October 20, 0400 hrs
“The drop zone will be 500 meters to the South of the target site.” Major Kelly pointed to the location circled on the map hanging behind him on the wall. Surveying the room, he noted the intensely determined expressions on the personnel present.
In addition to Mac, Devon and their ISA team, Captain Armstrong, the Delta Force commander was readying his assault team for the mission. The major continued, “Devon, you and Jeff will be in the air with the DF equipment. We’ll take final readings just prior to the drop, and then I’ll monitor from here during the operation. Mike, you and Dave will be here downloading the signals from the mobile equipment and monitor the overall radio traffic for enemy responses or unforeseen problems.” The group nodded.
The Delta Force Captain stepped forward. “My team will load up in the Blackhawk with you at 0415, Mac.”
Turning to Devon, he said, “As soon as you get the final fix coordinate to confirm the drop, lieutenant, we will proceed directly to the zone and commence the insertion. We anticipate the time from the drop to target acquisition to be less than ten minutes. Is there any change in the estimated numbers of enemy personnel at the site?”
“Not at this time, we still estimate the number of armed combatants to be ten to twelve.”
“Fine,” Armstrong said, “My men will execute the operation as planned. We take out the combatants and secure any equipment or other documents for intelligence purposes. I will radio you when we are secure and ready for extraction, Mac.”
“I’ll be there with your ride,” Mac grinned.
“Okay, people that’s it. We move in ten minutes.” The major stood to leave, “Good luck everyone.”
Under cover of the predawn darkness, the Blackhawk rose skyward carrying the strike team toward their intended target. Ten minutes later, Mac had maneuvered them into position, lowering the helicopter to twenty feet off the ground. Captain Armstrong looked to Devon, who was taking final readings with the onboard equipment. She nodded affirmatively to the captain.
Armstrong stood, and gave them a thumbs up, and then stepped out the side of the helicopter followed in quick succession by the rest of his men. The helicopter immediately lifted skyward and banked toward the north.
“Insertion complete, major.” Mac’s steady voice advised.
“Roger that. Armstrong, do you read me?” He called to the Delta Force commander.
“Affirmative, major. So far, all clear. We are a click away from the compound. I’ll get back to you once we’re inside.” The connection went silent.
The minutes dragged on as they waited for Armstrong. The sound of automatic weapons fire pierced the night. Devon grabbed a pair of night vision binoculars, training them in the direction of the target. She saw shadowy figures running and muzzle flashes; a figure that appeared to be the first perimeter guard fell to the ground. The team pressed forward. More shots. As they entered the inner perimeter of the compound, Devon could no longer see what was happening. She put the binoculars down and turned to Jeff, who was monitoring the radio receivers for communications.
He shook his head, “It appears that we were successful in our surprise move. They would have transmitted something if they knew we were coming.”
Mac continued to hold the Blackhawk in a hover pattern, her eyes scanning the horizon, now just beginning to lighten with the first hint of dawn. She glanced over at Devon and winked.
Five minutes later, Armstrong’s voice strong and clear announced, “All secure. Repeat. All secure.”
“Copy,” Mac returned, “Just give the word and we’ll be right there to get you.”
“Devon, I have something,” Jeff’s voice was a tense. Devon pulled the left side of her headset down to listen. A voice was shouting something in an Arabic language in her ear. “He’s saying that the compound has been attacked. They’re gonna have company soon.”
“Armstrong, they got a message out somehow, they know you’re there. We have to get you out,” Devon spoke urgently to the captain.
“Roger, we just need a few more minutes to secure the data.”
“We don’t have much time,” Mac interjected. She pointed toward the west, where a vehicle was quickly approaching, a cloud of dust rising in its wake. “Dale, you have visitors,” she said. “We’re coming in. Get your team to the extraction point, now.”
Mac guided the chopper back to the designated rally point, keeping the bird high until she saw Armstrong’s team running toward the area. Devon looked out the other side of the helicopter and could see the vehicle approaching was a truck loaded with unfriendly forces that were no doubt heavily armed. Mac set the Blackhawk down as the sound of weapons fire erupted all around them. Devon heard the ping, ping sound as rounds struck the metal exterior.
“We have to hurry,” Mac shouted. As the first members of the team reached the side of the helicopter, Devon and Jeff began pulling them inside. The whirling of the blades was stirring up a massive cloud vortex in the sand, making it difficult to see. As the seventh man climbed aboard, fighters began jumping from the approaching truck, spraying automatic fire in their direction. Horrified, Devon saw Armstrong fall to the ground twenty feet from the chopper.
“I can’t stay down here much longer,” Mac yelled.
The team began returning fire from the other side of the helicopter. He’s not gonna make it. Without another thought, Devon leapt from the opening where she had been standing, reminding herself to drop and roll as she landed. Bending low, she ran toward the captain who was now crawling in her direction. As Devon reached him, she could see blood soaking his right pant leg.
“Come on,” Devon yelled as she put her arm around his back under his arm, pulling him to his feet. “We’ve got to move.”
Mac watched as bullets struck the ground around the pair running, kicking up little wisps of dust as they ricocheted across the ground. She raised the chopper up slightly so that she could turn the aircraft, shielding them as much as she possibly could, while her passengers continued to return fire at the approaching fighters.
Devon’s muscles strained with the added weight of supporting Armstrong as she pushed her legs steadily toward the safety of the helicopter. The bird lifted up into the air as they reached a distance of about ten feet. Looking up, she saw a soldier lean out of the side opening to with an assault rifle, efficiently eliminating two fighters dangerously close to their position.
