Chapter 12: A Thousand Stolen Moments by Connie Ann Michael

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A Thousand Stolen Moments by Connie Ann Michael

Chapter 1 / Chapter 2 / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 / Chapter 5 / Chapter 6 / Chapter 7 / Chapter 8 / Chapter 9 / Chapter 10 / Chapter 11

CHAPTER TWELVE

B

y the time Tahk and Doogie returned to their position, they were both soaking wet from the waist down, but didn’t have time to worry about it as Raven transmitted they were moving forward. They hoped, under the cover of darkness, they could make it the short distance to a police station. It was centrally located and provided them with a good base for operation.

Doogie’s boots felt like they were weighted down by cement blocks. She didn’t argue when Tahk grabbed her medical bag and slung it over his shoulder.

“Dang, Doogs. If your teeth chatter any louder, we might as well put a spot light on us and announce, here we come,” Tahk whispered.

People have the misconception Afghanistan is scorching hot. It can be, but it’s a desert, and come fall or winter, the heat of the day fades quickly when the sun goes down.

In the end, it took six hours to reach their destination. A ten minute jog if you aren’t being held down for hours by a sniper. So much for Raven’s idea of setting up a perimeter to get them through safely. Doogie only hoped the line could at least keep the Taliban from coming up their flank.

“I got two males coming across the field,” a voice yelled from their perch on the wall. The blackness of the night encompassed them, and the men snapped their night-vision goggles down. Doogie wasn’t privy to that particular item and relied on Tahk to lead her like a blind man. The entire city was a labyrinth of walls encasing alleys and streets. It provided cover, but it also made it impossible to see what was happening on the other side. Perching men along the top seemed to be like painting a “shoot me” target on their heads.

“Are they armed?” Tahk yelled.

“No, walking with a kid.” He tumbled from the wall. A rocket whizzed by, hitting the wall behind them. Debris rained down on them.

“Cover!” everyone yelled. Tahk and Doogie braced themselves against the thick mud wall as another explosion rocked the station.

“Permission to take ‘em out!” someone yelled from the other side of the wall.

“Negative,” yelled Raven. “Not unless they engage. “Raven’s words were drowned out by another explosion.

“Sir, I think the rocket is their way of engaging,” a sarcastic voice yelled.

“Did the rocket come from the kid?” Raven snapped back.

“No, sir.”

“Then you do not have permission to engage.”

Tahk leaned over in a weak attempt to cover Doogie.

She elbowed him in the side. “Get off me.”

“If you get hurt, we’re SOL, so deal,” he said.

“I’m fine. Get off me.” She shoved him again.

Tahk’s weight shifted. He moved to the side to get away from her pointy elbows. “Were you scared?” The rumbles of the explosion subsided, and Tahk sat back to check her out.

“What? No.” Then recanted, “Well, yeah, someone shot a rocket at us.” Doogie looked at him like he grew an extra head. Why, after all this time, would he ask if a rocket scared her? They’d been in worse.

“Don’t look at me like that. I asked because you’re shaking.”

“Because I’m freezing!” Doogie’s pants were caked with mud and sand. She was wet to the core from Flynn’s evacuation, and the night air felt like tiny daggers pricking into her skin. She tried to open her pack, in search for some added warmth, but her hands were shaking too bad to work the zipper.

“Great. If I can’t open my pack, how am I going to shoot a gun?” Frustrated, she threw it to the side.

“Calm down. Let me help.” Tahk retrieved the pack and easily pulled it open.

“I’m frozen. I’m not much use if I’m an icicle.” Doogie’s teeth chattered when she talked.

“Got people inside!” Thommy yelled.

Bomber barked at a group of locals emerging from the police station. The Marines herded them out the door while the ANA fought their way in.

The bombing subsided and a few men climbed onto the wall to return fire if the insurgents decided to start shooting again.

“Ragi!” Raven yelled for the interpreter. It wasn’t actually his name, but it was the part of his name they could pronounce.

“Ask how many are here?” He pointed at a small group of men huddled together.

Tahk pulled out a thin blanket to drape around Doogie’s shoulders. “I hate that we can’t talk to them. I get the feeling he doesn’t say what we tell him to.”

