As promised, here are some chapters from our very first novel, re-written, updated with some interesting twists, and, I should add, some much better writing, thanks to lots of lessons learned since we began it while living in Jerusalem over the summer of 2002, during the Second Intifada, AND thanks to three great editors, Wanda, Lori and Janet, who only add positively to the mix.
We hope you enjoy the chapters, and that you will pick up your copy of the book, One Time Messengers - Prequel. It will be available on our web site in another month or so.
1/23/2010 - Chapters One, Two & Three
Manassas Battlefield Park
“No place is more beautiful than Virginia!” chirped Heather as the Chrysler convertible wheeled off Route 234 outside the northern Virginia city of Manassas and turned right into Bull Run National Battlefield Park.
A quarter mile up the macadam road sits the one story red brick Visitor’s Center. The horizon is edged by the Blue Ridge Mountains. Washington, D.C lies ten miles to the east. Between the horizon and the grassy fields of the park are rolling hills baked brown in the August heat. Forests of deciduous and evergreen trees, various crop fields and of course the ever-encroaching lichen of housing developments spackle the view. Playing in the background, one hears the constant hum of traffic on Route 66 as it works its busy way between Washington, D.C. and its terminus at Front Royal.
Here at the park, there is a sense of escape. Visitors absorb a feeling of being back in time, to a place and period where, before the days of silver jets circling into Dulles Airport, there was a different kind of madness. One not built on the hustle and bustle of the twenty-first century’s profit-mad desire to do everything faster, better and shinier.
This older insanity had the youth of a nation slaughtering one another. It was here in Northern Virginia that some of the bloodiest and earliest battles of the markedly uncivil Civil War were waged. Before Gettysburg and its shoe factories or Appomattox and its Courthouse there was Bull Run. The blood long ago soaked into the soil and the grayed mini-balls have been collected by harvesters waving metal detectors.
Here it is pristine and calm and lovely; a place for lovers to stroll, holding hands, basking in the warmth of romance and sunshine. This former place of horror and final cries for one’s mother or a sip of water now provides entertainment for the curious and the innocent. Too, it speaks to those who choose to remember that war’s cost is paid by the young and by the heartbroken they leave behind to pray and worry and hope.
It was to this spot of beauty that another kind of exquisiteness approached. Today this second, present beauty will speak a subtle warning. One that will be misunderstood and forgotten until it is too late.
Slamming the doors of the shiny new convertible, the two girls could not have been more different. Heather was every father’s dream daughter. No lusty figure, just a straw of a girl. Nothing to attract hormone-enraged young men. Freckles silk-screened her face, neck and arms. Her walk was almost a skip and a hop. In Webster’s dictionary, beside the word “cute” is Heather’s strawberry-blonde picture, smiling a bright and innocent glow of hope and faith and the anticipation of what good the world has yet to deliver.
Her companion was every father’s nightmare. Hair that shined in the morning sunshine like a raven’s wing. So thick it looked as if no comb could pass through it. Skin like burnished copper, and with a glow that seemed to emanate from within. This girl does not just have a tan, her skin is aglow with life’s juices, and they are gushing forth in a torrent. A figure that would have had Michelangelo worshipping at her feet, just as it had all her male classmates. A few years ago in high school and more recently in college, the girls either hated her or wanted to be her best friend, so as to collect castoff suitors. She had the eyes of a flamenco dancer and the moves, every body motion was an allure. Yet somehow she seems oblivious to her own force of attraction. She is neither arrogant nor flirtatious. She is, well… focused. She seems as if her mind is always on something and someplace else. She is attentive, a good conversationalist, and friendly with others. While growing up, it was just that all the things which concerned other girls her age mattered little.
Now twenty-five and a graduate of George Mason University teamed with a graduate degree in Middle Eastern Studies from Georgetown University she is self-employed and fancy free. The only girl friend she has is Heather Crocker, but they are growing apart. Friends since they were adolescents, they attended school and George Mason together. They have enjoyed sports and movies and overnights at both their homes. But if questioned, Heather would have admitted there is a part of Raquel that no one touches, not even her best and only friend.
But no one ever asked Heather, and Heather was not into thinking that kind of thought. She was living for the latest music and fads and clothes and shopping and … well, into being a young woman who enjoyed being a young woman.
“Look! There stands Jackson like a stone wall! Ha! Ha!” Heather pointed to her right as they approached the building. About a hundred yards distant was a gigantic black bronze statue of a man astride a horse. It was majestic, true, but Raquel could not have cared less.
“I know all about Stonewall Jackson and his standing,” she smiled as they walked side by side to the entrance. Like every child who went to school in Manassas – or any part of Virginia, for that matter – she knew about the mighty Stonewall Jackson. In a way Raquel liked him. He was courageous. He was willing to fight and die for what he believed in. He was a man of great personal religious convictions. He was a true “jihad warrior” in his own right, she thought, though she well knew to keep that kind of phrase strictly to herself. She smiled, but her innocent friend did not know what prompted it. “It was a pity how he died. Shot by accident! What a waste!” she said, as Heather held the door open for her to pass.
Regal. That’s what Raquel is. The thought came unbidden into Heather’s mind, as they entered the air-conditioned building. She doesn’t act snooty, but she carries herself like some kind of princess. So beautiful, and stands so straight. Gee, I wish I looked like that! Then the guys would notice me. The girls quietly walked around inside. The place is a museum of sorts and people speak softly, unconsciously honoring the dead from years long past.
They strolled among the exhibits reading the notes and looking occasionally out at the green rolling fields. There was a cannon ball taken from the side of the Henry house. A placard with a story about the lady who lived in the white clapboard house being killed as she lay in her sick bed. Statistics of how many men died on each side and the dates of the battles. Maps with arrows indicated the opposing lines as the battles progressed. It was interesting in a sort of detached way to both girls.
They only came because Raquel said that she had never visited here, though she had lived in Manassas all her life. “Well you can’t be from Manassas if you don’t know about Stonewall Jackson’s greatest battle,” Heather had joked as they were window shopping inside the Manassas Mall.
“I know about him, I’ve just never been to the park,” answered Raquel, stepping into a doorway to see a dress more closely. “It’s a beautiful day, let’s go out to the Park and look around!” so away they went in Heather’s mother’s new convertible.
A stocky female park ranger approached as they neared the visitor’s desk. She had noticed them earlier when they entered. Everyone noticed them, what with Heather’s cuteness and Raquel’s intimidating dark beauty. “Have you seen the film about the battlefield, ladies?” she asked in her best professional Park Ranger voice. “It’s only a few minutes long and adds a lot to your visit.”
“I’ve seen it already,” Heather responded kindly for both of them. She sensed that Raquel was not so hot on the Civil War.
“Why did America make this a park? All the people who died here were Americans, weren’t they?” Raquel asked the girl ranger who was very near her own age, but a million miles younger emotionally.
“As a memorial to the brave men who fought here, on both sides. It’s strange that when the battle was actually occurring, people from Washington, D.C. would come here in carriages and bring picnic lunches. They spread cloths on the ground and watched the battle like it was a football game or something,” the ranger walked with them as they approached the glass exit doors.
Raquel whirled to face her and said in a cutting voice, “You Americans! To you war is a spectator sport! It will not always be that way for you!” With that she shoved the exit door, and the blue haired old lady whose hand was on the handle was hurled backwards, nearly falling. Out Raquel flew right past her. She had only stalked a few yards, with an amazed Heather in pursuit, when she gathered her wits and slowed her pace.
“What on earth was that all about?! And that ‘You Americans!’ stuff? You’re an American too, don’t forget Miss Saudi Arabia!” Heather was embarrassed by Raquel and flustered.
Raquel’s mother had immigrated to the United States just a few months before giving birth to her first and only child. “What got you so ticked off? She was just trying to be helpful!”
As Heather grabbed Raquel’s elbow, Raquel was regaining her self-control. She wondered how much damage she had done back there.
“I’m sorry, Heather. It’s true. America took my mother in when her own family sent her away because she was pregnant. I just had a picture of those crass people watching young men bleed and die for their personal entertainment. It seemed more horrible than Roman games against the Christians. I was just upset. Do you forgive me?” The giant black eyes could turn into liquid emotion and Raquel knew it, and more, she knew how to employ them when necessary. She had set many a young man’s heart aflame like a brown leaf under a magnifying glass. She knew she could draw anyone in when she chose.
“Yes, of course, I forgive you! Haven’t I always? What’s it been? Ten years now? We’ve always been pals, Silly.”
Later as she readied herself to go to bed, Heather recalled the incident. She hadn’t discussed it with her mother. Mom didn’t exactly like Raquel.
“Too much money, and certainly too much sex appeal!” She had said many times.
“Well, what’s wrong with too much money? And I could sure use some sex appeal?”
Back at the park, as the three rangers prepared to lock up for the day, Sally Dodson remarked, “You know, Adam, sometimes I wonder why foreigners come here if they hate us so much.”
“Get another one, did you?” Adam asked with a sad smile. He had been a ranger for eleven years and figured he’s seen and taken about as much abuse from tourists as anyone. He felt for the sensitive ones like Sally. They took the verbal abuse too personally.
“Yeah, but by a girl I least expected it from. She was heart-stopping beautiful! I hated her the minute she walked in,” Sally laughed, reaching in to extinguish the exit lights of the little theatre off the main lobby. Heading to the main door, she continued, “She said, ‘You Americans will stop seeing war as a spectator sport someday!’”
Adam set the alarm, and held the door open as Sally and another ranger stepped quickly through so he could lock it within the ten seconds allowed by the alarm system. Turning the key with a loud clunk from the locking bar, Adam withdrew the key and they walked toward their cars.
He chuckled, “Oh, I saw her, alright. You know who she looked like? Remember Raquel Welch? She’s before your day, but not Willy’s, right, Willy? Everybody saw her. That old man who was in there liked to have had the ‘Big One,” when she walked by him. She should have been in Desert Storm with me.”
Willy jumped in, “Yeah, you wish she was with you in Desert Storm with yuh! You and a million other guys!” he guffawed.
“Well, Grandma always said, ‘Pretty is as pretty does,’ and on that account she was U-G-L-Y,” Sally said, unlocking her car. “G’night guys.”
“Night, Sally,” they chorused. She could hear Willy ask Adam, “So how do you know about Raquel Welch?” She laughed as she started her car and drove home.
