Serenity: Full Circle – Chapters 13 and 14

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Cairo Awaits

It was two hours later when Stiles and Marc arrived at the hangar, meeting up with the two other pilots who had just signed for the fuel.  Marc threw his bags onboard, while Ashton was preforming his preflight inspection of the aircraft.  A few moments later, he entered the cabin and closed the door, rotating the handle to the lock position, and moved to the flight cabin.  Marc felt the craft slowly being pulled out of the hangar, then the subtle whine of the Fanjets coming to life.  Ashton had just finished his check list when a blur of a crimson red car slid to a stop directly in front of the craft.  Ashton looked back into the main cabin saying, “Marc, I think someone’s looking for you!”  Marc got up and moved to the cockpit door looking out the front window as Dara pulled her car around the side of the aircraft and into the hangar.  Marc turned to the main cabin door, unlocked and rotated the lever opening the door.  Dara was already standing anxiously waiting for the steps to appear.  As she entered the cabin, Marc said, “I’m beginning to think you just enjoy bizarre entrances, or is it just this aircraft?”  Dara smiled then said, “I haven’t been to Cairo in two, maybe three years, and I was planning to take some time off anyway, so any objections?”  Marc smiled saying, “Well, shut the door.”

Marc had to admit, the flight time went by much faster with Dara onboard the craft.  He didn’t know what would become of their relationship, but every time they spent time together, it was a bit more difficult to depart.  He knew it was a bit early to be thinking these things, but it’s not like anyone’s truly in control of their destiny, or the detours it brings.

Later, Marc awoke, finding Dara asleep with her head in his lap.  He reached over and opened the curtain on the window.  He could see billowy clouds tinted orange from the imminent sunrise, just as he sensed the tone of the engines change to a lesser whine.  The landing gear emitted a clunking sound as it locked into the down position.  Dara was startled slightly, sat up and looked out the window.  Marc said, “We’re on approach; Eyan should be there when we arrive.”  Ashton was smooth.  Marc heard the tires cry out, but never felt the touch down.  The sun had not quite arrived on station as yet, but as usual, it was another beautiful day in paradise.  Marc once again flashed back to his youth and his time spent on the islands.

As the Gulfstream rolled up to the private terminal and began its shutdown, Marc said to Dara, “Why don’t you see if you can find some open shops?  I know you’re going to need some stuff,” referring to the fact that she had brought no bags.  Dara, looked up and smiled, then said, “Any special requests?”  Marc just smiled.  His attention was drawn to the cabin door; he heard knocking from outside.

A short time later, they were once again en route.  Marc had called Ricardo Ruiz, the arms dealer in Madrid before departing.  He had made arrangements with Ricardo to use his various contacts to arrange for a vehicle and the various weapons he had selected for this mission, and to have them waiting near the Cairo International Airport.  Ricardo was proving to be a valuable asset.  Moving arms around the globe quickly is not an easy task in this day and age.  When a bona fide arms dealer can simply pick up a phone and legally arrange for this to happen, it vastly simplifies matters.

About halfway to their Cairo destination, Stiles retreated to the rear of the craft after turning over his flight duties to the other pilots, hoping to get some shut-eye.  About seven hours later, he was slightly startled awake, hearing the pitch of the engines changing harmonics; they were starting their decent once again.  He rose and moved about the cabin gently waking the others; Ashton above all, was a perfect gentleman.

The Sat phones had been once more activated and instructions had been given to the senior pilot to fly to Tel Aviv, Israel, about thirty minutes’ flight time to the east-northeast and wait on station at Ben-Gurion Airport for their call.  Stiles did not want someone commandeering the aircraft while they were en route to and from the apartment near Tahrir Square.

As they were entering the terminal doors, Marc’s Sat phone started to flash, and then emitted two nearly-silent beeps.  Marc answered; it was Ricardo on the line. Now Marc was really impressed with the man.  He said, “Mr. Bracken, there’s been a small change in the program, the vehicle will pick up your party at the curb in front of the terminal.  The driver will be wearing a bright pink scarf with a sign saying “Uncle Tom,” his name is Akil; he will be alone.  He is my nephew and can be trusted.  He is very familiar with the area and I taught him to shoot well.  I hope he can be of service.”  Marc was more than astounded; he was now just shaking head in disbelief, saying, “Ricardo, this is beyond the call.  Are you sure you’re OK with this?  You know I can’t guarantee his safety.”  Ricardo’s response was, “Mr. Bracken, in this part of the world when a young man picks up a rifle, he has become a man.  If he can help, reward him in kind, that’s all I ask.”  Marc said, “Thank you, Ricardo.  This could help immensely.  I’ll be in touch.”  Then he ended the call.