“I guess we have to give them some trust. They put their families at risk helping us.” She pulled the blanket up to her chin.

“They have to earn trust. We can’t tell who’s the good guy or who’s the bad.” Tahk started rubbing his hands up and down Doogie’s arms in a painful attempt to warm her.

“They don’t know if we’re good or bad either.” Her words hiccupped out as Tahk’s rubbing jarred her.

“You’re too diplomatic.” He laughed.

“I have to think they want it better, or what’s the point of us being here.”

“They don’t want us here whether you think that way or not. It’s easier for them with the Taliban. It’s like the mob. Bin Laden is their Godfather.”

“Not sure how to respond to that,” Doogie mumbled.

“Nothing to say.” He pulled her into his side, tucking her under his arm.

Two men separated from the group to talk with Ragi. They watched the show when Ragi came back to Raven. “They say they have a small group of people in the station.”

“Numbers man! I need numbers. Men? Women? What is in here?” Raven yelled.

The locals yelled over each other while flinging their arms about, pushing at Ragi.

“What are they saying?” Raven grabbed Ragi, positioning himself between the group and the interpreter.

“They say they’re old men, women, and children. They aren’t Taliban,” Ragi said in broken English.

“Ask them who’s out there.” Raven jerked his head in the direction of the last RPG attack.

Ragi moved his hands up and down, trying to calm the now frantic men. But they continued to babble on, their words directed at Raven, even though he couldn’t understand.

“Why doesn’t the ANA step in and help?” Doogie sat huddled into Tahk’s side. His hand rubbed up and down her back. But the shivering had gotten worse. She prayed the sun would break the horizon soon.

“That would mean they were taking initiative.” Tahk spit onto the ground.

“You don’t think they can do it?” The syllables of the words broke with each shiver.

With a laugh, he threw her question back at her. “Do you?”

“I hope they can. If they can’t maintain what we’re doing; then why are we doing anything?” she repeated her mantra again.

“Your youth is refreshing, but naïve.” He gave her one last rub; then got up, walking over to Raven.

“Stop calling me naïve,” Doogie yelled after him.

Without turning around, Tahk waved her off.

“They are very upset.” Ragi stated the obvious.

“No,” Tahk said sarcastically. “Ask them who is still in the village.”

“They say they were told to stay here until the Army came. To not leave or they might get hit with a bomb. But they are getting hit with bombs here. They want us to provide them safety or get out,” Ragi said quickly.

Raven placed a hand on Tahk’s chest when he tried to answer, and then calmly told Ragi what to translate. “We will protect them as long as we are here, but we need to know how many people are out there shooting at us. Tell him to get all the people here, out into the courtyard. Have the ANA pat them down for explosives. Then tell the ANA I want them to go through the buildings to look for guns or ammo.”

Ragi began talking to the men again. Then shook his head no. “They say they have nowhere to go. They do not want to leave.”

“What are you telling them?” Tahk yelled. “They don’t have to leave!” He turned to Raven and yelled, “Does he even speak English?”

“I speak English,” Ragi argued back. “I know what you said. I’m telling you what they said.” Ragi pointed back to the group of men.

With a flick of his hand, Tahk dismissed himself from the conversation and came back over to where Doogie sat, watching the comedy of translation.

“What an idiot. Gonna get us all killed at this rate,” Tahk said.

Raven’s stare followed Tahk’s walk back to Doogie. His eyes softened when they met hers. Doogie couldn’t help the smile that crept on her lips. He looked like he was going to smile back until the yelling began again. With a sigh, he broke the connection and went back to work.

“Okay Ragi,” he tried again. “They can stay. Get them all out of the buildings so we can search.”

It took about ten minutes for the entire group to emerge from various areas of the police station. The team matched up with their ANA buddies so they could began a search of the buildings. Radio chatter told them the small group of snipers that had used the kid as a shield were taken out by the unit coming up our flank. The guys had some colorful thoughts about Raven sticking to the rules of engagement. If they had followed their guts, Flynn would still be with them.

“Doogie!” someone yelled across the yard.

