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Authors: Richard Herman

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BOOK: Force of Eagles
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“Kill him now,” the woman carried on.

The boy did as Carroll said.

“The devil speaks English in his sleep. What more proof do you need?” the woman said.

At least she had given Carroll his answer.

Slowly Carroll raised his hands, looking at the boy like they were playing a game. “My papers are in my shirt pocket.” He pointed at his left pocket with his chin. The boy propped the AK-47 against a seat and reached for his pocket. “No,” Carroll ordered, “you are the guard. Hold the rifle ready to use if I make a wrong move. Order someone else to search me.”

The boy grabbed the rifle and pointed it at Carroll before he remembered to drop the muzzle. A man made his way through the small crowd and pushed Carroll back against the window, ripping the identification papers out of Carroll’s pocket.

“Now search me,” Carroll ordered. He shouldered the man back as he stood up, testing the newcomer. The man pushed back but not hard enough to make him sit down. “I said search me.”

The man awkwardly patted him down. “I will be the one to pull the trigger,” he told Carroll.

Carroll shrugged the man’s hands off before they reached the knife taped to the inside of his calf or the coiled wire in his thigh pocket. “This is the way to search,” he said, and pulled off his camouflaged shirt. He pointed to the long scar on his stomach that was a reminder of a bicycle accident in the sixth grade. “I was wounded four years ago in front of Basra.” He pointed to a burn scar on his right shoulder, the result of brushing against a hot exhaust pipe when he was working under his first car. “From a phosphorus shell. Now show me your scars.”

Even the woman was silent as Carroll established control.

“Enough of this, let’s finish it. You have my papers. Where is the nearest unit of the Guards? Which of you is going to call Abbas Gharazi of the Saltanatabad Revolutionary Committee in Tehran? He will describe me to you.”

The crowd was silent—Gharazi was well known as a dedicated butcher.

“No,” Carroll said, “you do not walk away from this. You knock me to the ground”—he could see the boy wince—“and you demand my death. You say you will pull the trigger”—he stared at the man who had searched him—“and I say enough, where are the Guards headquartered around here?”

The bus driver, standing at the rear of the crowd, wanted nothing to do with this angry commando. “Sixteen kilometers behind us.”

“Good. We will delay you no longer. This brave man and woman who only bear imaginary scars in their heads will take me to them.” He gestured at the two. “We will walk or commandeer a passing car—”

“But he speaks English in his sleep,” the woman persisted.

“I am an interpreter and I also speak Arabic and French. I must have been dreaming. In which language was I speaking?”

No one was really sure. They only knew he had been speaking a foreign language that sounded like English. The woman seemed momentarily subdued but hardly convinced.

“You,”—Carroll nodded at the boy—“must make a decision. Either give my rifle to this heap of shit”—he nodded at the man who had searched him—“or keep it. It has served me well in the holy wars against our enemies. It will serve you well. Or you can turn it in when you reach home and explain to the authorities how you got it.

The bus driver had returned to his seat and started the engine, urging them to get off his bus and let him escape this business.

“I’ll need the rifle to guard him,” the searcher said, reaching for the AK-47. The boy shook his head and backed up, clutching the assault rifle.

“Here, take this,” another passenger said, shoving an old pistol at the man, eager to be rid of him and the commando.

“My bag,” Carroll said, and reached under the seat. He threw the shoulder bag at the woman and led the way off the bus, putting his shirt back on. The woman started to protest but the other passengers shoved her out and threw her suitcase after her. The man picked up his bag and followed, hurried along by shouts.

“I will use your rifle well,” the boy called from the bus.


Insh’
Allah
,” Carroll replied.

The bus driver snapped the door close as he ground away, kicking up a cloud of dust, leaving the three standing beside the road in the dark.

“Kill him now, before it is too late,” the woman said. “He is trouble—”

“But what if you’re right?” Carroll said. “Ten thousand dollars in gold?” Greed lit up in the man’s eyes. The three sat down and waited for a car. After a few minutes Carroll stretched out, waiting for his headache to ease its pounding. He even fell asleep.

