|By : AchtungNight|
Category: Celebrities - Misc > AU - Alternate Universe
Views: 186 -:- Recommendations : 0 -:- Currently Reading : 0
|Disclaimer: This story is fictional and was not written for financial profit. I have no connection to the celebrities depicted within. Full disclaimer below.|
Intro: Welcome, readers. This story is another chapter in my ongoing saga. It details the past of an important supporting player. The main celebrity featured is Arabic musical sensation Deeyah. I've wanted to write about this lovely lady for a while now. Please forgive me if the job I do is impacted by the fact that I only know about her through the Internet. I live in America, not the Middle East. Most of what I've written about that part of the world's most famous singer herein is completely fictionalized. It's the product of my imagination and should be treated as such. Also, please understand that any opinions expressed in this story are those of the author. I try to keep an open mind but sometimes I don't get all the information I need. Should you disagree with what I say, you are welcome to discuss your issues with me in feedback.
After this story, I will get back to the present day in my writings. The past has inspired me and that's why I have been setting stories in it. However, one can only live there for so long. In my stories' timeline, this tale follows "Passion of Erika Christensen Ch .4" and "Inside Out". Events in it also affect "Passion Ch .2" and "The Beijing Streakers". This tale is stand-alone, though, so there is no required pre-reading. I thank all who helped me write this story, especially my editor. Any mistakes that remain in my tales after her examination are completely my fault. I appreciate the mistakes caught.
I want to emphasize that I mean no disrespect to anyone through this story, least of all the good people of the Middle East and the religion known as Islam. I used some Muslims as villains in this tale because that is how they have cast themselves before the real world. I have used some of them as heroes here too.
If you are familiar with the death of Pat Tillman, please be aware that I am moving up this event two years in history for my fictional story. I greatly admired the man and mourn his loss, therefore I wanted to give him a mention here. I hope that is all right.
One more thing: This story was originally about Najwa Karam, not Deeyah. I had two Arab pop singers picked out for Clarke's rescue and Najwa was my first choice. Then I posted and a fan told me Najwa was Christian. I thank that fan and I apologize for my mistake. I should have done better research. Thankfully the story was easily altered by inserting my second choice, who I have verified is indeed Muslim. I know she's a Sunni. She makes more sense to me as a Sufi, however, so I switched that. Everything should be fine now, I hope.
I dedicate this tale to Pat Tillman and all the other people who are involved in history's seemingly endless Middle Eastern conflicts. I pray that one day that part of the world finds peace with the rest of the planet and within its own borders. I also hope readers will enjoy my story. All feedback is appreciated. Now let us begin.
London, England. September 2003.
Height difference can make a relationship awkward.
This is true with both physical and achievement heights, Doug Ramsay reflected. As happened much too often when he should be concentrating on something else, profound insights were intruding upon his thoughts.
Six foot two inch Cat Osterman was pressing her naked self hard against him, her limbs coiled about his bare torso as he thrust his manhood into her inner folds. The gangly brunette was only a few inches taller than Doug but this still made any coupling between them uncomfortable. They could not kiss lips to lips without her leaning over, him rising on tiptoes to meet her, or both of them lying down as they were now. Neither of them minded the height difference much, they had never really discussed it, but still it was there. They got around it as best they could and enjoyed being together. The other distance between them kept them apart.
They had met eighteen months ago in Austin on the University of Texas campus. Doug was visiting his alma mater to watch a softball game. Cat was on the mound, achieving another of her many strikeout records as a pitcher. Doug was a sheriff's deputy back then and he used his badge to get into the players' recreation area of the stadium after the game and meet Cat.
A few sparks of conversation followed by an invitation to dinner made them an item. Doug had been startled that things had gone so well at such speed. He often felt like he and Cat were such different people that they could never find common ground. She loved sports and he would only watch them if a beautiful and skilled athlete like Cat was playing. Being with her was like an impossible dream. Perhaps that was why Doug found it difficult to concentrate on the present when he coupled with Cat and why he did not honestly know where they were headed. Their relationship had continued to blossom rapidly after the first meeting, as each was a free and open person who enjoyed the other's company and wanted to keep things going. Then Cat got the call.
It came from a former coach who was very proud of her. Cat's pitching skills had paid off in the best way, he said. She was going to test for the Olympics and chances were she would get in with the greatest of ease.
Doug praised Cat as soon as he heard this but also scaled back their dating. She did not need the distraction, he told her. Forget about me and everything we have. This is your chance. Go for it. You have to get the success you deserve and turn it into the coaching career that you want. You're a legend. I'm just a common man, and probably not the man for you.
Soon they were mere friends with benefits. Doug remained one of Cat's contacts and a good source of understanding but romance was no longer on their minds.
What we have is great on its own, Doug thought in the present, leaning up and crushing Cat's face against his. Their tongues met from open mouths, entwining as they exchanged caresses. Her dexterous hands circled his shoulders and massaged his back. They then came around and toyed with the thin dark hair that covered his strong chest and stomach muscles. Cat lightly clawed those muscles with her nails, further stoking his arousal. Doug's own fingers were on her breasts, squeezing and pinching the tan aureoles. Cat's legs pulled his firm manhood deeper into her shaven loins and she yowled as she clenched her knees around his rear.
Cat's still not an Olympian yet, Doug told himself. It will be another six months or so before training for the Games begins. However, she's already taken off a year from college to achieve this dream. It'll be worth it, but it will still push her back. My own life has changed too.
When Cat and I broke up, Doug recalled, I was already feeling the stress of law enforcement. I couldn't do the job forever and I had already achieved all I wanted out of it, so I decided to retire. I published my first bestselling thriller novel and then quit the force to apprentice as an entertainment mogul with Clifford Antone. Aided by my membership in a secret society known as the Friendship, I amassed some wealth and moved to London. There I opened my own dance club and bar called "Inside Out". Not bad for a young man of twenty-five years. Cat and I are in the penthouse of the swinger's haven that occupies the apartments above my club now, enjoying ourselves on the last night before she has to leave me again. I never want this to end but that's the way things have to be.
He moved his hands off her tits and into her long dark hair, stroking and yanking on the strands. Cat sighed and licked his face and he kissed her neck in reply. Their arms went around each other's torsos and they held one another tight as they continued to exchange coital thrusts.
They had to part, Doug knew. They had different lives. Cat was more famous than he was even with his new achievements and that could only grow. She also had other lovers besides him, male and female. None of her relationships was that serious at the moment but someday things could change. He did not want to intrude on that. Denying someone happiness was a thing Doug never wanted to do.
Thus he contented himself with being Cat's fan, watching her as she rose away from him and reached for new peaks. What honor he could give her he did. Cat accepted it all. She recognized herself in a character in his novel and laughed, happy that he cared. They remained good friends even as they drifted apart emotionally.
"I will always have you on my mind," Doug promised her. Cat nodded and said the feeling was mutual, though she agreed their steady relationship should be no more.
All they had left was calls and visits, exchanges of advice and happiness for the goals each had achieved. Moments of loving such as the present were growing less frequent and neither could guess when the next chance might come. Let us put it behind us, Doug thought, fondling her hips and shoving himself into her. We'll let what we have be enough and make up for what we don't.
Cat agreed, her brown eyes blinking at his blue ones as she joined with him. Her hands roamed all over his body, memorizing by feel his stocky muscles and his thick dark blond hair. Cat often told Doug he physically reminded her of the actor Seann William Scott. It amused her that he did not always share the lack of inhibitions usually exhibited by that actor's characters. Doug was as handsome as she was striking and had a wonderful sense of creative humor. It was because of this that Cat had so quickly accepted him as a lover and friend.
He admires me, she thought, in a strange way that I have trouble appreciating sometimes. I see him as just marvelous casual sex, I always have. He wants more, but I can't think about that now. I have a life to lead. I'm not part of his world and he can't share mine. We have to be happy with what we have. My athletic career is growing at an exponential rate. Tomorrow I have to leap away from Doug and go back to embracing it. I have to get my current semester of college over with and then head for the Olympics. Whatever's ahead, he'll cheer me on but our time together will be sporadic at best. We're destined to be separated, even though right now we're so close. Keeping this in mind, she fervently caressed her lover's back.
They clutched each other tight, forgetting the future and reveling in the moment. He speared his cock into her cunt, warm moisture flowing from her and lubricating his condom-coated organ. Cat took that rod inside, bouncing strikes and fouls off it with her fingers and inner muscles. She tossed her head and cried out as Doug's hands ran her body's bases, imprinting her memory onto his brain with every sound.
"How's that new Longhorn catcher working out?" Doug asked Cat, slowing between kisses. She smiled, recognizing one of his distraction techniques to stave off a premature climax. "Are you getting along well?"
