A Farewll to Arms

A Farewll to Arms A Farewll to Arms

Status: Finished

Genre: Romance

Details

Status: Finished

Genre: Romance

Summary

A Farewell to Arms is the definitive war novel. It is hard to cover because we don’t fight wars like that anymore. But the love story is the real heart of the piece. And that's what I centered on here. For you closet existentialists out there. If you stayed awake during American Lit you will notice that the Hemingway story stops at the Epilogue… I am a hopeless romantic and I can’t write an ending as dark as his. So I had to give it a happy ending… Kind-of… Sort of… Enjoy

Summary

A Farewell to Arms is the definitive war novel. It is hard to cover because we don’t fight wars like that anymore. But the love story is the real heart of the piece. And that's what I centered on here. For you closet existentialists out there. If you stayed awake during American Lit you will notice that the Hemingway story stops at the Epilogue… I am a hopeless romantic and I can’t write an ending as dark as his. So I had to give it a happy ending… Kind-of… Sort of… Enjoy

Content

Submitted: August 12, 2016

A A A | A A A

Content

Submitted: August 12, 2016

A A A

A A A


A Farewell to Arms

You don’t go to North Yorkshire for the social life. Maybe it’s the relentless overcast and cold rain. Or maybe it’s the fact that the sheep outnumber the locals. But the natives won’t speak to you unless you sport a flat cap, wear Wellies and have a whippet by your side.

I was in Yorkshire because that is where the National Security Agency has its largest signals intelligence operation outside of Fort Meade. I am NOT violating any national secrets by telling you that. All you have to do is drive past RAF Menwith Hill. And the 30 white domes, that look like somebody is conducting a mass hot air balloon launch, will give you a clue.

I was in Yorkshire as part of my assignment for the NSA. They download the SIGINT for Afghanistan at Menwith. But, it is a long reach from Kandahar, up to the satellites and then down again to our U.K. installation. So you have to go back and forth between the two places if you want to be absolutely certain that your information hasn’t been messed with.

The absolute integrity of our data feeds is important. That’s because the media is everywhere and it covers everything. And you can get some very bad press, if you inadvertently tuck a Hellfire-Romeo into a Tango’s back pocket while innocent civilians are standing nearby. So, the NSA keeps some poor schmuck permanently on station in the Sandbox.

That’s me.

You can’t ask one of the grunts to do it. They are there to light-up the natives, not analyze 40 gigahertz signals. So, SIGINT has to be done by someone with my particular set of skills.

I am a Grey Fox, which is a Jay-Sock code name for a fully weaponized geek. I have the ability to shoot you. But at the same time, I am anything but heroic. That’s what the OTHER people are there for.

Me? I do whatever it takes to stay out of harm’s way.

The Jarheads I am billeted with are either too unimaginative or too stupid to grasp the concept of their own grisly death. I guess that’s why we call them “bullet catchers.”

But then again, they’re kids. I am a little older and a whole lot wiser. And so, if there’s a call to do anything ill-advised I am ALWAYS at the back of the line.

Fortunately, nobody sees me for what I really am - which is a totally non-aggressive geek. Everybody thinks of me as some kind of swashbuckling, latter-day, electronic beau sabreur.

That is strictly a misperception on their part. I am much bigger than average. And my craggy good-looks leave people with the impression that I am the essence of stalwart courage.

Which just goes to show you that appearances can be deceiving.  

You can forget about all of the Hooorahhh bullshit that you hear from the Marines. The only reason why I was in that third world shithole was to make sure that the U.S.’s Ka Band transmissions are secure.

And my only aim was to keep my precious hide intact while I was doing it. So if one of the Devil-Dogs wants to do something brave, I am more than happy to stand aside and let him do it.  

Of course, the data feeds are two way communications. So I am in Yorkshire just as often as I am in The ‘Stan. And since, Yorkshire is as cold and rainy, as Kandahar is hot and dusty, it is safe to say that my luck in work venues universally sucks.

It’s a complex system. The Hellfire-armed Predators and Reapers are flown out of Creech AFB in Nevada, which is the other leg of the triangle. It’s all satellite enabled. And it is one of those 21st Century phenomena that have shaped the modern battlespace into something that Sun Tzu, or Von Clausewitz wouldn’t recognize.

Signals intelligence is geek work. But the part of my duty that takes place in Afghanistan can also get you killed.

Your untimely death might be the cost of doing business in downtown Kabul. But the odds go infinitely higher when you start exploring in-country, which is something that I occasionally and very unwillingly have to do.

The Air Force doesn’t deign to fly into the nooks and crannies of the surrounding mountains. And that creates some pretty big holes in our electronic intelligence net. So the only way to get good SIGINT is to patrol on foot in those mountain gaps.

And, there is nothing like climbing a narrow mountain trail with 80 pounds of electronic gear on your back to make you rethink your career goals. Especially if you are in a dangerous place like Helmand Province.

  ~

We had been dropped by Chinook to patrol from Lashkar Gah toward Marjah. I was there with a platoon from the Fifth Marines. We were just starting to enter a little mountain plateau, when all hell broke loose.

There were 30 of us and a whole lot more of the bad guys. I really wasn’t in a position to count. Since I was too busy diving behind a rock. Still, I didn’t have to be a tactical genius to figure out that we were in deep kimchi.

For those of you who have never had the pleasure; the movies don’t come close to portraying what it is really like to be shot at.

The gunfire is just background noise. What you are painfully aware of is the vicious “viiiiiiping” sound of the near misses as they whiz past you. Or the surprisingly emphatic “cracks!!” as they hit whatever you are hiding behind.  

The 7.62 millimeter slugs from an AK-47 are a lot bigger and slower than the 5.56 millimeter bullets that we fire. And they sound like a freight train as they pass. I was hearing a lot of that as I shed my pack and fired up the satellite link.

The good news was that the Hajis had jumped us before we had gotten into their kill-box. So we had. adequate cover. And we have come a long way from the short range field radios of the Vietnam days. So, I could have talked to my sainted mother at that particular moment thanks to the satellites.

But instead of my sweet old mom, I was talking to the short-tempered AirBoss in Kandahar. Air support in the ‘Stan is a lot like booking an Uber. You don’t know what you are going to get until it shows up.

What we got that day, was like looking under the Christmas tree and finding a pony. They sent us a C130U “Spooky II”, instead of the F16s that I expected. That was a nice surprise because the jet jockeys can be a little casual when they are dropping shit around you.

Spookies are flying weapons platforms built on the big, old, slow moving C-130 cargo plane. And the precision of its 105 millimeter air-cannon and the 30 millimeter GAU23A Gatling’s brought a quick and emphatic end to the engagement.

I never found out whether the Hajis were Taliban fighters, or just one of the local bandit gangs. I DO know there were a whole lot less of them after the Spooky appeared. Later on, I remember walking past two sandals that were just lying there by the side of the trail. The former owner was a vaporized ring of gore around them.

The odd thing was that the sandals themselves were completely undisturbed - positioned exactly as the owner had been standing when he was air-burst by the 105mm round. And those lonely sandals perfectly illustrated the consequences of combat with a technologically advanced foe like us.

That also more-or-less sums up 21st Century asymmetric warfare. The war we were fighting doesn’t involve any of the desperate conditions of the World War I trenches, or the mass destruction of the monumental battles of World War II.  In fact, my average Tuesday morning might involve an hour long firefight followed by a helicopter ride back home for a nice lunch.

But the single thing that we DO have in common with all of the soldiers from all of those other wars was the prospect of our imminent demise. So, you either develop a thick skin, or you go nuts.

  ~

I rotated back to the U.K. three weeks later. It was a C130 hop into RAF Waddington.

The Hercules doesn’t feature sexy flight attendants, complimentary drinks, or reclining seats; just an unshaven and slightly smelly E-7 Loadmaster.  I couldn’t sleep much anyhow since the four turbo props made the twenty hours in the air feel like I was sitting in blender.

Then I rented a car and drove the two hours from Lincoln to Harrogate. I did that as a private citizen.

I am actually a Captain with the 742nd Military Intelligence Battalion, based at Fort Meade. Going incognito wasn’t an espionage thing. NSA just likes to be the “No Such Agency”.

That was also the reason why I checked into the White Hart Hotel in nearby Harrogate instead of the transient BOQ on base. I had the usual debriefing meetings at Menwith Hill the following morning, which was a Thursday. Then I took weekend leave to go down to London.

The trip from Harrogate to King’s Cross took three hours. I booked the early afternoon express so there were relatively few stops. And I was at my usual cheap west-end hotel by dinner time.

I was going to meet Rinaldi at our normal spot. Rinaldi is a few years older than me. And he’s a doctor in his day-job. He is stationed with the Brits’ 256th Field Hospital. That outfit might be based in the City of London. But I met him in Afghanistan.

The 256th isn’t anything out of M*A*S*H. It’s more like a reserve unit. Nevertheless, they rotate it in and out of The ‘Stan because of shortages in the army medical services. And the fact that they need to deploy reserve units like the 256th perfectly illustrates how the whole cluster-fuck works.

Rinaldi is about as far opposite me as you can get. He is five-ten, compact, very good looking, urbane and deliciously witty; while I am tall, Viking looking, a little over-muscled and the best you can say is that I am not too embarrassing in public.

Rinaldi might be English. And he DOES sport a really cool Oxbridge accent. But he is of Italian extraction with the thick black hair, Roman nose and olive skin of one of their legendary Hollywood leading men.

Rinaldi is also a world class pussy-hound… me? Not so much.

His huge nearly violet eyes are almost irresistible. And when he does his seductive “I-want-you” stare. Every woman just seems to melt.

That’s probably why he has fucked them all; from the whorehouses of Kabul to the drawing rooms of Belgravia.

I met him in Kandahar, while I was being patched up after a little disagreement between my Humvee and a Taliban IED. It was mainly just to check me for concussion symptoms. But he seemed to take an immediate shine to me.

Perhaps he thought that he could improve my sadly lacking social skills.

Whatever --- he suggested that we visit an off-base place that he had heard about. In a city like Kandahar anything off-base can be extremely hazardous to your health. And I am not talking about STDs. Plus, I WAS initially under his care because I had a concussion. He laughed that off like I was being a big baby.

So we journeyed outside the blast walls that separate the security area from Haji-Land.

When we got to our destination, I discovered to my utter astonishment that Rinaldi was taking me to a TGI Friday’s!!!

Look it up!! It was there!! It closed back in 2014. But the fact remains that there was once a little slice of America in the unlikeliest spot on earth.

It would be an understatement to say that it felt like teleportation to visit a TGI Friday’s in the place where I am sure they will stick the hose if they ever give the earth an enema. And it set off shock-waves of cultural dissonance in my slightly concussed brain. It just seemed so wrong to be munching on loaded potato skins instead of the usual tikka and rice.  

Given its “girls night out” vibe --- I could understand why a TGI Friday’s was Rinaldi’s version of the Happy Hunting Ground. Plus, it was probably the only place in Haji-Land where a woman could hang out and not need a Berka. So all the civilian workers at the Kandahar Airport drank there.

Rinaldi had appropriated one of the hospital’s medical transport Humvees – think, “giant hulking, armored, diesel powered ambulance with red crosses on the side.” I had wondered why he had taken that beast instead of one of the staff cars. I stopped wondering when he began to work his magic.

We had been there perhaps ten seconds when Rinaldi locked onto two women sitting by themselves. They were at what the locals laughingly called a “bar.” They looked like they might be clericals in airport operations.

One was built along the same lines as our Humvee. But she had a pretty face. The other one was actually kind of hot.

You normally don’t find Western women who are obviously that attractive out alone in a third world tire fire like Afghanistan. That is, unless they have gotten acculturated. The social vibe in that Muslim country can be very intimidating for females.

And I didn’t have to be a clairvoyant to know which one I was going end up with. But HEY – this was Afghanistan. So any port in a storm.

I have never approached a woman sitting at a bar in my life. I just don’t have the knack. My total lack of savoir faire also extends to any other setting including weddings, funerals and Bar Mitzvahs.

I can get a date. But getting a permanent woman in my life is an entirely different matter. Fortunately, finding a woman is just not that important to me. There are very few lust inspiring female engineers. And there are even fewer of them in Army field units. So you learn to not think about it.

Or maybe it’s because I’m a nerd and we are a solitary species. Our complete lack sensitivity, social skills, feelings and some aspects of personal hygiene cause that. More important, I have struck out swinging every time I have stepped up to the plate with a woman. And the walk back to the dugout is just so humiliating.

Rinaldi breezed up to the two of them like he just knew that they would be happy to see him. And of course they were. Meanwhile, I stood there, tongue-tied and staring at the floor.  

Rinaldi was making brilliant headway with the hot one. The other was looking at me glumly, like she was used to being stuck with the wing-man. I looked her over and decided that she might be chubby. But she was more than presentable.

She had the aforementioned pretty face, thick brown hair and a huge rack in a scoop neck sweater. For my part, my only thought was of burying my face in her impressive cleavage and going, Brrrrrrrrrrr.  