A few days later Sally Dodson was writing a report of the month’s activities. Without really knowing why, the event with the dark haired beauty returned to her thoughts. Down at the bottom, in the “Comments” area, she wrote a brief synopsis of the visitor’s words. She ended it with, “I don’t know why this disturbed me so, but what with the situation in the Middle East, and the bombing of the World Trade Center basement in ‘93, it seemed almost like a threat. I know it isn’t politically correct, and I don’t mean anything racist, but this young woman was from that part of the world I think. Still, her English was perfect, but with a local accent. Probably nothing.”
Soon the report was in a pile on the Regional Supervisor’s desk in Arlington. Most are just scanned into the computer and filed away. The exception is one with anything in the “Comments” section. Those are reviewed for any necessary follow up. As he read Sally’s words, Charlie Atkins smiled. “Hurt your feelings didn’t she, Sally?” he murmured as he initialed it and placed it in the “scan and file” stack on his desk. No action necessary.
The date was August 31, 2001.
Stealing An Ultra-Light
Laugh lines. She noticed when he smiled that it spread from his mouth, up his cheeks, around and out his deep mahogany eyes. It was a handsome, genuine smile. Captivating. One that encouraged friendship and confidence. It is the eyes, she thought. Dark brown with those deep crinkles at the outside corners. Handsome. That was her first mistake.
She relaxed the hard lines of her own face, started to return the grin, then – for the tiniest of moments – the billionth-of-a-volt hit the synapses in her brain and sparked a question. What does he have to smile about?
They were in the middle of nowhere, just south of the border between Lebanon and Israel, not far from Kiryat Shmona. He was where he should not have been, as was she. She had the drop on him. And he was unarmed.
Suddenly she was furious with herself. Almost letting down her guard like that. He should not be here! “You DIE!” she cried.
It was then that Jake Crabtree whipped his hand up in an unbelievable blur and shot her in the center of the chest twice, the sound, a single explosion. The rounds puffed the green material of her shirt, barely an inch apart. Two black-ringed holes over her heart. His Glock 27 fired and the short, powerful .40 S&W hollow points slammed her backwards. The M4 carbine dropped from her hand.
Larry Fielding, Jake’s partner for the past few years, had argued with him repeatedly. You can’t draw and shoot someone who has the drop on you without getting shot yourself. Well, I guess we settled that argument, Jake thought as he moved quickly to the fallen woman.
Jake’s training at a location near Caesarea, run by Israel’s Global Security, had finally got him to the point that he could “double tap” – fire two rounds so quickly the sound was as one – and keep it accurate. The instructors shoved, punched and kneed him while he was on the firing line. They insisted that in real life situations one almost never got to shoot like he was on the range. He’d been infuriated when they began, but had to agree with their philosophy, and he’d persevered until he’d mastered their strict standards.
Compact, strong and handsome without the pretty-boy good looks of a movie star, Bradley “Jake” Crabtree was able to blend into a public scene easily. He got his share of appraisals from women, who were captured by his warm “genuine” smile, even white teeth and fine, soft brown hair. His dark, somewhat ruddy complexion, cleft chin and solid-but-not-blockish head bespoke power, not aggression. His was the face of a star defensive end, a recruiting poster for Special Forces, and the solid good looks every mother wants in a son-in-law.
Actually the football part was accurate. The soldier part was not. Neither, to his great relief, was the son-in-law. A wife was not in Jake’s immediate future. Someday perhaps; right now he liked his life, and its demands would be very unfair to a bride.
The good looks sat atop a set of strong shoulders, a full chest, rippling arm muscles, narrow waist and medium-short, legs. He was just, well…solid. Solid and dependable. Not racy. Not crazy. Just exactly what the DIA liked – solid. Jake had been a part of the Defense Intelligence Agency since he left college in 1995, his sophomore year, and joined his father’s Alma Mater in government service.
His mother’s parents had emigrated from America the year before her birth in 1948. Jake’s dad met her while he was on assignment in Israel. They married and continued living there during his tenure as a liaison to Israel’s military intelligence. In 1975, he was injured in a plane crash at Athens, Greece, and given a disability retirement. When he recovered sufficiently they returned to his family’s little farm outside of Roodhouse, Illinois. Partially crippled, he took a position as a Political Science professor at MacMurray College, not many miles away. Jake was born the following year.
Jake had been raised listening to dinner table discussions and debates on everything from world politics to the Israeli-Arab conflicts. From those dinner table discourses, He grew up knowing that there was evil in the world, and that some people were called on to confront it, to be a wall of defense for the more innocent. He hadn’t grown up expecting to become a stone in that wall.
Now Jake was here on his third assignment in his mother’s homeland, along with his partner, Larry Fielding. This time they were sent with a thin cover and a secondary task of coordinating intelligence between the DOD and the Israeli Army in the search for Al Qaeda connections. Yesterday they were driven by an Israel Defense Forces private from Jerusalem to Tiberias, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
The duo lived in a house in the upscale Bayit Vegan (House and Garden) district of southwest Jerusalem, near the famous Holy Land Hotel complex. The “house” was actually one floor of three, each belonging to a different renter or owner. Their landlady, who lived upstairs, had no idea who or what they were; only that the rent was paid annually, the place was well cared for, and the renters arrived, left and returned again with no discernable schedule.
In Tiberias, their meeting with the Golani Brigade intel unit lasted all morning. After lunch they decided to accept the Army’s offer of a Hummer and driver to tour the Golan Heights and the borders with Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Many tourists with an adventurous guide have done the same.
Everything went fine until they saw a large shed and dirt airstrip not far from the little village of Metulla near the Lebanon border. On the dirt strip sat a light colored ultra-light airplane, its engine idling. Their driver, a tank sergeant, knew nothing about the place or the ultra-light; only that it was very unusual for such a craft to be there.
Jake exited the car intending to approach it on foot while the driver and Larry circled around the small hill and came in from the opposite direction. “Curiosity killed the cat,” Larry joked as Jake stepped out of the jeep.
The layout was simple. There was a little building, about the size of a backyard shed in America, and then a larger one with a sliding door (now closed) which looked to be wide enough to get an airplane inside. No one was visible, but as Jake moved around the rear of what he figured to be the hangar, a woman had spoken softly to him in Arabic. She rose from her scrub brush hiding place with a well worn M-4 carbine pointed at Jake.
“Do not move,” she ordered in Arabic.
He moved. Slowly he turned, raising his hands at the same time. Careful Jake, he thought. He was in baggy tan trousers and a loose fitting, open necked, short-sleeved shirt. The shirt’s top two buttons were open to let any available breeze inside, and displayed a thatch of black curly chest hair. Typical Israeli attire for any man from the Prime Minister to the local gardener. She could not know who or what he was. Furthermore, she had no idea that he understood her Arabic – and he wasn’t about to tell her.
She stepped from cover, jerked the carbine toward a closed door, and told him, again in Arabic, to move into the hangar. He shrugged his shoulders and moved slowly toward the standard-sized door.
In English Jake said, “I’m American. I’m sorry, but I don’t understand you.”
The woman wore gray trousers and a tight fitting green top, mountain boots, and no hat or scarf. She was very dark-skinned. Her eyes widened perceptibly at the English which she seemed not to grasp. She certainly knew it wasn’t the Hebrew she’d expected. Motioning again for Jake to move into the hangar, she nervously licked her lips, and flicked her eyes all around.
Ah, sweet surprise, Jake thought. I don’t pose the threat she would expect from an Israeli. Jake had not the slightest idea where she had come from. He turned the rusty knob and it squeaked a bit. She was pretty good, keeping more than six feet between them thus not allowing any martial arts moves.
“Ah Ah!” A warning to go slow, which he obeyed. As he pushed the door, the hinges protested with squeaky resistance. She wore no makeup, her long shiny black hair was tied back with a green ribbon and a scar ran from her ear down her right cheek to her chin attesting to the poor treatment she’d received sometime in the past.
She’ll win no beauty contest, even in Ramallah, Jake thought.
“I see Kamela shops at the local Goodwill,” Jake wisecracked in English as she closed the door behind her by sweeping it with her left heel, keeping the carbine aimed at her prisoner. She was nervous. Her black almond shaped dark eyes quickly scanned the hangar – not as if it were unfamiliar, but as if to reassure herself that all was well – then returned to Jake.
She threatened, with a glare, “Now You Die!” in Arabic. A brief look to her left, then back at Jake. Another fast glance to the right then back. It didn’t take much checking. The hangar was empty with the exception of an old red, dented toolbox with horizontal drawers and sitting on rubber wheels. It looked similar to the one his father had once purchased at Sears. It was a few yards to Jake’s left and about ten feet from the door. An oily wooden workbench ran along the wall behind where Jake now stood in the very hot gloomy hangar.
He leaned back against the bench, a hand placed on either side of his hips, but lightly touching the counter. The perfect picture of composure. Then he began to grin. She jerked the short rifle muzzle toward his mid-section.
While she was jerking the gun around he shot her. People busy talking and waving a gun don’t usually have their finger tightly on the trigger.
She went backward and down, her limbs akimbo. Quickly kicking the carbine from the body, Jake then moved to where he could listen at the wooden door to the hangar. Moving to the side of the large overhead door, he looked through the filthy window. Nothing of interest. He could hear only the idling airplane. Then suddenly a single shot came from the direction of the little shed.
Stooping, he grabbed her weapon and bag of magazines from the ground. Jake always laughed at the movie heroes who never took other’s armaments. Of course in the movies, one never ran out of ammunition, either. Returning his Glock to the holster, secreted in a fold inside his baggy trousers, he checked the carbine – it was on safe! No wonder it hadn’t fired.
Larry still has an argument; he smiled to himself as he peered through the door of the hangar. Unless people were expecting shots, they usually never respond to a single sound, he knew. They would “perk up” and if no more followed, they’d dismiss it as something unworthy of their attention. I guess that includes people in Israel, he thought.
Sounds were strange things. It had always amazed Jake when, as a boy, he could hear men at the lumber mill on a distant hill as they shouted above the roar of the tractor and great saw, but they could barely hear each other. Edging to another window, he began a moving scan of the landing strip area. He had earlier been about to turn the corner and run to the small office building when the woman intercepted him. That may have saved my life, he thought.
Where were Larry and the driver? The plane was out of his view behind the office somewhere further to his right.
Well, circumstances alter cases, Grandma always said. With that Jake opened the squeaky door and stepped out. The green cotton bag with the six .223 caliber magazines (he’d counted them before leaving the hangar) was over his left shoulder like a woman’s purse and the M4 was behind his right hip and leg, hand on the pistol grip and finger lightly on the trigger. It was now off safe. He walked toward the little office building like a man who was supposed to be there.
