The Colonel was tired. He didn’t mind training flights. But this was a simulated combat mission. He and his other two crewmates had flown their B-47E 600 miles from Homestead Air Force Base to mimic a low altitude run into the Soviet Union. The mission had been successful as 02:00 approached.
The Colonel’s Stratojet was carrying a single transportation configured Mk15 Mod 0 hydrogen bomb capable of 3.8 Megatons. It was dangerous to fly an armed weapon over the continental United States. But the men of the Strategic Air Command had to train with transportation configured devices in order to get the “feel” for the real doomsday scenario.
The bomb was twelve feet long and weighed 7,600 pounds. That was close to the Stratojet’s maximum lift capacity of 10,000 pounds. The bomb itself contained 400 pounds of conventional high explosives and it had a highly enriched uranium core with a plutonium trigger. On detonation, the heat it would generate could turn ten square miles of landscape into spun glass. And the shock wave would flatten anything within a twenty-five-mile radius.
The Colonel was one of the Air Force’s best, an Instructor Pilot. He had flown so many combat missions over Korea in A-26 Invaders that he couldn’t count them. But the Stratojet was a different bird entirely. His B-47 was powered by six General Electric J-47 turbojets. That brought its top speed to almost supersonic. The only problem was that the thin wings, which gave the Stratojet its aerodynamic advantages, also made it a bitch to land.
But at this point landing was the least of the Colonel’s worries. His main concern was staying awake. For the millionth time he looked outside the bubble canopy. February’s night sky was lit up with stars. It was unearthly beautiful even though the instrument reading indicated that it was minus 70 degrees outside.
His copilot/flight engineer was behind him in the sleek bomber’s narrow cockpit. He was going through the standard checklist for arming the device. He was just not flipping the switches to actually do it.
The Colonel was thinking about the Valentine’s Day surprise that he had planned for his wife. The 14th was only a little over a week away. And the Colonel planned to hop on the overnight boat to Havana. Where he was going to spend a romantic weekend drinking, and dancing with the woman he had loved since the third grade.
He was just glancing over his right shoulder, when a black apparition slammed into the Stratojet’s starboard wing. The impact threw the bomber into a steep right bank and all hell broke loose in the cockpit.
The navigator/bombardier, who was enclosed in the nose of the aircraft, screeched over the intercom, “WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT!!??” The Colonel who was dealing with a severely damaged aircraft at that point could only shout, “I HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA.”
The co-pilot/flight engineer behind him said in strained tones, “It was an F-86. It slammed into the wing, bounced off and exploded. I think that whoever was driving it ejected!!”
The Colonel wrestled with the aircraft for an excruciating few minutes before he got it back to level flight. Then he and the co-pilot/flight engineer began to assess the damage. The Stratojet was a tough bird and it was continuing to fly. But all of the avionics in the starboard wing were off-line and the number four and five inboard engines were about to fall off their pylon.
The Colonel squawked a Mayday to Hunter AFB. The fact that the Colonel’s aircraft was carrying a potential “broken arrow” got the phone lines open all the way up to Omaha and General Lemay himself.
The Colonel told the boss that there was no way he could land the aircraft without jettisoning the bomb. Normal landings require the B-47 to come in “hot”. So at the best of times there was no room for error. With two of its engines shut down and God-knows-what damage to the flaps, they were likely to either overshoot, or hit the front of the runway.
If that happened, the bomb would fly out the front of the aircraft like a spit ball out of a straw. And Savannah might experience its own version of nuclear holocaust. So the people in charge were faced with two very unpalatable options. If they ordered the Colonel to land without dropping the bomb and the plane crashed it would kill the crew and in the process might create an atomic disaster. If they ordered the four-ton weight of the bomb to be jettisoned they would have a classic Broken Arrow scenario.
There was considerable discussion up the chain of command but even the remote possibility of a hydrogen bomb going off in downtown Savannah made the ultimate decision. The Colonel was given orders to drop the device offshore. The Stratojet circled out over Tybee Island and the bomb was jettisoned at 7,000 feet into Wassaw Sound.