"Yeah!" Cat replied in a breathless murmur. "Megan and I are best friends. She's a great lover too." Cat grinned and licked his ear.
"Awesome. Think she'll go to the Olympics with you?"
"I don't know. She's good, but the coaches aren't noticing her like they are me. I'll miss her, but it's okay. There will be plenty of other potential friends."
"Yeah," Doug agreed, pecking her on the cheek. "I'll introduce you to some more if the games don't give all you can handle."
Cat smirked. "Like Keira Knightley?" The actress, a frequent visitor to Doug's new business, had joined in their coupling twice in the past few days.
"Other beautiful women as well," Doug promised. Keira was not the only famous guest at his club. There were many, and some of the beautiful women were rapidly becoming Doug's lovers and friends. He was trying hard to relax and accept the experience. "I'll get you men also, if you want them. I'll do whatever you desire, Cat, just to keep myself on your mind."
It was the promise of a passionate moment, they both knew, heartfelt but possibly not sincere. Cat shrugged it off and kissed Doug, telling him that such words were not necessary with her deep silent breaths into his throat. You will be with me whatever happens, she told him, just as long as thoughts of me are in you. He sensed her promise and smiled, again enfolding her in his arms as he struck the head of his cock against her clit.
They traded movements and caresses a while longer, sighing and kissing each other's faces and lips. Words were behind them now, as the pleasure had become too overpowering within both Doug and Cat. He buffed her lips and neck, then leaned down and sucked her breasts. She scratched his torso like a favored nail-sharpening device in climax, living up to her name with her gestures and purrs. He exploded into her seconds later, moving his head back up to lick her lips as he shot his load. They broke apart, grinning at each other. She slapped him once, hard across the face, and then tumbled away from him as he laughed and rolled his eyes.
The lovers took a moment to recover, exchanging regular looks and smiles as they both rested and let out heavy breaths. They lay among the white sheets of the penthouse bed, close to sleep but not quite there. Soon each person's hands were traveling back towards the other. Woman grinned at man, and man grinned in reply. They rolled together again and embraced. Doug idly played with Cat's cunt and nipples while she stroked his balls. They shared a kiss and then snuggled together, neither quite yet ready for more. Cat offered Doug her palm and he slipped his hand into hers, giving a content expression that she returned. They beamed into each other's eyes, and then moved together as they both felt their arousal flare once again.
Knock, knock, knock.
"Who's there?" Doug called out, releasing Cat and rolling away from her. He looked at the bedroom door. It has to be someone safe, Doug thought. No one gets into the upper floors of my club without a pass. It's late at night, though. I hope this isn't an emergency.
"It's Clarke!" came the reply.
Doug gave Cat a frown, recognizing the voice of his security chief. His athletic lover shrugged and he nodded. They both sat up on the bed and steeled their minds. Cat saw Doug's law enforcement training in the way he readied himself for the unknown situation and she responded to it with her own preparations. "Come in!" she shouted at the door.
The portal opened at the touch of Clarke's master key. The security chief then walked inside. He was a large Bushman over six feet tall with powerful rippling muscles. His head was bald with a wise warrior's face and his voice unaccented. Cat once again reflected on how much Clarke reminded her of the former wrestler turned actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. He was as big as the Rock, though with darker skin and less hair. Clarke wore a tan jacket, a black shirt and urban camouflage pants. He grinned when he saw Doug and Cat, looking both their bodies up and down.
Cat smiled at his attention. She had caught Clarke eyeing her several times during the past week. They had talked a little and become friends. Clarke was a world traveler and had seen a lot in the military. He didn't mind sharing his experiences with an interested person. Cat hung on every word, intrigued. Talk was all she had done with Clarke thus far, though. She was attracted to the Bushman but catching up with Doug had kept her too busy to pursue other men as of yet.
Maybe next time I'm in London I will try and get with Clarke, Cat thought. That is, if by then Doug's gotten over me enough to not mind me having sex with his best friend. I don't want to hurt him. I'll just keep hoping enough other famous women enter Doug's life and distract him from me between my next visit and now.
"Is something the matter, Clarke?" Doug asked, grimacing in discomfort.
Clarke chuckled. "I've never seen you naked before, Deputy Doug."
Doug raised his eyebrows. He and Cat were into free love, he reminded himself. She was more at ease with it than he was but he was trying to improve. Clarke was their buddy. Thus, neither he nor Cat had bothered to cover up in front of Clarke. Was that a mistake? "And?"
"You look good."
Hearing Cat giggle, Doug blinked and stared at Clarke. "Are you coming on to me?"
Clarke shrugged and smirked. "Do you want me to? I wouldn't mind doing that, you know. I go both ways, like most of my team."
He was referring to the squad of former Special Forces soldiers who worked at Inside Out in various capacities. They had once been employed by the United Nations as an elite counterterrorist unit under Clarke's command. We were like the heroes of that old cartoon "G.I. Joe", Clarke told those who asked. An unorthodox and very effective freedom fighting force. We're not in the military anymore but we still have our training and camaraderie. We all sleep together too, more or less.
The Bushman's current employer looked away from him and coughed. "Well, Clarke," Doug said, "that's flattering, but I'm afraid I don't go both ways. I'm straight. I'm all about the ladies."
"Really?" Cat jumped in, laughing again. "I know you experimented once."
"Yes," Doug confirmed, "and I wasn't turned on at all. Sorry, Clarke. Men don't do anything for me, not even you. I got nothing against gay people. I fully support their rights. I have a gay brother in New York and, as you know, I adore bisexual women. I have other gay and lesbian friends too. I'm just not gay myself."
Clarke pointed his index finger at Doug and clicked his thumb, sharing Cat's smile. "That's fine, Deputy Doug. I'll be content with fantasy."
Doug gaped at him, incredulous. Cat guffawed and clapped him on the back. "Relax!" she told her lover. "Clarke's just pulling your chain!"
"I can see that," Doug replied, hiccupping. "He's lucky I don't mind."
"You gotta understand, man," Clarke said. "I'm a force of nature. I rarely discriminate in fucking or fighting. It's just who I am."
"Most of the time, I'm grateful for it," Doug said, trying to recover from the sudden shock. "You're a good friend, Clarke. You've proven yourself quite an asset to me the past three months. I just don't like you in a ... well, you know." He gestured at Cat and himself.
"I might like you that way, Clarke," Cat declared, seizing the opportunity. "When I'm here next and have time."
Doug gave her a surprised look followed by a nod of acceptance. Clarke was beaming at Cat, he noted. No problem, he said to himself. You two have fun together. Thanks, Cat, for showing me just how far apart we've grown.
"I'd like that," Clarke said to Cat. He then looked at Doug. "What's the matter, man? You've been having tons of women lately. Keira and her celebrity friends, for one. They should have bled all jealousy out of you by now. Tess and Jodi Lee from my team have both gotten with you too. I know some of the other women are also waiting their turn. It's not just because you knew Jodi Lee and several other people on my team in high school either. You've got seeds planted all over the place! Let's not forget that tall redhead and the little blonde who have come in almost every night since we opened the club. Why haven't you gotten with them yet?"
"Alicia's with Dave, Clarke."
"That idiot fop who thinks he can break into celebrity life? They won't be together much longer. If I had a nickel for every time I've heard them arguing loud enough to wake the neighbors..."
"I know. Still, I don't like to go after other men's women. As for Erika, well, I think I want to take things slow with her."
"What? Come on, man! Those two are seriously hot!"
"Yeah, Doug," Cat agreed. "They're nice people and great actresses. I've gotten to know them a bit these past few days and they both like you. They're also into each other, although I don't think Alicia's accepted that yet. She's a bit of a homophobe."
"Right," Doug answered, throwing up his hands, "and Erika's a rebel Scientologist paladin. Both of them make me crazy."
"So get over it." Cat punched him in the arm. "So what if Alicia's a bitch? She can change. So what if Erika's religion has a bad reputation? Erika's a good person despite all that. Did you forget we have one of her people's churches on campus back in Austin? I know they're not completely bad."
"I know that too. It's kinda hard to forget they are bad as well as good, though." Doug blinked at Cat, a guess coming into his thoughts. "Wait a second. Have you and Erika... ?"
"Yep," Cat confirmed, smiling. "I was with her last night while you said bye to your old girlfriend Angie. You'd better not reject Erika too long, Doug. She's very skilled." Cat smirked slyly and licked her lips, tapping her fingers on Doug's chest.
"Okay," Doug said with a wave of dismissal. "Enough crazy sex talk. I don't think I wanted to know about half this stuff. Clarke, I'm sure you didn't come in here to discuss it."
"No, man," Clarke replied, shaking his head. "It's enjoyable, but it's not why I stopped by your room. I got something else I need to share with you. Uh, is she cleared to... ?"
