The ropes were tight around his wrists, nearly cutting off his circulation. They covered his eyes with the same filthy rag they had been using for the last couple of months. He hurt from sitting on the rocky ground for days on end and he was cold and wet from the early morning rain seeping inside the cave they had taken refuges in for the last few days.
He was hungry, no starving and thirsty as he had never felt before, dry parched and dusty. His senses were like that of a hunted animal, keen and sharp as he listened to everything going on around him. He guessed, even though they continued to move him around every night and exchange him with different groups every week or so, he felt that because of the dialect of this new group that they were not far from Mosul north of Bagdad.
He sniffed, he smelled it, then smelled it again. After shave! He sniffed the air like a hound picking up a scent. Vodka. The Iraqis didn’t drink alcohol so the ones who joined his group were not from around here. They didn’t smell of goats, or dung or dust. They smelled of soap. Oh my god, soap. I would give anything for a bath, a bar of soap or a piece of ice.. ice. He would give his soul for his lips to touch a piece of scintillating ice. It's been months or could it be years? I'll tell them whatever they want to know. Thank god, they never bribed me with soap they would rather beat me or torture me. Soap or ice cubes, oh my god yes, that's the ticket if only they…
He felt the insistent sharp push from the pointed long muzzle of an automatic rifle as somebody pushed him back inside the cave. "Baksi, baksi Americano," he said in some form of Arabic. Then more urgently, his tormentor shouted, "Ala kahani, ala kahani, ala kahani," and pushed him deeper inside the cave that had been his home for seven sunrises. He quickly scrambled back out of sight still sitting on his hands. It was then he heard something new. His ears directed towards the new sound. It was a new voice but in an unfamiliar dialect. Farsi?
They were always concerned about the American satellites peering down at them from miles overhead in space. He heard them yelling and shouting as someone came to the mouth of his cave and grabbed him by his beard and yanked him outside and threw him to the ground. He listened intently. And heard the soapy one yell, "Ubey him! Ubey him. Seychas!"
The other one screamed Nyet! Nyet! The new arrivals began yelling and arguing at the one who stood behind him, bullets were fired to his left. One man fell nearby. He made a heavy tree falling sound, a big man. The smell of deadly breath was nearby.
He listened with one eared cocked in the direction of the soapy one and heard the sound of boots walking towards him. He could feel the heat from the evening fire. He was getting closer. Twelve feet, ten feet, six feet, two feet, and then he stopped. He felt a crowd of men moving closer around him. His hands ached. He had broken another rib, he was sure of it. It was then he heard the sound of a leather holster unsnap. This was the end. This was different then all the other times they hit him, beat him, and pretended to execute him.
Maybe it's better this way, no more hot branding irons. No more marches for days. No more hunger pains. No more food that's still moving. This was it. Damnit! Screw you guys! He gritted his teeth waiting for the end to come. Get it over with! I love you Uncle Luke and Aunt Holly. I love you Jack but where the hell are you? Why did you forget about me? Damn you.
A twig snapped to his right. Then suddenly he felt it, the cold steel barrel of the pistol pressing against his left temple. He heard the sound of the pistol cocking. Goodbye everybody, I hope this is really it now. Screw you all, you goddam son of a b…
The sound of automatic gunfire filled the air; gunpowder burned his throat as he curled up into a fetal ball, tight and closed. Am I dead? No? Alive. Still hungry, no starving but still alive. Still in hell.
"Sir? Captain Reynolds? Captain Charles Reynolds? Charlie?"
He froze. He had not heard his name spoken in years. His captors always called him kalb as they tormented him and moved him from place to place. He discovered kalb meant dog in Arabic. He smelled like a desert dog. What was that they were speaking? English? His brain moved slowly in English but nothing happened. He tried to respond but all he could do was shake his head up and down, again and again.
"Captain Reynolds?" he felt a hand on his shoulder. "I'm Myers with Extraction Search Team Seven, sir. We're American Marines. You're safe now sir. We've come to take you home... Charlie."
"Reynolds? Charlie Reynolds? Is that my name? That's English. It had been five years since he had last heard his name spoken in English. He was no longer kalb, no longer was he a dog, he was Captain Charles Reynolds. He wanted to shout it out. Yes that's who he was. It sounded so strange… but so wonderful. Who is that? Who's Charlie Reynolds?
"It's okay sir, I'm Master Sergeant Pete Mitchell, United States Army. I'm going to remove your blindfold."
He slowly took the rag off from around his eyes and the sunlight nearly blinded him. He squinted looking away from the sun and then looked up at the man standing before him in a camouflaged uniform. Americans!
"Merry Christmas sir, were here to take you back home," said the tall one standing in front of him.
They truly were Americans! It was not another Iraqi trick. He began to cry. He was going home, home to Woodstock and all he could do was cry.
THREE YEARS LATER
Alison Dwyer sat in the boat rocking in the water by the shore with the motor idling waiting on the American side of Lake Memphremagog just south of the Canadian border. Waiting and watching. The distant lights from the small border town of Newport, Vermont reflected off the bay from the evening sky. It was cool but it was still only May.
She moved her service revolver around to her side to be more comfortable. It shouldn’t be long now as her trained eyes scoured the smooth waters of the huge lake. She glanced at her watched, two a.m. and poured herself and her newest recruit some coffee from her thermos. It helped to keep them warm.
He slapped his arms against his shoulders to keep the blood circulating.