There was no explosion so it was assumed that the bomb had just splashed into the shallow water of the sound. The Colonel then landed the Stratojet at Hunter and he and his wife celebrated a romantic Valentine’s Day 1958, in Havana.
The phone blasted Jordan awake. It was 3 AM. He felt around on the night table and mumbled, “What”. A parade of brontosauruses was marching through his head and his mouth tasted like they’d left their droppings. It had been another drunken night in DC.
Jordan had never been a drinker -- until recently. But the crushing sense of alienation and world-weariness that had come over him since leaving the Army was killing him. He had no direction in life. It all just seemed so utterly pointless.
He had been a hero once. Early in the Afghan War, Joint Special Operations Command had recruited soldiers with Jordan’s particular set of skills. He had been a talented 29-Echo – definitely not a Ranger type. But he was the best Bluesniper in the Army. So the people at Fort Sill gave him his E7 stripes. And then shipped him to Fort Belvoir.
There, he got acquainted with the nerd branch of the Joint Special Operations Command. Jordan was probably the lamest Gray Fox in the history of JSOC. But the Taliban’s leadership was addicted to Bluetooth headsets. And Jordan could Bluesnarf those gadgets from two miles away -- not the 300 feet that everybody assumed. So his rare talent brought a few hundred tons of JDAMS down on the Evil Doers before they wised up.
Jordan was no physical specimen – extremely tall and skinny with the shock of unkempt brown hair, lean face, high cheekbones and profound eyes of the classic intellectual. He had barely made it through the physical part of the training. In fact, he had scraped by on sheer guts and determination. He was a nerd. But he was a tough and gritty one. And he very badly wanted to be a Grey Fox.
So he was with DEVGRU in the Shahi-Kot. And he did the whole show with 45-Commando in Jacana. Then he chased Saddam all over the Saladin Governate until they caught him. After that he decided that he had no long-term future as a fully weaponized geek. So he separated out. The Army gave him a few medals as remembrance of his glory days. And he signed on with a private intelligence firm.
It was ironic really. He did the same thing that the basement monkeys at the alphabet agencies did. But, because he was in the private sector he got paid three times more. The problem was that he had nobody to share it with - especially a woman. He was a complete loner.
In fact, Jordan was not a bad looking guy. His scholarly features combined with those bottomless brown eyes made him look thoughtful and even a little dangerous. He was much taller than average. And the exceptional width of his shoulders on his slender frame sometimes made him look like he had forgotten to take the hanger out, before putting on his coat.
His time in the Army had built some power in his upper chest and he had a long muscular neck and arms. But the overall impression was sinewy, not brawny, much like the Grey Fox that was his professional namesake. Plus, he was a genuine decorated war hero, even if his arena of engagement was 2.4 Gigahertz ISM exchanges.
But in the matter of human relations he was and always had been a total nowhere man. He was utterly closed up and conflicted - too shy and awkward to have any success with the beautiful women. And he had no interest in the ugly ones.
He just couldn’t get outside his own head to make lasting friendships. He must have been the only soldier to serve two full combat tours in the Sandbox and never have a battle-buddy. He was a legend in JSOC for his isolation from the teams he served on. And his only regular sexual experience had been with Rosie and her five sisters.
His only friend was canine. Buster was a big muscular brown-dog. But he was loyal, loving and a fabulous listener. Jordan got him from the pound. He was so scary looking that nobody else wanted him.
Buster’s origins were unknown. But Jordan guessed that he had been bred as a fighting dog. Certain elements in DC still do that. But Buster was like Ferdinand the Bull. He wouldn’t fight. Instead he chose being beaten to death over hurting another creature. Jordan decided that he and his dog had a lot in common.
Jordan worked at a business in Roslyn. Why Roslyn? Because a little “Company” is located right next door in Langley, the NCTC is just up 66. And the Pentagon is two stops down on the blue line. That was the customer base.