"Yes," Doug interrupted. "Cat's one of my Friendship initiates. She's not a high-ranking member like you or I, but she can hear whatever you want to say to me."
"Good." Clarke nodded as Cat beamed at Doug. "I think she might want to hear this too. It's a story Cat's asked me about before." He walked to a chair near the bed, took off his jacket and sat down. "By the way, Cat, your flight's been delayed. Some al-Qaeda dumb-ass threatened to blow up part of Heathrow Airport."
"Damn it!" Cat cursed, looking at Doug. He shrugged and gave her a look that said, "What can you do?" Cat nodded, then sighed and turned back to Clarke. "Is the terrorist in custody?"
"Yes, but they think he might have accomplices. All flights are grounded until Scotland Yard makes sure all their suspects are caught." Clarke shook his head. "The world just won't get out of this stupid war. I hate it so much."
"Don't we all," Doug concurred. "It's been going on since before the Middle Ages and there are no signs of stopping. It slacks off for a while and then comes back worse. I lost friends on 9-11 and I have others who are still fighting. You too, right?"
"Yep," Clarke said. "I also used to fight in the war on the front lines. That's why I'm here. You remember how we met, Deputy Doug?"
"Yes. You were in a bar on the East End nursing past sorrows. I thought Alcoholics Anonymous was taking care of that."
"It is, but there are some things I can't tell them. You've never asked me about my final mission either. Don't you want to know why I got relieved of my command?"
"No, Clarke. I figured that was your business. You're capable despite whatever happened and Keira told me it wasn't your fault. She's your longtime friend and martial arts student, so I figure she would know whether I could trust you or not. Keira vouched for you and I got to know you, and that's enough for me."
"Well, I need to tell you about my last mission anyway. I was thinking about it again tonight and I can no longer hold it inside."
"I figured as much." Doug looked at Cat. "Are you too tired to listen to him?"
"No," Cat said. "Go ahead, Clarke."
"Yeah, I'm not too tired either," Doug fibbed when Clarke looked his way. He and Cat fluffed up the bed's pillows and sat up, ready to listen. Doug grabbed the open soda can on the bedside table and took a long gulp. Clarke smiled and began his tale.
The Middle East. Fall 2002.
My name isn't really Clarke, but that's what most call me. The moniker was awarded during my training for the South African Special Forces Brigade. I excelled at every qualification course, so much so that my instructors took to calling me "Superman". I told them I hated that name. The other recruits were envious about it and I felt I was no one special. My only intention in doing so well was to prove the formerly racist South African government was wrong about people with my skin color. We can be great. The instructors accepted my words and dropped the nickname they'd given me. They started calling me "Clarke" instead. That title I decided I could accept.
You probably wouldn't be able to pronounce my real name. It means "wind in the valley" among my native African tribe. The witch doctor gave it to me at birth when he prophesied my destiny. I still laugh at the name today. As I said before, I'm nobody special. Why should I put on airs?
Even with my modesty, I achieved great things in life. At just shy of thirty years old I was a highly decorated officer in this planet's finest Special Forces unit. At least, that's what I used to be. I have a great job today too. I gotta forget about that job now, though. I need to revisit the past.
One year ago, I was the field leader of an elite counterterrorist force directed by the United Nations. My team was composed of soldiers and support troops from various countries around the world. Most of those who are still alive work in your club now, Doug. You know Yoshi Aoi, the Japanese chef with the soul of a samurai. Jodi Lee Nichols, the Aussie waitress who used to check out strange territory for me. Mike Hernandez, the Central American demolitions engineer who's become your disc jockey. Wouter Staal, my reliable Dutch coordinator. Contessa Winfield, the sweet sexy Irish-Italian doctor from Greenwich Village. Asher Stravjan, the albino Pole who cleans your building's floors.
Asher's a particularly interesting guy. He looks like an old man even though he's my age. That's because of his condition, as you're aware. Asher's got the genes of just about every persecuted people in history inside him. His father was a Roma Gypsy and his mother was a Polish Jew. He's albino, gay and extremely talkative. Correction, he used to be extremely talkative. You'll soon find out why he ain't that way so much anymore.
Like Jodi Lee, Asher served me as an infiltrator and scout. He spoke over twenty languages back in the day and could talk to anyone. He's also very insightful and a master of trickery. He can get close to you and become your best friend and you would never know he was planning to stab you in the back. Not that he would ever betray you or me, obviously.
Asher's been picked on all his life, but instead of letting that weaken him he's chosen to rise above it. He's very like me in that way. He's quite handsome, he sort of looks like the great action star Clint Eastwood when he's not disguised. His father's people trained him well in Gypsy stuff — you know, costumes, juggling and acrobatics. Asher is also a genius at disarming bombs and tense situations. What, you want me to move on? Fine.
There are some others on my team you don't know. Farouk al-Kharish, the Saudi sergeant. Baxter Page, the American photographer and computer expert. God only knows where those two are these days. Then there were those you'll never get to meet, like Chen Ming, my Chinese second-in-command. Also Tanya Brown, who was a sniper born to a couple from Kazakhstan and New Zealand. Tanya and Jodi Lee were very good friends. Oh, wait, you did know her? Shoot, Doug, I'm sorry. This story may be a downer for you.
I can continue? Good. Thanks. You got another soda? Thanks again.
I had many other comrades back then too, lots of men and women of diverse backgrounds. I called most of them lovers and all of them good friends. We were made up of all human divisions — sexual orientations, religions, nationalities, you name it. The only things we had in common were strong hearts, open minds, and intense military training. Almost every country in the United Nations sent people to the team. We had US Marines, Army Rangers, and Navy SEALs. There were also British Special Air Service, German GSG-9, French GIGN, you name it. The U.N. built us to be diverse and fight terrorism. We worked together very well. They didn't mean for us to break military protocol as much as we did, but we got good results so it was usually okay.
As of 2002, we had been in existence four years. I served my country for seven years as a Special Forces officer and ended up highly decorated, so the U.N. requested I lead their new elite unit. My government agreed and signed the transfer. I was still in the South African military, but I only answered to three men outside my team.
First and foremost was General George Hawkins of Her British Majesty's Army. He was a veteran of the joint U.S. and U.K. peacekeeping missions in the Middle East, where most of my team's operations took place. He kinda reminded me of the late actor Richard Crenna, if you want a physical description. Hawkins was an elderly esteemed soldier. I really respected him. He was a good leader and he was always on my side. I'm not sure what he's doing now.
Hawkins's number two was an American colonel named Luther Murdoch. That guy looked like Gary Busey, the actor who almost got the Oscar for playing Buddy Holly in 1978. Thin gray-haired little jerk, you could easily pick him out of a crowd. Murdoch was a micro-manager, a rear-echelon motherfucker. He had his own ideas for how my team should fight and didn't mind telling us. I always knew he hated me even though he never would say it. He envied that I was a great commander and soldier and he was not. There's a bunch of guys like Murdoch in every war.
The third guy I answered to is someone you know quite well, Doug: our chaplain, Ben Shapiro. Shap was a U.S. Marine captain back then. Today he's the pastor of a Baptist church in Austin, Texas where you're from. Shap's a good man, Christian but open-minded. You can tell him anything and he'll usually absolve you right off if it's a sin. He'll laugh along with you too. You've met him, right, Cat? No? Think of the great black actor Morgan Freeman in the prime of his life.
Okay, you got most of the players now. There are some others, but give me a few minutes to get to them. The mission we're concerned with was code named "Operation Sweetheart". They briefed me on it at my team's main base in the Socotra Islands off the coast of Yemen one sunny day in September 2002.
"This is where I believe Aziz is held up," Asher was telling Hawkins, Chen, Murdoch and myself. "A small village fifty clicks southwest of Kandahar."
Asher and my other scouts had been gathering intelligence in southern Afghanistan for several months. We were after Salem Abdul Aziz, also known as "the Scorpion Pharaoh". He was a Taliban mullah suspected of serious war crimes. Aziz escaped the United States' overthrow of his theocratic Afghan regime thanks to connections with al-Qaeda. Some of his worst offenses included training several 9-11 hijackers along with sponsoring numerous shootings and suicide bombings all over the Middle East. The most famous was that U.S. Navy destroyer that got hit in June 2002. Seventeen sailors died.
What's that, Doug? You say Erika knew some sailors on that destroyer? You can tell her my team and I avenged their deaths.
Aziz also burned down at least four Afghan villages during the US war with the Taliban and killed over one thousand civilians. He hated anybody who didn't follow his extreme view of Islam and punished them severely. Aziz was really the kind of mullah who makes his religion look bad.
