This story is only possible because of the efforts of Liz who held my hand and guided my steps throughout the effort. What a great beta and I hope fast becoming a friend. Thank you Liz.
Be well assured, though in our power
Is nothing left to give
But chance and place to meet the hour,
And leave to strive to live.
Till these dissolve our Order holds,
Our Service binds us here.
Then welcome Fate's discourtesy
Whereby it is made clear
How in all time of our distress,
As in our triumph too,
The game is more than the player of the game
And the ship is more than the crew!
A Song in Storm by Rudyard Kipling
October 11th, 0900 hours, Islamabad, Pakistan
Senator John Styles shook hands with the Pakistani Secretary of State and turned toward the helicopter. He wasn't sure the casual khaki jacket had been the right look. He knew it would look good when he was near the helicopter. It would project the image of a man of action on a dangerous mission for his country. He had selected the one with the epaulets on the shoulders, giving it sort of a military cut, which he thought would remind folks that he was in a war zone. He was concerned with the photos taken of his shaking hands with the Pakistani officials. Those men had all been in suits and he had looked awfully casual. He hoped the news agencies would run the photos of him getting on the helicopter and not the meet and greet ones.
Styles stopped automatically just as he arrived at the door of the aircraft to turn and wave one more time. This aircraft was not like the big Air Force 2 Sikorskys the President rode in with stairs up to the doorway and a big entrance area. There wasn't any way he could turn and wave while ducking away from the rotor wash and crawling up the awkward step into the aircraft. He decided to wait until he was seated to wave one more time. That would encourage the half a dozen reporters that had come out to the airfield to take one more shot with him in the aircraft next to the big United States Navy emblazoned on its side, very martial.
Once he was seated his aide, Robert Carstairs, handed him a set of headphones that served to both muffle the deafening roar of the engines and allow him to speak to the other passengers. The big Sea Hawk shook as the engines revved up and then lifted from the field and began moving forward gaining altitude and speed rapidly. The crew chief slid Styles' door closed cutting down on the noise significantly.
Yeah, he decided as he looked around the cabin at his companions, the khaki jacket was the way to go. The Pakistani liaison guy, Lohdi, was the only one in a suit and he looked very out of his element in the aircraft. Styles glanced over at Craig, the CNN reporter selected from the pool to represent all of the press, to make sure he had his camera. He knew Carstairs had a couple of cameras with him to get photos they could use later for his campaign but he wanted to be sure that there was some good independent press from this as well. Carstairs would be emailing photos to the press the whole time they were out, using their satellite phone link. Not even any cell phone coverage out here. That must be what truly defined a third world country--no cell phone coverage.
It was supposed to be a two-hour flight to the refugee camp. It wasn't all that far but the camp was at 8,000 feet and the helicopter had to take some long way around to follow the contours of the mountains so it didn't have to try and fly over any of the big peaks.
Styles looked out his window. They were already leaving the city behind and flying over a checkerboard of small fields, still gaining elevation although most of their movement was clearly forward.
He didn't like helicopters, too noisy and undependable. But he did like the image they projected in the news. Men who rode in helicopters had places they needed to get to fast. The Navy insignias on this one showed a man with influence, important to his country's defense. Just the image he hoped this trip would project. He needed to start positioning himself now if he was going to have a shot at the presidency in four years. Strong on defense, not afraid to get his hands dirty, but compassionate, hence, the refugee camp.
An hour later and they were into the mountains flying down a pass following what looked like a dry riverbed and then another change of direction to follow yet another valley. Styles sure hoped the pilot knew where he was going. He ought to, the military certainly paid enough to train these guys, he thought sourly. He was amazed how much the military spent on training. He was strong on the military so he always voted to give them the money, but honestly how much training did these guys really need.
Carstairs leaned forward and tapped him on his knee. "Let me get a photo of you here, sir," he said.
Good man, Carstairs, Styles thought, always thinking. A photo in the aircraft with the Navy helmet on would look really good. He smiled at Carstairs for one shot. Then put his 'tough on crime' look on for a second shot. Didn't want to look like he was having fun here, this was serious taxpayer business he was on.
Carstairs picked up his second camera for another shot just as the aircraft began to shudder and slow.
"This is Lt. Holland, we have a problem with one of our engines. We're going to cut our airspeed and see if that helps. Nothing to worry about at this point."
Styles hoped there was nothing to worry about. He looked out the window again, mountains and rocks and nothing else as far as he could see. No wonder they were all terrorists, what else was there to do in a country like this?
The helicopter slowed perceptibly and the shuddering decreased. Carstairs tapped on Styles' shoulder again and passed him the camera so he could look through the pictures, a couple of really good shots in the aircraft and a nice one of him walking across the tarmac with the Pakistanis in suits behind him. He liked that one; he looked like a man of action surrounded by politicians, a nice image there. He left that one up on the camera and passed it back to Carstairs with a smile.
The helicopter began to shudder again and the co-pilot came back on the headphones. "We are still having engine problems. We are heading back to Islamabad to get this looked at. We have a second aircraft on the field there checked out and ready to go. Sorry for the delay but we'll have you back in the air as quickly as possible."
Damn. Styles checked his watch. An hour and half back to Islamabad, change aircraft and get going again, say an hour and then two hours to the refugee camp. They wouldn't be in Sengeray until after 3:00. With the short days that only gave a couple of hours of good light for photos and meant a night flight back, so no pictures when they returned. He wondered if they should wait now and fly out the next day?
Suddenly, the aircraft was shaking very badly and losing altitude fast. The co-pilot was back on Styles' headset. "We have lost one engine, at this altitude it takes both engines to keep us airborne. We have contacted Islamabad and they already have the second helicopter on its way out to meet us. We should be on the ground no more then an hour and half."
Styles glared at Carstairs. This had been his idea in the first place. A visit to the Afghani refugee camp was a good excuse to get him into Pakistan and get some foreign affairs credibility. It had sounded like a good idea in Washington. Now it was beginning to sound dangerous.
Carstairs held up his camera toward Styles. Yeah, Styles guessed there was some truth to that too. Pictures of them on the ground around their damaged aircraft in hostile territory would send a powerful image. To Americans any country with an Islamic majority was hostile territory, it would look good on the news. He could use this anecdote to go for more funding for the military, cite his own experience, crashed in Pakistan. He was beginning to like this. He smiled across at Carstairs and nodded, this could be better than the refugee camp; pictures of him next to a downed Navy helicopter were probably better than him talking to some bearded, potential terrorist.
October 11th, 1300 hours, Indian Ocean 500 miles west of Christmas Island.
"Captain." Sparks said, handing Lee a message slip. Lee stood up from where he was perched on the corner of the worktable in the nose of the Seaview. He'd been listening to Admiral Nelson explain why two weeks of collecting soil and water samples around an extinct volcano in the ocean floor was worthwhile. He was glad for the distraction. Not that Nelson's explanations weren't always interesting, they just tended to contain a bit more data then Lee could process all in one sitting. This one had exceeded his "need to know" about ten minutes ago. Unfolding the message slip Lee quickly glanced through its content.
Looking up, his superior officer intercepted a quick tightening around Lee's eyes and correctly interpreted the facial expression as one of annoyance. "Something wrong, Lee?" The Admiral asked.
"I don't know, sir, but it's in my private ONI code which is never a good thing. Especially given the latest news," referring to the disappearance of a navy chopper. The helicopter had disappeared that morning in the Pakistani tribal region near the Afghanistan border containing a U.S. Senator, a Navy crew and other passengers. The Senator had been visiting Afghan refugee camps in the tribal region of Pakistan in response to a Pakistani government request for more American relief aid, when the chopper had gone down. Apparently it was a simple equipment malfunction, as the damaged aircraft was found only two hours later by a second replacement Navy helicopter. So far no one knew where any of the passengers or crew had gone.
"Surely not, Lee" Nelson focused his attention more closely on his subordinate "is that one of your languages?" Nelson didn't even try to keep the annoyance out of his voice as he all but glared at Crane.
"I'm afraid so, Admiral," Lee looked just a bit sheepish. "Once you learn one or two of those languages the rest of them are pretty straight forward, or at least a little easier," remembering that Urdu at least had really been a bit of a struggle.
"Well let me know," the Admiral said, not managing to keep a certain amount of peevishness out of his voice. He really hated it when the Navy co-opted "his captain". Lee had only been commanding the Seaview for 18 months and he had already spent three months working for ONI on one earth saving mission or another. Nelson appreciated the efforts that Gavin Johnson, the Admiral in charge of Naval Intelligence, made to keep Lee's ONI work, as much as possible, limited to times when the Seaview was not at sea, but even so this was getting to be a bit of an imposition. He had agreed with the Navy when they had loaned him Lee to command the Seaview that the Commander would remain available to fulfill ONI assignments as needed. He'd had no idea he was going to be quite so "needed".
As Lee climbed the stairs toward his cabin to decipher the message Nelson thoughtfully tapped his pen against the table. Maybe it was time to renegotiate his arrangement with the Navy, Lee being willing.
Lee quickly deciphered the ONI message receiving no surprises. He had been less then ingenious in his explanation to the Admiral. Not only was Pashto one of his languages but also he had a Pakistani cover that he and ONI had been building since his time at Annapolis. His cover persona was a Parisian/Pakistani ex-pat who went home to visit an uncle in the Pakistani tribal areas several times a year. It was a very strong cover, having been built up over the years and maintained in Paris by a young, Pakistani ex-patriot who enjoyed his vacations in California whenever ONI needed Lee in Pakistan or Afghanistan. This looked to be the 'event' for which that cover had been maintained all these years. Tamin Dakar was about to go home for a little taste of the action.
Lee left two hours later on the flying sub for Gibralter to begin his surreptitious entry into the Islamic world. Tamin Dakar disappeared from France after reportedly killing a policeman in a scuffle in the 10th Arrondissement of Paris. Twenty-six hours later Tamin arrived in Kulschai, Pakistan, anxious to get home to his family. The Seaview continued her soil collecting in the Indonesian Sea.
October 14th, 1700 hours, 50 miles south southwest of Serai Naurang, Pakistan.
Corporal Darren McGuire had never been so frightened in his life. He thought he had been as scared as he could get when the helicopter had started vibrating and smoking four days ago. At least he thought it had been four days. Somewhere in the constant movement from village to village he had lost track of time. As the aircraft auto-rotated and filled with smoke he had quietly prayed a litany of half remembered childhood prayers holding on for dear life. But in the crash he had also been busy, and he admitted to himself, he hadn't been alone. Now he was alone.
Well not alone exactly, and that was probably the most frightening part. He was in a car with four other guys going he knew not where. It was getting dark. No one had spoken to him in three hours, since he had been grabbed out of the house he shared with the other hostages and been shoved into the back seat of this big old Mercedes.
Hours of driving down unpaved, rutted roads and they never seemed to get to anywhere. No towns, no villages, nothing. Driving endlessly in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Nowhere seemed to describe this whole terrifying country, whatever country he was now in. He had no idea if they were still in Pakistan or if somewhere in their movements they had traveled into Afghanistan. He was alone, and afraid no one would ever hear of him again. He would just disappear into the vastness of this awful country and this awful war.
"Hey guys, where are we?" He tried again to get an answer to any question. Establish a relationship with your captors. Great advice if your captors wanted to establish a relationship, pretty hopeless if you didn't speak the language and no one ever spoke to you. No answer. Not that he really expected one by this time.
The two men sitting on either side of him were conferring quietly in some incredibly complicated language of which he didn't recognize a single word. All these guys looked the same to him with their unshaven faces and turbans, their dark eyes and dark clothes. Well except for the guy on his right--he had the strangest colored eyes Darren thought he had ever seen. He glanced to his right, same unshaven face he saw all around him, but yeah, definitely weird green-amber colored eyes. This guy he would recognize again. The rest of them were just turbans and long shirts and vests to him. Almost dark now, surely they couldn't drive down this hopeless excuse of a road in the dark.
More bone rattling driving and suddenly the early evening darkness was brightened by fire. The car in front of them exploded as an IED blew up underneath it throwing the car up into the air. The man sitting beside him, the one with the weird colored eyes, leaned into the front seat and spoke to the driver who was screaming in panic as he fought with the steering wheel and brakes in an effort to avoid the fire in front of him. Apparently getting no response Darren's seat companion suddenly hit the driver hard on the head with the stock of his AK-47. When the other front seat passenger started screaming at the attacker the suddenly berserk back seat passenger grabbed Darren's arm and threw the back door open. The next thing Darren knew he and his seatmate were flying out the back door of the skidding car. Just in time it turned out, as their car came under fire from unseen attackers as the two hit the ground in a mind numbing thump. Darren had no time to assess his injuries as his crazed companion, still holding on to his arm, began dragging him away from the now stopped car and into the surrounding darkness.
Not knowing what was happening and completely disoriented, Darren made no effort to elude his kidnapper. He allowed himself to be dragged into the darkening night and away from the gunfire. God this just kept getting worse and worse.
"Stay here. Keep down," his kidnapper said in English. Not just English but American. American English. Not a kidnapper? A rescuer? In a moment his companion/kidnapper/rescuer was gone firing his weapon toward the other vehicles as he moved away in the darkness. Darren ducked his head; as yet another explosion lit the scene before him in a surrealistic flash of light. There had been four vehicles he could see, now two of them were on fire. Just as suddenly as he had gone his companion was back.
"Okay, Corporal, stay low and follow me," the voice was calm and low, the touch on his shoulder unbelievably reassuring. Darren dared to believe his nightmare was coming to a close as the two men moved back into the darkness and slipped behind some boulders. Corporal. This man knew who he was. Surely that was good. Surely only someone familiar with his rank would call him Corporal. Surely this was a rescue?
The two men remained hidden for perhaps three minutes until the last of the gunfire fell silent. "Salaam aalaikum." Darren's companion called out softly into the night.
He was answered with a soft "Waalaikum salaam. Subah?"
Darren's companion replied, "Maghreb." He kept his hand on Darren's shoulder to prevent the other man from moving, as he slowly stood up and called out something else Darren couldn't understand. A few moments later he allowed Darren to rise as two men dressed in black and wearing night vision goggles joined them.
"Darren McGuire I assume," one of the black clad men said to Darren, who nodded vigorously a wide grin on his face.
"Thank you, God, Thank you," Darren said suddenly finding his mouth so dry he could hardly speak.
"Mr. West?" Darren's companion asked the two black clad men.
"That would be me," the shorter of the two men said extending his hand to Darren's rescuer, "nice job back there."
"Thanks. Everyone ok?"
"Yeah. We're all good. Got the other Marine guard and the crew chief back in Sengeray just as you told us. Now we just need to get out of here. Ride is about half a mile north," West said moving away toward the north even as the words were spoken.
Ten minutes later Darren found him self in yet another non-descript sedan, in another convoy of vehicles, driving down the same potted, rutted road but how much finer it all seemed. Almost euphoric in his relief, he listened as his rescuers quietly conversed, one sitting on either side of him in the backseat. "We sent two men to meet with your contact in the hills and got the co-pilot just an hour ago. Your Intel was dead on. He was sold to some Umarzai tribesmen and they were happy to sell him to us."
"Nice job. I need you to let me off outside Jandolar," Darren's rescuer said to West, pulling off his turban and running his hands through his curly, dark hair.
"I was told you were coming out with us?" West said, his tone indicating his uncertainty about his authority.
"No. I'm headed west. Our friend here was a payoff to the Taliban for services rendered. The rest of the hostages are still with Gul Zaman Salarzai."
"Yeah, but aren't they going to know that something isn't kosher as soon as they hear about tonight's little action".
"I'm still good here. Except for the men in this convoy no one knows I was here. I assume they are all accounted for?"
"Yeah, we captured two of them. They'll go back with us."
"Good. I can be in Wana tomorrow and in contact with Gul Zaman by tomorrow night. When you get debriefed tell your boss I'm going to need an extraction team in place north of Wana by the 17th. Tell him to have them meet me after 0100 hours 3 miles east of Dar es Waliba. I'll have my GPS transmitter and I'll stay put and let them come to me. I'm going to need ten new GPS transmitters, the real small ones that look like prayer beads. And obviously don't release this rescue to the media. Tell ONI that the Salarzai tribe has the rest of the hostages but are negotiating to either trade or sell some of them to Al-Qaeda so we need to move on this."
"All right, sir," a touch of uncertainty still evident in the other man's voice. "Can we tell the press about the co-pilot?"
Darren's rescuer ran his hand through his short-cropped hair again and then replaced his turban and said, "Sure… I think that's everything, except you guys got any local currency you can spare? I'm about tapped out." He gave a small chuckle. "Spent all my bus money getting here."
West repeated all of the information back to make sure he had everything correct. Then a quick exchange of currency and the car fell quiet.
"I'm going to get a little sleep before we get there. Been a long few days."
A few minutes later Daren felt his seatmate move further away from him as he slumped into the corner of the car with his head resting against the window. "Wake me when we get about five miles outside of town."
Darren said, "Thanks," to the slumbering figure on his right.
"No problem, Darren, we're glad to have you back," just for a second Darren saw a flash of white teeth in the darkness and then the other man turned away and was quiet. Darren thought he would never make another crack about Navy Seals being a bunch of muscle bound hot heads and he allowed his eyes to close in the darkness. 'Go Navy'. 'No Man Left Behind' was his last thoughts before he too fell asleep in the lurching, bouncing car.
Darren never felt the car slow to a stop when his rescuer disappeared into the darkness. Three hours later Darren was over the border into Afghanistan and aboard a helicopter and headed back to Bagram Airbase.
October 16th, 1300 Hours, 7 miles North of the village of Wana, South Waziristan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan.
United States Senator John Styles pulled his stinking blanket back up on his shoulders and looked down into the bowl of… of what he wondered? He sniffed it, yeah, mutton and rice, of course it could be goat, but it smelled more like mutton. No forks or even spoons just this funny flat bread. Styles glanced across at Lodhi, the Pakistani liaison guy, who was expertly scooping the goo up with a piece of the bread.
Some good that guy had been. He could talk the local lingo but no one would talk to them. Kept them locked in this stinking barn and fed them greasy old mutton. Nothing to sit on but big piles of hay; nothing to do, no television; no idea what was happening in the real world.
Styles scooped up a bite of the mutton and chewed it carefully. The stuff tended to run to gristle more then meat. As he chewed he surveyed his fellow prisoners. Carstairs was sitting next to him, as well he should, Robert was a good man, never forgot who he was working for. He frowned a bit as he saw the reporter, Craig, talking to the pilot. He didn't want this to turn into a Navy story--this was a Styles story, United States Senator kidnapped by terrorists. If he was going to have the be Jesus scared out of him he was at least going to get some good press from it. He would talk to the reporter again as soon as he finished this awful stew. He wondered how this was playing out at home.
Might be worth getting on that useless translator's case again. At least the guy could make some sort of an effort to get the sheep herders who were holding them to list some sort of demands. As far as Styles could tell all they did was feed them and walk them to and from the outhouse. He couldn't afford to spend much more time here. A week max and this story would be old news. He needed to be rescued or ransomed while his kidnapping was still on the front page.
Where the hell was the military. He had voted them a 9% increase in their budget last year, 11% for the Navy alone, and here he was sitting in a cowshed because the Navy couldn't take care of a simple helicopter. Where were the Navy SEALS? Didn't those guys rescue people?
October 17th, 0140 Hours, Wana/Dhansa Road, 7 dar es Waliba, South Waziristan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan.
Lee moved carefully through the dark rocks and brush until he reached the main road where he increased his speed to a fast walk. Hanging his AK-47 over his shoulder by its strap he reached under his jacket into the pocket of his gmis, he pulled out a small packet of dried meat which he ate as he walked.
So far so good, he decided. He had found the hostages with the Salarzai just where he had been told they would be. The SEAL team had arrived. His meeting with them had gone well and they were moving into position. He carefully didn't allow himself to think that things were going well. That sort of temptation of fate always led to disaster. Perhaps though disaster might yet be averted.
A nearly full moon aided Lee's walk enormously highlighting the ruts in the road with dark shadows. The clear visibility allowed him to alternate a steady mile-eating jog with periods of walking on the steeper uphill sections. Two hours later found him approaching the darkened compound. Carefully skirting the outer dry mud wall Lee made his way up to the highest ridge on the north side, moving slowly and never coming within a quarter mile of the actual wall. Satisfied that nothing had changed since he had left in the late afternoon to meet the SEAL team he found a relatively rock free spot and laid down to get a few hours sleep before his day began.
As he lay curled up in a tight ball minimizing his exposure to the cold night air under his thin woolen blanket, he allowed himself to think for just a moment about coffee, lovely, dark roasted coffee, black as night coffee, almost too hot to drink coffee. The hardest part of the last week had been the caffeine withdrawal. He sure missed his coffee. Laughing slightly at himself he closed his eyes and pretended to sleep while he rested and waited for a good time to begin the next act.
October 18th, 0700 Hours, 7 miles North of the village of Wana, South Waziristan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan.
Pason Salarzai leaned back against the pillar guarding the entrance to the compound and again scanned the empty, rock-strewn vista in front of his guard post. There was enough light for him to be sure that there was nothing on the road. The past three hours he had been relying upon his hearing more than his sight to keep his watch, and he was tired and bored. He absently rubbed his back against the mud brick pillars that marked the gate into the compound, while he thought about a hot cup of tea and a break from this monotony.
His break was unexpected, however, as he saw someone walking down the road toward the compound. They had been here four days and except for the jeep with the Al-Qaeda Arabs from Wana no one had approached the group of buildings. Everyone knew that they were here and that it was safer to avoid the area. Pason brought his rifle up to his waist and pointed the barrel down the road cautiously.
The approaching stranger called out "Salaam aalaikum."
"Waalaikum salaam," Pason answered automatically. "Who are you?" He yelled, standing straighter.
"I am Tamin Dakar from Jandolar. I have business with Izat Salarzai." Lee answered as he slowed and stopped fifty feet from the gate. Lee carefully held his hands out away from his body. "I am the nephew of Awalmir Dakar. I am known to Chanir Salarzai if my friend is here."
Finishing his speech, Lee squatted down on the side of the road knowing there would be a wait while his arrival was discussed. Any sensible Pashto knew to get down out of the early morning wind and cold if he had a long wait outside. Lee looked out over the rough gravel ground near him, off toward the mountains that dominated the view. The sky was clear and blue, the rising sun already offering some warmth after the freezing cold of the night, another beautiful day in the Himalayas.
The gate guard was now joined by two other men; alerted by the shouting. After a short conference one of these men walked back inside the gates and out of sight while one of the other two men approached Lee more closely, his AK-47 pointed directly at him, alert for any aggressive movement. This guard stopped about forty feet away his back to the rising sun, his rifle pointed at Lee. Lee sat still, both of his hands clearly visible. He and his guard remained silent neither man knowing the other well enough to engage in conversation.
This was the most dangerous part of his plan. It would be easiest for them to just shoot him and not worry about what he might want. His tribe, the Dakar, were a small tribe most useful to their larger neighboring tribes as smugglers into Afghanistan and Pakistan proper. While killing him might cause some hard feelings for a while between the Dakar and the Salarzai it was nothing that an exchange of sufficiently large gifts couldn't over come.
Still he thought curiosity was a strong motivator, especially in a place where information was limited. Once inside the compound and in face-to-face contact with the Salarzai it would be much harder for them to kill him without remorse. While he wasn't naïve enough to think that customary habits of hospitality would protect him, he knew that long custom would make shooting him out of hand much more difficult. The trick was getting to that point of contact without someone doing something he would regret.
After about fifteen minutes two new men appeared at the gate. One of them called out "Salaam aalaikum," and Lee thought he recognized the voice of Chanir Salarzai. The two of them had spent several weeks smuggling a caravan of weapons into Afghanistan a year ago and had gotten on as well as two men from different tribes could on that trip.
"Waalaikum salaam," Lee answered, rising slowly to his feet. "You sound like the great freedom fighter, Chanir Salarzai. Perhaps you remember your guide of the Paktika Pass, Tamin Dakar."
The other man walked slowly toward Lee from the gate, holding his AK-47 with the barrel pointed down and slightly away from him. Lee kept his hands well away from his body and stood still as the older man approached.
"You look well, Dakar." The man said standing about ten feet away his rifle still pointed more muzzle down than not.
Lee had enjoyed this man's company on their trek and knew that had their tribes been a bit closer the two could have been good friends. They had the same slightly sardonic sense of humor that allowed them to appreciate some of the absurdity of their lives. "Inshallah, Chanir, I am as well as Allah allows," Lee said smiling. "I see life treats you well."
"Inshallah, my friend," the other returned but made no move to come closer. "You seek something here?"
"I have business with Izat Salarzai. I was told in Wana I might find him here," Lee continued to keep his hands carefully away from his body and his head turned slightly away from the other man.
"So you told Pason. What business do the Dakar have with the Salarzai?" No change in Chanir's half aggressive half passive stance.
"It is a family matter with Izat, not a tribal matter with the Salarzai." Lee said answering many questions with this one statement. This was not an issue to do with the Salarzai and their hostages, which everyone within a 100-mile radius knew about, even if the Pakistani authorities claimed they couldn't find any clue as to the hostage's location. This was also not a tribal issue between the Salarzai and their neighboring tribe of the Dakar. This was a personal issue between Tamin's family and Izat's.
Chanir nodded to Lee and walked back toward the gate and disappeared inside the compound again. Lee sat back down on the side of the road to wait some more.
Twenty minutes later Chanir reappeared and walked back out to Lee's position. This time he carried his rifle by the sling over his shoulder. When Lee rose to his feet he politely kept his hands away from his body in respect for the other man's sign of trust with the rifle.
"Will you take tea with Gul Zaman?" Chanir asked stopping in front of him.
"With pleasure," Lee said, he carefully kept all signs of the great relief he felt from his face and voice. He hoped this would be the hardest part of his plan but very much doubted it. The trouble with plans was they never went entirely the way you wanted.
The two men walked down the dusty road into the compound followed by the guard, his rifle casually pointed down toward the dirt road. The guard was closer now, no more then ten feet away, less concerned about a bomb now that Lee had been invited inside the compound.
The three men stopped at the gate. "While I know you, Tamin, others here do not," Chanir shrugged his shoulders slightly.
"Perhaps those who don't know me would feel more comfortable if I was searched before I entered your home?" Lee knew that he would not be allowed into the compound without a thorough search. Courtesy made such a search unpleasant. Good sense made it a necessity.
"I, of course, know that such is not necessary but others would be more comfortable," Chanir continued the pretext of the new good manners that IED's and human bombs had made so necessary.
"I would not want anyone uncomfortable in their hospitality. I am a stranger here and would wish to ease their minds," Lee held his hands away from his body at shoulder height. He had known that his weapons would be confiscated so he had left his pack and his AK-47 up in the hills as any peaceful visitor would. The Salarzai would know that he had left a rifle and pack somewhere around the compound but probably wouldn't bother to go look for it. They would expect to do the same if visiting any other tribe alone or in a small party and no one likes to lose their weapon needlessly.
The gate guard, Pason, quickly and expertly searched him, removed the pistol and knife from Lee's belt and handed them to Chanir. Chanir stuck the pistol into his own belt and handed the knife back to Lee. A gun might be used to cause a great deal of harm but no man could be expected to go completely unarmed.
Lee took the knife and returned it to its sheath, nodded his thanks to Chanir.
Pason returned his back to the stone portal and his gaze to the road and the three men disappeared into the compound behind him. He was disappointed that he had to remain on guard duty and not hear what the strange Dakar wanted with Izat. But he would know soon enough. Stuck out here for almost a week and nothing had happened. Surely they would all be rich soon when their captives were sold. Pason returned to thinking about what he would do with his new wealth. He could buy a smallholding of his own with a house. He could think about marriage, a family, and a son. He smiled to himself. Inshallah, his life could become much better; he was about to become a man of substance.
October 18th, 0830 Hours 7 miles north of Wana, South Waziristan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan.
The Salarzai compound was just like thousands of others all over northwestern Pakistan. The courtyard was dirt with a well in the middle. The good water of the well probably being the reason the whole compound was located where it was. Six buildings and a low wall surrounded the central courtyard. The buildings and the wall were all built of the local dirt, shaped into mud bricks so that the whole complex nearly disappeared into the surrounding ground, like an optical illusion. The shadows cast by the buildings in the early morning sunlight seeming to have more substance then the structures themselves.
In front of the largest structure, three older men stood waiting for Chanir and Lee. There were half a dozen other men scattered about the area. Some of the men were armed with the ubiquitous AK-47s others with M-1s and even an old Lee-Enfield.
Lee stopped about ten feet from the older men and nodded his head respectfully. "Gul Zaman Salarzai, Greetings from my uncle, Awalmir Dakar."
The middle of the three men nodded his head guardedly at Lee. "Salaam aalaikum. Do I know you young Dakar?" He asked not unkindly.
"I doubt you will recall me, sir. We met five years ago on the road to Khowst. I drove for my uncle," Lee spoke very respectfully to this elder of the Salarzai tribe keeping his eyes carefully downcast.
"Ah, I remember. You are the French boy," Gul Zaman turned to his companions as he explained. "Awalmir sent this boy to France to school." Turning back to Lee he asked. "So, not a boy any more I see, but still a long way from home?"
"Sarwar, any distance from home is a long distance," Lee touched his right hand to his heart respectfully.
"I see they have at least not ruined your manners in that Christian place. Will you have tea?"
After refusing politely Lee finally allowed himself to be persuaded to join the old man for a cup of tea and further negotiation. Two hours later, after giving the old reprobate the Rolex watch he had brought for that purpose, it was decided that Izat was indeed in the compound and might be willing to meet with a Dakar.
Good manners forbade Gul Zaman asking out right what the requested meeting was about. Lee managed to allow that it was a family matter, a matter of family honor. Izat's reputation for having an eye for the girls was such that the old man had very little doubt as to the sort of issue Lee wished to discuss with his cousin's son.