She clearly expected me to say something. But I’m a nerd. And I am quite comfortable with extremely uncomfortable silences. So, after an embarrassingly long period of time SHE opened the conversation.

She stuck out her hand and said, “My name is Gage, I work air traffic control at KDH.  That surprised me. KDH was the IATA abbreviation for the commercial aviation part of Kandahar Air Field.  

She looked to only be in her early thirties so I said, “Wow – how did you get a job like that!!!” She said, “I was an ATC at Bagram when I was over here with the Air Force in 2008.”

I’m a total idiot!!! As usual I had way under-estimated a woman. I realized that I wasn’t talking to her for any other reason than the fact that Rinaldi had decided to fuck her friend. But I knew that I should never leap to conclusions about somebody before I actually got to know them.

I said, “My name is Frederic Henry. I’m the man with two first names” That was my one lame attempt at geek humor. She smiled kindly – obviously a good sport

As I looked at her I decided that she was really attractive in a plus-sized sort of way. And she had a very pretty face. More importantly she was looking at me with a certain amount of undisguised lust. It was like she had not been laid in a very long time. Not coincidentally, that was my own situation. So I was more than interested in HER too.

I told her as much of my story as I was allowed to tell. I knew that there would be a kidnapping in my future if I told her who I actually worked for. The locals would LOVE to get their hands on somebody like me.

Gage was beginning to get that look in her eyes that let me know that she was more than available for whatever I had in mind. And Rinaldi and her hot friend were actually making out at the table.

So I said, “Maybe we should take this back to our quarters on-base?” There was a nice roomy bed back there.

She said, “Our place is in the commercial compound. It’s a whole lot closer and more comfortable.” So we adjourned to our Humvee for the short trip back to the Base, over one of The ‘Stan’s almost undrivable roads.

Medical Humvees look a lot like the old fashioned boxy truck campers with a section that extends over the cab. The medical part is walled off from the driver’s compartment in some of the older ones. But ours was a new conversion, where the medical area is integral to the cab.

I was driving so Gage and I got the front seats and Rinaldi and his woman settled into the medical area. I had not even started the engine when I heard the slurping sound of a very wet kiss and a little moan. That explained why Rinaldi had insisted that we take the vehicle with a built-in bedroom.

Gage looked distressed. She leaned on one elbow to reach across the Humvee’s exceptionally wide transmission hump and unzip my pants. I was trying to keep from killing us as she pulled Old Lucifer out and began to enthusiastically stroke him.

In the interim, things in the back were beginning to really heat up. The smell of sex a loud slapping noise and the constant sound of moaning indicated that a very wet pussy was being plumbed by something.

It might have been fingers, or even a tongue. But, from the building crescendo of groans, cries and “Fuck-Mes” coming from the back I assumed that it was Rinaldi’s rather large cock.

Meanwhile, Gage was having no luck trying to get over the transmission hump. So she sat back looking frustrated. Nonetheless, she was still working on Old Lucifer like she was trying to pump the water out of the Titanic.

We arrived at the Airport security gate with the loud sounds of a woman getting her brains fucked out in the back of the Humvee, and with Gage stubbornly holding onto my cock.

The sentry walked up enquiringly, took in the scene and waved us through with a big smile. We obviously weren’t a threat. There are just some things that you REALLY can’t fake.

Gage was calmly directing us to their quarters off the perimeter road. The shrieks and moans coming from behind us were only a minor distraction. When we got there I parked and looked at her enquiringly. She said, “If she goes according to form they are never going to leave the vehicle.”

I said, “Do you have two bedrooms in there?” She nodded affirmatively. We adjourned to hers.

I had never been with a woman like Gage. They call them plus-sized but she was not really fat per-se. She was just built on a truck frame. And she had a very pretty face with dark brown eyes and a wealth of long shining brown hair.

She had relatively slim calves that tapered up into big powerfully muscled hips. Comparing those hips to your average waif-like super model was like comparing a manufacturing facility to a workshop. She was built to repopulate the species.

But her waist was startlingly narrow. If her hips were in the 39-inch range, her waist was more like 26-27 inches and with her monstrous jugs she looked like she had been tied in half.

Her tummy, was not fat as much as it was round and fertile looking. And of course there was her glorious rack.

She had stripped off her shirt and dropped her bra as she went into the bathroom to finish getting prepared. I picked it up wonderingly and read the little tag. It said 42-DD. She must have named the left one shock and the right one awe!!!  

She emerged from the bathroom stark naked. Those ripe, full things swayed as she strode purposefully toward the bed.

The aureoles on them were light brown and huge, probably three or four fingers-worth wide. The nipples were equally prominent. Then, as she lay down on her back each breast pooled out on her chest. It was a stunning display of female lushness.

She was breathing raggedly as I leaned down to kiss her. Her mouth opened like a flower and I could sense desperate hunger there. She gave a little moan and grabbed the back of my head. We exchanged tongues for several minutes, both of us breathing loudly.

Then she gave a much louder moan and spread her legs. She said with desperation in her voice, “You’ve GOT to fuck me NOW!!!”

I knee walked up the bed. I was going to rub around in her hungry slit for a couple of seconds to get warmed up. But, the instant she could reach me she grabbed my cock and just shoved it into her very hot and well lubricated receptacle.

She let out an unearthly groan and shot her legs wide, grabbed the back of her knees and dragged them up to her shoulders, opening herself to be pounded; which was exactly what I did.

While I was doing it she was emitting loud “Ahhhhhhhhhs”, and “OH YES’S” and finally she just settled for rhythmic shrieking. I had not had sex since I deployed.  So I wasn’t going to hold out much longer.

Fortunately she began to yell, “OH YES… THAT’S IT… CUMMING… CUMMMMMING… DON’T STOP!!!”

Then her eyes, which had been giving me the most intense fuck-me stare imaginable, rolled up in her head and she literally convulsed in a paroxysm. It was like she hadn’t had sex in months either.  

I was not far behind. I came like a freight train while she shrieked, “YES!!!! GIVE IT ALL TO ME!!!”

We lay there in a sweaty panting heap for a long time, just catching our breath. Her giant boobs were still puddled on her chest, rising and falling.

I understood what had happened. We had just participated in your basic life affirming act.

Afghanistan is about as alien a place as you can be and still be on planet Earth. And the constant sense of impending doom only serves to torque up the stress.

Being a soldier might sound dashing and romantic. If you’ve never been one. But the heroic illusions evaporate after you see your first casualty.

I knew that the two of us were not going to fall in love and get married, or even probably see each other again. But for a very short time we could give each other the essential assurance of intimate human contact.

And THAT helped buttress our resolve to face the hard things that every ordinary American in that desolate piece-of-shit country faces.

Both of us lived in a world where relentless hyper-vigilance is a basic survival requirement. You can never stop watching and listening -- even when you are in camp.

That’s the case because, you never know when the occasional mortar round, or suicide bomber, will show up and end you. And that constant overarching sense of menace will sap anybody’s spirit.  

Our little interlude had temporarily lifted the burden of stress off our backs. And for a very short time we found peace in each other.

I looked at her and she smiled. I said, “I don’t have to report back until day after tomorrow.” She laughed and said, “I think that we can find something to kill the time between now and then.” And we did – over-and-over, multiple times.

I still think of her. She was an insatiable beast in the sack. Yet there was something about her that was deep and nurturing.

I don’t know what I did for her – maybe just filed down her horns a bit. But it had occurred to me - even at the time - that if I had met Gage anywhere civilized she would have made a wonderful wife.

  ~

In the interim, Rinaldi and I have had a lot of those kind of moments. We would get together. And he would rustle up a couple of women.  Then I would get laid-- usually.

It might sound kind of feeble that I was willing to let my buddy facilitate my sex life. But he was just so good at it. And I am so inept. He wasn’t really pimping for me as much as he was leveraging my nerd charm. My success or failure after that depended on my own limited abilities with the opposite sex.

Rinaldi was back in London permanently now. And I was looking forward to sampling one of the stimulating dishes that he usually served up. Hence, I was sitting with a pint in a nook at the Anglesea Arms in South Kensington awaiting his arrival.

He had bragged about the nurse he was fucking. He said that she was just the hottest little thing – an absolute animal in bed, but a perfect lady everywhere else.

He also said that she was so beautiful that he would almost consider forming an exclusive relationship with her – the key word there being “almost.” I had to admit that I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of a female who was so hot that she could ALMOST cause Rinaldi to give up his womanizing.

I was well into my second pint when Rinaldi showed up with two women in tow. There was no question which one he was with. She was so spectacularly beautiful that every man in the pub was tracking her.

The other woman was trailing behind with that anxious look that a person gets when they are waiting for the roulette ball to drop.

She was clearly my date for the night. And she was very presentable in a well-made, English country girl kind of way. She had pleasant, even features, cornflower blue eyes and a lot of long blond hair. It was parted in the middle and hung down her back in a wheaten sheaf. Her name was Helen.

The best way to describe her body was “sturdy.”  She was built along the lines of my former friend from Afghanistan, meaning huge tits. And that brought back happy memories of a couple of nights of debauched sex. All-in-all Rinaldi had done very well for me.

Of course Rinaldi’s woman was spectacular beyond my poor nerd reckoning. I soon found out that her name was Catherine. She must have had an infinite number of Celts in her blood lines. Because, she had a glorious mane of long, thick copper hair, which she wore in a cascade of frolicking curls. And like all redheads she was a riot of vivid colors.  

She had the redhead’s milky-white, velvety-smooth skin, which was colored by a wide swath of cute brown freckles. Those ran across her nose and along each of her perfectly sculpted cheekbones. Her hair was a natural dark copper. Her lipstick was as bright red as her nails and the expertly applied blue makeup turned her intense emerald eyes into sparkling pools of sunlit intellect.

She had the face of a Celtic Goddess, huge, wide-set, cat eyes, a long, perfectly shaped Irish nose in a classic winsome heart-shaped face, with a neatly pointed chin. Her wide sensual mouth and gorgeously sculptured lips seemed to be fixed in a permanent secret smile.

The rest of her was lithe and willowy with long beautifully shaped muscular legs. She was tiny compared to her friend; perhaps five-three and certainly thirty pounds lighter. But she carried herself with such an aura of grace and confidence that she was clearly the dominant one.

And maybe it was her pheromones. But she radiated a simple eroticism that set-off unbearable waves of yearning in my lizard brain. I think she caught me staring in awe at her as the three of them approached. Because she gave me a puzzled glance as she sat down.

Rinaldi introduced me to my date. I liked the hint of interest in her eyes as she looked me over. It was like she had decided that she would buy me for the evening.

Both of them were obviously combat nurses. Helen had the kind of deep tan that you  get working outdoors in a climate like Afghanistan. Even Catherine’s satiny redheaded skin had a dusky tinge to it, which only added to her gorgeous coloration.

I said conversationally, “So when did you two get back from Afghanistan?”

Helen laughed out loud and Catherine said in an amused sultry voice, “Is it really THAT obvious.” I said, “No, you both look absolutely superb. But you don’t get that kind of sun lounging on Brighton Beach.”

They both laughed again. Helen said, “Catherine and I just got back from six-months at Bagram. We have only been back three weeks.”

Rinaldi had just begun bragging about his latest conquest a couple of weeks ago. So that fit the timeline.

I said, “I mostly operate out of Camp Dwyer, in Helmand. That’s a Marine lair but it is more convenient for what I do.” They both said together, “What DO you do?”

I tried to look mysterious as I said, “I COULD tell you but I would have to kill you afterward and you are both far too beautiful for THAT.”

My lame attempt at Tom Cruise humor was actually not too far from the truth. I would have lost my clearance and perhaps my freedom if I had regaled them with my exploits as a Grey Fox. The NSA likes to have its secrets well-kept.

We spent a pleasant evening telling war stories. I was struck by the strength and courage of both of those women. Neither was a fragile flower. They had faced all of the hardships that the men under their care had faced. And they had done it with a certain amount of open-handed, selfless grace that most guys couldn’t comprehend, let alone be capable of.

I found myself talking more to Catherine than Helen. I was certainly not objecting to spending an evening with a gorgeous, intelligent and witty woman. But usually, at some point Rinaldi’s hand would be snaking up his date’s dress. And at that point she would become very distracted.

Rinaldi might have had that in mind. But Catherine had turned almost completely toward me. So he would have had to reach around her to touch anything but the back that she was presenting to him.

I actually wondered, “What the fuck?” Since it almost seemed like this stunning creature was interested in ME.

That thought set off waves of panic. I am not used to beautiful women even noticing me, let alone coming on to me.  

Her eyes were truly emerald color. And they held a depth of passion that tacitly confirmed everything Rinaldi had told me about her bedroom skills.

But Rinaldi was an expert rider. And the concept of me taking that thoroughbred filly out for a spirited romp scared the shit out of me. Failure is just so mortifying.

I wanted to get her to stop looking at me with a fascinated, fuck-me stare. So I said, “Why did you choose to go to Afghanistan?” The nurses have to volunteer for that duty.