As they drew closer, a rappelling rope with a harness fell from the opening above. Reaching up to grasp the rope, she pulled it around both of their waists and stepped through the loop, pulling the remaining strap between her legs and clipping it to her belt. Then she crouched into a sitting position allowing the strap to fully support her body weight, and pulled Armstrong down onto her lap, pushing the first strap through to his belt, securing them together. She pulled twice on the strap, signaling the team to pull them in.
They ascended into the air with thick clouds of sand threatened to suffocate them. Devon pressed Armstrong’s head into her body and placed her forehead on his shoulder to shield their faces. She heard bullets whizzing by them in the air. She kept her eyes closed, concentrating on her breathing and the certainty of the upward pull of the rope inching the pair to the safety of the interior of the helicopter. Moments later, strong hands were pulling them on board and Mac lifted them quickly higher, simultaneously banking to the south, away from the continuous barrage of gunfire. Soon they were out of range and beginning their approach to the landing zone of the airport.
Mac radioed for a medical team to meet them on the ground. Armstrong’s team medic kept pressure on his wound as they flew. As soon as they touched the tarmac, the men swiftly lifted the captain out of the helicopter to the waiting gurney and he was quickly moved into a waiting ambulance and whisked away to the hospital. Devon sat down on the ground, leaning against the vertical bar of the skid, resting her elbows on her bent knees she cupped her face in her hands listening to the blades of the Blackhawk slowly wind to a stop.
Devon gathered her thoughts and stood, heading directly to the com center to assess the success of the strike and hopefully, get a sense of the enemy response. They spent the next eight hours debriefing and analyzing the data that the team was gathering from the explosion of chatter and signals intercepted following the team’s strike on the compound. Finally, at 1800hrs, Devon told the team to call it a night. She was teetering on the brink of exhaustion, physically and mentally, having had no time to process the close call at the extraction site.
Mac stayed behind, watching Devon closely. She sensed a growing fatigue and wanted to make sure that Devon had an ear if she needed to talk. Devon felt a hand grasp her upper right arm and looked up to see Mac regarding her with concern. The left side of Devon’s mouth turned up in a slow grin. “Thanks for the ride this morning.”
Mac grinned back, then seeing a large tear in Devon’s shirt and what looked like blood, she frowned, “Let me see that.” She pulled the outer shirt open, revealing the corresponding tear in the t-shirt beneath. Raising the t-shirt to get a better look, Mac saw a laceration approximately four inches long at the left side of Devon’s abdomen that looked deep enough to need stitches. “You need to get that looked at.”
Devon started to protest, but Mac put her hand up to silence her. “I’ll pull rank if I have to lieutenant,” she raised an eyebrow as if daring her to argue.
Devon raised both hands in surrender, “Okay, okay.”
“That’s better. Let’s go,” Mac helped Devon to her feet and together they walked to the field hospital.
“Get out of my way!”
Just as the corpsman was pulling the last suture into place, the green curtain was forcefully jerked aside and Devon looked up to see Alex’s panicked face. Mac stood just behind her looking sheepishly at Devon.
“I tried to stop her.” Alex flashed a glare over her shoulder at Mac as the captain looked at Devon for help.
“What in the hell happened?” Alex demanded.
Mac started to retreat back behind the curtain. Again, Alex momentarily fixed the brunette with an icy stare, “Oh, I’ll be out to talk to you later.” Devon tried to suppress a smile as she heard Mac moan from the other side of the green drape. Alex rounded back to her, “I don’t see what you find funny right now, Devon James.” Her hands were on her hips, eyes flaming, and Devon thought she’d never seen Alex look so beautiful.
“It’s just a little scratch,” Devon offered, her eyes fixed on Alex’s letting her feelings show. The tenderness in her blue eyes melted her heart and Alex couldn’t help but release her anger.
She blew out a sharp breath and looked away momentarily, “Damn you,” she said under her breath. She moved to a stool beside the bed and sat quietly while the corpsman bandaged the wound, then gave Devon a tetanus shot. When she saw Devon wince slightly as the shot was administered, she thought, It serves you right.
The young man gave Devon instructions for cleaning the wound and told her to come back in a few days to have it checked.
“You’ll be good as new in no time, Lieutenant.” He smiled at her.
“Thanks,” Devon said as the medic stepped out. She stood and began pulling on her t-shirt.
Alex stepped closer, retrieving the outer shirt from the bed. She looked up at Devon, trying so hard to be mad, but she couldn’t. When they heard that a member of the ISA team had been shot during a raid on the Shi’a compound, Alex was in a panic. When she couldn’t get any information at the headquarters, she decided to come straight to the hospital herself. She was so damn glad that all Devon had gotten was a few stitches. Now, all she wanted to do was hold her.
After checking on Armstrong, Mike gave the three women a ride back to the barracks. The captain took a round to the right leg, but no permanent damage was done. The doctors expected him to make a full recovery. Devon had stuck her head in to say hello before leaving the hospital, but he was asleep. She resolved to return the next day following the morning debriefing.
Once upstairs, Mac offered, “Can I buy you ladies a drink?”
Devon looked at Alex for an answer. Alex shrugged, “Why not, I feel like I need a double.”
“Great,” Mac said, “I know you two must be hungry, ‘cause I know I’m starving. I’ll have one of the guys go grab us a pizza from the mess tent. That okay?”
“You are a lifesaver,” Devon said gratefully.
Alex and Devon sat on the small loveseat next to the desk on the opposite wall of the bed in the small room while Mac poured each a shot and handed both women a cold beer. She raised her shot, “To successful missions.”
