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THE LAST COURIER

Chapter Two
 
 
Sergeant First Class Jonah Price was in the process of re-evaluating some of his life’s decisions for the third or fourth time today. His decision to volunteer to come to Afghanistan as an engineering NCO with the new Stryker Brigade may not have been his smartest move of the year. It was, sad to say, after ten years of war led by a very inexperienced command group. That would be forgivable if they were willing to listen to the voices of experience, but they weren’t. The Brigade Colonel, his staff, the battalion commanders and their staffs were all field grade and senior company grade officers who had somehow managed to avoid a combat arms deployment. The collective Sergeants Major were similarly blessed. They had suddenly realized that in the smaller post-war Army that was coming they would not be competitive if they hadn’t at least been shot at. A lot of them spent too much time trying to get shot at and not hit, to the detriment of the people that were happy with a quiet day. His heavy equipment platoon had become a Brigade asset that was sent all over the Area of Operations doing what he considered to be these little shit jobs. Price was not a popular NCO in this Brigade. He was not one of their old familiar faces, and had a lot more combat experience than they were used to dealing with. He had been on the pointy end of the stick for his country for a very long time, and it showed every time he was able to express an opinion. The Brigade staff hated the fact that Price was usually right, and the younger company grade officers looked to him for guidance. The final straw had been during a pre-mission briefing from the Brigade operations officer. Price corrected the sand box mock-up of the objective based on his personal reconnaissance. There was a brief ‘disagreement’ about the details, until another officer produced an aerial photograph that showed the gully that Price had insisted was there. It was a high speed avenue of approach for any bad guys in the neighborhood, and it was exactly the route they used when they tried to ambush the work party. It was one thing to show up a Lieutenant Colonel, but when he called for questions at the end of his brief, many of them were directed at SFC Price. It was no way to win friends or influence people.
That led to a succession of odd jobs in out of the way places, usually where there were a few locals who weren’t fond of the infidel help. His habit of sending heavy equipment rolling through poppy fields didn’t help, but the NATO program for opium eradication kept him out of a court martial. There had been a brief attachment to a French Foreign Legion company that had truly been an eye opener. The Legionnaires liked their beer, wine and combat. They would use Price’s equipment as bait and pounce on any Taliban who rose to the challenge. It was taking the fight to the enemy, but it was endangering his people. When he complained to the French commander, the response was “The Legion sends us to where men go to die.”  Price was very careful where he sent his people for the remainder of that assignment.  He was pretty sure there had been a complaint to Brigade from his less than gracious hosts.
Today Price been tasked with repairing a blown culvert on a one lane goat path in the middle of nowhere. Close by was a small mud hut village a couple of hundred meters to the south. There had been children kicking a soccer ball around when they had arrived a few hours ago, but they were long since gone from sight. There were no kids hounding the Americans for their rations or their empty water bottles. That was not a good sign. When he first came to Afghanistan, Price would not have hesitated taking a squad through it to make sure the Taliban or any other rag heads with a gun or an RPG weren’t lurking for them. That was then, and this was now. Rules of engagement had changed drastically, and some days it wasn’t worth getting a JAG lawyer involved in the decision making process.
Down the road, a British explosive ordinance detachment was taking its’ sweet time poking around the rubble of the culvert. Price had watched them suit up, poke around, come back, check some other equipment, then change who was wearing the suit.  His own EOD guys had been detailed for a dog and pony show at the province government house, so he was dependent on the kindness of strangers. Price didn’t mind working with the Brits. They were methodical, professional and cautious, three traits he was beginning to love, especially after dealing with the French. They just took so damn long at everything.
His driver was coming down the road with a message pad. The sound of a helicopter in the background told him what the message was. Somebody with no skin in the game wanted to know what the delay was, and the helicopter was carrying that somebody.
“I think its bad news, Sarge. That’s Bulldozer Six coming for a visit.” Bulldozer Six was the call sign the Brigade commander had adopted. Price didn’t understand why he would pick that particular name. The commander seemed to have an instinctive dislike for engineers, and Price was rapidly becoming his least favorite.
“Yeah, yeah, I know. He’s got that scraper promised out to level a sports field for the governor. This military shit is screwing up his brownie points.” He turned to watch where the chopper was going to put down. He’d have to get a vehicle over to it so the ‘Six’ wouldn’t have to walk far.
