You don’t go to North Yorkshire for the social life. Maybe it’s the relentless overcast and cold rain. Or maybe it’s the fact that the sheep outnumber the locals. But the natives won’t speak to you unless you sport a flat cap, wear Wellies and have a whippet by your side.
I was in Yorkshire because that is where the National Security Agency has its largest signals intelligence operation outside of Fort Meade. I am NOT violating any national secrets by telling you that. All you have to do is drive past RAF Menwith Hill. And the 30 white domes, that look like somebody is conducting a mass hot air balloon launch, will give you a clue.
I was in Yorkshire as part of my assignment for the NSA. They download the SIGINT for Afghanistan at Menwith. But, it is a long reach from Kandahar, up to the satellites and then down again to our U.K. installation. So you have to go back and forth between the two places if you want to be absolutely certain that your information hasn’t been messed with.
The absolute integrity of our data feeds is important. That’s because the media is everywhere and it covers everything. And you can get some very bad press, if you inadvertently tuck a Hellfire-Romeo into a Tango’s back pocket while innocent civilians are standing nearby. So, the NSA keeps some poor schmuck permanently on station in the Sandbox.
You can’t ask one of the grunts to do it. They are there to light-up the natives, not analyze 40 gigahertz signals. So, SIGINT has to be done by someone with my particular set of skills.
I am a Grey Fox, which is a Jay-Sock code name for a fully weaponized geek. I have the ability to shoot you. But at the same time, I am anything but heroic. That’s what the OTHER people are there for.
Me? I do whatever it takes to stay out of harm’s way.
The Jarheads I am billeted with are either too unimaginative or too stupid to grasp the concept of their own grisly death. I guess that’s why we call them “bullet catchers.”
But then again, they’re kids. I am a little older and a whole lot wiser. And so, if there’s a call to do anything ill-advised I am ALWAYS at the back of the line.
Fortunately, nobody sees me for what I really am - which is a totally non-aggressive geek. Everybody thinks of me as some kind of swashbuckling, latter-day, electronic beau sabreur.
That is strictly a misperception on their part. I am much bigger than average. And my craggy good-looks leave people with the impression that I am the essence of stalwart courage.
Which just goes to show you that appearances can be deceiving.
You can forget about all of the Hooorahhh bullshit that you hear from the Marines. The only reason why I was in that third world shithole was to make sure that the U.S.’s Ka Band transmissions are secure.
And my only aim was to keep my precious hide intact while I was doing it. So if one of the Devil-Dogs wants to do something brave, I am more than happy to stand aside and let him do it.
Of course, the data feeds are two way communications. So I am in Yorkshire just as often as I am in The ‘Stan. And since, Yorkshire is as cold and rainy, as Kandahar is hot and dusty, it is safe to say that my luck in work venues universally sucks.
It’s a complex system. The Hellfire-armed Predators and Reapers are flown out of Creech AFB in Nevada, which is the other leg of the triangle. It’s all satellite enabled. And it is one of those 21st Century phenomena that have shaped the modern battlespace into something that Sun Tzu, or Von Clausewitz wouldn’t recognize.
Signals intelligence is geek work. But the part of my duty that takes place in Afghanistan can also get you killed.
Your untimely death might be the cost of doing business in downtown Kabul. But the odds go infinitely higher when you start exploring in-country, which is something that I occasionally and very unwillingly have to do.
The Air Force doesn’t deign to fly into the nooks and crannies of the surrounding mountains. And that creates some pretty big holes in our electronic intelligence net. So the only way to get good SIGINT is to patrol on foot in those mountain gaps.
And, there is nothing like climbing a narrow mountain trail with 80 pounds of electronic gear on your back to make you rethink your career goals. Especially if you are in a dangerous place like Helmand Province.
We had been dropped by Chinook to patrol from Lashkar Gah toward Marjah. I was there with a platoon from the Fifth Marines. We were just starting to enter a little mountain plateau, when all hell broke loose.
There were 30 of us and a whole lot more of the bad guys. I really wasn’t in a position to count. Since I was too busy diving behind a rock. Still, I didn’t have to be a tactical genius to figure out that we were in deep kimchi.