*

 

Alamogordo, New Mexico

 

“Ray, you smell.” Louie set a mug of beer on the bar in front of the sergeant. “Don’t you ever take a shower?”

“Get off my back. Take showers all the time.” Staff Sergeant Raymond Byers was the only customer in Piccolo Pete’s Pizza Palace in Alamogordo, New Mexico. He had worked a late shift at Hollo-man Air Force Base getting his F-15 ready for an early morning flight and had stopped for a beer on his way home. Byers had dogged Hydraulics until they fixed the leaking speed brake actuator to his satisfaction. As usual he had spent another half hour cleaning up their mess after the technician had signed off the maintenance forms. He kept the best jet in the wing.

Lorrie leaned across the bar and sniffed, letting him look down her blouse. “Not today, you didn’t. Who knows, I might be a little interested if you didn’t always smell like a grease pit.” She flipped the flap of his unbuttoned shirt pocket.


Okay
, I’ll be sure to take a shower and smell like a baby next time before I come here.”

She flounced away, cleaning up the bar and getting ready to close.

Byers turned and leaned against the bar, stretching his lanky frame out. He was working on his second mug of beer. He liked watching Lorrie move.

Lorrie started turning off lights. “Finish your beer, I need a ride home.”

“No shower?”

“Shut up. I’m talking about a ride.”

He waited by the door while she finished locking up. They walked out to his waiting Jeep, and the girl admired the immaculate 1974 customized CJ5.

“This have a top? It’s cold tonight.”

Byers handed her the fatigue jacket he wore on the flight line. She zipped it up and settled into the custom seat. He helped her with the shoulder harness as she strapped in. The big V-8 engine came to life on the first blip of the starter and he wheeled out of the parking lot. After his F-15, the Jeep was the most important thing in his life.

A dark Thunderbird shot by them, its headlights off.

“Assholes,” Byers said, “barely saw the son of a bitch…”

The Thunderbird cut hard to the left and skidded to a halt, blocking the road. Byers jammed at the brakes and dragged the Jeep to a stop. The doors of the Thunderbird swung open and two men got out.

“You dumb—” One of the men had reached inside his coat and pulled out a gun. Byers hit reverse and accelerated backward, throwing Lorrie against her shoulder harness. He jerked the wheel back and forth as two shots hit the Jeep, one ricocheting off the winch on the front bumper, the other slamming through the wind-shield. He spun the wheel, skidding the Jeep around.

The two men jumped into the Thunderbird and backed around, coming after the Jeep. Byers, seeing the Thunderbird turn after them, floored the accelerator and the Jeep leaped forward, the speedometer touching a hundred miles an hour. He headed south, looking for open country. They were on the outskirts of town when Byers slammed on the brakes and turned off the road, heading cross-country, fighting the wheel as they bounced into an arroyo. He drove two hundred yards down the dry stream bed and stopped.

“Stay here,” he told Lorrie. “I want to get a look at those bastards.” He reached under his seat and fumbled for a moment, pulling out a .357 handgun and running back down the arroyo and scrambling up the bank.

Lorrie, scared, twisted around when she heard a footfall on the bank above her head and almost screamed before Byers jumped down and hopped inside the Jeep.

“Ragheads,” he muttered, starting the motor. “They’re gone.”

“You really know how to show a girl a good time.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter 6: D Minus 29

 

The Zagros Mountains, Iran

 

“A car is coming,” the woman said, gathering her chador around her for warmth. Bill Carroll and the two Iranians had been waiting beside the road for hours; now it was early morning. The man stood and walked into the road to wave down the car. Carroll stood with him and unzipped his pants. As the car slowed, he urinated in full view of the headlights. The driver ignored the frantic waving of the Iranian and sped away, disgusted with the sight.

The man came back and waved his pistol at Carroll. “You insulted him, I should kill you for that—”

“If you had let me relieve myself when I asked earlier it would not’ve happened.” Carroll ignored the man and sat back down. “I think we should start walking, it will help keep us warm. Besides, I’m tired of this.”

