It’s characteristically quiet on the flight back to London. Laci sits in the seat across and to the right of me, next to the window. The Collective’s private jet seats sixteen. The two cream-colored plush leather seats face two more, with a plastic table separating them. Three more setups just like this one fills the body of the plane. A monitor is mounted on the wall next to the Pilot’s cockpit, where the Collective is able to send operational intel straight to the plane. Right now, a picture of Amir Artoli and General Sadiq Akol are side by side on the screen. Laci’s been typing on her tablet for three and a half hours. Anything to not have to talk to me, I guess. I assume she’s filling out her after action report. I lay my seat back and close my eyes. May as well make good use of all this silence, and sleep.
After the plane took off, I was too worried to relax. I watched Michael from my window until he was no longer visible. I could tell Laci was still pissed about having to leave. My safest recourse was to stay away from the sting of that viper. I do wonder, however, why the General wanted only Laci and me to return. The only thing that makes sense is the geography, and by Laci’s reaction she most likely thought the same. Whatever it is, the General has his reasons, and I’d bet my life she won’t question him on it.
I used the first three hours to fill out my after-action report as well. My stomach started to turn again as I recounted the images of the bodies as we looked for Artoli. Trying to block it out, I breezed through that portion as quickly as I could. I’ll still have to debrief when I land, but at least the paperwork will be done. Dollars to donuts, Artoli will be our next mission if the boys don’t yield anything fruitful as to his whereabouts.
With the paperwork out of the way, it affords me a little shut eye. Try as I might to rest, every time I close my eyes all I see is death. I reach for my earbuds and place them firmly in my ears. I focus on the lyrics of the song instead of the grotesque images trying to surface. As the twilight sleep is finally starting to creep in, I hear Laci shout, “Shit,” loud enough for me to hear her through the grogginess, and my music. My eyes pop open and my head flies up.
My adrenaline is sky high. My body and mind are still in battle mode. Hearing the worry in her voice doesn’t take the edge off one bit. My eyes track Laci as she shoots out of her seat. Ignoring my question, she heads for the cockpit.
“Turn the plane around, now,” she demands.
“I haven’t been cleared for that,” the pilot says, emphatically
I get to my feet, trailing behind Laci as I reiterate, “What the hell is going on?”
She heads to the monitor, staring at it before she speaks, “An alert has been sent out to all agencies. The CIA, MI6, Mossad, anyone with available operatives in the region.” She looks at me then, face ashen. “Our team is down.”
I sink into the seat next to me. No. This isn’t happening. This can’t be happening. I stare up at the monitor and the screen changes. Now it shows pictures of Michael, Delaney, and Beck, followed by instruction to secure these assets by any means necessary. All favors by foreign nationals are being called upon. This has now become priority one.
“What do we do?” I ask in shock.
“What do you think we do? We turn this plane around and get our boys back.”
She brushes by me to retrieve her sat. phone from her backpack. I already know who she’s calling.
“Vivian, give the pilot the order to turn this fucking plane around.” Laci’s tone is sharp. I understand her urgency; I just feel bad that Vivian is getting the brunt of it.
“Thank you,” she states, hanging up the phone.
As she hangs up, I feel the plane taking a hard right, forcing me to hold on to the chair closest to me.
Laci is pacing the plane, making me very nervous. She’s usually the calmest out of all of us, but Michael is involved so all bets are off. The thought of losing him is incomprehensible. I think she’s still numb from the news of his abduction. She doesn’t know how, or where to focus her nervous energy. I know Laci will do anything to save Michael’s life. Finally, she settles. I watch her intently as she takes out her tablet. She transfers the image from her tablet to the monitor on the wall. It’s an aerial view of the border.
“Chandler, look at this,” she says, circling a section on her tablet.
Her circle appears on the screen mounted above our heads. It’s about eight klicks east of the border. The area is more fortified than the small villages between it and the border. The make of the structures are similar to an encampment. I think we just found Artoli’s camp. The General’s voice comes over the speakers, startling me.
“This is what we know so far. Delaney was able to call from his sat. phone. He’s been wounded, but he’s stable. Michael drew the enemy away from him, and according to Beck that’s when he was taken.”
“So, Beck was there? He saw Michael get grabbed?” I ask, confused.
“Yes-” the General starts to say.
“And he didn’t do anything?” I ask, eyeing Laci.
She folds her arms over her chest, waiting for the General’s response. I’m holding my breath.
“Michael waved him off.”
Laci unfolds her arms, exhaling as she turns her back to the monitor. My eyes close as I curse him under my breath. That’s such a Michael thing to do. Who gives a shit if he dies as long as his team is safe. It’s admirable, but in this moment, I fucking hate him for it. If he dies, I will never forgive him.
“Beck found Delaney in the cab of an abandoned rig. Michael wrapped a tourniquet around his leg to stop the bleeding, but he can’t put any pressure on it. When you two land, rendezvous with Beck at these coordinates: latitude- 6 degrees 08’ 60.00” North, longitude- 33 degrees 46” 28.79” East. They’re safe for now. Beck is watching over Delaney,” the General concludes.
“All due respect, sir, but who the fuck is watching out for Michael?” Laci bravely asks.
“Laci,” the General says her name with scorn.
“Will we have interagency cooperation?” I ask, trying to defuse the situation.
“The American and British intelligence aren’t close enough to help, but the Israelis have operatives in the area. They will coordinate with you on site. Mossad isn’t our friendliest allies, so tread lightly on what intel you share. There’s history with their director, Asher Zein, but they owe us. Keep me apprised of the situation.”
The General disconnects from the comm, and I look to Laci. Her face is twisted up in an unpleasant manner.
“At least we have a location and some ground help coming in,” I say, hopeful.
The plane touches down, and we meet up with three members of Mossad. They take us to a safe house they have not too far from the border. Introductions are made and we get right down to business.
“Our first priority is getting Delaney out, and to safety. We know where Beck is, we have their coordinates,” I state.
“Why is the Collective concerned with something as trite as getting refugees over the border; that you would risk your people like this?” A man named Ariel asks.
His tone is one of bewilderment. He’s quite striking. His skin tone and facial structures are similar to Michael’s. Looking at all three, I can see a slight resemblance. Not completely, but enough to have me wonder if maybe his lineage is somewhere in Northeast Africa or the Middle East.
“You’re here to help us get our men back, correct?” Laci asks, stepping closer to Ariel.
“Then let’s go get my men back.” Laci holds his gaze.
Youssef and Daniel grab their weapons off the table. The two men eye each other before Daniel speaks, “Let’s head out.”
It’s dark out, and makes for the perfect cover. The five-mile hike will be difficult for Delaney to make on foot. We’ve brought a stretcher to transport him, but will need to make frequent stops for rest along the way. This will put a major time restraint on getting Michael out while we still have the cover of night.
As we pass through the small villages, I envision Michael taking this same route. We pass a small straw hut when I hear wailing in the distance, and I freeze. It sounds horrific, like someone in real pain. Youssef gives us a hand signal to continue forward.
“It’s just a goat.”
Wow, I guess I never realized what a goat sounded like. Aside from the wailing goat, it’s pretty peaceful in this part of . . . I don’t know what they call it; a town, or a village. The air is warm, but there’s a nice breeze that comes and cools us down every now and then. We finally make it to the encampment, and I can see the rig the General was talking about. Delaney and Beck are close. We’re almost to the exact coordinates the General sent us. We take on an arrow shaped formation with Ariel at the tip. Daniel and Laci take the right flank, while Youssef and I take the left. We slowly and quietly move toward Beck and Delaney’s location, scanning our sectors as we go. Every few steps the tail, consisting of Daniel and Youssef, turn around to scan our six. We arrive at an old rusty shed. Laci looks around at all of us. We all nod, preparing for an unfriendly welcome before she wraps on the door, using Morse code. If Beck is in there, he’ll know it’s us. The door flies open. Beck is standing there pointing his M4 at us. I can see Delaney propped up against the dirt floor with his rifle trained on us as well. Beck inhales deeply at the sight of us, lowering his weapon.
“Oh, thank God. The cavalry has arrived,” he says, stepping away to walk back to Delaney.
“Who can I thank for the assist?” Delaney asks as Beck and Youssef help him to his feet.
“They’re Mossad agents. The General called in a few favors,” I explain.
“Well, I’m grateful,” he says to the two men heading out the door to cover our exit.
“We need a game plan to get Michael out,” Beck states.
“We’ll help you get your injured back, but you’re on your own for the extraction. We’re not risking our lives when you won’t even share your intel. You can gather your wounded from our safe house when you’re ready to leave the country,” Ariel says, without remorse.
Beck and Youssef help Delaney onto the stretcher. Beck stands up, eyeing the three Mossad agents. He walks over to Ariel, who seems to be in charge.
“Nothing better happen to our man. You get him to safety,” he states with unshakable resolve. He turns to Laci and me.
“We’ll get Michael out.”
Laci and I nod. Beck turns back to the three men, who we’re trusting with Delaney’s life.
“He’ll be safe,” Ariel assures us.
Beck bends down shaking Delaney’s hand. “We’ll see you soon, brotha.”
Delaney clasps his hand around Becks. “Watch your ass out there,” he says before looking at Laci and me.
“All of you. Don’t make me leave this God forsaken country alone.”
“We’ll see you soon, Coop,” I assure him.
Laci walks up, patting him on his shoulder. “We’ll get him back.”
The three men head out of the shack with Delaney and we head toward the rebel camp. If the intel is right Michael should be in the vicinity.
Before we get too far from the shack Laci grabs my arm.
“You remember what I told you while you were in the infirmary?” She glares at me.
I nod. “I was counting on that.”