Hey, stop frowning at me like that! In general, I have nothing against Islam. Most of the followers are okay people. Farouk and some other guys on my team are Muslim. I own a Koran too, and I read it almost as often as I read my Bible. I like how Islam says you should submit to God and let him guide you. I also like how it says God is testing you constantly and never gives you challenges that you can't pass. Islam is wonderful when it's done right, it's aided a lot of scientific and cultural advancements. However, too many people in history have done it wrong. Aziz was the kind of guy who exemplified that.
Some followers of the religion have done it right, too. My Saudi sergeant pal Farouk was a good example. He told me he always hated the constant war in his country. The idea conflicts between competing Islamic factions, intolerance of other religions, corruption, terrorism, religious police, everything. Farouk thought it all hurt Muslims more than anyone else.
He wanted Muslims to peacefully co-exist with the rest of the world and stop harming each other, but he saw no way to get that to happen other than being a good man himself and declaring a personal war against intolerance. That was why he joined the Saudi Army, to fight terrorism. Farouk wanted to build a better future for his people and figured that if he could stop enough Islamic fanatics from harming others, he could make it so. By stopping the worst of his religion's enemies, he could maybe inspire all the other followers to calm down and lighten up.
Farouk told me he wanted to be friendly towards others, let them do their thing as long as they let him do his. Farouk's thing was being a Muslim. Unless you threatened that, he had no problem with you. Farouk saw no reason to spread his religion to the rest of the world unless they wanted it. Other people had to make their own decisions on the path to paradise. Sure you might not like what someone was doing with their life, but you didn't have to try and force them to stop doing it unless they were actively hurting people for no good reason. Let infidels be infidels. It was better to make friends with them and exchange what gifts you could give each other than try to change them, Farouk always said. Who knows, you might be going to heaven together since Allah loves endless variety.
Farouk was a funny guy, very straight-laced, but a good man. The other Muslims on my team were pretty much like him.
Also pertaining to my mission was another follower of Islam, a woman who does her religion right named Deeyah. Are you familiar with her? No? She's a pop singer, born in Norway but very famous in the Middle East. Folks like the Taliban often harass her for speaking out for women's rights. She has this amazing voice and likes to make catchy dance albums about good fortune and love. Deeyah's also a real looker with a great body, creamy brown skin and long flowing black hair. She's tall, hourglass figure, dark laughing eyes ... I got a picture here somewhere. Here we go. Yes, Cat, Deeyah and I are intimately acquainted, long time past. Aziz, her distant cousin, was the reason why we met.
What, you didn't know she had a terrorist in her family? It's a common sickness over in the Middle East, I'm sorry to say. Family squabbles are the worst. Only battles about religious doctrine interpretation come close. The Middle East has plenty of both in serious amount. It has always been that way. I don't know if things will ever be peaceful in that part of the world. Pardon me for my sigh.
"You're sure the Scorpion Pharaoh is there?" Hawkins asked Asher, who nodded and bent his pointer.
"Ninety-five percent. All my sources point at the caves near this village in southwestern Afghanistan. Aziz could have moved on by now but I don't think we should ignore this chance."
"It will be your ass if he has moved on, Lieutenant," snapped Murdoch. "Your boss's also." The motherfucker pointed at me.
"Mock me all you want, Murdoch," I answered. "I think Asher's information is solid. Captain Chen, what about you?"
My second-in-command nodded agreement. He resembled that Hong Kong action star Tony Leung, the short one. Chen was very dependable, a real solid guy. He was also an ace scout like Asher and Jodi Lee.
"I vouch for Asher's knowledge," Chen said. "He's never let us down before."
"He better not now," replied Hawkins. "Deeyah's life is depending on it."
Did I forget to mention Aziz had kidnapped Deeyah? I'm sorry about that. It happened about three weeks before our briefing. He despised her, you see. A liberal Muslim female entertainer in his family was a personal insult to Aziz.
The Taliban doesn't like women getting empowered. Really, they don't. They won't educate them, they won't give them legal protection, they won't give them any advantages at all. Not only that, they want their whole view followed by the rest of the world. A famous flamboyant female pop singer like Deeyah would not exist if the Taliban had their way. A woman like you wouldn't either, Cat, and definitely not one like Keira or Erika. Also, men like you and me, Doug, would not exist. It doesn't matter to the Taliban that millions all over the Middle East like Deeyah, Muslim and otherwise. The Saudi Royal family are fans of her, and they maintain Islam's holy places. None of that counted as far as Aziz was concerned.
Deeyah was giving a concert in Dubai for the impoverished. She likes to use her art to promote charity work and peace. Aziz's militia crashed the after-party and grabbed her. The U.N.'s spies intensified their tracking of Aziz after that. We wanted to find the Scorpion before he beheaded Deeyah live on the Internet as he kept threatening to do. He was putting out these ranting blogs about how her death was Allah's will and he was going to kill her at the start of Islam's holiest time, the month of Ramadan. Cleanse the world. You see why I don't like this spawn of a goat?
You want to know what Aziz looks like? Okay, imagine the meanest Taliban motherfucker you can. Beadier eyes, and he's Egyptian. His beard and turban were really long, gray and dirty. Got it? Good.
"I don't care about Deeyah," Murdoch said. "She's just some pop singer. Aziz's capture is our first priority. If we can interrogate him, we might be able to prevent al-Qaeda's next major attack."
"Saving his hostage is our first concern, Murdoch," I countered. "Deeyah's well-known in the Middle East. People ain't gonna like it if she dies."
"These people kill their own every day, Major. Thousands of civilians have died or lost their homes and families. I don't see them complaining about that much. We're trying to help them stop it and they keep protesting and yelling 'Death to Infidels'."
"Not all of them, Murdoch. Some of them appreciate us."
"Enough, you two!" Hawkins cut us off. "We're not here to argue politics. Clarke, you need to bring Aziz in so he can face trial. We need a Nuremberg for this war and the Scorpion would be a good start. Save his hostage if you can, but if she dies, it doesn't matter. It'll be just one more crime on his record. I want her alive, my wife and I love her music, but she might make a good martyr also."
"Definitely a better martyr than all these terrorists who keep committing suicide and calling themselves holy," Asher agreed. "We live in interesting times, eh, Chen?"
My number two ignored the ancient Chinese curse. "When do we ship out?"
"As soon as you're ready," Hawkins said.
"One day to rally up and supply," I told him. "Then two or three days of transit. I'll need all sixty-five of my team. Asher, I want you to take Rashid, Jamal and a couple other guys ahead of us. Get into the village where you think Aziz is and confirm that he's there. Make sure everyone you take can pass for locals. If what I know about the Scorpion is correct, he'll have the people living in fear of him and worrying about us. They'll want us to save them but they won't seek us out. They'll shout 'Death to the Crusaders!' in the streets if Pharaoh Aziz tells them. Be careful, my friend."
"Don't worry, Clarke," Asher replied. "I've been undercover in the backwater areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan many times. I know how it is."
"You all watch yourselves over there," Hawkins told us. "Good hunting. Dismissed."
Murdoch stopped me as I was heading out the door. "You know, Clarke, General Hawkins is about to retire."
"Our chaplain too. So what?"
"Word's come down from on high. I'm not supposed to tell you yet, but what the hell. After this mission, I'll be in charge of your unit. I'm rotating everyone out and finding new personnel."
"We get results, Murdoch."
"Yes, you do. However, your era of soldiering is over, Clarke. There's no place in the world anymore for one-man commando squads who think they're John Wayne."
"I'm not a one man army, Murdoch. I have an entire team backing me up, including you. I'm only twenty-nine and I just received my gold shield from the Brigade. I still got many years left in me."
"Wrong. You need to get out. War's changed, Clarke. There's a new way of fighting now."
"Oh? What is that? Call down airstrikes liable to kill more civilians than enemies? Keep sending in troops nonstop and don't let them do what they need to do to win even when they get tired? Let great soldiers like Pat Tillman die and then lie to the public about what happened to them?"
Murdoch grimaced and I went on, enjoying myself.
"Bungle the institution of new government in occupied territory and let the bad guys keep retreating and getting stronger? Forget politics and let evil scum like Aziz fester and run around alive?"
"It's precisely because of politics that we're keeping him alive. I hate the bastard as much as you do, but he needs to stand trial. You bring him back. Maybe if you do, I'll consider letting you stay where you are."
I glared at him and then walked out to face my team. Chen had them all lined up. Petite raven-haired Tess in her white doctor's coat, the mustached Hispanic dwarf Mike with his demolition bag, lanky brown-haired Wouter, tall noble Yoshi and all the rest. I gave them the mission.
I told Farouk, who looks like an average middle-aged Arab man, and Baxter, who's a hippie geek, to monitor the Internet in case the Scorpion Pharaoh moved up his timetable. I told Tess to be ready in case Aziz had harmed Deeyah. Shap introduced to us this Muslim cleric he'd recruited to counsel Deeyah after her ordeal, a guy named Sheikh Khalid bin Azim. He was part of the Sufi Islamic sect like Deeyah, a group of mystics that try to grow closer to God in thought and deed. Islamic radicals don't like these people, but I do. They're Islam's most peaceful and tolerant folk.