Which brings us back to the 3:00 AM phone call and explains why Robert Jordan had made it a regular habit of over-medicating.
The call was from the boss. He wanted Jordan at the Ballston I-Hop – NOW!!!
You ask - why the I-Hop?
Does anybody really think that important stuff happens at an I-Hop? Plus, it’s located next to a Metro stop and it’s open 24 hours a day. So in actuality - that particular place hosts more clandestine shit than the Hoover building.
But seriously???!!! – Three AM???!!!
Bernie Golz was a generation older than Jordan. He had played the spy-versus-spy game in the 70s and 80s in the alleys of East Berlin. And Jordan had tons of respect for him. The fact that Golz was sort of a father figure was a bonus.
Jordan’s actual father never came close to “getting” him. But of course his dad rarely ventured off his little dairy farm outside of Madison, Wisconsin – so why the fuck should he understand any single thing about his son’s life?
Golz was disgustingly alert and energetic as Jordan slid into the booth across from him. The old man never seemed to sleep. Jordan must have looked like he felt - because Golz said kindly, “You are really going to have to stop doing this to yourself Bobby Lee.”
Golz ordered coffee and eggs with bacon for both of them. It was obvious that he was trying to sober Jordan up. They ate in silence for a while. Then Golz said casually, “Did you know that the Air Force lost an intact hydrogen bomb offshore near Savannah Georgia back in 1958.”
Jordan thought, “Okay – that’s a bizarre opening gambit.” But he said, “Was it hard to recover? It must have been a real engineering feat to pull a big bomb out of the muck.”
Golz arched his eyebrow. It was like he was disappointed that Jordan wasn’t getting it.
THEN Jordan GOT it. He said with horror, “They never found it!?”
Golz said, “No they didn’t. Oh, they launched a nine week search right after the incident. But the bomb likely sank into the silt at the bottom of the Sound and the technology of the time just wasn’t good enough to find it.”
Jordan said without much conviction, “it’s a good thing that it’s buried somewhere.” Golz said ominously, “Until now.”
Jordan looked appalled, “What!!!? Are you telling me that the bomb has been recovered?” Golz said, “That is EXACTLY what I am telling you. And that is the reason why I am meeting you at 03:00.”
Jordan said, “Do you have any idea who has it?”
Golz said, “All we have is deepweb background chatter that indicates that an individual, or individuals have obtained a Cold War hydrogen bomb and are planning to use it.” Jordan asked the obvious question, “Why are we involved? This sounds like something that the FBI, or CIA ought to be handling?”
Golz said, “The U.S. has fully mobilized all of its intelligence assets but our little firm was contacted by an interested party for a couple of good reasons.”
Golz raised on finger, “First, if somebody has a fully functional nuclear device the world has to scramble every agent available to prevent it from being used.” Then he raised another, “Second, our people are the best of the best. And our customer wants to keep his involvement off the record.”
That last bit of information told Jordan that the customer was probably POTUS. It wasn’t surprising. This was a political nightmare of epic proportions for any sitting President. Jordan knew who the press would blame If the bomb went off. Even if it was Eisenhower who had lost the thing in the first place.
The alphabet agencies were too mired in their own political shit to be totally trustworthy so the President was calling in his own operators. At least he could work them without fear of major backstabbing.
Golz said, “The only information we have is from the deepweb. You are our best asset when it comes to tracking things down in that labyrinth. Here are some rabbit holes you can dive down. We hope you can pick up the trail.”
Golz handed a nondescript file to Jordan. There was nothing in it but some deepweb references that he might be able to wave a dead chicken at.
Jordan said, still skeptically, “Is everybody sure that there is even a problem, because if this is the source of the information it is pretty tenuous? Nobody but an experienced darkweb trawler would even know how to access these places, let alone do anything through them.”
Golz said, “Oh, we know that somebody has the bomb. That’s because a body was found in a hotel room in Savannah. The authorities were investigating it as a prostitute-client homicide until a bunch of the victim’s redneck friends came forward.”
