combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 06 Number 01 Winter ©Jan 2008

Terror Comes to New York City

          The F.B.I. and Homeland security dismissed Inspector Lonigan's warnings about an Al-Qaeda safe house in Brooklyn, so he had made the decision to ask the Marines for help. Colonel Hanson agreed and made some notes in his computer about attacking a safe house that would have defenders with automatic weapons and multiple escape routes. He remembered the Iraqi insurgent's penchant for getting away through interconnecting houses and called up an area map of the neighborhood, as well as a close-up satellite photo of Baltic street and Court street. He was just getting absorbed in the problem of street control when his aide, Lieutenant Danowski, knocked and entered. "Everyone is assembled, boss." "Thanks, Ski. I'll be there in a minute." "Yes, sir." He waited until Danowski closed the door, quickly reviewed his notes, then wiped them from the hard drive. He reminded himself to stress the urgency to everyone involved not to leave any kind of paper or electronic trail that could provide evidence against them in the event of discovery of what would be considered criminal actions. He smiled to himself at the fantasy of being indicted at the International Court in the Hague, because he had never been anywhere in Europe, except for Germany, when staging to the mid-east.

          When he entered the conference room, Gunnery Sergeant Le Beau called: "Attention," and everyone stood, including Lonigan. "Be seated. Before we go any further, anyone who wants out should leave now." As expected, no one moved, so he continued. "Please make sure that nothing about this operation is written down anywhere, or on your computers. There is to be no record for obvious reasons." Everyone nodded that they understood. "We have identified the terrorist's safe house. It's in Brooklyn on Baltic Street, off Court Street. I intend to hit it at 2000 hours. We also know that two of the Al-Qaeda master planners are from the Saudi Mission to the U.N., located on U.N. Plaza. According to our informant, they leave the Mission together every day at the same time, 1800 hours. If we can devise a functional plan, I'd like to get them too." "Alive?" Lieutenant Jed Davis asked. "They'd be a treasure trove of information," Hanson mused, "but they'll be right across the street from the U.N., in full public view. It may not even be feasible to hit them, let alone abduct them. It's 1420. We'll start considering the target at U.N. Plaza, followed by the safe house, then we'll review everything else that must be done. Let's see what we can come up with."

          Captain Alexandra Kent spoke first. "The options for the Mission targets are limited. If it's a hit, it'll have to be done on foot, up close, with a quick, unobtrusive departure to a waiting vehicle. First Avenue will be much too crowded for a drive by shooting and escape, so that's out. A snatch is complicated and risky. We'd have to seize them and get them into a vehicle without being noticed, and the avenue should still be busy at that time. I conclude that a hit on foot is the only practical option." "Other opinions or comments?" Hanson asked. "I think Al summed it up pretty well," Jed offered. Danowski nodded agreement. "What if I have some of my police officers arrest them?" Lonigan offered. Hanson immediately ruled that out. "We don't have any legal evidence against them and we don't dare involve any outsiders, Mike. It would put us at great risk. Anyone else?" No one responded, so Hanson continued. "I agree with Al's assessment. If we go after them, it will have to be on foot."

          "I'll get Penn and Teller with Le Beau," Al said. "Why call them Penn and Teller?" Lonigan asked. "They fit the description," Al replied. Hanson reluctantly concluded that Al would be the best choice, since she had the sense to properly evaluate the situation and know whether to go ahead with the hit or not. "The only problem is that Le Beau is too noticeable," Hanson said. "We need someone else." Le Beau reluctantly nodded agreement. "How about Sergeant Blakney?" Al asked. "She's capable and we can look like tourists." "If she volunteers." They went over the details until Hanson was satisfied that there was a good chance for success. "Just keep in mind at all times, Al, that if you can't do it and manage a clean getaway, you abort the mission. No pun intended." This brought the tension relieving laugh. "Select someone reliable for your driver who has a personal vehicle." "I'll ask Sergeant Morales." "Good choice, Al, but let him know it's strictly volunteer." "Aye, aye, sir." "One other thing. Don't use your official sidearms. Draw pistols from Ski's concealed stash. Perhaps he has silencers. Dispose of them safely if you use them." "You're not supposed to know about them, boss," Danowski protested. "You'll learn that our commander is all-seeing," Al joked.

