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Sword or Shield?
Chewing thoughtfully on a full lower lip, the President's personal envoy to Lebanon watched squatty tugs maneuver rusty freighters and bulbous ferry platforms into position beside the long quay that kept the wild waters of the eastern Mediterranean at bay. Despite the fact that he was born in Lebanon and cut his diplomatic teeth on the chaotic menu of interlopers that had melted in and out of the country since 1948, Piere Hakim still had trouble accurately identifying many of the national colors that fluttered from the fantails of the hastily assembled evacuation fleet.
Gradually, over the next ten days or two weeks, the flotilla would steam in and out of Beirut's deep-water port and the Palestine Liberation Organization—including most of its allied and heavily armed factions—would recede from Lebanon to become a looming threat of continued violence from places like Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and South Yemen.
Hakim understood—as only one steeped in the turbulent cauldron of Middle East intrigue can understand—that his arrangement to shoehorn the PLO out of Beirut before the Israelis stomped them into oblivion at a high cost in innocent lives was, at best, a compromise.
But then, he reminded himself with some small satisfaction, the entire art of diplomacy is compromise.
* * *
"Dat da dude?"
Corporal Steve Mallory turned his attention from the distinguished gentleman entering the Mercedes limousine and eyed the squatty Chicano standing next to him at the battered intersection leading to the Beirut port facilities. Lance Corporal Rojas had a way of making everything he said sound like background lyrics to a doo-wop song.
"Is that what dude, Rojas?"
"You know, man. Dat dude dat runs the ragheads round here ... whatsisname?"
"You mean Arafat? Jesus H. Christ, Rojas! You got an IQ about three points lower than plant life. You know that?"
Armando Rojas stabbed his squad leader with an icy glare and then blinked away the resentment. Mallory didn't mean any harm. He let a grin crawl across his face and shrugged it off as he usually did when Mallory was dogging him about one thing or another. Mallory watched the limo glide away from the intersection and rubbed idly at a hot spot under his steel helmet.
"That's Hakim, man. He's the guy who engineered this deal. He got the Israelis to haul-ass and talked Arafat into getting the hell out of Beirut. Where you been, man?"
"So dat's why we here, verdad?" Rojas hitched at his rifle and followed the NCO up the street toward the muster area for the rest of the squad. It was a statement rather than a question. Rojas had heard the background briefings aboard ship with all the rest of the Marines of 32d MAU.
"There it is, Rojas. We're supposed to keep 'em from blowin' each other away until the Lebs can take over."
The grin widened as Rojas thought of how easily his uncle and cousins recrossed into the U.S. every time the border patrol escorted them back to Mexico. "So, what gonna keep dese dudes from comin' back anytime dey want?"
"The Leb Army, man. What do you think?"
"I think dat's bullshit, man."
* * *
The tinny echo of his own voice over the satellite telephone transmission was disconcerting, and Hakim wished the President had not chosen to put him on a speaker in the Oval Office. There were certain subtleties in what he had to say that could be misconstrued by the circle of high-level advisors assembled to hear his status report.
He would be asked for his assessment of the future before the call was terminated, and Hakim wanted the President's full and focused attention for that. Experience had taught him that this chief executive had trouble focusing on complex problems with staffers banging at his ears, each espousing a different course of action. That, he supposed as he waited for a response to his greeting, was why the President tended to delegate on many issues rather than make quick personal calls.
"Our best guess is that we have some fourteen thousand PLO fighters to shuttle out of Beirut, Mr. President. The evacuation began this morning." Hakim recognized the voice of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff asking the disposition of troops. Consulting his notes, Hakim tried to make it brief.
"The Israelis are generally holding on the outskirts of the city with the main concentrations of troops to the northeast between Beirut and Tripoli, and to the south straddling the coast road near Kaldeh. The IDF has also dispatched troops to cover the withdrawal of the Syrian 85th Brigade and the Palestine Liberation Army auxiliaries along the Beirut-Damascus Highway. The Multinational Force is in place with the French in the north around the ports, the Italians in the center sector, and the Americans in the south around the airport. Of course, we've clumped all the uniforms together along the evacuation route for the purposes of press coverage."
From the rumblings on the other end of the line it was clear to Hakim that the military wanted more detail, but the President saved him the trouble.
"Can you give us a rundown on casualty figures, Piere?"
Hakim ran his finger over columns of figures in his notes. "You should understand, Mr. President, that these figures are incomplete—and really guesswork when it comes to the PLO and the Syrians—but here's what we figure. The Israelis lost about three hundred killed in action and about twenty-five hundred wounded in Operation Peace for Galilee. The Syrians probably suffered slightly more than a thousand killed and triple that in wounded. The PLO: Call it fifteen hundred dead and an unknown number of wounded. Lebanese civilian casualties are devilishly hard to estimate, but the Red Cross seems ready to settle for four to five thousand killed and up to twenty thousand wounded."