"Thanks Ali," he said as he held the steaming mug in his hand. "Do you normally have to wait this long for…"
Interrupting him again, she pursed her lips and put her finger to them, "Shhhh…voices carry over the water," she said succinctly, reminding him. She didn’t like him, he talked too much. They had been on the lake for over four hours, waiting, watching. It was then she saw the outline of a distant boat coming from the Canadian side with their lights out moving at a fast pace in a high speed Boston Whaler heading straight towards Newport Harbor.
She revved up the police boat's high-powered engines while switching on her siren and flashing police lights moving quickly to intercept them. The powerful motors surged forward throwing her deputy backwards to the deck as the water churned furiously, leaving a fresh white water wake behind them as they gave chase.
"This is the Border Patrol," she said and her voice boomed over the calm waters as the megaphone amplified her voice. "I order you to stop."
Two other police boats from the other side of the river moved to close the gap and prevent their escape. The drug runner's speedboat made one futile attempt to escape but after firing some bullets across their bow and seeing the futility in flight, they cut their engines and surrendered. Police spotlights revealed stacks and stacks of tight packed green bundles. Bingo she thought. Must be thirty to fifty kilos of dope in those bundles. I guess I-91 was getting too dangerous for these drug runners to drive on so they decided to try another route. Finally, all of her detective work had paid off. Her informants had been right. The mother lode!
A deputy from one of the other boats handcuffed and then transferred the two men to a third boat before taking charge of the mule's boat as they headed back to Newport Harbor.
Her boss, Mike Garrison was waiting for her at the dock masters pier, "Great catch," he said. "Take them inside and read them their rights," he told the other junior deputy.
He jumped onto the boat and pulled out his test kit. He smiled at her while he awaited the results. Then he smiled his broad Irish grin, "Wow, 100 percent pure. This stuff has not been cut at all. Great job Ali. I had my doubts at first but you done good, real good."
She barely heard him. All she was interested in was going home, pouring a glass of wine, and soaking in a warm bath for a couple of hours and try to get rid of the gasoline and fish smell. They had been on the lake for the last six days, waiting. Now the wait was over. Time to go home. Done.
Alison packed up her things from the boat, her thermos jugs, an old wool blanket, gloves, cooler and put it all together. She was tired and wanted to get home. She had a small cottage just outside of Newport, off Coventry Street, which overlooked the South Bay of the Newport Harbor. She had made it cozy and now it was home to her and her cat Washington. The bath and chardonnay were especially wonderful that night and she began to look forward about her plans for her upcoming weekend. It was going to be grand to spend some time off with her friends. Especially so, now that he was… gone. Don’t think about him Ali, just think about the weekend. Three glorious days off.
She arrived at the office early the next morning and noticed a government sedan parked in a reserved parking spot. Must be some big shot or the Feds she thought. One more day and then three wonderful days off, keep your cool Alison.
When she looked up, she saw her suspects being led away by two unknown men dressed in suits and dark ties walking towards the black sedan. What the hell's going on?
"Hey," she hollered, breaking the early morning stillness as she dropped her gear and ran towards them.
One of the suits flashed a badge in her face and said, "Talk to your boss," then turned around and walked away.
"Hey, I'm talkin' to you." She shouted again running after them. "Where the hell you goin' with my suspects? They're under arrest. We're the border patrol and have jurisdiction here. I think you need to…"
"Ali?" it was a familiar voice she heard coming from behind her. She slowly turned and standing there. Mike's head was down, shaking from side to side. He waved her inside.
The seasoned border patrol officer was furious. She had spent six months working on gathering intel from informants, working nights and weekends only to have this happen. No way.
She walked into her boss's office and the big cop looked at her and said, "I'm afraid I have some bad news and some good news. What do you want first?"
"Bad news, always," she said still hardly able to control herself.
"Those suits are FBI and those guys you arrested last night have been in their witness protection program and working with the Bureau for months."
"You're kidding right? He shook his head again.
"No, I'm afraid I'm not Ali."
"Nice of them to tell us. What's the good news?"
"I have just been informed that you've been transferred. You're going to working with Vermont's Department of Natural Resources and Water Management."
"You heard me. You're no longer with the Border Patrol. You've been transferred and promoted."
"Like hell I have. That's no goddamn promotion. Who are you kidding? What the hell is this? I'm not going to do it." She walked away and with her forefinger, she touched the rectangular scar at the base of her cheek, one of her few nervous habits, and began to storm out the office heading for the door.
"Then, I'll have to fire you." Mike said barely above a whisper. "And I don’t wanna have to do that."
She turned around, the fire smoldering in her eyes told him everything. She was passionate about her career and her job.
He knew she would put up a fight to stay right where she was. Alison Dwyer was his best officer and on her way up, if she could only keep her temper in check. Before she could say anything he took a deep breath, "Ali, try it for a couple of months, please. The Feds were really pissed about you screwing up their operation and wanted your head on a platter. I was only able to save your ass by agreeing to this transfer. It's only for six months or so."
He stopped and looked up at her, his eyes pleading with her. He liked her, temper and all. She was pretty in her own sort of way. Besides, with her short red hair, high cheekbones, he sometimes wished he were twenty years younger. But as a subordinate she was so bullheaded.
"This is the thanks I get for trying to help you out? For Christ sakes Ali give me a break. I went to bat for you and stuck my neck out."
He was right and she knew it. He always stuck up for her. She stopped talking and walked over to the chair in front of his old mahogany desk and defeated, took in a deep sigh as she plopped down in the oversized chair. "You're right… I'm sorry." She smiled at him to relieve the tension in the room and asked, "So what's the good news?"
He smiled a little smile, "Pack up your things. You’re going home, home to Woodstock."
NEW RELEASE - COMING SOON!