The old man drank another cup of tea with Lee and considered his request. The men had been sitting in this compound for four days while Gul Zaman attempted to finesse his windfall of captives into wealth for his tribe. Zaman knew that the meeting between the Dakar boy and Izat would at least be entertaining. Since the Dakar had no gun he decided it would probably be safe enough as well. If anyone got killed it would be the Dakar and he was not the responsibility of the Sarwar of the Salarzai. He had after all come here seeking Izat and whatever trouble came of that. Still being a leader meant that a man had to consider all the possible effects of such a decision. It never paid to rush into a decision when a man had time to consider all implications.
Zaman sipped his tea and considered the other man, who sat respectfully opposite him waiting. He didn't look very big or strong, tall certainly, but not as tall as Izat, and not nearly as heavy. He smiled, his decision made. Having decided he could now relax and enjoy this visit.
Another hour passed in idle conversation about the condition of the grazing in the high pastures; the health of various common acquaintances; and several stories of Salarzai skullduggery. Lee congratulated the Salarzai in their clever kidnapping of the westerners telling the elders that it was the talk of the Dakar that they had bested the Americans in this way. There was a general stirring in the house as the young men along the wall straightened and exchanged prideful looks with each other. Pleased that the story of their exploit had already spread as far as the Dakar, never mind that it had spread all around the world. The world for the Salarzai was their tribe, the other tribes, and the rest of humanity a distant nowhere. Finally, Gul Zaman decided good manners would allow him to move forward with this young man's request.
"Let us call for Izat. He is near. I am sure he will enjoying seeing an old acquaintance of the Dakar." The old man smiled at Lee fairly sure he knew what was coming. Lee returned his smile a tad tightly. He had gone to some pains to make sure the old man knew exactly what he wanted from Izat. He didn't want any surprises here or any more ill will than the event was going to require.
These were not complicated men. They lived by a very rigid code that didn't allow a man to look too long upon a girl in the market square completely covered in a chador, but saw nothing wrong about kidnapping a group of diplomats and holding them for ransom. While Lee didn't exactly agree with their code, he enjoyed knowing at all times what constituted acceptable behavior.
He had known Gul Zaman for almost ten years. The Dakar and the Salarzai were both small tribes that often allied with each other in bits of banditry or smuggling. Lee had met several of the men in the compound on various trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan over the years and liked and respected them, albeit with the careful respect one gave any potentially dangerous, but currently friendly, adversary. He hoped he could complete this mission without harming any of these men. He wanted to get the GPS devices to the hostages and in their building so the SEALS would know where they were. Then he hoped a quick SEAL attack, in and out of the building in the dark, and this might yet end with honor and life intact on both sides.
As a group Gul Zaman and his two older companions, the three men who had accompanied them inside to act as guards along with Chanir, and Lee rose and walked outside into the now bright sunshine. At a nod from Zaman one of the men ran over to another large building. In a few moments he returned followed by Izat Salarzai who had no doubt been sitting inside waiting for this summons.
Lee turned and watched him approach. Izat was only slightly taller then Lee but easily outweighed him by fifty pounds. Izat appeared to be about Lee's age late twenties, early thirties although the long beard made it a bit difficult to gauge his age accurately. Another smaller man, as well as the guard who had gone to fetch him followed Izat. This second man appeared younger and bore a strong familial resemblance to Izat. Lee didn't think he had met him before and assumed he must be a brother or cousin, although in this tribal compound they were probably all cousins. The trick here was going to be getting the Salarzai angry enough to throw Lee into their local lock-up without getting them so angry they killed him.
When Izat was about fifteen feet away Lee began walking toward him speaking loudly as he approached the other man. He wanted there to be no misunderstanding as to what this was about. "I am Tamin Dakar. I am the nephew of Awalmir Dakar. I am the cousin of Rashtina Dakar. Babrak Dakar, the brother of Rashtina died crossing the dara'h into Afghanistan. I stand brother to Rashtina in this matter of honor." By this time the two men were standing nearly toe-to-toe. "You have dishonored my sister in the market place in Jandolar. Everyone in the village saw you dishonor her with your look."
This seemed entirely adequate to Lee and was certainly sufficient warning to Izat. Saying no more Lee launched himself at the Salarzai. He needed to lose this fight and had already determined he was much less likely to get hurt wrestling then if he let the big man hit him. So he was eager to get the fight to the ground as quickly as possible. If he could get this done without any broken bones he was sure Jamie, his doctor and medical nemesis, would applaud his efforts. His last thought as his body left the ground in a tackle aimed at Izat's middle was that he wished so much tea drinking could have been avoided.
Fifteen minutes later as he was being dragged across the compound into yet another mud brick building. He decided that all and all he had done fairly well. Izat had won the fight easily hence gaining some stature among his friends and relatives. This had put him in a reasonably generous frame of mind. After beating Lee around a bit he had asked if Dakar honor was satisfied. Lee had happily agreed that all honor was satisfied.
So expansive had Izat been in victory he had even offered Lee a ride into Wana in the jeep in the morning. Of course, being a Pashto, he wasn't going to take the chance on an enemy sneaking in and stabbing him in the back, so Lee was to be locked up in the only building with a secure door until the morning. It was unfortunate that not only Izat and his brother but the guard too had joined in the fray. Lee guessed that he had a couple of cracked ribs in addition to the cut lip and the bruise on his cheek. Still it could have been worlds worse, Izat could have shot him.
Izat's brother, he thought his name was Lawang, and their friend the guard, dropped Lee in the middle of the dirt floor of a dark storage building of some sort. The first thing he noticed was that the room had a strong smell of sheep. This smell rising from the dirt was so strong it made his eyes tear. They had probably been stabling sheep in this building for five hundred years. The urine must have permeated the dirt down twenty feet by this time and it was rising back up in noxious waves. He guessed that was a good thing, meant his nose wasn't broken.
He carefully rolled over on to his right side with a slight groan he couldn't quite restrain. He lay on his side for a few moments with his knees bent while he tried to catch his breath without breathing. Damn, he'd had a lot of cracked and broken ribs in his life and knew it was going to be a couple of months before he enjoyed another deep breath. Mentally giving himself a shake for being a wuss he felt in his pocket for the prayer beads. This needed to be done before something unexpected happened.
Working one handed in his pocket he separated the string of beads removed six beads from the string and held them in his hand. Then slowly rolling over he propped himself up on his hands and knees and examined as much of the room as he could see in the dim light.
Yeah, it was an old barn or sheep shed he guessed. The flat roof was about seven feet high and seemed to be tin on top of peeled logs. There were no windows but the areas around the roof rafters were not filled with the ubiquitous mud bricks, which allowed some light to filter into the area. Lee guessed the building was about 15' by 30'. The floor was swept clean by the entrance where he knelt but most of the rest of it was covered in old straw or hay. In the northeast corner he could see several people sitting on what looked like fresh straw studying him.
He had hit the jackpot. He did a quick count. Looked like five people. They were still all together and he had found them. It was all he could do not to smile as he pushed himself up to rest on his folded knees. Once the room stopped spinning he rose to his feet. He got upright, but remained bent over slightly his left arm wrapped protectively around his ribs as he half walked half staggered across the building to the far wall. Turning around he slowly slide down the wall until he sat on the ground about five feet from the group of men.
As soon as he had his breathing under control again he said, "Salaam aalaikum," touching his right hand to his breast in respect and nodding to the men.
"Waalaikum salaam," a man responded, returning Lee's slight bow of the head.
Lee had spent hours studying dossiers and pictures of the hostages on his flight to Morocco a week ago. These men didn't look much like their pictures any more. They were dirty, bearded and very tired looking. He decided he was probably tired, dirty and bearded himself and again almost smiled. He was feeling quite euphoric. He'd been very confident in his analysis of everything he had heard in the past six days. He had been very sure these men were here. It was so good to see that he had been right. He took himself to task a bit and straightened up against the wall, wincing as his ribs reminded him how close he had come to not having this work out.
He dug down into the dirt along the edge of the wall on his side away from the hostages. Once he had a hole a couple of inches deep he dropped the string with the remaining prayer beads into the hole and covered it over.
Now whatever else happened he had the building marked for the SEALS and he would shortly have gotten rid of the only thing, other then his own GPS locator in the sole of his boot, that might identify him as anything other than a simple tribesman.
He was sure that the most sophisticated piece of eavesdropping equipment the kidnappers had was an ear to a keyhole. He had his opportunity here and he'd better get on with this before someone wised up to the possibilities inherent in this situation.
There was no way to get homing devices on these men without revealing that he had the devices and that he was not what he appeared. He had decided before coming into the compound that it was best done quickly. No point in waiting for some "better time." If he waited he could easily find this opportunity gone with none to replace it.
He rose a bit shakily to his feet and walked away from where he had hidden the beads and toward the group of hostages. He stood for a moment trying to make eye contact with each of the men in the group to make sure they were awake and aware of him. The group didn't look too excited to see him. They all sat leaning against the shed wall wrapped in heavy wool blankets, no doubt supplied against the autumn cold by the Salarzai.
He lowered himself to the ground again. He would have preferred to sit in the middle of the room facing the men leaning against the wall but he didn't think his ribs would allow him to sit up without something to lean against. He knew he didn't look too prepossessing. It wouldn't do their confidence in him any good if he fell over in a faint. So he carefully lowered himself to the ground against the wall in the middle of the group.
He sat silently allowing the men to study him. The men all looked healthy and uninjured. They were distrustful of Lee's foreign appearance but delighted by his American English when he began to speak.
"I am Tamin Dakar. I need you all to listen very carefully and say nothing. Act as if you are being watched and don't discuss this with each other later." Lee hoped that these men's degree of stealth would exceed the Salarzai level of surveillance. He certainly had no reason to think it wouldn't, based upon the performance of his captors thus far. He didn't allow himself to dwell too long upon the fact that it was this very level of incompetence that would also make his captors susceptible to a take over by any of the many stronger more aggressive groups and tribes that frequented this unsettled part of the world.
"I'm a scout for a rescue team that will be getting you out of here either tonight or tomorrow night. I have a small homing device for each of you. I need you to each take one of these beads and put it in your pocket and keep it safe. It's how we will find you in the dark." Lee dropped the beads in the hands of the men on either side of him and waited while they were passed out.
He again studied the group as he waited. The Salarzai had been kidnapping and holding people for ransom for a thousand years. This was a large part of their livelihood and they were very good at it in an amateurish sort of way. Part of their success was in keeping their hostages comfortable and feeling safe enough that they didn't try to escape. It looked as if they had been successful with this group.
"I don't know when exactly your rescue will come, but either tonight or tomorrow night. You need to do nothing. When the excitement starts you stay here. Someone will come for you. Don't leave the building unless you must. Stay as a group so they can rescue you all at once and not one at a time" Lee again stopped speaking and let everyone digest what he had said. "I have no more information. I am mostly just a goat herder in these hills, doing a favor. I am going to go to the other side of the room. Please ignore me for whatever time I remain here." He looked over the group as he finished speaking catching Craig's eye. The goat-herder comment was Lee's identification for the CIA agent. He doubted the others knew that Craig was actually working for the Agency. He was just a little concerned that the man might not recognize the call sign, but might actually think he was a goat herder. He was pleased to catch the other man's eye for a moment before Craig glanced away.
Lee allowed the others to continue thinking of him as a Pakistani local who spoke good English. They were much less likely to look to him for answers or leadership if they thought him a messenger and not a rescuer. He didn't want his cover blown if it was possible. Anything could happen in the next moment and he wanted to leave himself as many options to act as possible.
"Wait, I have some questions," Senator Styles said grabbing Lee by the arm as he started trying to rise.
"I'm sorry, sir. I have no answers. I know only what I have told you," Lee allowed a little sharpness into his tone. He wanted this group to obey any orders they received. He knew with men accustomed to commanding others it was hard to get obedience, especially when they were frightened and thought that talk could solve a problem. The Senator had promised to be the most difficult member of the group. Lee wanted to try and cow him as much as possible now, rather then waiting until the bullets were flying in the dark. "You must wait and do nothing. I'm sorry I know that is difficult, but it is all I can offer you now."
So saying Lee looked over at the reporter, Craig, and said, "could you give me a hand up, please?"
He was anxious now that his message had been delivered to put some physical distance between himself and the captives, so as to avoid making the indifferent Salarzai suspicious. He had a bit of a struggle getting to his feet but he thought he managed to make it look fairly good. Just as he got to his feet he stumbled a bit and bumped into Craig. So doing he managed to slip the knife under Craig's jacket. He doubted he would be much good in a knife fight with his sore ribs and figured the knife would do the CIA agent more good then hanging on his belt, useless. Then, his arm still wrapped around his middle, he slowly walked to the other side of the barn and slid back down the wall to the floor.
Thinking he had a long wait he tried to get as comfortable as his ribs would allow and sleep. Both comfort and sleep eluded him but he figured at least he was resting.
October 18th, 1245 Hours 7 miles north of Wana, South Waziristan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan.
John Styles watched the self-confessed goat herder weave drunkenly across the barn and collapse back down on the floor. He glanced over toward the door into the barn. He would like to talk about this…bizarre development with someone, but didn't want to ruin its possible success. He looked at Carstairs where he was sitting on his right. The younger man gave him a bit of a shrug of the shoulder.
"He doesn't exactly inspire confidence," Styles says. "I think he must be drunk or something and I don't really trust the locals after all this," Styles waved his hand in an arc either indicating the barn or the whole of Pakistan, he wasn't sure himself. He just knew he didn't like putting his possibility of rescue in the keeping of a man who herded goats for a living and was apparently so inebriated he could hardly walk.
"Well, he found us," Carstairs said.
"Yes," Styles ruminated. "He found us or the Pakistani's or the Army found us and hired him to come in and give us the message," probably the former he decided. Glancing over at the messenger again he wondered about the judgment of his rescue team. Fingering the little bead in his pocket he decided that on the whole, he preferred being found. They had been missing now for too long. The news cycle would be passing him by soon.
He figured there would be a small news blitz whenever he was found, but if he was rescued at the same time the big story of the kidnapping was still running it would be a much bigger splash. He would also get publicity from the book he would be writing about this, of course. But books only got the intellectuals, the people who read books. His strength was from those who got their news from television, preferably FOX News. That market segment would be moving on to Halloween soon. He needed to get home while he was still at the top of the ratings.
He wondered if he could help with the rescue. He should try and do something dramatic when the actual rescue started, something that everyone would comment upon when they were interviewed later. Maybe he could save someone's life or something. He would try and drag Robert out of the building at the very least. Maybe the goat herder would be so drunk he could rescue him. That would be good for the ethnic vote, but not so good for the mainstream. He didn't want to rescue a terrorist. No he would try and rescue Robert that would be safer all around.
October 18th, 1340 Hours 7 miles north of Wana, South Waziristan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan.
Lee had more success sleeping then he'd anticipated since he only woke when the barn door opened spilling bright light into their shadowy domain. As he carefully sat up Chanir came over to him and squatted down beside him.
"Would you join my cousin Diar and I for a noon meal?"
"And leave this place?" Lee quipped accepting the other man's aid in rising, "you do me much honor, which is much appreciated." He smiled at Chanir. He had always liked this man and certainly saw no reason to change his mind.
As they walked out of the shed Chanir said, "you don't visit with our other guests?"
"Infidels. I had enough visiting with them in France," he allowed a little sneer of disdain. "Besides I would not want the Salarzai to think I was trying to extend my tribe's hospitality to their guests."
Chanir joined his laughter as he carefully locked the door and led the way across the compound to the large building where Lee had earlier shared tea with Gul Zaman and his cronies.
The hut easily held the dozen men sitting in the middle of the room. Lee bowed respectfully to Gul Zaman and nodded briefly to Izat before taking his place at the bottom of the circle beside Chanir. The food seemed to be some sort of mutton and rice stew. Lee thought he was probably hungry not having had anything since the handful of dried meat the night before but his stomach was still unhappy about the earlier beating so he ate very sparingly.
Out of respect for his presence one of the stories Gul Zaman told was of Lee's rescue of a packhorse on a trip into Afghanistan several year's before. The rescue had involved some nice bits of belaying to get the clumsy horse back up the mountain to the trail and the men all appeared to enjoy the tale, probably more than the horse and Lee had enjoyed the adventure at any rate. There were other stories of daring do and skullduggery and Lee found himself laughing more then he wanted to when Izat's cousin told of his aborted courtship of a local Iman's daughter, only to end up proposing to the Iman's aged aunt. The impromptu story fest came to an abrupt end with the arrival of a panting guard at the door and his announcement, "trucks, Sarwar, many trucks coming fast."
Lee managed to get to his feet as fast as the rest, though he had to pause for a moment to catch his breath, before quickly stepping to the side to allow the mass exodus from the building. Before the noise of the trucks reached the compound the men were all armed and hidden along the south-facing wall toward the oncoming trucks. Lee followed Chanir and took cover next to him about 50 feet to the east of the gate on the same side of the compound as the hostage's building. This was very bad, Lee thought, very, very bad.
The trucks actually consisted of two Land Rovers followed by two Iveco 4x4 cargo trucks with sand colored tarpaulin's over their cargo areas, the last vehicle was another Land Rover. Lee could see the two lead Land Rovers each had a German MG3 machine gun mounted in their open rear sections. This was an awful lot of firepower for a unit of the Taliban. This looked much more like a group of the better-financed Al-Qaeda. This suspicion was confirmed when Lee got a good look at the two men who climbed out of the lead Land Rover and began walking toward the gate. He had seen pictures of al-Ash'ari and recognized a local mid-level Al-Qaeda member. This was very bad indeed.
One of the two old men from the morning's tea ceremony walked out to meet al-Ash'ari half way accompanied by Izat. The conversation lasted about ten minutes. During the whole time there was not a sound in the compound. Lee was not the only one who knew that the Salarzai were in trouble here. They were clearly out gunned and, Lee suspected, unable to see into the trucks, that they were out manned as well.
Finally, the meeting ended and the two men walked back into the compound. Lee turned his back on the convoy of Arab terrorists to watch Gul Zaman and the two old men conferring. The Salarzai did not have a great deal to bargain with here and they would know it. Lee was not surprised to see Gul Zaman gesture to the three men guarding the gate behind an old Nissan truck.
The men pushed the truck out of the way just as the first of the Al-Qaeda trucks arrived at the gate. Within moments the five vehicles had pulled into the yard and disgorged twenty-five men.
Where the Salarzai were armed with a combination of weapons from WWI vintage Lee-Enfields to AK-47s and every imaginable weapon in between these men all had AK-47s and they looked new and well cared for. Even without the additional firepower of the three MG3s the Salarzai were hopelessly out gunned.
In a reprise of this morning Gul Zaman and his two old pals stood in the doorway again making welcome a visitor. This time their guest was Moudha bin Basamed. According to the briefing Lee had received en route to Morocco this man was the current Al-Qaeda leader in the Tribal Areas. That explained the over armed Arab guard detail that accompanied him, Lee hoped.
Gul Zaman clearly didn't wish to invite this unwanted guest into his home and addressed him in the courtyard with just enough hospitality to avoid rudeness and loudly enough for all to hear. After the short exchange of pleasantries the Arab said with an abruptness that would have been rude even by western standards, "you have an informer in your midst, Salarzai."
"Indeed, such a thing would be very unfortunate," Gul Zaman, said gravely after a momentary pause while he decided how offended he wanted to be by the other man's rudeness.
"The Americans have been informed that you have their people. They are even now planning to attack you" Bin Basamed smiled triumphantly.
Yeah, Lee thought this was looking very bad indeed for both him and the Salarzai. This rudeness on bin Basamed's part was a disrespect for both Gul Zaman and his tribe. It was an unnecessary disrespect and Lee feared that it boded ill for Al-Qaeda's ultimate plan here.
"You have been misinformed. We are all family here. Salarzai do not inform on family." This was so patently true that bin Basamed stood silent for a moment. Then he slowly turned surveying the men gathered around in a lose group listening to the conversation.
"All Salarzai? No one but Salarzai have been here?"
Yup, not going well Lee thought as he stepped forward. "Not all Salarzai," he said deciding he would try and get out in front of this fairly hopeless situation.
"Indeed," a small smile on his face bin Basamed turned and looked at Lee.
"Indeed," Lee said, in for a penny in for a pound "I am Dakar and Dakar do not inform on Salarzai."
"Not family" bin Basamed stated both the obvious and the fact that not being family would allow a Dakar to make whatever profit he might choose from another tribe.
"Inshallah," Lee said "but who could not inform on the Salarzai? Everyone in Wana knows the Sarwar of the Salarzai is here? Who does not know in all of Waziristan that the Salarzai have the Americans? I am here, who here would buy that information?"
Several of the Salarzai turned away nervously as Lee scored one off the Arab. The Salarzai were not pleased by the invasion of their compound by this superior force of Arabs but they were also not fools. They knew they were in trouble and so while they were not displeased to see the Dakar out talk this Al-Qaeda, they were careful not to show too much approbation.
Lee figured a strong offense here was not only the best defense, but also his only defense. Only a fool of a Dakar, who had nothing to fear from Al-Qaeda, would take on bin Basamed. At least Lee hoped that was what Basamed would figure. He hoped to at least make the Arab curious about why Lee was so confident, curious enough to make him ask, instead of shooting out of hand.
"Why would a Dakar be hundreds of miles from his home? Are you indeed a Dakar or an American spy?" bin Basamed asked nodding toward a couple of the Al-Qaeda standing near one of the trucks. Lee ignored the two men as they walked over to stand near him, their rifles not exactly pointed at him but certainly not pointing away either.
"bin Basadmed, effendi, I have known this man for ten years. Salarzai and Dakar run supplies to freedom fighters. This man and I, we have helped the freedom fighters many times." He was astonished to hear Chanir speak for him, to see him still standing at his side. Good for the Salarzai that took some courage. He hoped it didn't get the man killed.
"I am here on a matter of honor," Lee jumped in to take attention from Chanir. He wished now that this story wasn't so weak. Although he couldn't think of anything else that would have gotten him to where he was. Not that where he was looked all that great at the moment.
"A matter of honor," bin Basamed sneered at him as he took a couple of steps forward. "I doubt a matter of honor brought you so conveniently to the Salarzai just as they found themselves with this treasure."
At a gesture from bin Basamed the two Al-Qaeda guards now had their rifles pointed directly at Lee. A slight shrug from Chanir and Lee was standing isolated in the middle of the courtyard. Al-Ash'ari walked up from his place near bin Basamed and, after the two guards grabbed Lee's arms, expertly searched him removing the few thousand rupees Lee had in his pocket and his cheap watch. Ash'ari turned and showed them to bin Basamed who shrugged and said, "ask him."
Lee tightened his abdominal muscles as well as his sore ribs would allow having a pretty good idea of what was coming. So when Al-Ash'ari spun a round and landed a couple of punches to his gut he wasn't as devastated as he allowed himself to look. He needed to move these questions away from his gut though; before an unlucky punch put a rib into some bit of him he was going to need later. He allowed his legs to collapse and hung limply from the two guards moaning, he hoped, pitifully. It wasn't too hard an act, his stomach was getting quite a work out today.
"Is there something you would like to tell me?" bin Basamed approached closer now that Lee had been more thoroughly searched. One thing thousands of years of warfare had taught both the Pashto and Arabs was not to get too close to a prisoner until you knew he was well and truly defenseless.
Lee just looked at Basamed. This was a villain on a whole new level from the Salarzai. This was a man who strapped explosives on children and sent them into crowded market places to kill other children. This man thought nothing of killing a hundred to get the one he wanted dead. He was, also, a much more sophisticated villain then poor old Gul Zaman. He was going to need to feel he had forced Lee to tell him what he knew. He wouldn't buy a quick surrender. Lee remained mute.
What followed was a lesson for the Salarzai as much as for Lee so it was done in the center of the compound where all could see. It mostly consisted of giving his body a good working over with Al-Ash'ari's fists and feet. Once the guards dropped him, Lee tried to curl up into as much of a ball as he could to protect his head and wait Ash'ari out. Kicking and punching a man is hard work if you intend to do him some damage. Lee figured Ash'ari was only up to five minutes of that much work before he would be seriously winded, especially up here at almost 10,000 feet.
After a few minutes the man sounded like a horse after a long gallop. Basamed showed his henchman some mercy and the kicking stopped. Lee was glad that the cold climate had everyone wearing about 4 layers of clothing.
"I have many men here, would you like another to take over or would you like to tell us why you are truly here?"
"Yes, yes," Lee didn't have any trouble sounding like he was anxious to talk. He was very anxious to get to his fall back position before he was damaged too badly to be useful.
Looking up at bin Basamed from where he continued lying in the dirt he went to plan B. "The Dakar have no desire for trouble with the jihadists."
"So? The Dakar seek trouble with the Salarzai?" bin Basamed asked.
"No, no trouble with the Salarzai. The Dakar and Salarzai share many interests. Not so the Tarkhani and the Salarzai" Lee explained. "When the allies of the Tarkhani sought to know what had become of the American prisoners they asked the Dakar to enquire of the Salarzai."
Lee knew that bin Basamed had been in the tribal area with Al-Qaeda long enough to understand that this meant Lee had been sent by the Dakar to spy on the Salarzai for the Tarkhani tribe's allies, the Taliban. Lee figured this for a fairly strong fall back position. Al-Qaeda wouldn't be interested in getting into a fight with the Taliban. This reluctance for any conflict between the two most powerful groups in the tribal area had kept the Taliban client tribe, the Tarkhani, safe from Al-Qaeda interference for years. Lee hoped to pull a little of that protection over himself now, posing as an agent of the Tarkhani.
"So you spy on the Salarzai for the Tarkhani?" bin Basamed was clearly trying to get a taste of this idea. Trying to feel both its validity and its repercussions if the Taliban were moving on the Salarzai and if the Dakar were allying with the Taliban. As Lee had explained to the SEALS--was it just last night--the American hostages had put a precarious arrangement of alliance and balances into a new state of flux. Lee hoped to stir the pot a bit more with this insinuation while also he hoped saving his own life.
"I visit my friends, the Salarzai," Lee rolled over and rose to his knees as he spoke and looked more defiantly at bin Basamed. He needed to play this just right if he was going to carry it off. He needed enough confidence to sound like he came from a position with sufficient strength to merit not killing him, but not so strong he was a threat to Al-Qaeda. He counted on Al-Qaeda's well-known arrogance to make up for any misjudgment on his part.
"Noomyalay Tarkhani asked my uncle, the Sarwar of the Dakar, to see if the Salarzai guarded the Americans adequately. If perhaps the Salarzai needed help protecting their prisoners." Lee looked at Chanir apologetically as he spoke. He was sorry to have betrayed his trust but only a fool trusted outside his own tribe and Chanir knew this as well as Lee. Chanir gave him a slight shrug and Lee nodded his head back. He knew this interchange would not have been missed by bin Basamed and would add further credence to his story.
He knew that everyone there would read this as the Taliban wanting to know if the Salarzai indeed had enough fighters to make stealing the prisoners away too difficult to be worth while. Since the twenty-five Al-Qaeda in the compound made the answer to this obvious Lee didn't feel any further elaboration was necessary.
"Even so," bin Basamed turned back to Gul Zaman "a Taliban spy then from the Dakar."
Bin Basamed walked back over to Gul Zaman but continued to speak loudly enough for everyone in the area to hear. "Fortunate for the Salarzai that they are allied with Al-Qaeda, since the Taliban are seeking to profit from their great success against the infidels."
"Effendi?" Al-Ash'ari asked Basamed.
"You have a secure place we can keep this Taliban spy?" bin Basamed asked Gul Zaman not bothering to respond to the implied question from Al-Ash'ari.
Gul Zaman jerked his head at Chanir, and Lee found himself being dragged across the compound to the sheep shed for the second time that day. He was glad he had eaten frugally at the earlier meal with the Salarzai. Greasy mutton was never one of his favorite meals. He was thankful the small amount of rice he had eaten stayed in his stomach in spite of the best efforts of Al-Ash'ari to displace it.
The shed was just as stinking and dark as when he left but seemed much more welcoming. This time when he was dropped in the middle of the room Lodhi brought him a cup of water. The Pakistani helped him to roll over and even supported his head as he took a few swallows of the warm, metallic tasting water. "Are you okay?" Lodhi asked in Pashto.
Both men were very conscious of two Al-Qaeda guards leaning back against the wall either side of the still open door, with their guns in their hands, watching. Lodhi helped Lee up to his feet and with his assistance Lee half walked half staggered over to the back wall. He carefully directed Lodhi to a place twenty feet from the hostages. He wanted to try and keep the problem of the Taliban and the Dakar and the hostages separate in the mind of bin Basamed. Once he was leaning against the wall he returned the cup to Lodhi and said, "Thanks, now go to your friends," loud enough for the guards to hear him. Then he leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes and tried to think. There were a lot of allegiances and ambitions in play now. He wasn't sure if he still had any markers or if he was out of the game.
Lee opened his eyes, surprised when Lodhi addressed him from right next to him. He had thought the man was wise enough to walk away when he had instructed him to do so. Lee felt a flash of annoyance. He had been stupid to assume the other man knew how dangerous this situation was. "What's happened? Who is here?" The Pakistani asked him, the anxiety all the hostages must feel evident in his voice, at least he asked the question in Pashto, Lee thought, thank goodness for small blessings.
"The Jihadists are here," Lee said in as grand a tone as his sore stomach would allow. Al-Qaeda liked to think they were the only true fighters for Islam and it never hurt to try and suck up to one's captors. "The Salarzai are merchants. The Jihadists will liberate the Americans for Islam."
Lee figured that should be enough information for Lodhi to figure out what was going on and inform the others. He also knew that if Lodhi was indeed Pakistani ISI the man was wise enough to understand that their difficult position had become much more dangerous in the past hour.
The Salarzai would not want to lose control over the most valuable commodity the tribe had ever possessed. The next event would be some sort of an altercation between the Al-Qaeda forces and the Salarzai. Lee very much feared that wily as old Gul Zaman was he wouldn't be able to walk away from the hostages and give in to Al-Qaeda. No Sarwar had enough prestige to give in without some sort of a fight with this much on the line.
Unfortunately, Lee knew that bin Basamed was as capable of doing this simple planning as Lee was. So either a deal would be made and the hostages would be split or there was going to be a Salarzai massacre. Always assuming, Lee almost smiled, that the Taliban didn't show up in the next few minutes.