There was eerie silence on the line for a moment. Hakim got some small satisfaction from the shocked reaction to his words. The rain of blood had been torrential in Lebanon and there was no guarantee that it had ended. That was the point he intended to make. The President abruptly changed the subject to ask about the upcoming Lebanese elections.
"A faint ray of sunshine, sir." Hakim felt himself coming onto firmer ground. "Elections are scheduled in the next few days. I think the people's choice will definitely be Bashir Gemayel. He's viewed as the great conciliatory hope for Lebanon. The future really lies in his ability to reform the traditional coalition government and get the country back in business. If he can control all the people who want to keep stirring the pot, he's got a chance."
The Secretary of State cleared his throat and posed the question Hakim had been waiting for all along. "What's your assessment of his chances, Piere?"
"It's an uphill battle, Mr. Secretary. Gemayel faces some tough opposition from Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims that resent his connection with the Christian Militia. Naturally, the Christian Phalangists want to stay in the catbird seat. Meanwhile, the Druze are pushing for a stronger voice in government. There are still several thousand Mourabitoun gunmen in Beirut and there is a growing threat from ultra-radical groups like the Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran."
"Bottom line, Piere?"
Hakim took a deep breath and let it out slowly before answering. "I think Bashir Gemayel can do it if anyone can, gentlemen. For the most part, the people of Lebanon—Christian and Muslim alike—are sick to death of fighting and killing. Our best bet is to keep the dogs at bay and let them get on with their lives."
"And all those dogs are now at bay—right, Piere?" The President sounded as if he wanted to get off the line and put this unpleasantness behind him.
"Relatively speaking, and for the moment, Mr. President—the dogs are at bay."
Piere Hakim hung up after the appropriate pleasantries had been exchanged. As he left the American Embassy, he couldn't help wondering if the superpower policymakers understood just how much nature deplores a vacuum of the dark, ominous sort that was settling over Beirut.
* * *
Watching the two camouflage-clad American Marines turn the corner and stride up the street past the refugee camp that had been his home for the past month, Wafic al Kadima wondered how long it would be before he had such men in his rifle sights. Men? He spat into the dust of the Sabra Camp and squinted against the glare of sunlight. They look like boys playing at war. Steel helmets in a place where the sun threatened to bake a man's brain. Green camouflage uniforms in a monochrome world of dun-colored sand. And armored vests? A sure sign of weakness in a warrior.
Wafic believed commitment and courage were the only protection a holy warrior needed. Those things—coupled with the training and modern weapons provided by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—had been all he required to kill Zionists in battles from the Golan Heights to Damour in the 1976 war. Nothing but a thin cotton shirt protected him when the Zionists attacked Beaufort Castle, and his faith in Allah had brought him through the brutal fighting in the streets of Beirut.
A smile creased Wafic's face as he noticed the two Americans pause on the other side of the street. They were watching PFLP fighters boarding trucks for the trip down to the docks. The taller of the two men seemed to be pointing at a sign bearing the likeness of Chairman Arafat. Wafic's men had prepared these placards to demonstrate their continued commitment to the struggle for a Palestinian homeland.
He glanced away from the Americans and frowned at the men arranging their meager possessions on the Lebanese Army trucks. Such long faces. They should understand the evacuation from Beirut was only a delay in the inevitable triumph over Zionist oppression. But it was hard when most of the men were leaving families behind in the squalid refugee camps of West Beirut. Wafic knew what was needed to shatter such a somber mood.
He eyed the unsuspecting Americans again and casually lifted the AK-47 assault rifle from his shoulder. Raising both hands in praise to his God, Wafic triggered all thirty rounds in the weapon's curved magazine into the muggy air over Beirut.
"Allah Akhbar! Victory is ours!"
Truckloads of PFLP fighters took up the cry and began firing their weapons into the air. Wafic grinned as he watched the two Americans scramble for cover. Nervous as sheep, he thought. Such men die easily.
When they were sure the burst had not been fired at them, Mallory and Rojas peeked over a low stone wall and tried to determine who had opened fire. It was impossible to tell. Practically all of the wild-eyed fanatics crammed into the back of the trucks lined up across the street were burning rounds in different directions. Mallory thought it looked like a scene from some old Western movie, with the bad guys terrorizing a town, rearing their horses in the middle of the main drag and firing their pistols in the air. Rojas pointed at his squad leader's helmet, which had fallen off when they scrambled for cover.
"Better get your piss pot, Corporal. Dese locos might decide to lower sights."
Mallory gingerly reached out and snatched his helmet off the sidewalk. He wiped the sweat from his brow but decided not to put it back on his head. The damn thing cramped his neck muscles and the webbing made his hair look like someone had run through it with a dull lawnmower. Most Marines avoided the problem by keeping their hair clipped bristle-short. Mallory avoided that affectation. Coupled with the corporal's chevrons he'd picked up about six months ahead of his contemporaries, he thought it made him look too much like a Lifer.