For those of you who have never had the pleasure; the movies don’t come close to portraying what it is really like to be shot at.
The gunfire is just background noise. What you are painfully aware of is the vicious “viiiiiiping” sound of the near misses as they whiz past you. Or the surprisingly emphatic “cracks!!” as they hit whatever you are hiding behind.
The 7.62 millimeter slugs from an AK-47 are a lot bigger and slower than the 5.56 millimeter bullets that we fire. And they sound like a freight train as they pass. I was hearing a lot of that as I shed my pack and fired up the satellite link.
The good news was that the Hajis had jumped us before we had gotten into their kill-box. So we had. adequate cover. And we have come a long way from the short range field radios of the Vietnam days. So, I could have talked to my sainted mother at that particular moment thanks to the satellites.
But instead of my sweet old mom, I was talking to the short-tempered AirBoss in Kandahar. Air support in the ‘Stan is a lot like booking an Uber. You don’t know what you are going to get until it shows up.
What we got that day, was like looking under the Christmas tree and finding a pony. They sent us a C130U “Spooky II”, instead of the F16s that I expected. That was a nice surprise because the jet jockeys can be a little casual when they are dropping shit around you.
Spookies are flying weapons platforms built on the big, old, slow moving C-130 cargo plane. And the precision of its 105 millimeter air-cannon and the 30 millimeter GAU23A Gatling’s brought a quick and emphatic end to the engagement.
I never found out whether the Hajis were Taliban fighters, or just one of the local bandit gangs. I DO know there were a whole lot less of them after the Spooky appeared. Later on, I remember walking past two sandals that were just lying there by the side of the trail. The former owner was a vaporized ring of gore around them.
The odd thing was that the sandals themselves were completely undisturbed - positioned exactly as the owner had been standing when he was air-burst by the 105mm round. And those lonely sandals perfectly illustrated the consequences of combat with a technologically advanced foe like us.
That also more-or-less sums up 21st Century asymmetric warfare. The war we were fighting doesn’t involve any of the desperate conditions of the World War I trenches, or the mass destruction of the monumental battles of World War II. In fact, my average Tuesday morning might involve an hour long firefight followed by a helicopter ride back home for a nice lunch.
But the single thing that we DO have in common with all of the soldiers from all of those other wars was the prospect of our imminent demise. So, you either develop a thick skin, or you go nuts.
I rotated back to the U.K. three weeks later. It was a C130 hop into RAF Waddington.
The Hercules doesn’t feature sexy flight attendants, complimentary drinks, or reclining seats; just an unshaven and slightly smelly E-7 Loadmaster. I couldn’t sleep much anyhow since the four turbo props made the twenty hours in the air feel like I was sitting in blender.
Then I rented a car and drove the two hours from Lincoln to Harrogate. I did that as a private citizen.
I am actually a Captain with the 742nd Military Intelligence Battalion, based at Fort Meade. Going incognito wasn’t an espionage thing. NSA just likes to be the “No Such Agency”.
That was also the reason why I checked into the White Hart Hotel in nearby Harrogate instead of the transient BOQ on base. I had the usual debriefing meetings at Menwith Hill the following morning, which was a Thursday. Then I took weekend leave to go down to London.
The trip from Harrogate to King’s Cross took three hours. I booked the early afternoon express so there were relatively few stops. And I was at my usual cheap west-end hotel by dinner time.
I was going to meet Rinaldi at our normal spot. Rinaldi is a few years older than me. And he’s a doctor in his day-job. He is stationed with the Brits’ 256th Field Hospital. That outfit might be based in the City of London. But I met him in Afghanistan.
The 256th isn’t anything out of MAS*H. It’s more like a reserve unit. Nevertheless, they rotate it in and out of The ‘Stan because of shortages in the army medical services. And the fact that they need to deploy reserve units like the 256th perfectly illustrates how the whole cluster-fuck works.