Had there been any doubt of this, the sudden eruption of gunfire from the courtyard an hour later put paid to those hopes. The firefight lasted for about twenty minutes followed by several single pistol shots spread over another couple of minutes. Lee figured the latter was Al-Ash'ari killing any survivors.
Lee found his throat suddenly very dry and he waited to see what his fate was to be. The Al-Qaeda convoy had to have come on the Wana/Dhansi road. That road was the only track that could take trucks through these mountains. Both villages were in the Salarzai tribal area so there was no doubt the locals would know who had killed these men. Killing Lee would not keep the secret. Killing him though might add to Al-Qaeda's problems by adding a Dakar feud to the Salarzai one they had just started. Perhaps they would not want two tribes waiting in ambush every time an Al-Qaeda operative showed his face in Waziristan, perhaps?
There was no way that the ten-man SEAL extraction team he had met with last night could take this place in the dark with twenty-five well armed Al-Qaeda alerted and waiting for them. He needed to get the hostages and these Arabs out in the open where the SEALS could deal with them.
This whole area of Waziristan was a Salarzai tribal area. Al-Qaeda had just killed the tribal leader and their best fighters but there were plenty of able men left to wait in the shadows and pull a trigger. This would be no place for Al-Qaeda in a day or so. They would want to get their hostages out of here as soon as possible, before word of what happened here was known and an ambush or IED could be setup.
Lee was sure that the SEAL team would have the compound under observation and would know everything that had happened here today. He figured they would be able to do the same simple math he had just done. If he were commanding the SEAL Team he would plan to ambush the AL-Qaeda convoy when it left the compound.
Further he would want to ambush them before they got to the Wana/Dhansi Road when the convoy would have a choice of going east or west. Ambush them on the short dirt track between the compound and the main road. The best place for an ambush on the dirt track was after the sharp bend in the road a half a mile from the compound when the trucks would need to stop and back up to make the turn and the back of the convoy would be out of sight of the front. The SEALS would be in the rocks above the road with inside lines of communication, the high ground and clear fields of fire down onto the convoy. The place was made for an ambush, as was much of Waziristan Lee thought grimly.
Bin Basamed would want to pull out tomorrow so as not to drive in the dark where the ambushers would have the advantage. Lee figured the Arabs would either kill him immediately as being useless, let him go to avoid trouble with Dakar and serve as a messenger for what they did to the Salarzai for not cooperating, or keep him to trade with the Dakar for some sort of favor.
Lee looked at the two al-Qaeda guards at the door. There was no way he could get from where he was sitting to those two guards without getting shot. He wasn't leaving this room without the consent of his captors. He sat quietly and thought about the Seaview and his friends. He thought about diving some of his favorite reefs. He allowed himself to think about all of the things that Lee Crane did, things that he didn't allow Tamin Dakar to think about lest he become someone other then a Dakar. He didn't want to die Tamin Dakar, he wanted to die Lee Crane so he indulged himself, and if this were to be his last hour he would think the thoughts he chose.
The longer he sat without being shot the more confidant he felt about not dying. Surely, if they were planning to shoot him out of hand, they would have done so by now. Eventually, exhausted by the two beatings he had endured that day he allowed himself to roll over on his less sore side and fall into a light sleep.
The next move would certainly be Al-Qaeda's. They had the guns and the men. They had come here to do something. Lee didn't kid himself that his presence would in any way impact bin Basamed's planning. He was not a player in the events that were unfolding here now. All he could do was try and keep himself alive long enough to aid in the rescue of the hostages.
Lee had hoped that by telling bin Basamed that the Taliban knew where the hostages were and that they had aspirations similar to Al-Qaeda's to have control of the Americans, that bin Basamed would try and move the hostages to a more secure location. The sooner he attempted the move the sooner the SEALS could attack and less chance there was of something else going awry. He doubted though that he had created enough concern to cause bin Basamed to leave tonight, in the dark when the SEALS would have the clear advantage.
October 18th 1415 USS Blue Ridge LCC 19, Headquarters, 7th Fleet, Yokosuko, Japan
Jeremy Hodges gathered the last of his notes and handed them to his aide, David Thornby. "Shred these and I think that's it," he looked around the conference room thoughtfully. He had spent so long sitting in this conference room during the past forty-eight hours he felt like he'd been living in it.
Like all of the conference rooms on board the Blue Ridge it was painted a creamy white color, no doubt to make it look larger and brighter then the small shipboard windows actually allowed. Still for a small room on a big ship it had been amazingly efficient. The electronic access had been everything expected of the military and the convenience for all of them of staying on the ship in constant contact with events on the ground in both Pakistan and D.C. had made up for any shortcomings in accommodations. The teleconferencing capabilities exceeded anything they could have gotten from a civilian location and this had all the added security safeguards the military could provide. Still he smiled to himself, he missed the pool.
"I have the afternoon Presidential briefing, if you want to sign off on it I'll get Admiral Johnson's office to transmit it. They'll be glad to finally get some solid information on the Senator's location." Thornby handed the briefing paper to his boss and waited while the other man read it.
"Looks good, David. I have a lunch appointment with the Admiral. I'll get him to take a look at it and give it to him for transmission. Anything else before I go?"
"No, sir, that's all I have. We take off in four hours for our rendezvous with the Seaview. I want to go stretch my legs on dry land before we spend who knows how long on another ship if you don't need me?"
Hodges gave Thornby a friendly pat on the shoulder as he passed the younger man and went out the door. "Have a good walk. I'll see you after my Navy lunch."
"I'll make sure everything is packed and see you at the chopper, sir."
Hodges gave him a wave of his hand. Thornby had been a late fill in for his usual aide on this trips and had done a great job. He'd tell Jake when he got back to try and find him something more permanent in his office. As he climbed up the ladder to the main deck he wondered how Jake was doing. They'd been all ready to leave when Jake's wife had been in a car accident. He'd have Thornby call and check before they took off in the afternoon.
He had no more then reached the deck, the only part of the ship he could find with confidence from the conference room, when Admiral Johnson's aide, Commander Finch caught him. "Excuse me, Mr. Hodges. The Admiral asked me to conduct you to his cabin."
Hodges appreciated the guide. The Blue Ridge was not an enormous ship but for someone unaccustomed to finding their way around any ship she was confusing and he had spent much of his time aboard with only a vague idea of where he was.
The Admiral's stateroom was large and comfortable with a table already prepared for their lunch. The Admiral appeared pleased to see him, which rather surprised Hodges, he and Johnson had worked together for two years, ever since President Bannon had appointed Hodges to his current post, but he had never thought of the Admiral as a friend.
The two men sat at the table and spoke of various mutual friends and the just past congressional election and what if any impact Styles adventures in Pakistan might have on the Senator's obvious presidential aspirations.
Hodges found that he enjoyed this informal conversation with Johnson. The man was well informed and insightful. Johnson had been the commander of ONI for four years now. His last command in the navy, Hodges knew, as the Admiral had already indicated his intention to remain at ONI until his retirement in two years. Under Johnson's tutelage ONI had gone from a good intelligence gathering and counter intelligence organization to the best in the services. ONI's ability to gather intelligence paired with ONI's operatives and the navy SEALS unique ability to act on the information had made them a formidable duo and the go to organizations for most US overseas clandestine operations under Bannon's presidency.
Their performance in this crisis was an excellent example of their abilities. Johnson had had a man on the ground in Pakistan in contact with the tribal groups thirty hours after the kidnapping and within thirty six hours they had gotten the first of the hostages rescued. Now 6 days into the event they had located the last of the hostages and were making arrangements for their rescue within the next forty-eight hours.
Since the Pakistanis still professed to have no idea where the hostages were or who had them the intelligence gathering on ONIs part had been impressive. Certainly, a reliance on the Pakistanis would have been hopeless in this crisis. Hodges was just thankful that they had been able to strike a deal with the Pakistanis allowing the SEALS to operate inside the tribal area in exchange for giving the Pakistanis credit for any success they enjoyed.
So long as the SEALS could get the hostages out without revealing American involvement or killing Pakistani civilians this could actually turn out to the benefit of U.S./Pakistani relations, always a delicate balancing act. They had released the return of the co-pilot as a triumph of Pakistani ISI operations and both the ISI and FBI had fed off that, citing cooperation between the two agencies in training ISI operatives. Hodges doubted the FBI even knew that the only ISI involvement had been providing the truck to pick up the co-pilot from the SEAL operatives in Islamabad.
They would feel it though when appropriations time came around. He couldn't see pouring any more money down the ISI/FBI training program. So far all that resulted was better-trained thugs in Pakistan and more complacent FBI supervisors in D.C.
"Good job on the SEAL commander's part. Is he still in the camp with the hostages or back with the SEALS?"
Johnson ruminated on this question for a little while wondering when he had confused Hodges. "The commander with the hostages is actually an ONI operative. The SEAL commander is with the SEAL forces."
Hodges laughed. "I misunderstood your last briefing. I guess I've been at this too long today without getting outside. I have the afternoon briefing note with me for transmission. We can just correct it before you arrange for Finch to transmit. When are you going to brief the Area Commander on the rescue mission?"
Johnson began discussing whom in the military area they should brief, if anyone, prior to the SEAL attack. They both wondered who should handle the exchange of information once the hostages were retrieved and spent ten minutes speculating on what changes this event would bring to the balance of power in the tribal area and its impact on operations in Afghanistan.
Hodges asked at last if he could get out and walk for a while. "I'm looking forward to seeing Seaview at last, but I will enjoy it more if I have a little fresh air and exercise first." Johnson clapped him on the shoulder and called Finch who immediately appeared. Hodges could see that Johnson was very pleased with himself over the events of the past few hours. He decided Johnson was entitled to feel smug. It had been an intelligence coup the way ONI had gotten a man into the hostages while they were under the control of the kidnappers with no one the wiser.
He knew he would appreciate it even more if he could just get a little fresh air.
October 18th, 1820, Indian Ocean 300 miles South, southwest of Jiwana, Pakistan
Chip wandered through the Missile Room one more time. He had made this circuit of the boat three times so far today and it wasn't even dinner time. He preferred the time he spent standing his watches. At least he could stop wandering the corridors of the Seaview and stand in one place.
He had tried doing reports. The endless reports of what everyone was doing and what supplies they were using to do it. The personnel reports, the performance reports, the fitness reports the bread and butter of his job he often thought. Every mile the Seaview traveled generated some sort of a report to be read and remembered and signed off on. But he just couldn't concentrate on the work. Lee had been gone for a week. Nelson had told him, probably against regulations Chip thought sardonically, that Lee had been alive and well on the 17th. Knowing how quickly Lee could go from alive and well to not well Chip was not reassured. He wanted his buddy back on his boat where he belonged, where he and 125 other crewmen could keep an eye on him, keep him safe.
The last event in the hostage situation had been the arrival of Admiral Johnson and Jeremy Hodges, the President Special Advisor on Terrorism, aboard the Seaview an hour ago. The surfacing and landing the helicopter on the deck of the boat had required a little bit of nice ship handling with a five-foot swell and a fifteen-mile an hour wind. Still while he thought the boat had handled well he knew most of the credit for the neat landing had gone to the navy chopper pilot.
Chip paused to step into an aft stores room, selected at random and check the stowage of the boxes. It never hurt to keep inspecting these storage areas. The boat went through some amazingly dramatic movements from time to time and not all of these storage areas got checked every day. He pondered putting a seaman in charge of just going from storeroom to storeroom each watch and double-checking the stores. Seeing everything neatly stowed he closed the door and walked on. Shouldn't really be necessary if things were properly stowed in the first place. Maybe what he would do was have the COB double check all storerooms at the beginning of the cruise. He knew Sharkey checked them all now as part of his pre-departure stores check but a second trip around would do no harm. He made a mental note to himself to talk to the COB about this next time they spoke.
Chip walked into the aft engineering workspace. He saw Torrance and Saunders there and asked if they were going to give the Flying Sub a third coat of paint. The Admiral ordered the Flying Sub repainted in deep red he'd said for camouflage so at least they were going to be part of some sort of mission here. Torrance said that the COB said the two coats were enough. Chip nodded and left the work area and started down the corridor toward the aft Torpedo Room. He knew his prowling and scowling had crewmen cowering all over the boat waiting for him to discover something wrong. He actually caught Kowalski polishing his shoes yesterday.
He needed some way to burn off all this anxiety. Maybe another hour in the Weight Room, although his abs were still sore from yesterday's marathon session. If they were cruising at least something would be happening. This sitting on the bottom waiting for Lee to turn up was killing him.
Chip's eyes lit up. "PATTERSON, what is that I see on the deck? Could that really be an oily rag on my Torpedo Room deck?"
"Yes, sir. I'm sorry, sir. It must have fallen out of my pocket." Patterson stood at attention in front of Chip the offending rag now wrapped tightly in his left hand.
Chip explained to Patterson all of the awful things that rag could have caused in some icy detail. Patterson remained mute his crestfallen face his only defense. Finally, satisfied Patterson would never drop another item the rest of his life Chip left the Torpedo Room to find some dinner before returning to the reports in his cabin. Well, all this walking the boat had at least done some good, he decided.
After the door closed Riley and Kowalski came up on either side of Patterson and clapped him on the back. "That was great, Pat," Kowalski said, "now he'll eat something and we can all take a break."
"Easy for you to say," Patterson complained. "Your turn tomorrow. I'm not doing that again."
The others laughed and steered him back to the torpedo they were rebuilding.
October 18th, 1830 Hours 7 miles north of Wana, South Waziristan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan.
Some time later he was awakened by the sound of several men walking across the barn, talking. A bright flashlight shone in his face and someone kicked him, not gently, in his so sore stomach. Couldn't someone hit something besides his stomach? What about his shoulder or his legs?
A career of waking in the middle of the night to stand watch or respond to emergencies had given him the ability to come instantly awake and aware. The facility didn't desert him now, in spite of the dizziness that the sudden movement from laying down to standing up had caused, as he was hauled roughly from where he was lying and slammed back against the wall of the sheep shed by two men. Once they had banged him against the wall a couple of times to get his attention they dragged him back out of the shed.
Twilight left the compound nearly invisible as the earth colored structures melted into the surrounding ground. Lee couldn't see any other men. He would like to have seen a group of Salarzai prisoners but feared he wouldn't, remembering those last shots he heard fired. Those shots, that sounded like someone with a pistol, making sure there were no live Salarzai left in the compound.
All too quickly they were back inside everyone's favorite building. One unshaded light bulb hung in the middle of the room on about 3 feet of bare electrical cable. The wind caused by the door opening started the bulb swinging slightly, casting shadows up and down walls and into corners. Lee saw several men in the room; bin Basamed and Al-Ash'ari he recognized immediately and at least two others he didn't know. He saw no Salarzai, but half blinded by the brightness of the fairly dull bulb and he could easily have missed something in the shadows.
The two guards half dragging, half supporting him by his upper arms slammed him back against another wall. Fortunately, his head was hanging forward so far, the whiplash failed to bring it into contact with the wall. Good, no concussion. Jamie was going to be proud of him this trip. The ribs were too bad, but no concussion was good and no gun shot wound. Well, he decided, he maybe better wait on the gunshot wound that could still go either way.
"So, Dakar," bin Basamed said in his slightly, high-pitched voice, sarcasm positively dripping on to the floor, "simple spy for the Tarkhani."
Hearing no question in these comments Lee said nothing. What ever this Arab terrorist wanted he would get to it all too soon.
"You would have us believe you are a spy for the Tarkhani, or at worse perhaps for the Taliban, eh?" This question was followed by, not unexpectedly by this point in his day, a sharp blow to his stomach by a guard built like a gorilla. That hurt.
He knew he certainly had a couple of broken ribs, and this blow nearly put him away. Something had moved where it shouldn't.
He known that if they kept banging on his stomach eventually something was going to move. He hung, nearly unconscious, between his two captors trying to breath through the pain. He missed what the Arab was saying as he tried to catch his breath. His lungs just didn't seem to want to inflate again. He was afraid he was going to pass out if he couldn't get some air. Finally, he was able to relax his diaphragm enough to allow some air to get into his chest and the darkness receded a little. He could hear bin Basamed talking at him again.
"…Are you even a Dakar? Are you not an American?" bin Basamed was so close to him now he could smell him and feel his warm breath on his face. "We know that there is a rescue team out there. We know that there are SEALS. Where are they? When are they coming? You are their leader tell us where they are and we will release you."
Lee didn't have to feign his confusion. Where had this come from? No one knew about the SEAL team. He had deliberately let the hostages think that he was a Pakistani informant and that the rescuers were Pakistani Special Forces, not American. Was the old man guessing? Had he guessed lucky? And even if they knew about the SEALS where did this "leader of the SEALS" come from?
Lee wasn't sure if he could speak, his throat was so dry, but he sure had to try before they hit him again and drove that broken rib into his liver or lungs, taking him permanently out of the equation. "Me?... American?" he said with, he hoped, a convincing amount of incredulity. It was hard to be incredulous when you could hardly breathe.
"We know there is a team of Americans about to attack here. We know you are their leader. We will find them with your help or without it. Save us the trouble of staying up all night. Tell us what their plan is and we will spare you the pain of our asking," bin Basamed the picture of reasonable diplomacy speaking to him now in English.
Lee didn't have to feign his confusion this time. No way, except a paranoid guess that Al-Qaeda had come to this conclusion. This was not one of the five thousand contingencies for which Lee had tried to plan. No one in Pakistan knew about the SEAL team. This was just some stupid guess on bin Basamed's part, Lee hoped. Now what was the best thing to do? "Arabic, Pashto even French effendi…Not English." Lee struggled to get this out.
"Indeed American, no English?" at least this came in Arabic.
The Pakistani defense forces were so heavily infiltrated by Al-Qaeda Lee figured that bin Basamed would not be worried about a Pakistani attack. He would know that if the Pakistanis considered such an attack, he would be informed by one of the many Al-Qaeda sympathizers. So there was no point in confessing to being a Pakistani spy. If the Al-Qaeda accusation about the SEAL team was the lucky guess Lee believed, he certainly didn't want to add certainty to supposition by confessing to an American presence. He figured he might as well just keep trying to muddy the waters.
"I don't know anything about any Americans," he found it not very hard to sound fearful. He needed to be convincing if he was going to confess to something. He had to play a convincing part. Confess too soon and they would know it was a lie. Act too fearful and it was easy to allow the fear to take hold.
It was always easiest to tell all or nothing. If he were to tell nothing, go silent, they would know he was an American agent with nothing to trade but his allegiance. So that was not an option. If he was to move Al-Qaeda out of their safe refuge here tonight, and get them into the open for the SEALS, he had to give them the right information in a convincing manner. He couldn't just retreat from the pain into silence.
He had to think and talk. Had to make his confession while he still could. If he held out too long…well that wasn't wise. Al-Ash'ari had quite the reputation as an interrogator.
Like all good torturers, Ash'ari knew that the best torture was mental. But Al-Qaeda didn't know how much time they had. If an attack by a large Taliban force was the danger they needed to run for safety in Pakistan proper and not become besieged in hostile territory. If an attack by American's was imminent they had to stay where they were until daylight when the American ability to see in the dark was neutralized.
Ash'ari didn't have time to allow the torturer's friends, exhaustion, cold and disorientation to aid his interrogation. Lee figured the Arab would go physical immediately and try to use the pain to create the disorientation in his victim that should lead to Lee revealing all. He needed to reveal his "all" at the right time to convince them to run tonight, into the ambush he would have set, were he out in the dark leading the SEAL team. Timing was going to be everything here.
"I have asked. Now Al-Ash'ari will ask," bin Basamed shrugged and walked across the room to sit down in the only chair. Al-Ash'ari stepped over in front of Lee and gave him a small smile. Lee knew from experience that it was never good when an Arab who didn't like you smiled in your direction. What followed was a balanced combination of the tried and true and the new and effective.
Lee figured they would interrogate him for a while, take a break and come back for more. He planned on confessing his "all" at the second interrogation. But when the first session moved into what he judged was its second hour he became concerned, maybe they were just going to keep going without any break. But then he decided the burns were meant to cause residual pain and that was only effective if there was time for the residual to hurt. Part of the trouble with torture was that it made planning so difficult. The pain kept resetting his brain so he had a hard time following any thought through to its logical conclusion.
It was with some relief then after either another hour or three hours, he had lost his sure track of time some where after the first hour, that he was dragged back to the sheep barn and dumped on the floor again. As soon as he closed his eyes a bucket of cold water was thrown over him. He shouldn't have been so surprised. Cold water and sleep deprivation were standard but a bucket of cold water, even when you were looking for it, could still surprise with its...well with its just plain coldness.
October 18th, 2340 Hours 7 miles north of Wana, South Waziristan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan.
He didn't think he was in the sheep barn very long before they came again. He was shivering, which with the cold temperature, meant he couldn't have been lying on the floor wet that long, or he would be hypothermic. Shivering was good he knew that from SEALS training. As long as you were shivering your body was working, keeping the blood moving. Hurt the ribs and the rest of Ash'ari's handiwork something nasty, but at least his list of woes was long enough now, it took his mind right off his ribs. Always find the silver lining, Crane.
The fast turn around on the torture session was good he told himself as they dragged his sorry ass back across the compound. Meant they were really in a hurry because any idiot could keep track that only an hour had passed. That wasn't going to disorient him, which was the purpose of the back and forth from torture to sheep barn. Meant that they were anxious to know what he knew. Also meant if he played this right he could still get them on the road in the dark.
He tried to look around the sheep barn as they hauled him across the dirt floor. He thought he could see the hostages all grouped in the corner, now with the addition of armed guards standing over them. Al-Qaeda a much more serious proposition altogether than poor Gul Zaman and his Salarzai.
Bin Basamed had to know that if he found himself in this compound under attack by the Taliban he was going to be in a great deal of trouble, outnumbered and deep in the tribal territory with a camp full of dead tribesmen. The only force able to rescue him from that much firepower would be the Pakistani army. Sending an army unit into Waziristan was going to catch someone's attention with all the media currently in Pakistan. So Lee thought no one was coming to rescue bin Basamed and company.
Yup, Lee figured bin Basamed was going to want to get out of Dodge soon if he felt a Taliban threat was near. He suspected all that was holding up the parade was bin Basamid's bizarre concern about a SEAL team. A concern Lee Crane was about to do his best to lay to rest.
Once they got back into small building where he'd had his tea and his lunch and his last torture session Lee let them have another half hour before he called time out. The electric shock was excruciating, but he had been down that path before and knew he could live through it. The knife was of more concern to him, as he couldn't tell exactly what they were doing with it. He knew it hurt, as it was meant to, he just couldn't tell if it was going to incapacitate him later, and he hoped he would still need to help with the hostage rescue tonight.
So when Ash'ari gave up on the electricity and really got going with the knife he figured he'd better rat everyone out and see if this was working or not.
"Enough, Enough, please Allah, enough," he said in a weak voice. The weak voice turned out to be very easy to do. It was quite a bit weaker, actually, than he had intended, he hoped it wouldn't sound like he was acting.
"Not enough, unless you have something to tell me?" Al-Ash'ari said holding the knife where Lee could feel the heat coming off the red tip on his face.
"This is not a matter of the Dakar," Lee had no trouble sounding tired and discouraged, it had been a long 48-hours. "For the Dakar I would tell you nothing. But this is a Taliban matter. I owe them nothing more."
"I don't care about the Taliban. You are no Dakar. You are an American, a leader of SEALS. So tell me where are your comrades?" Al-Ash'ari said touching Lee with the end of the knife again somewhere on his chest.
After a moment, when he was able to speak again, Lee said, "Enough, Arab, I'm trying to tell you, enough," Lee was pleased, well to be honest he was fairly ecstatic, to see Al-Ash'ari take a step back. Enough already with the damn knife, Lee thought, not for the first time.
"I am a scout for the Taliban… I was to make sure the Americans were here… To find which building… to lead them to the prisoners." Lee thought that sounded fairly coherent. It took him a little while to get it all out. He had to keep stopping and catching his breath. The way they had his hands tied over his head made it difficult for him to breathe.
"I don't care about the Taliban. We know there are Americans. We know about the SEALS here. Where are they?" Al-Ash'ari insisted.
This again struck Lee as absurd, but he decided he had better give him something American in case some how or other the SEAL team had allowed itself to be made by a local Al-Qaeda snitch. "No American Army. There is an American spy with the Taliban. He teaches them to shoot. He comes with them here."
Lee almost glanced up at Al-Ash'ari to see how that story went over. He knew Army Special Forces had advisors embedded with some of the tribal groups in Afghanistan. He very much doubted that was the case in Pakistan. But they were very close to Afghanistan here, so maybe a paranoid Al-Qaeda torturer would believe this scenario. He wanted to know how it sounded to Al-Ash'ari before the hot knife hit his chest again, but he hadn't made eye contact with him through out the interrogations he sure couldn't start now.
One minute stretched into two and he began to feel a bit hopeful. Maybe this was going to work.
Damn. The knife again, he thought he was ready for it but it still caught him by surprise. He guessed it was the change of location to his arm instead of his chest.
"Not Army. This is a SEAL team. You understand SEAL team. Your SEAL team?" Ash'ari insisted his face inches from Lee's as the he screamed at him.
"Ok, not Army… the man must be a SEAL thing then… He's an American though…. He speaks Pashto… but terribly, nearly impossible to understand…. He's an American," Lee allowed an edge of panic into his voice. The tone of a man who would now confess anything and was telling all he knew, telling all he knew and trying to shape it to satisfy his interrogator. "I'm sure he must be a SEAL," Lee finished raising his head with difficulty looking at Ash'ari with pleading, "I'm sure he must be a SEAL…. Maybe he said he was a SEAL," the last with a touch of doubt. He didn't want Ash'ari to think he was fabricating just that he was telling everything he knew and trying to satisfy him.
"How many Taliban?" Al-Ash'ari asked.
Lee allowed a little of the relief he was feeling to bleed through to his tone. Ash'ari would know he wasn't a stupid man or a coward or he wouldn't have been selected to come into the compound. That Ash'ari asked about the Taliban meant that he maybe believed him about the Americans. Anyone confessing would want to be believed. Would feel relief to know he was believed.
"There were thirty three … Taliban freedom fighters …, the American SEAL and.. uh… ten from the Tarkhani tribe," Lee figured this sounded like a small enough number that they could conceivably be hidden in the hills and not seen by anyone but a large enough group to concern the twenty-five Al-Qaeda he had seen. The Al-Qaeda would not have killed the Salarzai without taking casualties so this should nicely out number them.
While Al-Qaeda had nothing but contempt for the local tribesmen they would be concerned about going up against a group that included Taliban. Even if they only half believed him they would want to get out of town fast before an attack could pin them down in the compound. They would not fear such a group in the dark though. The Taliban had no better night fighting gear than Al-Qaeda.
"When do you meet them?" The next question was the one Lee had expected.
He wanted the Al-Qaeda to figure they had enough time to get away but he didn't want them waiting around until tomorrow night. That last was purely selfish. He figured the longer they sat around waiting the longer they had for questioning him. He was frankly tired of being questioned.
"I was to meet them tonight... The Salarzai were taking me to Wana... I would meet a man with a jeep there… He takes me to the Taliban and the SEAL man…. They are in the hills…. They didn't tell me where exactly… but close." Lee figured if he was a Taliban, or a SEAL he wouldn't trust a Dakar spy with any more information than necessary and he knew the Al-Qaeda were at least as suspicious as the Pashto.
That was the last question. Al-Ash'ari turned to bin Basamed who had been sitting in the corner watching the whole thing, dozing. Apparently the screaming of torture victims didn't prevent him from sleeping. Lee leaned his head against his left arm and watched the two men conferring.
He could see Gul Zaman's and several other bodies in the opposite corner of the room where they had been dragged and thrown into a pile. He thought he saw Chanir's shirt near the bottom of the pile. He noted the shirt, but didn't allow himself to feel anything about the man, who might have been his friend had the world been a different sort of place. This wasn't the time for that. If he were alive tomorrow, maybe, he would think about the man who had stood with him in the compound when Al-Qaeda had wanted to know if the Salarzai would stand with a lone Dakar. He could see the bloody hole in Gul Zaman's head. That must have been one of the finishing shots he had heard after the main firefight, Al-Qaeda killing the Sarwar of the Salarzai for his defiance. So much for Islamic brotherhood.
Al-Ash'ari left the room followed by all but one of the guards. Bin Basamed continued to study Lee in the light of the single overhead bulb powered by the generator Lee could hear running outside. "So Dakar," bin Basamed stood and walked toward him. "So, one American and an army of Tarkhani and Taliban?"
Lee could hear the doubt in his voice. "Not what I was told." The old man stopped right in front of where Lee was hanging and looked up into his eyes. "Are you lying, Dakar, American? Do you know what it is to lie to Al-Qaeda?"
He spoke to him again in English, "American SEAL. We will continue this conversation later."
Lee said nothing, just closed his eyes. He had given this his best shot. He really didn't have a fall back position from where he was right this moment. They either believed this story. Or if they didn't believe it all the way, believed it enough not to take a chance on its being true, or he just shut up and sucked it up. There was no plan C.
He tried to straighten out his legs, see if he could take a little of the weight off his arms, but he couldn't quite reach the floor. His wrists were rubbed raw by the rope he was hanging from. It wouldn't have been so bad, the hanging, but every time he moved the rope twisted on his wrists. He had no feeling in his hands any more and he was sure that wasn't a good thing although just at the moment it sure felt better than his wrists. He tried to stay perfectly still but the shivering made that impossible. He just needed to wait this out. Everything ended eventually.
He closed his eyes and thought about his last dive. He and Chip had gone to Mexico for a week, diving off the Yucatan. The water had been perfectly clear and warm, so warm. On the last day they had spent the afternoon laying on the beach, just enjoying the sun, warm sunshine, warm water. So warm, nice and warm. He never heard bin Basamed leave the room.
October 19th, 0150 Hours 7 miles north of Wana, South Waziristan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan.
Lee could hear shouting out in the compound and then blessedly he heard a diesel truck grinding and then starting. He must have passed out he realized. It still was dark out the window. They believed him. They were getting away, ahead of his conjured Taliban.