Her beautiful face clouded and she said, “My fiancé of eight years was an Officer with the Life Guards. I went there to be near him.”

The Life Guards are the oldest of the two regiments of Household Cavalry. They might look like over-bred 19th Century anachronisms when they are Trooping the Colors for the Queen.

But, when they exchange their horses for speedy Scimitar Mark IIs they are reputed to be the best armored reconnaissance unit in the world.

Catherine said with unconcealed sadness, “He was killed in a massive IED blast. They said that it might have been an American thousand-pound bomb that the Taliban had repurposed.”

I said, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” I didn’t really feel it. But what else could I say?

I had seen a lot of death in my three tours. And the natural outcome is to just turn off your feelings. So she might as well have been telling me the cricket scores.

As she was talking she had reached distractedly into her purse and pulled out a shiny antique stick. She was toying with it like it was a religious artifact. I said interested, “What’s that?”

She brightened and said, “It was the last thing that Anthony gave me. It’s a swagger stick that his grandfather carried at the Somme. It was all that they were able to find of him after the first day’s attack back in 1916.”

I had seen that sort of thing a lot in The ‘Stan. And I knew that the dude had foreseen his own death.

I said as kindly as I could, “A lot of the loved ones of my friends have gone through what you are going through. And the only way to cope is to get on with your life. You honor their memory by finding somebody else to love – somebody who can make you happy.”

She said wearily, “I’m trying.”

Then the feminine power flashed out of those beautiful green eyes. It was like a flare off of the face of the sun. She looked at me impishly and said, “Tell me that you love me. That you will be mine forever.”

I knew that she was winding me up because of my last remark. I had just nonchalantly told her to find somebody to love. It was a cliché. We both knew it. And NOW she was making me the butt of the joke.

I thought to myself, “This is an incredibly smart and spirited woman.”

I was sure that sometime in the next two hours she would be giving Rinaldi the ride of his lecherous life. So I said with an equal amount of fake sincerity, “I DO love you. And I will love you to my dying day.”  

I was actually thinking, “We should be on Saturday Night Live.”

I didn’t add that I was getting the premonition that my dying day might come sooner than later. I had the creeping feeling that I had already run through most of my luck.

She gave me a smile in reply that had the sort of smug womanly satisfaction that made me want to bend her over the Anglesea’s upholstered pub bench and fuck her.

She handed me a card and said, “In that case, call me and we can arrange the wedding.”

Then she stood, gave Rinaldi a look that must have fused the change in his pocket and said, “Come on dear, we have to get back to the flat.”

Helen leapt to her feet and said, “Wait!! I rode with you!!” It didn’t seem fair. Rinaldi was probably going to get a threesome. And I was going to experience the far too familiar company of Rosie and her five sisters.

I couldn’t get Catherine Barkley out of my mind. She had matchless Celtic beauty, along with Boudicca’s courage and the heart and soul of a Druid succubus. And it was all wrapped in a staggering, force-of-nature personality.

I knew that the game about “loving” each other was just a tongue-in-cheek mockery. So I didn’t take any of it seriously. She was so far out of my league that I felt like the best I could hope for would be that we would occasionally hang out with each other.

Even so, I was hoping that  we could become casual friends. I was in town for two more days so I called her the next morning and asked her if she wanted to come down to Hyde Park for a picnic; just so we could set the date for our wedding.  

It was 10:00 AM. But I could hear Rinaldi’s voice whining in the background about her coming back to bed. I could imagine her standing there naked, holding the phone, and trying to fight off Rinaldi’s determined attempts to drag her back for one last early morning delight.  

I had a momentary pang of jealousy. Every warning sensor in my head went off at once. I thought, “What the fuck is that?? Emotion!!!??”

She said with anger in her voice, “Stop it, I’m talking to Frederic!!” Then she said in her most flirtatious tone of voice, “Should I bring the Best Man?” I said, “Of course, if you can pry him out of bed.” She said even more seductively, “I have my ways.” I thought, “I’ll just BET!!!”

I walked down Cromwell Road to the Waitrose in the Gloucester Road Arcade and picked up some delectables. Then I rode the Piccadilly up to Knightsbridge, walked across Carriage Drive to the Park and set up a blanket on a little grassy spot next to the east end of the Serpentine.

It was one of those insanely gorgeous bright blue-sky days that happen once in a while in the English summer. Since it was late August the temperatures were in the high sixties. The grass smelled fresh cut, the hint of cooking from the Serpentine Bar and Kitchen flavored the air. And everybody in the Park seemed to be in a good mood.

I was feeling a little bit more human today. I am tough. And I can deal with most of the unavoidable angst that accompanies what I do. Or maybe it isn’t a matter of toughness. Maybe it’s the fact that I am such a nerd that I don’t really live in this world. I live in my head. And it’s a lot safer up there.

I was really looking forward to seeing my “bride to be” again. Her sheer joie-de-vivre and the brilliant energy of her exceptional life-force almost made me experience a twinge of optimism. And of course my buddy Rinaldi always amuses.

She must have walked in from the Park Lane side because I saw her strolling casually past the octagonal Gin Bar. Her long muscular legs and that lithe body were enhanced by the white shorts, and hunter green Izod polo shirt combination that she was wearing.

Her thick red hair absolutely shone in the in the bright sunlight and the contrast with the hunter green of the polo shirt made it almost gleam. She looked like an earthbound angel. And she was alone!!!

She got to where I was sitting. I was on my blanket. I had a good Cabernet already opened, three wine glasses and some assorted Waitrose nibbles. She looked delighted.

She sat down next to me crossed those fabulous legs and leaned easily back on her arms. Of course THAT showed off the perfect shape of her full faultlessly proportioned boobs, which distracted me for a second.

She looked at me enquiringly, like she expected me to say something. I stated the obvious, “Where’s the Best Man???” She looked teasingly at me and said, “I wanted to have you all to MYSELF today.”

I had no response to that except an extremely puzzled, “Why???” She said, “If we are going to be married we need to get to know each other better.” I laughed lecherously - continuing the joke - and said, “Shouldn’t we get a room then??”

She smacked me on the arm and said, “Not until the after the wedding.” I had the totally ungentlemanly thought, “And Rinaldi probably wore you out last night.” But I kept that to myself.

Instead I said a little sadly, “I’m going back day-after-tomorrow so we had better get busy.”

And we did. We had a wonderful day together; sitting on that blanket in the sun, drinking the wine, eating the olives, cheese and bread and talking about the things that made us who we were.

I told her about my life growing up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. I told her how absolutely isolated I felt living with all of those agricultural types.

I told her about my parents, who were decent God-fearing folks. But they never came close to “getting me.”

I told her about my early interest in all things electronic and how that got me a ROTC scholarship at Carnegie-Mellon.

I scrupulously avoided any conversations about relationships. I didn’t want to sound as clueless as I actually was.  

It might be a geek thing. But I don’t understand women. I take what they say at face value. And so I have been largely used and abused by the female of the species.

The girl who I lost my cherry to started fucking my best friend as soon as I left for Pittsburgh.

I was actually married for a short while after college. We lived in a neat little place in Jessup. I thought that she was the girl of my dreams. Then I was deployed.

I actually got a “Dear Fredric” letter while I was over there. It was depressingly hackneyed. She told me that she was “lonely.” Then she proceeded to list all of the other phony excuses that people who lack character like to cling to.

So, against my natural inclination to stay as far as possible out of harm’s way, I volunteered to remain in-country. I had nothing further to lose, except my life.  

The divorce papers arrived via APO.

Catherine had been the well-loved child of two physicians. They even loved her enough that they forgave her for becoming a nurse, rather than a doctor.

She chose to become a nurse because she said that was where the real “hands-on” in medicine took place. And she got a nurse-practitioner sub-specialty in Trauma Care because that was where the action was.

Crazy as it might sound, she said that she had joined the Reserves so that she COULD be deployed. That was because the love of her life was serving the obligatory time that all of the aristocratic types serve in The Sandbox. It was meant to turbo-up his career in the Guards.

They had been lovers for eight years, starting when she met the dashing Captain Anthony Lawson in a London bar at age 19. He was from the minor aristocracy and they led a life among the privileged class that I could barely imagine.

Unfortunately, the Taliban hadn’t read the script. They say that the IED that consumed her lover’s vehicle left a crater four feet deep and eight yards wide. They never actually found enough of him to bury. But the DNA sample was conclusive.

She was so shattered that they shipped her back to London.

She said that she experienced a profound sense of meaninglessness and desperation after the loss.

She said that she felt like she couldn’t go on without the love and security that she had felt when she and her fiancé were together.

She regretfully admitted that she had kissed a lot of frogs during that period; just trying to recapture that loving feeling.

But she started to turn things around when she woke up one morning in a strange room with two guys.

That was when she had requested the deployment that she had just returned from.

She said that Rinaldi was the only man she had fucked since she had been back.

I thought to myself, “Ahem!!! It HAS only been three weeks.” But I banished that thought as unkind.

And besides, why should I care about Catherine Barkley’s sex life. She was Rinaldi’s woman not mine.

We had been sitting there for four hours and it was getting to be late afternoon. I asked her if she would like to grab dinner. I added, “You can invite Rinaldi if you want to.” I thought that he might feel a little jealous if Catherine spent the entire day with me. And I didn’t want to horn in on his relationship with this beautiful woman.

Catherine looked delighted and said, “Rinaldi’s got other plans. When I told him that I wanted to spend some alone-time with you, he told me that it would be no problem. He would find his pleasure elsewhere. I know that he’s a horndog if that’s what you’re wondering.”

I laughed and said, “Rinaldi is one of a kind. But if I was as attractive to the opposite sex as he is I am sure I would act like that too.”

We were sitting next to each other on the blanket. Suddenly she turned to me, grabbed the back of my head, and pulled me down to a long steamy open mouthed kiss.

I replied with absolute astonishment, wrapping my arms around her and tentatively sticking my tongue into her wildly seeking mouth. She moaned loudly and held my face between her two exquisite hands and just sucked on my tongue like it was something a little further down.

It was getting very hot and we were smack-dab in the middle of Hyde Park. So after what seemed like an eternity we broke apart, both of us panting like a couple of Mississippi porch hounds.

I looked in her eyes and I could see that what she had just done had surprised her too. She said, “You are the most interesting man I have ever met.” That was news to me. Bizarre maybe – interesting, no.

She continued with, “You remind me of a bigger and more intellectual version of my Anthony. You are tall, and military strong. Your beautiful ice-blue eyes tell me how smart you are. You do your duty, and you have done brave things, even though you are not personally brave.

I thought wonderingly, “How did she know that?”

Then she looked at me with what appeared to be real affection and said, “Plus, you are a decent, self-effacing guy and there are very few men like you out there. Believe me, I’ve looked under a lot of rocks. Rinaldi is an adolescent next to you.”

It takes an infinite set of complex variables to cement a relationship. And the woman I was holding in my arms just seemed to be the  person who I naturally synched with. That was probably why she had managed to open me up in ways that no other human being had come close to doing.

That last act sort-of sealed things in a strange and unaccountable way. We were inexplicably a couple after that.

I am not a person who will normally look that figurative gift horse in the mouth --- but COME ON!!! She was miles out of my league. So if she DID mean it, the entire situation made no sense. And if she didn’t mean it the joke was on me.

Originally, I think that she had just been playing her game of finding the Prince.  And I was just the next frog in line. It would account for her totally irrational initial behavior.

And my motives toward HER were a lot more basic. I was motivated by pure unadulterated lust. That is a common phenomenon among people who are about to face dangerous things.

Okay!!! She was an unattainable beauty who had inexplicably imprinted on me in some kind of baby duck fashion. And I wanted to see what kind of hay I could make from my good fortune. That was all there was to it - at first.

Rinaldi had said that an evening with Catherine Barkley was a once in a lifetime experience.  So naturally she refused to fuck me before I went back --- of course she did!!!

Maybe it was a fidelity thing. I think that Rinaldi was still hitting her, because she stayed at his flat. But there was also something else with her and me.

I had never met a person, male-or-female, who I had such an instant deep personal connection with. And it had been established in a matter of hours, not months or years.

I know it sounds trite to talk about soul-mates but that was how it felt.

The odd thing about it was that she seemed to respond in the same way to me. It was obvious that she associated my return to the Sandbox with her old fiancé. And she was just not going to go down that road again. But she couldn’t help herself.

I really didn’t know her. And I really had no reason to think that I had any future with such a personally worthy, beautiful, sexually accomplished, and vibrant personality. But I had the sinking feeling that I had just encountered my one shot at happiness with a woman.

We spent two days just laughing and talking. We slept together the final night. But we didn’t do anything more than teenaged messing around. And we were both fully clothed while we were doing it --- just like in my back seat days.

We both knew how totally hot she was. But It was like we both also recognized that the stakes in the game were a life together. And we wanted to take it slow and careful,

I DID discover that Catherine Barkley could kiss like no other women ever born. She was absolutely all there in the moment when we kissed. It was as if she was trying to merge her consciousness with mine. You didn’t get the impression that she was doing her grocery list, or reminiscing about her favorite song when our mouths were joined. You could sense her overwhelming hunger. She held nothing of herself back.