          Hanson gave them a minute to relax. "Alright, Al. You're authorized to try for the hit. I'll talk to you and Blakney, if she volunteers. Now let's make the plan to take the safe house. Unlike our previous experiences in Iraq, we have no legitimate authority to do this. That means it's more important to get away unidentified then to take out our objective. We'll go in wearing civvies. Our target is a two story, unattached house, with an attic and basement. They may have surveillance cameras and the doors and windows might be booby-trapped. There'll be four to six bad guys, maybe more and they'll have automatic weapons, possibly heavier stuff. We don't want to take anyone alive, but we want any documents and computers that we can find in a quick search. They may have escape tunnels to next door houses in the basement, so securing the basement quickly is a vital objective. When we're through we'll blow the place. Questions? Comments?" "It sounds like you're planning to go," Danowski said hesitantly. "Is that a good idea?" "That's not open for discussion, Ski. Jed will lead the assault. I'll tag along."

          They were all silent for a minute, considering the problems. Jed spoke first. "I'd like to use the assault unit. With you, me and Le Beau that makes fifteen. That should be enough." "What about me?" Danowski protested. "Sorry, Ski. You'll have to guard the fort here and lead the reaction platoon, if we need them." "Aw, boss. That's not fair." "It can't be helped. Go on, Jed." "We hit the front and back doors with those old LAWS that aren't any good for armor any more, followed by flash-bangs. You and I will go in the front with four of our people. Le Beau will go in the back with four. Two will go in on each side through a window, once they hear us go in the front and back. The window entrants will use flash-bangs. My team will go in the front first and hose anything that moves. Le Beau's team comes in as soon as our small arms fire slackens. The window entrants will take out anyone they see. If for any reason they can't get in the windows, they should go in the back door. We'll all be wearing night vision goggles, but we need to take extra care not to shoot our own people."

          Jed paused to let his first thoughts sink in, then continued at Hanson's nod. "Once the ground floor is secure, my team will hit the basement, Le Beau's team will take the second floor and the attic, and the window people will hold the front and back door. As soon as we're finished, we exit the back door and go to where our vehicles will be waiting on Warren street. I think that covers everything," he concluded with a straight face, which brought chuckles from all of them. "A good plan," Hanson commended. "They may have a reinforced basement door," Al offered. "Good point. What do you think, Jed? C4, or another LAWS?" "LAWS. It'll save time. We don't care whose brains we scramble down there." "Alright. Let's look at the map .... One last thought. Remember our Iraq motto?" "Move quick, shoot straight and get ass out intact," Al and Jed recited in unison.

          After careful study of the map they finalized any details that Jed hadn't covered in his general briefing. Hanson asked Lonigan to arrange for emergency services to arrive after they evacuated the building. "If the Fire Marshal declares the fire suspicious, we can keep everyone out long enough so we might be able to use any information that we find before Al Qaeda knows what happened." "Sure. Which group will I be with?" "You can't go in with us, Mike. I'd like you to be in a support vehicle. If we run into any unexpected glitches, especially with the police, you can take care of it." "I'm a combat vet, Sam. I can be useful." "You'll be more useful outside. If there's nothing else, Al, recruit your volunteers and bring them back here." "There is one thing, boss." "What, Ski?" "Doc Carver." Hanson thought fast. "If it's alright with you, Mike, I'll have him go with you, so he can treat any wounded immediately." "Sure." "I rely on you to make certain he stays in the vehicle, with no heroics or other foolishness from either of you." "Don't worry, Sam." "When have I heard that before?

          Hanson studied the map with Lonigan until Al came back with her volunteers. He carefully assessed Sergeant Shiniqua Blakney, another Iraqi veteran. She was a tall, dark-skinned black woman, whose posture revealed her self-confidence. He remembered her from the desert crossing as being one of the leadership types, constantly helping her comrades. "Did Captain Kent explain the mission to you?" "Yes, sir." "Do you understand what's involved?" "Yes, sir." "You realize that you will be performing an assassination?" "Yes, sir." "Does that bother you?" "Not if it's Al Qaeda, sir. We should get all of them." "What about you, Sergeant Morales?" "I wish I could pull the trigger, sir." He nodded to them approvingly, then showed them a street map. "The targets will be on the west side of First Avenue, going north. Hit them right away then walk at an average pace to 47th street, where Julio will be waiting, between First and Second Avenues. Al. Alert me on your headset if there are any problems. Cell me as soon as you get away safely. Do not. I repeat. Do not discuss this operation with anyone. Ever. Understood?" "Yes, sir," they responded. "Al. Take your team and finish your preparations. Let me know when you're ready to leave." "Aye, aye, sir." "Good luck." "Thank you, sir."

