Through the convenience store window, Moriah Jensen eyed the black Escalade with Illinois plates rolling down the dinky little town’s Main Street. Tugging on her baseball cap, she made sure her face was concealed as she hid behind the magazine rack to the left of the front door. The driver and the two passengers of the vehicle had their windows down as they swiveled their heads in every direction. It was obvious they were looking for someone…well, not just anyone—they were looking for her.
Shit. How had they found her again? She was in the middle of Ohio, in some town too tiny for its own Walmart. It was far from being the bustling metropolis Chicago was. How could they have picked this town, of all places, to look for her? This couldn’t be happening. She’d been so careful, staying under the radar by using an alias and not using her ATM card. She’d picked a name similar to her own, Maura Jennings, so she wouldn’t slip up and not respond to the fictional name.
Her driver’s license! Fuck! She had given her real driver’s license to the police officer yesterday when the college girls, who’d given her a lift, had gotten into a fender-bender on the way into town. Moriah hadn’t been able to run from the scene because it happened right in front of a patrol car. After the officer had returned her license, she’d been allowed to leave, and she thought that was the end of it. But it must be how the men in the Escalade found her.
Damn it! She had to be more diligent and at the first opportunity, she’d have to figure out how to get a forged license with her alias on it…something which could pass a cop’s inspection. It would be better if she didn’t get pulled over at all, but shit happened. And mistakes like that could get her arrested or even worse—killed.
She glanced around the store, grateful to see no one was paying any attention to her. In her jeans and bland T-shirt, she wasn’t wearing anything which would make her stand out. Hopefully, no one would remember seeing her if the men came in here asking questions. Hiking the strap of her large duffel bag higher on her shoulder, she watched the vehicle turn left at a traffic light two blocks down. When it was out of sight, she pulled her hat down further, exited the store, and hurried across the parking lot in the opposite direction
The duffel and her backpack felt heavier with every step, and they prevented her from running as fast as she wanted to. But she couldn’t leave either one behind—she needed the money, gun, and what few clothes she’d grabbed on her way out of Chicago.
The girls she’d gotten a lift from while hitchhiking had dropped her off last night at an old motel a few blocks away. With the bus station nearby, it was perfect for her to rest before getting a ticket to someplace far away from here…and Chicago. She headed in that direction now and not wanting to be seen, she stayed behind the buildings and anything else which would conceal her. Her heart pounded in her chest every time she had to be in the open, and she prayed she would make it out of this bum-fuck town alive. She knew those men would have no problem killing her to get what they wanted.
Twenty minutes later, Moriah was huddled in the back of a bus heading to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and from there, she would get another ticket to God-only-knew-where. As long as it was taking her far away, she didn’t care. She had nothing left to care about—nothing except her own life.
* * *
Inching forward in silence, with his face painted tan and dark brown, the same colors of his camouflage fatigues, the man was almost invisible in the terrain surrounding a small village south of Mosul, Iraq. United States Navy Lieutenant KC Malone lay a mere forty yards behind a dilapidated structure where two U.S. Army pilots were being held captive. The building, a little larger than a tiki hut, was one of eight still standing in the otherwise destroyed and abandoned village which was now occupied by ISIS forces. The men had been taken hostage after their AH-64 Apache helicopter had been shot down six weeks ago, but their current location was far from the crash site as they’d been moved by rebel forces several times. However, less than thirty-six hours ago, CIA intelligence had finally been able to pinpoint their position. Members of SEAL Team Six were being sent in to retrieve the men before they were moved again, or killed in retribution for the recent slaying of a high-ranking ISIS leader.
It was two minutes before oh-four-hundred hours, and the entire camp of twenty-three terrorists was asleep except for three guards who looked as if they desperately wanted to join their comrades. KC and his team had parachuted down to a landing zone approximately three miles away and had approached the village in stealth. They’d been in hiding for the past two hours, waiting for the guards to succumb to early morning fatigue and begin dozing off. The other fifteen members of the team were strategically spread out, surrounding the village, and awaiting KC’s go-ahead order. Chief Tobias Anderson III was on his left, ready to recover the hostages with him. The rest of the team would provide cover and distractions. A support team was two minutes out by chopper if shit went south. The original Blackhawk helicopter also remained nearby, waiting to swoop down for the extraction of the team with their recovered charges.
KC scanned the area one last time through his night vision goggles, checked the time, and then tapped the microphone on his communication headset. “It’s a go.”
He had to keep himself from chuckling when he heard a soft voice respond through his earpiece. “Here comes trouble!”
A half second later, an ammunition storage shack on the far side of the camp exploded in a thundering wall of flames. The terrorists, known in military-speak as tangos, poured out into the compound in confusion and dropped to the ground as automatic gunfire was sprayed in their direction from all sides. KC and his chief quickly reached the back of the building housing the hostages and snuck their way around to the front entrance.