The Iranian could not make up his mind. He wished he had ignored the incident like the other passengers on the bus, but the young man had spoken a foreign language in his sleep and there was the promise of a reward…still, the man did seem to be what he claimed, which meant trouble for him and the woman. He cursed his impetuous behavior, and the woman. “Yes, you are right. She will carry the bags.” He waved the pistol at the woman, making her carry Carroll’s bag and the two battered suitcases. “As a soldier of the Jihad you know what we do is necessary.”

Covering his ass, Carroll thought, hedging his bets. “Yes. I understand your position, I will explain that your conduct was proper and that I would have done the same if I were you.” Carroll could see some of the tension drain from the man.

It became colder as they trudged up a long grade. It was time to act. He couldn’t afford to carry on this charade any longer. “May we stop? I need to relieve myself again, this time I need to squat.”

The man agreed and told the woman to put the cases down. She crumpled to the ground, worn out. Carroll walked toward two large boulders a hundred feet away. When he was out of sight he pulled the coiled wire out of his pocket and scrambled in the dirt until he found two small stones of the right size and shape. He wrapped an end of the wire around each stone for handles and tugged the wire tight. Next he crawled to the far end of the rocks, crouched, checking to find the man standing at the place where Carroll had entered behind the boulders, looking the other way. The distance was too great to sneak up on him, so Carroll retreated into the rocks and walked noisily back toward the man, still out of sight. When he estimated he was about twenty feet away he stopped and found a shadowy niche to hide in, took off his shirt, not wanting to get blood on it, scuffled his feet and made a loud grunting sound.

“What’s the problem?” The Iranian was closer than he thought.

“My ankle, it’s very dark back here. Can you help me.” Carroll pulled back into the shadows as he heard the man’s approaching footsteps. The Iranian stopped in front of the niche. Carroll was looking at the right side of the man’s head, barely three feet away.

“Where are you?”

Carroll swung the garrote over the man’s head and jerked. “Here.” It was too dark to see the surprise in his eyes. Carroll kicked out the back of the man’s right knee and dropped him. The dying sounds were quickly muted…he doubted that the woman could hear them. Four spasms and he was dead.

Slowly Carroll picked his way back to the road. About thirty feet from where he left the woman he stopped and ripped apart the bandages that held the knife to his calf. Unless a searcher was very careful it could pass for a dressing. When he reached the road, the woman was gone.

Shivering from the cold, he stood looking up and down the road. The two suitcases were piled with his bag. She must have heard more than he’d thought and panicked. Which way did she run? The gun, who had it? Probably still with the man, but he didn’t have time to search for it now. You were careless, he warned himself.

He walked along the side of the road, calculating the woman was tired and had run downhill. Every few hundred feet he would stop, listen, look around. A quarter of a mile later he caught the faint sour odor of the woman’s chador, and then it was gone. He sat down and waited, wishing he had put his shirt back on.

A rustling behind a clump of bushes.

“Come out, old mother, we must continue with this.”

A dark shadow stood and headed back up the road. The woman’s steps were hesitant and unsure as she walked.

She knows, Carroll thought. Damn it. He closed the distance between them, catching up with her, holding the knife in his right hand. She did not stop or turn. He circled his left arm around her neck and pulled her back, driving the knife into her chest, into her heart.

He trudged back to the boulders, carrying her. The Jihad had another victim.

He laid the woman’s body beside the man’s and collapsed, shaking, but not from the cold.

*

 

Northern Nevada

 

“Awesome, totally AWE-some.” Ambler Furry, Jack Locke’s Weapon Systems Officer, couldn’t shut up.

Locke was ready to tell him to go cold mike to stop the incessant chatter over the intercom but decided not to. Ambler would stop talking if things got hot. Like Furry, Locke was new to the E model of the F-15 and had only been recently assigned to Luke Air Force Base, upgrading into the Air Force’s latest jet. The transition into the new bird had been easy and proved to be a diversion, letting him put the memories of combat in the Persian Gulf and his old fighter, the F-4E, behind him. He raised his seat a fraction of an inch, still looking for the best sitting position for his six-foot frame. Satisfied, he cross-checked the digital readouts on his Head-up Display and scanned the horizon.

BOOK: Force of Eagles
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