Chapter 16: 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 12 / Chapter 13 / Chapter 14 / Chapter 15

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

A shot went off inside a nearby building. The men scattered around the courtyard and raised their rifles, ready to shoot.

“Holy crap!” Cooper yelled from inside the buildings they were clearing. An ANA soldier came tripping out the doorway, Cooper right behind.

Doogie moved behind a pillar to watch the show.

“Give me the gun,” he yelled at his ANA buddy.

The ANA stood dangling a rifle loosely in his hand.

“Give me the gun.” Cooper’s face was turning redder the longer it took the soldier to relinquish the gun.

Tahk strode over to the two men. “What seems to be the problem?”

“This idiot almost shot me,” Cooper growled.

Tahk looked from one to the other. “I’m sure it was an accident.”

Cooper’s eyes bulged. “I want his gun. I am not getting taken out by my idiotic pathetic excuse for a soldier buddy.”

Tahk set a strong hand on Cooper’s shoulder. “Calm down. We’ll get this taken care of.”

Cooper took a deep breath and stomped off to the other side of the courtyard. Doogie moved further behind the pillar as the ANA lifted his rifle, using it to explain what had happened, but preceding to swing it around wildly.

“Okay, there man.” Tahk raised his hands to fend off the rifle, and then grabbed it quickly. “I’m going to put this in time out for a little bit.” Rolling his eyes at Doogie, he headed off after Cooper to put him in charge of his buddy’s fire arm.

“Doogie. This gentleman here says he’s in need of some attention.” Ryan pushed a man at her.

“I need to let Tahk know.” Doogie grabbed her medical bag. “Tahk, I’m heading in with Ryan.” She pointed at the building and followed Ryan in. Raven was sitting at a table by the door. Tahk came in after her and narrowed his gaze when he saw Raven sitting there. Her throat still throbbed when she talked. Bruises covered every inch of exposed skin, and her face had swollen up around the cut. She felt like crap and was pretty sure she looked the same. Raven stood when they entered the room. Two men closed in behind them, blocking the door from the view of the plaza. She hadn’t talked to Raven since the ambush the day before, which wasn’t unusual. They didn’t often chat casually.

Doogie stopped right inside the door while Tahk moved the man to Raven. She kept her eyes on Raven, looking for some change in his expression, some glimmer of the emotion he shared with her after her attack, but he acted like she hadn’t even entered the room. She kicked herself for expecting anything. Wasn’t it her that told Simon this wasn’t the place for feelings?

“So, what do you have for me?” Raven crossed his arms.

“I know where C-4 charges are set for IED’s. I can get you where you need to go safely.” His voice shook as he tried to convince Raven to trust him.

“You know you could be dead by the end of the day for helping me?” Raven sat back on the table, giving the villager a look that made even Doogie’s blood turn to ice.

“I need money. You can pay?”

“I can pay, but I need the intel first. You prove you got the goods.”

The man looked confused over Raven’s words. Tahk grabbed him, clearing up any confusion. “Show us an IED, and you get paid.” Doogie stood her ground, waiting to see if Raven would acknowledge her.

Finally, he turned, and then froze. Apparently, he hadn’t realized she’d remained in the room. His gaze stayed with hers for only a moment before it dropped to the bruises on her throat. His mouth formed the familiar scowl she’d grown accustomed to.

She turned and followed Tahk out the door. She’d thought they’d broken through their differences. Apparently not.

When a deal had finally been arranged, Tahk and Doogie packed their gear to head out. Leaving the safety of the police station, they entered the city. Doogie slid along the stucco walls, her gun strap wrapped tightly around her hand, muzzle down. Raven led the way. Five of them were on one side of the street and six on the other. The hagi led them to an opening around the walls. He walked into the middle of the road, bent over, and brushed at the dirt until he exposed a make shift bomb. He kneeled to get a better angle, and then twisted and turned the metal until it came loose. He smiled smugly and he held it up.

Tahk mumbled a profanity under his breath.

“Guess he’s earned his money there,” Ryan said.

The unit watched the man continue down the road, uncovering three more bombs before he piled them up and came back to them.

“We gotta blow ‘em,” Smith called. Smith was the EOD for the unit. A fancy acronym for the guy who blows things up.

“Do what you need to,” Raven agreed.

Smith came through the pack. His job description included blowing up whatever explosives they found. If they left any behind, the IED’s would be put back into their holes within a matter of minutes.

Raven directed half their group to form a loose perimeter across the road so Smith could safely move the explosives into the open area and run an ignition wire back to the wall. Smith yelled, “Fire in the hole!”

The ground shook and rolled, pieces of earth flew toward them. Doogie ducked while Tahk pressed his hand on her back, covering her.

“Let’s move. We’re gonna be getting contact.” Raven waved the unit behind the wall. The wall beside Doogie exploded with the bullets of a snipers gun.

“Move it! Move it!” Raven grabbed Doogie’s jacket, pulling her behind the cover.

They moved fast, filing back into the path to the mosque. Once they moved far enough in, they slumped against the walls. The Taliban cranked it up. Their firepower slapped at the wall behind them.