He wondered if they would take him or leave him. If they left him he rather hoped they would just kill him rather then leave him hanging here until he died. He decided that must make him a weak, capitalist infidel. He should hope for life. Maybe they would leave and he would get rescued. After a while he wouldn't be so sore and tired and cold and he would be glad he was alive. After all he thought, "there's got to be a morning after." He definitely needed to get some rest, when he started quoting hokey old lyrics to himself he was done in.
He had to give Al-Qaeda credit once they made a decision they didn't waste any time. Too soon Al-Ash'ari was back with his knife. This time he used it to cut the rope holding Lee's arms over his head to the ceiling joist. Without the support Lee came down like a rag doll. Happily two of the Arab henchmen caught him before he hit the ground avoiding the inevitable concussion. The two men dragged him out of the room. He couldn't even pretend to move his legs and just let them drag him. Outside two other men grabbed his legs and they threw him into the back of one of the trucks. He felt something land on top of him. "Cover yourself," one of the guards said. "Have some modesty."
"Happy days are here again," he thought, "not dead yet." He wondered where this greatest hits thing was coming from. Was he too tired to think of his own words?
He heard the CNN reporter, David Craig, say, "looks like our goat herder is back. The whole gang is together now." Lee appreciated Craig telling him he was in the truck with the hostages and that they were all in the same truck. One more act to this little drama he thought.
He opened his eyes wearily and looked around at what he could see. The lights of the land rover behind their truck were illuminating the back of the truck, so he could see clearly. He tilted his head back as far as he could. Craig was sitting at the front end of the bench on the driver's side of the truck, about three feet from where a guard stood with his back to the cab of the truck, his AK-47 held at port arms looking alert and quite capable. Lee thought he might be the gorilla with the strong punch. He decided he was Craig's problem. Opposite Craig on the other bench sat a second armed guard. Glancing at the tailgate end of the truck Lee watched as the two men who had carried him out jumped into the truck and sat down on opposite sides guarding the back.
Sitting on the passenger's side of the truck were the Senator and his aide and the pilot Commander Gilroy. On Craig's side of the truck was only Mr. Lodhi. Lee decided it could be worse. He had Craig in the front of the truck with the Commander next to the second front guard. The back of the truck though was his problem and he had the Senator's aide next to one guard and Mr. Lodhi next to the other. Not much help there.
He closed his eyes again and concentrated on getting the pain under control. He thought, fifteen minutes no more and they should be down the road and ambushed by the SEALS. If he could get through the next fifteen minutes then he could just lie on the floor of the truck and moan and shiver all he wanted. He just had to get through the next fifteen minutes. What was fifteen minutes, nothing, no time at all? He could do fifteen minutes.
He reached across his chest very slowly and toward his right arm where that last knife cut had gone. He wondered how much damage that cut had done, it had felt different than the others, deeper, meaner some how. He hesitated and then dropped his left hand back down to the truck floor. It didn't really matter what the damage was to his arm, it only mattered if he could move it, if he could use it for what he needed to do in the next fifteen minutes.
Fourteen minutes now he thought, an easy fourteen minutes. He opened his eyes again. Still in the back of the truck, still brightly lit by the Land Rover but only thirteen minutes more and he could close his eyes and sleep, close his eyes and just let the pain wash over him. But now he needed to concentrate, now he needed to get past the pain and do what he needed to do, complete his mission, do his duty. Come on Crane, get up from the floor, what's the matter with you lying around when there is work you need to be doing?
He spoke to Robert Carstairs, the Senator's aide in French, and asked him to help him up to the bench. Not unexpectedly the guard kicked him in the leg and asked him what he had said, speaking Arabic.
"I asked him to help me up," Lee said petulantly, or as petulantly as he could, given he was stretched out flat on his back and shivering uncontrollably. "He's an infidel… he doesn't speak any civilized language… I asked him in French."
The guard reached down and grabbed Lee's left arm and hauled him up onto the bench dropping him down between himself and Carstairs. Perfect Lee thought.
"Thank you," he said as he fell back weakly against the wooden backrest. That had hurt. He guessed at this point everything was going to hurt. This was the part where a real man just sucked it up and got going. He closed his eyes again. Was just so hard to keep them open, they seemed to weigh a ton and kept closing of their own volition when ever he stopped thinking about keeping them open.
"Have you no modesty?" The guard said reaching down and retrieving the shirt that had been thrown into the truck after Lee. The guard threw the shirt at Carstairs and shouted at him in Arabic.
Lodhi translated for Carstairs, "He says put the shirt on the man."
Carstairs draped the shirt over Lee's shoulders when Lee made no attempt to put it on. It was wet still from the bucket of water and he didn't want to risk getting tangled up in a long wet shirt. He sat with his head back against the side of the truck his eyes closed, concentrating on getting the pain under control. There was nothing he could do about the shivering. He thought once the action started and he began moving the adrenaline rush would take care of the shivering, for now he just shivered.
"Don't speak to the infidels," the guard said.
Lee made no comment. He figured once they pulled out he would have less then five minutes before the SEALS attacked at the sharp bend in the road. He also thought he would know when they approached the bend because the whole convoy would need to stop as each vehicle made the turn. If he were the SEAL team he would wait until the first truck was in the middle of the turn then he would take out the first and last vehicles with RPGs. Thus far he could see only the Land Rover behind the truck. So they were the second truck. As soon as the RPG took the Land Rover these guards would start shooting and Lee was pretty sure their orders were to kill the hostages, if it looked like they were going to be rescued. He and Craig were going to have to prevent that. He thought he now had perhaps ten minutes before he needed to some how go from shivering wuss to man of action. He continued to concentrate on isolating the pain and assessing his condition. How badly hurt was he? How much of the pain was burns he could ignore, shallow knife wounds he could ignore, cracked and broken ribs he could ignore and how much was real damage that would slow him, prevent him from doing what needed doing?
The headlights from the Land Rover lit up the back of the truck like a circus. He couldn't act until those lights went out. He was confident in the SEALS. They would take care of what they could see. That would be inside the Land Rovers and the drivers of the trucks. They would have no way to identify who was under the tarpaulins in the back of the two trucks.
Lee carefully stretched each leg up and out about six inches, and then he moved each arm away from his body a few inches. They all moved. His arms felt very weak and shaky, no doubt as a result of hanging from them for a few hours. He looked at his hands, his fingers felt like sausages and his hands were swollen from the constriction caused by the ropes around his wrists. However, his fingers didn't look as swollen as they felt. He thought he would be able to pull a trigger if he got a gun. He began flexing his fingers trying to get the blood flowing.
He looked down the truck toward Craig and met the other man's eyes. Craig shut both of his eyes and then opened them again, looking directly at Lee. Knowing that Craig's looking into the light from the Land Rover would make his response harder to see, Lee gave Craig a short nod. Craig would act when he saw Lee act. It wasn't going to take a rocket scientist to know when to act. An RPG is a pretty loud starting gun. Lee was just going to have to trust Craig to incapacitate the guard he was sitting next to. Lee couldn't possibly take out all four guards without at least one of them opening fire into the hostages.
He looked down at his hands again. They were screaming at him now as the circulation returned. It must have been the short break in the sheep barn, it had allowed his circulation to return before his second session with the rope. The half hour of suspension hadn't been enough to swell his hands too much.
His head jerked as the truck was put in gear and began to move. He tried moving his head from side to side to loosen up those muscles as much as he could. This was not going to be pretty. At least all that dancing on the end of the rope had kept his muscles from stiffening. He felt as weak as a baby but he would be able to move. Six or eight more minutes and he would be done.
With much backing and turning all of the vehicles finally managed to get turned and out the compound gate. Lee could see the inside of the truck clearly from the Land Rover headlights but the outside was lost in those same lights. It took about three minutes for the first vehicle to reach the turn. Lee moved his arms again crossing them slightly over his chest a couple of times trying to get the blood pumping as much as possible, trying to ignore the pain the movement caused.
He opened and closed his hands and tried shaking his arms a bit. Damn that hurt. He hoped he didn't pass out. That would be pretty lame, jump the guard and then faint. The truck slowed to a stop and then after a minute lurched forward and stopped again. Lee moved his feet further under the bench to gain more leverage.
The truck lurched ahead. That would be the second Land Rover making the turn. The truck lurched ahead again. Sometime in the next minute Lee figured, and lowered his hands to the bench and put his palms down flat against the wooden seat.
October 19th, 0230 Hours 10 miles north of Wana, South Waziristan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan.
The truck lurched forward again and the Land Rover behind them blew up with a deafening explosion. Lee threw himself sideways against the guard on his left, grabbing the middle of his AK-47 as he landed against him. Allowing his body to go limp Lee fell away from the guard backwards toward the bed of the truck letting his weight and gravity make up for his lack of strength. He used the momentum of their fall to roll as far forward toward the other side of the truck as he could holding desperately to the stock of the AK-47.
Letting go of the rifle, he reached for the guard on the opposite side of the truck. This second guard had apparently tried to stand up when the Land Rover exploded. He was half out of his seat facing the tailgate of the truck.
The illumination provided by the headlights of the Land Rover had been replaced by the bright flames of the now burning vehicle. Since some of his hearing had returned Lee could hear the sound of small arms fire. The sound of an MG3 in a front Land Rover was unmistakable, as was the answering fire of an American machine gun. He heard an M110 SEAL sniper rifle and then no more from the MG3 just as he grabbed the leg of the Arab guard. He grabbed the leg closest to the outside edge of the truck and pulled hard on it toward his chest. The guard over balanced and disappeared out the back of the truck. He was a SEAL problem now, and then he heard the sniper rifle fire again.
The sounds of the firefight had died down already. Most of the fire he heard was from AK-47s with an occasional sound of a 110 when a SEAL sniper had a target.
The sounds of the battle were registering remotely as his main attention was focused on the fight in front of him. Just as his second target disappeared to the sound of the M110 his first target had managed to roll a short distance away from him on the floor of the truck and was trying to bring his AK-47 around to bear on Lee. He ignored the muzzle of the gun and continued the move that had jerked the feet out from underneath the second guard, rolling and twisting across the truck floor so his hands hit the stock of the guards AK-47 driving the butt of the gun into the other man's chest. This brought the barrel of the gun down sharply, but following his hands with his head Lee took most of the impact of the barrel on his shoulder. Ignoring the weapon, Lee grabbed the front of the man's shirt and slammed the palm of his hand against the man's jaw slamming the guard's head back against the floor of the truck and putting him out of commission.
The momentum of the hand slam rolled Lee forward on top of the body of the guard. He kept rolling onto his back with the AK-47 in his hands and his head toward the tailgate, partially resting on the unconscious guard and facing the guard in the front of the truck on the passenger's side. He could see the pilot, Commander Gilroy, grappling with the man, both of them holding tight to the man's weapon. Lee could see that Craig had his man down on the floor of the truck as well.
Ignoring both of these fights, as at least both guards were occupied, if not totally out of action. Lee turned to acquire his next target, he saw that everyone was on the floor of the truck, except for the Senator who still sat on his seat, like a deer caught in the headlights.
In the front of the truck, he saw that Gilroy was now down and the guard was turning his AK-47 on the Senator. Lee moaned as he tightened his stomach muscles and pulled himself up from the floor. He reached across with his left hand and grabbed the Senator by the arm of his jacket and pulled him off the bench pushing against him so he fell to the floor and allowed himself to collapse back on top of the Senator. Bringing his weapon around with his right hand he shot Gilroy's guard twice in the head, aware as he did so of the man in the front passenger seat bringing his gun up. Lee locked eyes with the man as he felt the second round leave his rifle. He didn't think he was going to make it to the second target in time. The act of shooting the AK-47, as always, caused the barrel to want to rise slightly with the force of the departing shells. On the second shot he allowed the barrel to complete its rise and fired twice into the head of the guard in the front passenger's seat.
Almost made it he thought with some satisfaction as the man disappeared in a shower of glass and blood. The ceasing of firing in the confines of the back of the truck made the more distant sound of gunfire outside almost peaceful. "Everyone stay down on the floor," Lee said as loudly as he could. Wasn't very loud, but it was a small truck and everyone seemed to comply.
Lee laid flat on his back his shoulders on top of the Al-Qaeda guard he had attacked earlier and the Senator, the AK-47 still grasped firmly in his hands. He didn't think he could move, but he couldn't stand down yet either. After what seemed an eternity he manager to squirm a bit to his side so he could see out the back of the truck. Using the unconscious guard for support he pointed his rifle toward the burning Land Rover and waited for what ever came next. It wouldn't be long he was almost finished here, almost he could just close his eyes now and let someone else have this problem of hostages and guards.
A black clad figure appeared back lit by the Land Rover fire, a navy SEAL with the unmistakable lumpy profile of night-vision goggles pushed up on the top of his head, his face covered with grease paint waving an MP5 at the back of the truck. "Stay down, don't move," he yelled as a like clad figure jumped into the truck and began sorting through bodies. The dead guards were thrown out the back of the truck. Lee let go of his AK-47 and moved his arms away from his body as the man trained his MP 5 on him. "I'm Tamin," Lee said simply, "sailor home from the sea," his recognition code. The SEAL nodded very briefly grabbed the AK-47 and threw it out the back of the truck and continued his check. You didn't stay a SEAL long if you weren't very careful all the time.
Lee guessed the same was true of ONI agents. He moved his left hand slowly down his body until he found the wet spot on the left side of his abdomen. He had almost made that last shot in time, so close. But, of course, close only counted in 'horse shoes and hand grenades,' he thought as he closed his eyes. All done, he had done his fifteen minutes, all done now. He let himself drift on the pain and the tired and the being done.
"EVERYONE STAY DOWN, EVERYONE STAY IN THE TRUCK," the SEAL said in a loud voice. "We will have this truck moving shortly NO ONE MOVE."
That said the SEAL moved to the rear of the truck and took a defensive position. Lee thought if he wasn't so cold this could be perfect. He was shivering uncontrollably again now that the adrenaline was wearing off. He could feel someone lying on the floor next to him. The Senator he thought. He wondered if the man would mind snuggling up a little closer?
October 19th, 0255 Hours 7 miles north of Wana, South Waziristan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan.
"I'M HIT," Styles called out as loudly as he could. The pain was so awful he could barely breathe. "Someone help me, I've been shot." He was sorry to hear the sound of panic in his voice but he didn't want to bleed to death waiting for someone to find him, he needed help now. He couldn't die in the back of some truck in the middle of some God forsaken country in the middle of nowhere. He was going to make a run for the Presidency. He was a Senator. He was an important man and he needed help now. He moaned to himself the pain was awful, it felt like his arm was on fire.
The quiet after the gunfight seemed as loud as the previous firing. Styles could hear the man lying next to him breathing it was suddenly so quiet. It was the goat herder guy. The damned goat herder had grabbed him in the middle of the fight and pulled him down on the floor. Styles had seen the guard in the front of the truck waving his gun around, he knew the guards wouldn't shoot the prisoners, if they didn't resist. They certainly wouldn't shoot him; he was a United States Senator. He was the reason for the whole kidnapping. So when the guy from the sheep shed tried to pull him on to the floor, he'd held tightly to his seat, so the guards could see he wasn't a threat. The stupid towel head had then almost gotten him killed. He pulled him right into the gunfire and he'd been shot. "Someone help me. I'm hit."
Styles tried to push the goat herder away but he was a dead weight and he didn't have the strength to move him. He pushed against him again harder, the man was half naked with no shirt on and covered in sweat and God only knew what else. Styles couldn't get any sort of purchase to push on him because his hands kept slipping. He heard the man moan softly as he pushed against him but he still wouldn't move. "Get off me," he panted shoving against the man's back. He tried to bring his foot up so he could kick him, but with the man lying across his chest he couldn't get his foot up high enough. "Someone help me I'm wounded," he tried again. What was the point of them rescuing him if they let him die of his wound? Styles finally managed to squirm out from under the other man's dead weight and let him fall down to the bed of the truck as he sat back up on the bench. If he hadn't heard him breathing he would have thought he was dead.
Styles looked down at his arm dreading what he would see. Even in the flickering light from the burning truck he could tell he was covered with blood. The whole front of his jacket was soaked in blood as were his hands. He almost screamed, he felt like a victim in a horror film, he must be bleeding to death. Almost whispering he said, "Please someone help me, I think I’m bleeding to death here."
"Where are you hit, sir?" A nice respectful soldier, Styles would have smiled at him if he weren't in so much pain.
"My arm. I'm bleeding all over. I'm bleeding to death." Styles couldn't keep the incredulity out of his voice. Senators didn't bleed to death in the backs of trucks.
"I'm a corpsman just let me take a look." The soldier pulled Styles shirt and jacket down off his shoulder, not nearly as gently as he should have.
"I think you must have landed on something sharp there, sir. You definitely have a cut on your arm. Its not bleeding very much though, I don't think this blood is yours. Just sit still and you'll be fine."
Was that it? The soldier was down on the floor then. Ignoring him. Styles wrapped his free hand around his sore arm. Suddenly revolted by the feeling of the warm blood soaked jacket he looked around desperately, not his blood. My God, what if he got AIDS from all that blood.
October 19th, 0355 Hours 7 miles north of Wana, South Waziristan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan.
Lee could feel the Senator pushing against his back as the other man cried out in agony and fear. Damn, he'd been sure he'd killed the guard before he shot the Senator. He'd failed with both the guard in the back of the truck and the one in the passenger seat allowing them to both get off shots. He replayed the shots again in his head. He just hadn't been able to move fast enough.
He tried to roll off the Senator but couldn't make his body move. He was done. The adrenaline surge from the fight had used up everything he had and then some. He couldn't even lift his head from where it lay on the other man's chest. He tried when the Senator started pushing against him. The Senator's hands finding the places Ash'ari had worked with his knife but the pain did him in and he simply let everything pass him by and closed his eyes.
Lee felt the truck move as the dead driver and his passenger were pulled out of the front and replaced, he assumed, with a couple of SEALS. He could hear the sound of voices outside the truck and the sound of engines. He figured they must be clearing the debris from the roadway.
He opened his eyes again when he felt the truck begin moving. The whole world seemed to be moving as the un-sprung truck found every pothole and rock on the track down toward the main Wana/Dharni Road. Lee stifled a moan less successfully than he had hoped as a particularly deep pothole brought a sharp pain to his stomach. "You okay?" Someone asked.
"I'm fine," he said. He considered mentioning that he was cold but he doubted anyone could spare a blanket so it didn't seem worth the trouble. He just wanted to close his eyes and let the whole world pass him by.
"Okay everyone, it should be okay to get up off the floor and on the seats." The guard at the rear of the truck announced. "Anyone hit?"
"I'm hit," he heard the Senator call out again. The man must be bad he had been calling out and moaning ever since the firing stopped. Lee hoped someone would help him soon, at least give him some pain medication.
Lee felt someone step over him in the dark and heard the murmur of voices off to his side. Must be someone helping the Senator, because he could hear his louder voice answering. If Styles could still talk he ought to be okay.
He tried to open his eyes and thought he succeeded. The back of the truck was pitch black as the SEALS' night vision goggles meant they didn't need the headlights the AL-Qaeda drivers had used to light up the night. Whether his eyes were open or closed seemed the same and it was easier to just let them close.
Some time later he felt hands on his shoulders. "You okay, Mister?" It sounded like the SEAL who had gone to the Senator, but Lee wasn't sure.
"I've been better… Cold." Somewhere in the beginning part of the fight with the first guard Lee had lost the shirt Carstairs had draped over his shoulders. It wasn't a cold night by South Waziristan standards but they were at almost 10,000 feet on a clear October night in a moving truck whose tarpaulin cover had seen better days ten years ago. Lee figured he would have been cold even if he had been dry and in his shirt. He was shivering so hard he could hardly speak. He wasn't sure if it was shock or just cold.
"What's your name?" The same voice asked him now from right beside his ear.
This sounded like the familiar Jamie routine every time he woke up in Sickbay, "Tamin," Lee said, automatically sticking with his cover.
"You got quite a bit of blood on you Tamin. Are you hit or is this the other guy?" The disembodied voice asked him.
"Bit of both," he was going to need some help now to make it home, a place he very much wanted to be. Nice warm home. For the first time since getting in the plane for Morocco he allowed himself to think about his home, his beach in Santa Barbara. Lying in the sun on the warm sand in Santa Barbara, even better than the beach in the Yucatan, because it was home.
Then he almost screamed as someone stuck a knife in his gut. He managed to stifle the yell so it only came out as a sharp grunt. It felt like his ribs were being driven into the floor of the truck right through his backbone. "Stop," he managed to gasp out, "Please …, you're killing me."
"Sorry, Tamin," the same voice said, "I need to keep pressure on this. Looks like you've been shot here. I'm Chief Toskins, I'm a SEAL Corpsman," the voice identified itself. The chief was impossible for Lee to see in the dark, so he didn't even try. Life was easier with his eyes closed, too much trouble to keep them open. The corpsman's voice was very close almost shouting in his ear over the cracking of the tarp and rattling of the truck.
Lee wanted to make some sort of identifying noise but found that his mouth was suddenly so dry he couldn't move his tongue. "Here take a sip of this," Toskins, the young genius, gave him a small sip of water spilling most of it on his face as the truck continued to sway and bounce down the road. The little bit he swallowed was paradise.
"Broken ribs," he finally managed now that his tongue was no longer stuck to the roof of his mouth.
"Sorry," the pressure eased a little and he tried to breathe through the pain. "You're bleeding pretty badly here. We need to keep some pressure on the wound. I'm going to have to lift you up Tamin, see if you got another hole in your back."
As Toskins lifted him up and rolled him on to his right side Lee gasped and closed his eyes. Damn that really hurt. Why did everyone always want to make whatever hurt feel worse by messing with it, he wondered disjointedly.
"Okay, Tamin, looks like somebody shot you here. Don't worry though your in luck I'm the best corpsman in the U.S. Navy."
Great, Lee thought, things weren't going badly enough, now he was shot in his sore stomach. He wanted to sigh but he just didn't have enough breath.
"You seem to be all wet and cold here," Toskins told him in case Lee hadn't noticed. What was it with the medical profession, made them think he could never tell what was wrong? Did he really need the best corpsman in the Navy to tell him he was wet and cold?
"I'm going to get you something for the pain and then we'll get you warmed up."
Warm had sounded brilliant to Lee ever since the bucket of cold water had hit him hours ago, but not yet, one more thing. "Need to speak … with Mr. White …, as soon as you can …. Before the pain med … be best." But after the blanket Lee hoped.
"He's in the lead vehicle. I'll let him know you want him," Toskins spoke into his radio. "Redbird this is Hotdog. We have a passenger would like to talk to you."
There was a pause while Toskins listened to his radio. "He'll be back the next time we slow down."
Lee closed his eyes and caught his breath as a spasm of pain went through his stomach. This was getting very old.
"I need someone to keep pressure on this wound," Toskins yelled to the truck at large.
"I can," someone said.
Lee felt the pressure change as the new hand came down on his stomach. This pressure wasn't as hard as the corpsman, which was okay with Lee. At this point it was all about pain management, he wasn't worried about bleeding to death, that seemed too distant, in the face of the immediate pain of someone pressing on his stomach.
"Listen, Tamin," Toskins said his mouth near Lee's ear again to make himself understood over the noise of the wind rushing past the truck and the diesel engine straining as they started up a steep incline. "We need to get you wrapped up in a blanket or your going to go into shock on us. You understand?"
Yeah, Lee understood. He understood shock and he understood that he was freezing as the cold night wind blew in the back of the truck on his naked skin.
"I'm going to sit you up and wrap this blanket around you. Don't try to help just lie still and let us do all the work; I'm going to put your hand on top of this bandage. Now I know it hurts but I need you to keep a little pressure on that for me so we don't get that bleeding again." Toskins took Lee's hand in his and placed it over a piece of cotton bandaging. "Just push gently there for me."
Lee closed his eyes and clenched his teeth together and pushed down on the piece of gauze. This was not going to be a good experience, but it would pass. The SEAL corpsman was very gentle, lifting Lee and wrapping the blanket around his shoulders and then laying him back down on top of another blanket. Once the pain of the blanket rubbing on Al-Ash'ari's knife work eased the warmth felt wonderful.
"Now let me take another look at that hole," Toskins gently lifted Lee's hand away from his stomach. "Okay. I'm not going to mess with that. I'm going to put some duct tape over that piece of gauze. The bleeding has stopped for now and I can't do anything about the bullet in there, so keep very still and let's not restart the bleeding."
He felt Toskins applying the duct tape tightly to his stomach. The pressure on his ribs took his breath away for a moment and he struggled to breathe again. "Try to relax and catch your breath."
He didn't bother acknowledging Toskin's command as he struggled to breathe. He could hear Toskins on his radio. "Redbird I need you back here to talk to this guy now."
"He's on his way," Toskins said. Lee felt the truck slowing and then accelerating again.
"Hello there, Tamin," the SEAL leader said as he squatted down next to Lee, touching him gently on the shoulder. "Good job on the hostages."
"Nice ambush," Lee said and hoped what he did with his face was a smile. He was still shivering and by this time with all of the adrenaline out of his system he was so tired he could hardly control his desire to close his eyes and just sleep in spite of the pain and the cold.
"What can I do for you?" White asked.
"We still got the same … extraction plan … we had?" Lee hoped that this at least had not changed.
"Same plan," White confirmed.
Oh heaven, Lee thought, home again, home again.
"I need to know… if anything happened… with your team... that would lead.. anyone in this country… or Afghanistan… to make you for a SEAL team?" Lee felt like it was taking forever to annunciate his question, as he had to struggle for a breath after every couple of words. He sure hoped he wouldn't have to ask it again.
White gave his shoulder a slight squeeze and was silent, he hoped giving his question serious consideration. "I'm assuming you didn't go to that much trouble to ask me that question without a good reason. I won't make you tell me what it was, maybe some other time." White was silent again.
"I think we were clean. We came in clean, HALO. No one found our gear. I guarantee it." White paused again, "We picked up our transportation in Dhansa and drove to our meeting with you. We could certainly have been made as some kind of insurgency group, or whatever you like, any where along that route. Someone could have decided we were Americans but no reason to. No one would have any reason to think we were a SEAL team."
"Thanks," and then when White started to rise grabbed his pant leg the only part of him he could reach fast enough to stop him. "Wait," Lee paused again closing his eyes for a moment. Almost done. "Water," he said finally.
Toskins or White raised his head a little and gave him a small swallow of water. He was so dry that the dryness was becoming more of an issue than the pain. "I can't give you much water until we deal with whatever is going on in your stomach," Toskins said gently in his ear.
Lee nodded his understanding. He'd spent enough of his time on the edges of Medical Science to have great respect for its practitioners if little patience with their understanding of his body.
"White," he said when he had his breathing back under control.
"Yeah, go ahead I'm listening," White leaned so close Lee could feel his breath on his face.
"There is a leak…" Lee finally managed to get out. He hoped White was hearing him. He knew his voice wasn't very loud and the noise from the engines, the wind and the truck, gradually being shaken apart by the road they were traveling on, was nearly over whelming. "bin Basamed was in the ambush… He told me… there was a SEAL team… coming… for the hostages."
"I got it," White gave his shoulder a squeeze, which just about put Lee under. Don't touch he wanted to scream. "I'm putting you, and the hostages on the flight out with one wounded from my team and your corpsman here. The rest of us are taking Lodhi to meet a group from the Pakistani defense forces and make some political capital. I'll report your leak next radio check."
Lee shook his head no. "Can't go up… the COC."
He waited while White worked his way through this information. If White reported the leak to his superiors it would move its way up the Navy chain of command, too many people would know about it. The culprit would almost certainly get this information just as he had gotten the original information about the SEAL team. He would know he was in danger and cover his tracks long before any action could be taken. Lee couldn't take a chance on dying with this information not passed to ONI but handled wrong the information was useless.
"I'll tell ONI …48 hours … if not then you." Lee thought this should give him time to report if he was able. To make sure they got the best chance of following up the information. If not … well this was the best he could do with the strength he had at the moment. That was the last thing Lee had to do in Pakistan. He had gotten the hostages and he had safeguarded his information. "How long?" he asked, hoping White understood the question.
"About four more hours to Lulusar Lake. Don’t know how long your flight out is." Lee did the math. With take off and the time underwater Lee figured the flight was about an hour and half.
"Hour plus," he said to White. "I need.. to be able to give my info… to whoever meets… our flight."
White nodded and spoke to Toskins before turning back to Lee, "I'll see you before you go, Tamin. Been very nice working with you, sorry it didn't go better on your end."
Lee was sure he smiled this time. "We won… they lost." He opened his eyes and nodded at where he knew White was.
Toskins took White's place shouting in his ear. "I got some pain med for you, sir. It'll put you out but only lasts about four hours. That do you?"
Lee nodded, as he noticed the sir this time, coming from Toskins. He guessed he had moved in the man's estimation from Pashtu spy to some sort of American operative. He was going to miss his Tamin cover. Tamin had a lot of friends among the Dakar. People he had known for years. He wondered if it was salvageable after all of this. Fleetingly his mind flashed back to the pile of bodies in the room in the compound. The Salarzai at least wouldn't be betraying him. Poor Chanir, poor Gul Zaman.
He felt the needle in his arm and a few minutes later he was floating. The SEALS always had the best stuff he thought, the best gear and the best drugs. Good drugs, a SEALS' best friend. Maybe he should have stayed in the SEALS, done drugs, just floated on a sea of drugs.
October 19th, 0530 Hours Indian Ocean 300 miles WSW of Jiwana, Pakistan on board Seaview
Chip looked up from the plot table as the Admiral came into the Control Room. "Admiral?" Chip said, a question as much as a greeting.
They had been station keeping off the coast of Pakistan now for 26 hours--waiting. Chip felt his hopes rising when he saw Admiral Johnson enter the control room behind Nelson. Maybe something was finally happening.
"Chip, get the Flying Sub prepped for take off," the Admiral returned Chip's smile.
"Aye, Aye, sir," Chip picked up the mic, clicked to clear it and and gave Sharkey the order. Sharkey and Kowalski had been holding themselves and the Flying Sub in a sort of constant readiness, so Chip was sure that FS1 was already more than ready to go.