Rinaldi is about as far opposite me as you can get. He is five-ten, compact, very good looking, urbane and deliciously witty; while I am tall, Viking looking, a little over-muscled and the best you can say is that I am not too embarrassing in public.
Rinaldi might be English. And he DOES sport a really cool Oxbridge accent. But he is of Italian extraction with the thick black hair, Roman nose and olive skin of one of their legendary Hollywood leading men.
Rinaldi is also a world class pussy-hound ... me? Not so much.
His huge nearly violet eyes are almost irresistible. And when he does his seductive “I-want-you” stare. Every woman just seems to melt.
That’s probably why he has fucked them all; from the whorehouses of Kabul to the drawing rooms of Belgravia.
I met him in Kandahar, while I was being patched up after a little disagreement between my Humvee and a Taliban IED. It was mainly just to check me for concussion symptoms. But he seemed to take an immediate shine to me.
Perhaps he thought that he could improve my sadly lacking social skills.
Whatever -- he suggested that we visit an off-base place that he had heard about. In a city like Kandahar anything off-base can be extremely hazardous to your health. And I am not talking about STDs. Plus, I WAS initially under his care because I had a concussion. He laughed that off like I was being a big baby.
So we journeyed outside the blast walls that separate the security area from Haji-Land.
When we got to our destination, I discovered to my utter astonishment that Rinaldi was taking me to a TGI Friday’s!!!
Look it up!! It was there!! It closed back in 2014. But the fact remains that there was once a little slice of America in the unlikeliest spot on earth.
It would be an understatement to say that it felt like teleportation to visit a TGI Friday’s in the place where I am sure they will stick the hose if they ever give the earth an enema. And it set off shock-waves of cultural dissonance in my slightly concussed brain. It just seemed so wrong to be munching on loaded potato skins instead of the usual tikka and rice.
Given its “girls night out” vibe -- I could understand why a TGI Friday’s was Rinaldi’s version of the Happy Hunting Ground. Plus, it was probably the only place in Haji-Land where a woman could hang out and not need a Berka. So all the civilian workers at the Kandahar Airport drank there.
Rinaldi had appropriated one of the hospital’s medical transport Humvees – think, “giant hulking, armored, diesel powered ambulance with red crosses on the side.” I had wondered why he had taken that beast instead of one of the staff cars. I stopped wondering when he began to work his magic.
We had been there perhaps ten seconds when Rinaldi locked onto two women sitting by themselves. They were at what the locals laughingly called a “bar.” They looked like they might be clericals in airport operations.
One was built along the same lines as our Humvee. But she had a pretty face. The other one was actually kind of hot.
You normally don’t find Western women who are obviously that attractive out alone in a third world tire fire like Afghanistan. That is, unless they have gotten acculturated. The social vibe in that Muslim country can be very intimidating for females.
And I didn’t have to be a clairvoyant to know which one I was going end up with. But HEY – this was Afghanistan. So any port in a storm.
I have never approached a woman sitting at a bar in my life. I just don’t have the knack. My total lack of savoir faire also extends to any other setting including weddings, funerals and Bar Mitzvahs.
I can get a date. But getting a permanent woman in my life is an entirely different matter. Fortunately, finding a woman is just not that important to me. There are very few lust inspiring female engineers. And there are even fewer of them in Army field units. So you learn to not think about it.
Or maybe it’s because I’m a nerd and we are a solitary species. Our complete lack sensitivity, social skills, feelings and some aspects of personal hygiene cause that. More important, I have struck out swinging every time I have stepped up to the plate with a woman. And the walk back to the dugout is just so humiliating.
Rinaldi breezed up to the two of them like he just knew that they would be happy to see him. And of course they were. Meanwhile, I stood there, tongue-tied and staring at the floor.
Rinaldi was making brilliant headway with the hot one. The other was looking at me glumly, like she was used to being stuck with the wing-man. I looked her over and decided that she might be chubby. But she was more than presentable.
She had the aforementioned pretty face, thick brown hair and a huge rack in a scoop neck sweater. For my part, my only thought was of burying my face in her impressive cleavage and going, Brrrrrrrrrrr.