Golz added, “They all said that the deceased had bragged about discovering a huge bomb underwater in Wassaw Sound. Given that piece of information, the Savannah police called the FBI. And one of their analysts connected the dots. We know that the guy found the 1958 H-bomb.”
Golz said warily, “We might still be none the wiser. Except the police found four dead men in an old house near Port Charlotte the same day. Those four men were all crewmembers of a dredge that was known to be working an area offshore from there.”
He smiled grimly and said, “Since they knew where the dredge had been anchored, it didn’t take the Navy long to confirm that something big had indeed been dug up. The FBI questioned the local fishermen and one of them said that he had seen something big being loaded on a moving van just before sunrise that day.’
Golz leaned back contemplatively in his seat and said, “So YES we know that someone has dug up and transported the Tybee Island Bomb.” Then he added wearily, “Hopefully you can find a starting place in the stuff that I gave you.”
Then the two men rose and shook hands. And Jordan trudged up Fairfax to his war room. It was Jordan’s special place. It was full of the most advanced technology on the market. And it was stocked with all the things that a nerd needs to get his work done - a refrigerator full of Mountain Dew, endless bags of Skittles – plus a ratty old couch. It was 0430 AM and Jordan was soaring over the world he felt most comfortable in – the virtuality of cyberspace.
The first thing Jordan did was configure and launch a very large network telescope. The telescope let Jordan monitor millions of sites at once. The only hints were a couple of darkweb addresses. So he set the telescope to record any activity at – or around - each of those sites.
It was like setting up physical surveillance on an abandoned block of houses. Since any traffic to them was by definition suspicious, a lot of things could be learned by just sitting and watching.
But like physical surveillance, it was always “hurry up and wait.” No matter how urgent the business something had to happen. So patience was the essence in deepweb monitoring and Jordan was an everlastingly patient man.
Jordan sent out for a pizza and dozed on his couch.
He finally got a hit 22 hours after he started. There was a message posted on an abandoned MilNet site. It was one word, “Success.”
The sheer dereliction of the site was what made the message stand out. Somebody had just utilized an address that was last visited when Ronald Reagan was President. More importantly, the posting was from a conventional TCP/IP connection.
Jordan was guessing that it had originated from a mobile phone. Perhaps it was sent when the bomb reached its destination. The person who posted it must have been in a hurry. Or, maybe he thought that the target URL was so obscure that nobody would notice.
Either way they had made a BIG mistake. Jordan now had the packet information.
Wireshark told him that the endpoint was an IPv4 address belonging to a company named “Eleven Rivers”. He did a fast deepweb lookup of that organization and discovered that it was one of a series of shell corporations owned by an outfit headquartered in San Antonio.
Jordan now had a solid name and place to start. He picked up the encrypted landline. He didn’t care that it was 02:30. This was exciting. He dialed the special number that Golz had given him. Golz answered on the second ring. His voice reflected the steel trap that was his mind. He said, “Bobby Lee?”
Jordan said, “Sorry to wake you Bernie but I have to talk to you.” Golz said with a laugh in his voice, “Nonsense, Old spies don’t sleep”.
Jordan said, “There was action on one of the deepweb sites and I have a target. It’s a shell corporation in San Antonio. I am going to dig some more and I’ll let you know what I find out.”
What Jordan found, was a little disconcerting. It took him almost three hours to break into the site. Jordan could breach any defense in depth in minutes. But he had never encountered one this robust before.
To his horror, he found that he had just hacked what could best be described as the U.S. data center for the Sinaloa cartel. That might have gotten somebody less capable killed. But Jordan had hopped his spoofs through enough encrypted sites that the people he had cracked would never be able to trace back to him.
Jordan was pretty sure that the NIDS at the cracked site would be blaring alerts. And even though it was 05:30 he estimated that he had about 10 clear minutes. So he had to move fast. He started a compressed search of their filesystem on every keyword he could think of involving bombs.
It didn’t take him long to find the right file. A man known simply as “Captain” Morro was running an operation code named “Decapitar” from the very top of the Cartel. And the bomb was mixed up in that.