The cry of ‘RPG’ came from somewhere. Price turned to see the white trail of a rocket skim under the Blackhawk. It immediately pulled pitch and flew off. He followed the smoke back to the building on the corner of the mud village.
“Get that M240 cranked up!” he cried as he fired his M-4 in the direction of the village. An RPG was usually backed up by one or two riflemen, and he could hear the cracks of their AK-47s. Another rocket was snaking out, heading for the Brits. They were already trying to get below the road surface.
“40 mike mike! Get a 40 mike mike on that fucker,” Price called for a grenade launcher. The closest one was with his driver, now prone about 25 yards away. He was returning fire with his rifle, oblivious to what Price was yelling. The M240 machine gun was starting to hammer the building where the RPG was located. The 7.62mm machine gun was a good weapon, but a .50 caliber Ma Deuce would had turned the sun dried clay into dust already. Price swore to himself as he felt himself get up and start dashing across the field. He was firing his M-4 with one hand as he reached into a pouch for a grenade. He glanced over his shoulder and saw one of the Brits up and advancing to support him. They were the only two on their feet. The Brit had a grenade launcher on his rifle, and Price wondered why he didn’t use it. Another quick glance and he knew why. The dumb son of a bitch had been in the middle of swapping out the blast suit. He wasn’t wearing his harness. He seemed to realize this as he ejected his empty magazine and clawed for a fresh one and couldn’t find it. He quickly wheeled and ran back to where his gear was hanging from the front of his truck. Price was alone now.
He reached the line of the huts and worked his way to the corner where the RPG had been. An AK barrel came out of a window ahead of him, so he slowed and cooked off the grenade in his hand before pitching it in. As soon as it went off he was moving again, taking out another grenade and pulling the pin. He crossed the gap to the last building and pitched in the grenade. When it blew it must have ignited another RPG warhead and it took out the front of the hut and drove him back towards the road. His head began ringing like a church bell. He shook it off and came up on one knee. There was another shooter out there somewhere. Under the dust cloud he could see feet moving his way. Just above them he could see flashes. They were long, not round, so he knew they weren’t aimed at him. He raised his rifle and emptied his magazine. An AK dropped to the ground and the shooter fell backwards.
Everything got quiet, except for the ringing in his ears. He had a quick thought: they hadn’t gotten permission to return fire. Bulldozer Six would be pissed at him again.
 
It was close to dark before he secured the scene and headed his equipment back to the Forward Operating Base, or FOB.  The shooting had brought out the legal people, the tourists and the vultures. The legal people wanted statements from everyone, as well as trying to determine who might have taken pictures. NATO was real picky about pictures of bodies on the internet. After the statements came the cross-examinations. Who started shooting first? What did Price and his men do to antagonize the village? Why didn’t he take any prisoners?
The most foolish question was how did he know the men he killed were insurgents?
“They were firing AKs and an RPG in our direction. As far as I could tell, they were trying to kill me, Sir.”
“I don’t need any of your smart assed answers, Sergeant.”
“Yes, Sir, but it’s the only one I’ve got right now. We’d been here for a couple of hours. They had plenty of time to ID us. Am I being charged with anything?”
“Not yet, Sergeant, you field troops seem to think anything goes when you’re trying to pick up decorations, don’t you?”
That rankled Price. He never knew a ‘field troop’, whatever the hell that was supposed to be, who looked for ways to get his ass shot at. “My guys have all the decorations they want, Captain. They earned every fucking one of them. All they want is to finish out their tour and go home with all their parts working. They don’t need any make believe shit.”
The Captain scowled. “What’s that supposed to mean, Sergeant?”
Price gestured to the crowd by the village. One helicopter had disgorged a squad of headquarters pukes, every one of them with a camera. It seemed as though only the troops in the field who were getting their asses shot off were prohibited from taking pictures.
 “How many of those guys are going to put in for a Combat Action Badge because they were in the neighborhood and they heard somebody shoot at somebody else?”
“You’re on thin ice.”
Fuck it, Price thought. The worse they can do is send me home. “And how many of those CABs will be approved by some other rear echelon asshole that’ll slip his name into the pile to get one too?” Price was starting to hear rumors that now the war was winding down, some of the late comers were scrambling to get their chests filled with something besides ‘I was there’ ribbons. They would need them to avoid the reduction in force massacre that was coming.