The terminal was not as busy as one would have thought. Several of the airlines had shut their kiosks and security was all but non-existent; customs had only two uniformed agents working.  They were basically waving people through the turnstiles, no luggage checks, and only speaking to an occasional passenger.  The team, as it was, all passed without incident and walked directly through the terminal to the main exit.  Marc began to search for Akil, looking at the assorted vehicles parked along the curb.  As he turned to the right, the third car up the street was not like most of the others and the man standing next to it nearly brought Marc to open laughter.  Akil was about six-foot, three inches tall and resembled a running back in the NFL. He was a very strange sight standing there with a shocking pink neck scarf holding the sign that read “Uncle Tom.”  Akil appeared to be in his early thirties, was very muscular, and spoke English as if he had gone to school in the States.

The Cairo International Airport was about ten miles from the area that Tahrir Square occupied, near the center of the city.  Along the way, they passed by a series of apartment buildings and went through several antiquated industrial areas.  The city itself was archaic but, over the years, some of it had been redeveloped, while other parts looked much as they did millenniums ago.  About two-thirds of the way toward the Square, Akil pulled off a main road and traveled a long block down a side street, and pulled up to a compound.  The walls were twelve or fourteen feet high with a large sheet metal gate.  Akil beeped his horn twice.  A moment later, a small metal door opened within the gate.  Akil waved to the man peering from the opening.  A few seconds later, the car pulled into the compound and the gate closed behind it.  Akil invited them into the structure.  The exterior of the building was quite old but, as they walked inside, the architecture was neo-modern with a strong Western influence.

Akil showed them to what appeared to be the main living area.  He said something to a man in the room, speaking in Arabic, and the man then disappeared.  He turned and picked up a remote control unit from an end table and pushed several buttons.  A very large flat-screen television arose from a credenza mounted alongside a wall.  Marc turned to Dara and the others saying, “Now maybe we can see what going on in real time.”   Akil was dialing up CNN International on the satellite receiver as he said, “Things have been extremely dynamic in the last two days.  The police have chased the people from the Square and the people have just this morning retaken it.”  Marc pulled out some photographs; they were satellite screen captures of the apartment building that the client’s daughter-in-law and son were sequestered in.  The building was one block south of the southernmost point of Tahrir Square, well within the confines of the government’s blockade.  They were going to need the cover of night and a serious amount of luck getting in and out of the area in total anonymity safely.

The man Akil had spoken to earlier returned to the room and gestured to Akil.  He turned to the team and said, “I have taken the liberty to prepare dinner for us all.  I hope this is not being too presumptuous.” Just then, the other man opened a rather large sliding door revealing a beautiful dining room and a fully set table.  Eyan said, “Akil, as far as I’m concerned, you can be as presumptuous as you like.  Thank you for your hospitality.”  They all enjoyed the dinner; it had been some time since they had truly sat down and eaten.

When they were done, they retired back to the main room and began to discuss a plan.  In a short period of time, Akil had become an integral part of the puzzle.  Over the next four hours, they had formulated a plan which was predicated on some form of contact with the two semi-hostages.  Marc had the cell contact number and, after checking the time the sun was currently setting at their location during this time of year, he decided to contact them.  He dialed the number and just as quickly heard a rapid beeping sound indicating a system overload.  Akil said, “We need to try them between four and five in the morning. It’s the best chance we have at getting through.”  He said, “The real problem is the power has been cut to the area for several days and if their phone has been on all this time, the batteries are certainly depleted.”  It was nearing twelve o’clock midnight when they were shown to their individual rooms, again surprising them all.  Marc and Dara had just settled down in their bed, but were finding it hard to sleep, as they lay talking of the planned mission.  Marc had set his smart phone alarm to sound at four fifteen in the morning to try and establish contact with the woman and her son.  For the first time since Marc and Dara had been seeing each other, they had simply passed out lying next to each other, physically exhausted and mentally expended.