I also discovered that I could make her loudly cum just playing with the little pink nipples on her full, perfectly shaped breasts. I couldn’t imagine what she would be like when we got down to actually doing it. But I COULD understand what Rinaldi saw in her.

Speaking of Rinaldi. He seemed to just withdraw from the game. He was as friendly and full of life as ever; not in the least bit resentful. But it was like he was almost relieved that the two of us were interested in each other. Maybe he was a better friend than I thought.

She accompanied me to the hanger when I few back. This was a military flight. So there was no civilian airport security. Plus, we were all leaving for six months. Consequently, there were a number of wives and girlfriends just hugging and kissing their men.

All of the guys were dressed like me in BDUs which admittedly look a lot like badly designed pajamas. Catherine was the star of THAT show though. There were guys who were shipping out who were giving her the eye, even as they were waving goodbye to their spouses.

I held her in my arms one last time, smoothed her flaming hair and looked into those incredible emerald eyes and said, “I don’t know where this is leading. But I want you to know that I’m not playing our game anymore. I love you like I have never loved anything in my life. And when I get back we need to talk about where that leads.”

She covered her face and burst into tears. Through her sobs I thought I heard her say, “I love you. I love you even more than Anthony. Don’t die. I couldn’t bear it!!!”

That was very good news indeed. I turned threw the strap of my pack over my right arm and trudged up the cargo ramp of the Globemaster III. It was taking me away from the only thing that I had ever valued or wanted in my entire miserable life and I just couldn’t look back.

We corresponded by e-mail. And I used my satcomm. privileges for a few surreptitious personal calls. She seemed in good spirits. But she was clearly regretting every second we were apart.

I couldn’t take my mind off of her. And that was a dangerous state to be in. Because I knew that I was going to get myself killed if I didn’t get my head back in the game. And two months into the deployment that premonition proved absolutely correct.  

I had been working with the Army at Forward Operating Base Salerno. FOB Salerno is outside of Khost, which is not very far from Tora-Bora. That was the place on the Pakistani border where Bin Laden hid out. And it is also not far south of Gandamak where the last stand of the 44th of Foot, in the British invasion of Afghanistan was fought in 1842.  Only one soldier survived that massacre.

Unfortunately, we haven’t learned much since then.

The CIA flies drone strikes from Salerno and FOB Fenty in Jalalabad. And most of the locals know that those missions are controlled from inside those bases.

So they get mortared about as frequently as it rains in Seattle. I make it a policy to say out of bombaconda areas like that. But somebody on the Pakistan side of the border was messing with the 26 gigahertz band that the CIA uses to transmit its targeting data. So I was there to see what I could see,

I quickly discovered that the culprits were our Pakistani friends; probably their ISI. And that was what I told the Station Chief.  He took it in stride. The CIA people are all as political as hell. So they weren’t going to cause any fuss with our alleged allies. Especially with the Pakistani version of their own Company.

I was just walking across to the DFAC for lunch when I heard a loud bang to my right. I didn’t stop to investigate. I dove to my left. I am big and slow. But I can move a lot quicker when my precious hide is in jeopardy. And that was the only thing that saved me.

I heard the flash-bang of a second Russian 82-millimeter mortar. I felt the heat. And I knew that my number had finally come up.

  ~

I opened my eyes to the sound of beeping. I was wrapped in a forest of tubes and there were things stuck in both arms. I looked warily around and then went through the same checklist that everybody else goes through after they’ve been wounded; “head?” “check!”, “arms?” – “check!”, “body?” – “check!”, “legs” – “uh, legs? Hey legs! Wake up!!”

I looked down and both of my legs were encased in some kind of contraption that made it impossible to move. Plus, I was beginning to experience a lot of pain in the region of my knees. There was nobody in the room. But there was one of those classic hospital buttons to push. And I pushed it like I was sending an SOS from the Titanic.

An Army nurse sauntered in with a pleased look on her face. I knew she was Army because she was wearing BDUs instead of scrubs. She said conversationally, “Welcome back Captain Henry. You’ve been asleep for a while.”

I said, trying to sound “Army-Strong”, but with my insides melting, “How long?” She said, “Well, we had to sedate you for the pain afterward, and for the trip back. It’s been four days now. We started bringing you back from the sedation last night.”

I asked the obvious question, “Where am I?” I was still trying to sound cool. I had my nerd pride.  And nerds don’t get emotional about anything but their VR game scores.

She said, “You’re at Landstuhl.”

Wow!!! In four days they had brought me from the godforsaken edge of the earth to the best medical facility in Europe. I knew the drill of course. I had just never had the pleasure.

They had loaded me on a Blackhawk evac helicopter at Salerno and flown me back to Bagram, and then a C-17 to Ramstein AFB in Southwestern Germany.  Then they took me right across Highway Six to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. That is where all of the casualties from Afghanistan go.

The nurse took my blood pressure, checked my temperature and fussed around with the equipment. Then she smiled kindly at me and said, “I’ll get the doctor and he can explain.”  

Rinaldi walked into the room five minutes later. He wore a big shit-eating grin. He said jovially, “Well then old fellow, nice to see you.” I tried to look like I had expected him all along as I laughingly said, “Rinaldi!! I knew you’d turn up sooner or later.”  

Since he was Rinaldi he couldn’t just check my pulse. He had to grab me in a hug that was only slightly painful. You can take the boy out of Italy but you can’t take the Italian out of the boy.

He stepped back and said lightly, “We had to remove a lot of Soviet shrapnel from your legs. And we gave you two new metal knees; courtesy of the U.S. government. You’ll eventually be able to walk. But you are going to have to lie here for a while.”

He smiled slyly and said, “Fortunately, I brought along something to help ease your convalescence.” And rather than a vial of Oxy, he pulled a small bottle of brandy out of his doctor’s coat.

I said with a laugh,” That’s my buddy.” But I thought to myself, “I wonder if THAT will play well with all of the pain killers that they have me on?” Nonetheless, I took it and tucked it under the covers.

He said with sincerity, “Catherine has been frantically asking about you. You really need to talk to her.” It was like he was scolding me for not staying in touch. I said, “I seem to have left my phone in my other pants.” I clearly had no pants. He laughed and said, “Use mine.”

I knew that her number would be on HIS speed dial. So I hit it and the phone rang. Voicemail answered. I left a message telling her that I had run into a spot of trouble in Afghanistan and as a result I was laid up at Landstuhl now.

Rinaldi chuckled and said, “Always a master of understatement. By the way, they have a Silver Star waiting for you when you get out in a couple of weeks. I hear that it’s some kind of important American medal.”

I laughed and said incredulously, “They want to give me a big piece of chest candy for getting blown up in the middle of an American operating base. That would be totally ironic – and ridiculous I might add.”

Rinaldi said, “You ought to take it anyhow. You might do better with the women if you’re wearing it.”

I said in all seriousness, “How ARE you and Catherine working out?” I had to ask. It was THAT important.

Rinaldi laughed heartily and said, “Naughty boy!!! You stole her away from me. She won’t have anything to do with me or any other male at the hospital. All she can talk about is how happy and well-fucked she is going to make you when you get back.”

My heart soared. I never thought that a single statement could affect me like that.”

I said, “No hard feelings.” Rinaldi looked at me like he thought that I was kidding. Then he said astounded, “No! You’re serious! Of course not Old Boy – plenty more fish in the sea.” And I really believed that he thought that.

Rinaldi hung around laughing and joking for another couple of minutes. Finally, I said, “Can we get around to the reason why you’re here, which was to tell me my prognosis?”

He said breezily, “Oh yes – right! You were hit by both the shrapnel and the debris from a Russian 82-millimeter high explosive round. There was some damage to the muscles around your knee and both knee structures absorbed a bit of it. So we installed two artificial knee joints.” That explained the extreme pain I was in.

He looked puzzled and said, “It looks like you were doing a somersault when it happened.”

I smiled weakly and said, “I was diving out of the way.”

Rinaldi said triumphantly, like they had been discussing it, “So THAT’s why it seemed like you were upside down!! If you hadn’t done that it would have been your head that would have absorbed all of the blast.”  

AAAggghhh!! As the shivers ran up and down my back I was thinking, “He needs to a little more work on his bedside manner.”

Rinaldi continued with, “The wounds should be healed adequately enough that we can release you in a week or so. We are just concerned about infection now. But the joint replacement is going to require a much longer time to rehabilitate. So I am afraid that we are going to have to put you out to pasture.”

That would have been the worst possible news two months earlier. But depending on what I heard from Catherine the pasture was the best imaginable outcome now.  

I had thought about her every waking second that I was over there and I had made up my mind. She probably didn’t know it yet. But I was going to do everything in my poor nerd power to make her my wife.

I had spent a lifetime as a solitary geek. And geeks don’t need other people. We live solely in our head. And the concept of having to share our alone-time with another individual, particularly one who might keep us tied to the real-world, should have appalled me.  

Instead I couldn’t wait to see her, talk to her, and hold her. It was like a piece of me had been missing and I needed to get us back together before I was at peace. Of course I only had Rinaldi’s word that she had longed for me. And he had taken his phone with him so I didn’t really know.

I spent the rest of the day in the hospital routine. Anybody who has ever spent any time in a hospital knows what I’m talking about. No matter how kind they might be, you are basically a duty that the staff does. It isn’t that they consciously dehumanize you. But when they are taking care of you, they seem to be metaphorically diagnosing an engine problem in a car.

The worst of the lot was the Head Nurse. She took an insane dislike to me, which colored her treatment. Her real name was Van Campen. But in my mind I called her “Nurse Bitch”.

Her problem might have stemmed solely from Rinaldi’s bottle of brandy. THAT was discovered almost immediately after he left. I wasn’t going to rat out my pal. So while Nurse Bitch was interrogating me I just pled the Fifth.

The problem might also stem from the fact that she was so butt-ugly that she had probably been mistreated by every male in her personal history.

Women who have suffered from unjustified disrespect from men, will tend to take it out on all of the men they meet afterward. And although I might look like an alpha male, I actually ranked a lot lower in the Greek alphabet.

At any rate, Nurse Bitch made certain that I was checked regularly for any booze, drugs, or loose women I might have subsequently smuggled into my room. So her minions kept waking me up at all hours of the night.

Nonetheless, my only real concern was Catherine. She knew I was okay now. And I was very disappointed that she hadn’t tried to get in touch with me. Her lack of interest seemed to presage the next stage in our relationship, which was the part where she dumped me.

I had been through several breakups in the past. It hurt for a while. Then you got over it. But then again, Catherine Barkley’s case was a whole lot different. That was because I had discovered to my absolute and utter astonishment that I had invested every ounce of my personal hopes and dreams in her.

I really don’t know how that happened. I hadn’t been aware of how much I had been in love with the woman until I was separated from her. Then it was like the situation of the legendary boiling frog.

I had started the bonding process sitting in the cold water of her fucking Rinaldi. And then some celestial entity had kept turning the heat up. I could have jumped out of the pot at any point in time before I discovered how far into her I had gotten. But I never sensed the danger. And now my goose was thoroughly cooked – not to mix a metaphor.

I couldn’t blame her for dumping me. She was the kind of woman who couldn’t escape male attention. The aggressive ones hit on her constantly. And the passive ones just stared. So I was sure that she had found somebody new, even before my C-17 landed at Kandahar.

I’m a nerd. And nerds are not supposed to show emotion but the thought of her loss was simply devastating to me. So I went through the motions of being a good patient. I was the beneficiary of the most advanced medical science our Government could provide. But I was hoping that a miracle would occur. And I would die right there in the hospital.

Late that night it looked like my wish was about to be granted. Afghanistan is filthy. And I had picked up something from the explosive debris. That shit – and shit it might have been - caused a major infection. My temperature elevated and Rinaldi was called

I had been on Cephalexin but Rinaldi switched me to a Vancomycin drip. He said, “This should knock the fever down Old Chap. But if it doesn’t we have other treatment options. Then he grinned mischievously and said, “Perhaps a little brandy?” Nurse Bitch gave him a stare that would have frozen ice.

After that I went a little bit nuts. I think the fever spiked at a hundred-and-six and then slowly began to recede. But I was still lying there like a limp, sweating dishrag when I heard a commotion out in the hall.

Nurse Bitch was loudly shouting, “You can’t go in there Major. That patient is being held in isolation.” They had no idea what I might have picked up so they were treating me like I was a leper.

I heard a commanding voice say something that sounded a lot like a superior officer dressing down a subordinate. Then I heard Nurse Bitch say submissively, “You can go in Sir. But you need to be aware of the patient’s infectious state.”

The voice was dismissive in return. I was thinking to myself, “You have a real sense of humor God!!” The last thing I wanted was to deal with some officious son-of-a-bitch who probably wanted to bust my chops for not ducking fast enough.

Then the door slowly opened. It was like the person opening it was afraid to come in. I thought, “That’s an odd reaction. Why would a Major care about a lowly Captain?”