Alex finally spoke, looking back and forth between the two Army officers, “So, now is somebody going to tell me just what was successful about today’s mission? Other than the fact that you didn’t get yourselves killed?”
“That would top the list,” Mac laughed, then stifled it quickly when she saw the laser stare that Alex shot her. “How about I go check on the pizza and let you two have a few minutes?” She made a hasty exit without waiting for a reply.
Alex rested her left elbow on Devon’s right shoulder and lightly traced the line of her jaw and down her neck with her index finger. Devon closed her eyes and let her head fall back onto the top of the cushion, letting out a soft groan. It was nearly 2100 hours and she was exhausted from the day, plus her side was starting to ache.
“Dev,” Alex said softly.
“Part of me is really pissed, you know.” The sharp edge in her voice made Devon sit up and look at her closely. Alex placed her fingertips lightly on Devon’s lips as she started to defend herself. “No, hear me out.” Her voice was softer now. Devon nodded.
“I’ve been thinking all day about territory and who’s right and agency rivalry and God knows what else. I finally realized it doesn’t matter who gets the credit. The important thing is that those bastards who are responsible for the April bombing got what’s coming to them.” Devon smiled at Alex. Alex continued, “Of course, my team is mad as hell right now. I guess sleeping with you affects my judgment.”
Devon reached up to slide her hand along the side of Alex’s neck and caressed her creamy skin. She let the brown hair flow over her fingers as she ran her hand through the silky shoulder length strands. “Lucky for me, I guess.” She allowed a slow smile form first in her eyes then tug at the corner of her mouth for a soft crooked grin.
Alex couldn’t resist that oh so sexy look and she dipped in for a sweet gentle kiss full of gratitude and wonder. They jumped when the door opened and Mac stepped through carrying a large pizza box and another six pack of beer.
An hour later, the pizza box was empty and they were finishing the last of the beer. Standing to pick up the empty bottles and deposit them in the trash, Devon looked gratefully at Mac.
“Thanks for everything today. We wouldn’t have made it out if you hadn’t kept your cool.”
“Hey, I stayed inside the chopper. You were the one who jumped out to grab Dale and pull him in with bullets zipping past your head. You earned your money today, kid.” Mac gave Devon a look of respect that made her blush.
“Thanks,” she managed. “Sorry to eat and run, but I feel like I could sleep standing up right here and we have a lot of work to do in the morning.”
“You two get some sleep.”
“Thank-you Mac. Goodnight.” Alex said.
“Goodnight,” Mac replied. Just before the door closed, she called, “Devon?”
Devon leaned back into the room. “Yes?”
“Great job today, I’m proud to serve with you. Goodnight.” Devon nodded thanks and closed the door quietly.
When Devon woke, the first hint of morning was casting a mute grey light across the room. Alex was still curled up on her right side, and she thought that neither one of them must have moved once they fell asleep. Turning her head slowly, trying not to disturb the sleeping woman, she checked the bedside clock which read 0517. She closed her eyes again, grateful that the major had given them a reprieve, they weren’t briefing until 0900. The thought of having a few extra hours was heavenly.
“What time is it?” Alex’s head was still resting on her shoulder.
“Good, then we can stay here and snuggle,” She adjusted her body to fit more closely to the contours of Devon’s.
Devon smiled and kissed the top of her head. “What time do you have to be at work?” She absently ran her fingers through Alex’s hair.
Laughing, now, Devon said, “Well, then, I’ve got bad news, for you it’s not that early. You’d better get going.”
Leaning up on one elbow and pouting, Alex playfully squeezed Devon’s left nipple, her eyes danced when she felt it immediately stiffen at her touch. “You really want me to leave?”
“No, I do not,” Devon said her voice low and husky. She tightened her hold on Alex and pulled her down onto her. She winced when Alex’s body made contact with the injured area on her abdomen.
“A little sore still?” Alex asked her eyes full of concern.
“Not too bad,” Devon replied. She cupped her hand on the left side of Alex’s neck and ran her thumb along her jaw before tracing the outline of her lips. “Have dinner with me tonight?”
“If I can,” Alex kissed Devon lightly then climbed out of the bed and reached for her clothes. Pulling on her shirt, she continued, “Everything’s gonna be crazy now that you guys have stirred up the hornets’ nest. We’ll have to get a handle on what is happening with the various terror groups in the wake of the strike.” She tucked her shirt into her jeans, “could be a long day.”
“That’s alright,” Devon said, “I’ll be at the command center all day, and by the time we sort through everything we confiscated out there, I figure it will be late. Just call me and we’ll try to make it work, if not I understand.”
Just as they predicted, they day was beyond hectic. The extraction team had confiscated good intelligence materials, but they were coded and referenced other organizations and the team would need time to trace the information to credible sources for additional target identification. Devon drove over to the hospital at lunch to check on Armstrong, who looked to be in good spirits and itching to get back to work. The rest of the afternoon was spent poring over seemingly endless data in the computers, searching for the elusive but vital link to the main terrorist headquarters.
A little after eight o’clock, the phone on the wall rang and Devon picked it up on the second ring. “Com center, Lt. James speaking, can I help you sir?” She recited the standard military answering protocol in a staccato, machine like monotone.
“Why, yes, lieutenant, you may help me,” the warm female voice answered.
Alex could hear the smile in Devon’s voice as she spoke, “Well, then it must be my lucky day.”
“Could be. Are we still on for that dinner you promised me?” Sitting back in her chair, Devon closed her eyes and allowed the softness of Alex’s voice to melt away the tension of the day.