"Wish I knew what the fuck that was all about."
Rojas grinned and stood to watch as the trucks began to snort and stagger their way into formation for the trip down to the Beirut docks. "Mebbe dey pissed off 'cause you point at de picture of da honcho."
To show Rojas the difference between the man they'd seen down near the docks and Yasir Arafat, Mallory had pointed at the poster and mentioned that the PLO Chairman "looked like he had a bucket of ugly poured over his face and someone burned it off with a flamethrower." No way anyone but Rojas could have heard him say that. Not with all the pissing and moaning that was going on over at the refugee camp.
"Nah. These fuckers are just stone-assed nuts, Rojas. No fire discipline. No nothin'. Your granny could fuck 'em up with nothin' more than a reinforced fire team. They're just tryin' to show off."
"Corporal Mallory! I best see your ass double-timin' up that street!" A familiar roar suddenly cut through the snarl of diesel engines and practically every other sound in the noisy streets of Beirut. "And get that helmet on your gourd before I cram it up your ass!"
Rojas stifled a giggle and beat feet away from the threatening specter of Gunnery Sergeant Harlan Barlow, the man who was bearing down on them, flapping his tattooed arms like some hammer-headed gargoyle fueled with high-octane kick-ass. Mallory turned to follow but Barlow's whiskey-raw growl tripped him in midstride.
"Freeze in place, ass-bag! You wanna tell me what the fuck a rifle squad leader is doin' away from his rifle squad when every dune-coon in the goddamn world is runnin' around this AO like a scalded-ass ape?"
Struggling to suppress a grin, Mallory popped his helmet back on his head and wondered for the hundredth time where this lanky buzz-saw from someplace in southeast Missouri got such a colorful vocabulary. Given the guy's military history, revealed in a gaudy display of decorations and service ribbons on the rare occasion when he was ordered out of combat dress, it could have been Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Africa or any combination of exotic duty stations in both peace and war.
He'd nearly pissed himself trying not to laugh aboard ship on the trip over when the Gunny tore into his squad over some infraction. With Gunny Barlow a word to the wise was always insufficient and an ass-chewing was a work of art to be lovingly crafted with creative profanity. The Gunny seemed to have marked him for special attention ever since the day he'd been promoted out of a skate job as driver for the Commanding Officer of 32nd MAU.
Barlow moved into bayonet range and slashed Mallory from head to toe with a withering glance. The fading tattoos on his wiry arms rippled as he jammed fists onto his hips with elbows cutting a precise 45 degree angle. "Spit it out, Mallory. Colonel's makin' his rounds and I ain't got all day to be screwin' the pooch."
"Gunny, Colonel Skaggs pulled me and Rojas away from our post. He come around in a Jeep and told us to stand by near the docks as security for that guy Hakim."
Barlow's Adam's apple bobbed as he digested that information. A raucous burst of gunfire seemed to distract him momentarily and then he was locked back into Mallory's eyes. "I see one of yer shit-eatin' grins formin', Mallory. Stifle it and listen up. I got two things to say to you. One: Until we get out of this Ethiopian jug-fuck, I don't want to see you any more than six feet away from them maggots in your squad. Two: That sugar-tit the Old Man had you on has dried up. Colonel Skaggs and me been around the grinder together more than once. Don't be playin' him off me. Is that clear?" Barlow didn't wait for a response. He turned to charge up the rubble-strewn streets of Beirut as though he was back on the drill field at Parris Island.
It figures, Mallory mused, removing his helmet to massage a sore spot on his scalp. Wherever the Gunny goes it might as well be Parris Island. Before Mallory could move, the Gunny did a neat about-face and planted himself back in position for another tirade. He snatched Mallory's helmet and slapped it back on his head with a painful thump. There was nothing to say, so Mallory tried a feeble smile. Surprisingly, it worked. The corners of Barlow's pale blue eyes crinkled as he shook his head in mock disgust.
"When you gonna learn, son? Didn't nobody ever teach you what goes up must come down? All that lead these clowns are poppin' up into the air has got to fall and the unlucky agent that's standin' in the wrong spot when that happens is gonna find out about terminal ballistics the hard way."
Mallory was too shocked to respond. As well as he could recall, it was the first time the Gunny had ever put two words together without one of them being profane. "I knew a dude like you in Vietnam, Mallory. He never had much shit together either." There was laughter in Barlow's eyes so Mallory let the long-suppressed grin spread over his features. It seemed like something he could get away with this time. He was right. Barlow shook his head once more, spun on his boot heel and sauntered up the street.
Mallory watched silently until the Gunny was out of ear-shot and then turned to Rojas. "That fucking guy actually has a sense of humor. "I don't know whether to shit or wind my watch ..."
Excerpted from Outrage by Dale Dye. Copyright © 2013 Open Road Integrated Media. Excerpted by permission of Warriors Publishing Group.
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