She clearly expected me to say something. But I’m a nerd. And I am quite comfortable with extremely uncomfortable silences. So, after an embarrassingly long period of time SHE opened the conversation.
She stuck out her hand and said, “My name is Gage, I work air traffic control at KDH. That surprised me. KDH was the IATA abbreviation for the commercial aviation part of Kandahar Air Field.
She looked to only be in her early thirties so I said, “Wow – how did you get a job like that!!!” She said, “I was an ATC at Bagram when I was over here with the Air Force in 2008.”
I’m a total idiot!!! As usual I had way under-estimated a woman. I realized that I wasn’t talking to her for any other reason than the fact that Rinaldi had decided to fuck her friend. But I knew that I should never leap to conclusions about somebody before I actually got to know them.
I said, “My name is Frederic Henry. I’m the man with two first names” That was my one lame attempt at geek humor. She smiled kindly – obviously a good sport
As I looked at her I decided that she was really attractive in a plus-sized sort of way. And she had a very pretty face. More importantly she was looking at me with a certain amount of undisguised lust. It was like she had not been laid in a very long time. Not coincidentally, that was my own situation. So I was more than interested in HER too.
I told her as much of my story as I was allowed to tell. I knew that there would be a kidnapping in my future if I told her who I actually worked for. The locals would LOVE to get their hands on somebody like me.
Gage was beginning to get that look in her eyes that let me know that she was more than available for whatever I had in mind. And Rinaldi and her hot friend were actually making out at the table.
So I said, “Maybe we should take this back to our quarters on-base?” There was a nice roomy bed back there.
She said, “Our place is in the commercial compound. It’s a whole lot closer and more comfortable.” So we adjourned to our Humvee for the short trip back to the Base, over one of The ‘Stan’s almost undrivable roads.
Medical Humvees look a lot like the old fashioned boxy truck campers with a section that extends over the cab. The medical part is walled off from the driver’s compartment in some of the older ones. But ours was a new conversion, where the medical area is integral to the cab.
I was driving so Gage and I got the front seats and Rinaldi and his woman settled into the medical area. I had not even started the engine when I heard the slurping sound of a very wet kiss and a little moan. That explained why Rinaldi had insisted that we take the vehicle with a built-in bedroom.
Gage looked distressed. She leaned on one elbow to reach across the Humvee’s exceptionally wide transmission hump and unzip my pants. I was trying to keep from killing us as she pulled Old Lucifer out and began to enthusiastically stroke him.
In the interim, things in the back were beginning to really heat up. The smell of sex a loud slapping noise and the constant sound of moaning indicated that a very wet pussy was being plumbed by something.
It might have been fingers, or even a tongue. But, from the building crescendo of groans, cries and “Fuck-Mes” coming from the back I assumed that it was Rinaldi’s rather large cock.
Meanwhile, Gage was having no luck trying to get over the transmission hump. So she sat back looking frustrated. Nonetheless, she was still working on Old Lucifer like she was trying to pump the water out of the Titanic.
We arrived at the Airport security gate with the loud sounds of a woman getting her brains fucked out in the back of the Humvee, and with Gage stubbornly holding onto my cock.
The sentry walked up enquiringly, took in the scene and waved us through with a big smile. We obviously weren’t a threat. There are just some things that you REALLY can’t fake.
Gage was calmly directing us to their quarters off the perimeter road. The shrieks and moans coming from behind us were only a minor distraction. When we got there I parked and looked at her enquiringly. She said, “If she goes according to form they are never going to leave the vehicle.”
I said, “Do you have two bedrooms in there?” She nodded affirmatively. We adjourned to hers.
I had never been with a woman like Gage. They call them plus-sized but she was not really fat per-se. She was just built on a truck frame. And she had a very pretty face with dark brown eyes and a wealth of long shining brown hair.
She had relatively slim calves that tapered up into big powerfully muscled hips. Comparing those hips to your average waif-like super model was like comparing a manufacturing facility to a workshop. She was built to repopulate the species.
But her waist was startlingly narrow. If her hips were in the 39-inch range, her waist was more like 26-27 inches and with her monstrous jugs she looked like she had been tied in half.