The JAG officer didn’t answer. He turned and stomped off. As he did he pulled a camera from his pocket and headed towards the bodies. There was the sound of a different sort of helicopter coming in. It was an old ex-Soviet Hind wearing Afghan National Army markings. The bird looked beat up, showing every one of the thirty plus years it had on its airframe. A couple of portly Afghan officers stepped out, along with a well fed civilian. Price knew that this was the shake down team from the provincial capitol. They would be counting every bullet hole, photographing every crumbling wall, and hoping for dead farm animals, or, even better, a body they could claim was an innocent civilian. Somewhere in Kabul there must be a government office charged with coming up with a price list, adjusted for inflation, for everything they could demand compensation for. It was always in the name of the people that the money was extorted, but in all his months in this bandit country he had never seem any damage repaired. Payments were never made in Afghani, the national currency. US dollars were the only medium accepted.
There would be a lot of cash changing hands before the day was out. Price went back to his people. The object of today’s exercise had been to replace a culvert. It would go in fast, but it would go in today. There was no way he was coming back out here again. He gathered his equipment operators and told them what he wanted done.
 
Several days later Price was supposed to be enjoying a bit of down time back in the rear. It just didn’t seem like down time because there was an awards ceremony scheduled for today. Price hated these things. Once in a while it was actually for deserving soldiers, the guys that pushed the sharp end of the stick out every day and got another one pushed back at them. They didn’t do it for the medals, but Price made sure his guys were recognized when they earned them. He could usually find ways to avoid these things. He didn’t like the attention when he was the recipient, and he didn’t always agree with the awards some of the people were getting. Today would be a fine example of situations that made him uncomfortable. The awards NCO, an old infantry Sergeant who had lost a foot to an IED in a previous deployment, was of the same mind set as Price, and had shown him the roster of awardees.
His Platoon Leader had put him in for a Bronze Star for what was being called the culvert fight, in spite of the fact that Price had told him not to. His driver was getting an Army Achievement Medal, with a ‘V’ device, for valor. The kid deserved it. He had stayed exposed on the road trying to cover Price. The British soldier who had charged behind Price had been written up for one too, but his chain of command rejected it when they learned he had forgotten his gear. Bad form and good intentions in the British Army would not be rewarded. The JAG officer was also getting an award.  They were giving him a Bronze Star for Achievement because of his “diligent processing of reparations to injured Afghani civilians.” In some alternate universe twilight zone, that probably made sense. Price shot ‘em up, and the JAG paid ‘em off.
Since his was the highest combat award, Price was first. After the salutes, citation reading, and handshakes, the visiting General moved to the left. It was a solemn moment. Salutes were exchanged, the adjutant began to read out the citation, and Price began laughing. He didn’t mean to, but he just couldn’t help himself. It was infectious, spreading through the ranks and building in volume. The adjutant, not knowing what to do, started to speak louder. The General kept his composure, but he was glaring at Price. The object of all the attention, the JAG officer, red-faced and forgetting himself, turned to Price and muttered, “You son of a bitch!” Price could only reply “Now you know what they think of you too.”
The General ordered Price off the field. He saluted, made a very precise facing movement, and marched off, followed by a ripple of applause from the ranks. Price knew his days in the Brigade were just about done, but somehow, it really didn’t bother him.
 
The General never spoke to him again. He did, however, remind the Brigade commander how tenuous his position was and how badly his Officer Efficiency Report could suffer if he did not deal with Sergeant First Class Jonah Price. The Colonel and his Command Sergeant Major spent thirty minutes in a tag team relay telling Price how his career was going to end badly. As far as ass chewing’s went, Price considered them both to be amateurs. They overstated what they could do to him and basically substituted volume for substance. Orders had already been cut sending him to a Provincial Reconstruction Team located in some shithole city called Lashkar Gah. They tried to make it sound like the end of the earth, but Price had known NCOs who had served on PRTs in Iraq. There was actually a chance he would be doing something worthwhile. His duffel bag and ruck were packed and he caught the resupply chopper out later that afternoon. He would arrange transportation from wherever it dropped him off.
Two helicopter rides later he was deposited at his new home, 627 Provincial Reconstruction Team – Lashkar Gah. They were headquartered in what the locals would consider a rich man’s villa on the edge of town, but what Price looked as a dump. The walls had been reinforced Jersey barriers and oversized sand filled temporary walls. The watch towers were made of plywood and two by fours, with Kevlar panels overlaid. Not perfect, but better than the sheet metal he had seen some of the Afghani bases using. There was a dead zone cleared around the compound ringed with concertina wire deep enough to keep vehicles, and car bombs, away from the walls. The guards at the main (and only) gate seemed relatively alert, and were joined by a US element that appeared to be made up of a junior NCO and an enlisted man. There didn’t seem to be much interaction between the two groups, but that could’ve just been the time of day. It was something Price, who spoke only a little Pashto or Urdu, would keep an eye on.