"Chip you want to take the flight?" Nelson asked showing the younger officer some mercy. He knew how much Chip worried when Lee was off on these missions.
"There's a full load coming back. You'll have seven passengers. Have Sharkey and Kowalski clear everything they can out of FS1. You'll go without a co-pilot and be over weight coming back."
Chip nodded once, "Aye, sir. When do I leave?"
"Come up to the nose, I'll tell you everything I can."
Chip followed the two admirals to the front of the sub and waited while the doors between the observation nose and the Control Room was closed.
"Admiral," Nelson nodded to Johnson turning the briefing over the head of ONI.
"Commander," Johnson said to Chip as the three men sat down at the conference table. "The hostages have been recovered. The SEAL team and all the hostages are on their way to Lake Lulusar. Their ETA at the pickup point is four hours. The Lake is at almost 12,000 feet, we don't have any conventional aircraft that can get that many people out at that elevation. We don't want to be driving these people into Afghanistan or Pakistan proper. Hence, the use of the Seaview." Chip nodded appreciating the information. He rarely got as much "why" mission information as he would like.
"You will be flying up to Lake Lulusar and sitting on the bottom until you get instructions from us to go to rendezvous point. The SEAL team is in contact with Seaview through their COM Center. We'll relay any changes to the current situation to you if we receive them. Otherwise their ETA is 0800 but it's subject to revision and not likely to be exact given the condition of the local roads. You'll not go to the pick-up point until they have arrived and secured the area."
"Yes, sir," Chip wished he could sit waiting on the beach but understood that the little submarine sitting on the beach might be noticeable. He wondered about the new paint job ordered by the Admiral, she was going to be even easier to see now painted dark red.
"As soon as they have the gear out of FS1 you are cleared to go," Nelson said to Chip. "No harm in arriving early and being there."
"And Chip," Nelson said. "They have three injured. They reported one SEAL and a hostage were injured as well as a local informant."
Chip's eyes hardened and the smile disappeared. "Aye, sir. I'll just go get my flight gear," the anger he was feeling not evident in his voice.
An hour later there was a pile of gear being moved through the ship from the Flying Sub to an aft storage compartment and Chip was in FS1 finishing his pre-launch, flight check.
Once airborne Chip found that the little flying sub handled quite differently with the five hundred pounds of gear that she normally carried gone. She was lighter in the rear with a bit of a yaw if he wasn't careful with his rudder pedals. After a few minutes though he was accustomed to the lighter aircraft and enjoyed her quicker rudder response. He made his last radio check before crossing into Pakistani airspace and then went into radio silence until he reached his destination.
Lulusar Lake was beautiful and unusual, high in the Himalayas surrounded by peaks of red granite already covered with the early winter snow of mid-October, the red from the granite on the bottom of the lake made the water appear red in the early morning light. Chip made a straight in approach not wanting to spend any more time airborne near the rendezvous then necessary, wanting to get the sub out of sight on the red floor of the lake. He made a steep entry in knowing the lake was deep, and not wanting to get too near the shore. Once he was underwater he gave a ping with his sonar. He was pleased to see he was over three hundred yards from the bottom. The lake wasn't very large, probably not much more than a thousand acres, but very isolated on top of the world.
Chip located the rendezvous point on the shore and moved the sub to within a few hundred yards and then let her settle into the red sand on the bottom of the lake. 0745, he had made good time, now he just needed to wait.
October 19th 0815 Naran Valley, South Waziristan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan.
Before feeling the pain Lee was aware of the cold. So cold. Where could he be so cold? At first he thought he was diving. Maybe he was diving under the ice. Then he realized he wasn't wet. So he couldn't be diving. He could feel the truck still trying to bounce his fillings out and remembered, Pakistan. He opened his eyes and could see nothing, so he closed them again. Pakistan, he had seen it before. If he was in this much pain surely he was still alive.
He understood that he had a blanket over his head when someone removed it and he could see a faint light. It was a soft light, not headlights or flashlights. It must be morning. He tried to move his hand over to feel the hole in his stomach. Curious if it was still bleeding. As soon as he tried to move he realized there was someone's hand resting on his arm under the blanket.
"Don't move, sir. You'll just start the bleeding again. Just lie real still."
Tomkins? No. SEAL, Corpsman, Toskins. Lee felt a moment of satisfaction. Still alive and still able to think, this was starting out a good day, except for the cold and pain. But he figured he was still in Pakistan so he was bound to be cold, too bad about the pain though.
"You've been out for about four and half hours. We are very close to our rendezvous and you'll be on a nice Navy ship soon getting all sorts of United States TLC."
Boat Lee thought, but didn't bother to say anything. He figured he had about two sentences in him. He would save them for something he really needed to say.
One of the things Lee loved about the SEALS was they knew what was important information, and when they could, they gave it to you. Oh yeah and the drugs. He forgot those great SEAL drugs. What wonderful people they were and then decided if he was getting sentimental about the SEALS, it must be that those great SEAL drugs were still in his system.
Lee moved his legs and arms a little, doing an injury inventory. He could move them all the little he tried. He could feel the pain from the knife wound on his right arm when he flexed his arm muscles even the little bit to shift his hands. Nothing seemed broken but he was awful weak. He knew that feeling. He must have lost quite a bit of blood in the night. The torture too would have left him weak. His body had been going overboard on the adrenaline and endorphins lately. He figured combined with the cold and lack of sleep and even for him lack of food, he was probably in a pretty well trashed body at the moment. Was going to need a little rack time before he was good for much.
He needed to get warm. He had been cold too long. Most of a life time of working in and around the ocean had taught him how much cold his body could stand and he knew he was past the threshold the SEALS had taught him he could handle. He needed warm and soon.
Someone tilted his head up and put a water bottle to his lips. The small swallow he was allowed felt great but seemed to be absorbed by his dry mouth before it ever reached his throat. "I can't let you have any more. You got a big hole in your stomach we need to patch up before you get a good drink."
Lee supposed that was wise but would have liked to risk a leaky stomach for a good long drink. "You want more pain killer?" Toskins asked. "I got something I can give you. Not so good as that other stuff but it will help a little and not make you sleepy."
What a good kid. He wasn't going to try and drug him if he didn't want it. Nice working with people who understood mission trumped personnel. "Be good," Lee managed. The corpsman gave his arm a squeeze and Lee closed his eyes again to concentrate on the pain. The trick with pain was getting control of the rhythm. Pain had a rhythm and if he could get a hold of this pain's rhythm he could manage it better. Just needed to concentrate on it, make it smaller so it wasn't the only thing he could think about. He never felt the prick of the needle and wasn't sure what the corpsman's medication did, at least the pain didn't get any worse. That was a good thing he thought he might be just about on the edge of the amount of pain he could handle. No more was very good.
He was still working on pain management when the trucks stopped and the world went quiet. The mind numbing noise had been so constant that the silence was startling. He opened his eyes and was surprised to find the world much brighter then when he had closed them last. He could hear quiet voices outside the truck. That would be the perimeter being set up he decided. Then his truck shifted and moved as the front doors opened and the driver and passenger got out. He closed his eyes again, he wasn't going anywhere until someone moved him. Four years at the Academy and another ten in the navy had taught him that things move at their own pace, his job right now was to wait.
He could hear voices in the back of the truck now. He recognized the voice of Senator Styles. Did he really just ask "Are we there, yet?" The guy had more of a sense of humor than Lee had realized.
It took less then five minutes before someone jumped into the back of the truck. Lee recognized the voice of White when he began speaking. "We are at the end of the road folks. Everyone out of the truck, and on the ground beside the vehicle. We'll load our wounded first. One of my men will escort each of you to the aircraft when your time comes. You remain on the ground until someone comes for you."
It was the voice of everyone's first drill instructor. He almost smiled. There was a lot of shifting and stepping over him in his position at the rear of the truck. He felt very vulnerable lying there feeling all those people nearly step on him.
"Senator I need you out of the truck and on the ground," White said.
"I'm wounded," the Senator said in some exasperation.
"Well, yes sir, you are wounded but if you can walk to the aircraft I need you on the ground." White spoke with that patient edge to his voice that men like him saved for idiots and politicians.
"I think I can walk. It's very painful," the Senator spoke as he climbed over Lee, Toskin's threw himself across Lee's head to prevent the Senator kicking him with an ill timed step.
"We're going to pick up the blanket you're laying on and carry you out." Toskins said to Lee rising up from his nearly prone position.
"Thanks," Lee said and got a smile.
"Glad to help, sir."
Blankets don't make great stretchers. They stretch too much to keep the passenger flat, unless the men carrying them are very strong and expert. The SEALS, of course, were both. Even so the trip out of the truck was painful and unpleasantly disorienting. Lee was glad he hadn't had more water as the world tilted and rolled. The outside sun was very bright but welcome all the same after the endless night. Lee closed his eyes against the brightness and the dizziness and the pain. This too would all pass. Soon he would be home and warm.
He could hear the rocks moving under the feet of the men carrying him and then the sound of water sloshing and then a miracle of sounds. He opened his eyes and there was Chip smiling down at him, albeit with that grim 'I'm really worried so I look angry' smile that Chip was so good at. But it was Chip and that meant he was nearly home.
"Lee," Chip touched him gently on his forehead, running his hand back into his hair. "Missed you."
Lee smiled, or he at least thought he had moved his mouth. He wasn't sure how his voice would sound and he didn't want to scare Chip by sounding as done in as he felt. So he said nothing and concentrated on trying to smile.
"Hour and a bit and we'll be back aboard," Chip supplied the information he knew Lee would want. "Everything is fine on the boat."
Lee nodded and tried for another smile. From the look on Chip's face he thought he should probably have stuck with just the nod. There had been a definite hardening of the frown when he went for the smile. He closed his eyes again, must be losing his touch, that smile usually charmed.
He knew the Flying Sub was warmer than the outside air, he could feel the difference on his face but he was so cold it didn't seem to matter. They put his blanket stretcher on the bunk and Toskins immediately peeled back the covering blanket. "Your bleeding a little bit again but it doesn't look too bad, so I'm going to leave it." Lee didn't think this was a medical problem he needed to comment on and didn't bother opening his eyes. He could hear the others coming into the Flying Sub and hear Chip directing them where to sit. It was going to be a full flight. Lee felt someone replace his blanket and then there must have been another one or two added to the pile.
He felt Chip's hand on his head again. He opened his eyes and met Chip's. Neither of them said anything. Just looked at each other for a moment. Then Chip nodded. "We're off, Skipper," and he was gone. He let his eyes close and listened to the sounds as Chip readied the aircraft for takeoff. He concentrated on the sounds, and the actions he knew went with them, to get himself away from the pain.
"I'm going to stay here beside you and make sure you don't come out of that bunk. I don't want to put those restraints across all those cuts on your arms and chest." Toskins said breaking into Lee's takeoff procedure for a moment, but he tuned him out and concentrated on the Flying Sub. He could hear the engines coming up to full power. Chip wound them all the way up, the Lake must be short if he wanted a full power take-off Lee decided.
October 19th, 0820 Lake Lulusar, South Waziristan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan.
It was really ridiculous. First that so called corpsman tells him last night that his gunshot wound is actually an abrasion from falling against something sharp. As if he could tell. The kid wasn't a doctor and it was dark in the truck. Then they treat that Arab as if he was an American. They loaded him into the little aircraft first and put him in the bed while he, a United States Senator is left sitting on the floor.
He was tempted to tell them to move the man so he could lie down. After all the man had probably never even slept in a real bed before. Probably didn't even know what it was, like those refugees who had never seen a flush toilet and thought it was for washing clothes. The man would probably be more comfortable on the floor, more what he was accustomed to.
After considering it for a moment though, he decided the image of his sitting with the other hostages might be a stronger one, than him lying down on the bed. Showed that in adversity he remained strong, that even wounded as he was he could walk out of his prison unaided.
Yeah, they had actually done him a favor there. He wished someone had a camera, he wondered if any of the SEALS did. He supposed they did.
"Robert, why don't you ask that SEAL corpsman if he can get a photo of us all here?" Styles suggested quietly to Carstairs. "Sort of a memento for all of us."
Carstairs opened his eyes and looked at him a moment before looking blearily around the crowded space for Toskins. He was at the opposite side of the aircraft still hovering over the Arab. Carstairs got to his feet and started trying to make his way over the other passengers when the pilot yelled at him to sit back down. Carstairs complied, Styles thought a little too readily, didn't even put up an argument. "Sorry, Senator, guess not."
Styles didn't think he looked particularly sorry, but of necessity let it go. Another hour and he would be back where he belonged. No more trumped up soldiers ordering him around. He smiled to himself, a picture would have been nice, but there was going to be so much good publicity out of this a photo here or there wouldn't matter.
Styles noticed that when Toskins climbed over him to get to the pilot there was no reprimand. Military all stuck together. Wait until appropriations came though, then it was every service for itself, see how the Navy did after this debacle.
"Sir, can I radio ahead the status of the wounded to your ship's doctor?" Toskins asked the pilot.
"Let me get you a direct link to our Sickbay."
Styles tuned out the radio chatter while he looked over the passengers for the CNN reporter. He was going to want to give him an exclusive interview before they parted company. Get a feel for how he was going to be spinning their shared captivity.
"Go ahead, you have Doctor Jamison on the radio," Styles attention was caught by the radio communication now. He wanted to hear how his wound was described. The wound was going to be important. He had bled for his country, how many candidates could say that?
"I have two walking, one mid-twenties with a broken rib from a round caught in his vest, one late-fifties with a small laceration to the upper arm. One stretcher late twenties multiple serious lacerations and burns torso and arms also GSW lower abdomen no exit. He has multiple broken ribs and shows symptoms of some internal bleeding. He is currently hypothermic. He is responsive and not bleeding. GSW about five hours old." Toskins stopped as the pilot grabbed the wrist of the hand with which he was holding the mic.
"Thirty-two. He's thirty-two." Styles watched the staring match between the corpsman and the pilot trying to figure out what their problem was. Funny the pilot seemed to know so much about the Arab.
Toskins nodded to the pilot, "yes, sir, thirty-two."
Toskins clicked down on the microphone in his hand and spoke again, "correction Doctor, the GSW is thirty-two."
"I have that FS1. Thirty-two. We will be ready for your casualties. Seaview out."
Toskins handed the mic back to the pilot who signed off and hung the mic up on the radio set by his right leg.
"How's he doing?" the pilot asked Toskins. Styles was glad to see the pilot never took his eyes off the view out the front window of the little craft. He was a very sour sort of individual but at least he paid attention to flying the airplane.
"He's still alive, sir."
Style thought they should have been much more worried about the condition of the United States Senator on board the aircraft than the possible terrorist. Then losing interest in the discussion between the medic and the pilot he thought about 'laceration'. That sounded like a knife wound. The sort of wound a person could get in hand-to-hand combat with a terrorist. He decided his best approach might be the 'ah it was nothing' one. That way when the CNN guy wrote his book and said something slighting about his wound, being a reporter he was sure to be a liberal and slighting of Styles' wound. Styles could go 'aw shucks I said it was nothing' and be clean. Yeah, he liked this better and better. Be sure and get a sling for it though, for the press conference, so later there would be plenty of pictures to show just how serious it had been.
"We'll be landing in another fifteen minutes. We will take all the unwounded off first, they will be followed by our two walking wounded. Toskins you stay with your patient. I want you to sound off now by the numbers from the back to the front and you will exit according to your number." There was a moment of silence before the helicopter pilot, Gilroy, sounded off with "one." The others quickly took up the count.
The pilot ordered, "On the wounded Sergeant Carson will go first and then Senator Styles. All clear? I will be at the ladder to help the Sergeant and the Senator."
The pilot didn't sound like he was particularly interested in whether anyone liked his plan or not. Styles wondered what ship he was from. He was certainly an unpleasant young man and Styles wondered if it was worth his while to look into his future career. He decided not to bother unless the man became more troublesome.
"I need you all off here as quickly as possible so we can get our wounded tended to. Climb up the ladder and someone will meet you and show you where to go." Yes, a very demanding young man.
October 19th, 0935 FS1, Indian Ocean, 200 miles SSW of Jiwana, Pakistan
Chip eased off on the throttle a bit more and allowed FS1 to lose more altitude. He had been dropping altitude a few hundred feet every mile or so coming up on his rendezvous with the Seaview. With the vehicle over weight he had not trusted the autopilot on the trip back and so had been stuck in his seat the whole trip.
He wanted to be with Lee. The corpsman had said he was doing okay, but really how much did a corpsman know. Lee looked awful. Not just that his face was bruised and bleeding but his lips were some shade of blue and his eyes had been almost dark brown. Lee's eyes were not dark brown. Chip almost didn't recognize him with the beard and bruises and the pain filled eyes. If it had been anyone else looking like that he wouldn't have known who they were. But this was Lee. As soon as he looked down at him he knew. He knew before he looked if he was honest with himself. He knew when he saw the four SEALS walking over the rocky shingle that they had his best friend wrapped up in that blanket.
Lee couldn't even smile. Chip knew what that thing with his lips was supposed to be. It was supposed to be that "I'm invincible" smile Lee always gave him when he woke up in Sickbay. Not this time though. That smile was all cold and pain.
Now that the aircraft had lost some more altitude Chip asked her for more speed. He needed to get Lee home fast.
October 19th, 0945 Seaview, Indian Ocean, 300 miles South, south west of Jiwana, Pakistan.
Styles stood up as soon as the little aircraft stopped moving and then he was stuck standing there for five minutes while the rest of the passengers filed out. When he was ready to go he had to wait while they passed some strange looking stretcher down. He couldn't believe they made him wait for the stretcher. Like if the Arab was going to die two minutes were going to make a difference.
He might have to check out the pilot's record after all. He would get his name later. The Navy didn't need any more rude officers; there were plenty of good officers out there who understood civilian control of the military. This young man should not be allowed to gain some position of power. The next thing would be a "Seven Days in May", a military coup.
Styles put the future of the obnoxious pilot to the back of his mind as he prepared to make his entrance. He had never seen the Seaview, although he had certainly heard enough about her at various committee hearings. The submarine apparently ran on money, just like the rest of the Navy. Nuclear power--the free energy, sure!
Styles was glad for the boost from the pilot down below. His wound must have weakened him even more then he realized as he had trouble with the ladder. Happily a couple of rungs from the top he felt a helping hand on his arm.
He was delighted to get to the top of the ladder and find a welcoming committee waiting for him. He recognized Johnson, head of ONI and Nelson, the owner of Seaview. Well, he should have expected this. The Navy would want to do some big time 'sucking up' after their helicopter malfunction had caused this debacle.
What he hadn't expected was the way the ship's crew had turned out for him. He had seen pictures so he knew from the big windows that he was in the front of the sub. The large room he was in seemed to be full of officers and sailors. They were standing several deep all around the periphery of the room. He could see across the room out into the corridor many more just standing looking toward his arrival.
He greeted the two admirals and allowed Nelson to introduce him to his officers. Nelson turned to some of the ratings. "This is Seaman Riley, he will conduct you to Sickbay," Nelson said. "I understand you were wounded in the rescue?"
"Thank you Admiral, but it was just a scratch," remembering himself Styles cradled his arm in his opposite hand. "I'd appreciate getting it tended to. Let me just take a few minutes to speak to some of your crew since they were kind enough to come out to wish me welcome." Styles smiled at the Admiral who started to say something, no doubt to compliment him on his courage in the face of the pain of his wound, but then just smiled slightly.
Styles turned to the crewmen and began shaking hands and saying hello. They all seemed quite pleased to see him. He was glad his wound was on his left arm leaving his right free for these greetings.
He noticed some of the men were distracted when the stretcher appeared coming out of the access hatch to the little flying submarine, but he'd worked some very distracted crowds in his time and knew how to keep the spotlight.
"Hello, there sailor, what's your name?" He put his left hand on the fellows shoulder as he shook his hand. "What's your job here?"
"Uh…Kowalski, sir," the young seaman kept trying to look past him so Styles adjusted his position to keep his attention. "Sonar man, sir. Excuse me, sir, for a second the Skipper's going by now I need to just let him know I’m here," the sailor stepped around the Senator and reached into the passing stretcher to touch the blanket.
"Welcome home, sir," he said so softly Styles could hardly hear him. When the sailor turned back to the Senator, Styles would have sworn there were tears in the young man's eyes.
"You know him?" Styles asked, prepared to show some compassion. The towel head must be one of those Paki's that had served with the U.S. military to gain experience.
"Yes, sir, he doesn't look very good." Kowalski quickly rubbed one of his fingers under his eye.
"Oh, I'm sure he'll be fine. Those people are very tough," Styles reassured him, then he turned to the kid who was his guide.
"Lead on young man, but lets take our time so I can say hello to a few of these people." Styles touched the young man on the shoulder. Physical contact was very important in creating that warm connection with people for which Styles was noted.
Riley led off, but Styles was astonished to find the crowd of people disappearing. He could see down the hall, crewmen standing in door ways and intersecting corridors to touch the passing stretcher, but then they were leaving before he could get there to greet them. They must have heard he was wounded and assumed he was in the stretcher. Perhaps he could have some sort of event on the Seaview with the crew before they docked. They seemed like earnest young people, not like that pilot.
October 19th, 0950 Seaview, Indian Ocean, 300 miles South, south west of Jiwana, Pakistan.
As Chief Medical Officer of the Seaview, Will Jamieson had patched up his friend and captain often enough to know that multiple lacerations and burns were either Lee falling down a cliff into a fire or someone doing the nasty. The gunshot wound lower abdomen, well that could be bad or very bad. Since it had happened hours ago and the bleeding was stopped and he would have his hands on Lee in minutes he was feeling optimistic, very anxious, but optimistic that he could pull Lee's chestnuts out of the fire again. That throw yourself into danger and let Jamieson worry about the consequences Crane, could be saved from himself one more time.
Jamieson checked the operating theater once again to make sure everything was ready. Then he walked over to the gurney he would use for his initial examination and prep before moving Lee to the sterile theater to operate on the "GSW no exit." Everything looked ready. He ran his hands over his face tiredly and stood leaning against the wall for a moment. Oh Damn. Then he walked over to the sink and washed his hands and put on a pair of sterile gloves. It would be what it would be. He needed to separate the way he felt about his friend from what he needed to do for his patient, one more time.
Jamieson stood in the open Sickbay door looking forward. He could tell from the movement of the crewmen in the adjacent intersecting corridor that the stretcher was approaching. There was a soft whisper of sound as men touched the stretcher or blanket, as the men spoke softly to their Captain as he passed. Carefully touching, so as not to cause the man any pain, but so he would know they were there. Softly speaking, so he could hear if he was able, but so as not to disturb if he could not. Jamieson thought he could feel the emotion as it moved through the sub with the stretcher.
He didn't need to see Frank walking down the corridor, the front of the stretcher in his hands to know who was coming. The Seaview knew and all who sailed in her knew. The Captain was home again, Jamieson stepped into Sickbay to once again fight to keep that Captain on his boat, to keep his friend alive.
October 19th, 0950 Seaview, Indian Ocean, 355 miles South, south west of Jiwana, Pakistan.
Lee tried to keep his eyes open as the stretcher moved through the corridors. All these men had come out to wish him well; he needed to let them know he heard them. It was hard to keep his face still, to keep a small smile on his lips.
He had to give up on the smile a couple of steps past the Admiral. He really didn't want to worry the Admiral. He was pretty sure he had given him a reassuring smile. He thought he had moved the right facial muscles for that, but he hadn't gotten the feedback from the Admiral such a smile should have elicited. He suspected it was the shivering that had worried the Admiral. He couldn't seem to stop shivering.
As careful as Frank and John were every time they took a step the stretcher moved and shifted and the coarse wool blanket moved. The constant shivering kept his body in constant movement against the blanket. Much as he loved the warmth of the blankets he'd begun to fanaticize about satin sheets on open burns, surely that would be better?
By the time they left the Control Room he needed his mouth open to get enough air. Damn ribs made breathing hard. Also, the thing with burns, as Ash'ari had planned, was the residual. A knife wound hurts but unless it's a wicked wound didn't expose that much of the really nerve rich dermis to the world. Not so a burn.
A good burn, a burn created by a man who knew how to make a good burn, was a second-degree burn over a moderate amount of surface area. Too big a burn threatened to put the victim into shock, too deep a burn and the nerve cells were destroyed, no pain. The idea is not to kill the victim just cause pain. The other thing about burns is that they got more effective with passing time. Lee thought his felt like they were maturing very nicely. He could only hope Al-Ash'ari was burning where he was now. He was pretty sure he was.
Lee watched the overhead lights pass above him. He wished he could touch the bulkhead for a moment and just feel Seaview. He was sure Chip would have said something if there was any sort of a problem, but if he could just feel her engines vibrating through her bulkheads, feel the life of the boat he would know all was well.
He could smell Sickbay the moment they manhandled his stretcher through the door, an antiseptic smell normal to that space. The quietness, the separation from the life of the boat that was unique to Sickbay, the separation that he hated so much. Even Sickbay though was an improvement over the sheep shed.
The stretcher stopped moving and Lee opened his eyes looking for Jamie. He didn't have long to wait before he saw him. Poor Jamie. Lee wanted to tell him about no concussion but didn't have breath for the banter he so enjoyed with the older man, maybe later, business first. He closed his eyes again. It was just too hard to keep them open.
Frank and John were already pulling off the restraints that had held him in the stretcher when they had pulled him up from the flying sub and peeling back the blankets that had kept him from freezing to death. He could hear them talking back and forth, a background noise to Jamie's voice.
"Welcome home, Skipper. I'm going to start an IV, Lee and get some pain meds going for you and then we're going to get you out of those clothes and on another gurney so we can see what needs doing."
"Wait, Jamie," damn that didn't sound very commanding.
"Lee, you're bleeding," he had, of course, not waited. Lee could feel Jamie trying to lift his hand off the hole in his belly. He tried to fight him but a four-year-old kid could have beaten him arm wrestling just now.
Someone had a hold of his other arm and he knew the IV, was on its way. No doubt with one of Jamie's special brews of knock out drops.
"Jamie…, stop now... That's an order." Lee put everything he had learned in four years of Annapolis and ten years as a serving officer into that command. It still wasn't all he might have hoped for. They wouldn't have been able to hear it across the control room, but he didn't need it to carry. Jamie was inches away from him pulling at the tape that was holding him together.
"Lee, I can't fool around right now. This is serious." Jamie at least stopped pulling on his tape. The wonderful tape Toskins had applied to hold his life in his stomach. Good boy Toskins, so nice to deal with, so wise for his years. Lee concentrated on Jamie trying to get him to listen. He was starting to lose the thread as one corpsman was messing with his arm and another was doing something to the legs of his pants.
"Jamie… stop everything… now." Lee needed to stop the action so he could concentrate. He no longer had the energy to plan through the pain. That energy was all used up on Al-Ash'ari and in the back of the truck. All he wanted to do now was get warm and sleep. Let Jamie make him all better and sleep while he did it.
"Please… don't make me fight you… I can't… Just listen." Some of the desperation that Lee was feeling must have gotten through because everyone stopped. The room was quiet.
"I need… to report… Now." Lee knew how this was going to go with Jamie. "Get the Admiral…whoever is on board… from ONI." Lee had to stop again to catch his breath. At least Jamie was listening. "That's an order." Lee didn't think that last probably sounded all the martial, given the amount of effort it took to get it out.
"Lee." He could hear the anxiety in Jamie's voice.
"Don't… make this for nothing." He managed to get his eyes open again and focused on Jamie's face. "Its more important…then me…, Jamie."
He knew that for the doctor that was going to be impossible to believe. But Jamie was a Naval officer. Lee hoped that Jamie would remember that. He didn't think begging was going to get him anywhere. Begging was for when Jamie got to decide, this time he didn't, Lee decided. The commanding officer decided. "Its an order."
Even so Lee could feel Jamie hesitating. He was so accustomed to overriding Lee on health issues that he had to stop and think what to do. Lee could make a convincing argument for why Jamie had to obey him in this instance, if he had the strength and time. But he had neither. He needed to get this report made while he still could.
Jamie put Lee's hand gently back down on the tape covering his stomach and disappeared from his view. He closed his eyes and went back to pain management. A moment later he heard him on the ship's intercom calling for the Admiral and Admiral Johnson. He was surprised that the head of ONI was on board Seaview, but it would make this much easier.
"Skipper, they're on their way," He could feel Jamie messing about with his arm again. "I'm going to start you on an IV. Nothing that will interfere with your reporting," he assured him. Lee nodded his head a fraction. "We have to get you out of those blankets and dirty clothes can we do that while we wait?"
Lee shook his head slightly, "No." He needed to husband his strength, he couldn't handle the extra pain just now. "Wait." Lee felt someone pull the dirty blankets back over him. They were nasty but they were his. Beautiful blankets to keep him warm, if he could ever get warm. He stopped his wandering thoughts with an effort. Think what he was going to say in as few words as possible. Concentrate for heaven's sake, Crane, almost there.
"I got some warm blankets for you, Skipper." Lee didn't bother to open his eyes as he felt someone moving his blankets and covering him with something different, something warm and dry.
The Admiral must have already been on his way to Sickbay. He was through the door not two minutes after Jamie made the call. Lee could hear him talking to Jamie. Lee waited with his eyes closed. He was sure Jamie would tell him when both Admirals were there. No reason to think Johnson had been in route to Sickbay with Nelson.
"He ordered me to stop all treatment until he could report to you and Admiral Johnson." Lee wanted to give Jamie credit, no sound of aggrieved injustice in his voice.
"And you listened?" That was Chip. Lee opened his eyes and turned his head slightly toward the sound. It was an almost involuntary movement. Chip.
"Yes. It was an order."
Chip. Lee could see him next to the Admiral and Jamie. Their eyes met. Chip was angry.
Then he was beside Lee at the head of the gurney, no doubt already positioning himself to be out of the way of the brass but close to Lee. "Lee?" Chip put his hand on Lee's head pushing his hair back off his forehead leaving his hand on the top of Lee's head.
"Let Jamie help you, Lee," The Admiral's soft voice brought Lee's eyes from Chip's face to the Admiral's. It was so good to be home, so good to be safe.
"Johnson?" Lee asked.