The door finally swung fully open. And an angel was framed in the blinding light of the hallway. Her beauty was more heaven than earth. It was like beholding the Archangel Raphael. And Heaven’s mighty healing powers instantly restored my health.

Major Catherine Barkley was standing there in her BDUs and beret, looking like Lord Mountbatten himself. My spirit soared. She had come to save me and I knew that the future held nothing but peace and joy.

I probably looked like the living dead. But I mustered my most beatific smile and I said two heavily weighted words, “My love!!!”

She dropped all pretense of military show, rushed to the bed and threw herself on my chest sobbing. Keep in mind that I had IV drips in both arms and I was wired for everything but streaming video. But I hugged her to me like I would fall off the earth if I ever let go.

She cried for a few minutes and I made comforting noises. Then she stood up and re-assembled herself into her persona as an officer. I tried to say something but she shushed me. And then she proceeded to carefully study every reading, record and automated test result associated with my case.

She turned to me with her eyes shining. She said with irony in her voice, “Looks like you’ll make it after all Captain Henry.” I saluted and said, “Thank you Major Sir. I thought you would never show up.”

She looked hurt. I said, “What?!! I was joking!!!”

She said, “Don’t EVER joke about my absolute dedication to you. I love you with every drop of devotion in my soul. I want to be the best I can be for you. I want to please you in every way I can. I am yours forever. And I came the instant I got your message!!”

I’m a nerd. And nerds NEVER show emotion. But I started crying like a little baby girl. It was pure overwhelming relief and happiness. I probably sounded like Sally Field, “She loves me!!! She really loves me!!!” And it was fucking embarrassing.

Of course it set off every alarm in the entire array of sensors. Nurse Bitch came blustering into the room. She said rather preemptively, “What did I tell you Major!!? NOW you are going to have to leave!!”

Catherine figured it all out in an instant. She looked at the cunt like she was something she had just stepped in. I had forgotten about all of her years hanging around in the drawing rooms of the English nobility. My love had clearly learned THEIR lessons about haughtiness and condescension.

THAT version of Catherine said with a slightly curled lip and a pure Sandhurst accent, “That is no way to address a superior officer LEFTENANT and I will not allow it.”

Then she said with steely command in her voice, “I am a fully licensed advanced trauma care nurse and I am taking personal responsibility for this patient.”

She said with continuing emphasis, “Therefore, I am relieving you of your duty in this case. I will be staying in this room until he is discharged. And I will thank you to remember your place in the future.”

Then she added like it was an afterthought, “In the meantime, fetch me a cup of tea if you please… You are DISMISSED!!!”

Several emotions passed across Nurse Bitch’s face. The first was blinding rage. She took a look at the gold Oak Leaves pinned on Catherine’s collar and that emotion got locked away.  

Then she got a look of cunning and said, “I am going to talk to the Commander of this facility. He might have a different idea about the rights of a British Army Nurse in an American hospital.”
 
Catherine said blithely, “Please feel free. He was a friend of my former fiancé. And he was the one who invited me here in the first place. Now about that cup of tea LEFTENANT”

Game, set and match to Major Catherine Barkley.

She got her cup of tea. I urged her not to drink it since God only knew what Nurse Bitch had put in it. Catherine laughed delightedly and took a satisfied sip.

She said, “You have to learn to trust people, Frederic. Especially after they just placed the call that I warned Sir Walter about. I’m sure she doesn’t want to run any further risk of delivering primary care to the inhabitants of Helmand Province.”

I laughed. She laughed. And we spent the rest of the day holding hands and talking about our future together.  Catherine never left my side for the entire time that I was in hospital. And she also proved to be the most competent nurse a soldier could ever ask for.

  ~

Several things happened after that. First and foremost, I got my Honorable Discharge. Both knees were metal now. And there was no way I was going to be useful in any capacity of service. They threw in the Silver Star as a sweetener. I let them do it but I didn’t believe I deserved it.

The NSA was another matter entirely. They wanted to keep me around as a kind-of overall czar for their entire Afghanistan SIGINT system. I told them that I would think about it but I had some recuperating to do.

I also had to get rid of the damned walker. I was moving around like an octogenarian on two artificial knees. But I was getting better every day.

They reminded me that I had a contract. And they also mentioned what would happen to me if I broke it. My response was to tell them to fuck themselves, grab Catherine and disappear.

I have worked for them long enough to know ALL of their limitations. And I knew that their ability to monitor me was severely limited by politico-jurisdictional issues, not the least of which was the fact that I was in Europe. And neither Germany, or France was one of the 5-I’s

They could reach over to where I was but they could also get their hand slapped if they got caught. So it was a matter of diminishing returns. They might have arrangements with GCHQ and carriers like BT and Vodafone. But it wasn’t as easy for them to track one individual as it would be if they were in America dealing with companies like Verizon and Sprint.

Obviously they could pull my banking and credit transactions. But British banks like HSBC and Lloyds are not the same as Chase. So as long as I played financial small ball I was covered there. Plus, I had a full retirement-disability pay benefit, at the rank of Brevet Major. And Catherine had a substantial amount of money between her parent’s trust and her not insignificant personal wealth.

I was discharged on a Wednesday. The separation process had taken a couple of weeks. And then one beautiful day in Late June I was a free man.

The weather was what you come to expect in Germany in the summer. It was overcast and the sun had disappeared. The temperature had dropped and it looked like it might rain. But the breeze down the mountains was pleasant and the smell of the pine trees was stimulating.

Catherine was driving the big Mercedes E Class that I had bought with my CRDP retroactive payment. I maneuvered my walker out to the passenger side, opened the door and dropped with a whoosh into the luxurious leather seat. I love the smell of a new car. And German engineering is second to none.

She was dressed in what Americans would call full-preppy. She had on a pair of fashionable khaki pants with the ubiquitous blue sweater with that yellow and red diamond pattern that all of the rich-bitch women wear as a symbol of their cultural station in life. The tasteful oxford cloth shirt and pearls cemented the image of a graceful and well-bred, upper class woman.

Because she was Catherine, she was wearing some kind of perfume that evoked images of wildly beating jungle drums, ecstatic naked dancers and debauched pagan rituals. I said, “That smells amazing, where did you get it?” She said, “I have it made in a little perfumery in Paris. It’s designed to work specifically with my body chemistry.”

Then she gave me her secret smile and one of her patented hot glances and said, “I was hoping that it would give you ideas.”

IDEAS, Hell!!! I was ready to rip off her clothes and fuck her right there in the circular drive of the hospital. Except I was pretty sure that would violate some kind of military regulation.

And besides, I wanted to consummate the relationship in someplace befitting the way I felt about her. That would come tonight.

We jumped on the A6 and proceeded along at an easy-going 120 miles an hour. The Mercedes could go a lot faster than that but Catherine was a careful driver. It was like sitting in my living room. Not a hint of road noise and rock solid stable.

Well before noon we crossed into France at Saarbrucken. We then proceeded along their A31 to where it becomes the A6 AutoRoute at Beaune.

That road is as perfect as any of the Autobahns, no matter what they say about French engineering. So we were able to average 120 all the way.

We were passing through Lyon at 1:00 PM. Then we picked up the A7 and rode it all the way down to Aix-en-Provence and the A8. We got there well before dinner. From there it was another couple of hours through the soft light and warm breezes of Provence, to the Hotel Royal-Riviera at the base of Cap-Ferrat.

Catherine had driven the whole way. I expected her to be as tired and wrinkled as I was. But she still looked as fresh as an English summer’s day. I was in considerable pain from my knees. But I had something special planned. And I was going to do it before bedtime.

The Royal-Riviera was costing me a grand a night and it was worth every penny. First of all, Cap-Ferrat is probably the last spot on the French Riviera that is not infested with oil Sheiks, and flavor of the month pop stars.

Maybe it is the heavily wooded nature of that peninsula that keeps the glitterati at bay. Or perhaps it’s the fact that it has always been the location where the real cultural stars of the last Century hung out; people like Elizabeth Taylor, David Niven and even Winston Churchill. At any rate there is no “touristy” vibe.

The Royal-Riviera is right on the Mediterranean at the eastern base of the Cap and the views from each of the balcony rooms are spectacular.  Catherine ran to the French doors and threw them open. She went out on our balcony and leaned against the railing.

The view of the almost purple Mediterranean at this time of the evening was spectacular.  The sun was setting in golds and reds and the sky was beginning to darken into a warm amber hue. I inched up behind her on my walker. Admittedly not dashing. But it was the best I could do.

She leaned back against me and said with touching sincerity, “This is heaven. I love you Frederic Henry.” I put one arm around her shoulders. The other was holding me erect braced on the walker. I kissed her glorious mane of hair and said, “I love you too Catherine Barkley.”

She turned inside my arm and said, “I thought my life had ended when my Anthony died. But God has given me somebody even better. I swear that I will never let you down and that I will cherish you forever.”

It was just dusk. The smell of the Mediterranean world; the sea, the bounty of flora and the sounds of a city just waking up for the evening was washing over us. The quickening night sky was a deep shade of midnight blue and the panoply of stars were literally diamonds spread out on a black velvet display.  

I had worked through a lot of pain to create this moment. So all-in, now!!!!

I took a deep breath to steady myself and said, “I have been lonely my whole life. Nobody has ever loved me and I have never needed, or wanted anybody else’s love in return. That changed the moment I met you. You gave my life meaning and you are so precious to me that I don’t know how I would be able to continue to live without you.”

Then I hesitated. This was it. It was too much to hope for and I didn’t know how to proceed. I was dithering as usual. So my steadfast lioness of a woman took the situation in hand. She said gently, “Frederic Henry, would you marry me?”

My mind exploded in a fireball of pure unadulterated love. I said, “As usual, you are the one with the strength and courage to do what I should have done. I dragged this little thing along with me just in case - waiting for the right time"

I added shamefaced, "Naturally you were the one who knew when that time was.” And I reached into my coat pocket and pulled out the ring box.  

I added, “Oh and by the way, would you marry me Catherine Barkley.”

Her eyes misted as she opened the box. Inside was a five caret Columbian emerald engagement ring offset by two square cut three caret diamonds. It was huge. But I wanted the world to know that Catherine Barkley was mine.

It had cost me a fortune. The Columbian emeralds are expensive. But their pure green depth was a perfect match to the mesmerizing color of her eyes. And I could afford it. You don’t spend much money during a career as an O-3 senior nerd. And I had banked a lot of Imminent Danger pay.

She slipped it reverently on her finger. She held it up and looked at it in the gathering dusk. The emerald sparkled like a savage green searchlight.

Then she threw her arms around my neck and collapsed against my chest weeping. She said with deep emotion, “I will be your wife. And I will make you proud. You will never regret marrying me.”

Catherine was the only active participant in this romantic tableau. I was standing there holding onto my walker and trying not to fall over.

Then she reared back, arms still around my neck. She looked at me with the most intense fuck-me stare ever, including the one that I had witnessed with Rinaldi.

She said in a voice that was furry with lust, “Let me help you over to the bed. Trust me. I’m a trained trauma care nurse.”

That was incredible!! Even as aroused as she was she could still make jokes. And she began to ease me to the bed, supporting me with my right arm thrown over her shoulder.

Bone pain is the worst pain of all. It erodes your soul. And I now had two metal appliances where my knee joints used to be. As Catherine carefully and lovingly undressed me I was thinking, “I can’t do this”.

I lay back on the pillows in that luxurious bed and waited, trying to suppress any thoughts of how much pain I was in. I was looking at her as she stood over me. She gave me a withering glance. It was so hot that the pain receded and was replaced by a rising sense of desire. Something else was rising as well.

Then she slowly shed her clothing. It was an incredibly erotic act. She stood for a second posed like Botticelli’s Venus for my inspection. I had never actually seen Catherine fully nude. I had played with those perfectly formed breasts with their puffy pink nipples. But the fully nude version was beyond reckoning.

I had remarked about her riot of colors before. But the unclothed version of the woman was unspeakably beautiful. Her long copper hair hung down to the middle of her back in dense ringlets. Her emerald eyes seemed to glitter.  Her full mouth was the deepest shade of red and that all contrasted with her silky, unblemished white skin.

Her breasts were full and broad with small, very erect and perfectly shaped bright pink nipples. She had a, short, neatly groomed wedge of copper hair at the juncture of her thighs. Then there were those long gleaming legs, which seemed to reach for miles up to her taut hips.

She turned for further inspection. And I ran my eyes down the smooth white expanse of her back, from her vulnerable woman’s shoulders, past her exceptionally long waist, down to her well-developed hip structure.

I looked past her tiny nipped in middle to a pair of big round muscular buns. Her ass was so round and full that it looked like a pair of fresh melons had been cut in half and stuck on the back of her.

She turned to me and made a shushing gesture, like she knew that I was injured but she was in charge. And she was going to take careful care of me.

She arranged herself next to me, avoiding all of the surgical scars on my legs and gave old Lucifer a look like she was starving and he was the most succulent dinner she had ever enjoyed.

Then she very gently and carefully ministered to him with a level of attention that would have done Florence Nightingale proud.