The Sheikh was quite an average-looking Arab, like Farouk, only he was a lot older and wiser. I talked to him briefly and learned he'd been around the world and seen all kinds of things. He agreed with Farouk that there were many paths to God and that people of all creeds should work together towards enlightenment. The Sheikh felt this way despite being of a different Islamic sect than Farouk. Like Shap, he was very dedicated to sharing religious traditions, pacifism and easing spiritual pain. We all got along well with him. It gave me some hope that maybe Islam could find peace with the world someday.
I asked Jodi Lee to go with Asher's party. She's freckled and has dark copper hair but put her in a veil and she can pass for an Arabian woman, especially with those long stuffy veils the Taliban like to force women to wear. The farewell kiss that gorgeous butch blonde Tanya gave Jodi Lee would really have made Taliban mullahs upset. I loved Tanya. It was too bad she only liked girls.
Yes, Doug, I know she's not the only woman on my team like that. You don't need to remind me of Sabra the mechanic, Maureen the nurse and the other three. I'm like you. I have my preferences but I got no problem with other people having theirs.
Asher, Jodi Lee, and four other scouts left the base that night. The rest of us followed on the morrow. Little did we know how much our lives were about to change.
It took five days' journey to get to the mission area, counting the fuel acquisition delays. You can never get supplies when you most need them.
Finally, we arrived in the village near where we suspected Aziz to be. We got an e-mail from Asher three days before our arrival that confirmed Aziz was there. He had a sizable base in the caves outside the town, just like Asher's intelligence showed. The terrorist militia protecting Aziz was bigger than we thought, Asher said also. Aziz had just over a hundred crazy Taliban goons, mostly people he'd brought in from outside Afghanistan. There were also a few locals too ignorant or corrupt to care whom they were letting command them. The Scorpion Pharaoh was getting rich thanks to international heroin sales and had his bullies heavily armed. My infiltrators thought we could still take them and I agreed.
Then we lost contact with Asher. I was worried but I put it in the back of my mind. It wasn't the first time he'd gone off the grid.
We canvassed the village and found nothing, just another normal bunch of Afghan citizens that barely looked surprised at the presence of foreign troops. We took a day to give them some chocolate and medical care. Then Shap and the Sheikh stayed behind as liaisons with five men for security while the rest of us headed for the village's outskirts. Aziz's stronghold was in a cave in the nearby hills. They were waiting for us.
The area around the cave was desert hill country. Aziz had set up a terraced poppy farm several miles wide. Poppies are used to make heroin, if you didn't know. They'd covered the outer perimeter with claymore mines. I lost six good men before we even got close to the caves. I'd taken losses before, but this was bad. Fortunately we had some good US Army minesweepers with us who were able to clear our way. You know Vince and Steve, right, Cat? They maintain the video arcade machines downstairs.
Anyway, we made it through the minefield. Then the mortars started raining down. It was obvious Aziz's militia had spotted us coming. I split my team up and sent them to flanking positions. Wouter and Farouk coordinated everything. Tanya and her spotter Andrei found the enemy mortar teams and took them out. The Russian military trained Tanya. They don't mind females getting into combat like most nations. She could score headshots at two thousand yards — one shot, one kill.
About eighty of the Scorpion Pharaoh's bullies came running out of cover around the caves after the mortars stopped. They were as fanatical and crazy as we expected. My team and I met them with our weapons. I recall Wouter and Yoshi did especially well that day.
Yoshi wasn't just our cook, he was also a trench fighter and heavy machine gunner. He came from a long line of old time Japanese warriors, men like Sanada Yukimura and Oda Nobunaga. They were some of the meanest dudes in history and definitely not people you would want to mess with. Yoshi exhibits his heritage well when you get him pissed off.
Wouter is good at spotting enemy positions. He also excels at close combat, as you know, Doug. Our Dutch boy got right in the enemy ranks during Operation Sweetheart and took out nine with his rifle and bayonet. He helped the rest of us find and take down a bunch of others. I didn't do so bad myself using my grenade launcher and M4 assault gun. Chen, Tanya and the others got plenty of kills too.
We took some additional losses in the fighting. Several of my team got wounded and had to fall back. The worst was our photographer. Baxter got tagged in the stomach with an AK rifle round by a big red-turbaned terrorist from Kashmir. Our files said he was Ramzi al-Zarquawi, Aziz's main henchman. Farouk gunned down this villain an instant after he got Baxter. Tess and her assistants pulled Baxter off the field under heavy fire and treated his injuries.
Damn these terrorists for going after non-combatants! Medics and press save more lives than anybody else in the military does.
You don't believe me about photographers, Cat? Think for a minute about the psychological effects of seeing the battlefield's horrors captured on film. They can be very helpful in getting people to lay down their arms. Ah, I see you agree.
There were a few kills on our side also, including Chen. He died right next to me covering my back in the poppy fields when an enemy sniper got him. Tanya used the shot to find and pick off that guy, but just like with Baxter it was too late. That happens often in battles. Don't let the movies fool you. War is hell.
We made it through the terraced farm and then things got especially bad. An old Russian Type 80 battle tank rolled out of a Quonset hut near the main entrance to the caves. Aziz must have held it over from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. That beast's cannon and machine gunners killed a dozen of my troops in their initial volley. They got Andrei and Tanya with the first high explosive cannon shell. The rest of us had to scatter and hide.
I didn't have any tanks with me and our rockets and grenades weren't doing enough damage. I had to call Hawkins for some air support. He sent down an American A-10 Warthog plane that took out the T-80 with a missile. Those were good pilots. Jodi Lee thanked them for avenging Tanya by giving them a fun night a couple weeks after the battle. If I had been inclined, I would have offered the same.
Don't be angry at me. My troops who got killed knew the risks. Yeah, I probably could have deployed them better if I had more advance intelligence. Or maybe not, since no plan survives the battlefield. I asked my commanders to parachute in some reinforcements. Murdoch told me only my team had clearance to be in the area but he would try, the lying son of a bitch. It looked like we would have to solve this mess on our own.
We rallied and surged forward up the final hill, storming enemy positions. Our other snipers besides Tanya, Richard from Germany and Jake from Brazil, got the terrorist radiomen. That helped. Yoshi and our other heavy machine gunner, Loyd from the SAS, took out some would-be suicide bombers before they could get close to us and that helped too. The rest of us also fought hard.
Soon we had the bad guys overrun. They tried collapsing rocks over the main cave entrance to block us but Mike blew things back open with some C4. I deployed most of my team to surround the caves and cut off enemy escape routes. It was an old iron mine, so we had some maps of the place. We knew there were only two ways in or out and covered both. Wouter and Farouk were in charge of each entrance, with my other two sergeants backing them. You know Doug's chief bartender Ray and my assistant security chief Connor? That's them. Back then, they were both Marines.
Once we went into the mine, the maps were pretty much useless. The terrorists had modified the caverns and set up a bunch of traps. Mike, Yoshi and I led ten men inside and got ambushed. Five kills on our side and twelve on theirs later, we were hurting. I radioed Wouter for additional personnel and Farouk led ten more of my team into the caves. A global positioning device helped them find where my advance force was. They helped us beat back the terrorists and we moved on.
In a dark twisting tunnel, a frantic screaming woman in a veil jumped out at us waving a shotgun.
Now, I don't care what morality tells you. When you're fighting enemy soldiers, shoot the women first. Any female military or terrorist operative has had to work ten times as hard as her male counterparts to be accepted by their organization. She will often be quicker on reaction, abler in combat and far more dangerous than many men will be. You need to kill her first and fast.
I'm glad I hesitated this time, though. The woman stripped off her veil a second before I could pull the trigger and revealed herself as Jodi Lee.
"Goddamn it!" I told her. "Don't scare me like that! What happened? Where's Asher?"
"They're holding him deeper in these caves," Jodi Lee answered after she had recovered herself. "We got ratted out by the villagers shortly after we infiltrated Aziz's militia. Aziz has them scared of him, just like you thought."
"Shit! How'd you escape?"
"I didn't. I was the only one they didn't catch. My veil helped hide me. Aziz never suspected a woman might be a spy. The people in the village kept me secret and gave up the men. They had to, or Aziz would have killed them and their families. He suspected we were coming to get him and had all the people around here on edge."
"What happened to Asher and the others?"
"Jamal and Rashid are dead, Nouri and Tyler too. They fought back and Aziz's soldiers shot them on the spot. Asher let himself be captured. I've been watching Aziz torture him for the past three days."