The ISIS rebels were desperately trying to return fire at the invisible enemy well-hidden in the night. Those who were still alive were too busy running for cover to notice the two men entering the simple wood and brick structure. KC hurried over to the nearest man lying prone on the ground. Although the pilot was covered in dirt and grime, the lieutenant was still able to distinguish the remnants of the U.S. Army flight suit. The man appeared weak, but alert. “Captain Nichols?” When the man nodded, his eyes widening in disbelief and hope, the SEAL continued with wry humor. “U.S. Navy, here to save your sorry fucking asses, sir. Are you able to run?”
The emaciated Captain nodded his head again and scrambled to his bare feet with the help of his rescuer. “I think so.”
“Where’s Lieutenant Fisher?”
“Over there,” Nichols replied, indicating the southwest corner of the dirt floor. “He was beaten up pretty badly yesterday. Been in and out of it all night.”
KC reached behind him where he had a pair of combat boots and black socks hooked to his belt and handed them to Nichols. “Here, quick. Throw these on. Figured you’d need them. I brought a pair for Fischer, but I doubt he’ll be running.”
Rushing over to the unconscious man lying near the back wall, KC did a quick assessment. He thanked God when he found the man was breathing and had a weak pulse. Unable to rouse the young pilot, he picked him up and threw him over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry as if he were a five-pound sack of potatoes. He indicated to Nichols to join Chief Anderson where the big man stood at the door, his eyes and weapon aimed outside, providing cover. Speaking into his com-set, Malone informed the rest of his team that the hostages had been recovered, and they were ready to haul ass to the extraction point. “Pick up the action, boys, so we can slip out of here and get a head start.
The sound of gunfire immediately increased from the blackness surrounding the camp. Anderson, Nichols, and then KC carrying Fisher, filed out of the hut, disappearing over a nearby hill as fast as possible in absolute silence. KC had no trouble carrying the unconscious man on his back over the treacherous terrain. The private barely weighed a hundred and forty pounds after his ordeal. The four men were met by two other camouflaged SEALs about fifty yards out. One took point, leading the group, while the other man and Anderson covered the rear to ensure they weren’t followed. Even though it was still dark, the humidity hung on the men like wet blankets, and while the SEAL team was used to conditions as miserable as this, the hostages were weak from abuse and malnutrition. Anderson had to grab Nichols several times when the captain stumbled.
Three minutes after they cleared the first hill, KC’s team gave the all clear, and he passed it on to the Army support staff back at base. In his head, he counted off thirty seconds, and then the remaining tangos and village exploded under a U.S. airstrike, at the same time the last of the team caught up with the others. A few moments later, the helicopter which would carry them away from this hellhole appeared and landed a half a football field away. Ducking low as they approached, the team climbed on board with the two rescued soldiers, and then the big military bird lifted back off the ground. The well-practiced landing and takeoff had taken less than ninety seconds.
KC glanced around and surveyed his team—all were present and accounted for with no signs of injuries. The hostages were alive and secure. Lieutenant Fisher was already being tended to by the team medic and was showing signs of awakening. Thank God. It had been another successful mission. He wished they all went this smoothly, but that was like praying for the sky to fall. There were no guarantees in his business. The older he got, the more that sad fact was proven.
He felt Captain Nichols, who was seated next to him, tap him on his upper arm. “Not that I’m ungrateful for you rescuing us, but Army is still going to kick Navy’s fucking ass at the next football game.”
“I don’t think so, sir. Hoo-yah!”
The helicopter cabin erupted in a chorus of hoo-yahs, followed by relieved laughter as everyone relaxed and settled in for the long ride back to the base. KC closed his eyes and looked forward to heading home for four weeks of well-deserved leave.
* * *
“What do you fucking mean you can’t find her? It’s a two-bit, fucking town without a fucking Walmart. How big can the place fucking be?”
Leo Simmons cringed at the chewing out he was getting over the cell phone. He’d fucked up big time, and Hernandez was giving him a chance to fix it. If he didn’t find the bitch and the money, he was as good as dead when the drug dealer got his hands on him. Running would be futile since the man had connections across the U.S. Maybe he could make it over the Canadian border or down into Mexico before they caught up to him. But he’d rather find Susan’s sister and put a bullet in her brain for taking what was his…well, not really his, but his boss’s.
When Hernandez stopped his rant to take a breath, Simmons tried to placate him. “The guy at the motel said she’d already left. We checked the bus depot and then drove up and down the main strip. There’s no sign of her, but we’ll keep looking.”
“You fucking better. This is your fucking screw-up. Fix it!”
The call disconnected and he wanted to throw the phone at the brick wall of the convenience store they were parked next to. That bitch had to be here somewhere. Her license was run late last night by a cop in this hick town. Apparently, she got into a car accident with a bunch of chicks. Simmons and two of Hernandez’s flunkies had driven all night to get here, but the fucking cunt was nowhere to be found. They couldn’t even find the car the chicks were in to ask them about her.
Kicking a bottle across the parking lot in frustration, he strode back to the Cadillac where his partners for this trip were waiting. Climbing in the back seat, he slammed the door. “Let’s drive around again. That bitch has to be here somewhere.”
©Samantha A. Cole 2017