          Jed came in with his troops and Hanson listened attentively while Jed outlined the operation and pointed out the attack routes and the backyard exit to Warren Street, where the escape vehicles would be waiting. Jed was painstakingly thorough and turned to Hanson when he finished. "Anything to add, sir?" "Good briefing, Jed. Something I just learned. Doc Carver will be with us and he will immediately treat any wounded. You will all oblige me by not getting wounded." This brought a laugh. "In the event that anything goes wrong and you get separated and cannot withdraw as planned, go north on Court Street to Atlantic Avenue and call for pick-up on your personal communicators. If that's not possible, take a taxi or car service back to Manhattan. I'll have a detail waiting at First Avenue and 23rd street, and they'll pay your fare and bring you back here. Questions?" There were none, so Hanson concluded: "Study the map and check your gear thoroughly. Lieutenant Davis will alert you when it's time to move out."

          The tempo of activity throughout the building had picked up enough so that those not included knew that something was going on. The rumor mill was working at top speed. As Hanson walked back to the conference room everyone he passed looked at him speculatively, but no one dared question him. Al and Blakney were waiting for him, dressed in slacks and bright colored sweaters. It was hard to believe that they were going out to commit murder. He looked at Al and for a moment the mask that she always wore to conceal her feelings slipped. He plainly saw what she had hidden from him for years, that loved him. He tried desperately to control his swirling thoughts that he was about to send the woman closest to him to possible death. A look of serenity lit her face and she said softly: "Don't worry, Sam. We'll be fine." "Is everything ready?" he asked gruffly. "Yes, Sam." "Then shove off. Cell me as soon as you're back in the car." "Yes, Sam." "Come back to me, Al" "Aye, aye, sir." She turned to Blakney with a jaunty air. "Let's move out, Shin." "Aye, aye, sir. I mean Ma'am .... Aw, shit. I'm ready, Al." Al winked broadly at Hanson, slipped her arm through Blakney's and said: "Then let's go see the U.N."

          He watched them leave with a combination of admiration and apprehension. He couldn't help thinking about the excellent service that women were performing in the military, at least in the Marine Corps. For the first time he could easily imagine them in a Roman legion, Napoleon's Imperial Guard, or leading a rifle platoon in a Vietnam jungle. They were true warriors. Before he could imagine other historical scenarios, Jed interrupted his musing. "The troops are ready and we're just waiting for your orders, sir." "You and I will go in one SUV with your team and one window team. Le Beau, his team and the second window team will go in the other SUV, along with Inspector Lonigan and Doc Carver." "Carv and I can keep the motors running, so you don't have to leave a driver," Lonigan offered. "Thanks, Mike. That'll help." Hanson turned to Le Beau. "This may sound paranoid, Cajun, but just in case anyone is observing us, we should leave separately." Le Beau nodded that he understood. "Take local streets and be sure no one is following you and rejoin us at Canal street and The Bowery for the rest of the trip. Use the encrypted cell phone if there are any problems. If there are no questions, let's move out.

          When Hanson got to the motor pool the vehicles were loaded. His regular driver, Tico, was dressed in civvies, sitting in the driver's seat of the SUV, elaborately studying the map and refusing to meet Hanson's eyes. He briefly debated refusing to let him go with them, then accepted that he would be useful. He got into the vehicle and Tico instantly knew that he was included in the operation. "Where to, sir?" "Canal Street and the Bowery. Take side streets and make sure we're not being followed." "Aye, aye, sir," he said happily. The rain was coming down harder and Hanson welcomed it, because it would cut down visibility at the target house. He looked at his watch and it was 1655 and he knew that Al should just be getting to U.N. Plaza. Right on schedule, she celled a few minutes later. "We're doing a slow drive-by to check the route, then we'll circle around on Second Avenue and get off and walk from 42nd street. If they don't show by 1830, do we wait?" "No. You might be too conspicuous by then. How's Blakney doing?" "She'll be fine, Sam." "Don't take any unnecessary chances, Al. They're not worth it." "Yes, Sam."