“You know it, but I still have about an hour of work to do. You want me to come there?” Devon asked, “It might be a good idea to have dinner in. Her voice was a low sultry timbre now. “I think you will find that I’m not as tired as last night.”
“Well, then, I can hardly wait,” Alex replied softly, “But, I can take care of dinner, if we’re staying in. I’ll come to you.”
“See you in about an hour and a half?”
“Make it less. If I get there before you, I’ll get Mac to let me in.” Devon could hear the desire in Alex’s voice as she countered, then the line was disconnected.
Devon checked her watch as she hurried from the ops center, feeling like she was late already. It was just over an hour since she had hung up the phone with Alex, but a sixth sense told her that she would be early. She took the stairs two at a time and nearly double-timed down the hallway to the door at the end.
Opening the door, she saw that Alex had not yet arrived, so she quickly stripped off her uniform, grabbed a clean t-shirt and boxers and headed for the shower.
Less than ten minutes later, she returned rubbing a white towel furiously over her head, as she entered the room. She stopped suddenly to allow her eyes to adjust to the dim lighting. Alex had lit several small candles that were now the only illumination in the room. Their dinner plates were on the small coffee table in front of the tan love seat, along with a bottle of white wine and two glasses.
Devon could only shake her head and grin with wonder. “Where did you get the wine?”
“I have my sources,” she smiled coyly.
Alex slowly crossed the distance to stand directly in front of Devon, so close that Devon could feel the heat of her body. Devon combed her fingers through the dark hair that fell across her forehead, brushing it back from her face. She bent and kissed Alex softly, her lips lingering longer than the usual greeting, a promise of more to come. Alex leaned back breaking the contact, smiling as she saw the desire swimming in the pools of blue that held her gaze.
Devon wrapped her arms around Alex’s tiny waist pressing their hips and thighs together. Her eyes roaming over the darker woman’s face, traveling down her neck, finally resting on the hint of her breasts visible through the nearly sheer white fabric of her shirt, Devon let out a growling noise. “Why didn’t I ever realize how truly amazing and beautiful you are when we were in college?”
Alex shrugged and looked shyly up at Devon. “I’m glad you’re here now.” She led Devon to sit at the table. Raising their glasses, they sipped the chilled wine while they lost themselves in each other’s eyes for long moments. They ate dinner quietly, content to be together. About halfway through the meal, Alex dribbled some wine on her chin and Devon leaned over to catch the drip with her tongue, then moving down the column of Alex’s neck, she kissed and lightly nibbled the exposed skin as Alex let out a soft moan.
The food now forgotten, Devon reached down and cupped Alex through her shorts, feeling her need soaking through the fabric, the sensation sending Devon’s blood racing and her head spinning. “Ahhh, God Alex,” she breathed as she felt her own wetness flow. “Bed.” Alex gasped. They stood and pulled off the shorts and t-shirts as they moved to the bed and again found each other.
Soft moans, kisses, and the rustle of the bed linens gave way to the sharper cries and groans as the two lovers soared in the sensations of the other’s body and unbridled desire. Devon held Alex as the aftershocks slowly gave way to blissful exhaustion, “Wow,” she slowly grinned. She felt as if her bones had melted.
“Yeah,” was all Alex could manage in response. She had never experienced the intensity of the passion she felt with Devon and she never wanted it to end, but she knew instinctively that Devon’s heart was still not healed. Don’t push her too hard, she’ll run. Just be patient, she’ll see how right we are together.
“Dev?” When she got no answer, she realized that Devon had already fallen asleep. She kissed her gently on the temple, then laying her head on her shoulder, allowed the steady cadence of Devon’s breathing to lull her to sleep.
Devon woke early, energized and ready to get to work. She and Alex parted company outside the barracks and Devon hurried to the operations center. She felt certain that the break they needed was imminent. At just after 0600, she turned to see Mike making his way across the room to her, a pink message note in his hand.
“Morning,” she smiled, and held the coffee pot up, offering him a cup.
Mike held the paper out to her exchanging it for the coffee in her hand. “You got a call early this morning from somebody stateside,” he said, “a Petty Officer Baxter?”
Devon snatched the paper from his hand, “Ann?” she said aloud as her eyes scanned the message scribbled on the paper. Urgent that you call me. She looked at the large digital clock on the wall, displaying current time zones across the globe, 2105hrs Eastern Standard Time. Not too late to call Ann at home.
“Thanks,” Mike looked at her with a puzzled expression as she strode away from him to the small office area and her desk.
Finding Ann’s name in her rolodex, Devon dialed the number to Ann’s apartment in Chevy Chase, MD. After what seemed forever, she heard the ringing on the other end of the line. “Hello?” Ann’s voice sounded tired and guarded even through the slight static on the line.
“Ann, its Devon.”
“Devon? Oh, thank God you got my message.” Her voice was stronger now, but still strained.
“I did. What’s going on?” There was a silence on the line. “Ann?”
“I’m here.” Again silence as the petty officer weighed what she could say. Finally, she decided that she should just spit it out and trust the lieutenant to know what to do. She could get into trouble for giving out this information, but it directly affected U.S. forces’ safety, and that included Devon. Nothing was more important than that. To hell with the political bullshit.
“A message was intercepted last week. It came from Iranian intelligence headquarters in Tehran to their Ambassador in Damascus.” Ann drew a deep breath and continued, “It instructs him to contact Islamic Hamal, and take spectacular action against the marines in Lebanon.”