Jordan did an instant filecopy and then dumped out of the site. On the way out he dropped bread crumbs that led to the Chinese. Those ought to give their security people something to chase for the next millennium.
It took another day to do the analytics. But what Jordan discovered was beyond belief. Mexico City is perhaps the single most vulnerable city in the world. It is Mexico’s biggest as well as that country’s political, cultural, educational and financial center. And as a single city, it boasts the fifth-largest economy in Latin America. So it has a disproportionate influence on the Mexican economic system.
Worse, Mexico City is located in a wide geographic bowl surrounded by mountains. So, besides wrecking the financial markets and cutting the head off the Mexican government the effect of a nuclear blast inside that bowl would instantly incinerate twenty-two million people. Of course the Cartels would benefit from the resulting chaos – maybe even take over the entire Country. At least that was the plan.
Jordan whipped out his cell. And he dialed Golz with shaking fingers. He said, “We need a meeting Bernie. I’ve discovered something you won’t believe.”
Exactly two hours later he was sitting at the long conference table with Golz and three other people. Each face reflected a mixture of interest and concern.
There was Kharkov, an older Russian who had been one of Golz’s main adversaries throughout the Great Game. His presence at the table was an homage to capitalism over socialist idealism. He was now Bernie’s partner.
The other two were the Company’s primary field operatives - at least for all things Latino.
Pablo El Hefe, was some sort of former L.A. gang leader. It wasn’t clear how he came to be employed by the Organization. But if it involved Latinos he had deep connections. And he could get the job done. Plus, he had a reputation for being a stone cold killer.
He was big, fat and morose, with a moon face, shaved head, little piggy eyes and a four-day stubble on his cruel and stupid face. If he had been an animal, he would have been a wild boar.
Jordan was six inches taller than Pablo. But the gangster was at least 50 pounds heavier. And Jordan had no illusions about what Pablo would do to him if the situation ever got around to ass kicking.
Pablo had some kind of booty relationship with the occupant of the other chair. Pilar was more guapo than guapa. She was medium height. Her body was thick and her tits were huge. She had the tattoos, swarthy skin, abundant raven hair, slab face and high cheekbones of a classic barrio chola.
But she had kind dark eyes. Her role seemed to be to keep Pablo from self-destructing. And everybody knew that without her Pablo would have just been another 18th Street banger.
Golz said, “Tell us what you know for sure Bobby Lee.”
Jordan outlined everything he had learned. He said, “An offshoot of the Sinaloa Cartel has acquired a Cold War hydrogen bomb. Sometime in the past week they transported it through Laredo, to Mexico City.”
He paused for dramatic effect and said, “They are planning on setting it off in the Alameda Central as soon as they can get it rigged. Their aim is to behead the Mexican government and then make hay out of the chaos.”
Pablo said admiringly, “Gangsta!!”
Pilar said with more emotion than Jordan had ever heard from her, “Shut up cabron. My family lives there.”
Golz actually blanched and said, “We need to get this information out to every Agency.”
Kharkov looked shrewdly at the group. He was the deep thinker– a planner and schemer in the old Soviet model. He said, “If we broadcast this to the intelligence community we are going to lose control of it. Worse it will get leaked for sure. Remember this is Mexico and a lot of their officials are in the pockets of the Cartels.”
Then he made a steeple out of his hands, looked shrewdly at the group and said, “More importantly, none of those agencies except DEA has any penetration. They won’t know where to start and if they begin turning over rocks it might encourage them to detonate the bomb before we can do something about it.”
He turned to Pablo and said, “How hard would it be for you to get in contact with those people?”
Pablo sneered and said, “Ain’t no thang. We ran a lot of shit for those vatos back in the day.” Kharkov looked measuredly at him and said, “So you can get in touch with the right people if we send you down there?”
Pablo looked bored and said, “Like I said, ain’go.”
Kharkov turned to Jordan and said, “If you are with him can you get us the information we need? We can send in a Delta unit but we have to know the precise location and situation.”