I had not had sex in months and I warned her to be careful or I was going to do an imitation of Old Faithful any second. She smiled at me around her dinner. And then went right back to making me forget about anything but her talented lips.

She didn’t just grab it and bob. She made a production of worshipping the thing, sometimes just holding the poor old guy to her lips and loving on it. I was in heaven when she lithely straddled me and slowly lowered herself on me, without disturbing my legs in the slightest.

I sank into the hottest three centimeters of real estate imaginable. I had noticed in our kissing that Catherine burned hotter than a normal person.

It might be a matter of a degree, or so. But she was literally hot. And she was very turned on. I knew that because she was dripping in ways that I had never encountered in a woman.

She groaned loudly and said, “GOD THAT’S SO GOOD!!! I have been waiting for this for so long!!!” She stopped moving as I bottomed out against her cervix. I could feel her intense heat and lubrication and her vaginal walls were spasmodically nipping and tugging on me.

She leaned forward with her arms over my shoulders. Her delectable breasts with their rock hard nipples dangled on my chest. Then she made a tent around our faces with her long thick copper hair.

It was unspeakably erotic. The effect was like I was looking up a rose colored tunnel to her beautiful face at the other end. Her emerald eyes were burning with passion. But I could see that she was communicating something to me with her rock steady gaze.

She was telling me about the perfect fidelity and the abiding passion that would be mine, and only mine. She was telling me about how our joining would mark the convergence of our spirits into a single mutually supportive entity. And she was telling me that she would do everything in her power to make it so.

I gave her a short nod of acknowledgement. I knew that was all that was required.

Then she began to move. It was a slow and gentle sliding and rotation. Her eyes clouded over and she began to moan. She was still holding me with a steady gaze in the crimson light of the little world that she had created for us.

Then it got too much for her. Her head snapped back and her hair flew up and behind her like a big wave breaking gracefully on a tropical beach. She put her hands on my chest and began a desperate back-and-forth motion powerfully rubbing her clit on my pubic bone.

That lasted for just a few seconds and then something happened deep in her core. You could feel it like a cataclysmic force; everything inside her clenched tightly and her entire body went rigid. Her head snapped back as she bent rearward in a supple bow supporting herself on the bed with her hands and bucking furiously.

Most women who lose it like Catherine had would have put their hands on my lower thighs, or knees. But even in the throes of out-of-control passion she was cognizant enough on another level that she had carefully avoided all contact.

Then she flopped forward, head on my chest, and began a frantic up and down motion of just her hips on my cock. She was rapidly bringing me to where I wanted to get.

But all during that time she was hysterically gripping the pillowcase in both hands and was just shrieking, “CUMMING!!! STILL CUMMING!!! OH GOD HELP ME!!! CAN’T STOP CUMMING!!!!”

I was not able to appreciate the fact that I had just experienced more wild passion from a woman than I had ever witnessed before. That was because I was in the process of shooting into her in unimaginable ways. I thought that my entire reproductive systems would end-up inside her before I was able to get a little control back.

On the other hand, she was passed out colder than a mackerel on my chest, with her internal muscles still milking me in little autonomic twitches. I couldn’t do anything about her unconsciousness, since my mobility was limited. So I just lay there joined by our mutual sweat, while she lingeringly returned from wherever she had been blown.

She was making little whimpers, moans and twitches as she did that. During that entire time, I was thinking, “I know she’s very experienced. And Rinaldi had warned me how hot she was. But there was no possible way that she could throw a fuck like that just to satisfy her own needs.”

It may have been a whole lot violent. But it was clearly a case of her making love to me. I thought to myself, “This woman is unreal!!” And I considered myself the luckiest man in the universe.

My shrinking out of her finally woke her up. She made a little moan of protest. Then her eyes popped open and she said, “What in God’s name did you just DO to me???!!! I have never cum like that in my life!!! My internal muscles hurt like I have been working out!!”

I kissed her on her forehead and said, “They definitely HAVE been. I was there. I felt it!!!”

She looked at me and said, “Should I be ashamed of myself for being so wanton. I have been waiting forever to do that with you.”

I smiled and said, “Only if you never do it for me again.” She whacked me on the arm and nimbly rolled off our mutually sweaty bodies. She said, “We’ll have to limit those to once every 24 hours. If I came like that any more frequently it would kill me.”

Then she looked lovingly at me and said, “The next time we are going to make sweet gentle love. But I just couldn’t control myself this time.”

A look of concern suddenly came in her eyes and she reversed her position on the bed; giving me a view of the sweetest little pussy and the most awesomely full and perfectly shaped ass ever hung on a woman.

She went over every inch of the surgical work down there looking for any problems that we might have caused. While she was doing it I was idly sliding a couple of fingers in and out of her well lubricated pussy. And she was moaning gently and appreciatively while I was doing it.

Her ability to compartmentalize her thinking into hot woman and efficient health care provider was another thing that I was amazed by. Finally, she turned back around and said, “No damage that I can see. And since you are insisting…”

Then she applied her mouth to Old Lucifer and we had another almost as spectacular round as the first one. We both showered together.

That led to round three, with her arms spread widely on the tile of the shower, head turned toward me urging me on with the most amazingly hot glance. Her wet hair was plastered against her head and down her back and her magnificent round ass was rippling as I pounded her.  The sound of the water covered up most of the moaning and shrieking.

She ended the session by saying, “I can’t get enough of you. But I’m starving to death.” She had spent nine hours behind the wheel.

Then she fucked me in ways that would have made Messalina herself seem like a blushing virgin. During that time, she had never complained. I kept asking myself how I could be so lucky.

The Royal-Riviera has a small covered outdoor terrace that looks directly out over the Mediterranean. We dined on lobsters that had been at the bottom of the Med that morning, killed a bottle of wine and watched the boats come and go on that ancient sea.

Night on the Mediterranean is like no place I have ever been. The best word to describe it is “tender”. The temperatures are ideal, the breezes are gentle and there is something in the air that is soft and comforting

I was with a woman who was turning heads even in a jaded place like this, I had a soon-to-be wife who was as steadfast as the most loyal friend and boon-companion, and I had a lover who could rock my world – multiple times.

If this was paradise, then I was there. I took a snapshot in my head so I could savor this moment for the rest of my life. And I made a vow that we would be together forever.

  ~

And so we were married. It was a simple civil ceremony performed at the Maire’s Office in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.  It took a week to gather the paperwork, since I needed a copy of my divorce decree and she needed a blood test.

The wedding was just a technicality. It really didn’t cement anything. That was because we were about as much in love as two humans could be. In the meantime, we had rented a little flat while we were doing the bureaucratic paper chase.

It was in Saint-Jean proper. It was lit by the bright Mediterranean sun and just a short walk down the Avenue Claude Vignon to Paloma beach. There were restaurants and bars and of course the glorious Mediterranean climate. My life was about as perfect as it could be.

We had decided to stay in St-Jean since there was really nowhere else to go. And I was avoiding my friends at the NSA. They still had a posting for me and they were getting very insistent about my contract.

The sun was making its annual disappearance in the rest of Europe and the temperatures were beginning to drop. But it was still warm enough in Saint-Jean to stretch out in the sun at the beach. I was using two canes now instead of the walker. So I could get around.

I didn’t want to show off my legs. That sight would have scared small children. So I always wore Jeans and a Polo shirt when I was down there. But the sun on my face and the warm on-shore breeze was incredibly sensuous.

My wife had no such constraints. She would lie next to me in a beach chaise wearing a very skimpy bikini; which showed off her long-waisted litheness and her beautifully shaped muscular legs.  And although her silky white redheaded hide couldn’t stand much sun the SPF 30 that she rubbed on that gorgeous body let her stay out in it like a California beach bunny.

Hence, we would sit by the seaside and talk all day. I had stopped being freaked-out by her intimidating beauty a long time ago.

That was because her extraordinary good looks were overshadowed by the fact that she was so wonderfully kind, well-read and intelligent. She was just my best friend and companion now. And I lost all of my lifelong feelings of isolation.

And thus, the time with her just passed in a glorious haze of stimulating ideas and conversation. Afghanistan and the Taliban were something that two other people had experienced. And all of our losses were walled off in that sealed room behind us.

About three months after we were married she was lying in the sun, on her stomach. She spent a lot of time on the beach. I wasn't with her all of that time. Walking was still a challenge and she loved the sun. So I wanted her to get the maximum enjoyment.  

Her top was untied and her beautiful little full breasts were pillowed out beneath her. As usual, the sight of that strong woman’s back with the two jutting buns and the flaming mass of copper hair was causing the locals to do double takes, as they strolled by on the beach.

I was sitting up next to her reading in a beach chair. I still couldn’t navigate without some pain. And the canes prevented me from going out on the beach. That was because they would sink the moment they touched the sand.

Catherine sat up tying her top as she did and said, “I’m getting hot lover, and not in that fun kind of way. So I am going to take a dip in the sea.”

She rose and strolled down to the breaking waves. Her hips were swinging erotically as she glided along the sand. She waded out a bit and did a perfect dive into the next breaker.

I watched that incredible ass disappearing down to the water and it was giving me a great idea about a few interesting things we could do that didn’t involve walking.

She was about waist deep headed back when she was intercepted by a guy. The dude was your classic beach Adonis, tall, lithe, incredibly handsome, with his dark hair plastered on his head and a twinkle in his eye.

He stood in front of her as she worked her way back through the water toward me. There was a pleasant exchange. I saw her shake her head “no” in a friendly fashion. He laughed and smiled. Then she lightly touched his arm.

It was a responsive social gesture, nothing sexual about it. But it told me that the two of them knew each other.

So when she got back to me I said, “Who was that?” Catherine laughed lightly and said, “Just one of the local beach boys. He asked me to get a drink. It was nothing.”

In their short exchange I had gotten the distinct impression that it WASN’T nothing. So I said, “It looked like you knew him.”

She said, “He pesters me from time to time. You know the French.”

I DID know the French and I didn’t like it.  I looked at that fabulous woman with one leg up on her lounge chair carefully drying her muscular thigh and I was suddenly overcome by the most hopeless case of bourgeois jealousy.  

That emotion alone ought to illustrate how much I had changed over the past half year. And it was fucking humiliating to feel that way.  

But look at it from my perspective. I am a cripple. And I will be one for foreseeable future. I am big, pasty-white and a little over-muscled for my frame, not sleek and pantherishly sexy like her friend.

He was probably 10 years younger and no doubt a whole lot friskier. I have always thought that Catherine thoroughly enjoyed herself during our bouts of sex. But at the same time she was an insatiable physical animal in bed. And I am not as young as I used to be.

More importantly, this guy was clearly not burdened by any sense of honor. Since, he was hitting on a woman who was obviously married. I was sure that he thought that any woman who didn’t actually threaten him with a gun was fair game. And Catherine had not pulled out any six-shooters while they were talking.

In fact, they seemed very sociable. Worse, she spent hours away from me down at the beach and this was the first I had ever heard about the dude.

I was aware that Catherine had been hit-on by every male in that part of the world except perhaps the College of Cardinals and the Pope himself. And she has never given me a sense that she has anything but the utmost respect for our marriage vows.

But I did not like the thought of her spending any time alone with a man-whore like the guy she had just been so friendly with.

Nonetheless what could I do? She had not given me the slightest hint that she was anything but happily married and that she was totally devoted to me. I might add that she was also clearly dedicated to my care. So it would seem a tad ungenerous for me to start dictating the rules of engagement for her.

Even worse if I started acting dictatorial without any hard evidence it might drive a wedge between us. So I just said, “I trust you with my happiness.” And she proceeded to look at me like she didn’t have the slightest idea what I was talking about.”

We had evening dinner at Capitaine Cook. Naturally that was after a short, and very vigorous bout of sex and a quick shower. That little place is a nice bright little restaurant off of Port-Saint-Jean. It serves the most incredible fish soup.

I took Catherine’s hand and said, “I’m sorry that I can’t be as active as you are. But I’ll get better someday. And we can enjoy the surf together.”

She actually looked angry and said, “Why do you think I should care about something like that. You have a slight mobility problem. That is due to the fact that you have done heroic things. It’s temporary. My only regret is that I am not with you all of the time. But sometimes you have to be alone.”

She was right about that. I’m a nerd and once in a while I have to be alone to do nerd things. So instead of joining her at the beach I spent FAR too much time on the internet researching connotative search algorithms. I thought that there might be some money in that kind of artificial intelligence engine given how omnivorous big-data has gotten.

I sighed and said, “Okay, I’ll put it directly out-there for you. I am not as bronzed and beautiful as the guy who talked to you today. Is that a problem for you?”

The anger that flared out of those emerald eyes was like being hit by a green laser. She said with barely controlled rage, “You are the only man I talk to. You are the love of my life. I am yours forever. And that’s the way it will always be. Is that a problem for you!!???”

I laughed at her sarcasm. She laughed at my response. We were a couple again. For a while.

Then her behavior changed radically. It started when she disappeared for almost a day. That had simply never happened before.