It was a rude awakening at four something in the morning for both of them, but the plan was demanding action.  Marc redialed the number.  It rang once, twice, then three times.   Then it went straight to voicemail; the line went dead.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Will It Work?

As daylight breaks over the city, the group is somewhat lethargic; the time zones had taken their toll.  As they started to congregate in the kitchen area of the compound, things began to clarify.  Marc, Akil and Dara were drinking their second cup of Arabic coffee when Ashton and Eyan entered the kitchen area.  The general mood was somewhat diminished due the fact that Marc was unable to establish contact with the primaries.  They all began collectively brainstorming the problem, looking for any and all avenues of success.  The reality was evident after a time, they would need to go in blind and deal with the cards as they fell.

For the better part of the day, they stayed glued to the news channels absorbing any and all information that could be gleaned.  In the early afternoon, they began assembling the gear needed for the mission.  Akil, once again, proved to be invaluable.  He had contacts in the area of the Square that would call and report the goings on in real time.  Marc asked about them and Akil said they were mostly made up of his cousins and nephews.   It was almost spooky that in this time of turmoil, in such an ancient city, the cellular service seemed to be the most reliable of all modes of communication.

When it came to the weaponry they potentially needed for the mission, Marc finally asked Akil, “What were you able to acquire of my wish list?”  Akil’s eyes lit up as if it were Christmas.  He turned saying, “Let me show you what I’ve been able to put together.”  They followed him down a hallway and through a door, down steps to a basement entrance that vaguely resembled a door that could be used at Fort Knox.  The door required three separate methods of unlocking, an electronic mag key, a keypad then a biometric fingerprint reader before access was granted.  As they entered the room, Akil flipped on the light.  Marc stood in sheer amazement as he realized now that Akil was the Egyptian equivalent of Ricardo.  The room was full of any firearm one might need.  The look on Akil’s face was that of man who was proud of what he had accomplished.  Then, a rather unexpected statement poured from his lips. “Perhaps, if we’re smart and just a bit lucky, we will not need these tools to achieve our objective.”  At this point Marc realized that Akil was certainly not what he had pictured, seeing him standing on the curb at the airport.  Marc’s past experiences in this region of the globe had tainted him.  He had come to believe that most, if not all the people, were extremists and prone to action without a forethought.  It was very calming to know otherwise.

As night began to fall, they began loading the two vehicles that Akil had acquired for the task.  Marc and Eyan had been in Cairo many times before, but this time was different.  As the team loaded into the vehicles preparing to depart, the tension in the air was extremely heavy.  The looks on the faces of the people in the streets were impossible to miss on the drive from the airport.  Some expressed fear, others anguish, and then there were those whose faces seemed blank, without expression, as if they had lost all hope.  This was not the Cairo, or the people, they had remembered at all.

Ten minutes later, the vehicles came to a halt after pulling into an alleyway, about three blocks to the south of Tahrir Square.  Everyone in the group donned their protective vests, and then dressed in Arab garb, hopefully allowing them to blend in and have some added protection, as they set off into the night.  The five of them formed into a covert fire team, one on point, each subtly covering the other’s movement, and one always covering the rear.  They made their way past alleys and doorsteps for the entire two block distance until they reached the apartment’s location.  As they approached the building and prepared for the planned extraction, the air was laden with both the smoke from the fires of the encampment at the Square and the occasional whiff of CS gas that the police, still loyal to the President, were using to contain the crowds.  Then, of course, there was the occasional sporadic gun fire.