          The atmosphere in the SUV was tense with anticipation. Everyone knew they might be killed, or wounded and were even risking prison, but they were eager for the rare opportunity to actually take down an Al Qaeda safe house. Tico had been constantly monitoring the mirror and made several abrupt stops to see if anyone behind them reacted. "I'm pretty sure we're not being followed, sir, but I'd like to take a roundabout route, just to be certain." "Good idea. We've got time." Traffic was surprisingly light considering that rush hour was starting and Hanson decided to advance the attack by one hour, to 1900. This would narrow the time frame after Al hit the Mission targets, and would give Al Qaeda much less time to figure out what happened, let alone react. He celled Le Beau in the other SUV. "I've moved the attack up an hour earlier, to 1900. Does this cause you any problems?" "No, sir. We're ready." "Where are you now?" "Broadway and 14th street, and we're not being followed." "Good. I'll see you at the rendezvous."

          Le Beau's SUV got to Canal street first and he pulled over to wait. When Hanson got there he celled Le Beau. "We're going to turn on the Bowery and circle around towards the Brooklyn Bridge. Let me know if you spot a tail. After a few blocks you pass me and I'll check if you're being followed." It turned out that no one was following them, but the precaution helped everyone prepare the mindset for the assault to come. They crossed the bridge and stopped just off Cadman Plaza, on Tillary street, to wait until it was time for the final approach to Baltic street. Al celled him at 1745. "We're in position on the corner of 46th street and we'll play tourist until Penn and Teller show up. How are you doing, Sam?" "Good. We're in Brooklyn, about ten minutes from Baltic street. I moved the attack up to 1900. Depending on what happens with you, we might even go a little earlier." "I'll cell you as soon as something happens. Don't get hurt, Sam."

          Jed's troops were all Iraqi veterans and they settled down to wait with typical behavior. Some of them dozed, others talked quietly and a few moved into a space of their own, but they were all getting ready. Tico was humming a tune and softly beating out a rhythm on the steering wheel. Rather than finding it irritating, for some strange reason Hanson was soothed by it. He went over the plan in his mind and could find no apparent flaws, though he knew that everything would change when they hit the house. He resisted the impulse to look at his watch and sent fervent esp messages that all would go well with Al. He felt a lot better having Tico at the wheel, because Lonigan would now stay with Carver, the only unpredictable participant. He carefully checked his equipment, making sure the grenades were securely attached to his vest, and checked the action of his sidearm, verifying that a round was in the chamber and the safety was off. He knew from experience that in the excitement of combat mistakes happened, so painstaking preparation was an ally.

          After waiting for what felt like hours, but was less than fifteen minutes, Al celled excitedly. "We got 'em, Sam. We got 'em. Penn, Teller and their bodyguard. It was easier than a practice run." "Are you alright?" "Yes, Sam. No problems." "Report." "We're in the car, just turning onto Second Avenue. This is how it went down. We saw them about 1805. A big guy came out of the Mission with a big umbrella, followed by Penn and Teller. They looked exactly like the description we had. The bodyguard held the umbrella over them and they started towards 47th street. People were hurrying along to get out of the rain, but these guys sauntered along as if they had forever .... Joke. We moved behind them and I shot the bodyguard twice in the back of the head. Shin shot Teller and as the bodyguard fell, Penn turned and I shot him twice in the face. We were turning the corner before anyone reacted to the bodies. Nobody followed us." "Well done. Go back to headquarters." "Can we go with you?" "No way. In fact I think we'll hit them now. I'll see you later."