Jordan felt something he hadn’t experienced since his days with Red Dawn. He couldn’t believe how much he had missed being part of the action.
He said as calmly as he could, “That kind of exploit is really easy. I just need to know where to do the eavesdropping. If Pablo and Pilar can get me targets I can get the information.”
Kharkov nodded and said, “So we have a plan.”
Four days later, the three of them met in Mexico City. Pablo and Pilar had flown in the day after the meeting. While Jordan had driven in from the border crossing at Brownsville.
Pablo and Pilar were basically portraying what they were – LA barrio trash touching base with the local supplier community. That was an easy legend to document.
Jordan was playing a roving troubleshooter for Globecomm. Technical service calls were his normal legend. He was purportedly there to do special maintenance on the Televisa satellite uplink hubs. That gave him the freedom to move around the area with a truck full of electronic gear - and not raise any suspicion.
Jordan was driving the classic big white Econoline van. It had the markings of a Globecomm Systems service truck and it had all of the gear that you would expect with a mobile satellite support operation.
Of course none of that technology had any purpose other than surveillance. And there was a whole lot of tactical shit buried in special containers under the floorboards.
Normally you would have to be nuts to park a van loaded with high-tech gear in a hotel parking lot in Mexico City. But 160 pounds of muscle, fangs and unconditional devotion was sleeping inside. So if a thief got in - Buster would make sure that they never got out.
They had agreed to meet in the café of the Hotel Histórico Central, which is where they were all staying. The plan was to have Jordan introduce himself. Anybody watching would think that Pablo was pimping his woman to some horny Anglo.
They all did tequila shots. Pablo was downing his. Jordan and Pilar were surreptitiously pouring theirs into the nearby pants and their water glasses.
Jordan said, “How did it go so far? Did you make contact?”
Pilar said, “We spent our time renewing old acquaintances in Iztapalapa.”
Jordan knew that place. It was a rat’s nest of cheap housing outside the City center to the northeast. It was also a well-known supermarket for the drug trade.
He said, “Did you learn anything useful?”
Pilar said, “We got a lead on a big hacienda just east of Coatlinchan. It’s at the base of Mt Tlaloc. The Cartels use it as a neutral meeting place. All the old grudges get left at the door.
We are planning on going out there. If they are going to pull any kind of shit one of the Cartel soldiers will brag about it. Particularly if it’s while I’m fucking him”
Jordan looked at Pilar’s sturdy body and huge rack and thought to himself, “I bet he’ll be tweeting like a little chickadee once that woman gets done with him.”
Pablo looked bored. Apparently the two of them used that ploy all the time.
Pilar said, “There’s a wall all the way around the place. But it backs up to the mountain and you can get line of sight from up there. It’s only a kilometer away from the buildings.”
Jordan could visualize it. The place was nestled in a valley at the foot of the mountains next to Coatlinchan. And of course the whole thing was on Google maps. There was a rough road up Mt. Tlaloc that would put him in a perfect position to infiltrate down through the scrub trees to the area right above the compound.
So the following night found Jordan sitting in a black ghillie suit. He probably didn’t need that much concealment. But there were totally ruthless people down there. And he didn’t want to take the slightest chance.
He had his Bluesniper rifle with him. And it’s attached Gumstix was loaded with malware. Gumstix works in conjunction with the rifle to give the sniper all of the computer functionality required to Bluebug any Bluetooth device within a two kilometer radius. He had been using it since the early days in Kandahar.
Jordan was scanning the 2.4 Gigahertz spectrum looking for something interesting. He was a good 100 vertical yards from the wall and almost a quarter mile from the main house. But the Hyperlink 14.9 dBi Randome directional antenna that comprised the barrel of the rifle lit up his Gumstix with perhaps twenty open ports.
He aimed the barrel from one place to another until he had gotten a picture of the distribution of the devices. Most of the phones were dispersed around the area surrounding the house. Those were guards. But there was a concentration of four high-end Android devices on the patio of the hacienda. Jordan guessed that those were bosses - maybe in a meeting.