Marc once again pulled out his Sat phone and redialed the apartment above.  There was still no answer.  Akil tried his cell phone; to his surprise, he still had service.  Most of the people that had been calling in reports were saying that they needed to move several blocks from the Square to get service.  He called each of the two vehicles to verify they had reached their predetermined pickup points; they both reported they had. Marc and Akil made their way into the building; the others would filter in behind.  It was extremely dark.  They had been informed that the power was off in the general area before the mission had started.  As they entered the candlelit lobby, they were approached by two people dressed in Western-style clothing.  Marc instinctively knew they were armed by the way their suit jackets were tailored. As they walked up, one hung back, his hand was extended into his breast pocket – a second confirmation of his suspicions.  The first man said something in Arabic and Akil started to respond, but just then, four other men appeared from doorways around the lobby, similarly dressed.  Despite Akil’s pleadings with the man, he was becoming more and more agitated by the second, continuing to insist that they must leave the building.  By this time, the others had, one by one, entered the building and began to disperse in the lobby.  As things were now beginning to look hopeless, Marc removed his hood and started to address the man in English.  The man was taken by surprise and his demeanor began to rapidly change.  Marc said, “We have come to escort an American family to safety at the request of their family in America.  They were trapped when the riots broke out.”  The man replied in surprisingly good English, saying, “Do you have any way to prove what you say is true?” Marc looked up at the man and said, “I have the name of the person who rents apartment 703 in this building and the names of both his wife and son that hopefully are still holed up here waiting for us.” The man replied, “What is this man’s name?” Marc said, “Thomas Marquand, apartment 703.”  The man asked them to remain there while he checked the register.  When he returned, he said, “If what you say about helping them is true, then perhaps we can make an arrangement,” as a subtle smile appeared upon his face.  Ten minutes later, the team was making their way up the stairs to the seventh floor, but only after Marc had bribed the man with $500 US.   Akil seemed upset that Marc had let the man manipulate him in such a way, but Marc simply said, “Sometimes it’s easier, and a lot safer, to skip buying the bullets and just pay the end user.”

When they reached the seventh floor, Marc opened the door to the hallway, stepped out of the staircase and slowly entered.  When he raised his flashlight looking down the hall, he could see chairs and furniture stacked in clumps.  Then he saw movement and someone yelled out in Arabic.  He turned to Akil and he translated, “They want us to leave them alone. He said they have no money or food, but he says they are armed.”  Marc said to Akil rather loudly, “Ask them if they know Mr. Marquand in room 703?”  But before Akil had the chance, a voice from down the hall said in English, “Yes, I know Mr. Marquand, do you?  What is his first name?”  Marc answered, “Thomas, we are looking for his wife and son.”  The man then said, “Why would you be searching for them?”  Marc replied, “We were contracted to provide safe passage out of the country for the two of them by Thomas’s father back in the US.”  A man in his mid-forties stepped from behind a furniture barrier a short distance down the hall and walked toward them.  He was carrying in his right hand an antiquated snub-nose .38 revolver.  As he approached, Marc said to the man, “I suggest you throw that snub-nose away and find some good rocks to throw.  You’ll have better luck hitting something with the rocks.”  The man looked down at the gun he was holding in the palm of his hand and said, “I wouldn’t know, I’ve never had a reason to fire it before.”  The man had a slight build, was dressed in casual Western-style clothing, and wore wire-rimmed glasses.  There was a brief introduction.  He said his name was Jacob Rubin and he also worked for the State Department, like Marquand.  He said he worked in a different department and was on call as a translator.  He lived just down the hall in apartment 706.

Marc asked Jacob if Thomas’ wife and son were OK.  He answered saying, “The son is fine, but his mother has been ill for the past few days.  She and the boy have only been here a short time.”  Then he went on to say, “Many suffer this fate during an adjustment period to the food and water.”  They walked around the barriers down the hall and then came to a door with the numbers 703.  Rubin knocked on the door, turned to Marc, and said, “I haven’t talked to them since yesterday morning.”  Just then, the door opened slightly and a young man peered out through the partially open door, still chained.  Marc said, “Max, my name is Marc.  Your grandfather, Nicklaus, has sent us to help you and your mother.  Can we come in?”  The boy’s face lit up as he fidgeted with the chain lock and opened the door wide saying, “Mom’s in the bedroom getting dressed.  She’s feeling better tonight but she’s still really weak.  I was just going to fix her something to eat.”  It was more than obvious that the boy was overwhelmed by the responsibility that had been placed upon him.  Dara spoke up saying, “While you’re whipping up some food, I’ll see how your Mom is faring,” as she asked Max which way it was to the bedroom.

A short time later, the two women emerged from the bedroom.  Dara following very close behind Mrs. Marquand with her hands on her shoulders as she was none too stable as she walked into the room.  Marc looked over at Eyan with a concerned expression.  They both knew that the task at hand was going to be difficult enough without extenuating circumstances.  Over the next few hours, the team had jointly made the decision not to carry out the extraction until the following night, as Mrs. Marquand was much too depleted for the current window of opportunity.  Dara administered some of the medications from their standard med kits.  Mrs. Marquand began to show signs of improvement as the evening progressed.

