"We have to get out!" Said yelled, and the panic seized the rest of the passengers. They were all running for the exit. The flight attendant was the first one to go, screaming ulations that made J'mal's blood run cold. There were no policement on the ground, to meet them, and the four made their way to the lobby, trying not to become overrun by the crowd.
It was in the lobby that they discovered all their luggage, and documentation was missing, to include Passports and identification papers.
The official from Dubai air listened very calmly to their story, before telling them there was nothing he could do for them.
"What do you mean?" J'mal said. "You've heard our story. We work for the government, for Gods sake."
"I cant book you a flight without your Visa and Passport." He said. "And there is the problem of you arriving on the flight you did."
"Whats wrong with the flight?"
"It was booked from Oman." He said. "And according to your story, you flew from America. How is that possible?"
"We flew from London." Said told him. "Our flight here was from London."
The offical took off his glasses. "Listen to me carefully." He said. "I understand that you want to get out of here. That sort of thing takes connections and money. A good amount of one or the other, or a general helping of both. This story you are telling me- its far fetched enough to be recognized as a bald faced lie. But lets assume that I believe you. What then? Am I to pay for your tickets out of my own pocket?"
The gravity of things was falling on J'mals shoulders. Hussein belched loudly.
"I'm hungry." Hussein said. "Lets go get something to eat."
It was at the cafe that Omar suffered what might have been considered a nervous breakdown.
"You did this to us." He spit at J'mal, with venom.
"You won the Americans award. Adam Cartwright, and he sent us here."
J'mal laughed, and Omar suddenly slapped him.
"You laugh at me?" He screamed. "At this? I am getting married back home. Now I will die in this shithole."
"Dont put your hands on me." J'mal said.
"Then listen." Omar said.
"Maybe we have learned too many of the Americans secrets." Said spoke. "Perhaps they wished to send us away, before we could teach our Countrymen what we know, of the great F-16."
"Listen to you two." J'mal scoffed. "A couple of superstitious women."
"Oh?" Omar sneered. "Then tell me, great leader, why are we here?"
J'mal did not have an answer. He hated Omar, suddenly and ferociously. He hated the three of them, who were really nothing like him, despite coming from the same country. His anger spread, he hated Layla for teasing him, and not going to bed with him, he hated Sgt. Cartwright, for his jealousy, he hated his father for his dissapointment. And with a single, bitter resignation J'mal realized that his guitar was gone along with all the rest of his luggage, and most likely gone forever.
He stood up. "I'm leaving." He said.
"Leaving?" Said asked. "Leaving where?"
"im going on a walk." And before any of them could say one thing more, he strode up and walked away forcefully, by the end of next street he was running
He was tackled
And a bag was placed on his head.
The lights were very bright. There were three American soldiers in the room with J'mal, and an arabic man with his face covered in a mask. J'mals hands were flex-cuffed behind his back.
"Ask him why he was running." One of the soldiers said.
"I can speak english." J'mal said, in arabic.
"Better not to do that." the translator said, in the same.
"If you speak english, they will only think you have something to hide."
"Whats he saying?"
"He's saying he was scared."
"Ask him what his name is."
"What are you doing?"
"I'm trying to get you out of here."
"Then let me tell them myself, in english."
"He says his name is Abdul."
"Thats not my name."
"Ask him why he was scared."
"How well do you speak english?"
"Better than you."
"You should work for me."
"I have a job."
"He says he saw the explosion, and he was afraid there was going to be another one."
"Ask him if he was on the plane."
"Why do they want to know if I was on the plane?"
"You need to work for me."
"Because if you dont, I'm going to tell them you were on the plane. Their going to put you away in prison, and probably not let you out. You will be tortured. Either you work for me, or I'm going to tell them that you are the one they are looking for."
"Whats he saying?"
"What should I tell them."
"He says his name is Abdul. He is a poor farmer from the country that herds goats. He has never been on an airplane before. He loves America and wishes to become a translator. Also, he speaks good english but has been scared to admit it before now."