She had been acting moody for a week prior to her disappearance. And it culminated in her getting back to the flat after dark. She had been drinking and it showed. She went right off to bed as soon as she arrived. And when I eventually crawled in next to her I could tell that she was awake and staring at the ceiling.  

When it happened again exactly a week later I was sitting on our little balcony with an open bottle of Cabernet and a distressed look on my face, waiting for her to get home.

She went upstairs and took a quick shower. Then she came down wrapped in her fluffy bathrobe. She sat glumly in the chair opposite me. I poured her a glass of wine and we sat for a few more excruciating moments.

Finally, she sighed and said, “Well I guess I have to get it over with.”

My heart sank like a figurative stone dropped down a well. There was even a loud plop in my head as it hit bottom.  She fixed me with a resolute gaze. Her emerald eyes were duller than I had ever seen them. And she uttered those four dreadful words, “We have to talk.”

I must have looked as distressed as I felt because she rushed on like she wanted to get my death-blow over with as quickly as possible. I thought to myself, “How fucking considerate!!!”

She said, “There are going to be some changes in our life that I simply didn’t expect. I had no idea that it was going to happen to me. But I can’t change what has occurred.”

It took every ounce of courage I had to say, “And what is THAT my dear?”

She put her head down on the table and sobbed into her arms, “I just got back from seeing a doctor in Nice. This has been my second visit….” And she couldn’t finish.

I said with sheer panic and just the hint of outrage in my voice, “And WHAT Catherine??!!”

From somewhere in the general vicinity of the table I heard a timorous, “We are going to have a baby. There is no doubt about it!!! I just got the results of the HGC test that I took there last week.”

I was in the process of yelling, “You slut!!! You whore!!!” And then what she had just said REGISTERED - Thank God!!!

My inner voice shook its head and said, “You insecure BASTARD!! She was sneaking around trying to confirm a pregnancy!! Not fucking anybody. No wonder she was distracted. She thought she had let you down!!!”.

All dishonorable thoughts about bronzed beach-boys disappeared in a puff of smoke. And I said as gently as I could, “We’re going to have a baby? Why that’s WONDERFUL!!!”

A sad face with huge red rimmed eyes appeared from off the table. She looked at me with tears running down her perfect cheek bones and snot running out of her cute Irish nose. She looked adorable. And she was the most beautiful woman in the world.

She said, “REALLY?? That’s good news???!! I thought you would hate me. I have no idea how it could have happened. I am on the pill. I don’t know how I could have messed up like that.”

Then she added shamefacedly, “I didn’t know how to break it to you. I have been sitting at Capitaine Cooks for the last two visits just trying to get a little Dutch courage.”

I thought to myself, “Thank God for female insecurities!!! If I recalled correctly, I had made some minor contribution to the baby making process. Yet here she was taking all of the responsibility on herself.”

I said with a far too much enthusiasm, “So what!! Now I will have two of you to love, spoil and generally devote my life to.”

She was clearly surprised at my delight. She said, “But that means diapers and 3 AM feedings and all of the other things that go along with parenthood. I have wanted to give you a child since I met you. But I wanted it to be when you were ready, not just spring it on you like this.”

I got creakily to my feet, raised her to her up and placed her arms around my neck and said, “Thank you for this gift. It is one more proof of how much you love me. And this little child will signify our love for each other.”

I still wasn’t able to sweep her up in my arms Fabio style. But I COULD ease her over to the bed. She plopped down on it still sniveling. I lay down next to her and propped myself on one elbow.

I looked into her eyes. They were miles deep with love and devotion. I gave myself one more savage kick in the ass for my ever doubting her.

I said, “I don’t know how, or even why, you chose me. But the gift of your sweet love is my most precisions possession.”

Then I added in my most sincere tones, “But I am actually a little hurt that you would think that I was so shallow that I wouldn’t treasure you and our child. When I said the "for-better-or-worse" part I meant it. I promise that we will work together to make this baby the most well-loved child ever hatched.”

She looked at me with wonder. And then a fierce wave of sheer lust flashed across the surface of those huge expressive eyes and she grabbed me by the neck in a way that would be more appropriate to the UFC.

She smashed her mouth on mine and gave me one of her patented “all-there” kisses. Her mouth was wide open and boiling hot. It was like all of the pent-up anxiety of the last month was being burned out of her.

She moaned loudly and began to fumble frantically with my belt. I was going to tell her to slow down and we could do it right. But I sensed her out of control need for reassurance and just went with it.

She was determinedly tugging my pants down as she was also maneuvering me between her widely spread legs. Her robe was wide open at that point. So I had easy access.

For a long while after we got to St-Jean we could only do it with her on top. You should imagine trying to make love without using your knees for traction and you’ll get the idea why. But lately we had started to do it with me on top of her. She told me that she likes it better that way.

I outweigh her by 120 pounds and even though I try hard to not completely smother her I can’t imagine how all of that weight would be pleasurable. But she says that it makes her feel “possessed” when I am fucking her.

That is another puzzle since Catherine has the fieriest and most independent spirit of any person I know - male or female. Why should she want to feel dominated? But the female mind is as mysterious as the moons of Pluto. And so I take what she says at face value.

Nonetheless, having me on top of her makes her wilder than a bag full of angry bobcats. And today she was even more out of control given the emotional scene we had just experienced.

She grabbed the back of her knees and pulled herself into a perfect bow with her pussy in ideal position to be penetrated. As Old Lucifer slid into boiling hot lava I was thinking, “She really IS hot.”

She let out a groan that could probably have been heard by ships at sea. She released her knees and wrapped her long lissome legs around my waste. She extended her arms up so she had a death grip on the bars of our headboard. And as I began pounding her she started fucking back even harder.

She was also just yelling, ““GOD YES!!! Give it to me baby!! Pound me!!! Faster!! Faster!!! I WANT TO HAVE YOUR BABY!!!”

The heat, the smell and the friction were about to make me go off. But she beat me to it. When Catherine cums big-time, it feels like a deep, fundamental tightening in her entire body. It is almost like the entire mechanism locks up. You can literally feel her insides clench.

That level had only been reached once before, on our first night in Cap-Ferrat. But when it DOES happen she feels like she is made out of pure Carrera Marble, rather than red-hot girl flesh. Her mouth is wide open in a soundless shriek and she usually stops breathing long enough that she passes out.

The last time that occurred I was so busy taking care of my own business that I didn’t really notice much about it. But this time I was perhaps more cognizant. Because it scared me to death.

I couldn’t move because it took me a moment to stop cumming myself. And she came around as I was just getting my own rationality back on line sufficient to act.

But she lay there for a couple of seconds looking distressed before she opened her eyes and said, “I only THOUGHT I loved you before. You have made me so happy that I NOW understand what true love really means.”

Then she grabbed my face between those two exquisite little hands and said determinedly, like she was giving an order, “You will never doubt me. And I would die rather than let you down.”

I should have said something in return. I had a feeling that she had guessed what I was really thinking before the big announcement. But our conversation was interrupted by a long moan of yearning as I shrank out of her.  

I said, “It is inexplicable to me that a woman like you would love me like you do. It is one of the many things that you do far better than any female I have ever known. But I learned a long time ago not to question my good fortune. And I pledge that every ounce of what I give to you I will give the same amount to our child.”

She looked at me and said, “I’m sorry I didn’t trust you.”

I thought to myself, “I’m even sorrier that I didn’t trust YOU my dear.” But instead I just said, “Let’s sleep on it and we can make plans for the next phase of our life tomorrow.”

She kissed me, turned in my arms and snuggled those full muscular buns against me. Of course, that made Old Lucifer want to go exploring. She whacked me on the arm and said laughingly, “ENOUGH but it’s nice to know you care.”

  ~

We had seven months to get ready for the arrival, based on Catherine and the doctor’s best estimate. I love the Cote d’Azur when it comes to fun in the sun. But the only place I would trust with my wife and baby’s health was England and the NHS.

So we moved back to the UK. We chose a perfect little place in the Babbacombe district of Torquay, in South Devon. It cost 400,000 quid but the terms were good and it was a big place, and move-in ready.

More important it was in a section of England where they have palm trees thanks to the Gulf Stream. Of course Devon and Cornwall are also the part of the Country that sticks straight out into the North Atlantic and so the area has its moments weather-wise.

We were mainly there because Rinaldi had recommended Torbay Hospital as the best place in England to have a baby, And I trusted Rinaldi.

The hospital was only two miles up the road from our comfortable house and with all of the advantages of climate and culture I couldn’t think of a better place to live. It was July now and little Britannia was a mere five months away. We already knew that she was a going to be a girl. And as far as I was concerned, the spoiling would commence the instant that precious little package arrived.

Catherine was beginning to show. THAT only made her sexier. There is nothing like the glow a beautiful pregnant woman to keep a man constantly horny. And I think it was some kind of atavistic hormone thing with women. But Catherine couldn’t get enough of it.

So we probably fucked more frequently during the period from July to mid-October then we did on our honeymoon.

Of course we had to be a little more creative about how we went about doing it. So it was mainly from the back and side now. Nonetheless, the sight of those round muscular buns rippling as I pounded her was stimulating to say the least.

And if the orgasms were to be believed, she seemed to enjoy it like she always did. Like every other guy in the world I know absolutely nothing about female technology – and I certainly wasn’t going to ask. But it was thought-provoking that so much could be going on down there at the same time; both sex AND baby construction.

Nonetheless, it was an energizing sight to fuck her while watching her beautiful little breasts pillowed out underneath; as she tried to rip the sheet in half.  We were living very well on my disability pay and her trust and if there was ever a time in my life when I was perfectly happy it was that period.

By the time November rolled around my lithe and sensual wife was beginning to resemble a duck. She was still in magnificent shape, not in the least bit fat. But she waddled around like she had an elephant parked on her bladder. And she told me that she had a hard time with all of her bodily functions.

I didn’t know what she was talking about and I was hoping she would never fill me in.

We were working on the baby’s room; which Catherine supervised like Michelangelo overseeing the Sistine Chapel. It was absolutely charming to see my lovely wife carefully painting with a drip of pink paint on her exquisite Irish nose.

She was still very vigorous in the first week in November. And so I thought I would take one last opportunity to drive the hour and a half up to Bristol to strategize with my solicitor.

The NSA had been hassling me about my contract and we were trying to work out an amicable resolution. I knew that I was going to be hors d ’combat for the last three weeks prior to the baby’s arrival and for some time afterward. So I didn’t want any distractions.

I kissed my now very rotund little wife goodbye. I said I’ll be back by sunset, I promise.” She gave me one of her patented very hot kisses and said, “No need to hurry dear. I will just be lying in bed with the catalogues trying to figure out creative ways to spend your money on the baby.”

I laughed and said, “You’re both worth it, goodbye love.” And I backed the Mercedes out of the garage in the lowering light of a November afternoon in Devon.

Of course, the moment I got on the M-5 the first winter storm of the year decided to blow in. The Mercedes is a very stable car. But the wind was rocking it like it was a toy. I was just northeast of where the A361 meets the M-5 when I got the call.

Every detail of that moment has been permanently burned into my brain. The sky had darkened to almost night, even though it was closer to 3PM. The headlights and wipers were on full blast. But it was still hard to see the road.

The wind was blowing in powerful gusts. The temperature had started to drop and the M-5 was beginning to get slick. It was well above freezing but the driving was still hazardous, even with the all-wheel drive engaged.

So I decided to turn around. Getting killed on my way to talk to a lawyer about ways to avoid getting killed just seemed too hopelessly paradoxical.

The rain had been pretty intense but there was no actual storm yet. Then a huge flash of lightning and the roar of thunder announced the arrival of the real shit.

I was creeping along the M5 at 45 miles an hour when my phone rang. The Mercedes’s hands-free system picked up and I said, “Hello.” An official sounding voice said, “Mr, Frederic Henry?” I cautiously said, “Yes???”

He said, “This is Police Constable Ben Jones and we need you to come to Torbay Hospital immediately!!!”

I could guess it was about Catherine. I said with ill-disguised panic, “Why???!! Is she all-right???!!!”

The PC just said, “Please get here as quickly as possible. We will explain when you arrive.”

It was a death-defying act. But I pushed the accelerator down and I was whipping down the M-5 like Michael Schumacher in the Monaco Grand Prix. I didn’t slow down, even after I got on the more residential A 380 near Newton Abbot. Fortunately, the storm was keeping most people off the road. But I still had to weave through the truck traffic.

I was trying to figure out what could have happened. I hadn’t been gone two hours and Catherine was in perfect condition. It took an excruciating half hour to wind my way through the local streets of Torquay.

I had built up such a head of frustration that I just screeched to a halt in the ambulance plaza next to the main entrance and left the car there. I dived out into a sheet of rain. And I was soaked by the time I made the 25 yards to the door itself.

I was in a panicked haze as I arrived at the reception desk. I was standing there looking around wild-eyed. I was such a bedraggled sight that two Constables immediately got up and walked toward me.

The big one said, “Mr. Henry.” I said, “Yes! Are you the person who called?” The other Constable was a woman. They both did their Warrant Card thing.