Akil and Stiles were taking turns out in the hallway with Jacob Rubin, making sure that there were no surprises during the night.  Akil had called the two drivers and rescheduled the pickup time for the next evening having them return to station shortly after dark.  It was summertime in Cairo and the sun would rise at five in the morning and set at nearly seven in the evening.

The boy and his mother were sleeping in the bedroom; it was just before sunrise and Dara had fallen asleep on the couch in the living room.  Marc had taken the midnight shift in the hall, and had been relieved by Eyan sometime after two in the morning.  Everyone but Dara had taken a turn on watch; she had taken on the duties of nurse looking out after the woman and the boy, Max.

Marc was sitting in a chair near the window looking to the northwest toward Tahrir Square.  There was a large park area just below the apartment building and a wide tree-lined avenue on each side of the park that lead to the Square that was less than 200 meters’ distance.  Marc had tried to sleep, but was unsuccessful.  The sunrise was beginning to cast a peaceful shade of orange on the high stratus clouds over the city, as Marc noticed Dara starting to stir.  She opened her eyes and smiled upon seeing Marc watching her.  She got up from the couch and walked over to Marc and began to massage his shoulders from behind.  Marc let his head fall forward as she kneaded his neck with both hands.  As he raised his head, she bent down and kissed the side of his forehead.  Marc reached up placed his hand on the right side of her face and then returned the kiss. She sat down next to him and they quietly talked while watching the sun’s rays begin to strike the buildings around the Square.

As the light of day crept into the apartment and the smell of coffee began to overpower the smoke wafting up from the Square below.  The team began to consider the options that lay before them.  The intermittent gunfire from below had ceased during the night and now the silence was almost as disturbing.  Akil walked into the apartment from the hall saying, “I just received a call; the loyalists to Mubarak have retaken the Square during the night and are in control of the general area.”  Marc said, “I knew something was going on.  I heard a lot of vehicles, about three this morning, then shouting.”

Later, after all of them had eaten, they gathered in the living room to discuss the plan of action that would lie ahead.  Marc turned and said, “Mrs. Marquand, how are you feeling this morning?” She replied, “Much better, thank you.  Please call me Renae.” After a short conversation, they determined that they would go ahead with the extraction after sunset.  Each of the men took turns throughout the day on hall duty.  When Marc was taking his turn, he had a chance to talk to Jacob, the man down the hall in 706.  He learned that he was an unmarried man on his second duty station for the State Department.  He was off duty when the evacuation from the embassy had taken place and didn’t learn about it for several hours because the cellular service was down.  Marc also learned that the top floor of the apartment building was leased by the Embassy for the staff based in Cairo.  The other people that lived in the building were on duty when the evacuation occurred.  Marc was sensing uneasiness in Jacob’s voice as he spoke, saying he just wasn’t sure how he would manage after the team pulled out with the Marquands.  After Marc had been relieved from hall duty, he was talking to Stiles about the aircraft and the passenger capability. Stiles informed him that even as it was with just the woman and boy, it would be a two-trip affair getting all the people out of Egypt air space to a safe location.  Marc queried Stiles as to the possibility of Jacob being included on the second flight out. Stiles said, “If we don’t refuel before returning to Israel, it shouldn’t be problem.” That was all Marc needed to hear. He went to the hall door that was now kept open for air flow and walked down the hall to 706 and knocked on the door.  Jacob answered the door, wiping the sleep from his eyes, and saying, “What’s going on?” Marc said, “Can you be ready to leave at sundown with us?” All Marc needed to see was the relieved expression upon his face to know the answer.  Jacob said, “I could walk out this moment if I needed to.”  Marc smiled and said, as he turned to walk back to the other apartment, “Try and get some rest, we’ll assemble later down the hall.”

The sun was hanging low in the western sky.  Akil was on his cell phone trying to make contact with his drivers – to no avail – the grid was down.  Marc fished his Sat phone from his carry bag and tossed it to Akil saying, “Make it quick as possible, those batteries won’t last long.”  Akil made contact with them and verified the time and locations once more, and then hung up saying everything was set and that he had his drivers change vehicles, moving up to larger cube vans.