When Jake was twenty feet from the ramshackle building, a wiry, dark Arabic man stepped through the door and gasped in amazement, first at the sight of Jake, then at the three small round holes in his chest. His hand had begun to move to a holstered pistol at his waist, but Jake, faster, had raised the carbine and fired quickly. The dapper man was slammed back against the side of the building, and slid down the wall, leaving a crimson smear on the chipped blue paint.
Moving toward the door, he stepped over the dead man. After taking his Makarov pistol and sticking it in his waistband – Jake stepped inside and swung the rifle around the room. Empty – except for the shoe sticking toe-up out from under a desk in the back of the room.
“Come out from under there real slow, my man!” Jake warned in Hebrew. No response. Stepping further inside the one-room shed, for it was truly only that, a desk with a small, scratched, aircraft radio, a telephone and a filing cabinet in the corner, Jake understood why he didn’t get a response.
An old, heavy bald and obviously dead Israeli man was lying scrunched under the desk. There was a pool of fresh blood spreading beneath his head. The shot he’d heard. Jake saw a bullet hole in the man’s throat, and more gore on the linoleum and wall behind where his body lay. From the smear, his killer had shoved him beneath the desk after shooting him.
“Well, old man, justice is done, assuming I got your killer. Rest in peace.”
Looking around the room, Jake tried to learn what, if anything had brought the pilot of the ultra-light airplane to this location, assuming that was who Jake had just shot. Nothing.
From the shack’s side window he could now make out the plane. It was a fancy high wing ultra-light with gray wings and a cone-shaped plastic cockpit. The engine and propeller were mounted above and behind the cockpit. The kind of contraption Jake always thought of as flying death traps. In the States, many amateurs built their own from kits, putted around the neighborhood at a hundred feet altitude, impressing their neighbors until a wire snapped or a wing collapsed and they crashed to their death. This one had seating for two people, Jake noted. Engine still idling, it sat in the hot sun, waiting – for what? Why land here? What were these Arabs up to? Jake had seen no one when he first observed the area from their car. Were they waiting for someone else? Had they spotted the Hummer and taken cover, hoping they’d not be seen? Jake had no idea what was up. Only that he had stumbled into a secret operation of some kind. The kind which got people killed in this part of the world.
Suddenly, Jake had one of those wild inspirations. He ran back behind the hangar where the woman had surprised him. Searching in the scrub nearby he found a small brown duffle bag about eighteen by ten inches. Inside were documents, some in Hebrew, some in Arabic. Also inside was a portable CD player and three CDs in their covers and bound tightly by a rubber band. Under that was a Sig Sauer 9 mm automatic with lots of its bluing gone.
I love it! Jake thought. Backup. I do love her choice of weapons. Returning to the body inside the hangar, he searched and came up with a small flat wallet. Without investigating further, he tossed it into the duffel which now had the Makarov and magazines too, then went back outside. Quickly turning the corner of the hangar Jake was looking into the open end of a trashcan!
It really wasn’t, but that’s what Jake always thought of when he stared down the barrel of a gun. No matter how small, it’s always gigantic when you think of the bullet coming at you. This particular one was held unwaveringly in the right hand of a grinning Larry Fielding. Taller than Jake by three inches, Hooked nose like a hawk’s beak. Coffee with cream skin, coal black eyes that could dance a merry jig or be cold as anthracite in Antarctica, he had traditional Middle Eastern black hair that was dense, and never stuck up when trimmed short. Larry was ex-Special Forces (six years) with all the attributes of a power lifter which he had once been. He was third generation Arab-American, but hated the term. “I’m American. Not hyphen anything!”
“Whoa, Bubba! I ‘bout tapped you, whirlin’ ‘round that corner like you was late to the ball.” Larry had been raised near Detroit, spoke perfectly clear English but loved to mimic the homeboy way of talking when he was funning someone.
He smiled at Jake’s braking ability. “Looks like you been busy. You tag that guy over there?” nodding his head toward the body lying beside the shack.
“The one outside. He killed an old man inside. There’s a dead woman in this hangar. Both Arabic. Said she was gonna kill me! I shot her while she had the drop on me,” Jake grinned at his pal. Larry had by now lowered the pistol.
“Go on!” Larry said. “No way! I wantta check her out!” Jake held up a hand to keep Larry from going inside the hangar.
“Nothing to check, this,” he lifted the carbine, “was hers.”
“Where’s our driver?” Jake asked. Together they turned, and spreading out so as not to make too inviting a target, walked down the side of the hanger to the next corner.
“I left him around back of the hill. When the shooting started he wanted to call back to Tiberias and get the cavalry. Ha!” Grinning now, Larry quickly poked his head around the corner and then quickly back, the pistol raised alongside his head. “I told him you were the cavalry! Clear. He called anyway, but I left before he got it all sorted out.”
They trotted across the open area toward the idling ultra-light. Usually these craft are made from aluminum-pole frames with fabric stretched over the wing. Wires run to the control surfaces from the pilot’s seat. They aren’t powerful, but can be lots of fun, until someone does something stupid, or the frame collapses, or the engine dies and won’t restart. Long glide paths are not their strong suit, and the pilots often fulfill the cliché that, “there are old pilots and bold pilots, but rarely old, bold pilots.” Just as likely, the pilot panics and does something not coinciding with the laws of flight.
This ultra-light looked to Jake, who had a multi-engine rating and three thousand hours logged in a variety of aircraft, to be made pretty well. Instead of aluminum pipe for a frame, though, this one was made from a composite – Jake referred to it as “Plastic on steroids.” It had a small cockpit of blue with two seats side by side. The seats looked like someone had taken the cheap orange plastic seats out of a diner and ripped off the shiny chrome legs. The engine chugging at idle. The plastic nose was pointed like a jet fighter. Looking at it, Jake thought the designer must have had visions of grandeur. The wings were gray fabric, and the tail section had a standard rudder configuration.
The controls consisted of a steering wheel that was literally that – a steering wheel from some kind of Chevy, insignia and all – mounted on the control stick. Steel rudder pedals. There was an altimeter, a vertical speed indicator to show if the craft was climbing or diving and how fast. The airspeed indicator – in a car, a speedometer – registered forward speed up to 120 miles per hour. Jake knew that number was only for dives just before the wings broke off. To the right of the instruments were a series of toggle switches and breaker buttons. A magnetic compass was screwed to the small plywood panel.
“What do we do now, boss? Some A-rab done left a perfectly good toy airplane sitting here. Some American skyjacker’s apt to rip this pretty thing off.” Actually Larry was joking. He expected Jake to wait for the Army. Then they would return to Tiberias. He was no fan of flying, and the smaller the plane, the less enthusiastic he became. This one gave him a real case of jitters. He watched Jake walk around it, with the duffel bag in one hand and the M-4 in the other.
“Yeah, I think we can handle this,” Jake said. He stuffed the weapon and duffel behind his seat and climbed into the seat behind the Chevy steering wheel. Pointing to the empty seat, he said, “Mount up, My Man! The time for getting out of Dodge is as hand!”
Larry looked at him then at the surrounding landscape as if hoping the IDF had appeared. Seeing it had not, he took a step closer to the ultra-light, and then hesitated.
“We don’t have all day, Abdullah. Let’s go.” Larry took the right seat, cinched the seatbelt tight, the hardware of which also carried the Chevy emblem, and held on tightly to the frame bar in front of him.
“Where to, Boss?” he asked as Jake moved the controls and advanced the throttle. They were barely moving. The noise was unbelievable and they had to shout to hear one another.
“Let’s get this prize out of here before somebody comes looking for that woman or the pilot,” Jake said, checking the controls again, then gradually gave the ultra-light full throttle, and prepared for a hot, short-runway take off.
“You okay flyin’ this thing, Jake?” Larry wisecracked, his head swiveling fast as the wing struts cracked and popped when the weight of the plane was added and lift increased. He was licking his lips and squirming. Flying in small airplanes was right up there with root canals and bar Mitzvahs to him.
“We’ll soon find out,” Jake answered in clipped speech that told Larry not to bother him, as the little plane began to lumber forward.
Larry said nothing for a while. He just watched the dust pass directly beneath his feet. Then, “We gonna make it, Hoss?” he shouted in a pseudo-calm voice as they neared the end of the strip.
“Either that or it’s gonna be a heck of a crash!” Jake deadpanned as the front of the airplane began to lift some weight off the nose wheel. Suddenly the whole thing was yanked upward and they soared airborne. The plane went almost vertical while Jake managed to wrestle the nose back down.
Larry hollered, “Whooooeeee!” and slammed his eyes shut. He definitely did not want to vomit inside this little capsule, but that was a distinct possibility. Jake laughed a maniacal laugh and moved the Chevy steering wheel forward and backward to wrestle the attitude of the plane into a consistent shallow climb. He steered it left and right to keep the wings level.
“Think we can get to a landing strip without getting shot down?” Jake said as the toy-like airplane settled down. No radio, no radar, no – well, no anything to communicate with. Their cell phones wouldn’t help a lot with this situation. It wasn’t quite Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, but it wasn’t far from it.
At about a thousand feet the air was cooler, and the view was spectacular. Just ahead lay Kiryat Shmona, with its grand mountain range just behind the town. Off to the left they could see the Jordan River. The river feeds into the north end of the Sea of Galilee, and then out again at the south end.
Twenty minutes later they’d reached the middle of the Sea of Galilee. Jake knew it was 700 feet below sea level, and at that thought wondered how accurate their altimeter was. He thought about dropping down to water level to see how it would read but figured Larry would just shoot him and crash if he tried that. Instead, he kept it at the 1000 feet mark and continued on a 220 degree heading, toward the south end of the lake. Since the lake was just seven miles wide and eleven miles long, they were soon back over land, and Larry exhaled. Jake hadn’t noticed that he was holding his breath, but gave him an elbow in the ribs, and grinned. Larry gave him a thin smile and thumbs up. They flew for another ten minutes and Jake began a gradual bank to the right, into the east end of the Jezreel Valley.
Then he dropped the right wing sharply and turned west. Larry just turned a lighter shade of pale. Below them were beautiful green fields of vegetable and grain crops. “Israel’s breadbasket” was how the tour guides described the lush valley. The Bible called it the Valley of Armageddon. It had been a malarial swamp before the Jews returned and reclaimed it, after paying the Arabs exorbitant prices for it. The Biblical village of Dothan where Joseph was sold by his brothers glided under them. They could see Mt. Tabor, the distinctive loaf-shaped mountain ahead on their right. Left was the north slope of the hills of Samaria. The West Bank. Indian Territory as far as they were concerned.