Devon’s mind raced with the implications of this information. Islamic Hamal was a splinter faction of the new terrorist group Hezbollah. That would explain the gaps in the intercepts that her team was able to intercept. Hamal might be using separate channels to send messages independently of the Shiite leadership. Iran is backing this? With Syrian connections? That’s the worst possible scenario. That means that they have monetary and military capabilities far beyond what was previously believed. Devon shuddered.
“What are they doing about the memo?”
“I haven’t heard anything.” Ann said. “I just wanted you to know, since you’re right there Devon. I think they should have told us to send this information to you, but every time I ask, they tell me they are handling the situation through diplomatic channels. Have they sent you any warnings?”
“No, and the marines have received no orders to go on heightened alert. Christ, Ann, they still don’t have rounds in the chambers of their weapons.” She thought about the increase in sniper fire and shelling in the past couple of weeks.
“Devon, I’ve been doing some extra work on the fixes and compiling the data, the way you used to.” She paused, “There is a spike in activity in your area. Things are really heating up from the looks of it. You need to be careful.”
“I will Ann, thanks for the call. I owe you.” Devon said seriously.
“Just get yourself back here in one piece, lieutenant.” Ann said affectionately.
“Don’t you worry.” Devon hung up the phone, trying to absorb the gravity of the information she had just received.
Jumping up from her chair, she yelled for Mike as she crossed the com center. “Mike! Widen your frequency scan. Tell Dave that I want any Syrian or Iranian communications monitored, high priority from now on. Fixes will be taken on all of the intercepts, and I want those, along with the normal fix and signal printouts on my desk hourly.”
“But that’s a lot of information to sift through, lieutenant.” Mike said doubtfully.
“Then you better start moving. Somebody call Mac and have her come in.” With that, she hurried to the secure phone on the wall and dialed Alex’s number.
“How did you get that information?” Alex asked Devon cautiously.
Devon was incredulous, “Who cares? This is the most important information we’ve gotten in months. The safety of the entire multinational force and our personnel in particular, is at stake! This is a real threat, and they’re still walking around with weapons that aren’t fucking loaded, Alex!” She realized she was yelling and worked to reign in her anger.
“Our people have known for a while about the Iranian connection,” Alex said in a businesslike tone, “The communiqué to the Ambassador merely confirms their involvement, but in our opinion, because there is no timeframe specified, it does not yet constitute a credible threat. The State Department is working on the diplomatic end and they assure us that is the best way to handle this as of now. Accusing Syria of assisting Iran and the terrorists would not be in our country’s best interest right now.”
Devon thought her head would explode. “This is exactly why military people get so god damned pissed off at you civilian types!” she bellowed into the phone. “I cannot believe that you don’t think that telling military people to at least be prepared isn’t the right thing to do. They—we have to be able to protect ourselves.” She was gripping the receiver of the phone so hard her hand ached.
Alex said stonily, “Us civilian types, as you call us, are just as interested in preventing an attack, lieutenant.” She angrily accented the last word. Then she breathed in deeply and closed her eyes to dispel some of her frustration. When she spoke again her voice was calmer, “Listen, Dev, just give me a couple more days to see where the State Department folks are on this. I promise you, if things get worse, I’ll get my boss to brief the General and move to high alert. Okay?”
A couple of days. Devon still didn’t like it, but she supposed she had no choice in the matter. She rubbed her eyes to trying to ward off the headache that was beginning to pound in her scull behind them. “Alright,” She said, relenting. “In the mean time, we are going to be scanning our asses off and gathering any intel we can get. You know I’m not going to stop, Al.”
“Yes, I know.” Alex smiled now. “I’ll be working late tonight, so call me tomorrow, okay?
Devon hung up the phone and went directly to the center of the DF station determined not to miss a vital piece of information that might buy them enough time to avert disaster. This was her time, the reason she had been brought here. She would use all of her skills, and her unorthodox methods to gain the upper hand in this signals game. The only way to win was to piece together the electronic clues and thereby stay a step ahead of those who wanted to harm Americans stationed in Beirut. Devon vowed to do everything in her power to buy the ground forces time. But in her heart she knew time was running out.
October 23, 1983 0530hrs
The young idealistic Iranian man climbed into the cab of the yellow Mercedes Benz water delivery truck five miles from the Beirut airport. Today, the delivery would not be water but retribution. He did not speak as his comrades moved around the exterior of the vehicle, ensuring that all of the explosives and detonating charges were in place. His eyes were flat black disks and his countenance calm. He knew his duty. He would be in the hands of Allah soon, martyred for their righteous cause, sending a message to the Zionist infidels. They holy land would soon be liberated. He was unafraid.
October 23, 0545hrs
Devon rose early to fit in her run before heading into the com center to continue her work on the intelligence that the team had gathered during the raid. Now they were also desperately searching for a link exposing Islamic Hamal. Hezbollah was the key, she knew, and she now had information confirming her gut feeling that the Iranians were supporting them behind the scenes. Too many signs pointed to that. She had nothing concrete to take to the major, however. Not yet. Energized she stepped out of the housing unit and walked briskly toward their operations center.
“Dev, wait up.” Devon turned at the sound of Mac’s voice.
“Morning.” Devon smiled as Mac fell into step. “You’re up early, on a Sunday no less.”
Regarding her friend with a crooked grin and raised eyebrow, “No hot date last night? You slippin’?”
Mac shoved her blond friend playfully, “You’re one to talk. I saw you and Alex leaving the barracks yesterday morning.” Her tone became suggestive, “No repeat performance last night?”