By early evening, Renae had improved a great deal and her pale color had returned to a natural hue.  They all began to suit up for the extraction.  Stiles had offered his vest to Jacob, but it was too large to be of help.  Dara had offered hers to Renae, but she instead gave it to Max, politely saying it most likely wouldn’t fit her anyway as she was a size 10 and Dara was maybe a size 6.  It fit the boy perfectly after Dara adjusted the upper torso straps tighter. Jacob had several extra Arabic galabaya’s – men’s traditional garb – which he gave to Renae and Max.

It was now shortly before eight in the evening, as they set out from the apartment’s location.  Akil had briefed everyone on the location of the pickup vehicles, just in case they were separated, or worse.  With the crowd at the Square being dispersed, it was now very quiet on the streets. Akil cautioned everyone to be as quiet as possible as they made their way toward the nearest pick-up point.  They were moving in the same fashion as they had arrived.  Marc was on point; Akil was covering the back door.  Dara was paired with Max and Stiles had Renae as a partner; Eyan was near the middle of the group with Jacob.   Marc had reached the end of the first block to the south, and then turned and signaled to Dara to bring Max to his location, as he stepped back into a darkened entryway.  They were almost to Marc’s location when headlights flashed from around the corner just beyond Marc’s position.  Dara grabbed Max’s arm and began to retreat toward an entryway to a door to her right.  She grasped the lever, and then realized it was locked.  She looked up the street as a truck turned the corner, the headlights illuminating both her and the boy standing in the entryway.  The truck pulled up right in front of them and stopped.  There were three men in the truck, the driver and two others standing in the bed, leaning on the cab.  The two in the bed jumped out and approached them, speaking loudly in Arabic while waving their weapons in the air.  Dara was doing her best to conceal her assault rifle holding it close between her and Max.  The first man walked up, then reached out and slapped the hood back off the top of her head.  She looked up but stood her ground as the man was somewhat shocked at the fact she was a woman dressed in men’s clothing.  Marc had moved to the back of the vehicle and was making his way around to the passenger side.  The man turned to say something to the other, when he saw Marc’s movement.  He raised his free hand up to his rifle.  Dara pushed Max away to the ground and swung her assault rifles butt around, slamming it against the side of the man head.  As he was going down, the driver decided to vacate the area and sped off quickly. The third man let out a gasping sound as a knife thrown by Akil struck him in the neck just below the jaw.  He fell to his knees then backwards grasping for his neck.  Dara reached down and grabbed Max’s hand and pulled him to his feet and then guided him back to his mother’s position away from the bodies. There was no way of knowing if these were police out of uniform, or loyalists, or even perhaps just thugs.

The team reassembled and moved off down the street to the south as quickly as they could, knowing that the estranged driver may be bringing others back.  They had traversed nearly the entire distance to the pickup site, when they heard other vehicles approaching from their rear.  Marc shouted out to Dara to get the Marquands to the truck in the alley just ahead.  Akil went with her so there would be no mistaking of identity as they approached the vehicles.  As an afterthought, he also sent Jacob with them.  The three remaining took cover and prepared for the worst.  They could now see multiple sets of headlights moving toward them in the darkness.  As they drew closer, Marc could make out an open jeep in the lead with a machine gun mounted on the back, silhouetted by the truck’s headlight behind it.  Eyan could see better from his position and noticed still another vehicle bringing up the rear.  One advantage they had was the streets in this neighborhood were very narrow.  Eyan signaled to the others that a third vehicle was in play.  Marc yelled out to take out the jeep and hopefully create a logjam for the other vehicles.  All three of them began to fire upon the jeep, their assault rifles set on full automatic.  The jeep veered sharply but, instead of jamming the street, it busted through a courtyard wall and disappeared, allowing the other vehicles to advance unencumbered.  They were now beginning to receive small arms fire in return from the oncoming vehicles. Marc signaled to the others to fall back toward the alleyway in hopes that the truck would be waiting, ready to bolt.  Just as they got to the corner, Marc saw Akil running toward them carrying something in both hands, larger than a common rifle, but it was too dark to see what it was.  As he approached he said, “Let’s see if this will slow them down,” as he raised a Soviet-style RPG-7 to his shoulder and took aim at the lead truck. Marc, standing to his side, tapped him twice on his head indicating that the rear back-blast was clear, as he fired the weapon with deadly accuracy.  The truck was now only sixty meters away, as the rocket’s shape charge pushed its way into the cab and exploded, ripping into the bed area of the vehicle.  Marc saw several dark silhouettes of men being thrown into the air, as the canvas covering the truck’s bed shredded and burst into flames.  The truck turned slightly, and then the front right wheel became lodged between two large, imbedded granite stones, bringing it to a rapid and complete stop as it became totally engulfed in a ball of orange and white flames.  Akil and Marc had just managed to turn around and begin to move toward the transport vehicle when a massive concussion from behind lit up the entire area and hit them.  It was so intense that Marc nearly lost his footing.  He looked at Akil questioningly, as if to ask, “What kind of round was fired at the truck?” Then, just as quickly, he realized it was a secondary explosion from the truck’s cargo area.  They both looked back toward the truck only to see a large crater where it had been, as debris, some still burning, rained down all around them.  They both began to run toward the truck as the driver pulled out from the alleyway and stopped.  As soon as they were aboard, Stiles rapped on the back window of the cab signaling the driver to go.  As they sped off into the darkness, the streets were devoid of all traffic, which helped them move quickly away from the area.  But this also made them a point of interest for any military or police patrols that were in their vicinity, due to newly-imposed sunrise-to-sunset curfew.