"I'm here, Crane," Admiral Johnson said walking up to the gurney beside Nelson, thoughtfully not taking him to task for using no honorific. "This is Jeremy Hodges, Special Advisor to the President on Terrorism, Hodges' aide David Thornby who will be taking notes."
"Now, what is it, Lee," Nelson stepped away from Lee's shoulder and further down the gurney so Lee could see him better, speaking with the patience one shows Alzheimer victims, Lee thought. Hodges stepped up to the gurney next to Lee's shoulder. "What couldn't wait until Jamie finishes?"
Lee swallowed and concentrated on not letting his teeth chatter. He could surely control his shivering for a minute. "There's a leak… Not ONI… Not CIA…" He took a short break to catch his breath. "Someone.. who was briefed on the mission… They leaked… Not in Pakistan. High level leak… about me… the SEALS."
Lee closed his eyes again. He hoped that would cover it if he didn't survive the surgery. Certainly, a more complete de-briefing would have been better. He thought Johnson should be able to figure it all out with that amount of information though…
Just then Al-Ash'ari stuck the knife in his arm again. "Who are you accusing of leaking?"
Lee tried to move away from the pain and called out to Ash'ari, "Enough" in Pashto. He thought they were done. He thought there were no more knives. He could hear a scramble beside him.
Ash'ari was dead? Who had cut him? Ash'ari was dead.
He opened his eyes to see Chip pushing the President's Terrorism guy across the room, his hand around the man's wrist, Chip's body between the man and Lee.
"CHIP." The Admiral's voice at his most commanding.
"Yes, Sir," Chip at his most Annapolis. Still holding on to the man's wrist.
"Mr. Hodges, you were invited here as a courtesy. You assault one of my officers again and I will bring charges," Lee thought he must be drifting again. Had the President's something on Terrorism stuck a knife in him? Had he assaulted Chip?
Jamie was hovering over him so he couldn't see what was happening. Lee closed his eyes.
"He's lost a lot of blood. I need to get him into surgery," Jamie was sounding a little desperate Lee thought. Funny because he thought he was feeling a lot better. He wasn't so cold any more, just sort of drifting now. He thought he might just keep his eyes closed. It was better. He listened for Seaview, sometimes in the quiet he could hear her so clearly.
October 19th, 1025 Seaview, Indian Ocean, 400 miles South, south west of Jiwana, Pakistan.
Senator Styles continued to stare at him. "I demand to see a doctor."
"I'm a trained Navy Corpsman, sir. I'm very capable to taking care of the scratch on your arm. It just needs a little antibiotic cream. Doesn't even need stitches…" Kowalski felt like he was making no headway at all here. He'd already explained to this very unhappy old man that there was nothing wrong with him. But if the old geezer wanted a little TLC Kowalski would supply it. At least it kept Kowalski in Sickbay near the Skipper.
"I require a doctor. I'm a United States Senator. I've been wounded and I need to see a doctor." Styles spoke slowly, a pause between each word. "What part of wounded didn't don't you understand?"
"The doctor is in surgery. I'm sure he will be glad to see you when he finishes." Kowalski smiled at the Senator, tried to put him at his ease, reassure him like the books said. "The doctor asked me to see to your wound, sir."
Styles had actually over heard one of the other enlisted assistances tell this moron to stick a band-aid on the VIP because the doctor needed both him and his pal in surgery.
"He's operating on the Paki?" Styles couldn't keep the incredulity out of his voice. These guys sure did love their allies, if the Paki even was an ally. You couldn't be too careful these days, a friend one day and an enemy the next.
"An American is wounded and the only doctor is operating on a potential enemy of the United States? That sounds like dereliction of duty to me!" Styles felt quite good about that last part. It had the sound of something a military person should understand, no matter how obviously mentally deficient.
"Sir, they are operating on the Skipper. He's an American."
Huh, well he had spoken very good English. Probably a naturalized citizen, that was something but still…Skipper? That last just registered.
"He's operating on the Captain of the ship?" Styles thought he might be getting somewhere now.
"Boat, sir. The Seaview is a boat."
"Boat, ship. He's not operating on the Paki then? He's operating on your Captain?" Styles guessed there must be some loyalty there. The doctor probably figured a Captain in the hand beat a Senator in the bush, very pragmatic if a tad short sighted. But if Styles' wound festered it would be the last operation the doctor ever performed.
It seemed like the surgery could have been re-scheduled after his wound was tended. As it was when he arrived at the Sickbay on the ship, no boat, how could something so big be a boat? Still when he had arrived the door had been locked. He and his escort had stood out in the hall waiting. He had been surprised to see the two Admirals come out along with Hodges, the President's little terrorism stooge and Hodges' aide. Aside from a polite, "Hello," they had ignored him and disappeared down the corridor, Hodges talking away a mile a minute to his aide--he couldn't remember the aide's name. He must be tired. He'd met the aide at the meet and greet when he first came aboard the ship. His business was remembering names and he'd forgotten that guy's. Styles sighed, he needed to get some sleep or he would be forgetting his own name soon.
Admiral Nelson had at least shown some compassion. Had conducted Styles into the doctor's office, no Sickbay, yes one of those Navy terms like boat for ship. He had to keep all the terminology straight. No point being strong on defense if he didn't sound knowledgeable. Styles had seen the doctor standing not twenty feet away; he and two of his assistants, working over the native he'd been in the back of the truck with.
The Admiral had found a chair for Styles. Then Nelson called this sailor on the intercom. He got them both a cup of coffee while they waited. At least he thought he called it coffee. He could still see the cup sitting on the table next to him. Hadn't tasted anything like any coffee with which he was familiar. Sort of smelled like coffee, but it was so thick and strong that Styles had choked on the first swallow.
Then this idiot corpsman showed up. Styles explained he needed a doctor but the Admiral just patted him on the shoulder and told him he would see him at dinner and wandered out the door. Styles wanted his bandage, his sling and then a shower and dinner. He was tired of this idiot. He wanted a doctor.
"There you go, sir, as good as new." The idiot actually smiled at him again. Next he would be offering him a lollipop.
"I'll show you to your cabin. You can get a shower there and someone will bring you breakfast." Was the man trying to bribe him?
"The doctor will be by to see you as soon as he gets out of surgery."
"Very well. Let me have a sling for my arm and then we can go," Styles finally gave up; breakfast had been the dealmaker. He decided at this point he wanted breakfast and a shower even more then he wanted the doctor. After all, as long as he had the bandage and the sling, what did he need the doctor for?
"A sling…yes, sir, certainly." The sling was produced, finally.
"You might want to wait with that until after your shower, sir." Styles decided the idiot was right. After eight days, most of it in that pig sty of a barn a shower for sure.
October 19th, 1135 Seaview, Indian Ocean, 460 miles South, south west of Jiwana, Pakistan.
"Let me make sure we have everything Mr. Craig." Admiral Johnson knew he wouldn't get the whole story from this man, he was a CIA operative and would only give him as much as he needed to stay within the letter of "Interdepartmental Cooperation", but it would still be more then he had gotten thus far from Crane.
"So far as you could determine the crash was simple equipment failure, this, by the way, has been confirmed by the Navy. They repaired the chopper and flew her back, less any of her interior equipment that could be removed with a screw driver or a hammer." CIA already had this but no reason not to let Craig see that the cooperation was going both ways. It wasn't often that he got to debrief a CIA agent before the agency got their hands on the man. He intended to get what he could.
This was primarily a Naval problem. It was a Navy chopper that did the emergency landing and was primarily Naval personnel lost and entirely Naval personnel involved in the rescue. That made it a Navy operation and the CIA could take their lumps so far as he cared. "You, and the group you were rescued with were never separated and never questioned by your captors."
"As I said, sir, we weren't questioned with the exception of the local contact, Tamin. He joined us on the next to last day and had already had some sort of a beating the first time we saw him. He was then questioned at least three other times and I would judge from what I saw of his condition it was a very physical interrogation." Craig clarified as well as he could. He was very uncomfortable with this entire process. He knew who Johnson was and had been instructed by his station chief to cooperate. He just wasn't sure how much he was supposed to cooperate. So far he felt he had been asked nothing and told nothing that wouldn't be readily available from other sources. He didn't really think he knew anything that would be of any interest, that wasn't known by everyone involved in the kidnapping. Still he tried to be very careful what he said.
"I believe, sir, that it was a straight forward kidnapping of opportunity, that situation didn't change until the last day, when Al-Qaeda entered the picture. On no occasion were we questioned by any of our captors. I'm not even sure that the original captors knew who we were beyond that we were American. The Al-Qaeda people didn't have us under control long enough to do much of anything and the only one they separated and questioned was the local guy, Tamin."
"Are you sure they were Al-Qaeda?" This was the nub of the whole issue. Who had entered the fray on that last day and who had killed the 14 Pakistani nationals outside of Wana? There was already pressure from the Pakistani's for clarification of the activities of the rescue operation and what had happened in that compound.
"I'm sure that I recognized Rafkin Al-Ash'ari, he's on our watch list. If he was there it was an Al-Qaeda operation. We heard the gunfire in the afternoon. Sure sounded like a firefight. After the shooting ended we never again saw any of our original captors. When we were loaded in the truck it was dark, except for the headlights. I saw a pile of perhaps four or five bodies, but I never got close enough to identify any of them."
"It was Al-Qaeda though that took you from the compound and Al-Qaeda that you were rescued from on the road."
"Yes, sir, after the rescue I saw Al-Ash'ari's body and also the body of bin Dashani both members of Al-Qaeda. I'm sure the SEALS can clarify this, they were taking photos of all the bodies." Craig knew Johnson was going to confirm everything he said and that his testimony was probably nothing more then confirmation of the SEALS' reports and he was tired of going over the same ground again and again. He'd had a quick meal when the questioning began but now he wanted a shower and some real sleep.
"You said that the native contact, Tamin, seemed to know the original kidnappers?" Johnson just couldn't let it go, Craig sighed softly as he answered this question for the fifth or sixth time.
"Yes, sir, they beat him up when he first got there but later when they came to get him they seemed quite friendly. However, when they brought him back from the second meeting I believe it was Al-Qaeda that brought him. They were more aggressive in their treatment of him and remained on guard inside our hut. Something our original captors had never done. He had been beaten severely when they brought him back the second time and they handled him quite roughly. I never saw the men that came for him the second time again." Craig ran his hands over his face and poured himself another cup of the atrocious coffee mixing it with equal parts milk trying to cut some of its bitter strength.
"Then you say they came for this Tamin again and when he was returned the third time he'd been tortured." This question came from Nelson, who had previously been silent. He looked so angry Craig was hesitant to answer him. His ruddy face was flushed and his hand was shaking slightly with suppressed fury. Craig ran over his testimony in his head. He'd told everything as accurately as he could, he didn't know what he had said to enrage this admiral.
"Yes, sir, I believe so. He had no shirt on when they brought him back the last time. There wasn't much light in the shed, by that time of night, it was almost totally dark except for their flashlights, but I could see, even in that dull light, that most of his torso was covered in blood and he was unconscious when they brought him in. Then they threw a bucket of water on him and left him there with an armed guard to keep us away. He was definitely in a bad way." Craig drank more of the coffee to give himself an excuse not to look at Nelson who looked like he was ready to murder him.
"And they came and got him again?" Now Nelson wouldn't let it go.
"Yes sir, that was the last time. About half an hour or so after they threw the water on him. It was freezing in that shed, if they hadn't gotten him I think he would have died of exposure."
"And that was the last time you saw him until they threw him in the truck?"
"Yes, sir, and he looked very bad then, but conscious. I think they had been at him again. I could see in the truck because of the headlights from the vehicle behind us. He was bleeding from quite a few wounds. I think the water had rinsed a lot of the blood off in the shed so I think these must have been new wounds. Could have been old ones reopened, of course, but at the time I had the feeling they had been at him again."
"Alright, Mr. Craig, let us just go over the events of the ambush again and I think we'll be finished." Johnson said taking over the questioning from Nelson, who had by this time become so angry he was up pacing around the room.
"Yes, sir, Well, when they threw Tamin in the truck I spoke to him to let him know he was in the truck with all the hostages. They threw him in on the floor and I wasn't sure how bad he was. He managed to get one of the guards to pull him up on the bench next to the rear guard."
"Did he seem to know the guard?"
"No I don't think so. The man certainly wasn't gentle with him, yanked him up and sort of threw him back against the side of the truck and then yelled something at him in Arabic."
"Okay, then what?"
"Tamin caught my eye and when I blinked to let him know I saw him he nodded at me so I figured he knew something," Craig laughed sardonically. "Had no idea what he knew. I guess like me he was expecting a rescue attempt since we were making a night time move." Craig stopped replaying that moment in his mind. The other man had been shadowed by the bright lights of the Land Rover so he couldn't really judge how badly injured he was, but he had seen that nod and known that whatever was coming he was going to have some help. That had meant a lot to him, to know he wasn't going to have a truckload of terrorists to deal with alone.
"Yes, go on."
"The trucks pulled out." The slow start of the convoy, the loud noise of the trucks and the wind whipping that tarp over the back of the truck like gunshots going off, the cold wind blowing in freezing under his blanket. How cold had that man been in the back of the truck with just the thin shirt thrown over his shoulders? Craig gave an involuntary shiver.
"How's he doing? Tamin?"
"He should pull through. What happened next?" Johnson sounded like it was a matter of complete indifference whether the man lived or died. Craig remembered the way the man had moved in the back of the truck. That moment when he had looked up and seen that guard's gun training on the Senator.
"Our truck stopped. There was a tight turn all the trucks had to stop and back up to make the turn. After the second or third vehicle had made the turn the Land Rover behind us was hit with something, IED or RPG, not sure, any way it blew up and there was a lot of gunfire. I had Tamin's knife like I said and I attacked the guard beside me. I got him down on the floor and I was wrestling with him. By the time I managed to kill him Tamin had dispatched both the guards at the rear of the truck. He had an AK-47, I assume from one of those guards. I could see the guard in the back of the truck opposite to me, he was aiming his rifle at Senator Styles. I had no weapon except the knife, nothing I could do to stop him. Tamin pulled Styles off the bench and shot the guard. Then he fired two more shots. I think at a front passenger but I couldn't see from where I was, on the floor of the truck."
"So you took out one of the guards and Tamin who by your testimony had been tortured and beaten repeatedly during the previous 24 hours took out four guards and saved Senator Styles life?" Johnson sounded incredulous.
"Yes, sir, once he got his hands on that rifle, he hit what he aimed at as far as I could tell. As I say it was difficult for me to tell for sure, but he killed the guard across from me with a headshot, I could see that clearly in the flames from the Land Rover. Once the shooting stopped and I looked in the front of the truck, the window between the front of the truck and us was blown out and both the driver and passenger were dead, head shots, so I assume one or both of them were killed by Tamin."
Craig paused for a moment replaying that night in his head, the cold, the noise of the wind and the truck engines and the gunfire and most of all the fear. His fear when he had looked up and seen that guard with the AK 47 preparing to fire, knowing there was nothing he could do to prevent the man from killing first Senator Styles and then everyone else in the back of the truck. "Actually, I found his disabling the two guards at the rear of the truck and getting a rifle the more amazing feat. If he hadn't been there we would all have been killed by those guards."
"Mr. Craig did you hear any one speak to Tamin in English?" Hodges asked.
"No, sir," he hesitated, "that is we did after he spoke English to us but none of the hostiles that I ever heard."
"Did anyone say anything in your hearing about SEALS or about the possibility that Tamin might not be a Pakistani?" Hodges continued.
"Mr. Craig this interview will be transcribed by Mr. Thornby and you will receive a copy to read over. Make any changes or additions you can and we will meet again to discuss it later. Unless Mr. Hodges or Admiral Nelson have any more questions I think we can let you go get a shower and some sleep." Johnson looked at Hodges and Nelson to see if they were finished.
When neither Hodges nor Nelson expressed any interest in additional questions Johnson thanked Craig again and walked him to the cabin door and sent him on his way with the crewman waiting in the corridor.
"That certainly jives with everything we have heard from the Commander Gilroy. Do you suppose there is any point in talking to Styles?" Johnson asked the other two.
"This is your show Gavin. I'll listen to anyone you want to question," Hodges said to Johnson. "I'm most interested in your man's assertion about the leak and so far there is no one here who can address where that allegation came from. We need to talk to your man Tamin."
"Lee Crane, Commander Lee Crane." Nelson spoke with such suppressed fury that Hodges' jerked his head back as if he had been struck as the other man took a step toward him.
"I didn't realize. I thought he was a native ONI operator." Hodges looked at Johnson. "When you clarified for me in Yokosuko I thought you told me he was not a SEAL commander but a native ONI informant."
"No," Johnson said. "He's an ONI agent. It was his Intel that found the co-pilot and the two Marine guards as well as these hostages. Actually, without his Intel I think we would still be wandering around Pakistani with our heads up our proverbial sixes…well any way the only worthwhile Intel we got on this entire fiasco is what he supplied. He's a very experienced agent and when he comes back from a mission with this sort of allegation we take it very seriously." Johnson stopped. He knew Harry was angry with Hodges for his grab at Crane in Sickbay and that he was angry at ONI that Crane had come back from the mission in less than stellar condition. "He's a navy Commander Jeremy, just not the commander of the SEAL team."
Hodges nodded his understanding and wondered if they couldn't just all go to the number designation for the military ranks and get rid of these antiquated honorifics that caused confusion.
Johnson was unaware of Hodges' nod as all his attention was focused on Nelson. Harry's temper was famous through out the Navy and Johnson had been on the receiving end of more then his share of Nelson tirades, especially in the last year and half since Crane had come to work for NIMR. But he didn't think he had ever seen Nelson this angry before. Normally when Harry got mad he yelled and threatened and then went off and cooled down. It was over an hour since Crane had been brought aboard the boat and Harry had just continued to become more and more angry. Johnson was becoming concerned the man might have a stroke or a heart attack if he didn't cool down soon.
October 19th, 1210 Seaview, Indian Ocean, 500 miles South, south west of Jiwana, Pakistan.
Chip poured himself a cup of Jamie's coffee and sat down in one of the two chairs he thought Jamie kept just for him and the Admiral and days like this. He had all their guests in their cabins. Cookie had orders to deliver breakfast to all of them. Chip didn't want to mess with them in the Wardroom just now. The Admiral, Johnson and Hodges and their assistants were all in the nose in conference with Craig, the reporter from CNN.
Chip drank some more of his coffee and started in on the reports he had brought with him. After a few minutes he realized he had read the same line five times and still didn't know what it said. He sighed and looked toward the closed door into Jamie's operating room.
Lee. When that…that..., he relaxed his hand where he was gripping his laptop. When that special assistant to the President grabbed Lee by the arm, and Lee cried out in Pashto, Chip had known, he knew it wasn't just a gunshot wound. He had been so angry. He rubbed his hands over his face; he could have killed that guy. He'd grabbed the wrist of the hand Hodges had on Lee and pushed him across the room. If the Admiral hadn't yelled he could have killed that man.
The anger rolled up in Chip so he could hardly breathe. Lee wouldn't have called out in a foreign language just because that guy hurt him. That was a flashback, Lee flashing back to someone else hurting him. Chip put the iMac down on his chair and got up and paced around the small Sickbay. Sometimes he missed the clipboard full of reports, something he could throw across the room. He stopped and just stood for a moment his hands fisted at his sides, he wanted to hit something, someone.
When he'd walked into Sickbay and Lee looked at him, he had suspected then. Lee had that look, a haunted look Chip never wanted to see again. He walked up and down the Sickbay again. This just wasn't making it. He opened the door and left, he needed more room, he would walk down to Engineering. He stopped outside Sickbay and leaned his forearms against the bulkhead for a minute, his head against his fists. Damn it, Lee.
Chip opened the Sickbay door and returned to his seat, he picked up the iMac and flicked it back to life. He needed to be here. Engineering didn't need him. Lee needed him--that he had seen plainly the moment he walked into Sickbay. He would stay here.
Jamie was another two hours coming out of the operating room. Chip studied his face to see how things had gone. Jamie was tired. He walked over and sat down next to Chip, absentmindedly folding his mask in his hands as he sat. Chip waited.
"I think he'll be okay. Nothing alone that was life threatening." Jamie paused, staring across the room at the opposite bulkhead. "Bullet must have gone through something or hit something before it hit Lee. It was really deformed and didn't do much internal damage, just made a big hole going in, blood loss mostly."
Jamie rubbed a hand over his head removing the green cap he had worn for the surgery and pushing back his sparse hair. "I need a cup of coffee," he said, but made no move to rise, instead leaning forward resting his weight on his forearms on his knees. "They tortured him."
"Yeah, I know," Chip, said glancing sideways at Jamie who was now staring intently at the deck.
"Cut him up with a knife, must have been hot, cauterized the wounds as they cut him." Neither man said anything both now staring intently away from the other. "Burned him, second degree burns, a few third degree. Beat him, two broken ribs some internal bleeding but he was very lucky there." Jamie rubbed his hand against the sweat left by the cap and the heat of the lights in the surgery.
"I want a shower, I feel...dirty." Jamie sighed and wiped his hands on the cap he held.
Chip sat silently thinking about Lee and what had happened to him.
"I don't know how many stitches I put in him," Jamie turned toward Chip looking angry. "Admiral Johnson wants to know when he comes out of the anesthetic so he can question him. Question him…" Jamie ran his fingers through his hair again. "How's that any different, withholding pain medication so he's conscious so he can be questioned? Tell me, Chip, how is that any different from what they did to him?"
Not waiting for his answer Jamie stood up. "I'm going to take a shower and get something to eat. John and Frank will be finished in there in another twenty minutes and you can go sit with him. He won't wake up for a couple of hours, I gave him some pain medication."
Chip looked at the stubborn angry expression on Jamie's face and said nothing. There was a lot of anger going around right now. It was rare to see Jamie angry but he was mad now. Chip watched him drop the mask and cap on his desk and then head out the door to the corridor. He had always known Jamie was older than he and Lee, he had just never realized how much older he was. He looked like an old man walking out the door.
As Jamie stepped out he nearly walked into David Thornby the aide to the guy who had grabbed Lee. Chip stood up hoping the man would do or say something that would require a physical response.
"I'm sorry Commander, Mr. Hodges asked me to check and make sure the patient was all right and ask when he would be available for questioning."
"Not for several hours Mr. Thornby. I just finished surgery. It will be at least six hours before he's conscious." Chip could see Jamie pull himself back together as he addressed the other man, pride in his boat and position preventing him from revealing the exhaustion he had shared with Chip. Thornby nodded to both men and after looking briefly around the room again turned and left.
It was half an hour before Frank came out and nodded to Chip. "You can go in now, sir," Frank hesitated, "he's still unconscious."
"Thanks, Frank." Chip stood inside the door for a while looking at the still form in the hospital gurney Jamie kept for the most seriously injured. Lee looked small lying on the bed. He was a tall man standing, but lying down the slenderness of him made him seem small. His face unnaturally pale set off from the white pillow more by his dark hair than the color of his skin. Either Frank or John had already moved a chair over next to the bed and Chip sat down gratefully. He had been up since 0130 and it was now almost 15:30. He was tired and glad to sit.
Lee's left arm lay along his side, an IV line running from under the light blanket that covered him to the stand next to the bed. Chip sat on the opposite side of the bed and picked up Lee's right hand in his. Lee's hand was covered in small abrasions and cuts the nails were torn in places and the cuticles were still dark with dirt. This was not his friend's hand. He saw Lee's hands a lot at the chart table, on the keyboard of his computer on the table in the Wardroom. They were clean, long fingered and neat, not these damaged, dirty hands. Eyes closed, a large bruise on his cheek not completely hidden by several days' growth of beard and dark shadows under his eyes made Lee's face as unrecognizable as his hands.
Lee was tall and straight, immaculate and vibrant, his eyes bright and flashing with some bit of mischief or stern and confident in the face of some disaster. This small, still person… Chip turned Lee's hand over in his. He could see the calluses all across his palm from lifting weights. Lee said they were part of his cover. Chip ran his thumb across them, "Been lonesome in there all by myself, no one to spot for me."
Giving Lee's hand a gentle squeeze he put it back down on the bed and pulled the light blanket up to more fully cover him. Then knowing how cold Lee always felt in Sickbay he walked over to one of the empty bunks and grabbed an extra blanket. He shook the blanket out and covered Lee's legs and feet with that as well. Then he stood over him for a moment, pushed Lee's hair back up off his forehead, "Hey, buddy, missed you. We had a big steak feed on Saturday night. You would have enjoyed it. Had chocolate cookies and ice cream."
He picked up his iMac and began reading the report on the new torpedo guidance system they had been testing for Raytheon. They'd already had to pull two of them for re-calibration and they hadn't even had a chance to test fire them yet. He told Lee about that, then he pulled out the repair data and dropped it into the spreadsheet he had developed when they first started the test and put it in his outbox for Raytheon. Told Lee he would let Raytheon take a look and see what they thought. No way the Navy was going to want them if they couldn’t keep them working.
He moved on to the usage report from Cookie and began checking it against the stores report from Sharkey. He was pleased to see he had been right on with the number of steaks for Saturday night's dinner. Told Lee how Cookie had said 140 would be enough but Chip had ordered an extra 20 and they had all been eaten without any trouble.
He flipped through to the report from Engineering on the new electric engine being used to power the gas coolant to the reactor core. He told Lee that the efficiency of the new engines was better than the old ones, but again he was a bit concerned to see that they had already had to pull one of them out for repair and had replaced it with one of the older engines. He pushed the report back down to O'Brien in Engineering and told him to pull the old engine and replace it with the spare new one. Told Lee he wanted to give the new ones a fair test by using two of them. Then he told O'Brien to break down the damaged one and let him know what he found.
He'd just flipped to a second report from O'Brien on the new re-wire they were doing on the forward trim tanks when he heard Lee mumble. He set his computer on the table and reached up to gently lay his hand on Lee's forearm.
He'd only been sitting there for an hour and a half but he never expected Lee to stay under as long as Jamie did. It still amazed him that Jamie expected Lee to react to the drugs he gave him the way the drug companies said he would. He guessed Lee was partly responsible for keeping Jamie in the dark. He had Jamie on a sort of need to know basis so far as his health went. Jamie got to know whatever he could ferret out, or what Lee thought he absolutely had to know, and that wasn't any more usually then Jamie could find out when Lee wasn't conscious.
"Hey, buddy. You waking up?" Chip was careful not to put any pressure on Lee's arm or to move it at all. He could see that the whole of his upper arm was bandaged. He knew with the broken ribs and the bruises on his face that Lee had had at least one good beating. He'd been beat up enough to know that even without everything else Jamie had eluded to, Lee was going to be hurting all over.
He'd deliberately not looked under the blanket to see how bad Lee looked. He didn't think he could stand to know just this moment. He didn't want to be that angry right now. He needed to be calm for Lee, not pacing the corridors in a fury. He knew enough. Some sadistic bastard had tortured his best friend. Really the specifics of it didn't matter to him at all.
"Hey, Lee, you're on Seaview. We're still in the Indian Ocean headed toward Diego Garcia. We'll be there by 0600 day after tomorrow. We're dumping these VIPs on the way, meeting a chopper off the Enterprise. The Admiral had us out here for a week gathering soil samples waiting for you to pull off one of your miracle rescues. Looks like you didn't disappoint. The hostages are all back safe and sound, be they ever so ungrateful."
He was reminded again of the Senator. Kowalski told him he'd bandaged a cut on the guy's arm and he had asked for a sling. The whole crew had heard this story and had been laughing about it ever since. They were angry with the man because he had apparently told Ski that he thought the Skipper was an Arab terrorist. So since then every time one of the crewman saw the Senator they would stop and ask him how the arm was and if it was bothering him, did he need any help.
Cookie had asked the man if he wanted his ham cut up for him when he served him his breakfast. It had taken Chip's entire XO command stare to keep the JO's from laughing out right when Cookie told them. Had been really funny though. He wasn't sure if the Admiral knew what was going on with that. He would tell Lee, it was just the sort of crew story he liked the best.
Chip suspected the Skipper might not understand why the crew was so angry with the man. Lee wouldn't understand that the crew had been lining the corridor waiting for him to pass and the Senator had been in their way, trying to shake their hands, when they wanted to see Lee pass. He wouldn't understand that part at all. Chip smiled at his friend. "The crew is enjoying having a Senator aboard. They've been going out of their way to make him feel welcome."
He slipped his hand into Lee's very careful not to jar his arm and gave his hand a squeeze. "I'm right here, buddy. You're safe here. You're home. The boat is good. We are all good and you're going to be fine, now." Chip paused to give Lee a chance to say something if he was conscious and wanted to. "You're making Jamie very happy staying here in Sickbay like this."
Chip felt Lee's fingers tighten on his slightly. "I'm right here buddy. It's just you and me. Jamie's gone to get dinner, Frank's in the office watching your monitors. You can tell me what you really think about the new secretary in HR." Chip returned Lee's squeeze very gently.
"Yeah, hang on, Lee let me get you some water." Chip knew how dry anesthetic, not to mention gunshot wounds and torture could make your mouth. He picked up the cup on the table and put the straw in Lee's mouth. He held the cup still and waited while Lee sorted out what muscles he needed to draw the water into his mouth. It took him over a minute. Not a new record by any means. It took a really long time to figure that out after a concussion. Straight bullet wound and days of torture not so long.
Chip felt himself getting angry again as he watched Lee struggle to draw the water up the straw. He forced himself to relax. To keep the hand that held Lee's soft and gentle, to hold the cup steady. He had spent his whole adult life learning to control his emotions to do his job. It took all that self control now as he felt the fury trying to overwhelm him. He could understand at that moment what might make a man a terrorist. He wanted to blow something up, to destroy something.
Lee took a couple of swallows of the water and Chip took the cup back. "Not too much, Lee, let that settle first."
"Its 1340 we're still almost 38 hours cruising from Diego. We're dropping all our rescues and the Admirals with the Enterprise we expect to meet them at 0540 tomorrow about 1400 miles NNE of Diego," Chip told Lee what he knew he wanted to know.
