Smith

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Press Conference

Jake was learning the differences between an AK47 and an M16 when Lieutenant Moscovich pulled him from his training session.

Without explaining anything, he escorted Jake to the Headquarters building and left him in a wooden chair on one side of a conference table. After sitting idly for a few minutes, Jake was startled when the door swung open and two men and one woman took seats on the opposite side of the long table.

The youngest of the men put a recorder on the table and pulled a laptop from his bag. He moved to Jake and clipped what looked like an Oximeter to his index finger.

The woman with a name tag ‘A. Sauerbrum’, a winced expression and wearing the insignia of Colonel was first to speak.

“Do you know why you are here?”

“I don’t even know where here is, Ma’am,” Jake replied. “Have I done something wrong?”

A guy with the nametag ‘T. Herzig’ and Major’s insignia, chuckled, “No, soldier. You haven’t done anything wrong yet.”

The young man tapped furiously at the keyboard of his laptop computer.

“One of the women you saved two nights ago was the wife of the Base Commander,” Herzig said.

“Ha!”

“Is she all right?”

“Yes, son, she is. Thanks to you. She gave birth to a healthy boy.”

“I’m curious how you knew the women were trapped,” Sauerbrum said. “Arrangements were being made for their rescue, but it was not generally known they were in danger.”

“I don’t like this female. She’s too suspicious.”

“I don’t understand the question. I saw a hospital on fire. Most hospital patients to my knowledge are bedridden. It seemed logical to me to attempt to rescue as many people as possible before they were suffocated or burned up.”

“So you cast aside any thought others might be preparing a rescue party or be endangered by your actions and rushed into an inferno.”

“Amanda, his answer is logical. Stop acting like a prosecutor and more like a caring human being,” Herzig said.

“Was his last statement true?” Sauerbrum asked the stenographer.

“Yes.”

Jake was puzzled by the response until he looked at what he had thought was an Oximeter.

“Yes, it’s a truth detector,” Sauerbrum smiled. “Now why don’t you stop lying and admit you’re a publicity seeking clown.”

Jake felt his ring tighten.

“That witch! Close your eyes, Jake. I don’t want to get any blood in them.”

“Cut it out,” Jake mumbled.

“Are you threatening a superior officer?” Sauerbrum asked.

“I wasn’t talking to you, Ma’am. Just myself.”

“You American males are insufferable. If it was up to me, there would be no more of you in my Army.”

“Colonel Sauerbrum, you are relieved,” a voice said.

Everyone looked to see who had spoken, stood hastily and saluted. Jake stood as well, but his salute looked awkward with the truth detector on his finger.

Base Commander General Prager stood in the doorway. Colonel Sauerbrum gathered her things and strode from the room glaring daggers at Jake.

“Good riddance. Someone must have put goat intestines in her mush this morning. What a crab.”

Jake did the best he could to stifle a laugh. He sounded like a croaking frog.

“I apologize for the attitude of Colonel Sauerbrum. She has the best interests of the Base at heart,” the General said as he walked to his seat. “But her methods can be harsh.”

“She’s a broom riding man-hater.”

“So you are the soldier who saved my wife and child. Nice to meet you.”

“What a stroke of luck. The Base Commander’s main concubine and progeny.”

“Stop talking. I can’t think,” Jake said under his breath.

Prager stared like he thought Jake was replying to him. The pause was almost too long.

“Yes sir. Same here,” Jake said.

“What am I going to do with you?” Prager asked. “The Press is demanding I name the person who saved all the pregnant mothers. The Prime Minister has inquired. I have delayed a response to give myself time to think of the best way to present you.”

“What are you suggesting, Sir?” Herzig asked.

“With the current state of affairs in Israel, the politicians are excited by the belief the Army has a real hero they can parade before the Press. I think we need to polish this young man’s image. After all, he enlisted only a few days ago.”

“My plan is moving along better than I expected.”

“We’re going to promote this young man to Second Lieutenant and present him as a military savant. A natural soldier with innate talents transcending ordinary Basic Training. He will not only bolster the morale of the public, but my Army as well.”

“Sir, it is my honor to accept the commission. SAY IT!”

“Sir, it would be my honor to accept the commission, but I’m afraid I’m not worthy.”

The ring tightened enough to stop the blood circulation in Jake’s finger, and it grew numb. Jake glanced at it and noticed a blue tinge begin darkening.

“Don’t destroy the opportunity I have provided you. Now say, Sir, it is my honor to accept the commission”.