Her tummy, was not fat as much as it was round and fertile looking. And of course there was her glorious rack.
She had stripped off her shirt and dropped her bra as she went into the bathroom to finish getting prepared. I picked it up wonderingly and read the little tag. It said 42-DD. She must have named the left one shock and the right one awe!!!
She emerged from the bathroom stark naked. Those ripe, full things swayed as she strode purposefully toward the bed.
The aureoles on them were light brown and huge, probably three or four fingers-worth wide. The nipples were equally prominent. Then, as she lay down on her back each breast pooled out on her chest. It was a stunning display of female lushness.
She was breathing raggedly as I leaned down to kiss her. Her mouth opened like a flower and I could sense desperate hunger there. She gave a little moan and grabbed the back of my head. We exchanged tongues for several minutes, both of us breathing loudly.
Then she gave a much louder moan and spread her legs. She said with desperation in her voice, “You’ve GOT to fuck me NOW!!!”
I knee walked up the bed. I was going to rub around in her hungry slit for a couple of seconds to get warmed up. But, the instant she could reach me she grabbed my cock and just shoved it into her very hot and well lubricated receptacle.
She let out an unearthly groan and shot her legs wide, grabbed the back of her knees and dragged them up to her shoulders, opening herself to be pounded; which was exactly what I did.
While I was doing it she was emitting loud “Ahhhhhhhhhs”, and “OH YES’S” and finally she just settled for rhythmic shrieking. I had not had sex since I deployed. So I wasn’t going to hold out much longer.
Fortunately she began to yell, “OH YES ... THAT’S IT ... CUMMING ... CUMMMMMING ... DON’T STOP!!!”
Then her eyes, which had been giving me the most intense fuck-me stare imaginable, rolled up in her head and she literally convulsed in a paroxysm. It was like she hadn’t had sex in months either.
I was not far behind. I came like a freight train while she shrieked, “YES!!!! GIVE IT ALL TO ME!!!”
We lay there in a sweaty panting heap for a long time, just catching our breath. Her giant boobs were still puddled on her chest, rising and falling.
I understood what had happened. We had just participated in your basic life affirming act.
Afghanistan is about as alien a place as you can be and still be on planet Earth. And the constant sense of impending doom only serves to torque up the stress.
Being a soldier might sound dashing and romantic. If you’ve never been one. But the heroic illusions evaporate after you see your first casualty.
I knew that the two of us were not going to fall in love and get married, or even probably see each other again. But for a very short time we could give each other the essential assurance of intimate human contact.
And THAT helped buttress our resolve to face the hard things that every ordinary American in that desolate piece-of-shit country faces.
Both of us lived in a world where relentless hyper-vigilance is a basic survival requirement. You can never stop watching and listening -- even when you are in camp.
That’s the case because, you never know when the occasional mortar round, or suicide bomber, will show up and end you. And that constant overarching sense of menace will sap anybody’s spirit.
Our little interlude had temporarily lifted the burden of stress off our backs. And for a very short time we found peace in each other.
I looked at her and she smiled. I said, “I don’t have to report back until day after tomorrow.” She laughed and said, “I think that we can find something to kill the time between now and then.” And we did – over-and-over, multiple times.
I still think of her. She was an insatiable beast in the sack. Yet there was something about her that was deep and nurturing.
I don’t know what I did for her – maybe just filed down her horns a bit. But it had occurred to me - even at the time - that if I had met Gage anywhere civilized she would have made a wonderful wife.
In the interim, Rinaldi and I have had a lot of those kind of moments. We would get together. And he would rustle up a couple of women. Then I would get laid-- usually.
It might sound kind of feeble that I was willing to let my buddy facilitate my sex life. But he was just so good at it. And I am so inept. He wasn’t really pimping for me as much as he was leveraging my nerd charm. My success or failure after that depended on my own limited abilities with the opposite sex.
Rinaldi was back in London permanently now. And I was looking forward to sampling one of the stimulating dishes that he usually served up. Hence, I was sitting with a pint in a nook at the Anglesea Arms in South Kensington awaiting his arrival.