Devon shook her head and laughed. “No, you know the drill with us. I asked her about the message from my friend at NSA, and that led to professional conflicts. I tend to piss her off when I call the super spooks’ judgment into question.” Her face grew serious, “Mac, this thing is real, I can feel it.” Devon looked around and skyward as they walked in the predawn darkness, feeling unsettled by the unusual quiet.
“Well, you got me all worked up about this intercepted message. I knew you would be in at the crack of dawn, so I wanted to come and help.” Mac was the only one that Devon entrusted with the information that Ann had given her.
“Thanks, we’ll be the only ones working today, so I can use all the help I can get. Can you take care of plotting the identified target coordinates so that I can keep going through the transcripts?”
“No problem.” Mac said, “But you owe me dinner tonight.”
“I’ll even throw in drinks, how ‘bout that?” Devon asked.
“Now you’re talking.”
At 0621hrs, the yellow Mercedes Benz delivery truck approached the exterior fence surrounding the main entrance to the U.S. Marines barracks. Most of the military personnel were still sleeping, enjoying the unusually quiet Sunday morning. As the 12,000 pound truck bomb approached, the Marine guards at the gate were not alarmed. As one guard approached the gate preparing to open it for the apparent water delivery, he could see the driver in the truck smiling as he approached.
Seconds later, at 0622, the yellow truck accelerated and slammed through the barbed wire fence as the guards struggled to chamber rounds in their M16 rifles in order to get off a shot. The truck careened past the guards, barreled through the sandbag barrier and crashed head on into the lobby of the barracks building.
As Devon was pulling up a chair to begin examining the previous night’s communication intercepts, the quiet of the morning was suddenly shattered by a thunderous explosion and the ground shook with such ferocity that the floor beneath her buckled and she was thrown without warning into the computer console. She could dimly hear the sounds of breaking glass and shouting in the distance. She heard Mac curse colorfully.
“What the hell?” Devon said as she stood up. She and Mac ran outside to see what had just happened. “Some kind of explosion?” she asked rhetorically as they exited the building. When the two Army officers emerged from their communications center, approximately three hundred and fifty yards from the Marine barracks, the carnage they saw was stunning.
The entire four story structure of the barracks, with its reinforced steel concrete supporting pillars, measuring fifteen feet in circumference each, was crashing back to the earth, having been levitated by an incomprehensible force. As the massive building imploded upon itself, another massive shock wave shook the ground and a wall of flaming gas was thrown in all directions from the point of impact.
The resulting smoke and flying debris generated by the blast was already covering the entire airport area. Devon looked in horror as windows in the officer’s quarters 100 feet from the barracks and twenty feet in the air, shattered instantly with the concussion of the building’s explosion. The blast sent hot air and debris flying around them and both women fell to the ground, attempting to shield each other from the projectiles.
They jumped to their feet, the reality of the fact that this was not some kind of accident, but a deliberate attack beginning to sink in and galvanizing them into action. They ran in the direction of the site, intent on engaging any attackers still alive, locating survivors or assisting with casualties. As they ran, a minute later another tremendous explosion rocked the compound, taking both women off their feet again.
Mac yelled, “You okay?” Devon spit dirt from her mouth and felt a stabbing pain in the tender place on her side where the stitches were healing.
“Yeah,” Devon yelled over the gathering chaotic noise. “You?”
Mac nodded and was already moving forward, pulling Devon up as she reached her. They both were sprinting again in the direction of the barracks. Absently, Devon registered debris sticking out of palm trees thirty feet in the air. Smoke and dust filled the air, making breathing more and more difficult as they drew closer to the horrific inferno. The sickening smell of charred flesh mixed with the putrid stench of propane and powder from the explosives along with the sounds of moaning and cries from victims accosted their senses.
Devon, Mac and countless others desperately began digging with their bare hands through the rubble, lifting huge concrete slabs, searching for survivors in the wreckage. As they dug deeper, they at times crawled across severed limbs and other body parts of victims. They were spurred on by the sounds of cries from deep within rubble, knowing that survivors were still trapped beneath; they would not give up. Snipers in the hills took shots at them periodically, making the hellish nightmare more unbelievable. Devon did not look up, she couldn’t worry about the bullets, she just kept digging and calling out to the marines trapped under tons of concrete who were desperate to be saved.
The rescuers carried bodies to a makeshift triage station that had been set up 200 yards away. Devon and Mac worked feverishly alongside marines and sailors who were fortunate enough to have been thrown from their beds by the blast, and clear of the collapsed building. Some of the victims’ injuries were so severe that they died on the backs of their rescuers as they were being carried to the medics. They worked furiously, but as the afternoon grew shorter, they began to despair that no other victims would be found alive.
Devon squatted down to carefully lay the body of a young marine onto the tarp that was serving as the floor of the temporary morgue just outside the triage area. They had run out of blankets or anything else to cover the bodies. She looked at his young face, thinking he didn’t seem to be much more than a child. It was 1730hrs, and they had been pushing themselves past the level of physical strain that one would think was possible since dawn. Looking at the face of the handsome young marine something snapped inside Devon. She sank to her knees by his side, cradling her head in her hands, trying desperately to prevent the tears that stung her eyes from falling. She failed. Silently, she wept beside the body of the young man.
Devon felt a hand on her right shoulder and looked up to see the major standing over her. She jumped to her feet, swiping an angry hand across her face to remove the tears, feeling ashamed that she lost her composure when so much still needed to be done.
“I’m sorry sir; I’ll get right back to work.”
The major was smiling compassionately at her. “Devon, it’s alright. We are all human. I would be worried if this tragedy didn’t affect you.” He squeezed the shoulder under his large hand. “You have worked your ass off today, and I’m proud of you.”