Then in the near distance was a blacktopped landing strip. Ramat David. A military air base that served as one of Israel’s AIF bases, as well as servicing the IDF base nearby at Megiddo. Tel Megiddo, the archeological site, Jake recognized further ahead by the distinctive cut in the bank.
Since there was no radio, Jake didn’t think he wanted to buzz the base, so he flew out into the valley a ways, and waved his wings, to Larry’s great discomfort. He did a one-eighty, in other words, reversed course, and was thinking through his final approach. They were now about 800 feet above ground, and the little ultra-light had won Jake’s heart. It wasn’t powerful, and their combined weight made it sluggish and very slow, but it was like a go-cart he had as a kid. Fun, manageable and simple.
Then the fun vanished. A Blackhawk gunship made a pass from behind. He was moving fast and only about fifty feet above them. Both men were momentarily stunned at the turbulence and noise. Larry grabbed tighter to the rod he had not released since take off, while Jake fought to keep them from nosing into the ground. The chopper reversed course, came right at them, then banked right, and circled to fly beside them on Jake’s left. The pilot motioned with his finger to land at the runway dead ahead.
Larry was mumbling something about puking. Jake’s serious look did nothing to calm his nerves.
“Okay, Wilbur, let’s not get these boys shootin’ at us,” Larry said. Sweat beaded on his lip and forehead. He had lost all his tan by now.
They could see a jeep on either side of the strip, both with manned machine guns mounted where a back seat would normally be. Another jeep was at the far end of the strip, with a gunner centering them in his sights.
“I wish you looked more like Captain Kangaroo than King Farouk,” Jake shouted at Larry over the engine noise, continuing the approach. Jake fiddled with the throttle and at the last minute, just as he tipped the nose up a bit, the engine sputtered and the propeller came to a stop. Speed died quickly, and they “thunked” onto the asphalt and small black rubber wheels rolled noisily down the runway. Jake had not thought to check the level of fuel before they left.
Larry was looking to his right, smiling at three very serious IDF soldiers and trying to look as much like Captain Kangaroo as a six foot, two inch, two hundred twenty pound, ex-Special Forces Arab-American can. It wasn’t working. And the guys in the jeep were not the welcome wagon.
When the little plane came to a complete stop Jake opened his door very slowly and asked for the officer in charge in perfect Hebrew. A sergeant called from one of the jeeps, and asked what was going on, though not in those words.
Jake identified the two of them as American officers attached to the Embassy. He said that they had “found” the ultra-light and needed to speak to the highest-ranking officer at their base. The sergeant said not a word. He simply raised his open left hand shoulder height and the man on the machine gun reached down and placed a radio handset in it. Words were exchanged over the radio, the NCO nodding and never moving his eyes from the craft and its occupants.
“Very slowly, get out of the plane and keep your hands up. Move easily. We do not want to shoot this airplane.”
Jake called back and said, “We are both armed.” He kept his hands in view.
Larry mumbled, “He didn’t say he didn’t want to shoot you. Now I’m thinking about it myself,” as he stepped gingerly from his side of the plane. Jake too stepped out just as gingerly.
An Israeli soldier walked up to each man. Before one got to him, Jake spoke quietly, “There’s a rifle behind my seat, and more weapons in the bag. Another is in my right pocket, and my friend has a pistol.” The machine gunners on the jeeps suddenly became more alert.
“All right. My men will take your weapons. If everything is fine, you will get them back,” the sergeant answered. He motioned the hesitant soldiers to continue their task, and they frisked Jake and Larry, disarming them. When the soldier located the hidden holster in Jake’s trousers, he was very interested in it wondering how many others he might encounter in the future could have such a device?
Just as he finished speaking an F-18, which they could hear circling in the distance came racing from east to west down the Valley of Armageddon on full afterburners! When he had just passed the little group on the ground, he pulled the stick back on his wonder machine and “went vertical” – flying straight up into the sky.
Jake looked at Larry who was watching with a sick look on his face, and said, “Don’t you wish you were in his right seat, Lare?” They don’t have a right seat, but Larry didn’t know that. He didn’t even care. The sergeant, who obviously understood English laughed.
Ordered into the jeep without a machine gun mount in the rear, they were driven about a mile, followed closely by one of the other two dusty jeeps.
On the way in, Jake recounted their little adventure to the sergeant. They arrived at a drab, whitewashed concrete building inside a gated compound. Escorted into a large room without windows, and seated in plastic and chrome chairs where an army officer awaited their arrival.
Larry looked at the chairs, and said, “Well I know where our airplane got its seats.” Jake smiled.
“Welcome, Gentlemen,” I trust you had an enjoyable flight,” he grinned, looking up from his seat. Their two soldier-escorts placed all their weapons and the duffel on the desk, departed at a nod from the officer, and closed the door.
“I am Major Rubin Perry. Did you really shoot some people and steal their little airplane?” he asked with a small smile, like it was too amazing to believe – even in Israel – where the unbelievable happened every day. “And please identify yourselves, if you don’t mind. You told my sergeant that you were American military?”
Larry looked at Jake, who said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Major Perry. I’m Bradley Crabtree and this is Larry Fielding. I believe I told your sergeant that we are officers of our government, though not military officers. We are in your country to brief some of your intelligence people on findings our superiors thought wiser to convey in person than through written media.” He continued to recount their trip from Tiberias to the Lebanon border as the Major nodded his head slowly and looked from one to the other of them. “And you, sir, Mr. Fielding. Do you have anything to add to Mr. Crabtree’s story?” the Major asked Larry.
In a panicked voice with eyes wide, Larry began, “Sir, now that you can protect me, I can tell the truth! I never met this man before in my life! I was just walking down this country road and he pulled a gun on me and made me get in that little bitty airplane and here I am.” This delivered straight faced, and with eyes wide and shocked looking.
The Major jerked upright in his chair and started to say something, when Larry continued in a normal tone, “No sir, I don’t have anything to add.” Larry grinned, as Jake shook his head in amazement at his best friend and partner. “Everything is as Jake – Bradley – told you. I was just kiddin’ about gettin’ kidnapped.”
The Major looked like he wanted to kill Larry himself, but instead he stood and said, “This may take a while to validate. I will have some cool drinks brought in for you,” and he walked from the room. May I have your IDs and passports please?
“Okay, Jake, why would the Arabs use that kind of airplane? Why not a real one” It would have to be safer.” Larry was asking a question that Jake had asked himself as they were coming down toward the Sea of Galilee.
“I think I know the answer. Do you remember that Golani sergeant telling us that ever since Israel took the Golan Heights they have some of the most sophisticated listening devices and radars on top of Mt. Hermon and other places? A normal airplane would have been picked up immediately, even flying just over the tree tops or down in the valleys of the mountain. Too much metal, too much noise, and honestly, no pilot in his right mind would want to risk it. An ultra-light – especially one with the plastic framing would be far better. Plus I seem to recall that terrorists used ultra-lights in some earlier attacks. Back in the late eighties.”
“Why a plane at all, is what I want to know. If the Arabs wanted to get information into Lebanon or Israel, why not just slip through the border or go around into the Med? I can’t wait to see what’s on all those papers inside the bag. Maybe it was a test?
“Okay, pardner, let’s get some shut-eye. Flying is exhausting.”
With that, Jake pulled his chair away from the wall a few inches. He leaned backward on the rear legs. His head against the wall, he closed his eyes and “went away” from his surroundings. Both he and Larry had learned long ago to rest this way whenever they could. Life can be very trying at times, and knowing how to recharge one’s batteries is invaluable. The soldier’s creed was eat and sleep at any opportunity. You never knew when the next opportunity would come.
Birds are singing all around. They have not a clue that death is in the air. The shooter lies prone, left elbow firmly on the ground, right elbow gently cross-bracing the rifle at an angle. Feet heels-down and flat, legs at forty-five degrees, angled “Y” from his torso. Hat lifted above his brow so as not to interfere with sighting the rifle, he has been watching his target for five minutes without a sound or a move.
Stock into your shoulder tight. Firm grip on the forestock. Get the target in your sights. Take a breath through your mouth. Let it out slowly… wait… just half way. Now sort of let the front sight circle gently around the target and when it settles directly on it… NOW! Squeeze that trigger ever so gently. Bang! Well, “thud,” actually. BB guns don’t go bang.
The sparrow drops silently off the maple tree branch, dead before it hits the ground. Nine-year-old Jake lets his breath the rest of the way out, stands and walks solemnly over to the gray, black and brown bird. A small drop of crimson blood glistens on the chest feathers, where one is out of array. Just like Dad taught me, he thinks. That Army stuff really works.
He walks over to the corncrib located behind the smoke house which is, in turn, located behind Jake’s home, and takes loose a piece of charcoal he has previously wedged between the boards. He draws a diagonal line across four vertical ones. There. He doesn’t need to count the tally. He has it memorized. Five groups of four up and one diagonal. Twenty-five. It’s been a good summer so far. Twenty-five sparrows have dropped to his marksmanship. No Cardinals. Not a single Robin. No beautiful rare Orioles with their sack-like nests. Nary a red-winged blackbird. There was one starling whose black feathers fluttered to the ground, but it flew away. “Probably die later today,” muttered the young shooter in disgust at the lack of power his Red Rider Daisy carried. Sparrows were the target of choice. No songbirds. He’d been warned and agreed with his father. Snakes were great, if you saw them before they saw you. Otherwise they scared the crap out of you. Mom doesn’t like that kind of talk, but Dad said it once when I stepped out from behind the door to the barn as he was reaching to turn on the light, Jake remembered with smile.
“You scared the crap out of me!!” Dad really jumped.
“Son, don’t do that! I almost hit you. I do that without thinking when I’m scared.” And he was scared – through and through.
Jake laughed again, just remembering it. He had barely heard his father’s warning; he was laughing so hard at the way Dad had leaped back raising his hands defensively when Jake grabbed his hand as it reached for the light switch. Finally Dad had chuckled and ruffled his brown hair. “You got me good, Jake,” he had said, and began to move about the barn, doing his evening chores.
Jake loved scaring people. He would sneak up on his mother when she was using the vacuum cleaner and tug on her dress. But he never did it in the kitchen. She had warned him about the dire consequences that would befall him if he caused her to break something or burn herself or him. He knew she meant it.
Jake loved walking down along the creek that ran through the twenty-five acres of woods and fields they owned. He pretended he was a soldier, out on patrol. World War II, Korea, Viet Nam, Jake knew all about them, and about the brave soldiers who had fought in each. War was one of Jake’s hobbies. He loved American history, with its famous men and women, but especially he loved to study the wars America’s patriots had fought. Men like his dad. His hero.