          He passed the word to Le Beau, nodded to Tico and they headed for Baltic street. "From now on we use our headset communicators," Hanson ordered. Jed and Le Beau did a system check and everyone responded properly. Traffic had become a little heavier around Borough Hall, but in a few minutes they crossed Fulton street and cut over to Court street. Le Beau turned onto Warren street and Hanson waited until he saw him stop, then nodded to Tico, who went to Baltic. "Saddle up," Jed ordered. "We go in fifteen seconds." Tico pulled up in front of the house, the troops piled out and they took out the front door with the LAWS. A few seconds later Le Beau's team hit the back door with a LAWS. Jed's team tossed in flash-bangs, then went in through a cloud of smoke and sprayed the house with their M16s. Screams and the sounds of falling bodies let them know they hit people. As soon as they stopped firing, Le Beau's team entered through the back door, while at the same time the window teams went in at each side of the house. They killed everyone on the ground floor in a few moments and Le Beau's team went upstairs, while Jed's team headed for the basement.

          Jed signaled for the LAWs and they blew in the basement door. They charged through the smoke and debris, firing as they went and for the first time took some return fire. Jed was hit in the armpit, where the vest didn't cover a vulnerable spot, but he was so pumped up that he kept moving and urging the troops on. They killed everyone in the big room, then came to a small room in the back. The door was open and Jed saw a man with a box trying to escape into a tunnel. He rushed in, shot him in the head and when the man fell with a thud, said with satisfaction: "No rats are escaping into the sewers tonight." Then a wave of dizziness overcame him and he slumped down on the floor. He had trouble focusing and as he looked around the room everything seemed far away. He saw a man who was gagged and tied to a chair, but he couldn't comprehend what he was doing there and didn't have the energy to ask.

          Hanson came in a moment later and when he saw Jed, cried: "Oh, no." He knelt down, checked him and saw that he was seriously wounded and going into shock. "Jed. Jed. Look at me. I'll get you to Doc Carver. Hang in there." Jed summoned his last reserves of strength. "I'm hit bad, Sam. I'm not going to make it .... The rat in the tunnel was trying to get away with a box .... It might be important. I got to know what it is." "Sure. As soon as we take care of your wound." "It's too late for Carver. I gotta know. Please, Sam." Hanson realized that Jed was slipping away and there was nothing he could do about it. He picked up the box which was unusually heavy and brought it to him. "What are those markings, Sam?" "Radioactive material symbols. They may have been making a nuclear bomb." "And we stopped them, right?" "Yes, Jed. You may have saved New York City." "Then it was worth it ...." "Oh, Jed. I'm sorry." "Don't be. I'm going out with only one regret." "What?" "Promise me ...." "What?" "Promise me you'll get the rest of the Al-Qaeda rats." Hanson hesitated, then gave in to the pleading look from his good friend. "I'll get them," he whispered, then watched the last sparks of life flicker out.

          He hadn't been aware that the troops had gathered around him and with a tremendous effort snapped back to awareness of their situation and the need to take charge. He tossed a cloth over the box so no one would see what it was, then told some of them to carry Jed and others to bring the box. Then he finally noticed the man tied to the chair. He started to approach him cautiously, then realized that the terrorists didn't have time to rig a booby trap. He took off the gag and demanded: "Who are you?" "Water." "Talk, or I'll shoot you and leave you with the others." "Am Russian scientist, but am physics teacher, not nuclear expert. Russian Mafia sell me to Al Qaeda for debt I owe. Deliver me to arabs in Mexico. They smuggle me across border and bring me to Brooklyn, U.S.A. Not believe when I tell can't make bomb. Beat and torture me. You save. Take with. Please." The man looked like they had really worked him over and if his story was true, he could be a valuable source of information. There didn't seem to be any risk, so he decided to take him. "Untie him and bring him along," he ordered.

          They had been in the building for almost two minutes and it was time to get out of there. He called Le Beau on his communicator. "Cajun. Sitrep." "We're on the ground floor. We swept the second floor and attic and killed everyone. I have one wounded, but she's mobile. We took a computer and a bunch of papers and I collected their cellphones." "Good idea. Listen up. We found something big. The situation's changed and all of us are going out the front door. I'll have Lonigan drive around and stop behind Tico. As soon as he's there, we go. I want everyone on high alert. The neighbors will be coming out to see what happened. There could be Al Qaeda among them. No one is to be allowed to interfere with our departure. If necessary, fire warning shots in the air. If that doesn't work, shoot to kill. Your team will cover us and you'll follow as soon as we reach the corner safely. Questions?" "Where's Jed?" "He bought the farm." "Oh." "We're coming upstairs. Are you ready to go?" "Yes, sir."