He said, “I did. Can we talk in this room?” And they both steered me to a side room that looked suspiciously like a chapel. I was in a frenzy at that point. I said, “WHAT HAPPENED TO MY WIFE?”

The woman Constable said, “Sit down Mr. Henry and I will get the doctor.” She left. Then the big Constable said, “Your wife was involved in a minor traffic accident. It appears that she was walking down to the Cliffside?”

Catherine is slightly more Romantic than the chick from Wuthering Heights. And I knew that she liked to walk the four blocks from our house down to the overlook at Babbacombe Beach every time major weather rolled in off the Channel. She said that she liked to “feel the power of the tempest.” So she frequently stood on the cliff and watched the oncoming storm until she got soaked. It was her version of a spiritual experience.

I said puzzled, “She does that all the time. What happened?”

The big guy said, “She was on the Beach Road where it bends around down by the Babbacombe Cliff Railway. A tourist came around the corner on the wrong side of the road and struck her from behind.

That actually happened a lot in Torquay. Tourism is the economic lifeblood of the place. That’s been the case since the Napoleonic Wars. And the weather in Devon is relatively mild compared to up north; even at that time of the year. So there are always herds of tourists milling about.

Many of them are from countries that drive on the wrong side of the road. In fact, the Brits have to paint warnings on their crosswalks reminding the tourists to “look right” - or there would be a bloodbath every year. And since the tourists also drive on the wrong side of the road there are inevitably a lot of fender benders.  

The Constable said, “It was a slow speed collision. The car was moving perhaps 25 miles-per-hour and she had almost managed to step out of the way. But she didn’t quite make it. And the force knocked her down.”

He looked grim and added, “The witnesses thought that she would be shaken-up perhaps. But she didn’t get up. And when they got to her she was bleeding profusely down there. That was when they called the ambulance, which brought her here. And that was when we called you.

He paused and looked sympathetic. He said, “Constable Whitely is bringing the doctor and he can take it from there,” We sat silently together for several minutes and then the lady PC walked in with a young guy in a white doctor’s coat.

During all of that time My brain was in mortal lock. The entire situation was so totally unforeseen and implausible that I couldn’t process it. So I just sat there like a turnip with crushing waves of fear and guilt churning in my gut.

I kept thinking, "How could I have left her alone!!!??? It would have never happened if I had been home."

I knew that was total irrational bullshit. Catherine has a mind of her own. She would have gone no-matter what I said. And there was no predicting the accident. What had happened would have occurred whether I had been at home, or in Afghanistan.

The police got up and left when the doctor arrived.

The doctor looked like he was a Resident. And he was a number of years younger than me. But he had that exhausted sense of gravitas that all Emergency Room docs have, no matter their age.

He sat down opposite me and seemed to be thinking through what he was going to say.

Finally, he said in measured tones, “Your wife was struck from behind in a low speed automobile collision. There was no structural damage. She would have just been very sore in the morning, if she had not been so advanced in her pregnancy.”

Then he paused like he didn’t want to proceed and said, “The car hit her on her side and back.  That enormous torsion twisted her body drastically. Which was very unfortunate, because the traumatic wrenching caused a total placental abruption. In simple terms it separated the fetus from her uterus.”

He was the dispassionate man of medicine at that point. And so, his narration started to get more clinically precise.

He said, “The outcome of that separation was massive bleeding. We immediately tried a Caesarean as a means of delivering the baby. But either the initial impact, or the enormous blood loss prevented the fetus from becoming viable.”

It was like a bomb exploded. We had NAMED her. She was a PERSON. And now she was DEAD without ever drawing a breath. The agony was as excruciating as it would have been if she had died after I had actually had the chance to hold her. I couldn’t bear it.

The doctor added in precise measured tones, “We have done a total hysterectomy on your wife. We did it in order to try to control her bleeding. And we are giving her mass transfusions. But the damage is overwhelming and it appears that she is starting to go into acute renal failure from shock and blood loss.”

It was a great clinical summary. He had seen a lot of death. And it had habituated him to it. But he had no concept of the impact his words had on me.

My mind was unable to grasp anything. I had no idea what he was telling me. I looked at him without any form of intelligent awareness. And my utter perplexity seemed to bring out his human side.

He said gently, “The next 6 hours are critical. I have sent for the Priest and he will be here to comfort you. Then whenever you are ready, you can see her if you would like. She is resting in the Critical Care ICU.”

At that, he rose and put his hand on my quaking shoulder. He said, “I’m sorry Mr. Henry. It was a perfect storm of malicious events. And we are doing all we can. But the prognosis is not good.”

My mind shattered. And nothing but the primordial void remained.

I finally understood the truth. There was no grand plan. There was no mercy. There was just ravening nature; red in tooth and claw. And I was a helpless bug under the heel of a cruel and vicious fate.

But I knew the one person I absolutely DIDN’T want to talk to. THAT was the priest. I was afraid that I would tell him what I thought about his God. And I didn’t want to risk any potential confrontations with any putative divinities. They had already proven to me how thoroughly I would get my ass kicked.
 
I said, “Wait, I want to go to her now.”

He said, “Don’t you need comforting?”

I said with my anger unmistakable, “Not by HIM!!”

We walked to the hospital's Advanced Trauma Life Support Unit. The Doctor used his security card to get us to the central monitoring desk.

The room was divided into eight pie shaped bays all centering on the monitoring facility. Only three beds were occupied. Catherine was in the bed directly in front of me as we entered.

The doctor instructed the nurse that I should be allowed to be with my wife throughout. There was very little attempt to hide the implication that he was really telling the nurse that I could sit with Catherine while she died.

My lovely, vital wife was laying in the bed with her gorgeous copper hair spread out on the pillow. She looked like she was sleeping. Her normally silky white skin was almost ivory pale. That made her freckles stand out more distinctly.

Except for her wan color she looked as gorgeous as ever, with her perfectly proportioned face radiating the soul and essence of Celtic beauty. The machines around her were beeping and churning and there were two IV bags dripping into her. One was clearly blood and the other contained some kind of clear fluid, perhaps a saline solution.

I sat next to her bed and took her hand. She didn’t stir. I began to silently weep. Time passed and I wept until I had nothing left.

It was several hours later that she made a small noise and her eyelids fluttered. The machines sensed whatever was going on and they began to chatter.

Two nurses appeared. They began fiddling with things, changing the frequency of the drip and then one left to call the doctor.

I continued to sit there with red rimmed eyes, holding her hand. Then the other nurse left. I had no idea where she was going and it didn’t matter.

Catherine opened her eyes. She smiled at me and said weakly, “My love.” I said, “Shhhhhh you’re in good hands and they are going to get you through this.”

She looked sad and said, “No they aren’t. I have been around enough death. And I can feel myself slipping away”

Then there was a pause while she gathered her strength and she whispered, “But I wanted to talk to you one last time. I want you to promise me that you will find somebody to love when I am gone. I love you more than life itself and I can’t stand the thought of you being alone.”

She started to slip back into unconsciousness. Then she brought herself back by sheer force of will. It was like the uninjured Catherine was looking at me. She focused those powerful emerald green eyes on me and said, “PROMISE ME!!!”

What could I say, I promised her.

She got a look of peace and satisfaction on her face and said, "Good." Her eyes slowly closed and the melodramatic sound of the flat-line counterpointed every single alarm in the monitoring array.

The doctor and nurses came rushing in at once. The doctor put two fingers on Catherine’s neck and said, “Pronounced at 2:19 AM.”

I got it!!! Shit happens!!! Was I so special that I should expect anything else!!!???  I turned and ran out of the ICU and down the labyrinth of halls to my car. The rain was coming down in sheets. And the lightning and thunder was almost continuous.

I fell to my knees in the parking lot and just shrieked at the sky, “I GIVE UP… YOU SON-OF-A-BITCH... YOU WON!!!!”

Epilogue

Hospital security caught up with me lying crying uncontrollably face down in a puddle. It was almost too laughably corny; A former nerd getting so emotional that he would have a complete breakdown right there in the middle of a hospital parking lot.

They picked me up like a wet noodle and deposited me in an admitting room. The same doctor who I had just so theatrically departed from gave me a couple of shots. And the next thing I knew it was morning and I was lying in a conventional hospital bed.

They let me go home after a long conversation with the doc and the hospital shrink. They decided that I wouldn’t harm myself. I wasn’t going to live without her for one second longer than I had to. But I was playing the long game.  

Her parents and I buried her in a lovely little Norman Church overlooking the Wiltshire Downs.

Catherine lay in her coffin with my exquisite little Britannia in her arms. The baby was dressed in the frilly white-lace baptismal gown that we had made specially for her.

Both of them were the essence of divine beauty. For a change I didn’t break down. I had shed my last tear.

The next day I contacted my handlers at NSA Harrogate and told them that I would be more than happy to take their contract as long as they would guarantee me permanent duty in Afghanistan.

I had considered the Green Zone but it has gotten too tame in Iraq for what I had in mind.

I demanded that I be allowed to set up my operation at FOB Fenty in Jalalabad. The international presence has seriously drawn down since Operation Resolute Support was launched in 2014. But JSOC and the CIA still have a presence there. And it is beyond a doubt the most hazardous location in the entire Country.

They run ops into the tribal areas on the other side of the border in Pakistan from there. And in return the Taliban would like nothing better than to wipe that particular FOB off the face of the earth. It seemed like an ideal spot for my plan to come to fruition.

Because it is at the junction of two rivers, Jalalabad is a quasi-paradise compared to most of that godawful place. But it is still in the 100s five months a year. And it is close enough to the Pakistan border that every Haji and T-Man bad actor eventually shows up there.

I was living in a CHU – not “shoe” – a containerized-housing-unit. In that climate it was like sleeping in an Easy Bake oven. But I didn’t think I would be there very long.

We were setting up improved Ka-band links to guide the drone strikes in the Khyber region. These strikes are the ones that you never hear about.  The really bad guys like to lurk over there. And we like to drop the occasional Hellfire on THEM. It’s kind of a hide-and-go-seek game played for keeps.

That actually takes place in Pakistan, which is supposedly one of our allies. So the U.S,’s ability to do that is facilitated by my black arts. And I did not have an ounce of regret about the death and dismemberment that I was dealing out over there. I had felt nothing since I closed Catherine’s coffin.

I had spent my entire life trying to avoid life threatening situations. Now I was actively seeking them out. But I was still getting no satisfaction. So, I would frequently venture outside the wire to buy stuff at the local Haji-marts - just to tempt fate.

The gate to FOB Fenty is usually manned by a squad and a couple of Humvees. You can drive them across to seal the entrance. One of the Humvees normally has a 50-cal on top and the other has some kind of TOW launcher. The Taliban had made a concerted attack on that base several years ago and that kind of vigilance is just necessary.

On the day in question I was wandering back from my latest expedition into Haji-land. I had a two-month old Playboy tucked under my arm. That was the most recent I could find. Of course I only buy it for the Pulitzer Prize winning authors.

I saw her out of the corner of my eye. She was walking determinedly toward the gate and the crowd of people around it. She was in the Berka that Haji women wear for things like shopping. So I could see her eyes. Those eyes told me all I needed to know.

I began to sprint in her direction yelling “PSB!!!” That is grunt talk. We all understand what It means, “Potential Suicide Bomber.”

I tackled the woman from behind. And then I got on top of her as she struggled beneath me. It was probably 50-50 odds that she would get to the detonation cord before I could disarm her. And as usual I lost. There was unbearable heat and a blinding white flash.

Then the picture reoriented like somebody had shifted the camera. I suddenly found myself standing on one side of the gate area watching all sorts of military incident response types descend on it.

There was a bloody mess lying in front of the gate but nobody besides those two people had been hurt.

It was actually very eerie. I couldn’t feel the oppressive Afghan heat any more. And I couldn’t hear any of the sounds that the emergency vehicles were making. In fact, it was perfectly quiet and peaceful. It was very confusing.

Then I saw a mass of copper colored hair on a lissome body.

I was standing behind her. She had one hand on her hip as she was surveying the pile of raw meat that had formerly been two people. She shook her head in mock exasperation. Then she dropped her arm and turned slowly toward me. And I knew that my mission was finally accomplished.

She strolled toward me with that secret smile on her delectable lips. We came together for one of her incredible kisses. Then she pushed herself back and said laughingly, “When I told you to find somebody to love I didn’t mean for you to do it like THIS.” And she gestured toward the larger of the two pieces of well-cooked meat.

Then she added with a brilliant smile, “But I guess you just can’t help being a hero.”

I said, “I’m no hero. My gruesome death frightened me to death. That’s why I had to do it this way.”

She laughed and said, “Well, whatever the reason, we have each other for eternity now. And it is time for me to take you home.”

She took my hand and walked toward a big portal, which had suddenly appeared in front of us. She was chatting amiably as we walked. She said conversationally, “You are really going to love little Britannia. She is gorgeous and she says she really misses her daddy.”

All I could think of was, “I’m really going to like heaven.”


© Copyright 2017 DT Iverson. All rights reserved.

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