He had bragged about the nurse he was fucking. He said that she was just the hottest little thing – an absolute animal in bed, but a perfect lady everywhere else.
He also said that she was so beautiful that he would almost consider forming an exclusive relationship with her – the key word there being “almost.” I had to admit that I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of a female who was so hot that she could ALMOST cause Rinaldi to give up his womanizing.
I was well into my second pint when Rinaldi showed up with two women in tow. There was no question which one he was with. She was so spectacularly beautiful that every man in the pub was tracking her.
The other woman was trailing behind with that anxious look that a person gets when they are waiting for the roulette ball to drop.
She was clearly my date for the night. And she was very presentable in a well-made, English country girl kind of way. She had pleasant, even features, cornflower blue eyes and a lot of long blond hair. It was parted in the middle and hung down her back in a wheaten sheaf. Her name was Helen.
The best way to describe her body was “sturdy.” She was built along the lines of my former friend from Afghanistan, meaning huge tits. And that brought back happy memories of a couple of nights of debauched sex. All-in-all Rinaldi had done very well for me.
Of course Rinaldi’s woman was spectacular beyond my poor nerd reckoning. I soon found out that her name was Catherine. She must have had an infinite number of Celts in her blood lines. Because, she had a glorious mane of long, thick copper hair, which she wore in a cascade of frolicking curls. And like all redheads she was a riot of vivid colors.
She had the redhead’s milky-white, velvety-smooth skin, which was colored by a wide swath of cute brown freckles. Those ran across her nose and along each of her perfectly sculpted cheekbones. Her hair was a natural dark copper. Her lipstick was as bright red as her nails and the expertly applied blue makeup turned her intense emerald eyes into sparkling pools of sunlit intellect.
She had the face of a Celtic Goddess, huge, wide-set, cat eyes, a long, perfectly shaped Irish nose in a classic winsome heart-shaped face, with a neatly pointed chin. Her wide sensual mouth and gorgeously sculptured lips seemed to be fixed in a permanent secret smile.
The rest of her was lithe and willowy with long beautifully shaped muscular legs. She was tiny compared to her friend; perhaps five-three and certainly thirty pounds lighter. But she carried herself with such an aura of grace and confidence that she was clearly the dominant one.
And maybe it was her pheromones. But she radiated a simple eroticism that set-off unbearable waves of yearning in my lizard brain. I think she caught me staring in awe at her as the three of them approached. Because she gave me a puzzled glance as she sat down.
Rinaldi introduced me to my date. I liked the hint of interest in her eyes as she looked me over. It was like she had decided that she would buy me for the evening.
Both of them were obviously combat nurses. Helen had the kind of deep tan that you get working outdoors in a climate like Afghanistan. Even Catherine’s satiny redheaded skin had a dusky tinge to it, which only added to her gorgeous coloration.
I said conversationally, “So when did you two get back from Afghanistan?”
Helen laughed out loud and Catherine said in an amused sultry voice, “Is it really THAT obvious.” I said, “No, you both look absolutely superb. But you don’t get that kind of sun lounging on Brighton Beach.”
They both laughed again. Helen said, “Catherine and I just got back from six-months at Bagram. We have only been back three weeks.”
Rinaldi had just begun bragging about his latest conquest a couple of weeks ago. So that fit the timeline.
I said, “I mostly operate out of Camp Dwyer, in Helmand. That’s a Marine lair but it is more convenient for what I do.” They both said together, “What DO you do?”
I tried to look mysterious as I said, “I COULD tell you but I would have to kill you afterward and you are both far too beautiful for THAT.”
My lame attempt at Tom Cruise humor was actually not too far from the truth. I would have lost my clearance and perhaps my freedom if I had regaled them with my exploits as a Grey Fox. The NSA likes to have its secrets well-kept.
We spent a pleasant evening telling war stories. I was struck by the strength and courage of both of those women. Neither was a fragile flower. They had faced all of the hardships that the men under their care had faced. And they had done it with a certain amount of open-handed, selfless grace that most guys couldn’t comprehend, let alone be capable of.