He had something really nasty mounted on the Gumstix. It was essentially a passive listening device. It collected everything that was said near the phone that it was embedded in. Then it would surreptitiously “call home” at an appointed time using the smart-phone’s internet connection.
Then it would transfer what it had recorded and then go back to passive listening. The transfer was so cloaked in anonymizing measures that it was not possible to trace back to the recipient. And the only time the malware could be detected was during the short time it was burst transmitting. Thus it was –in effect - immune to any electronic countermeasures.
Jordan aimed and electronically dropped the bug on each of the four phones in the house. None of them had the security turned on so it was an easy exploit. He was just packing up his gear when all hell broke loose behind him at the van.
Buster’s deep bark boomed across the desert landscape and there was some screaming. It was far enough away that nobody in the compound could hear it but it freaked Jordan out.
He grabbed his gear and scampered the 200 yards back to his van. The moon was out but the ghillie suit made him look like a black shadow moving across the desert terrain.
Jordan was in panic mode. Buster never did ANYTHING aggressive unless there was a threat. There was a barely discernable path leading from the back of the compound and up the hill to the road that they were on. Maybe one of the guards had stumbled on them in the dark?
Jordan had a K-bar and a Glock strapped to his tac-gear. But he had never used either in anger. And Buster could threaten but he would never hurt anybody. Jordan had a thrill of anguish. What if they had to hurt somebody now?
When he got to the van Jordan discovered that the person Buster had cornered was no threat. A female figure was cowering against a rock face next to the road. She was wailing pitifully hunched in a fetal position with her hands covering her face.
She was wearing a badly ripped and filthy dress that might have been white at some time. And she was dirty and covered in blood. She was absolutely terrified.
Buster was standing over her in a posture that said, “Don’t move.” The hair on his broad back was up and he looked like the hound from hell. As Jordan approached Buster turned his head and said conversationally, “She tried to break in Boss.” That explained it.
Jordan said, “It’s okay now buddy. You can stand-down. Good job.” And he gave Buster a little pat between his battle-scarred ears. Buster relaxed and sat – pant-pant-slobber-slobber.
Jordan turned his attention to the woman. Her unearthly wailing was heart rending. Jordan still didn’t know whether she was a threat, or not. He had learned in the sandbox that helpless women sometimes had bombs strapped to them.
He knelt down next to her and said as gently as possible, “it’s okay. You’re safe. I’m sorry about the dog but he thought you were breaking into our van. My name is Robert. What’s yours?”
The woman continued to sob but at least she took her hands away from her face long enough to look questioningly at Jordan.
That look rocked him back on his heels. She had the face of an angel – faultless features aligned so symmetrically that even with the dirt and terror her transcendent beauty was hard to miss. Her eyes, which were filled with wretchedness and pain, were huge, amber and almost feline. Her mouth was wide and sensual even though it was turned down in a caricature of the mask of misery.
Jordan spread his arms wide and said in his gentlest voice, “Please – we are not going to hurt you. We are here to help you.” Then he remembered he was wearing the ghillie suit which probably made the terrified woman think that she was about to be raped by Bigfoot.
He stood and shucked it off. Underneath he was wearing black tac-pants and a black t-shirt. He looked like his typical nerd self now. He knelt down next to the woman - who had gone back to her original fetal position - and said, “Are you thirsty? Can I get you some water?”
The woman actually focused on him for a second and said in a pitiful voice, “Yes please. I’m dying of thirst.”
The fact that she had said that in English surprised Jordan. He had just assumed that she was just a local campasino Mexicana who had stumbled on his van by accident.
He rose and got a bottle of water out of the van. Buster followed him back to the van, tail wagging, slobber-slobber-pant-pant. He climbed back up into his dog-bed. Then he cocked one leg and began grooming his unmentionables – his watch was completed.
Jordan got a liter bottle of agua potable and returned to the girl. She had stopped wailing and was solemnly contemplating him. He handed it to her and she grabbed it with both hands and began gulping it.