"My name is J'mal." J'mal said. And in this way he became an Iraqi translator.
"How should I start this. Do I need to speak into the doo-hickey?"
"No, your fine. Just say your name."
"My name is Timothy Post. Im the Company First Sergeant for Chosin Company. How have you been getting along with the interviews?"
"Let me tell you, just about anything a Marine is going to tell you is a crock of shit."
"Why do you say that?"
"If you talk to a Marine, and he's miserable, and cold, or wet, or cold and wet, or cold and wet and hungry, he's going to have nothing good to say about his job. He's going to talk about how much he hates the Corps, how he cant wait to get out. He's going to say all his NCO's are a bunch of idiots. Probably going to add a few f-bombs in there as well. But the minute he gets out of the Marine Corps he's going to look back on it, and say, those were the defining moments of my life. The ones that made me who I am today."
"You think so?"
"I know so. I enlisted in eighty-six and got out in eighty-nine. After nine months I found that I couldnt stand it and signed up again just in time for the first Gulf War."
"There is nothing like the experience of being a Marine. It gets in your blood. Deeper down than your blood, into your bones. Even when your not thinking about it, it becomes who you are. Probably not unlike becoming a vampire or zombie."
"I apologize. My wife...she's really into those, what do you call them, paranormal romances. True Blood and Twilight and all that. When we talk on the phone, we end up talking about that sort of thing."
"Its always best, when talking with your spouse, when deployed, to bring up what they are doing. Things they enjoy. Helps keep the relationship alive. That, and a reliance on the Lord. Are you saved, Mr. Sack?"
"Me? I'm not religious."
"Then I sincerely hope you come around, before the time of judgement. When I was in the first Gulf War, we were patrolling past the border near the oil fields. And when Saddam set them alight, that fire, it burned so bright and so far, you could see it for miles. And then the oil came raining down."
"We were wearing these darker versions of the chocolate chip Desert camies. For night purposes, I was a boot Corporal at the time, and when we ended up slick with oil, I remember thinking, now no one can see us. And when we saw the flames all I could think of was how flammable I was, how it would feel to burn alive before I died. I did not come to the Lord at that point in time."
"You thought you were in Hell?"
"Dont be silly. The eternal hellfire of perdition cannot be matched on earth. I was merely walking through an oil field that the rag heads had set on fire."
"It was pretty rough, though, for a boot corporal."
Lt. William Easter opened up the small green journal he kept. In neat capital letters, he stared at where he had written,
I WISH I HAD FLOWN
I WISH I HAD FLOWN
I WISH I HAD FLOWN
Then he opened up his computer, and sat staring at the e-mail on his screen and tried to make sense of it.
From: Major Fight
Effective immediatedly, all powerpoint presentations made by Chosin Company platoon leaders will have no more than one (1) "motivational" graphic. This graphic will not include profanity or questionable material.
He closed the laptop and thought about it some more. The laptop was one of those hardened models used by police officers and paramedics. It had cost the battalion a fortune. There was really no reason for it, given that the only place with internet connectivety was inside Camp Fallujah. Outside the wire all he could do with the thing was play Solitaire, which wouldnt be worth the additional weight in his daypack. Even inside the wire, the only thing the laptop was used for was e-mailing home, recieving e-mail from Major Fight, and putting together a power point presentation for the Company Commander.
The company's reliance on powerpoint stunned him. Nothing in Quantico had prepared him for it. Whenever a field exercise was scheduled, the Platoon Leaders, meaning the Lieutenants, had to put together a Powerpoint. Before deploying, the Platoon Leaders had to put together a powerpoint of the packing list, and seating order in the airplane. In Iraq, outside the wire, the Platoon Leaders had to find some way to build a graphic and diagram in powerpoint for "go down this street" or "Sit on this rooftop."