          Hanson celled Lonigan. "We changed the plan. Come around the corner and stop behind Tico. As soon as you stop, we're coming out. Be alert." "I'm moving. What happened?" "Later." Hanson followed Jed's team up the stairs and he saw Le Beau's troops staring at Jed's body, the box and the prisoner. Le Beau had sent someone to the front door, who reported: "Lonigan's here with the SUV." Le Beau looked at Hanson. "We're ready, sir." "Take Jed with you. I'll take the box and the prisoner. Stay close together and be alert for any kind of resistance. Let's move out." Hanson led Jed's team out first. He saw people straggling out of their houses, but they didn't appear to pose a threat. They piled into the SUV and Hanson yelled: "Drive." Tico took off, scattering some people on the street who were in the way. The neighbors were more interested in the fire then the SUV speeding off.

          When they reached the corner, someone in the back said: "Le Beau's moving, sir." "Good. Tico. Don't wait for them. They'll catch up to us. Get us home as quick as you can, without being stopped." He celled Lonigan. "Keep an eye on us, Mike. If anyone stops us, get us out fast." "Yes, Sam." Tico took Clinton street to Atlantic Avenue, turned west to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, which led to the Brooklyn Bridge. Le Beau was right behind them and he had two of his troops watching for anyone following them. "We seem to be clear, sir." he reported. Hanson heard the troops quietly falling into the after-action easing of tension, but the usual bragging and teasing was muted by Jed's death. Hanson forced himself to compartmentalize the loss of his friend so it wouldn't distract him from assessing the new problem. He began to consider the implications of what might actually be captured nuclear material and concluded that this was now way beyond a basic anti-terrorist strike.

          They crossed the bridge with no one following them and Hanson began to think they may have gotten away without being identified. The one thing he knew for sure was that the parameters of the punitive raid had changed drastically. What had been a relatively simple, well-executed assault mission had now become a highly complex situation with far reaching consequences. Though they could get rid of the prisoner without too much trouble, there was no easy way to resolve how to deal with the captured nuclear material. He wracked his brain but couldn't come up with a practical solution, so it was time to consult higher authority and he celled his commanding officer, General Griffin. "Charlie. Something's come up and I need you here." "What is it?" "I can't tell you even on this line, but it's big. Can you get on a plane right away?" "If it's that urgent, I'll take a chopper to the east side heliport." "Cell me when you're ten minutes out and I'll have a humvee waiting." "I should be there in ninety minutes." "Thanks, Charlie."

          Hanson celled Danowski next. "We'll be there soon, Ski. We have a prisoner and a box. Have a detail waiting for us to bring them to my office. Post a guard at the door and no one in or out without my say so." "Yes, sir." A few minutes later they reached the guard post at the motor pool and pulled into the parking lot. Danowski was waiting with a detail and they took the box and prisoner inside. Hanson dismissed Jed's team after praising them for their exceptional performance. Then he went to Le Beau's SUV. "Well done. All of you. How's your patient, doc?" "It's just a flesh wound. She'll be fine." "Good. Cajun. Bring Jed inside and put him in an empty room, leave someone on guard, then dismiss your team. You all did an outstanding job." "Thank you, sir," they answered. "Mike. Wait for me here, please."

          Hanson turned to Lonigan. "Come with me, Mike." "It went pretty well, didn't it?" "Yes. But there are some new developments." "I saw you come out with a prisoner." "That's the smallest part of it." "What happened?" "Wait 'til we get to my office." "Sure. Thanks for taking me with you. I'm feeling a little better about things now." "Thanks for all your help. We're going to need more of it." "Just ask." Word had obviously spread among the troops that Jed was dead, because everyone they passed nodded solemnly, or expressed a few words of condolence. The loss of Jed was finally sinking in and Hanson knew the future would be bleaker without him. Another part of him was consoled because before Jed died he took some of his enemies with him and may have saved his country from a nuclear disaster.