Devon looked past the major toward the hulking shell that was the remains of the marine barracks. Smoke was still rising from the rubble and workers continued to comb through the debris, although the pace was decidedly less frenzied than earlier in the day. Gunfire continued to ring out intermittently from the hills in the distance. “But there is still work to do, sir.” She said resolutely, turning her eyes back to meet his.
“Yes, and I have something that I would like you to do for me.”
“We need more water, blankets and other supplies. I need you to find a couple of guys to take one of the jeeps to get whatever we can from the main airport building.” He gestured toward the main building about two miles away.
“I’ll go major.” Devon squared her shoulders, “You need every available body to help with the search and rescue.”
The major started to protest, but couldn’t argue with her statement. He shifted his feet. “At least take someone with you.” His eyes were a mixture of pride and fear as he looked at Devon realizing how much he had truly come to admire this young woman.
“I guess that would be me,” Mac stepped up beside the major, a weary but determined look on her face.
The major nodded, “I better get back over there, thank you both. Be safe.”
Mac and Devon ran to the helicopter wing to get their side arms and one M16 before jumping into the nearest jeep. They sped toward the service road of the airport, intent on completed this assignment and returning as quickly as possible to continue assisting with the ongoing search.
Mac pushed the Jeep to the limit, navigating the dirt access road without caution and Devon held onto the frame of the windshield to prevent her imminent ejection from the vehicle as it bounced along. In her left hand, she clutched the rifle, and scanned the surrounding area for signs of fighters that might attack them enroute. Neither one spoke, the gravity of the devastation that they had witnessed weighing on their consciousness as they drove. The sounds of painful cries reverberated in Devon’s head and she struggled to concentrate on the job at hand to drive the agonizing sounds from her mind.
About a mile from their destination, they rounded a curve in the road and Devon saw the tires from what was apparently an overturned Jeep in a ditch off the right hand side of the road. “Stop!” she yelled pointing off the shoulder and standing up to try to see anyone around the vehicle. Mac jammed on the brakes and the Jeep skidded to a stop on the dirt surface.
Stepping from their vehicle cautiously, the two officers approached the wreck. Devon shouldered the M16 as she moved closer, leading with the rifle’s muzzle, finger poised above the trigger, ready to fire should the occupants be enemy fighters. Mac made a wide arc from the driver’s side of the Jeep approaching carefully as well, her .45 caliber pistol pointed at the wreckage as well. When they reached a distance of approximately 20 feet, they recognized that the Jeep was, in fact, a U.S. vehicle. Devon made one last 360 degree scan of the area with the rifle, and satisfied that they were safe for the moment, slung the weapon over her shoulder as she and Mac climbed into the ravine to search for the occupants.
The Jeep was sitting at a 45 degree angle in the ditch and Devon and Mac had to partially climb under to view the interior. They located a male who looked to be the driver partially trapped under the side of the Jeep. “He’s alive,” Mac yelled, “help me lift on this side and I think we can slide his legs out.” Devon ran around to assist Mac. Lifting up on the side of the vehicle, they wedged the butt of the rifle underneath allowing them to pull the man free from the wreckage. They carried him to their Jeep, and as they placed him inside Devon realized that he did not appear to be military. The bullet wound in his left shoulder needed attention.
Devon and Mac climbed back down to the site, searching for any additional victims that may have been ejected in the crash. A moment later, Mac spotted another figure laying about 20 feet from the Jeep, face down in the sand.
“Dev! Over here, I have another one!”
Devon scrambled after Mac to help the second victim. She was about ten feet away when shots rang out from the south. Instinctively, Devon crouched and again shouldered the assault rifle, scanning past the front sight in the direction of the shots. She saw no one. She ran to where Mac was leaning over the second victim, searching desperately for a pulse. As Devon reached her side, Mac was turning the body over.
Devon’s head swam and her knees threatened to buckle at the sight. Mac raised pained eyes to her, “Dev—”
Devon fell to her knees next to the still form. The world moved in a slow motion, distorted way. She reached out a trembling hand, to brush the brown hair away from the beautiful face. An angry deep red gaping hole was in the center of her chest and her brown eyes stared lifelessly at the sky. Devon pulled Alex’s limp body to her breast, clutching to her. She let out an agonizing wail reminding Mac of an animal caught in the sharp teeth of a metal trap. The world around Devon spun wildly as she sobbed, rocking Alex’s body from side to side as her own heart seemed to bleed and shatter.
Mac picked up the rifle when she heard shots again, scrambling back up to the road, she saw a group of fighters running toward their position. She couldn’t tell how many due to the dust blowing clouds across the open space. She dove to the ground to assume a prone firing position and squeezed off four successive rounds. Her shots hit home on as two of the fighters slumped to the ground in mid stride. Their compatriots fanned out to find cover and quickly began returning fire. Mac scrambled back to the ditch, to take cover behind the Jeep.
“Devon! They’re coming! We have to get into a defensive position.” When she got no response, only a low groaning sound from where she had left her, Mac low crawled to where Devon still clung to Alex’s lifeless frame.
Shaking her forcefully, she yelled again, “Devon, we have to go! Come on, we have to get cover!” The sharpness in Mac’s tone reached her consciousness, jerking her back to the reality around her. Scrambling back up the side of the embankment, they saw the masked fighters advancing again.
Mac kept the rifle on semi-automatic, wanting to conserve each bullet. They were out there alone and there was no telling how long they would have to make a stand. Again, she squeezed off her shots, successfully eliminating one more as the attackers continued to advance. They had closed to a distance of thirty yards. “Three or four left, that I could see,” She told Devon.