She scanned the area searching for the origin of the yell. Thommy stood alongside a villager. The white bandage she’d put over his stitches from the tragic shovel wound, hung dirty and sweaty.

Doogie struggled to stand, using the wall for support while she waited for her legs to warm up. She dropped the blanket and made her way to the small group. “What’s up?”

“I think you need to pat this one down.” A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. The Marine standing beside him turned, trying to hide his laughter.

“Why?” She wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

“We think it’s a woman.” He shrugged. “We can’t search women.”

“What do you mean you think?” Thommy was young. Doogie wasn’t exactly a grandma, but she wasn’t immature young. It was like dealing with a child. His shovel accident hadn’t surprised her. The last time she’d seen him with a shovel, he’d been using it as an air guitar. He enjoyed hazing her, which made her question his intentions with this local.

He lowered his voice, as if the person standing beside him could understand him anyway. “We can’t tell.”

“Well, how am I supposed to know?” She knew, either way, if they were wrong, they would be in big trouble. “Maybe we could skip this one?”

“Can’t take a chance.” He shook his head.

“Ask it.”

“How?”

“This is stupid.” She huffed. “Zan?” It glared at her with venom in its eyes.

“Holy crap, what did you say?” Thommy whispered under his breath while the other Marine took a step back. “It looks angry.”

“I said lady.” Doogie rubbed her forehead. “But I said it in Farsi.”

“Crap,” he blew out the word.

“Sorry. I couldn’t think of the word in Pashto. I didn’t think it would mind.”

“Yeah, they hate us, but why don’t we talk to them in Iraqiso they can hate us more. Smooth move, Doogs.”

This entire conversation was heading south fast.

“Shut up. Ta?” She tried again, this time using Pashto.

“American whore.” The man spit at her.

Wow. “Uh . . . Nice. Yeah. It’s a guy.” Doogie walked away.

“What’s up?” Tahk asked.

Doogie grabbed her discarded blanket and wrapped it tightly around her shoulders. “Apparently, he doesn’t like me too much.”

Tahk erupted in a fit of laughter.

“Yeah, funny. If you heard why’d you ask?”

“Because I wanted to hear you say it.” He grabbed his stomach, trying to regain control.

She dug her water out of her pack. “You’re a jerk.”

“It’s just . . .” He started laughing again.

“I hate you.”

“Hey there, Doogs.” Tahk’s face got serious, the corners of his mouth turned down. “It’s funny because it’s so wrong.”

“Wrong.”

“Yeah. You’re the total opposite. You’re like a nun.”

“Oh,” Doogie moaned. “That’s so much better.”

Tahk leaned in. “You’re sweet. Untouched.”

“Stop already. You’re making it worse.”

“It’s true, isn’t it.” He said it more as a statement than a question.

“Oh my goodness. Kill me now. I’m going to change. And don’t follow me.” She pointed at him as she walked away.

“Then don’t go where I can’t see you,” he said with a fatherly tone.

Doogie groaned and headed to where Raven stood, taking a few minutes to watch the men help the ANA kick in a door. She knew, or at least she hoped she knew, the Afghanistan army was trying to figure out how to be soldiers. However, it was a struggle. She watched the man give a weak kick at the door. Nothing happened. Then he laughed.

Pvt. Cooper screamed at him, “Kick it! Kick it harder!”

The man didn’t understand what was being asked of him, so he did what they all do when they’re confused, he smiled. Not a good move.

“Get over here. Look in there.” Cooper grabbed the man by the neck to point him where he wanted him to go. She was sure, under normal circumstances, Cooper would have taken the man under his wing, taking the time to show him the proper technique for kicking in a door. But these weren’t normal times. When there was a possibility of explosives sitting on the other side of the door, the men were more than happy to let the ANA take the lead. Unfortunately, they were inept at doing so. Doogie stood beside Raven, watching them move around the wall and stick their heads through a curtain, looking into the building.

“Is it safe to do that?” she asked.

Raven’s eyes were hidden behind a pair of expensive looking aviator sunglasses. “Not especially.”

“No there,” the ANA soldier said.

