both sit in the back with the windows open. I sniffed at Megan and didn't think she smelled very bad. I said, "Mommy, I will shower when we get home."


She smiled, "Thank you Jennifer. I don't know what you two did, but you sure worked up a sweat doing it."


We dropped Meg off and Mommy told me to stay in the back seat. When we got home I tore out of the car and waited at the front door, "Hurry Mommy, I need the bathroom." Well, I did need to get into the bathroom, just not for what she thought I needed it for.


She opened the door and I flew up the stairs, into my bathroom and locked the door. I took of my dress and threw it in the corner and jumped on it a couple times. Then I used everything I bought and all the lady told me for my surprise. When I was done and looked in the mirror, I really liked it and I hoped Ben would love it too.


I cleaned up the mess, put on my BDUs, went to my computer and read the e-mails again. Then I looked up Navy Cross on the Internet again to see what they looked like. Yes my Ben needs one of those medals and I'm going to give him one.


I hear Mommy call me. It's time for dinner and time to see if they like my surprise. I walk downstairs into the kitchen, Daddy's mouth falls open and he starts making gurgling noises. Mommy turns around, takes one look at me and drops the roast chicken on the floor. Then she yelled, "Jennifer J. Donaldson! What the hell did you do to your hair?"


I flipped it around and said, "I dyed it camouflage, don't you just love how I look? It's so stylish. I think I will always wear my hair like this."


Mommy was not impressed and started towards me, Daddy stood up and said, "Evelyn, control your temper. Don't you dare hurt Jennifer."


She grabbed me by the arm and rushed me upstairs, "Young lady, I hope you didn't use permanent dye."


"What's permanent dye Mommy?"


She looked at the boxes in the trash, sat on the closed toilet seat and just cried. Daddy came into the bathroom, "Evelyn, why don't you go and lie down. I will take care of this."


Mommy left and Daddy took me to the bed and sat beside me, "Jens, you really upset your mother today."


I looked at him, "Sorry Daddy, you know how I like camouflage and I thought it would be a great surprise."


He looked at me, "Jens, I think I've turned you into too much of a tomboy. Don't you think it's time you grow up and start acting like a girl and liking boys?"


I bit my lip and said softly, "Daddy, I want to tell you a secret. I do have one… boy (I almost said man) I really, really, really like. He's the most wonderful boy in the world and I dyed my hair just for him because he really truly likes camouflage."


He looked at me and said, "Well if he really truly likes camouflage he must be a good boy. Is he also why you like to wear your BDUs so much?"


I smiled at him and nodded my head. I knew Daddy would understand. He just wouldn't approve of my Ben – yet.


Well, let me go fix things with your mother. I'm glad you told me about the boy and I'd like to tell her because I think it would help. She's been worried you might be a lesbian. I didn't know what the word meant until I looked it up later and was IT EVER GROSS! EWE! I told Daddy, "I love you Daddy, please tell Mommy I'm sorry. And you may tell her about the boy, but let her know his name is a big secret!"


He left, I looked at myself in the mirror and really liked my new hair color. I hoped Ben would like it too.


Mommy came up to my room later and tried to weasel Ben's name out of me, but without success. It was too early to tell her about my Ben.


The chicken was ruined so we had pizza for dinner. Daddy even let me have a sip of his beer and I made a funny face. He told me it was an acquired taste and I said, "I don't care if I ever acquire that taste." They both laughed.


I e-mailed Meg later and told her everything. She thought it was sooo funny. I prayed for Ben, kissed his picture and went to sleep.


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


I knew if I ran all day I'd make it to our cabin tonight and the bear certainly had me motivated to run. I was worried he'd come back looking for me so at first I ran like crazy, but I couldn't keep it up so I had to slow down a bit. It was four days, but I would make it to our cabin tonight. Four days and many miles but now I would be a man according to dad and perhaps, just once he might not beat me. I ran and then would stop and take a drink and then I would run some more. The terrain was getting very familiar so I knew I was oh so close to the cabin.


I stopped for a drink and saw a movement. I jumped and got ready to run, but it was just the coyote. I watched him but then finally I chased him off because I didn't want dad to kill him.


Finally I was on the trail I ran every morning for PT. Just a few miles and I would be at the cabin. I rounded the last corner, ran into the yard and yelled, "I'm here." But no one returned my call. I walked up to the house, but the doors were locked. I checked the barn and the truck was gone. I sat on the porch, put my head between my hands and waited for Mom and dad to come back home.


I don't know how long I waited, but I heard a noise and it was the truck. Mom and dad were coming. I stood up and walked out into the yard and waited at attention.  The truck roared up and slid to a stop right in front of me and Mom ran out and hugged and kissed me. Dad slowly ambled out of the truck and looked at me. "You look like shit and smell even worse.” I thought it was all he was going to say, but he continued, "But you made it home in four fucking days and I'm damn proud of you."


I couldn't help myself and tears rolled down my cheeks as he looked at me and said, "Now since you’re a fucking man, don't start crying on me or I'll think you’re a fag. Get your ass down to the creek and wash some of the shit smell off you and then come back to the house and take a shower." Then he yelled at Mom, "Get some of those elk steaks out for dinner tonight, my boy became a man."


He walked by and cuffed me on the head and said, "Four fucking days." Then he shook his head and went into the house. Mom was smiling bigger than I ever remembered. I ran down to the creek and jumped in. It was colder than anything I ever remembered but it didn't bother me. I ran back to the house and there was a towel on the porch. I took my clothes off, dried off, went in, took a shower and put on a new pair of clothes.


I came out and dinner was ready so I sat at the table and waited for dad to take his food, Mom to take her food and then I took what was left. The food was excellent and I was so hungry, it was hard not to wolf it down. Dad put down his knife and fork, looked at me and said, "So tell me everything that happened."


I was chewing on a piece of meat and choked because we never talked at the table. I coughed and Mom came over and hit me on the back so I could breathe again. Dad still looked at me then asked, "Well, you gonna sit there choking on your food or tell me about your trip?"


I looked at Mom and she nodded her head so I told dad about my whole adventure. He had me show him my missing fingernails when I told him about climbing over the ridge. But when I told him about the cabin and the bear he got very upset so I stopped because I thought he was upset at me.


Dad said, "What the fuck did you stop for, finish telling me about the damn bear." I told him how I hid in the cabin but he stopped me and asked, "Is it the old mining cabin up on the creek?"


I answered, "Yes Sir, I think that's the one." I told him about cutting the bear's nose and about how I used the kerosene lamp and set him on fire. Dad laughed so hard I thought he was going to fall off his chair. Then he looked at me and said, "I know the black bastard, he's been giving me shit for years. No fucking bear is going to chase my son and get away with it."


He stood up, shuffled over to the phone and called the sheriff. "Hey George, Blaine here. My son was up at the mining cabin and that damn bear almost got him." The sheriff must have asked dad something because he stopped talking "Hell yes, it's the same one that's been giving me shit for years." He paused again, "No, he didn't get hurt. In fact he cut the damn bear's nose and set him on fire. Listen I'm tired of this black bastard and now he's wounded so I'm gonna take him out. You'd better call the wildlife guys and tell them they'd better come and trap the fucker because I'm going hunting for him tomorrow."


He walked back to the table, "You set the fucker on fire. I bet that pissed him off. Tell me the story again." I told him the story again and he laughed and said, "Get some good sleep tonight boy because we're goin' bear hunting tomorrow.


I went to sleep that night and wondered if things were going to be different now.