“Worthy or not, you have demonstrated bravery of the kind I want the rest of my Command to emulate. I’m not giving you a choice.”

“Sir, it is my honor to accept the commission,” Jake said with a grimace. The ring relaxed.

“Excellent, Lieutenant. Major Herzig, take care of the necessaries. There is a Press Conference in one hour.”

***

The Headquarters building served as the backdrop for a hastily assembled speaker’s platform.

A podium draped with the Base Flag stood before rows of steel folding chairs. Jake stood behind the assembled guests with Major Herzig. Even with sunglasses, the glare of the afternoon sun was dazzling. The new dress uniform he’d been ordered to wear was stiff and smelled like it had just come from the factory. Jake had a strong urge to run away. All this adult stuff didn’t feel right.

The Israeli Prime Minister began his speech with an introduction of distinguished people and other guests. Each person was told to stand and wave to the crowd. Jake was bored until he heard a familiar name.

“One man taking time from his busy schedule to be with us to honor our hero of the day is Head of the Israeli Research Division in charge of the excavation of King Solomon’s Temple.”

Turning and gesturing, he announced. “Mr. Jibar Safize Laspor.”

Jake couldn’t believe what he heard. Standing and acknowledging the light clapping, the beret pulled tight against the breeze, the unmistakable face smiled at the crowd and then swiveled toward Jake. With narrowed eyes, he resumed his seat.

“The man is trouble. I recommend elimination.”

“I don’t like the guy, but I’m not a murderer. I read one time about Karma. What goes around comes around.”

“The concept of Karma originated with Lord Krishna, an acquaintance of mine around 3,100 years ago. He had 8 queens and over 16,000 junior wives. It is my recollection he had quite an appetite if you gather what I mean. It was after an argument with the queens about the amount of time he was spending with his junior wives that he formed the concept of what goes around comes around.”

“For now, just keep an eye on him,” Jake sighed.

The Israeli Prime Minister finished his interminable diatribe extolling the virtues of the Army and asked General Prager to introduce the hero. Jake heard his name called and shuffled toward the podium.

“Now act wise and humble. Relax. Loosen your back muscles. Stand up straighter.”

“Stop telling me what to do all the time,” Jake muttered. “You’re as bad as my father.”

General Prager greeted him with a salute, and the Prime Minister shook his hand. The look on the Minister’s face when he touched the cold sweat covering Jake’s palm was hilarious.

Camera flashes made his eyes water, and he fought the impulse to wipe them with his sleeve. The Prime Minister smiled and gestured for him to speak. Hearing a buzz, Jake spotted a drone hovering nearby with its camera pointed his way.

Before he could utter a word, there were shouted questions from the throng of reporters. Not knowing where to begin, Jake spotted a woman wearing a light brown outfit who reminded him of Avner’s mother. She was standing next to a brown skinned, hawk nosed man who kept looking at his notepad. Pointing at the lady, Jake nodded.

“Did you know there were pregnant women trapped in the hospital?” she asked.

Jake cleared his throat and coughed as he remembered some US Senator did during a televised hearing.

“I didn’t know. My only thought was to rescue anyone who might be in there.”

“Great answer. You are going to be famous.”

“Do you know why the firefighters waited so long to gather a rescue party?”

“Be careful with this one. You want to praise the firefighters, not create enemies.”

“I’m not stupid,” Jake said.

Unfortunately, every word was broadcast by the podium microphone. The gaggle of reporters became silent. Jake thought he heard a sharp intake of breath behind him.

“What I meant to say is I knew the fire was out of control despite the best efforts of the Base firefighters. It was my decision, right or wrong, to try and help them as best I could. I was lucky. The firefighters are the real heroes.”

An arm draped across his shoulder, and Jake felt the Prime Minister nudge him aside.

Angling the microphone, the Minister said, “Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press, Jake is a soldier first and a spokesman last. He is used to bullets being fired at him, not Press questions.”

Several people in the crowd snickered. Jake felt a wave of relief as his obligation to speak disappeared.

With no warning, the podium jumped sideways and splintered. Everyone froze. It was only when the delayed sound of the gunshot blasted away the silence that people began to scream. The podium lurched once more, erupted in a shower of splinters and tumbled off the platform.

Jake grabbed the Minister and dragged him off the stage to the side opposite the source of the gunfire. Another bullet whacked near his head as he peered around the edge trying to see if the reporters were safe.