As an only child, he learned early on to play solitary games, and to enjoy them. Entertaining himself didn’t require toys. He had rocks and dirt and sticks. Especially the tall, prickly horseweed stalks. They made wonderful lances for jousting once he whittled off the rough bristles with his penknife. He always had a sharp folding knife in his pocket, along with his prize rock, some twine, a 22 bullet he found, and a bit of change he gathered. He loved the tender milkweed pods with their satiny white fluffs of gossamer, which floated away on the breeze as Jake opened the pods and freed them from their cocoon. Their fresh smell was delightful as he broke the pods open.
He sneaked up on the local wildlife too. His dad taught Jake to circle around until he was in a position where the wind was blowing directly in his face from the direction of the animal. His father called that “downwind.” He often got to within a foot or two of a rabbit or raccoon. He even got within a couple of yards of a red fox once. His father had sternly warned him about animals with rabies when he learned of that exploit.
“If they don’t run, you certainly should,” he’d warned. Jake knew with the fox was downwind. Whoo, boy did he stink!
Growing up on that little farm was a wonderful time for Jake. Halfway between the small southern Illinois town of Roodhouse (population 2600) and the even smaller town of Patterson, population 95 (if you believed the number painted on the big propane tank at Wilmington Baptist Church) it was a close knit community with everyone knowing everyone in Patterson.
During the school year, Jake walked the quarter mile dirt and gravel lane from his house to the main road to meet the school bus then rode it to Patterson Elementary. Jake enjoyed school and learning of any kind, but he lived for the weekends and summers. That was when he thrived. He fed their chickens and the few “tame” rabbits his dad kept in a wooden hutch. (They weren’t really tame. They’d bite your finger in a minute if you poked it through the fine mesh wire of the coop. But they were domestic as opposed to wild cottontails.) He even helped in the garden, though it wasn’t his favorite pastime.
He and his mother collected eggs from the hen house every evening, and his family ate the tame rabbits occasionally, though Jake secretly felt like he was eating a family pet. Once a year in the fall, Mom and some of her friends would have a “chicken killing day” when they teamed up on the younger roosters and hens, butchering them for the freezer. Jake and his dad tried to be somewhere far away on that day. A hen party with most of the hens getting their heads twisted off was too much for them.
When Jake was in the third grade, something wonderful happened to him. He discovered the library in Mrs. Olive Cotter’s classroom. It was really only four six foot shelves of books along one wall of the room. Jake’s mother had taught him to read before he entered the first grade, and by the third grade, he was doing very well indeed. During the first week of school that year, Mrs. Cotter handed him a tired-looking old book with the brown cloth cover all frayed at the bent corners.
“Bradley, (she wouldn’t call him Jake no matter how many times he asked her) I think you’ll enjoy this. It is about a great general and a battle he fought at a place called New Orleans.”
Jake took the book. He loved that old lady like you love the Statue of Liberty or the American Flag. She had taught his father when he attended junior high school in that same two story red brick school building. She said as much the first day Jake was in her class. “Bradley Crabtree! If you are one-half the scholar your father was when I taught him, you and I will have a wonderful year!” She often talked in proclamations like that.
Sometimes Jake had absolutely no idea what on earth she meant, but he loved her just the same. She was an institution to him – and to his father as well. Jake had never seen her hug anyone – ever. That is until his father came to pick him up from class one day. She marched right over to the door and put her arms around his shoulders and hugged him. Even gave him a peck on the cheek. His dad blushed. She laughed, her square face wrinkled deeply and large teeth gleaming.
When they were in the pickup truck riding to Roodhouse, Jake asked him about that. “We’ll let that be our little secret. We don’t want people thinking Mrs. Cotter has gone soft, now do we?” Jake didn’t think there was much danger of that.
From that time on library books opened the universe to Jake. He devoured them, winning every reading award throughout his elementary school years.
During the end of that third grade year, Jake picked up a book with peculiar words. When he showed it to Mrs. Cotter, she said, “That’s a French language book, Jake. Go ahead and look it over.” He did, and took it home with her permission. His mother spoke some French, he knew. His father said he loved it when she talked French to him, so he knew that. His mother just looked over at his dad and said nothing, French or otherwise, but sort of smiled mysteriously. She looked at the book when he got home, and within a month, Jake had learned to speak French. Not just, “C’est ci bon,” but honest to goodness, “Here, Darling, let me order for the both of us,” French. Reading, writing and ‘rithmatic French. He could conjugate verbs, the real deal! Mrs. Cotter called a meeting with his parents, and they sent him to Springfield to be tested at one of the universities there.
Jake, it seemed, had some kind of genetic or mental ability that allowed him to devour languages like his father did fried potatoes, navy beans, onions and corn bread. They went next to Godfrey, Illinois, a few miles north of St. Louis. There was an advanced language school there, for diplomats and all.
So it was arranged. Jake would attend their school three evenings a week after his own classes in Patterson. More French, then Italian, then Spanish. Bueno! He’d never thought it too amazing that he already spoke Hebrew. His mother spoke it to him from the time he was born, and it had just been something he grew up knowing. She’d taught him some Arabic, too, but the school at Godfrey had taught him perfect Saudi Arabian dialect Arabic by the time he’d finished eighth grade.
He’d gone home and looked Saudi Arabia up on a map in the encyclopedia the first evening they told him that was the next course on tap. He knew about Israel, and likely he’d heard his folks mention Saudi Arabia, too, but he’d never cared to know where it was located until now. Knowing how to speak all these languages was amazing even to him, but mostly because everyone else was so surprised.
Someone once called him an idiot savant. His dad heard that one and explained with a VERY red face, that he knew the remark was innocent, but he had better never hear it used about Jake again. It got real quiet when that little bit of information was delivered. Then everybody quickly nodded their heads and came out with the “Yessir!s”
The years passed, Jake attended high school at a consolidated school that combined northern Greene County’s two athletic rivals, The Roodhouse Railroaders and the White Hall Hillbilly’s (so the Roodhouse kids claimed) into one team, the North Greene High School Spartans. His father was in the first graduating class in 1964. He always said with some remorse that the football team never beat much of anybody after the consolidation. It kind of took the heart out of everyone in both towns when they had to play on the same team. No more fist fights afterward. No booing from the stands. Football just wasn’t as much fun anymore.
By the time Jake graduated he was as fluent in French, Italian, Spanish, Hebrew and Arabic, Russian and Greek as any of those nations’ citizens. Admittedly, there weren’t many folks to converse with in Arabic down at Victor Hubbard’s General Store in Patterson.
When he and his dad visited Ick Smathers’ Garage, though, Ick would say, “Hey, Jake, speak me something in Eye-talian! Something romantic I can whisper to Ruthie tonight when I tuck her in.” Ick was six foot three inches tall, sixty years old and touching three hundred-thirty pounds, with Ruthie’s weight edging up on him, though a good foot shorter, and her hair always done up in a tight gray bun at the back of her head.
Ick and Ruthie getting romantic was more than Jake wanted to picture in any language. But, remembering all the orange Nehi soda pops and Fudgesicle bars Ick had sprung for over the years, Jake would work with him until he had a semblance of “You look as pretty as a brand new sow,” memorized. He never translated it accurately for Ick, of course, and until the day Ick went to Heaven, Jake wondered what Ruthie thought of her Mediterranean lover.
Life at home was interesting for Jake too. His father had once been a certified tough guy. He knew that during the Vietnam War his dad was in the Army. Not the regular army, his dad would quietly say. Like ex-Marines, there is a distinction between warriors and others in the “armed forces.”
Jake’s dad had gone to college and been in the ROTC. When he graduated from Illinois State College in 1968, he’d gone into the Army as a Second Lieutenant. Been sent to Ft. Benning, Georgia for his active duty training, and then to Airborne and Ranger Schools immediately afterward. From there he went up to Ft. Devins, north of Boston, Massachusetts for Army Security Agency training. That base was home to the ASA and to a Special Forces Unit that was assigned to the ASA. Or the other way around, depending on which unit you asked.
Promoted upon completion of his schooling, 1st Lt. Harold Ernest Crabtree was, like many of his generation, sent to the Republic of South Viet Nam. He was assigned, per his request, as first in his graduating class, to the 4O3d Army Security Agency Special Operation Detachment (Airborne), a part of the 509th USASA Group and supported by the 5th Special Forces Group. The 403rd was located just outside of Nha Trang.
Jake’s father never told him about any particular action he saw; just that it was sufficient to convince him that there was evil in the world that no amount of talking would ever convert into goodness. “There are times and places when a man needs to take life to protect other lives,” Jake had heard him say.
Harold Crabtree left Viet Nam as a Captain with three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star with “V” attachment for valor under fire, and a Silver Star with the same attachment. (Grandma Crabtree was so proud of her boy. At the annual Patterson Fish Fry and Picnic she told everyone who would listen. Grandpa was just as proud, but as one who soldiered in WWI, knew to keep quiet when Harold was around so as not to embarrass his son.)
Local men who were ex-soldiers and knew about the medals treated Harold with tremendous respect, but in that quiet country-manhood way that existed in many rural communities, they never spoke to him about it. A couple of men who had served in units similar to his and had heard of his exploits told others at the garage, but never when Harold was present. Once Jake had heard a man tell someone, “That is one man who has been to see the tiger, and nailed his hide to the barn door!” Jake would later come to know what that meant in his own life.
While serving in Viet Nam Harold made friends with guys he called “spooks.” Defense Intelligence, Central Intelligence agents and others. Building lifelong friendships with some, there were others that Harold found contemptible. It was years before Jake would understand and agree with his father about that too.
When Harold returned to stateside duty he was sent to Vint Hill Farm Station, between Manassas and Warrenton, Virginia. That was June 1971. Jake had all the dates filed away in an important part of his memory.
His dad was not only his best and truest friend, he was his hero. He knew all there was to know about Harold Crabtree and he worshipped his dad. Not once in his whole life had his father ever mislead him or lied to him. Not once. He had punished him when he needed it, and a couple of times when Jake felt like he didn’t. But his father treated him and virtually everyone else with respect and dignity. Jake loved him and would take a bullet for him any day! That was all there was to it.
At Vint Hill Captain Crabtree did his best to prepare men headed to Viet Nam for the mission there. The intelligence side of it, that is. If they weren’t physically and mentally prepared by the time they got to Capt. Crabtree, he tried to weed them out, but the intel side was his job at Vint Hill.