          The guard at his office door snapped to attention when he saw Hanson. "Stand at ease, but remain here until relieved. Except for General Griffin, no one in without orders." "Aye, aye, sir." Lonigan was beginning to get the idea that whatever was going on was really big and he followed Hanson into the office burning with curiosity. Danowski called: "Attention," and everyone snapped to. "As you were," Hanson said and looked at Blakney. "Sergeant Blakney." "Yes, sir?" "You carried out your mission with exemplary ability, as I expected, You are promoted to Gunnery Sergeant. Congratulations." "Thank you, sir." "I don't have time to take your report right now because something urgent has come up. You are to remain in your quarters until we can review everything in detail. If you have to go out to use the head or mess hall, you are not to discuss anything with anyone regarding this operation." "Aye, aye, sir." "You did a great job, Shin. I'm sorry for the inconvenience." "Semper fi, sir."

          Hanson waited until she left, then turned to Al. "I'll talk to you privately as soon as I can." "Yes, sir. Where's Jed?" He didn't answer right away, then said gently: "He didn't make it, Al." She tried to conceal the stab of pain and struggled to maintain control. "There aren't many of us left, Sam." "I know. Hopefully, there'll be other good Marines to take our place." Danowski had a faraway look. "He was a good guy and a great Marine," he muttered. "I don't mean to sound harsh, but we don't have time for mourning now," Hanson said. "We found what might be radioactive material at the safe house. The prisoner is a Russian scientist who was sold to Al Qaeda by the Russian mafia to help construct some kind of nuclear device." Their stunned expressions told him all he needed to know. He gave them a minute to digest the bombshell, then added: "General Griffin is on his way and should be here in about two hours, when we'll have a full discussion of the problem. If you have any bright ideas, be ready with them later."

          Hanson began to question the prisoner. "What is your name?" "Dmitry Goncharov." "Tell us what you know." "Yes, sir. Al Qaeda got uranium 235 from Iran to make bomb. Want Russian scientist so blame not go to Iran ...." "How do you know it was from Iran?" Al asked. "Heard men speaking, lady soldier. I not tell them was in Afghanistan during war and speak Arabic." "Go on," Hanson urged. "When I tell that I high school physics teacher, not bomb maker, arabs get angry, beat and torture me. Ask if I make bomb with help from books. Get angry when tell I not know. Tell I of no use if can't make bomb and threaten kill me. No want die, so tell maybe can do if have books. They say get soon. Then you come kill arabs. Save life. I help. You no kill?" "We won't kill you, Dmitry, but you've got to tell us all you know," Hanson said. "Will tell. Want help." "Good. Ski. Put Dmitry in one of the Sergeant's rooms, get him something to eat and drink and place a guard at the door. No one in or out without an order from me." "Aye, aye, sir. Come along, Dmitry," Danowski said. "No hurt?" "No hurt."

          Hanson sent everyone to get something to eat, then sat at his desk, musing about Jed's death. Once he put his feelings in a compartment until later, he was pleasantly surprised that everything went off as planned, a rare experience. His thoughts kept coming back to the nuclear material and he believed he did the right thing in taking down the safe house, even if he would go to prison for it. He knew that his actions had probably saved New York City from a nuclear disaster. To him, that justified everything he did. Then the terrifying thought sprang into his mind: What if there was more nuclear material in the country? This was a staggering idea and he accepted that it was up to the American security services to discover and eliminate the threat. He silently prayed that they could function well and save the country from disaster.

by Gary Beck
... who is a professional writer, translator, playwright, and poet. His recent fiction has appeared in 3AM Magazine, EWG Presents, Nuvein Magazine, Vincent Brothers Review, The Journal, Short Stories Bimonthly, Bibliophilos, Dogwood Journal, Enigma, and previously in this periodical. Excerpts from his recent novel of the '60s, Dark Strains, have appeared in Nuvein Magazine, Fullosia Press, L'Intrigue Magazine, and Babel Magazine. His poetry has appeared in dozens of literary magazines. His chapbook The Conquest of Somalia will be published by Cervena Barva Press. His plays and translations of Molière, Aristophanes, and Sophocles have been produced Off-Broadway. He is a writer/director of award-winning social issue video documentaries.

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C O M B A T, the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones