April 2nd, 2014 08:25 AM, Herat, Afghanistan
Cole wore a smile as he calmly lowered the binoculars and ducked below his vantage point’s ornate cornice. Everything was ready to go now...all of his team’s hard work finally paying off. It was going to take a couple of minutes for the video data to upload, so, he decided to take a moment and meditate. Cole wiped his forehead and quietly listened to the energetic, vibrant noises of the city rising up from below his twelve story perch. These ops always made him feel alive, even though he was only sitting on the hot rooftop of some old building in Afghanistan...but here he was, a stranger in an alien land; and one doing such important work. Honest work. He swept his eyes over the cloudless blue skyline kissing the tops of the sunbaked Hindu Kush Mountains. Their peaks rose skyward for miles far beyond the much tinier building’s edge.
Such beauty, those mountains...
His smile dissipated as a huge wave of sorrow suddenly rolled over him, forcing the typically calm, stoic man to tense. Cole’s mind filled with images of his children, of Frannie, of those beautiful Appalachian hills...tears emerged from around his eyes. He sputtered and dropped the binoculars, burying his face in his hands.
Cole snapped to reality upon hearing his call sign and lifted an arm to wipe the tears away with a dusty shirtsleeve. He took a swig of water from his canteen, coughed, and then whispered with a sniff into his throat mic, “Uh, Smoky...here, Xanadu...”
“What do you have Smoky? Xanadu is all ears,” Delinda replied, leaning forward in her seat. She tapped a few keys on her computer’s keyboard and brought up the team’s GPS triangulation GUI (Graphic User Interface) on the center-mounted monitor.
“Xanadu, I sent you a painting for you to verify its authenticity,” Cole said.
"I’m looking for it now.”
Cole shielded his eyes from the mid-afternoon sun and glanced up at the digital camera he left parked on the building’s ledge. Cole noted the status light was flickering; an indication that the camera was still transmitting data.
Delinda opened another application window and dragged it over to her second monitor. Slowly, the grainy video image of a young Asian-American woman pacing around the gate of a walled compound appeared in its center. Activating the CIA’s facial recognition program, Delinda watched the software quickly parse and match several points on the electronic face to thousands of other photographs of varying sizes and detail. Suddenly, the machine beeped, eliciting a smile from its operator. “I see your picture, Smoky and it’s a Picaso.” Delinda looked over her shoulder as Aaron appeared behind her from the shadows. “Hey, boss. Cole just radio’d in with a visual confirmation. ID confirms it’s Medicine Woman!”
"Fantastic!” Aaron remarked as he examined the video. “Everyone else checked in?”
“Smoky, hold as I call the kids to let them know that Santa’s dealer sold us the real deal,” Delinda said into her headset.
"Roger,” Cole replied.
“Did you all copy that, kids?”
"Reb’s wide awake out here and ready to dance,” Mike said, standing in front of a nearby butcher shop.
“Ben dittos what Reb says, Xanadu,” Chris replied softly. He was reading a newspaper, seated outside of a small café.
“I see you, Ben,” Delinda responded in her headset.
“Santa’s ready to play Pole Position out here,” Nick said, cranking up the ancient Volkswagen bus.
Delinda glanced back, “Seems it’s all a go. Clear to move, boss?”
Aaron nodded. “Go get her.”
Delinda placed her fingers to her headset. “Okay, Smoky, it’s on you, now. Bring Medicine Woman home, you guys. Bring her home.”
“Roger. Hey, heads up, everyone...she’s moving. Medicine Woman is going to the dance. Five, four, three...we’re on!” Cole responded, observing the VP’s niece walking into the street toward the local mosque. He snatched the camera from the ledge and darted down the stairs that descended through the middle of the dilapidated building. One filled with dirty floors, flaking paint, and noisy people.
Emerging into the sunlight and onto the bustling street outside, Cole calmed himself, and pulled his red keffiyeh scarf over his face. He grasped the shoulder straps of his backpack, lowered his head, and attempted to blend in with the throngs of people meandering about in the large market outside of Dr. Feda Nuristani’s walled compound.
April 2nd, 2014 08:32 AM, Herat, Afghanistan
“Ben sees Smoky,” Chris said into his throat mic. He calmly turned a page on the local newspaper, eyes continuing to follow Cole as he waded through the bustling ocean of humanity sweeping past the front of the cafe. “Ben does not see Medicine Woman, yet.”
Cole disappeared into the crowd.
“Reb just saw the Medicine Woman dancing your way to meet her partner, Ben. Ten seconds to you,” Mike added, standing on the opposite side of the street from Chris and appearing aloof.
“Acknowledged.” Chris slightly lowered the paper and stood, searching the faces passing by until he saw her. “Ben sees Medicine Woman, now...moving to meet and greet.”
“Roger, Ben,” Delinda replied. “Take it easy. We don’t know how she’ll react. And whatever you do, try to make sure she does not meet her partner...understood?”
“Understood,” Chris said under his breath. He pushed through the crowd until he was able to slide up next to the Vice President’s niece, Sally Cao (pronounced chow). The agent matched the girl’s speed, but continued to stare straight ahead, separating the crowd for the two of them to keep walking together. Finally, the crowd broke with Chris and the doctor now marching nearly side-by-side through an open-air market.
Sally sheepishly and very carefully lifted her eyes to see who it was that had approached her.
Chris leaned down. “Dr. Cao? My name is Chris Biltmore and I was sent to get you out of here.”
The girl’s eyes darted around nervously, attempting to assess her safety...or lack thereof.
“Dr. Cao? Nod your head if you wish me to help you escape,” he whispered. “We don’t have much time. Please...”
The pair were momentarily separated by a group of laughing children passing between them.
Sally smiled as they passed and then looked up at Chris. She stopped walking and stood in the street as if frozen with fear.
Chris stilled himself as well and nervously waited for a reply. He looked around and noticed they were beginning to gain some attention. He knew they were probably too close to the mosque, but this was their only opportunity. “Well?” he asked softly.
Sally began to nod her head up and down very slowly as a tear ran down her pretty cheek.
“Move, you guys!” Chris heard Cole’s voice in his earpiece. “The Physician is coming to the dance with his men!”
“What is that American doing with her?” someone asked in Pashto.
“American? Where?” another exclaimed.
“Isn’t she Feda’s property?”
“Shit! They’re on to us!” Chris grabbed the doctor’s hand. “Let’s go!”
The pair sprinted forward through the surprised crowd, Chris leading them both toward a nearby alley. They could hear the shouts of several angry men increasing in volume coming from behind them.
“Don’t look back!” Chris said over his shoulder as he led the doctor down a predetermined escape route down a couple of side streets. “Almost there!”
Sally began to scream as she felt someone grab her shoulder and Chris’ grasp on her hand loosen. However, before the sound could escape her lips, someone wrapped an arm around her neck, placing a hand over her mouth. She struggled against her captor as she helplessly watched her savior vanish into another crowd of people.