It was while shopping in Warrenton at the little Sears, Roebuck Catalog store that he bumped into an old friend. They’d met in Nha Trang. Now both, it seemed, were together in a sleepy little Virginia town. They re-established their friendship, socializing from time to time, until one night the man brought another older man to pay Harold a visit. Soon afterward, Captain Crabtree retired his Army Greens and “bloused” Corcoran jump boots and became Special Agent Harold “Crabby” Crabtree, of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
The year was 1973. The task was instructor at the Warrenton, Virginia “spook shop” known only as “The Hill.” Basically he was doing some of what he’d done for the ASA, plus a few tricks learned in Nam. There were trips to various training facilities around the country where instructor Crabtree was again a student.
The following year he was sent to Beirut, Lebanon attached to the U.S. Embassy as an assistant to the US Cultural Attaché. A very thin cover for the local intel types. Two months later he moved south to Tel Aviv and was assigned as liaison to the Israel’s Shabak operations. They are the American equivalent of the FBI.
Harold loved Israel. In 1974 he met and married Parthena Cumi in Haifa. Her parents had been slain April 8, 1966, when the Syrians sent 200 heavy mortar shells crashing from the Golan Heights into the settlement of Gadot, south of the Sea of Galilee.
In 1975 while aboard a flight to Athens that crashed off the side of the runway, Harold was badly injured. He and his new bride were shipped home for the final stages of his recuperation. Soon thereafter, he retired with full disability and a permanent limp. He bought back the old family farm from a couple that had tried to raise chickens and turnips to no avail. Having completed a Masters Degree during the previous years of government service, he took a position as a professor of Political Science at MacMurray College. Jake was born the next year. And they lived happily ever after.
Well, up until 1994 when Jake’s mother was killed by a drunk driver in that set of “S” curves just north of Roodhouse.
Bang! The door slammed and Jake came out of his chair and his nap! Larry too had been asleep. Both men were wide awake and standing alert in mild defensive positions, with hearts hammering. They saw a smiling Major Perry. From the look on his face they were convinced that he had silently entered the room and then slammed the door to watch their reaction. He, on the other hand, was convinced they were the genuine article.
Returning their identification he said, “Well, my friends, we have confirmed your story. I’m sorry it took so long. You are free to go.”
“And the airplane? Do we get to keep it?” Larry asked innocently? “After all, finders keepers, you know,” though the last thing he wanted was his own airplane.
“Agent Fielding, we considered that, but when we added up the fuel for the Blackhawk and F-18, payroll for the aviators, and then there are landing fees, you know, and fuel to replenish the tank of the little plane. Well, it seems the costs are about equal to the price of the airplane, so we decided to keep it and call it even. I am so sorry.” The major was grinning, and looked anything but sorry.
Jake and Larry walked from the room and were surprised to be greeted by Ralph Thomas, the CIA Station Chief in Israel. Short, with a potbelly, sparse red-hair and a bright red goatee, he had the look of anything but a spy. He stepped forward and shook hands with one then the other. They were friends from their days when all three were assigned to the Paris Embassy a couple of lifetimes ago.
“Hijackers are shot in Israel you know!” he laughed while a room full of young Israeli soldiers stood around watching. Jake’s exploits had already made the rounds. Many of the soldiers were serious combat veterans themselves and saw the same look around the eyes and in the bearing of Larry and Jake that they saw in their own ranks. “C’mon, guys. We can’t get a decent steak in this country, but I can find us some contraband shellfish for dinner.” They left to a chorus of “Shalom!” from the major and his troops.
“I’m telling you it ain’t possible!” Larry waved his hands in the air. “You can not shoot someone who has the drop on you without their getting a round off.”
They were headed to Jerusalem on the four-lane Route One, after having a great meal at Mike’s, a restaurant near the American Embassy. “No kidding, Ralph. That woman had the drop on me. Dead to rights. I pulled my Glock and double-tapped her. She went down immediately and the M-4 never fired a round.”
“Did she have her finger on the trigger?” Ralph asked quickly, not taking his eyes from the road, and enjoying the banter.
“She did,” Jake answered as he turned back to look out the windshield into the black night. Ralph sensed something, and looked over at his friend. Jake was quietly grinning.
“And the carbine didn’t fire one round?” Larry shot back from the rear seat. Jake didn’t say anything, and Larry leaned forward and grabbed his buddy by the left shoulder, turning him part way around. When Larry grabbed anything, and tugged, it usually moved. “Okay, My Man, what is it?!” Larry knew there was something more.
“The stupid safety was still on!” Jake responded and burst out laughing soon to be joined by the other two veterans of a number of shootings. “She forgot to flip it off she was so surprised to see me,” Jake added as Ralph continued to chuckle, constantly scanning the roadside and his rear view mirror. He did not like surprises, and there had been times when drivers traveled in excess of one hundred miles an hour on the highway.
The CIA man had a handy way to convert kilometers to miles. He’d learned it the first year he lived outside the United States. Multiply the number of kilometers by six. Chop off the last digit and there you are, or at least you’re reasonably close. One hundred “klicks” is sixty miles. Thirty-five klicks is twenty-one miles. Simple.
“Yeah, like that time in the Sixteenth Arrondissemont in Paris. The first year you got there,” Larry said, in a more serious vein. “Ralph, me and Jake go to see this booger who was supposed to lead us to some big time terrorist gun runner. Jake’s backup and I, as the resident camel jockey, go to the meet. I walk up to this guy and don’t get a chance to say ‘Allah slept with a nightlight,’ or anything. He ups and snaps a cap on me the minute I enter the room. Only the cap don’t snap. I SNAP! I grab my pistola and ‘Wham!’ Only it don’t wham it clicks. The rag head busts outta the window, while I’m knockin’ the door about off its hinges getting back into the hallway to my sweet baby’s arms. Jake goes in as I come out, only the guy is hoofing it down the alley. Me? I’m sitting on the floor, back against the wall, trembling like a leaf in a gale, like I’m a sucker-punched six year old.” Larry sat back in his seat and gave out with an ironic chuckle. “Come to find out my pistol didn’t have one in the tube.
“We got the guy a few days later and he admitted that he had left one round out of the cylinder of his wheel gun and rotated it wrong when he closed it. The hammer was resting on a live round and when he squeezed the trigger, it rotated the cylinder to the empty slot. He was amazed that neither one of us got off a shot. Idiot didn’t even think to just squeeze the trigger again. I’da been dead meat!
“Ole Jakie, here got me up and outta there, and back to the Embassy post-haste. I didn’t quit shakin’ for a week!”
Neither Jake nor Ralph had spoken throughout the story. They were listening and simultaneously remembering incidents which might have left them dead on arrival as well.
As he drove Ralph mentally reviewed the file in his office on DIA Special Agent Larry Fielding:
Born 1970 to Arab-American parents who both arrived in the United States as infants with their parents, Larry’s father’s family from Lebanon, his mother’s from Iran. Raised in a primarily Arab suburb outside of Detroit, Michigan by parents who are American patriots and love the USA. Both parents are Muslims, though Larry seems to hold no religious beliefs.
Graduated with honors from Carling Memorial High School, 1987.
September, 1987: Enlisted in the United States Army. Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri for basic training.
Fell in love with the military: its discipline, challenges and unadulterated patriotism.
Airborne School at Ft. Benning, Georgia, then due to extremely high test scores in leadership, aptitude and personal motivation is offered an opportunity to apply for Officer Candidate School, also at Ft. Benning.
Passed his tests, oral boards, and is accepted for OCS. Six months later he graduates 3rd in his class as a 2nd Lt. in the Infantry. Requests and is forwarded to the Special Warfare School at Ft. Bragg, NC.
Completes Special Forces training after one recycling due to a mouth problem. He forgot to close it when a Staff Sgt. Instructor told him to.
1st Lt. Promotion and permanent assignment to Ft. Bragg. Special Warfare School as instructor which is almost immediately adjusted to Arab Cultural Studies at Monterey, California.
Desert Storm used up four months of Larry’s time where he added experiences doing infiltration and assessments inside Iraq. Worked on two and four man teams, laying in lasers for aircraft strikes, finding and hitting Iraqi military and civilian leaders with 7.62 and 50 caliber sniper rifles, plus a variety of dirty tricks which helped make that one very short war.
Various other assignments followed to undisclosed locations, plus Cyprus, Philippines, and back to Bragg.
Combat Infantryman Badge, and twelve other citations and awards, including Purple Heart and Bronze Star, were notated in the jacket. Repeatedly noted in his file is the statement, “May be the bravest man I have ever met.” by commander after commander.
Retired to join the Defense Intelligence Agency.
After training, is assigned to the U.S. Embassy, Paris, France where he met Jake. The incident he recalled above is one of his first near-death field experiences as a DIA agent, though not the first in the service of his country. Repeatedly noted in his file is the statement, “May be the bravest man I have ever met.” by commander after commander.
Larry and Jake crossed paths in various assignments for the next four years, until in 1997 they are teamed together in assignments on the Israeli Liaison Taskforce. This present duty has them working with American Patriot Missile units assigned to both Israel and Egypt, as well as United States Marine Expeditionary Forces, stationed in the Negev, near the Egyptian-Israeli border, as well as many interfaces with Aman, Shabak and Mossad.
Special Duties include coordinating and briefing IDF and Shin Beth officers on US Intelligence results in rooting out foreign agents with ties to Israel or the Palestinian Authority. They have been trained in this specialty and between the two of them are responsible for the capture or death of 27 different enemy agents attempting to gather military intelligence in the US and overseas.
As Ralph stopped the car at their home in Jerusalem, Jake asked, “Are you sure you don’t want to stay over or at least come in for a cup of coffee? We got the room and tomorrow’s Shabbat. We can take it easy; have a nice bacon and egg breakfast,” Jake laughed as he and Larry exited the little green Ford Focus outside their house. “I mean it. We found a place where we can buy great pork chops and pretty fair bacon.”
“Thanks for the offer, but I have tomorrow all staked out for paperwork. Some other time,” and Ralph was gone.
The house was bright and airy, built back into the mountain, so the rear of the apartment stayed pretty cool, even on the hottest days. Their location gave them a view of Talpiot, with a partial of the Teddy Koleck Stadium, named in honor of a past Mayor of Jerusalem.
Jake had been amazed at his first Shabbat in Jerusalem. He knew of course, about how things quieted down in Jewish cultures, but he had been totally unprepared for Friday evening until Saturday night here. Traffic dwindled to a trickle on Golomb St. just below his patio. The occasional ambulances raced past with flashing lights and howling sirens on their way to Ein Kerem and Hadassah Hospital. Most shops and restaurants were closed. In certain neighborhoods roadblocks were installed across the streets to protect the unaware driver from getting stoned for breaking the rules of Shabbat. There were places where one could still find a meal or get a few groceries at Arab bodegas but they were scattered.