I found myself talking more to Catherine than Helen. I was certainly not objecting to spending an evening with a gorgeous, intelligent and witty woman. But usually, at some point Rinaldi’s hand would be snaking up his date’s dress. And at that point she would become very distracted.
Rinaldi might have had that in mind. But Catherine had turned almost completely toward me. So he would have had to reach around her to touch anything but the back that she was presenting to him.
I actually wondered, “What the fuck?” Since it almost seemed like this stunning creature was interested in ME.
That thought set off waves of panic. I am not used to beautiful women even noticing me, let alone coming on to me.
Her eyes were truly emerald color. And they held a depth of passion that tacitly confirmed everything Rinaldi had told me about her bedroom skills.
But Rinaldi was an expert rider. And the concept of me taking that thoroughbred filly out for a spirited romp scared the shit out of me. Failure is just so mortifying.
I wanted to get her to stop looking at me with a fascinated, fuck-me stare. So I said, “Why did you choose to go to Afghanistan?” The nurses have to volunteer for that duty.
Her beautiful face clouded and she said, “My fiancé of eight years was an Officer with the Life Guards. I went there to be near him.”
The Life Guards are the oldest of the two regiments of Household Cavalry. They might look like over-bred 19th Century anachronisms when they are Trooping the Colors for the Queen.
But, when they exchange their horses for speedy Scimitar Mark IIs they are reputed to be the best armored reconnaissance unit in the world.
Catherine said with unconcealed sadness, “He was killed in a massive IED blast. They said that it might have been an American thousand-pound bomb that the Taliban had repurposed.”
I said, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” I didn’t really feel it. But what else could I say?
I had seen a lot of death in my three tours. And the natural outcome is to just turn off your feelings. So she might as well have been telling me the cricket scores.
As she was talking she had reached distractedly into her purse and pulled out a shiny antique stick. She was toying with it like it was a religious artifact. I said interested, “What’s that?”
She brightened and said, “It was the last thing that Anthony gave me. It’s a swagger stick that his grandfather carried at the Somme. It was all that they were able to find of him after the first day’s attack back in 1916.”
I had seen that sort of thing a lot in The ‘Stan. And I knew that the dude had foreseen his own death.
I said as kindly as I could, “A lot of the loved ones of my friends have gone through what you are going through. And the only way to cope is to get on with your life. You honor their memory by finding somebody else to love – somebody who can make you happy.”
She said wearily, “I’m trying.”
Then the feminine power flashed out of those beautiful green eyes. It was like a flare off of the face of the sun. She looked at me impishly and said, “Tell me that you love me. That you will be mine forever.”
I knew that she was winding me up because of my last remark. I had just nonchalantly told her to find somebody to love. It was a cliché. We both knew it. And NOW she was making me the butt of the joke.
I thought to myself, “This is an incredibly smart and spirited woman.”
I was sure that sometime in the next two hours she would be giving Rinaldi the ride of his lecherous life. So I said with an equal amount of fake sincerity, “I DO love you. And I will love you to my dying day.”
I was actually thinking, “We should be on Saturday Night Live.”
I didn’t add that I was getting the premonition that my dying day might come sooner than later. I had the creeping feeling that I had already run through most of my luck.
She gave me a smile in reply that had the sort of smug womanly satisfaction that made me want to bend her over the Anglesea’s upholstered pub bench and fuck her.
She handed me a card and said, “In that case, call me and we can arrange the wedding.”
Then she stood, gave Rinaldi a look that must have fused the change in his pocket and said, “Come on dear, we have to get back to the flat.”
Helen leapt to her feet and said, “Wait!! I rode with you!!” It didn’t seem fair. Rinaldi was probably going to get a threesome. And I was going to experience the far too familiar company of Rosie and her five sisters.
I couldn’t get Catherine Barkley out of my mind. She had matchless Celtic beauty, along with Boudicca’s courage and the heart and soul of a Druid succubus. And it was all wrapped in a staggering, force-of-nature personality.