The truck had gone but a few blocks when everyone in the back was thrown toward the cab, as the driver pulled over and slammed on the brakes of the truck when he saw a convoy of military vehicles traversing the next intersection ahead.  He quickly extinguished the lights on the truck so they would not garner the attention of the convoy.  They sat there for several minutes as truckloads of men and equipment passed by the crossroad accompanied by several tanks.  No one said a word, but they all knew the convoy was headed toward Tahrir Square.  After the vehicles had passed, Akil rapped on the back of the cab motioning to the driver to proceed.  He turned to Marc saying, “I knew this was coming, but I thought it would be later – not now.  I need to warn my contacts at the Square.”  There was no need for Marc to respond to Akil’s statement. The tenseness in his voice and the expression upon his face was easily read by those around him.

As the truck resumed its jagged path through the city streets, Marc couldn’t separate his thoughts from Akil’s dilemma.  The man had been invaluable to this mission and had, without exception, been there at every bend of the road.

They soon reached Akil’s compound and quickly pulled in and shut the large entry gates behind.  Once everyone was safely inside, Akil arranged for the Marquands and Jacob to have their first real food in days.  After dinner, they were gathered around the table sipping wines from Akil’s wine cellar. The team began to address the next portion of the extraction.  Stiles spoke up calling everyone’s attention to the TV.  A news bulletin banner was flashing on the screen.  The Square was now in the control of the people, once again.  A short time later, Marc excused himself and found Akil in the next room.  He was just ending a phone call as Marc entered the room.  Marc once again could see a look of frustration on Akil’s face saying, “Akil, pardon the intrusion, but I assume you’re concerned about your friends and family at the Square?” Akil said, “I am.  Am I that easy to read?”  Marc replied, “Perhaps only by those who have come to know you, but yes.” He went on to say, “Our extraction is nearly complete and with your help, these people will be safe by tomorrow afternoon, but Akil what about your dilemma?”  He looked up saying, “This is not your fight, Marc.” Marc said, “And you would tell me this extraction was yours?  I don’t think so.  It’s obvious you care about these people even though you have just met them. Dara and Stiles are escorting the others to Israel tomorrow.  Once they are on Israeli soil and truly safe, Stiles will wait for my request for extraction before returning.  I’ve told him that may be several days depending on what you have planned.  Now, are we on the same page?”  The look on Akil’s face was that of appreciation.  He knew he would most likely need help, but he was not the type of person to ask for it, especially from these people that he had just met.

Akil said, “Marc I don’t have a clue how to go about this, or even if my friends will still be there or want to come away from the Square.  If the military makes a move, this could get real ugly, really quick.  Some seem to think the army will side with us but I’m not so sure.”

Copyright © 2016; All Rights Reserved

Published by

Laura Brooks

Published author of four books. See more about me on Amazon's Author Central.

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