Soon there would come a Sabbath day that began casually enough, but events would unravel the quiet and change Jake and Larry’s lives forever.
The First Oval Office Meeting
The room was in an uproar. It seemed that everyone was gesturing either with a clenched fist or a forefinger pointed like a gun. Blue suits and red faces above tastefully done red, white and blue neckties were the primary colors at the National Security Meeting. Seated in an ivory-colored easy chair was one solitary, quiet man. He observed the uproar with what to some might have seemed a very unusual calm, but not to those who knew him best.
President Jonathon Thomas Walker Craig watched him and all the rest and was amused. This man had been here before. He noticed as men who used power well and often, men who expected others to bow and scrape in their own organizations, were told to, “Shut up and just listen to me for a minute!” by one another. Two or three of them forged alliances against another group; sometimes instantly changing sides as a point was made that they agreed with during an exchange on a connecting topic.
Finally, the President spoke in his Texas-Yale drawl, though not loudly. “Excuse me, folks. Can I get a word in here, please?” Silence. “I appreciate the passion you bring to today’s meeting. I only wish it were all devoted to our nation’s best interest and not to any private turf wars.” This with an amused twinkle in his eyes and a bemused smile on his lips, he raised his left hand quickly.
“Ah ah. No defense necessary. I understand how the system works. It’s only that today we are going to dispense with the slings and arrows of all that and get on with our topic.
“The question posed is, ‘Can we wage a war on terror and expect Israel to stand quietly by while the Palestinians keep blowing themselves up along with a score of Israelis?’” The hand again raised quickly. “Aaand… Can we really expect to differentiate between Hussein in Iraq, Assad in Syria, Arafat in Israel and Bin Laden in Afghanistan,” – a pause – “without every American citizen with an IQ above room temperature wondering if anyone in Washington has any sense at all?”
This was not a cabinet meeting with legions of assistants and hangers-on in attendance. Rather, the room was the Oval Office and those in attendance were the highest of the well-suited warriors on the President’s Cabinet and personal staff. They’d begun at six o’clock that morning. Early even for the group assembled here who were used to being at work before much of Washington got on the Beltway.
Across from the President, Leona Johnson, his National Security Advisor, was one of the truly exceptional minds in a city not bereft of bright people. During the election campaign the candidate she served was regularly smeared by the liberal elitists as being somewhat light in the intellectual department. Miss Johnson was the admitted exception in the media’s minds. She was a graduate of the University of Tennessee by age nineteen. A Notre Dame Masters Degree with honors followed, and then on to Stanford where she earned two Doctor of Philosophy degrees and where she eventually became Proctor. She was a Fellow of three elite think tanks – one of which resided at Oxford.
“Leona, how can you be so smart and be a Republican?” one DC insider had asked her soon after she arrived in the Capitol. She smiled and quipped, “How can you be bright enough to recognize my intelligence and remain a Democrat?” The Post had loved that one.
She came with Southern roots, from a middle income family, and was referred to as “cute” by television viewers though never by her associates. Forty-seven years old, almost touching six feet tall, well built without being flashy, and equipped with a thousand volt smile that included the eyes, she was a power to reckon with, as the Sunday morning talk shows quickly demonstrated.
Not only was Leona a Republican, but she was a capital “C” conservative. The lady – and she was a lady – was neither the William Buckley, I-stuck-a-pin-in-your-eye quietly spoken, nor the Pat Buchanan, spit-in-your-face type. Rather, she was the kind of person who shot your cliché-laden liberalism so full of holes you didn’t know it until the water poured out when next you took a drink. This was the attractive, tall, powerful, black lady who was the poster girl for making it on your own and who exposed the false claims of the current so-called civil rights leaders’ ranting!
Her primary nemesis and counter-point in Washington was the tall, handsome, powerful African-American man from Foggy Bottom. A former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, famous for victoriously ruling over the last war in the Middle East, he had been courted by both political parties who wanted a victorious black presidential candidate to do their bidding once elected.
It was just that he was unwilling to run. Rather, he sided with the Republicans for a promised high cabinet post if they won the election. Too well known by the warriors in the Pentagon (he was after all, the Supreme Administrator during his tenure in uniform, and the one who argued to pull the plug before Saddam was drained of blood and oil) under Bush, and too is trusted by the hawks in Congress on both sides of the aisle to make it as Secretary of Defense. The President-Elect had promised him the Secretary of State post and kept his word.
Justifying the concerns of the hawks in both civilian and military feathers, he seemed to have quickly sold his soul to the apologists at Foggy Bottom, lock, stock and barrel. As one Israeli political cartoonist had drawn it, “Question: What role does Clayton Adams play in the Craig administration? Answer: Shimon Peres, I think.” The joke didn’t play well among the liberals, and especially so with “Secretary-General” Adams (nickname given by detractors because they said he acted much like a certain United Nations man in that office). The cartoon made the rounds among the President’s conservative advisors, and The Man himself had been seen to smile slightly when he first saw it. It had been taped to a restroom mirror in the State Department until seen by the Secretary-General himself when nature unexpectedly called as he marched down a hallway and turned into a “peon’s” restroom. His calm demeanor had suffered a complete meltdown that day. He never admitted seeing it, but the story was told by someone seated inside a stall who had wisely kept the door locked when Mr. Adams snatched the offending piece of paper from the mirror and used words thought to be known only to common foot soldiers.
Regardless of the modern enlightenment regarding women of color and power, the Secretary-General still had a horribly difficult time accommodating Miss Johnson when she would say, “At ease, General!” Oh, that was too much! After the first time, Presidential advisors held their breath in gleeful anticipation of those rare occasions when she would lean forward, and smile that gleaming, buck-toothed smile and utter those three words. “At ease, General.” Oh, the exquisiteness of the moment! There was a pool running among White House staffers on when she’d say it next, until the Secretary-General’s aide heard about it, and told him. He hesitantly and somewhat bashfully spoke to the President privately. The President spoke to his Chief of Staff and the pool dried up. Rumor had it that he also asked the President to speak to Miss Johnson, and that Hizzoner had rejected that suggestion.
The President’s secretary pressed a button at a nod from her boss and instantly a door opened. Two stewards wheeled in a cart containing fresh coffee and tea urns, cold drinks and some light baked goods. People rose and traded stale, half-filled cups of tea or coffee for fresh ones, or laded some of the food on saucers and returned to their seats.
Across the room, sort of at an oblique, sat the man who had seen it all before. This was the third President he’d served. Grizzled gray hair, cut shorter than the fashion-plate politicians, a chiseled face with diagonal lines running from chin to cheek bones. He would never be known for his smooth good looks, though he was handsome in a certain, Paladin way. The well-aged Top Gun. That face had adorned every major news magazine and newspaper in the world over the course of almost forty years. He was a general too, but one who was non-military. Rather he had commanded civilian corporations and the Defense Department under two different Presidents. Nixon was his first, then Ford (as Chief of Staff), and now President Craig man at the Pentagon. His tongue was sharper than a West Point trouser crease, and the gray eyes were lasers that could carve through a smart aleck reporter’s “stupid” question and retain plenty of juice for the next joust. He was hated, feared, respected, appreciated, chased down the Pentagon’s wide marble hallways by those who served him and others who wanted his acrid opinions for print or screen.
No one had yet called him “beloved,” though the men at whose pleasure he served over the years may well have felt that emotion somewhere deep in their hearts. He was loyal without subservience; demanding but not demeaning; strict without exception, and as exacting as a fundamentalist theologian exegeting the New Testament doctrine of the blood’s absolute necessity. Suffering fools gladly was not one of his greater skills, nor did he foresee acquiring it in the near future.
It was apparent to everyone who knew him even slightly that Donald Rogers believed the Secretary of State to be a pompous dandy, as evidenced by how he was dealing with the Middle East. Not a complete fool, certainly, for no one rose to that lofty perch without credentials. No, Don Rogers just believed that when he took over the State Department Gen. Clayton Adams should have replaced certain bureaucrats with men and women whose credentials were more in keeping with the philosophy of the President he served. The rest should have been consigned to offices absent windows or telephones until they resigned. Every government department has, and will always have, those who serve regardless of the elected officials and their hand-selected minions. Still, if a leader’s policy is to be effectively carried out, then care must be taken to guarantee that it was not skillfully impeded by those of opposite persuasion – until they could stealthily replace it completely with their own.
It had often happened before. Kennedy had his Russian appeasers. Nixon his “peace at any cost” people. They had eventually not only won the day, but played the game so skillfully that they had helped the “Master of Foreign Affairs” defeat himself and resign in shame. A leak here, a misplaced document finally found after its timeliness had passed were their tools. “Oh, so sorry, sir. It won’t happen again.” But it always did. How many of those were now retired to some luxury lifestyle provided by Chinese yen deposited to numbered accounts? More than anyone cared to consider.
Don Rogers liked Leona Johnson. He liked women in general if they were attractive in looks and personality, intelligent, and had guts; his own wife, Jocelyn being the preeminent example. Miss Johnson counted the cost before any battle, sometimes even backing away to give herself time, then coming back when her adversary might be savoring his victory, only to find himself in a corner with no allies and no way out.
Interesting, mused Rogers, that I’ve never known Leona Johnson to be frontally opposed by another woman in any major conflict. It wasn’t that she was liked or respected universally by women. God knows she has her “catty” detractors and enemies. He had met enough of them at Stanford when they had both served there. I wonder if they have some sense that tells them not to mess with her, he smiled, unaware he was doing so.
“Feathers sticking from your mouth, Don,” Leona spoke quietly as she walked past his chair on the way to resume her own seat, steaming black coffee in a Presidential bone china cup in her left hand.
“Thinking about you,” he presented a warm, thin lipped smile that changed his face from one of granite to warmth and welcome. Don Rogers could look like the friend you would die for one moment, and if crossed, like Death’s very own Avenging Angel the next.
“Right,” she tossed over her shoulder with an impish grin then sat down across from the President.
The meeting continued for another hour, until the President dismissed them all and went to have his photo taken with the National Little League champs from Culpeper, VA.
Like most of the recent National Security meetings, little of substance was decided, positions were staked out to cover the big birds’ tail feathers, and faceless, unelected bureaucrats continued to operate the government.
“Meet me for lunch at my place (meaning the Pentagon)?” Don Rogers asked the NSA as they walked down the White House hallway together.
“What time? I won’t be free until after a briefing at Langley, around 1:30.”
“Perfect, maybe you can share some good tidbits with me,” he lifted an eyebrow and grinned that cat-swallowing-the-canary grin again.