Jordan reached out and touched her arm saying, “Slow down – you’ll make yourself sick.”
The woman dropped the bottle, shrieked and scrambled backwards up the rock face. Jordan was so startled by the reaction that he fell backward on the road.
She cowered there contemplating him with terror.
He stood and brushed his butt off. Then he spread his arms in a friendly entreaty and said, “Please don’t be afraid. I would never hurt you. But there are some very bad men just down the mountain and I think we should get out of here before they find us.”
At that, a look of sheer panic came into the woman’s haunted eyes and she whimpered. Jordan guessed that she had originally come from down there and it wasn’t pretty.
He said continuing his gentlest tone, “Please get in the van. I won’t hurt you and I will drive you wherever you want to go. It’s just that I am going to have to leave now. I promise that I will not touch you again – and I’m sorry” The last part was said with actual remorse.
The woman hesitated for a couple of seconds. Then she rose tentatively and walked toward the van, making a wide circle around Jordan as she did it. She opened the passenger side door and got in, shoving as far over toward the door as she could get.
Jordan picked up his Ghillie suit and bluesniping gear and put it in the back with Buster. Then he got into the driver’s seat and started the van.
He had carefully planned the exfiltration on a path away from the compound. And in the dark, as he bounced over the practically non-existent road with no headlights, he was wondering what was sitting next to him and how she had gotten there.
He said as gently and conversationally as he could, “What’s your name? Mine’s Robert but everybody calls me Bobby Lee.”
She gave him an almost normal look and said in a very soft voice, “Mary - My name is Mary.” It was like she was affirming something to herself.
They drove along the path until they got to an actual paved road. It was two-lane blacktop but after what they had been on it felt like the Autobahn. Jordan turned on the lights and proceeded at normal highway speeds. Then he looked over at his passenger.
She was crammed in the space between the seat and the door, with her arms around her drawn up knees. She was staring at him silently terrified.
Jordan remembered that look.
Back in 2003. He had been assigned to 2-70 Armor’s RCT. He was SIGINT for the spearhead that was seizing the crossings over the Euphrates at Al Hillah. Up to that point the ride had been uneventful – if you didn’t count the three-day sandstorm.
But it was at that river crossing that they had run into the Medina Division of the Republican Guard. Those were elite troops and they were dug in.
What followed was more like a bar-room brawl after somebody shot out the lights. RPGs and Iraqi artillery seemed to come from everywhere. The noise was indescribable and for about three hours Jordan thought he was going to get his ticket punched – even though he and his gear were traveling at the rear of the column in an M3.
The urban fighting was so fierce that the 3rd ID tanks and infantry pulled back to let the Airforce do their thing. The F16s and A10s pretty-much fucked up whatever was leftover after the Apaches had finished lighting up the place. And the column started to roll up highway 8 again.
That night the 2-70s Headquarters Battalion was bivouacked in the area northeast of town. They were waiting to turn the place over to the Jarheads. And they were going to finish mopping up what was left of the defenders.
Jordan was sitting outside his Bradley enjoying the evening breeze when a 101st Airborne detail came by herding some Iraqi prisoners.
Those guys were regular Army. Not Republican Guard. They had been manning one of the batteries that had given the leading Abrams so much trouble. And as a result, they had been on the receiving end of an absolute firestorm of incoming ordinance.
Even from four miles away, Jordan could feel the continuous concussion and noise of the detonations. Being at ground zero of that shit-storm would be enough to shell-shock the walking dead.
One of the prisoners was perhaps 18. He drew Jordan’s attention because he looked like he was totally empty inside. Whoever he had been the prior day, that afternoon had taught him that he was nothing. And that his life was nothing. That knowledge had blown away his immortal soul.
That was the exact same look that Jordan saw in the eyes of his passenger. Somebody had reached inside of her and pulled out her humanity. They had reduced her to a shell of a victim without any vestige of will. She was unable to reason, only react. And her present state was nothing but abiding fear.