“Probably wasn’t such a great idea to blow that.” Smith laughed nervously.

“Yeah, maybe we should have shot up fireworks for anyone who missed our location.” Ryan chuckled.

Humor usually erupted when they were under fire.

Doogie could hear the gunners Raven placed on the roof back at the plaza, returning fire. She had no idea if they knew the unit was pinned down, but she appreciated their response.

Tahk crawled to where Doogie was huddled. “You okay?”

“Great.” She smiled.

At that point, they were sitting in the middle of a full-fledged battle between the patrol they left back at the plaza and the Taliban who were waiting for them to move forward.

“So, I’m thinking our hagi knew those guys were over there. Got us out there to blow up the IED’s. Knowing all along the Taliban would shoot the holy hell out of us.”

“Not much we can do about it now.” She shrugged

“That’s what you always say.”

A group of ANA soldiers came running down the path toward the unit.

“What the . . . ?” Tahk sputtered.

They ran by the men, setting up a line along the wall. Poised for a fight, they began firing. The unit sat back, mouths open, and watched the group burn through an entire magazine, and then drop from the wall to yell in victory. Their celebration was short lived when two of the remaining ANA fell to the ground when a Taliban sniper took them off the wall. A few of the Marines started to laugh. Not at the fact the ANA went down, but at the sheer comedy of their actions. They were frantic and chaotic. They took turns firing without aiming.

When one of the men fell to the ground with his ear missing, Doogie crawled to offer support. Bright red blood poured from the wound. She grabbed gauze and super glue from her bag, wiped the wound clean; then glued the sides together the best she could, holding it until it set.

“Ahh,” he moaned.

“I know, I know,” she soothed. Who knew if he even understood? Regardless, she knew the glue burned until it dried.

Doogie turned to treat another ANA after he toppled down beside her. Half of his face was missing, and her super glue wasn’t going to put it back on.

“DOA.” She hoped someone would come and move him away from her. Even if someone came, there was nowhere to take him. With the ANA down from the wall, they were a pile of chaos, crawling on top of each other in an attempt to stay clear of the gunfire. Doogie wondered if the Taliban knew how many Marines were jammed into this little space. One correctly placed rocket and everyone was toast.

“Who’s got the RPG? Who has something?” Raven yelled.

“This is ridiculous!” Tahk snapped.

An ANA ran up from somewhere carrying a rocket launcher. It looked like he’d dug it up from WWI, but if it worked, who cared.

Raven started pounding at the wall with the end of his rifle. Soon, a few guys beside him joined in. Another ANA crawled to Doogie, blood poured from his shoulder. Dust and dirt showered them as explosive after explosive hit the wall. She ripped open his jacket to reveal a nasty wound. Using her body, Doogie tried to shield him from the dirt clods raining down on them.

A boom, and then a cloud of dust billowed down the corridor, swallowing them up. When the dust cleared, Doogie saw Raven’s shadow rush toward the hole he’d made.

“You’re too low. You dug into the field. Fire another one!” he screamed.

Another boom followed by billowing smoke and dust, and then the yell of success when the shot hit its mark. One of the ANA ran up the corridor slapping hands with the men sitting against the wall. He celebrated like he was a NBA player running down the bench.

Silence filled the small space. They waited to see if the rocket would be enough to eradicate the enemy. The dust settled on her patient. Doogie checked the man’s pulse. Nothing. The ground around her had turned a dark red. During the chaos, he’d bled out. She waited for a verse to come to her but her mind remained blank. Tahk’s words resonated with her, and she felt responsible for offering some calming words whether they were profound or not. She’d been afraid God had left her on her own out here, and she wasn’t sure she could do it on her own. Tahk was right in his words of encouragement. Her job was more than just saving every man. It was to offer comfort. Doogie closed her eyes and recited a simple prayer from her childhood. “Dear God in all I say and do, I try to show I love you. Help me be a good example to the men surrounding me and not waver from my beliefs.”

It felt like hours, but when Doogie checked her watch, they’d only been waiting about ten minutes before Raven gave the order to move forward. “Grab your gear, we’re moving out.”

The ANA started to gather their depleted supplies.

“No.” Raven spat. “Stay here or go back.”

“We go, too.” A man who’d taken on the role of leader came at Raven. He came way too close.

“I am a Captain with the Afghanistan National Army. This is our war. This is our country. You cannot tell us what to do. You cannot give me orders. We are coming,” he babbled on.

Tahk pulled at Doogie’s sleeve, trying to get her to move, but she wanted to see if Raven would blow. He didn’t appreciate the ANA and certainly wasn’t enjoying the close proximity of this man.

“Wait, I’m watching.” She shook off Tahk’s grasp.

“Watching what?” He came up beside her.

“The ANA. He just told Raven he was coming with us.” She smiled at Tahk. “I want to watch his head explode.”

“Doogs. He isn’t going to explode. He’ll let him come. He’ll put them out first so if there are any IED’s they can flush ‘em out.” Tahk didn’t share Doogie’s penchant for Raven’s drama.

“You’re no fun,” she complained, but grabbed her stuff, leaving the fallen men behind.

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More books by Connie Ann Michael:

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