"All the hostages are fine. There was one marine injured in the rescue and, of course, you," Chip squeezed Lee's hand to let him know he wasn't going to ride him hard on this. "I swear you must be some kind of goofus only one to get shot."
"Hey,… only one shot… no vest…No concussion …, tell Jamie, no concussion." Lee's eyes were open now, just slits but he managed to smile at Chip, a small, half smile before letting his eyes close again. "Tired," he said, the exhaustion evident in the fading tone of the word.
"You warm enough?" Chip asked, knowing anything more solicitous would be wasted.
Lee just nodded his head once slightly and gave Chip's hand a small squeeze. Chip heard him say, "Home," very softly the small half smile still on his lips and knew he had gone to sleep again. He carefully disentangled his hand from Lee's and bent to pick up the iMac only to see Jamie standing in the doorway. Chip smiled at the doctor who tiredly returned his smile.
"I see superman is back with us," Jamie walked up to the other side of the bed and checked the level of the IV bag and then reached over to check the port in Lee's hand. Finally, like Chip he brushed his hand across Lee's forehead allowing it to rest there. With all of his equipment he still felt the need to touch his patients, to feel their illness in his hands. "He was awful cold when they brought him in. May have helped save his life. Slowed the blood loss," Jamie was talking to himself as much as Chip. "He'll be cold for a while between the blood loss and the hypothermia."
Chip nodded, "I put the extra blanket on him. He's always cold in here."
Jamie nodded this time. "Yeah, because he's usually low on blood and high on trauma. " Jamie sighed, "Go eat. I'll stay for a while. I told the Admiral he was coming around, he'll be here soon."
Chip hesitated. He didn't want Hodges in here with Lee when he wasn't here. He didn't want him to be with Lee when he couldn't defend himself. "I'll watch out for him," Jamie said reading Chip's normally inscrutable face without difficulty. "Don't worry, the Admiral won't let that happened again."
Chip stood up, but still hesitated looking down at Lee. "Don't leave him alone, okay Jamie. He's going to need one of us here when he wakes."
"I won't. Me or the Admiral I promise."
Chip nodded, "I'm off duty until 0800. I'll eat, then I'll come back."
Jamie hesitated now. He hated for Chip to sit up all night with no sleep. But he agreed with him. Lee was going to need someone he knew here when he woke up. "Get some sleep after you eat. I'll call you before I turn in."
"Deal." Chip flashed him a sad smile and, picking up his computer, walked out.
October 19th, 1520 Seaview, Indian Ocean, 2190 miles NNE of Diego Garcia
A noise woke him. Someone groaned right in his ear waking him. He didn't have an opportunity to think about the noise. As soon as he woke the pain overwhelmed him. He groaned and realized the first groan must have been his as well. He tried to pull his body into the pain, to roll to his side and pull his legs and shoulders into his stomach. There was a fire in his stomach. Some one had put a hot poker in his stomach and was twisting it. Twisting it in his intestines. Twisting the hot poker.
"Lie still, Skipper, I'm going to give you something for the pain. Try not to move."
He could hear the words, could hear the voice but he couldn't comprehend the words. He couldn't stop to listen to the voice, identify the speaker. He just wanted to roll up on the pain and see if he could ease it. He couldn't move. Someone was holding his shoulders pinned speaking into his ear, "You need to lie still. It will get better just hang on for a minute."
Jamieson got the injection into Lee's port and watched Frank holding him, pinned to the bed, while the pain medication took effect. Damn. He'd been watching for Lee to come around, the man ran through pain medication like an elephant. He didn't understand how someone with zero body fat could metabolize medication so fast. He just couldn't over dose him in the expectation of his metabolizing it and the result was his waking up in agony every couple of hours. No wonder Lee had so little faith in him and medicine.
Jamieson lifted the sheet and studied the bandage on Lee's chest for a moment to make sure nothing had torn lose, that there was no tell tale sign of blood on the white bandage covering his chest and abdomen. He hadn't even tried to wrap the bandage around him. He had just laid them down on top of his torso and held them in place with as little tape as possible. He didn't expect Lee to be moving around much, and knew he would be removing the bandage, debriding the burns repeatedly, so he wanted to keep the dressings as easy to remove as possible.
Pain management was going to be the big problem he knew. It always was with burns and with Lee. The two combined were going to be very difficult. Seeing no sign of bleeding he returned the blanket to its place and checked the monitor for Lee's temperature. It was elevated but with the amount of trauma he had been subjected to nothing unexpected. At least he wasn't hypothermic any more. He laid his hand gently on Lee's shoulder. He could feel that his muscles had relaxed and judged that he had again fallen asleep.
Giving his shoulder a small squeeze he left him and walked back out of the room toward his office. He needed to talk to Nelson and see how much longer they could postpone letting Admiral Johnson question Lee.
Nelson wasn't hard to find. Jamieson nearly ran him over when he opened the door into the outer area of Sickbay. Nelson was just putting his hand out to reach for the doorknob when Jamieson opened the door into his face.
"Sorry, Admiral." The first rule of Naval etiquette being that the junior officer is responsible for anything that happens in any group of officers, Jamieson took responsibility for the near collision.
"How's he doing?" The Admiral's voice was tight and almost quivering with anxiety.
"He came through the surgery fine. We have his temperature pretty well stabilized. I'm pushing fluids and nutrients, needless to say I don't think he's eaten in a couple of days and is pretty dehydrated, and I suspect completely exhausted."
"That all being pretty standard for Lee ashore, what about his injuries?" The Admiral was trying for a lighter tone but neither man smiled, both too angry to see any humor in the situation.
"Come share a cup with me, Harry," Jamieson said. "This could take a while and I just gave him a shot he'll be out for a few hours, I hope."
"Let me just look in on him for a minute, Will. I promise I won't disturb him and then I'll be right there."
"I'll get us both a cup and bring them in there, Harry, go ahead," Jamieson smiled and nodded. He'd known Nelson would need to see and touch Lee, just like Chip, before he could do anything else. He watched the older man softly open the door and disappear into the inner room.
Jamieson wondered again at the closeness of the three. He knew the Admiral and Chip liked and respected each other but it was Lee that made them a triumvirate. It was the respect and liking, no he corrected himself, the respect and love that Harry and Chip felt for Lee and that Lee returned that made them such a powerful trio. Lee was the bridge between Harry and Chip just as they were the anchors that seemed to hold Lee in this world.
Jamieson remembered the old admonishment to sailors from the days of sailing ships, "One hand for yourself, one hand for the ship." Chip especially made sure that Lee kept one hand for himself when he wanted to give both hands for the ship. Actually, Jamieson smiled to himself, it was more a case of Lee having both hands for the ship and Chip using his spare hand for Lee. Neither man having any real concern for his own wellbeing. Lee watching out for everyone and Chip watching out for Lee and the ship in equal measure. The Admiral was different…much as Jamieson thought Harry probably loved Lee, rather like a son, it wasn't the kind of love that held the other man back or watched out for him as Chip did. Rather it was a kind of admiration at Lee's audacity and then concern after the fact. The Admiral wasn't much better than Lee at measuring the danger in a situation.
Jamieson poured two cups of the strong coffee he kept in his office and sat down. He knew the Admiral would need a few minutes alone with Lee, plenty of time for him to go in and join the pair. Harry would want to feel Lee back on the ship, back where Harry could try and protect him, until the next time Harry threw Lee, or Lee threw himself in harm's way.
October 19th, 1740 Seaview, Indian Ocean, 2060 miles NNE of Diego Garcia
He wasn't dead. He could feel the pain from the wounds in his chest so he wasn't dead. He was in a pile of dead bodies. Buried under the dead. Trapped so he couldn't move his arms, his chest weighed down by the bodies above him so he couldn't draw a breath. He was suffocating in dead bodies.
He opened his eyes and looked about in a panic to get the weight off his chest so he could draw in a breath and all he could see were dead bodies. He swung his head as far as he could to either side to see if he could move one of the bodies and free himself. He had to get a breath of air, but both of his arms were trapped, weighed down by the dead.
Gul Zaman was laying across his right arm, his eyes open and sightless, a bullet hole in the middle of his forehead, dead but still bleeding, the blood flowing out in a torrent. He tried to push against him but he couldn't move his arm, it was pinned to the old man by a great sword. He looked to the other side and saw Chanir, dead too, bleeding and dead.
He turned away from his dead as a great pain struck him in his stomach. Al-Ash'ari was standing over him, a bayonet in his hand, the weapon stuck in his stomach. He tried to grab the awful weapon to pull it out. But he couldn't move either arm, trapped by the dead. Ash'ari began to twist the bayonet where he'd plunged it into his stomach. Ash'ari was twisting the blade, wrapping his intestines around the weapon. He pushed as hard as he could to try and free his arms but he could move anything. He tried to call out, but no sound came. He couldn't breath and the weapon kept twisting…
He could hear Chip. Chip was coming. He needed to warn him about Ash'ari, not let Chip get caught by the bayonet. He tried to call out, to warn him but he couldn't get enough air in his lungs to make a sound.
Then he was free of the pile of bodies. Someone was lifting him up and he could draw in a breath of air. He tried to put his arm out to pull the bayonet out but he still couldn't move his arms. He tried to warn Chip again and now that he could breath he was able to call out his warning. "Chip."
The sound woke him and he opened his eyes to see Chip there lying across him his face inches from his own, fear and worry writ clearly across his normally inscrutable features. "Hey, buddy."
Lee didn't think Chip's smile was all that successful, but he tried to return it with one of his own. It was hard; it was taking all of his concentration to catch his breath, forced to breath shallowly because of his sore ribs and the bayonet in his stomach. He couldn't seem to catch his breath.
"Call Doc," he heard Chip say to someone and assumed one of the corpsmen had come in, but he couldn't spare the energy to look. He kept his eyes on Chip as he tried to catch his breath. He wanted to ask him to pull the bayonet out, but now that he was waking more fully, he thought maybe there was no bayonet. If there was a bayonet surely Jamie would be here, surely Chip would already have pulled it out.
"Bad dream, Lee, too much supper just a bad dream," Chip stood away from the bed and disappeared from his sight for a moment and then returned with a cloth and began gently to move it over his face, the cool moisture feeling good. Now that he had moved Lee looked down at his stomach to see if there was a bayonet there. No. He'd been pretty sure if there was Jamie would have taken it out.
He was in Sickbay he could smell that. Not the sheep barn. No dead bodies, no bayonet, on the Seaview. He could breath better now, although each breath still hurt and they were coming too fast, at least he felt like there was a little air coming in. "It's okay buddy. Just breathe, I'm right here. You're back on the boat, everything is good."
Lee nodded. Everything was good. Gul Zaman and Chanir and all the others were dead, but everything was good. He closed his eyes and worked on the pain and the breathing. He felt like he had a wound for every dead Salarzai, and decided there was nothing wrong with that.
"What happened?" Jamie had come. Lee didn't open his eyes, just too hard. He felt the new hand on his forehead and then the stethoscope on his chest. He always knew when Jamie was worried about him. He would warm the end of the stethoscope before he used it. Today he barely felt it on his chest. Poor Jamie, poor Chip he had scared them.
"Sorry…, bad dream…I'm fine," he didn't think that carried much conviction even to his ears. No way Jamie was going to buy it.
"What happened," Oh God, the Admiral, they must have sent up a distress flare.
"Pain medication isn't staying ahead of the pain. Burns are hard," Jamie sounded remorseful and guilty.
"It's ok…, just a dream…, I’m fine," he thought if he could maybe get a drink of water he might sound a little more convincing. "Water." Damn that had sounded so faint even he was getting worried.
Chip had heard him though and the straw was there in an instant and the water sure tasted fine. "Thanks," sounded a little better. If they could just get that bayonet out of his stomach; at least he wasn't panting like a dog on a hot day any more. "I'm fine," He thought that sounded a lot better.
"Lee you are not fine, for God's sake." Now he had gotten Jamie upset. He tried smiling at him, looking up through half opened eyes.
"Really, Jamie… much better."
Jamieson reached down and laid his hand on Lee's forehead, "Yeah, Lee much better." He thought Jamie's small laugh was more rueful than convinced and considered again saying something about the bayonet.
He tried to move his hand toward the wound. One hand, the left hand had the stupid IV stuck in it and wouldn't move. The other hand was attached to the arm that hurt like the devil when he tried to move it. But he thought if he went really slow he could maybe move his right hand over, and just make sure they hadn't missed something stuck in his stomach. He was sure Jamie wouldn't miss a bayonet but maybe there was just something small stuck there he had missed.
"Whoa lay still. Don't be moving that arm around." Someone clamped a hand to his wrist that he figured he had moved about two inches.
He was awake enough now to know there was no bayonet, just a sore stomach. "Hurts a little," he tried. He didn't want to get Jamie upset or scare anyone, but it did hurt an awful lot. If Jamie could just move something, make it a little better he thought he would be okay.
Oops, never good when Jamie swore. Now he was afraid he had done something, had he tried to leave Sickbay and run into a bayonet? He couldn't remember, just all the blood and dead bodies. But the bodies weren't here they were in Pakistan or in his dream.
"Admiral, Chip can you wait out in the other room. Frank I need you over here," Jamie was pissed, he had that tone Lee knew so well.
"What's wrong?" Thank you Chip he thought, for asking the thing we all want to know.
"He's got some sort of nasty infection started in here. I'm going to have to try and clean it out again. I hoped the antibiotics could get ahead of anything but …" he missed the rest of it as he fell down a deep hole. He fell away from all the light and sound and pain into a soft darkness.
Jamieson sighed as he opened the door into the front section of Sickbay. Of course, Chip and the Admiral were still sitting in the outer room. Jamieson had felt the weight of their waiting while we was bent over Lee, the weight of their concern added to his own.
"I cleaned the wound out again and changed his antibiotic. He's got a fever from the infection. Now we'll just wait to see if this antibiotic can knock the infection back."
"Johnson still wants to talk to him as soon as possible," Nelson said softly knowing how Jamieson was going to react to this. "I'm sorry, Will it really is important. Very important."
"Not for at least four more hours. I gave him a really strong pain medication. It should keep even Lee out at least four hours, coupled with his exhaustion should really be longer, but who knows. He was in a lot of pain," he finished sadly, berating himself that he had let Lee wake to that kind of pain, yet again. He knew pain management was always hard with Lee, but coupled with the burn pain and the pressure to try and get him conscious and pain free enough to be questioned was turning the normally hard into a nightmare for both of them.
October 19th, 1930 Seaview, Indian Ocean, 1940 miles NNE of Diego Garcia
"Admiral I'd like to speak to you in my cabin for a few minutes, please." Johnson said coming up behind Nelson as the two left the Ward Room after a quick dinner.
"Now?" Nelson asked irritably. He had been hoping to check in Sickbay one more time for a few minutes before retiring to his cabin to read the transcripts from the debriefing of the two Navy SEALS and the Senator's assistant, Robert Carstairs. These debriefings had been conducted by Johnson's aid, Commander Finch while he, Johnson, Hodges and Thornby had been meeting with Craig earlier in the day.
"Yes, Harry, now." Johnson said tightly, with four stars of his own he was accustomed to having any request treated like a royal command and was finding the atmosphere of casual obedience on the Seaview very trying. He'd tried to keep a positive attitude in the face of the boat's undoubted success in so many missions; assuming that whatever slipslop, haphazard sort of operation Nelson and Crane were running it seemed to work. But after several days of not having people jump to his smallest request he was getting very anxious to get back to the real Navy.
Nelson followed Johnson down the corridor to the largest guest cabin and waited while he opened the door. The Seaview was very full, neither the Senator nor Admiral Johnson could be expected to share a cabin so that left finding places for Hodges and then everyone's aides very difficult.
Nelson was damned if he would move someone into Lee's cabin while he was off trying to get himself killed for his country, but in the end he'd had no choice but to move Chip in there and give Chip's cabin to Hodges. The junior officers had all been doubled up and the aides were sharing two junior officer cabins each with a spare cot.
The Navy SEALS were easy, bunking in with crew, and being regaled with tales of Seaview's past missions, no doubt not believing more then ten percent of what they heard. It was so seldom that the crew got guests with high enough security clearances to hear their bragging.
Johnson pulled out a chair for Harry and dragged his desk chair around so the two were sitting on equal footing in the middle of his room. Hierarchy was so important in the military, Nelson thought sardonically; it was one of the reason's he'd left. He'd just gotten bored with all of the posturing. The great equipment and financial backing just weren't worth the constant saluting.
"I need more time, Harry. There's a storm brewing in the southern Indian Ocean. I've radioed Enterprise and they are going to stand down their choppers. That will keep our passengers aboard for at least an additional 48 hours or until we get to Diego. I need you to slow the Seaview so we don't get to Diego until we can sort out this leak problem of Crane's."
Nelson had no trouble understanding Johnson's problem. If Lee was right and there was some sort of high level information leak back in Washington then Johnson was going to want all of his information before he confronted the leak. With Hodges already informed of the problem there would be a mad scramble to cover asses and find scapegoats as soon as Lee was questioned.
"I'm assuming you want some sort of a radio blackout to go with this engine problem?"
"That would be ideal. I need to question Crane and see what he knows. No way I can keep the President's Special Advisor away from Crane if he knows I'm questioning him."
Harry nodded. He didn't enjoy the in fighting or the politics of running the military, but that didn't mean he wasn't very adept at it. No one got to four stars without being able to handle the politics of the military and the nonmilitary. "The CMO had him back in surgery two hours ago. He gave him some pretty heavy-duty pain meds then and didn't think he would be up to much for at least 4 hours. He'll call us when he's awake."
"We need him to move on this, Harry. I need to know what Lee saw or heard in Waziristan that makes him think there is a leak here. I need to know if he heard something or if he's just out of his head." Johnson could see Harry's mouth tighten as he began to come to the defense of his fair-haired boy. "I'm not accusing Lee of anything," he forestalled him, "but people get disoriented when they're tortured. Lee's only human. I need to know what he heard."
He could see Harry forcing himself to relax. "Yes, yes you're right Gavin. I'll speak to the CMO and explain to him what's needed. Even if he can get Lee conscious for us he's pretty sick just now. I'm not sure how helpful he'll be. I doubt it will be anything you can bring to court."
"If he has something concrete for me, Harry, I won't need a law court," now it was Johnson's turn to look grim. "I'm not as close to Crane as you are. I can't afford to be, the places I need to send him, the things I need to order him to do. But don't think I don't know his value as well as you do. Crane will know if he heard something real or if his injuries confused him. He's too good an agent not to know the difference once he's fully conscious."
Harry nodded grimly. He knew the places Johnson had sent Lee over the years and wondered the man could look either Lee or himself in the face but said nothing more. Johnson's was not a job he would have wanted--weighing the needs of the country against the life of his men on a daily basis. It was one thing to send a ship or boat into danger it was another thing entirely to send a man into danger knowing you would do nothing to help him and that you had only endangered him to see who would crawl out of the woodwork.
"I'm going to go talk to Hodges. Tell your doctor we will come when ever he can get Crane awake enough to talk, doesn't matter the time. I need information so I can figure out if we have a problem and how serious it is."
Johnson and information, Harry snorted, how many men had Johnson killed for information. How many times had he tried to kill Lee getting his information? Well he would talk to Will, but Johnson wasn't killing Lee for information this time. He'd make sure of that.
Nelson found Jamieson just leaving the Wardroom. The two men walked to Nelson's cabin where he poured Jamieson and himself a small neat scotch. The two old friends sat in silence for a short time enjoying the liquor and each other's company.
"Lee still sleeping?"
"Or something. He's still out at any rate. The infection was the same forty-five minutes ago when I left. No better but no worse. The infection is a little worrying, the first batch of antibiotics should have taken care of anything he had but the fact that if hasn't worsened in two hours is good. It'll take time before I know if I have killed it though," Jamieson had that tired look that only Chip or Lee in Sickbay seemed to give him. Harry knew Jamieson was the consummate professional and didn't allow his personal feelings to in anyway impinge upon his actions in Sickbay. But he also knew it was as hard on him as anyone to see his friend injured and hurting. Harry suspected in some ways it was harder because Jamieson knew just how much Lee was hurting and felt the responsibility to do something about it weighing heavily upon his every action.
"Johnson really does need to speak to him, Will. You heard what Lee said. If someone is leaking information to Al-Qaeda we need to know," Nelson fidgeted nervously with his glass of scotch. He shared Johnson's sense of urgency but he wanted to put no pressure on Jamieson that might in any way endanger Lee. He felt trapped, not for the first time, between the needs of his country and the needs of his friend.
"I know, Harry," Jamieson sighed. "He's been conscious, fleetingly, a few times but not long enough to get you all there and answer questions. Right now he's in so much pain I'm not sure he could even answer more then one or two questions rationally."
"How long, Will?"
"I don't know. He won't …, shouldn't, even be conscious again for a couple of hours, maybe three. The infection has made him even weaker then he was and added fever to the mix. I just don't know, Harry. How much pain is acceptable here?"
Nelson didn't know. He knew that for Lee and Johnson though, the amount of pain wouldn't matter so long as Lee could function rationally. He supposed he was not really in a position to gainsay his Captain on this. Lee had gone to enormous effort and through hell to get this information; he needed to not impede his delivery of it.
"You know what Lee would say. I think we need to respect that," Nelson said feeling the weight of his words as he spoke.
"And what I asked Chip earlier. Does this some how make us the same as the men who gave him this pain in the first place? That we can alleviate his pain but we don't, to gain his information? Is that different than causing the pain to gain information?" Jamieson who seldom spoke with passion had a bitter tone to his voice that Nelson had never heard before.
"This is different, Will. We would never torture Lee for this information. Our question rather is do we allow him to do what he would want to do. Do we allow him to feel this pain to give us this information or do we keep him safe and pain free to protect him. It’s a different issue, Will made even more straightforward because we know clearly what Lee would choose if we gave him the choice." Nelson found as he spoke that he knew exactly what Lee would do and the knowing relieved him of the awful feeling of impotence that he had felt earlier with Johnson, the awful feeling of guilt at allowing his friend to wake to pain to feed Johnson's need for information. This was the right thing to do and what Lee would choose, of that he was absolutely certain.
Jamieson was silent, sipping his scotch. Unlike Nelson he had not chosen a military career. He had chosen a medical career and then decided to use his knowledge to aid men in the military. He fought constantly with the conflict between his two careers and seldom found anything in his military career that he felt should trump his commitment to the care of his crew's well being. Now Nelson was asking him to not only put his patient into pain but to endanger his health in the quest for information whose value he had no way of determining.
"This isn't a moral choice for you Will. You know as well as I what Lee would choose. I will add my order to his order earlier. You get him conscious and able to answer questions as soon as you can without seriously endangering his life. I should probably just tell you to make him conscious but while I think what he knows is very important, unlike Johnson I'm not sure its more important than Lee." Nelson finished off his scotch in one swallow. "Take good care of my Captain, but we need to speak to him and he'll rest easier once he's spoken to us."
Jamieson nodded. He thought Nelson was probably right on that last part. Lee had been fighting the pain medications since he came into Sickbay. Jamieson thought his need to report to Johnson was probably the reason.
"It won’t be for at least two more hours, sir. But I won't give him any more meds until you have had a chance to talk to him."
"Thanks, Will. Do what you need to do but I'll let Hodges and Johnson know. Call us when you think he's coming around and we can wait in Sickbay. We don't need to keep his conscious any longer then absolutely necessary to get this done."
"Yes, sir." Jamieson felt more comfortable keeping this on a military footing. Harry and Jamie were for sipping old scotch in friendship. Allowing patients to wake up in pain and then keeping them in that condition while they were interrogated went with "Yes, Sir, Admiral, sir."
After Jamieson left Nelson sat looking at the bottle of scotch and thought about another drink. He really felt like another drink. But he decided that the fact that he wanted another drink so he wouldn't be able to think so clearly about his conversation with Will was probably a sign he shouldn't have one. He certainly wanted to make sure he was absolutely clear headed when he talked to Lee. He put the bottle back in his drawer. He could do nothing that might deaden his pain about the order he had just given to not deaden Lee's pain. Closing his drawer he rose to his feet to go and find Hodges and Johnson and tell him they would be speaking to Lee in the next three or four hours.
October 19th, 2015 Seaview, Indian Ocean, 1890 miles NNE of Diego Garcia
"Damage control, report," Chip held the mic loosely in his hand waiting. He needed to give O'Brien a chance to see the damage and hear back from his parties, it all took a bit of time.
"O'Brien, sir, we have a fire in an Engineering Store Room at frame A-64. The fire is under control and will be out in a minute or two, not a big fire, Mr. Morton. Several drums of lubrication oil were breached. We have a lot of smoke here we need to vent."
"Aye, Mr. O'Brien. Let me know when the fire is out," Chip put the mic back on its holder and turned to OOD Lt. Reynolds.
"Mr. Reynolds bring us up to 90 feet. Sparks prepare a burst transmission to Enterprise advising we are surfacing and give out coordinates, let me know when you are ready to transmit."
"Aye, sir," almost simultaneously from Reynolds and Sparks.
"Kowalski I'm going to want a single ping with the burst transmission, coordinate with Comm."
"Damage Control to Conn."
Chip picked up his mic again, "Morton go ahead DC."
"Fire is out, sir. But we have a second fire reported Deck C frame 18. Another small fire I have a party on it now."
Chip double clicked to clear the mic. "General Quarters, General Quarters," he hit the emergency GQ klaxon.
"Ready to ping, sir."
"Do it," he ordered going over to the sonar screen and watching over Kowalski's shoulder. The ping showed clear on his widest screen.
"Transmission acknowledged Enterprise, sir. Enterprise reports no vessels two hundred miles our position."
"Very well. Mr. Reynolds?"
"Ninety feet, sir. Boat is trimmed."
"All slow," he ordered as he climbed up on the periscope island and caught the handgrips as the scope rose. He waited until some of the way had come off the boat and then brought the scope up until it was just breaking the surface. No reason to put up a wash twenty feet high in case this was some sort of an effort to force them to the surface. He went to infrared and did a quick 360 to check the area. Then he brought the scope up another 10 feet and repeated his scan.
"Radar, sir. No surface contacts. I have two planes both showing commercial identification, one at 25,000 feet the other at 28,000 both over fifty miles out not on converging courses."
Chip hit the button to lower the scope. "Bring her up to fifty feet Mr. Reynolds. Increase to flank speed come to a heading of 40 degrees relative."
"Aye sir, Flank speed, 40 degrees relative. Coming up to 50 feet."
He picked up the mic. "Conn to Damage Control."
"Damage Control, Aye sir."
"You ready to blow your smoke?"
"Yes sir. We have both fires out. Sir they appear to have been sabotage. We found part of a detonator in the second fire. Both storerooms had their doors booby-trapped. We have injured crewmen."
"Roger that. You will have five minutes to blow smoke."
"Fifty feet, sir. Course 40 degrees relative."
"Come up to thirty feet Mr. Reynolds. Let me know when our vents are clear."
"Radar how are you contacts?"
"Radar, sir. No surface contacts. Both aircraft continue same course, same altitude."
"Vents clear, sir."
Chip picked up the mic again. "Damage Control, blow your smoke."
"Damage Control, Aye sir, blowing smoke."
"Mr. Reynolds come to course 300 degrees relative."
"300 degrees relative, Aye sir."
Chip was vaguely aware of the two Admirals standing in the entryway to the control room, well out from under foot but watching the crew. Chip considered asking Kowalski for another ping, but decided that would probably be more likely to alert any possible foe then to give them more information at this point.
"Hydrophones sir, all quiet sir."
Chip checked the chronometer. Three minutes elapsed on his blow. He hated being on the surface like this when something was wrong. The place for a submarine when things weren't quite right was under the water. One fire an accident, two fires something is going on.
"Damage Control, how are your casualties."
"Damage Control, sir we have one concussion and one broken arm in the Engineering Store Room fire, both from the booby trapped door. Doc is here now."
"Forward Damage Control report your casualties."
"Forward Damage Control, sir. We have one broken arm and some flash burns. Corpsmen here sir preparing them for transport."
"Damage Control secure your blow."
"Damage Control we have completed our blow sir. We have some residual smoke but nothing the scrubbers can't handle."
"Mr. Reynolds dive the boat to 150 feet. Come to heading 360 relative all ahead standard."
"Aye sir. Coming to heading 360 degrees relative, depth 150 feet all ahead standard."
Chip waited as the Seaview slipped back under the water.
"MAA report to the Conn," he wanted to know who was trying to set his boat on fire.
October 19th, 2016 Seaview, Indian Ocean, 1890 miles NNE of Diego Garcia
John Styles moaned softly to himself. He had eaten too much dinner. After a week of mutton stew and rice the fried chicken and biscuits had been an unbelievable treat, the chicken sweet and tender, the skin crispy the biscuits practically floating off his plate. Now he wished he had eaten a little bit less. His stomach was protesting a too full plate consumed too fast.
He gave up. No way he was going to sleep with his stomach feeling this way. He'd been so looking forward to sleeping for twelve hours on a real bed. Sighing he pulled his pants and shirt back on and headed out the door. At the last minute he remembered his sling and went back into his cabin and grabbed the dark blue cloth. Walking down the corridor toward Sickbay he busied himself getting the thing around his neck and his arm safely stowed.
He was most of the way to Sickbay when the sound of a klaxon rang out above him nearly scaring him to death. God he hoped this boat wasn't sinking. That was all he would need after everything else that had happened. He flattened himself against the wall as a half a dozen seamen ran past him pushing him roughly out of their way. The last man in the group stopped in front of him. "You should be in your cabin sir we are at General Quarters."
"Oh? I was on my way to Sickbay."
"Well you're closer to there than your quarters. Go to Sickbay sir and stay there until GQ ends." The man had gone before Styles could ask him what was happening. This he thought was really one more adventure than he needed. He hurried down the corridor toward Sickbay.
Once he arrived there he had no more then gone in the door when he nearly collided with the Doctor on his way out. "I'm sorry, Senator we have injuries in our Damage Control party. I will be back as quickly as I can. Go wait in my office. There's coffee," and the man was gone followed by his two assistants.
Styles sighed. The last thing he needed was more of that irascible brew they called coffee on this boat. He wouldn't be surprised if the coffee was more at fault for his current condition than the chicken. He did go into the doctor's office, which had the only upholstered chairs in the room and sat down to wait.