"You didn't try to save him?"
"I was waiting for you!"
Forgive me for not repeating what I said next. There's a lady present.
I told Jodi Lee to take up position as our guide through the caves. I also shared our losses with her, including Tanya. She got really upset when she heard. I pitied those terrorist fools. Jodi Lee had to put up with all manner of atrocities scouting out the enemy. Tanya was always Jodi Lee's greatest comfort when she came back to us, and now Tanya was dead. Yeah, Doug, I mourned Tanya too. I'm sure the twenty-four terrorists Jodi Lee killed during Operation Sweetheart are also mourning Tanya, wherever the hell they are now.
We fought on through the caves and cleared out several enemy storage rooms and barracks. Jodi Lee, Yoshi and Farouk were quite brutal as they took down Aziz's forces. I was too. You don't want to back down when you're underground on enemy turf. We were reinforced once more by Ray and five other guys. A couple of the younger terrorists surrendered and we took them captive. The rest were so ready to die we had to oblige their hopes.
After a few hours of exploration, we caught the Scorpion Pharaoh himself in one of the deepest chambers. He was cowering on a prayer rug, whining to Allah about how his defeat was inconceivable. I told him that word didn't mean what he thought it meant right before I put him in flex-cuffs and had Farouk and Jodi Lee take him and our other prisoners outside. The rest of us kept searching the caves and found Aziz's hostages.
It makes me shiver today to describe what Aziz did to Asher. The Scorpion Pharaoh gave my friend all sorts of scars, physical and emotional. Worst of all, he cut out Asher's tongue. That's why our albino comrade only communicates in sign language these days. It's a real credit to his mental strength that Asher was able to pull through that ordeal and smile once he saw us, not to mention tell Mike with gestures how to disarm the bomb Aziz had wired to him. Shap and other counselors praised Asher for months after our return to the base.
Strangely, Aziz didn't give Deeyah any physical wounds at all. He was just keeping her locked up and malnourished, separating his men from her. I guess family does count for something with devil wannabes like the Scorpion Pharaoh after all.
Yoshi, Ray and I had to shoot the women guarding Deeyah. They were serious bitches. Watching over this valuable prisoner was the only thing Aziz had let them do in his militia. Well, that and getting themselves killed fighting us. I don't even want to know how Aziz got these women so worked up for his cause. Please restrain your own speculation.
Deeyah collapsed into my chest sobbing when I busted open her cage door and told her who we were. I think she fell for me at first sight.
There were some other prisoners too, locals who weren't practicing Islam like Aziz demanded. Some were tortured worse than Asher was. They were very happy we liberated them. I let Baxter take our picture with them after the battle. You want to see? Here we go.
We came out of the caves bloody and bedraggled. I called Murdoch to extract us, but he said he was still working on getting clearance. It made me wonder if he even wanted us to get out alive.
Then I found out Aziz had wiggled out of his flex cuffs on the way out of the cave while Farouk and Jodi Lee had their backs turned. He knocked out Jodi Lee, then grabbed Farouk's gun and shot our other prisoners. Farouk tackled Aziz and tied him up again, but then Aziz chomped down on a cyanide pill he had palmed.
Damn it, why didn't I anticipate that could happen? Murdoch and Hawkins were going to be very disappointed we couldn't bring the Scorpion Pharaoh back alive for trial. Oh well.
As you can imagine, I was real torn up after the battle. I had seen the appalling side of war before but not anything like this. My team had taken losses like they never had — thirty dead, twenty-one wounded. The people we rescued had seriously suffered too. Erika and Keira have both done films about post-traumatic stress disorder. After Operation Sweetheart, you could say I had a serious case of that. I felt I had let my team down, especially Asher and Jodi Lee.
All I had experienced overwhelmed my usual coping mechanisms. Shap was ready to help but for some reason his sermons just couldn't get through to me like they always had in the past. The Sheikh tried also, but we couldn't connect. I wasn't familiar enough with his religion. In my youth, I sought spiritual help from my tribe's witch doctor and some missionaries of Erika's church in Johannesburg. I never really fit in with my tribe or the missionaries and had long ago left them behind. Maybe they could have assisted me with my new problem. Maybe some professional psychologists or existentialists could have too. I really don't know.
It didn't help that we were stuck in the war zone for a whole week while Murdoch arranged our exit convoy. The locals were grateful we had removed the menace of Aziz but they also made us aware there were other people like him waiting to fill the void. We weren't authorized to go after them either. Why does hunting terrorists always have to be like Whack-a-Mole and then the arcade staff takes away your coins?
The rest of my team got through the operation okay. Tess, Mike and Yoshi gave Asher a lot of assistance with his trauma. There's nothing like good friends to treat you right. Jodi Lee bestowed a traditional Aussie Aboriginal cremation on Tanya, which was a very beautiful thing to see. We buried Chen and our other dead near the village. We didn't have much family outside the team and we wanted to give the locals something to remember us by. They were all right with us by the time we left. I don't think they'd easily give in to Taliban oppression again. At least, that's what I hope.
Deeyah seemed to feel no pain after the Sheikh spoke with her. She helped us with the locals by giving out free music and good will. She's very popular over there, as I told you. They all recognized her and appreciated that an Arabian celebrity was supporting our efforts. With her on our side, we didn't seem as much like foreigners anymore.
I got to know Deeyah and so did the rest of the team. Nobody made any innuendos to her at first since we wanted to keep things social. I'd had a few celebrities before, USO entertainers and U.N. goodwill ambassadors, but I didn't like to actively pursue. Deeyah seemed to recognize that in me and it further attracted me to her. Hard-to-get works every time.
We eventually got back to the base and faced the shit-typhoon waiting for us. Hawkins was glad Deeyah and Asher were alive but saddened that we let Aziz die. Don't even ask me if I tried to explain it wasn't our fault. A good soldier never complains about things he can't control.
Murdoch really got on me about Aziz. He told me if he had been in charge of the operation on the ground, the outcome might have been different. I really wanted to see that motherfucker go out and try to live up to his word.
Deeyah was with me all throughout the mission's aftermath, just like my team. She was hanging around with us, not yet ready to go home and face her own family. By then, she and I both knew something was going to happen between the two of us. A fortnight after we met, it did.
Murdoch had come after me again that day. "I just sent off your discharge papers, Clarke," he told me with a sneer. "The U.N. doesn't like you anymore. They approved the medals for your people, but you're all being rotated back to your former units. Your time is through."
"You know, Murdoch," I said after I heard that, "I really don't like you. I think someone ought to belt you one in the mouth. I won't, though. I won't."
I paused, realizing all of a sudden my future didn't really matter. "The hell I won't!" The next thing I knew, the motherfucker was on the floor with a split lip.
"You'll hang for this!" he snarled at me.
"I don't care," I replied. "I've had enough of people like you. I'm quitting the military. But you remember me, Murdoch. You finish this war. Save all the victims. It doesn't matter who they are. If you don't save them, I'm coming back to finish kicking your ass."
I then turned and went to pack up my gear. My comrades each came to me and told me they understood what I was doing. Many said they wanted to do the same thing. "How will you live?" they asked me. "Where will you go?"
I gave them all the same answer. "Day by day."
I recall three goodbyes more than I do any of the others. The first came from Shap.
"You need to tell me next time before you do something like you did with Murdoch," the chaplain said with a Friendship hand gesture.
"Would you have stopped me?"
"Hell no. I might have joined you, though." Shap chuckled. "Go with God, Clarke. Remember to look me up in Texas if you ever need a kind word."
The second bit of good will came from General Hawkins. He didn't say anything to me about what happened with Murdoch. He just shook my hand and told me to keep doing what I had to do. Among warriors, such attitudes go a long distance. I later found out Hawkins had arranged clemency for me and recommended Murdoch for a court-martial, conduct unbecoming an officer. I never found out if he actually went to trial — by then, I didn't care either way.
The third gift came from Deeyah. She visited my quarters on my last night in the Middle East dressed in a long white gown. Her shining black hair was loose about her shoulders, darker than my flesh. Her skin was the color of polished cedar. Deeyah's eyes were sparkling hazel and her lips were bright red.
"Clarke, you are hurting," she told me.
"I'll get over it." I could not look her in the eye.
Deeyah clenched my arm. "Do not lie to yourself. Do not lie to me either. You need help. Walking away from your life like this is the wrong thing to do."
I disagreed. "It's the only thing I can do anymore. I beat Murdoch, but he was right. People like him fight the wars now. They let the wrong politics guide them and forsake the victims. They let hatred and ignorance keep growing and make fools of us all. There's no longer a place in this world for folk such as me."
"Don't talk like that!" Deeyah took my hand and sat me down on my cot. She sat beside me, put her fingers on my face and turned it towards her. "Think about what you did. You saved my life. You defeated the terrorists. Not men like Murdoch. Heroes like you and your team."