They parted, one to his limo and the other to her office in another section of the White House. She could have had one of the “perk” offices near the Oval Office, but had requested a different area where she could gather her staff nearby. Not particularly trusting of telephones, faxes and other means of distant communications, Leona Johnson preferred face to face conversation on vital topics.
Detractors who knew this suggested it was because she thought her personality was so overwhelming that she could get what she wanted in person. In fact it was because, early in life, she had realized that she had a “sixth-sense” of when someone was lying to her, or at least not being completely honest. One of her favorite authors, Louis L’Amour once wrote that it wasn’t a “sixth sense” at all, but a distillation of all our natural senses and intellect co-joining to set off alarms in that deepest part of our brain far away from where conscious thought occurred. Leona didn’t care how it worked she just considered it a blessing from God that she had it. Those times when she had vetoed its warnings and pushed on had been disasters of one kind or another.
Her engagement to Charles Rich was preeminent whenever she remembered denying the “little bells.” Her parents had loved the guy. Bright, polite, well spoken, earning a good income as an attorney – her father was pleased at the pairing. What black man didn’t want a lawyer or preacher in the family? Is that racial stereotyping? she asked herself with a self-deprecating smile. Oh, how political correctness and race-baiting has affected us all!
Charles was “darkest Africa.” Ebony-skinned, with teeth as white and large as Chiclets. His laugh was as rich and strong as James Earl Jones’ and made you think God was amused when it came rolling from his deep chest. His touch was tender, and his thoughtfulness was beyond criticism. But he had the eyes of a gravedigger. There was death in Charles Rich’s eyes.
She had seen the exact same eyes in a face she least expected to remind her of a past love – Yasser Arafat. The first time they were introduced, Leona had actually had a mental lapse of only a split second, but she caught herself wanting to ask the old man if he had ever met Charles Rich’s mother. Laughable, yes, but there it was.
The night she had told Charles that she was breaking their engagement he had broken her nose as a forget-me-not. Totally unexpected and fast as the strike of a snake, his right hand had balled into a fist and out of nowhere she was flat of her back in the park alongside the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he practiced law.
One minute they were facing each other, arguing about marriage and values and things, until she had just said it, “Charles I’m not going to marry you! That’s it!” She hadn’t really decided before the words exploded out of her mouth. The next minute there was a loud thud in her head and she was looking up at the night sky through tear-filled eyes. The pain from her shattered septum seared her mind. The taste of blood draining down her throat caused her to roll onto her side. She wiped her face with a hand that came away glittering with stringy mucus and shiny blood that appeared black in the mercury vapor street lights. She sat up, dug a Kleenex from her purse and gingerly dabbed her nose, trying to keep from ruining her clothes. Charles was nowhere to be found. She never saw him again.
She rose and stumbled across the street to the Harrisburg Hospital for treatment. Tears streamed down her face and she quickly gave up worrying about the clothes. Her head roared and her whole face felt like it was on fire.
An emergency room nurse called the police without her knowing it. A young doctor had poked two sticks up her nostrils and moved them like errant chop sticks trying to straighten her septum, and then taped her nose, giving her some strong pain killers. When she stepped from the treatment room there was a team of male and female police officers waiting. She said someone had run into her on a bicycle. Their skepticism was so thick she could have carved it.
Later that week when she telephoned her parents, her father wanted to hunt him down and run over him with one of his old dump trucks. Funny she would be thinking of Charles today when we were discussing Arafat only moments ago. Surely they are not so alike. Or are they?
Leona spent the next hour with her staff then left for Langley to meet The Tortoise. That was the nickname the President had given the DCIA - Director Central Intelligence Agency. Harvey Reed was the reincarnation of the plodding, sad-eyed tortoise if ever there was one. At their first meeting, many people were astonished at the rapier-quick mind behind the slow talking, plain, country face. A graduate of the military intelligence community, and with an intelligence that was both deadly and deceiving, he was soft-spoken, and seemed so innocent and naïve that he disarmed people – for a while. That was on the outside. Inside, he had experiences that had seen most of the deadly sins, and remembered every one of them.
A veteran of the Viet Nam War where he worked with Special Forces, CIA operatives, and MAAC-V special ops teams as an intelligence coordinator and analyst, he had shown such genius in predicting enemy movements and tactics that his upward mobility was ballistic. Generals who usually hated the “intel types” and scoffed at their product looked for his encoded signature on reports that came to them like it was the Gospel of John.
After two consecutive years in Viet Nam, he was transferred to Vint Hill Farm Station, near Warrenton, Virginia. That small town was also where the spooks ran a “secret” school known locally as “The Hill.” Both bases were tied to Arlington Station, inside Ft. Myers where the Army Security Agency was headquartered, Langley’s CIA Headquarters and the National Security Agency at Ft. Meade, Maryland. One of his compatriots at Vint Hill had been another captain named Harold Crabtree.
Harvey spent two more years at Vint Hill doing the same job as in Viet Nam, but under the tutelage of an old intelligence veteran who dated back to the Enigma days of World War II. Just awaiting his retirement, Harvey’s NSA mentor took the young genius under his wing and told him where all the bodies were buried. He shared the personal dirt of everyone Harvey was ever likely to meet in the spook community and most people in government. Under his watchful guidance Harvey learned the tradecraft of both politics and intelligence community policy that would make him an expert administrator as he wound his way through the labyrinths of the intelligence world. He was a marvelous student.
Remember now that Harvey was still a “wet behind the ears” Army captain. That low rank belied what he was making happen in the lofty halls of power inside the intelligence community. Harvey’s mentor also happened to be the father-in-law of the DCIA at that time. They met nearly every Sunday afternoon for some bass fishing at Lake of the Woods, the posh forest community northwest of Fredericksburg, Virginia. It was on one of these fishing expeditions that Harvey met his rabbi’s son-in-law and the man to whom old Nate would pass his protégé. They became instant friends.
Harvey could cast a spinner-bait under an overhanging willow branch and lay it exactly one foot from the bank and in between weed beds seven out of ten tries. The DCIA loved him for it.
They taught him to play scratch golf, even invited him to the Gold Cup races at the Clark Estate in Warrenton. That horse race was held the same day as the Kentucky Derby every year. It was there Harvey met Senior Virginia Senator Harlon Mills. The Senator’s love of beautiful horses and beautiful women, prime rib, bourbon and America were legion, though not always in that order. Senator Mills played the Old Southern Gentlemen part to the hilt, with the long white, blow-dried hair combed straight back from a broad ruddy brow. His accent was eloquently Virginian but without pretense. He was neither a good ole boy nor a southern snob, though he was loved – and feared - by both groups.
Like Senator Byrd from neighboring West Virginia, he had a few skeletons in his closet, though, unlike the ex-butcher Senator Byrd, Mills had never worn Klan robes. His were more often associated as a youth carrying copper tubing for a whiskey still hidden deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“Boy, you look like you’re about to bawl? Are you okay?” the ramrod tall legislator leaned down, placed a large paw on his shoulder and asked Harvey. No one over heard the exchange, for which Harvey was forever grateful.
“No sir, this is just how I look.”
The DCIA had approached them about that time, and said, “Harlon, this ole boy can throw a Jitterbug into a weed bed and drag out a lunker every time. He’s a dead eye!”
“Well, now then, Son, I have a largemouth pond you gotta meet!” A beautiful relationship was born that day amid the giant oaks and maples on a big hill above so much white board fencing that Will Clark once complained it took him eight thousand dollars a year to have it painted. It just so happened that Senator Harlon Mills was the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
When Harvey’s old NSA mentor retired, and then died three months later from the three packs of Camel regulars he had smoked since enlisting in the Army at age seventeen, Harvey stood by Nate’s grave alongside the DCIA. A simple Army Captain and the most powerful spook in the world, both sniffling and wiping tears with the backs of their hands. Brothers.
“Harvey, the Old Man (for that was what they’d both always called Nate) wanted you to come to work for me. It’s all arranged if you want it. You resign, the next day start some training and then become my personal assistant. That’s what Nate wanted, and I certainly agree, but still – it’s your call.” The commensurate civilian rank will be full colonel, so you’ll get a good pay raise. Enough to move closer to Langley if you want.
With his red-rimmed eyes lowered, Harvey nodded affirmatively. He’d already had a conversation with the Old Man at the hospital. He spoke with his usual quietness, but this time there was a genuine hurt from the loss of their mutual friend and mentor. “Sir, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.” That simple statement had launched a career par excellence for one of the sweetest men who had “ever slit a throat or scuttled a ship,” as Senator Harlon Mills once exclaimed in the hushed tones of one genuinely jealous of such expertise.
Harvey was now the DCIA. A plane crash in the mountains near Front Royal’s Skyline Drive had ended the tenure of “The Boss” and resulted in Harvey being given the job. It was after years of hard work and much tutoring, but Harvey had paid his dues. He was no prima donna and he had learned the trade well. He applied himself to the intelligence side, and had served both as Director of Operations and Director of Intelligence prior to becoming DCIA. His boss had the distinction (as had Hoover at FBI) of being re-appointed by each consecutive Administration, and with not a ripple of dissent at the Capitol. They liked the integrity he brought to the job and voted with just a tinge of fear as well. Harvey brought the same discipline and honesty when he replaced his friend, and had inherited some private files too.
As Senator Mills said during the confirmation hearing, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to correct something that your lying eyes may be conveying to your open minds.
“Mr. Reed is by no means naïve or innocent to the realities of the world of intelligence gathering, assimilation or dissemination. He has served both in the military and in a plethora or leadership capacities at the Central Intelligence Agency.
“Neither is Mr. Reed naïve to the perils of living and working within the government – especially in this august city – since he has served both with the hero of the NSA, whose name you will find in his biography, and as the closest ally of his predecessor within the Agency, should he be approved. In other words, he knows where all the bodies are buried and he sleeps with a shovel instead of a night light.
“It is true that Mr. Reed’s looks seem to mark him as more the victim of life’s dangers than a warrior in the deepest trenches of international warfare. Do not be deceived by Mr. Reed’s kind and sympathetic appearance. I have played golf with him, gone fishing with him, and seen the results of his work at every level of the CIA. This man is more than equal to the task of DCIA. Thank you.”
Neither he nor the Senator fished any more. The fun was gone for both of them without the two other men who had shared their passion for watching a bass rise to a top water plug. Instead they cast about for other lunkers in their respective fields.
What was still fun for Harvey was keeping America safe, first in intelligence, and free. Once married and then divorced by a wife who couldn’t stand his mistress – the CIA, his single passion was his work.
 Giant bass.
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