All he wanted was an antacid. He saw a small book case in the corner of the Doctor's office and was just reaching for a book when the whole boat shifted under his feet and he nearly fell, catching himself at the last second and sitting down hard on the deck. He closed his eyes tiredly. He should have just gone to bed and ignored his bellyache. It would have passed in a little while.
He heard a noise and looked up sharply. Maybe they were back already. He couldn't see anything from the floor behind the doctor's desk. By the time he struggled to his feet and got to the office door the only sign that someone had come in was the closing of the inner door to back room. That, he remembered, was where they had the Pakistani Captain.
He paused a moment undecided about what to do.
October 19th, 2025 Seaview, Indian Ocean, 1885 miles NNE of Diego Garcia
Lee could feel someone hovering above him. Whatever Jamie had given him was at least as good as the stuff the SEAL corpsman had given him. He was feeling no pain of any kind and was drifting in a very pleasant manner, except that he could feel someone too close, a danger too close.
He had responded to danger too close and saved his life too many times to ignore the warning now. Getting his eyes open and his mind out of the drug-induced paradise was difficult.
When he got his eyes open he wasn't sure he was awake or asleep. There was a man he didn't know standing beside his bed. He glanced down and saw that the man was about to inject something into his IV port. He hoped he wasn't hallucinating when he grabbed the man's wrist and twisted, almost crying out with the pain in his right arm. He sure hoped he wasn't on some sort of funny drug high and attacking Jamie.
If you grabbed a man's hand at the thumb and twisted the correct way it took very little strength to incapacitate the man's hand and cause him considerable pain. This was fortunate because "very little strength" was exactly the amount he had. Years of training stood him in good stead and whatever the man was doing he stopped doing it and dropped the hypodermic on the floor as he grabbed Lee's wrist with his free hand.
In a battle of strength, if one contestant is lying in a hospital bed six hours out of major abdominal surgery and the other contestant is a relatively healthy male standing up, the standing up healthy contestant is going to win any sort of prolonged struggle. Prolonged in this case Lee guessed would be anything over ten seconds.
The hypodermic was gone, out of sight at any rate, but the man had easily broken his grip and was now also out of sight, no doubt scrambling for his needle. Lee didn't think what little noise he could make would do any good. This man wouldn't be in here if there was anyone in the outer room. There was no way he was getting out of the gurney and making some sort of escape. His assailant would be on top of him long before he could do anything effective. He was damned, though if he would lie here and let someone shoot his IV full of God only knew what. He grabbed the IV line and yanked it as hard as he could, pulling the port out.
In his current weak condition the sides on the bed were an insurmountable obstacle. With the rails up he couldn't even roll out of the bed on top of the man scrambling around on the floor. With the IV port gone from his hand he was able to use his arm to lift the rail on that side of the bed and let it drop down. By this time the man was rising back up from the floor. Lee grabbed the IV pole and pulled it toward the bed as hard as he could banging it against the man's back and stopping his ascent for a moment.
The man knocked the pole away and was coming up fast. So Lee rolled out of the bed on top of him. That was the only thing he could think to do and the last thing he remembered. The pain of hitting the man's back drove him right down into a black well of unconsciousness. His last coherent thought was that at least no one would mistake this for an accident.
October 19th, 2030 Seaview, Indian Ocean, 1880 miles NNE of Diego Garcia
Styles thought it sounded as if they were having some sort of a problem in the inside room. He could hear equipment falling and then it sounded as if a body hit the floor. Styles cautiously opened the connecting door to see if whoever was in there could just give him an antacid tablet so he could go.
At first he thought there were two men rolling about on the floor and wondered if he had stepped into the middle of the military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy in action. Then he realized one of the men was the Pakistani from the truck. He must have fallen out of the bed he thought, bounced out by the same sudden movement of the boat that had nearly knocked his legs out from under him in the doctor's office. The other man seemed to be struggling with the body.
What really astonished him about this was that the second man didn't seem to be in corpsman's whites, he looked to be in a regular pair of the crew overalls. Styles was trying to put all of these incongruities together while dealing with a stomach ache and it took him a moment to realize something was seriously wrong.
Unfortunately for Styles he realized the problem with what he was seeing the same time that the man saw him. "What's going on here?" Styles asked.
The man said nothing just threw the body that was laying on top of him to one side and came up from the floor headed straight at Styles, the knife in his hand clearly intended for use on the Senator. Pulling on the door handle with all of his strength Styles attempted to close the door before his assailant could reach it. The other man was younger and faster but Styles had the advantage of having the doorknob in his hand. He got the door closed and was half way across Sickbay when he heard the door opening behind him.
Styles made no effort to look back. He knew who was coming after him, the knife. He was across Sickbay and had the corridor door open when the other man hit him between the shoulder blades knocking him to the floor. He kicked out as well as he could and had the satisfaction of feeling one of his feet connect with something soft. Scrambling across the floor he had just enough breath to yell, "HELP, HELP, SOMEONE HELP."
His assailant apparently decided things had gotten too far out of his control and instead of feeling the knife between his shoulder blades he heard the sound of the other man's feet retreating down the corridor. "HELP," he called out again. This time he was rewarded by the sight of a corpsman coming around the corner at a run followed more slowly by two other men half carrying a third man between them.
"Senator," the corpsman dropped down beside him. "What's wrong, sir? Did you fall?"
"There was a man in there. He attacked the other man, the wounded man. Then he ran down the corridor."
One of the two men aiding the wounded man took off down the corridor at a run while the corpsman left Styles lying in the corridor and took off just as fast into Sickbay. A moment later Styles was picking himself up off the floor and could hear the intercom coming to life. "Doctor Jamieson to Sickbay immediately," that sounded like the corpsman. Styles gingerly tried his legs and found that while he had skinned his knee sliding across the floor he was generally unharmed. He started back toward the door to Sickbay only to be bumped to one side by the arrival of the doctor who made no apology as he thrust past him. Styles was in the doorway when the young blond pilot of the Flying Sub arrived and nearly knocked him over squeezing past him and then charging into the back room after the doctor.
Maybe it had to do with not being in the regular chain of command that everyone on this sub was so rude. Styles wondered if there was some way that when the Seaview was needed for regular navy missions, like the one he assumed they were currently on, that a replacement crew could be put aboard. This ship needed a crew that understood the importance of civilian control of the military and military respect for those civilians who ran the government. A moment later Admiral Nelson came through the door and Styles approached him with his concern. The Admiral made no pretext of listening to him but walked right past him and into the back room. Styles decided at that point that the problem with the Seaview started at the top and he wasn't getting an antacid tonight.
October 19th, 2035 Seaview, Indian Ocean, 1860 miles NNE of Diego Garcia.
Chip had the Seaview back on course for Diego Garcia and the Master at Arms investigating the sabotage in short order. O'Brien reported that there appeared to be no structural damage from the fire in Engineering Stores most of the fire had been the spilled oil burning off. Chip had the corridor sealed until they finished their investigation and to help the scrubbers get all the smell out of that section.
He was just about to turn the Conn back over to Reynolds when Frank's call for Jamieson came over the all ship intercom. Chip left Reynolds and took off down the corridor. Any crewmen who saw him knew where he was coming from and going to and carefully moved out of his way when they saw him, his grim face fair warning to anyone too slow to move.
The Senator was loitering in the door to Sickbay but Chip was past him and inside with Lee in time to help Jamie and Frank to pick him up off the floor and put him back on the gurney. "Jamie?"
"I don't know, Chip. Go. Wait."
Chip understood the other man's cryptic instructions but only went as far as the entry and stood beside the open door. Out of Jamie's way but with a clear view of Lee. Jamie had Lee on the table now and was pulling the bandage off his chest. For the first time Chip had a good view of the damage to his friend. He closed his eyes for a moment and then without looking at him again walked out into the outer room. Semple and Riley were standing there waiting with O'Neil who was holding an arm in an emergency cast with his uninjured hand. John was over at one of the bunks leaning over its occupant. Two other obviously injured crewmen sat on chairs against the aft bulkhead waiting their turn.
"Anyone know what happened here?" Chip asked.
"Semple and I were helping O'Neil from the Engineering Stores fire. The Senator was lying in the corridor yelling when we came around the corner he said someone had attacked the Skipper and run off down the corridor. I took off after him but never saw anyone. Sorry, sir."
"Where's the Senator now?" Chip looked around for the man he had nearly knocked over in the doorway and didn't see him anywhere.
"I don't know, sir. He came in and then turned around and left."
"Chip?" The Admiral came in from the back section of Sickbay where he'd been watching Jamie.
"I don't know, sir. Apparently, Senator Styles saw something." Chip didn't have to tell the Admiral that he didn't want to leave Sickbay to question the Senator. But he could hardly order a United States Senator to report to Sickbay.
"Lee is unconscious. Will can't see anything wrong with him that wasn't wrong before, beyond that he pulled quite a few stitches coming off the table. He's stitching him back together now. We won't be able to speak to him for a while--he had to give him more pain medication."
"Yes, sir. I guess I had better go speak to the Senator before he goes to bed and I end up waking him," Chip couldn't keep the sound of reluctance from his voice. He walked over to the mic on the wall and picked it up. "MAA report to Sickbay."
He turned back to Nelson a bit defiantly. "I'm not leaving him in here unguarded."
"Do you think those fires could have been set just to get the medical personnel out of Sickbay?" Nelson asked.
"It sure doesn't seem likely, sir. But I don’t have any other idea why they would have been set. The only damage was some smoke, two drums of oil and a few winter parkas. The booby traps injured three crewmen but no one seriously. It doesn't make sense. Fire on a sub is so dangerous who would be suicidal enough to risk all our lives for fifty gallons of oil and few parkas? I feel they must have been set as some sort of distraction."
Chip looked at the corpsmen working on the injured crewmen, "I can't believe the attack on Lee is unrelated to the fires, just too much of a coincidence."
Nelson rubbed the back of his neck absentmindedly studying Chip. "A very dangerous distraction."
"I'll go with you to speak to Styles. Let me just tell Jamie where we're going," Nelson was as good as his word and two minutes later the two were knocking on Styles' stateroom door.
The Senator didn't seem too excited to see them having already retired for the night. But he invited them into his room and tried to answer their questions.
"I heard a noise in the back room. When I opened the door I saw the two men on the floor. One, the Arab fellow…"
"Senator I think there has been some confusion about that man. He is Commander Lee Crane. He is the Captain of this submarine. When you met him in Pakistan he was in disguise as a native Pakistani," Nelson spoke more slowly than he normally did and Chip could see that if Styles had been anything less than a Senator he would have been on the receiving end of some of the famous Nelson temper. As it was the Admiral's face was considerably redder than the norm.
"Thank you, Admiral I have been quite confused about the man's status on the Seaview. So he's an American spy." Styles looked very pleased with this information.
"No, he's the Captain of the Seaview," Chip marveled that he couldn't hear the Admiral's teeth grinding.
Styles didn't look very enlightened by this information. "Odd place for the Captain of the Seaview?"
"Yes, my thoughts exactly," Nelson said and Chip almost smiled, but years of training kept his face very neutral, he would remember this little chat for Lee though, he would love it.
"Please continue with what you saw, Senator," Nelson encouraged him.
"Well the Captain was on top of the other fellow but didn't seem to be doing anything. The other man just sort of tossed him to one side and came charging toward me. He had a knife, quite a large knife. I slammed the door and ran to get help." Styles paused just for a moment. This part didn't sound quite as heroic as he had hoped it might. He wondered if there was a better spin he could put on it, another way he could phrase it? "I ran to get assistance for the Captain. The man tackled me in the hall. I was able to get the attention of some men and one of them ran after the man." He would speak to Carstairs about it in the morning, see if he had any suggestion on a better way to word the part about going for help.
"Did you know the man? Could you identify him if you saw him again?" Chip asked.
"I'm sorry I only got a glance at him. When he came after me most of my attention was on the knife. It was a very large knife. He had dark hair, was a big man. I'm sorry that's about all I noticed."
"What was he wearing?" Nelson prodded.
"Ummm…what your crew wears and not khakis so I just assumed he was a crewman."
"Thank you Senator."
"You're welcome, Admiral. I hope your Captain is all right. That man just tossed him aside, no concern about him at all." Styles thought that now that the man was an American it wouldn't hurt to show a bit more concern, try to make up for his previous misconception about the man's status. Captain of the Seaview was quite a prestigious position; man wouldn't get to that without some considerable influence somewhere.
Chip and Nelson said their good byes and headed back down the corridor toward Sickbay, both men lost in their own thoughts. Chip couldn't figure out why anyone would set fires in the boat or attack Lee. He couldn't see how the two were connected unless the Admiral's suggestion was correct. Would someone really be willing to light the boat on fire just to draw the Sickbay crew away from Lee?
"Seems a bit far fetched, Admiral. But I can't think of any other reason for those fires except to get to Lee." Chip said reluctantly.
"I'll speak to Will. We really need to talk to Lee," Nelson was angry and making no effort to keep the anger out of his voice. Attacking either Seaview or Lee was enough to get Nelson angry on a good day, both of them were guaranteed to enrage him. Chip thought he had better be there when they caught this man. Then, remembering Lee on the gurney with no bandage on his chest he decided that he was probably more of a danger to the man than Nelson.
John was still busy in the outer room of Sickbay when they got back. Two crewmen were in bunks and the third was gone, back to his quarters. "Is Jamie in surgery or can we go through?" Chip thought, not for the first time, that Admirals could ask questions that mere mortals would never consider.
"Let me check, sir." John was back in a moment.
"He's almost finished, sir. He said to wait."
Chip suspected it had been more colorfully worded than that but just nodded and went into Jamie's office to pour them each a cup of coffee.
Twenty minutes later Jamie joined them in his scrubs. Chip couldn't take his eyes off the blood all down the front of his shirt. "Coffee first, Admiral, then the cross examination." Jamie disappeared into his office and came back a moment later with a cup of coffee and joined them in the chairs along the aft bulkhead.
"He's still unconscious. I gave him a little more pain mediation, but not much, it’s the trauma that has him out for the count. He was lucky. Tore out a goodly chunk of my sewing but the important stitches stayed in. This trauma added to the exhaustion, lack of food and major surgery and he's going to be out for a while."
"We have to talk to him now, Will. About what just happened and about what happened in Pakistan." Nelson had his hand on Jamieson's forearm.
"I know. I had to give him something. I couldn't stitch him back up without giving him something." Jamieson was tired of balancing Lee's pain against the needs of his duty. He was tired of watching these two men worry about their friend.
"How long until we can talk to him?"
"Not long from the pain medication. But he's unconscious I don't know how long until he comes around. For a man in his condition coming out of that bed was a pretty severe trauma and as I said he's exhausted." Jamieson drank some of his coffee, funny how coffee always seemed to taste so good.
"Probably if Chip goes in he'll come around faster," he hated saying this. He wanted Lee sleeping.
Chip nodded and got to his feet. With Lee was where he wanted to be in any case. He took his chair beside the bed and placed his hand on Lee's again and started telling him about the fires. "…Wasn't much in there beside the Artic gear and some MREs. The Engineering Stores though got me thinking maybe we should pull that oil we are storing in the forward store room near the forward trim tanks back to Engineering Stores and keep all the flammables in one store room…"
Chip had been so lost in his musings about the fire and what had burned that he hadn't been looking at Lee. He'd never felt Lee's arm move under his hand. Usually, when Lee came around from being unconscious there was movement as the pain came ahead of the medications ability to deal with it. This time the arm that Chip had his hand resting on never moved letting him know Lee was waking. That made him think perhaps Lee hadn't been unconscious, but just asleep. He didn't know if that made him feel better or not. He hoped that Jamie had given Lee enough pain meds to let him sleep and that he wasn't so exhausted he slept through the pain he was obviously now feeling. He guessed he didn't need to think about that and wouldn't.
"Welcome back to the world of the living."
"What have you been doing … to my boat?" Lee's voice was very soft and Chip offered him the glass and straw before he answered him. One thing about having your friend spend so much time injured you got real used to what he needed when he wasn't a hundred percent.
It didn't take Lee as long this time to coordinate with the straw and the drinking. Chip answered his question as he replaced the glass on the little table.
"Boat's fine, which you would know if you had really been paying attention. I come down here to report and you sleep through most of it. Two small fires, we think a diversion to get in here to you. Did you see who attacked you?" Chip put his hand back on Lee's arm as he could see Lee's eyes closing. If Lee could feel him there he wouldn't feel the need to keep his eyes open to keep track of Chip's location. "I'm not going any where."
"No. I saw him…he had a syringe…his face was funny, mask or something."
"Nelson and Johnson are very anxious for that debrief. Can you do it now or want to wait?" Chip knew Lee would be anxious to finish his mission and wanted him to get the whole ONI thing done so they could concentrate on catching whoever had attacked the Seaview and her captain.
"Yeah, I'm good… Can you… sit this bed up a little more though?" Lee smiled at him opening his eyes slightly to see how Chip was taking things. "Hate to get interrogated…by two Admirals lying down."
Chip smiled at him and raised the back of the bed about six inches. "I'll get them. You want Jamie first?"
"No, I’m fine. What are you doing … about the fires?"
It pleased Chip that while Lee might spend too much time working for ONI his first interest was always Seaview. "We have no idea who did it. Clearly sabotage. I've got extra security on Engineering, Torpedo and Missile Rooms but you know the problem Lee. If someone on a submarine wants to sink her, it's easy to do."
Lee made no comment. There wasn't much to say really. Fantastic as Seaview was she was still basically a tin can under the water.
"The fires were small and did no damage to the boat to
speak of. I don't think whoever did it was after the Seaview."
"I'll get the Inquisition. Be back in a minute."
October 19th, 2315 Seaview, Indian Ocean, 1820 miles NNE of Diego Garcia.
Hodges hurried down the corridor toward Sickbay closely followed by his assistant David Thornby, both men anxious to get this whole possible leak situation cleared up, finally.
The XO of the boat met him in the front room of Sickbay and conducted them into the second, inner room where the two Admirals were already speaking to the man in the gurney.
"Commander Crane you remember Mr. Hodges, the Special Advisor to the President on Terrorism.
Commander Crane looked like he had been to the wars. His eyes were sunken and his face was bruised. He was sitting up slightly in the hospital bed but had no animation to his features and looked exhausted.
"Commander Crane," Hodges acknowledged
"Sir," the Commander's voice was very soft and Hodges stepped up closer to the two Admirals so he could more easily hear. Thornby remained at the door in his normal duty of recording the meeting and keeping notes for later inclusion in his transcription for Hodges' presidential briefing paper.
"So, Commander?" Johnson spoke surprisingly gently for such a normally gruff man.
Crane sighed softly and nodded, his eyes focused on a middle distance while he remembered. "When I arrived at the camp … the kidnappers were already in negotiation with Al-Qaeda, … as you know they had made accommodation with the Taliban … the co-pilot, Holland."
"You know this how?"
"Al-Qaeda … al-Ash'ari.. in Wana … been out to meet with Gul Zaman … three times at least. Salarzai … only had one thing of interest to Al-Qaeda."
"That I believe," Johnson agreed. Everyone who was involved in the hostage situation had known that the Salarzai tribe was among the weakest in the tribal area. Their only strength was that they had managed to marry their daughters into enough other tribes to have strong relatives who could choose to support them or not depending upon the profit for themselves. Still it gave the Salarzai more strength than either their armaments or numbers would justify. It had been that web of relatives that Gul Zaman had sought to use for his protection as he negotiated with both Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
" … I believe there was a leak …, about the mission ... Al-Qaeda came into the camp looking for a SEAL team." Lee closed his eyes for a moment. "I was sure it must be a briefing leak." Lee sighed again and paused. He was having a hard time with the long sentences, didn't seem to have enough air. He knew this was a symptom of the loss of blood, the inability of his body to move enough oxygen. It was annoying.
"Why was that, Commander? Why not a leak on the ground in Pakistan?" Hodges asked when Lee remained silent.
"Why would they think SEALS?" He said tiredly.
"Didn't it occur to you that someone might have seen something that made them think it was a SEAL team?" Hodges asked more sharply now. He'd been so worried about this debriefing, thinking this man knew something damaging and he knew nothing.
"I can't imagine … what, sir?" Hodges thought that the man sounded very unsure and disoriented.
"Could you not have said something to them yourself to give them that impression? I understand from other information we have received that you were questioned by them more then once, that you were beaten, tortured, could you not have let something slip?"
Hodges stepped back, slightly concerned as the young blond officer who had his hand on the Commander's arm started to move toward him. He was relieved to see the Commander reach up and grab his sleeve just as the blond started to move. He had no desire to get into another shoving match with the young officer because he didn't like the sorts of questions he asked his friend. Crane's grip on the other man's sleeve appeared precarious but served to deter whatever the XO had been planning to do.
"I'm not impugning your courage just your recall. When you are injured and beaten and exhausted it's easy to make a mistake. Could you have been mistaken about Al-Qaeda being sure there were SEALS? Could they not have meant any special forces?" Hodges hastened to clarify, he felt he'd gotten to the meat of the issue now and began to narrow in on the Commander's clearly faulty recall.
The Commander remained silent. "I guess … maybe mistaken… They believed me … when I said Special Forces soldiers … So maybe they were just confused …maybe thought green berets …SEALS." The Commander closed his eyes again, clearly exhausted.
"But you are sure that they were looking for American forces, Commander?" This from Johnson who had been strangely reticent Hodges thought. Normally Johnson was the first one to ask a question. But he decided this was Johnson's man, his agent, he wouldn't like seeing that the man's recall was so badly clouded.
"I thought they were, sir… They agreed to my Taliban story … fairly quickly … maybe they were … I don't know … maybe trying to see if I was an agent." The Commander seemed to rally when questioned by Johnson and re-opened his eyes, but still maintained his hold on his friend's sleeve. Hodges was pleased to see the other officer had returned his hand to the Commander's arm and no longer looked about to come across the room at him. Although looking at the man now, his demeanor so calm and apparently indifferent to the issues being discussed, Hodges thought that maybe he had been mistaken earlier in thinking the man angry.
"Commander Crane is seriously injured and obviously very tired. I think we have laid his fears about a possible leak to rest. Maybe we can wait on the rest of his debriefing until later?" Nelson stepped up to the bed and put his hand on Crane's shoulder.
Hodges remembered that Crane in addition to being one of Johnson's agents was also Nelson's Captain for this submarine. Obviously Nelson was very fond of the young man. Hodges had been very impressed with Crane's work in finding the hostages, but less impressed with his report about the leak. Clearly the man had gotten a little information and come away with the wrong impression.
Not the sort of poor fieldwork he was accustomed to from Johnson's people. Of course, he thought wryly he didn't usually participate in the debriefing in the field the way he had on this case. Perhaps the reason the intelligence from ONI was so good was because of the good job Johnson did vetting the info before it made its way to the Special Advisor's desk.
"I'm satisfied, Admiral. Mr. Thornby will have a transcript of this for you within the hour." Hodges nodded to his assistant and the two left the room followed by Chip.
"This is Petty Officer Kowalski, he'll accompany you back to your cabin." Chip said introducing them to Kowalski. "We had a bit of trouble on the boat earlier so we have increased security for the remainder of the trip."
"Yes, I heard the alarm, a fire." Hodges said.
"We think we have the culprit under arrest. It was a seaman that has had problems with discipline and with the Captain in the past. We think the whole thing was an effort by the man to empty Sickbay so he could attack the Captain." Chip explained, his mouth tight with disapproval.
"Did the Commander recognize his assailant?" Hodges asked.
"No, sir. Commander Crane was pretty heavily sedated and apparently the man wore some sort of disguise on his face."
"He's confessed though?" Thornby asked.
"No, claims he did nothing. We're still gathering evidence hence the enhanced security, but we're sure we have the right man. Please gentleman this way." Chip gestured to Kowalski to lead the way and the two men followed the crewman from the room.
Chip closed the door after the three men and returned to the inner room.
"I don't like it, Gavin," Nelson was saying as he came in. "But that's why I have my job and you have yours. You're sure though that he won't make another attempt on Lee?"
"He has no reason to. As soon as Crane told me earlier that Al-Qaeda was sure he was the commander of a SEAL team I knew the leak had to be either Hodges or Thornby. Hodges misunderstood the briefing and came away with the impression that Crane was the commander of the SEALS. He told me as much. But I rectified his error and sent his corrected briefing paper on to DC. The only one who remained with the faulty information was Thornby. As long as Thornby thought Crane was going to reveal the leak he needed to get rid of Crane. Once he realized Crane had nothing to say that we believed, than Crane was no longer a threat to Thornby. He won't want to call attention to either Crane or himself. He took an awful risk with those fires, but he was desperate. Morton let him believe he's off the hook for the fires. He's a happy traitor."
"But if he's supplying information to Al-Qaeda don't you want to arrest him?" Chip asked.
"Well, as it happens, he is actually supplying information to the Russians. That's why Al-Qaeda eventually bought Crane's story about the Special Forces with the Taliban. The Russians no doubt gave the SEAL information to Al-Qaeda in exchange for some bit of information they wanted and to further embarrass us in Pakistan," Johnson smiled thinly. "That's why Al-Qaeda bought Crane's story in the end. They had no way to get back to Thornby for confirmation or denial, just had to take a chance on who to believe, the man they were torturing or the Russians. They went with Crane. Now that we know that Thornby is working for the Russians we will play him for a while. Give the Russians a bit of information we want them to have."
"So Hodges and Thornby go back to Washington, Hodges thinking Lee folded under torture and Thornby to spy for the Russians, sir?" Chip was incredulous.
Nelson snorted softly from his place over by Lee's bed where he was lowering the head back down to the prone position. "ONI at work, Chip. The dark side of diplomacy."
Nelson took the sting out of his words by clapping Johnson on the back and smiling at him. "Admiral Johnson's just scored quite a coup, Chip. I'm going to take him back to my cabin and let him tell me how clever he is. I'll leave the Lee watch to you," Nelson put his hand on Chip's arm, "but don't keep him talking too long. He's very tired." Nelson glanced at Lee, who lay on the gurney his eyes all but closed.
Johnson laughed good naturedly at Nelson's teasing. He was quite pleased with himself and could allow Nelson a little leeway, besides that single malt would taste very good. He'd thought there was a Russian informant somewhere in the White House. Now that he'd found him he was going to enjoy exploiting his conduit to the Kremlin.
Smiling, Johnson gave Crane a very uncharacteristically demonstrative squeeze of the shoulder just before leaving. "Very good job, Crane. Very good job, very convincing performance. I was beginning to wonder myself what you remembered from your time in Pakistan."
"Uh…Thank you, sir," Lee said after a moment, clearly he was having trouble following the conversation. Nelson looked at him anxiously before exchanging glances with Johnson who smiled in understanding.
"Come on, Harry I want my celebratory drink." Nelson and Johnson left the room nearly colliding with Jamieson who stepped quickly aside to let the two Admirals pass.
Jamieson checked Lee's pulse and put a hand on his forehead. "Fever is coming down for sure, Lee, I think the antibiotic is kicking in. How's the pain?"
Lee smiled at him tiredly. "I'm fine, Jamie." The three men smiled at each other. "Honestly though, I don't feel that bad just now. Tired but not bad. Let me talk to Chip for a few minutes and then I wouldn't fight you over a shot of your best." Jamieson knew if Lee was asking for pain medication he was hurting.
He nodded to him, "five minutes I'll be back with your bedtime cocktail." Jamieson rested his hand on Lee's shoulder for a moment and exchanged a glance with Chip.
Chip sat back down beside Lee's bed. "I don’t like it. If that guy had kept his mouth shut, not betrayed his country, you wouldn't be lying here."
Lee smiled at his friend and waited for him to work off his anger. Finally, after working through some of the expletives that had occurred to him when he thought his boat was on fire and when he heard that his friend had been tortured and when he saw Lee's chest covered with knife wounds and burns, Chip smiled sheepishly at Lee. "Sorry. I was angry I guess."
Lee ran a dry tongue around his lips. Funny the IVs could re-hydrate all of his body except his mouth. All the time he was on one of those awful drips his mouth was always dry as an old rag. He didn't realize he'd closed his eyes until he felt Chips hand on his shoulder. "Here you need a drink."
Lee opened his eyes and smiled and took the proffered straw and drank. He wasn't thirsty, just dry. "So Johnson lets Hodges think you folded under questioning. He lets Thornby get away with what he did?" he stopped talking when he saw the smile on Lee's face. His friend looked done in by the questioning but the smile was so genuine that Chip had to return it.
"Calm down, Chip… Hodges and Thornby both bought our story… that's the important thing."
Resigning himself to the inevitable of Lee accepting any and all outcomes from ONI missions without resentment Chip changed tack. "Kowalski told some of the hands how Senator Styles chased you assailant away. The crew is so pleased they're taking around a special sling for his arm. The whole crew is signing it as a thank you."
Lee smiled, it hurt too much to laugh but the smile felt good. He thought for the thousandth time how much he liked Chip Morton. How lucky he was to have such a good friend. Many people went their whole lives and never even met someone as fine as Chip and he had him for his best friend. "Thanks, Chip."
"For taking my side just now."
"Always, you know that."
"Yeah, but I don't always say thank you."
"You've lost too much blood, getting sentimental on me," now it was Chip's turn to smile. The two men sat silently, each congratulating himself.
"I was thinking," Lee said.
"Uh Oh, that could be dangerous."
"I'll have some leave after this. Want to go to Baja? Go diving?"
"Like Jamie's going to let you go swimming let alone diving for six months."
"Was mostly just wanting to sit on the beach in the sun anyway." Lee's voice was fading as he spoke his eyes closing.
"Yeah, we'll go to Baja, sit on the beach, in the sun," Chip talked of hot sand and bright sunny days in Mexico as Lee's breathing slowed and steadied and he fell asleep. He talked of walking on the beach and diving in the reefs instead of torturous Arabs and traitorous aides. When he was sure Lee was soundly asleep he spoke of heroes who took unnecessary risks to save men of lesser worth. And then finally as he pulled up the blanket to more fully cover his friend he spoke of pride and friendship.
I would love feedback on this to