“What is happening?” the Minister whispered as another bullet thunked nearby.

Jake tried to find Laspor, but he was nowhere to be seen.

“Jake, the Prime Minister is safe. I want you to run to the forklift behind you.”

Jake saw a forklift. It must have been used during construction of the platform. “Are you crazy? I’m not bulletproof.”

“Nothing can harm you. Now gird your loins and get moving.”

Ignoring the Minister’s pleas, Jake shuffled and crawled to the forklift. It had a load of empty pallets on its forks.

“Now what?”

“Get in and start it. There’s the key. According to the instruction manual, pull the longest lever on the right to raise the forks. The pallets will shield you. The thing is supposed to drive like a car. Sort of.”

“Sort of?” Jake asked as he started the machine.

High powered bullets hammered the pallets, but none got through them.

“Head toward the second hangar to the left. The sniper is there.”

“How do you know?”

“Your helpers have located him. Now trust me.”

Something grabbed at his left arm, pulling it away from the steering wheel. It was the hawk nosed man who’d been standing by the reporter. He was trying to point a pistol at Jake.

“Damned Edomite. Take that!”

Jake thought he saw a thick, scaly hand coalesce from smoke to reality. The hand covered the face of the man and squeezed. There was a spongy squish, and the man fell away. Jake wasn’t sure, but he thought the man’s head had popped like a grape.

In the past his eyes had been closed or his vision blocked. He had felt scaly fingers but never seen the source. Jake was too busy handling the trundling forklift to get into a discussion, but he made a mental note to find out what Smith meant by ‘your helpers’.

***

The pallets were pocked and splintered by high caliber bullets to the point of no return, but they lasted long enough for Jake to drive under the roof of the hangar receiving dock.

Grabbing an M16 from under a dead soldier, Jake ran into the dark hangar.

He heard rifle fire from overhead.

“Now I can go to work.”

The ring tightened, and four shadowy figures appeared from thickening, swirling black smoke. Jake smelled sulfur, and the apparitions solidified. Whispered words in a language Jake didn’t understand came from nowhere. The figures didn’t walk so much as they floated into the depths of the dark warehouse.

“Get behind something thick and metallic.”

“Why?”

The question was answered. Just not by Smith. Automatic gunfire erupted followed by sparks as bullets ricocheted everywhere. The gunfire ended with screams of pain. Or was it fright? Jake couldn’t be sure. There was a meaty, ripping sound followed by complete silence.

“All clear. There is a set of metal stairs 30 feet to your right next to the wall. Move.”

Keeping his weapon ready as he’d been taught in this morning’s training class, Jake jogged to the stairs and climbed. They led to a catwalk near the rafters. He heard what sounded like a rubber mallet hitting a trash can lid, and a flash suppressor revealed the position of the sniper. Inching toward the man, Jake felt sweat dripping into his eyes and soaking his underarms.

He’d never shot anything, not even with a BB gun. The uncertainty of whether he could do what was required of him began weakening his resolve. Smith felt his shaking body.

“Fear not, for I am with you.”

For a split second, Jake’s intuition chilled. The last thing Smith said sounded familiar. He knew he had heard it before somewhere. Then reality choked off further pondering.

The shooter sensed someone approaching and swiveled his weapon toward Jake.

Jake experienced a new sensation. A loaded gun, pointed at him by a killer, focused his attention to a pinpoint. All he saw was the barrel end of the rifle. His only thought was to get out of its line of fire. Twisting sideways, he molded himself into as small a space as possible against the steel roof.

Nothing happened.

Jake couldn’t figure out why the gun didn’t fire until Smith explained.

“Gunpowder to sand. Remember?”

The sniper snapped the bolt and pulled the trigger. Every time he heard nothing but a snick as the firing pin struck. Throwing the weapon aside in disgust, he pulled a combat dagger and stalked toward Jake.

“At last a blade. I was getting the impression most military types had abandoned the true staple of killing lore.”

“Glad you’re impressed. Now what?”

When Jake didn’t shoot him, the killer must have thought he was out of ammo. A knowing grin revealed yellow and brown stained teeth.

Approaching in a crouch, he waved the knife back and forth.

Resolve tightened Jake’s gut. The smooth way the sniper handled the blade left no doubt he was trained in the use of edged weapons. Jake squeezed. His weapon vibrated and slugs popped holes in the man’s torso. The knife clattered aside.

“Too easy. Guns make killing impersonal.”

“Shut up.”

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