"You don't understand. They didn't want me to save you. Murdoch would have preferred you became a martyr, turned your people away from Aziz and his ways. Even Hawkins was okay with that."
"Do you really think that would have worked? Martyrs aren't the only people to whom we should listen. It's better to stay alive and keep giving your message over and over again, make sure your message is clear and can't be distorted in any way. Your message also has to be for the good of the people. That's the true meaning of jihad, something my poor cousin could never understand. I'm sure Allah and the Prophet are explaining it to him now."
Deeyah put her hand on my chin. "Many are dead, but we are still here, Clarke. Allah doesn't want us to leave this world yet. I want to continue my efforts towards peace, to grow closer to paradise on Earth and in heaven. You should join me."
"I..." I could not find the proper words. "I don't know if I can."
"Let me aid you," Deeyah said. She kissed my lips and I gave in.
Deeyah wanted to thank me for all I had done for her and her people. She wanted to encourage me to do more instead of stay on my current course. Could she have saved me? I'll never know, but I do know she tried.
She huddled close to me on my cot as we embraced. I tried to push her away, but only for a few seconds. I had wanted Deeyah for some time now and I was glad to learn she wanted me too. Deeyah was an impressive example of human beauty and her people's good ways. After all I that had been through rescuing her, I needed to see both at close hand.
I ran over my mental checklist for sex while we made out. I was clean and so was my partner, according to Dr. Tess. The room's door was locked and we probably wouldn't be disturbed till morning. I didn't need a condom since I had a vasectomy shortly after I first got into the military. I saw my buddies doing a lot of sleeping around and wanted to join them in their endeavors but I didn't want any children. There are too many unwanted babies in Africa already. I'd like some kids in the future maybe, if I meet the right woman. I can always get my operation reversed.
Deeyah didn't seem to care much about birth control that night. She caressed me, stripped off my shirt and spread her pleasure to the shores of my chest. She reached into my pants and touched the black pillar of my manhood with her fingers. Grasping it, Deeyah unfastened my belt and shoved my pants off and away. I pushed her dress down from her shoulders and looked over her as it hit the floor.
She had small hard breasts with dark nipples covering most of their area. They looked a bit like those domes the Arabs put on towers. Her tanned skin held all the soft wonder of the desert. It was cold at first, then rapidly burning hot as I explored it further. Sandstorms were in some places and moisture in others. I moved my hands over it all, touching Deeyah's warmth and seeking her most secret joys. Her pussy was shaved but had a light dusting of curls like a veil. She was very experienced. I found she knew things I could never learn anywhere else in the world. Deeyah was also no virgin. I doubt even seventy-two virgins could provide as wonderful a paradise as she gave me that night.
I squeezed her hard many times in our coupling. She kept gasping and falling into my arms. I caught her every time and then we took flight. I was a foreigner in Deeyah's ancestral land, one of many who had journeyed there over the centuries. We wanted to solve the native peoples' problems. We didn't want to necessarily make them like us. Okay, maybe we did at first, but working with them gave us better ideas. We found a middle ground and decided we just wanted to stop them threatening their neighbors and each other. We also wanted peaceful and pleasurable exchange of goods and ideas. Deeyah gave me all that, though she haggled quite a bargain out of me in return.
She whispered beautiful phrases in my ears as I nibbled and fondled her throat and teats. I heard hopes, dreams, pleas for change and understanding. Every word seemed wise but I only listened with half an ear. I was too intent on what I wanted from her, a few brief hours of passion and joy before I ran out. I guess you could say we were each like a genie to the other, only our wishes were in conflict. Still, we put our hands on each other's groins and kept rubbing those magic lamps.
What, you're liking this? Damn, I didn't mean to get so detailed. It's just, I remember it all so well. It was a very special experience for me. I realize what I have described is crude, though, and maybe even a little prejudiced. I'll stop talking about it if you want. Oh, you guys don't mind? You want to hear more especially, Cat? Okay, I'll keep talking.
Deeyah was gentle and sensual, a real goddess. I kept hearing her music in my mind as we touched. I don't know if you've ever heard Deeyah sing. I have, live and on recordings. I like her voice. It's instantly recognizable and distinctly full of free spirit and the sense of where she's from. The background instrumentation has lots of sharp chords and whispering cries. Deeyah was about four years my senior and willing to show me everything she knew. I didn't ask her for exact details of her past lovers. I never do that with those I fuck.
Deeyah really liked my muscles. They're very developed. There's strong, there's army strong, and then there's South African Special Forces strong. They call us the best in the world at war and we certainly practice justifying that reputation with all the bush rebellions and other skirmishes we get into. The rest of Africa often hires us as peacemakers and so does the U.N. I had the reflection of all that battle experience in my body back then, even more so than I do now. She traced every inch of me, challenging my strength with the swords of her nails.
Her head dropped like a legendary assassin, soft hair enveloping my cock followed by harshly pouting lips. Those lips sucked hard on me, her tongue a stabbing dagger in accompaniment. I knew it would be a very long engagement if I even tried to push her away.
I caressed Deeyah back instead, returning to her all the pleasure she gave me, and then some. I rubbed her hair and shoulders as she took my organ inside. I let her take control, as was the only reasonable choice. She got on top of me and screamed with mad fervor. I licked at her cunt when she turned around on my body and offered it. I stuck two fingers inside and whacked every surface over and over. I concentrated my lips on snapping at the pearl.
Deeyah kept mumbling stuff in her native tongue. I didn't really know the language that well, so I only got the emotions. She was humming about beauty and love, about seeking peace and growing closer to paradise. I told her some of my own thoughts on that as we coupled. They were a bit different in tone than what she said, but no less forthright. I think we both got the gist of what the other was trying to say.
I kept biting her clit and pushing my hands into her thighs, seeking moisture from the oasis. Dark tangy oil flowed out, thick with exotic scents. That oil added fuel to my body's motor and I pushed into Deeyah like a piston as she gave me juice. She kept jacking her price up and down, only giving scant thought to my needs. I remember several moments when she stopped what she was doing and cut me off until I made her happy or she lost patience. There were other times when she gave me so much ecstasy I felt like a guzzler, taking too much in and risking a spill or something worse.
Deeyah never stopped giving me charity. Her pauses were short. Every attention she gave me remained steady and with time, things got easier to predict. She would squeeze my cock with her hand or mouth, then move on to other muscles. I stroked her torso and legs in reply, securing assets and snatching what I could. When she slacked off, I increased my efforts and made her aware of how much I needed her. As soon as she was ready, she resumed giving me the goods. All throughout, she sang to me in that distinct throbbing alto voice.
I don't know how long it took before she came for the first time. I can still envision it, though. Have you ever seen the dances Sufi Muslims do when they earnestly profess their beliefs? They shake all over and wildly gyrate every muscle of their bodies. Deeyah was like that when she climaxed. I think it was paradise for her, or as close as she could get. She looked very happy when she came, though not as much as when I'd seen her on stage. I did my best to seem happy too.
Her climax was brought on by our exchange of fondles and good feelings. Deeyah wanted me to stay on her side of the world and for a while, I agreed. She was taking responsibility for her own needs but wanted to serve me also. I gladly accepted her into the ranks of my lovers. The few, the proud, the...
Okay, Doug, you're right. Maybe my lovers shouldn't be called "the few". To be honest, I've had hundreds of lovers. I add more every chance I get. I actually slept my way into the military and Special Forces to overcome recruiters' lingering racism. Hey, is it wrong if I wanted to serve my country? Is it wrong I turned out one of their greatest soldiers of all time? Is it wrong the recruiters enjoyed what we did together as much as me?
You didn't need to hear that? Sorry, man, it just came out. You had better stop injecting smart remarks into my story if you don't want me to argue back at you.
Thanks, Cat. I'll forgive Doug and continue my tale.
Deeyah hit a home run on my bat shortly after she climaxed. Watching her orgasm really excited me. Bright diamonds came pouring out of my body and into her mouth. She swallowed them down, savoring them and giving me back further riches with her own caresses.
What, you don't get the metaphor? Diamonds are what I call my climactic spurts. My operation still allows me to have such spurts. Real diamonds are the most precious resource of my home nation South Africa. Okay, you're smiling now. Good.
I fondled Deeyah's thighs while I came. I've trained my body not to collapse at the moment of completion. I don't fumble or flinch, like most men. I've got true grit. I can hold out for the longest night and keep on searching for pleasure with anyone. If some stunning woman or man tells me to fill their hand, you bet I will.
That's a John Wayne reference, Doug. Murdoch called me "John Wayne" earlier, remember? I guess I am like a black version of that actor's characters in some ways.