Devon closed her eyes, concentrating on the image of Alex’s face. She turned her anguish into rage directed at the fighters, knowing that it was they who had killed her. She opened her eyes, sighted her pistol where she had seen the last one duck behind a large rock and waited. Her anger focused on the front sight, she saw movement and a blurred figure in the distance. When the shot exploded from her pistol she knew that it would hit home. The figure fell from her line of sight.
She heard the sound of the M16 next to her as Mac dropped one more. A fighter retreated into the distant rocks. They had no way to tell if the remaining attackers had fled or were waiting them out. After waiting almost ten minutes, Mac realized that they needed to get the male agent medical attention.
“We have to make a break for it, Dev. That guy needs a doctor.”
“What about Al—” her throat closed around her lover’s name.
“We’re not leaving anyone behind today, Dev.” The certainty in her friend’s eyes was like a beacon in the raging storm battering Devon’s soul.
They walked back to where Alex’s body lay. Mac started to bend down to help when Devon pushed her hand out to stop her. Stepping back, Mac watched solemnly as Devon bent and carefully worked her arms under the supine woman’s knees and shoulders, lifting her as she stood. Mac followed silently as she carried Alex’s body from the ravine to their Jeep and placed her gently in the rear. The male agent, who was now awake, sat on the edge of the bumper. Devon then pulled a tarp from the corner of the cargo area and smoothed it over Alex, tracing her hands the length of her body.
Pop, pop, pop Devon irrationally leaned protectively over Alex’s body at the sudden sounds of more gunfire. She was knocked against the side of the Jeep by some unseen force. Devon heard the sound of Mac yelling, and started to run in that direction, but her left leg buckled and she fell to the ground. A burning sensation traveled down her thigh toward her lower leg. She tried to push herself up to draw her firearm again, but her right arm would not move. Strange. She looked down at her body and saw a red color seeping into the fabric of tan camouflage. The burning sensation gave way to a searing pain in her leg and arm. Devon closed her eyes against a sudden wave of nausea.
Mac’s shouts grew louder, refocusing her mind as she swallowed the bile rising at the back of her throat. Devon heard the M16 firing again. The fight was not over. Struggling to shift her body weight and pull her pistol with her left hand she rolled to the left ignoring the stabbing pain that the pressure on the wound caused. Reaching across her body and struggling with the holster, she managed to extract the pistol. She vaguely registered movement to her right and raised the pistol to eye level just in time to see a figure in black, face covered, running toward her, his gun raised. Devon drew a deep breath and started to squeeze the trigger when suddenly she heard a loud pop and the assailant was thrown to the left. When he fell, she saw Mac step into her line of vision, the rifle pointed down at the fighter.
“Jesus Christ,” Mac seethed, “Dev, you alright?”
Even as she asked, Mac could see the blood soaking through the left leg of Devon’s pants and her right sleeve. “Holy fuck,” she breathed.
Quickly, she stripped off her outer shirt, tearing it to make a tourniquet and tying it off on Devon’s upper thigh. Checking the arm, she was thankful that it appeared to be mostly a flesh wound. “C’mon, let’s get you in the jeep and get the hell out of here.”
As Mac loaded her up next to Alex’s body, Devon’s mind reeled again with the loss. Forgetting her own injury, she pulled Alex’s head onto her lap and laid her own head against the wheel well. The dizziness was starting to return and Devon focused on holding Alex with her right arm while the Jeep bounced along the road. She closed her eyes trying to steel herself against the pain in her heart and her body.
As they arrived at the triage area, the sun was setting. Mac had radioed in that they had stopped for the rescue and taken enemy fire. The major and two CIA agents were waiting as the Jeep pulled to a stop. Devon sat motionless, oblivious to their presence, while the major spoke briefly to Mac. One of the agents assisted the injured man to the treatment area. The second agent approached the rear of the Jeep and leaned in to grasp Alex’s body.
Devon did not release her hold. Her body was eerily still as her eyes, cold as steel met the agent’s.
“Don’t touch her.” Her voice was low and menacing and edged with flint. Her face was a rigid mask devoid of any emotion.
The agent, unaccustomed to being told what to do by military people, made the error of challenging the lieutenant, “Look, she’s one of ours, so you can just—” With frightening swiftness, Devon had her good hand locked on the agents neck, squeezing his trachea like a vise.
“Aaaggg,” was the only sound he could choke out.
Mac closed the distance grabbing Devon by the arm, “Dev, stop! This isn’t the time.” She pulled the agent away from the jeep, coughing and sputtering before he could land the punch he was about to launch at Devon’s face.
The pain of the sudden movement and exertion overtook Devon and she released her hold, sinking back against the metal as her stomach again threatened to empty its contents. Her leg and arm throbbed when she pushed herself back up and reached out to hold Alex’s hand in hers.
A few minutes later, Mac stood at the side of the Jeep, just over Devon’s right shoulder. She tentatively touched her arm, “Hey,” she said softly.
Devon didn’t look up. “I just need a minute Mac,” she whispered.
“Okay, my friend, but you really need to get looked at too.”
Devon struggled to sit up straighter and bent to look one last time at Alex. Tears spilled down her cheeks as she silently wept. She placed her good hand on the side of the beautiful face, stroking it reverently. “I love you Alexandra.” She choked out and placed a soft kiss on the partially opened mouth.
Abruptly, a sickening dizziness overcame her, and Devon tried desperately to grab for the side of the Jeep as her vision dimmed. Crying out for Alex, she felt herself freefalling, swallowed up by the darkness.