The larger problem with this concept, Easter thought, was that very little was used from these presentations, or mattered. The platoon members, NCO's and non-rates, did not see these powerpoints. They did what they were told, or acted on training, which was muscle memory from what had been told previous. The Platoon Sergeant, Staff Sgt. Kurre, knew what had to be actually done, and gave the orders for them to do that. Half the time he would look at Easter and grunt, "If that's all right with you, sir", but half the time he wouldnt, and Easter would be left entirely out of the loop completely, moving with the platoon, keeping both hands on his M4 rifle and wondering how things would turn out. He would talk on the radio that Jon Odle kept strapped to his body, and make up powerpoints for the after action to show Major Fight. But what happened in between wasnt his call. His head ached dully, and his eyelids felt heavy, Easter grabbed a fresh Rip It energy drink, and slammed it down, willing the caffeine to work.
His roommate in the connex trailer, Lt. Slayton, came in and frowned. "Got the shits?" He asked. Easter flipped the laptop around, and Slayton leaned in close so he could read the e-mail. "Thats my fault." He said. "Let me show you." Slayton brought his own laptop out, and played a video clip of Gunnery Sgt. R. Lee Ermey from the movie Full Metal Jacket, unleashing a foul mouth tirade at recruits. "I put that in a power point." He said. "That and another one like it."
"When did this happen."
"While you were out on that rooftop getting some. I was pretty tired when I put that one together." Slayton looked thoughtful. "No one chewed my ass or anything. The first sergeant was laughing his ass off. I guess the Major didnt think it was as funny."
"I hate powerpoint." Easter said.
"I hate everything." Slayton told him, and offered a silver flask. Easter waved it away. Slayton had started drinking lately, not from a bottle or anything, but from a flask that mysteriously stayed full. When he drank he talked about his troubles, usually starting with his wife.
Lt. Slaytons wife had left him just before deployment. He had met her in college, and married soon after, which was close enough to Easter's own story to get him worried. Beyond that, Slayton had suffered further humiliation, on getting his things out of their shared apartment, Slayton had seen Lance Corporal Creel, from his very own platoon. She had either recently started fucking the Lance Corporal, or had been fucking him the whole time. In Slaytons mind, it was the latter, along with a whole host of other injustices. All women had been branded lying, deceitful whores, in Slaytons mind.
The way Easter could see it the problem was at least a little more complicated than that. Slayton could be hard to get along with, for one thing. He was dominant and pushy, and maybe a little bit of a bully. The ex-wife in question had been nineteen years old, for another. That sort of thing didnt work anymore. Women went through stages, in these days, and when they were young they had wild oats to sow the same as men. It had been different years before, maybe as early as the nineteen seventies, but times had changed. Easters own wife was thirty, which happened to be eight years older than him but worked out well enough. Which wasnt to say that she was blameless in things, the ex-Mrs. Slayton. But perspective had to be kept.
"I dont think anything I do has a point here."
"What do you mean?" Slayton said. "Your a goddamn platoon leader."
"Kurre leads the platoon." Easter said. "I just make the powerpoint."
"Kurre's the best platoon sgt. in the company." Slayton said. "I wish I had him." He got up in a hurry. "That little fucker McKinney makes me sick."
Easter could see that. Staff Sgt. McKinney was short and slight, and had a stoop, unusual for a Marine, that meant he never stood up quite right. His wife was large and fat, and worse still, plain, far too average a woman to be married to an infantry Marine, by Easter's estimation. But that was the impression that McKinney gave off, averageness, as if instead of the Corps he had been destined for a career in human resources in some vast, nameless, multinational conglomerate. He had been a recruiter, supposedly, but Easter could not see for the life of him how he convinced one single person to sign up.