I stroked the palm fronds around Deeyah's tunnel as we settled down from our first orgasmic exchange. She shook and smiled, as she was very sensitive. Our inhibitions towards each other were gone now and we had nothing left to lose. I let her turn around on me again and she pushed her body down onto mine.
Deeyah made a voyage to the black pillar of my cock, surrounded it with her cunt's tight heat and whirled with intensity. I felt some very strong vibrations inside me responding to her force. I massaged her back and tits, making her muscles twitching and attentive. For everything she gave me, I gave more in return. I think I would have stayed with her forever if she had asked me and I had been willing and able to understand. Deeyah was lost in emotion by then, though. She was too caught up in screwing me to give any real respect to my needs.
Her cunt squeezed my member, and I realized I risked becoming dependent on her sensuality. I didn't want to be an addict for what she could give. Yeah, I liked it, but I'm a free man. I am not the type to change my worldview for anyone, not even a remarkable woman like Deeyah. I just took pleasure from her and paid her back in kind. That was all that we had needed to be, or so I believed.
She scratched me and pressed herself against me. I stroked my fingers against the minarets of her nipples and the hard pearl of her clit. More oil came out of her and I took it into my engine. I was the rest of the world to Deeyah's Middle East. Her tempests kept drawing me in because I wanted what she could give. She shook and sang, then lapped my lips. I kissed her back and groaned because I knew I could not stay.
Once more, my diamonds flowed into her body, and as before, she rewarded me with a wondrous display of climax. The oil gushed forth from Deeyah's loins and pained delight filled her speech. I think she knew in that moment I could not turn from my chosen path.
"Clarke, stay with me," she pleaded after her final climax had left her. "Remain a hero, a warrior. My people need what yours can provide. I work for peace and so do you. We can learn to cooperate. I know you think most of us are against you, but we're not. This war will end someday. Your spirit and mine will outlive it. Stay with me, Clarke. Put your pain aside. Forget it. Kneel. Kneel before Deeyah."
I had no idea where she got those last words. I just knew I didn't like them. The super-powered son of South Africa could not kneel before this daughter of an alien world embroiled in constant war. It did not matter that she had given me such a taste of heaven. I could not submit to her. I did weaken for an instant, though, when I thought I saw a green flash in her eyes.
"Thank you, but I can't," I coughed and told her. "I just can't."
I was devastated in that moment, my doomsday. I broke down crying in Deeyah's arms. She hugged and kissed me through it, trying to give me more promises of hope. I was too stupid and full of myself to listen. Eventually I lost consciousness and slept with her still weeping alongside.
London, England. September 2003.
"To this day," Clarke finished, "I wish I had listened to her words. But I didn't. I walked away from her instead because I was so bitter. I left the base early the next morning. I didn't even wake Deeyah up or say goodbye. I remember it was a very dark and stormy day. It felt like all the forces of the world were lined up to halt me, but I didn't let them. I walked out the gates of the base, boarded a ship at the nearby harbor and wandered into the darkness, lost and alone. The captain of the ship offered me a drink when he heard my story and I took it. Then I took another. Soon, I let the bottle swallow my soul. The effects of alcohol worsened the memories that haunted me. I kept going up that river and it wasn't long before I met Jim Kurtz."
"Jim Kurtz?" asked Cat.
"East London crime boss," Doug answered. "Clarke was working for Kurtz as an illegal prizefighter before we met."
"Kurtz found me in a bar here in London called 'The Crimson Boar's Head'," Clarke filled Cat in. "After I departed the military, I roamed all around Africa for a while. I kept bumping into this or that person who had known me in some war. It got tiresome very fast. Nobody wanted to believe the legendary soldier Clarke had hung up his hat. After a couple months, I emigrated to London where fewer people knew me. I stayed with Keira and her family for a while. They were good friends of mine from times I had spent on leave training with the British Special Air Service. I taught Keira a lot about combat on and off stage."
"Are you and Keira... ?" Cat asked.
"No. We're not that kind of friends. First, she was too young for me and then I was in despair. I know she's interested, but I've just never been ready. I've also been driving away a lot of people who have tried to help me these past few months. Maybe that will change soon now that I'm happy again and working here."
"I hope so," Doug said. "Lots of famous women have been stopping by the club and asking me about you. The other day Gabrielle Union wanted me to give her your number. I told her to ask you for it. I'm not your manager or anything like that."
"Gabby?" Clarke's eyes widened. "She's someone I've wanted to see again for some time. What about Sarah Ferguson? She's another old conquest. Has she come around asking for me yet?"
"The Duchess of York?" Doug gaped. "Man, you do get around."
"When I have my mind set right, I do." Clarke looked at Cat. "When you get to the Olympics, Cat, there's a couple athletes I want you to say hello to for me. Both are very daring and gorgeous women. I met them when I attended their college games on leave in the US. They're both going to their first Olympics next year like you are. Heather's on the soccer team and Jennie's a softball pitcher like yourself."
"I'll give them your regards," Cat said. "What about guys? Are there any of them you want to see again?"
"You bet. Remind me before you leave and I'll give you the names."
"Why don't you finish your story, Clarke?" Doug asked to change the subject. "I don't think we're at the end just yet."
"No, I guess not. Fine. I stayed with the Knightleys for a few weeks, but I didn't let them help me. They tried, just as Deeyah and my team had, but I wouldn't let them get through. Keira saw me drinking and tried to take away my bottle. I was almost drunk enough to hit a teenage girl and when I saw her dodge in preparation just like I showed her, I felt even more ashamed. I told Keira's father and he threw me out, told me to get myself sorted before I did something I'd regret forever. I was on the streets for a couple weeks and then I found the Boar's Head. The owner, Fat Neville Hamid, took pity on me and let me run a tab and sleep in a booth."
"Then Kurtz found you," said Doug.
"Actually, Igor Ilyich Ivanov came by first. He's this former Soviet Special Forces mercenary who works for Kurtz. Igor was shaking down Fat Neville for protection money and I didn't like it. I was going to beat the tar out of him, but I was so drunk I couldn't stand. He laughed at me and told me to lay off the sauce. I was surprised when I decided to pay attention. The next time Igor came back, I challenged him again and fought hard. He beat me, but he was also impressed. So the next time he visited the Boar's Head, Jim Kurtz came too. He had a job offer for me."
"So you became a prizefighter," said Cat.
"Yeah. It seemed like the thing to do. I needed to get strong again. I cut back on the drinking and bulked up winning and losing matches. For a while, I had trouble with my emotions. Kurtz told me the outcomes of my bouts and I let him be right. Igor was keeping me distracted — I had to prove I was tougher than he was.
"Eventually, I couldn't take it anymore. I won a fight I was supposed to throw and then I left Kurtz behind. I left Igor behind too. He wanted me as a lover, but I never was attracted to him as anything other than an opponent. He hated that. Kurtz sent Igor after me, but I kicked the bastard's tail. I hid out with Fat Neville and the Knightleys. I hooked up with Shap again too, using the Internet. He gave me counseling, this time I listened, and my drinking scaled back to recreational. About three weeks afterwards, I met Doug."
"Clarke reconciled with Keira," Doug picked up the story, "and let her know he was healing. It turned out most of his old comrades were out of the military and in London looking for him, hoping for reconciliations of their own. The Friendship tries to keep well-linked people together when it can. I was a new society viceroy in London starting my business and Clarke needed a fresh line of work that would get him back some respect for himself. I gave him that."
"You did," Clarke agreed. "I will be forever grateful. You've got a streak of kindness a mile wide." He turned back to Cat. "I helped Doug take this building from Kurtz, and here we are today."
Cat smiled. "Where do we go next?"
"I'm really not sure. Somewhere good, hopefully."
"Do you think you'll ever see Deeyah again?"
"I want to. We've been trading e-mails of late. She's glad I'm okay and is continuing to put out her music and work for peace. The U.N.'s been looking after her as much as they can. The story of her kidnapping and rescue got buried in the world press, but it's still remembered well all over the Middle East and Europe. It has increased Deeyah's popularity. Her music sells great and most who listen get the words."
"That's wonderful, Clarke," Doug said. An idea to smooth over some recently developed problems had occurred to him. "Do you have a recording of hers somewhere?"
"Yep. I got her new single, 'Plan of My Own', right here in my Sony Walkman. It's terrific mood music."
"Why don't you put it on the stereo over there? Then, if you're not too tired out from all your talking, you can get undressed and come here and be with Cat and me. I won't touch you, but you feel free to touch her."
"I will touch whoever I want," Cat added with a grin. She tapped her fingers on Doug's rugged cheek, looking at Clarke all the while.
"I think my life has taken me to someplace very interesting," Clarke said, moving towards the stereo and unbuttoning his shirt. He was sure that he would revisit what followed with Doug and Cat many times at later dates.
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