I knew that the game about “loving” each other was just a tongue-in-cheek mockery. So I didn’t take any of it seriously. She was so far out of my league that I felt like the best I could hope for would be that we would occasionally hang out with each other.
Even so, I was hoping that we could become casual friends. I was in town for two more days so I called her the next morning and asked her if she wanted to come down to Hyde Park for a picnic; just so we could set the date for our wedding.
It was 10:00 AM. But I could hear Rinaldi’s voice whining in the background about her coming back to bed. I could imagine her standing there naked, holding the phone, and trying to fight off Rinaldi’s determined attempts to drag her back for one last early morning delight.
I had a momentary pang of jealousy. Every warning sensor in my head went off at once. I thought, “What the fuck is that?? Emotion!!!??”
She said with anger in her voice, “Stop it, I’m talking to Frederic!!” Then she said in her most flirtatious tone of voice, “Should I bring the Best Man?” I said, “Of course, if you can pry him out of bed.” She said even more seductively, “I have my ways.” I thought, “I’ll just BET!!!”
I walked down Cromwell Road to the Waitrose in the Gloucester Road Arcade and picked up some delectables. Then I rode the Piccadilly up to Knightsbridge, walked across Carriage Drive to the Park and set up a blanket on a little grassy spot next to the east end of the Serpentine.
It was one of those insanely gorgeous bright blue-sky days that happen once in a while in the English summer. Since it was late August the temperatures were in the high sixties. The grass smelled fresh cut, the hint of cooking from the Serpentine Bar and Kitchen flavored the air. And everybody in the Park seemed to be in a good mood.
I was feeling a little bit more human today. I am tough. And I can deal with most of the unavoidable angst that accompanies what I do. Or maybe it isn’t a matter of toughness. Maybe it’s the fact that I am such a nerd that I don’t really live in this world. I live in my head. And it’s a lot safer up there.
I was really looking forward to seeing my “bride to be” again. Her sheer joie-de-vivre and the brilliant energy of her exceptional life-force almost made me experience a twinge of optimism. And of course my buddy Rinaldi always amuses.
She must have walked in from the Park Lane side because I saw her strolling casually past the octagonal Gin Bar. Her long muscular legs and that lithe body were enhanced by the white shorts, and hunter green Izod polo shirt combination that she was wearing.
Her thick red hair absolutely shone in the in the bright sunlight and the contrast with the hunter green of the polo shirt made it almost gleam. She looked like an earthbound angel. And she was alone!!!
She got to where I was sitting. I was on my blanket. I had a good Cabernet already opened, three wine glasses and some assorted Waitrose nibbles. She looked delighted.
She sat down next to me crossed those fabulous legs and leaned easily back on her arms. Of course THAT showed off the perfect shape of her full faultlessly proportioned boobs, which distracted me for a second.
She looked at me enquiringly, like she expected me to say something. I stated the obvious, “Where’s the Best Man???” She looked teasingly at me and said, “I wanted to have you all to MYSELF today.”
I had no response to that except an extremely puzzled, “Why???” She said, “If we are going to be married we need to get to know each other better.” I laughed lecherously - continuing the joke - and said, “Shouldn’t we get a room then??”
She smacked me on the arm and said, “Not until the after the wedding.” I had the totally ungentlemanly thought, “And Rinaldi probably wore you out last night.” But I kept that to myself.
Instead I said a little sadly, “I’m going back day-after-tomorrow so we had better get busy.”
And we did. We had a wonderful day together; sitting on that blanket in the sun, drinking the wine, eating the olives, cheese and bread and talking about the things that made us who we were.
I told her about my life growing up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. I told her how absolutely isolated I felt living with all of those agricultural types.
I told her about my parents, who were decent God-fearing folks. But they never came close to “getting me.”
I told her about my early interest in all things electronic and how that got me a ROTC scholarship at Carnegie-Mellon.
I scrupulously avoided any conversations about relationships. I didn’t want to sound as clueless as I actually was.
It might be a geek thing. But I don’t understand women. I take what they say at face value. And so I have been largely used and abused by the female of the species.