“Get in and open the door,” Cooper shouted. The man didn’t move. Cooper grabbed him by the shoulders and shoved him into the window. Then yelled, “Open the door!”

“Have they found anyone?” Doogie asked.

Raven looked at her. “Are we having a morning chat?” With his eyes shielded, she couldn’t tell if he was joking or not.

“What? No.” She shook her head. “I just . . . never mind.” Why was she letting him get to her? This was the normal Raven, why she thought a conversation by the fire would change that she didn’t know. She took a step back in retreat.

He glanced back at her, shook his head, and tried to be more engaging. “No people. But there’s a boatload of materials for drugs. Could make us very rich if we went into the drug business.”

“Guess it’s good you’re such an upstanding American.”

They continued to watch Cooper attempt to get his buddy to open the door. “They can’t seriously be as stupid as they appear,” he said.

“Sgt. Ravenscar, I was wondering if you could fill me in on what the men are doing now,” Simon came up behind them, camera in hand.

Raven looked at the ground, taking a minute before he began to speak. “I was under the impression you were going through the other men on this.”

“I want to get a full picture of the mission. I feel it’s important to get all sides. You being in charge, I think it’s important to add your opinion.” Simon took on his official moviemaker persona.

Raven sighed. Not a good sign. Raven usually reserved his sighs for Doogie. “Currently, we are working with the ANA to secure this location. We will set up a headquarters here to support the local leaders and security for the area in hopes of providing an environment for the Afghans to foster a stable nation.” Raven waited to see if the line of crap he’d just rattled off would suffice.

“I read the directive. However, thank you for paraphrasing so nicely.” Raven’s bluff wasn’t going to fly. Doogie looked forward to the war of words Simon was waging.

“As you can see.” Raven jerked his rifle toward the building where Cooper continued to yell at his buddy to properly search the interior. “Our goal is to support the ANA. Encourage them to take the lead for counter-insurgence, security, and stability operations in the area. We are solely here as support to the efforts of the locals.” As Raven finished his official sounding spiel, a shot went off inside the building, and Cooper’s loud voice began a string of profanity directed at the ANA.

“Gotta go.” Raven added his own string of profanity to the mix, deserting Doogie with Simon.

“I hope you weren’t going for a PG rating on this film of yours.” She laughed.

Simon sighed. “He isn’t going to help me, is he?”

“Nope.”

“What’s his problem?” Simon lifted his helmet to rub his head.

“He’s not much of a talker. Probably should go find one of the other sergeants. You should leave Raven alone.”

Simon turned on her; his gaze scanned the area around them. “So, where’s your guard?”

“Over there.” She tilted her head to where Tahk sat.

“Isn’t he supposed to be with you at all times?” Simon said sarcastically.

Rude seemed to be the flavor of the day. First Raven, now him.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude. Your sergeant just got me riled up.” He attempted to take the edge off his words.

Doogie watched the confused ANA run in and out of the buildings.

“Silent treatment, eh?”

“Look. This isn’t junior high. You aren’t going get a bunch of gossiping girls running around here. We take our jobs seriously. Tahk takes his job seriously. It would do you good to remember that.” Doogie attempted to make a dramatic exit, but Simon grabbed her arm.

“I don’t mean to trivialize what you all are doing. It seems I can’t say anything right around you.”

She glanced to where Tahk had been sitting, now standing . . . waiting to see if she needed assistance. Simon’s hand remained on her arm. “I suggest you don’t touch me. Unless you want to get an up close and personal idea of what Tahk’s job entails.”

Simon dropped her arm like a hot coal. He stepped back, distancing himself from her. “Sorry.” He lifted his helmet to rub his head again. “I didn’t mean any disrespect.”

“I think you should know I don’t need Tahk to protect me. I’m more than capable of doing that on my own.” She softened her tone. ”And you don’t always say the wrong thing.”

He smiled. “So what do you think of the ANA and their progress in taking over security in the city when you leave?”

She laughed at his ability to switch back to work mode. “I think they will make a fine security force and lead their country to peace, freedom, and the Afghan way. Nice try.” With a wave, Doogie left him to figure out what to do with that.


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