Easter himself had been convinced by his father. His father had been a full bird Colonel, who served in Vietnam, and went on to run one of the most successful life insurance firms in Pennsylvania. "When your commisioned." His father used to tell him, not if you join the military, or if you join the Marines, or if you enlist, but when, "when your commisioned." His father would say, and then pass him some phrase or lesson that Easter would take on like a timeless pearl of wisdom, even if it was something that he didnt completely understand. His father had one of those personal appearances, lantern jaw, nose like the beak of an eagle, hair like a grey bristle brush, cropped short. When Easter saw himself in the mirror it was not as a pale reflection, it was no reflection, except for caucasian skin the men seemed to share nothing at all.
And then there was the business of flying.
His test scores were excellent. He had the neccesary math. His vision was fine. They even told him, dropped him hints about Pensacola, a future in flight. And at the last minute, when he had made his selection, on his dream sheet, there was the iron clad face of his father in his mind, passing judgement over him. His father, the platoon commander. And now the son. On his dream sheet he put nothing down other than infantry, and he put that down three times, and underlined it.
"Its like this." Slayton said. "They figured I was prior enlisted, and could handle a weaker Staff Sgt. They saw you werent, and they put you with Kurre."
"I guess so."
"And I dont have any problem with that. But the thing is, the men found out that I was in motor transport."
"And these damn grunts, pogue pogue pogue, have you heard the cadence?" Slayton took a deep breath and intoned, "Cocksucker, motherfucker, suck my dick! If you aint oh-three, you aint shit!"
'I've heard it." Easter had led more than one cadence run, where the jingle had come up.
"Mckinney loves that one. And its aimed at me. I can tell its aimed at me. He's a spiteful little shit. He's spiteful to the men. When were in the barracks he keeps them around after liberty has already been called, for an extra inspection. And I dont contradict him. I never have the chance, I only see him in public." Slayton fell silent, and glowered for a minute longer.
Easter started thinking about his own wife. He had met her while he was in the naval academy. There were warnings from his instructors about any-sailor girls, women that had watched Top Gun and lusted after Tom Cruise for horny years, and were about to snag one of their own. He didnt think Jillian was like that. She seemed confident in herself. She could have had anyone of the guys at that bar, instead she chose him. A woman like that, an actual woman, not a girl that still remembered being a teenager, she was someone you could depend on. Maybe that was something Mckinney knew, with his fat heap of a wife, dependability trumped all else, when marrying into the military. But still this; he could have flown.
The walls shook momentarily. Easter looked up and saw that he had fallen backwards over his chair with the mortar attack. Slayton was hunkered under the table. He laughed.
"Long at us, huh?" He said. "Bunch of Marines. Bunch of fucking sissies."
Easter nodded, and said nothing. There was the noise of someone shouting for a Corpsman, coming from somewhere.
"Should we go out there?" Slayton said. "And check on the platoon."
"They told us not to." Easter said.
"They." Slayton mocked. "Who are they? Who are they to tell us what we can or cannot do, are capable of doing?"
"Major Fight." Easter said. "Orders from the Camp Commander, shelter in place when mortars hit, if not on duty."
"Well." Slayton slurred, "They, whoever 'they' are, can bust me down if they want." He strapped on his helmet. "I'm going out to see the platoon. I know Mckinney wont do it." He flung open the door. Easter could see that he was swaying slightly as he walked, and that he had left his M4 rifle back in the connex trailer.
He stayed on the floor. He had felt safe playing under the table, as a child. He used to imagine he owned a cave, an underground place of his own, that was huge and private and special all at once. The batcave, maybe, or something like the batcave but grander. He would have adventures in this place, but mostly he would be somewhere where no one could get him. Iraq was like that. Or it was like the opposite of that, a huge flat above ground place where everyone could see you, where you were safe from nothing. America was the cave, then, from coast to coast. A safe harbor from a world of lunatics. A thought crossed his mind, why, in twenty-two years, had he never asked his father what he thought about the Marines? If he enjoyed his time spent in Vietnam? Surely that would have been the sane way to make a career choice. He sat up and looked at the laptop, which, true to manufacturer specifications, had survived the drop from table to floor with zero damage. There was a new message from Major Fight: OPERATION PHANTOM FURY- MIDNIGHT STAGING.