He was ushered into his new Sergeant Major’s office, prepared for the ‘welcome to the 627 you fuck up, your ass is mine now’ speech. He was surprised when SGM Carver offered him a cup of real brewed coffee and had him take a seat.
“Did you really laugh at a Captain getting the Bronze Star?” was the first question out of the box. Price explained what happened. Carver wasn’t amused. “Price, I don’t care what you wear on your chest. Any decoration awarded is a serious matter, an honor for the guy getting it. If you don’t think he or she deserves it, make your feelings known before the ceremony, the proper way, understand?”
Price understood. “I would have been fine if they hadn’t read his citation right after mine. It just made me think of the rag heads shooting at me, and this dick head running the risk of a paper cut. In fact, rumor had it that he was processing some casualty paperwork and got a paper cut.  He tried to argue that if it hadn’t been for enemy action, he would have never been in a position to be handling that document. He put in for a Purple Heart based on it being an indirect consequence of enemy action. I don’t know if it was true or not.
“It won’t happen again. I’m gonna try my damndest not to get shot at any more and I’ll stay away from JAG officers and award ceremonies.”
The Sergeant Major stared at him for a long moment, trying to figure him out. He gave up.
“Your records say you’ve had a couple of concussions, including one pretty recently. How’s that coming?”
“I’m good to go.”
“Yeah, sure you are.” The SGM made a call on his radio, asking a medic to come in. They discussed Price’s concussion as if he wasn’t there, then the medic flashed a light in his eyes and looked into his ears. He had him follow his fingertip on a series of figure eights. “What’s the verdict?” Price asked.
The medic didn’t waste time. “Well, you’ve still got some residual effects. Your reaction time is slow to stimuli. I’d say you’ve still got a few days or a week or so to let your brain stop rattling around.”
The SGM thanked the medic and dismissed him. “Sergeant Price, I think we’ll have you running the mobile biometric team for a while.” Mobile biometrics. Price knew exactly what that meant: running road blocks and scanning faces and fingerprints of just about everybody that came through. It was boring work, with people who usually didn’t want to cooperate, but with the right interpreter and Afghan soldiers, it wouldn’t be too bad.
His interview with the SGM was over. “I’ll take you in to see the Colonel now.” LTC Davis was the PRT commander. “Then I’ll take you to meet ‘the Seagull’, your interpreter.”
“The Seagull? Why do you call him that?”
“He’ll fight with you over your MRE’s, go through your trash, and act like a rodent anytime he’s near your stuff. He’s also protected by law, just like the real ones.”
 
Price spent the next several days on the roving road blocks. The US troops had grown casual, letting the Afghanis decide where and when to set up, and which vehicles to interdict. Price didn’t like that. Sometimes it almost seemed pre-arranged, and heavy traffic would slow to a trickle of completely disappear. He quickly exerted his position as senior man, and, thanks to his partial command of the language, was able to convince the Afghanis to do it his way. At least he thought they were convinced. Seagull said they were, even though they looked sullen when Price would have them pull up their road block and move it several blocks. Price didn’t care. The people that were being warned off were the very ones they needed top be checking. He was getting different traffic every day, and the biometrics were better. Lashkar Gah wasn’t known as a hot spot of Taliban or al Qaeda activity, but you never knew when you’ll get lucky.
Price didn’t trust Seagull. There was something about the man that made him think of a kiss ass subordinate who was just waiting to stab you in the back. There were a lot of Afghans who worked for the coalition forces who were determined to make their country safe and better for their families. They were the ones who risked their lives just by being seen actively rooting out Taliban and foreign fighters. Seagull wasn’t one of them. He spent most of his time trying to convince the Americans to set up in areas that didn’t pose any threat. He was much too willing to vouch for military age males who stumbled across their checkpoints. Price thought it just wasn’t possible for a guy who never left the wire on his own, or without any Americans around, could possibly know or be related to that many people in the area.
He also redefined the meaning of the title ‘Seagull’. It was almost as if he could hear you thinking about your MREs. His hovering was almost intimidating to the younger troops, and some were willing to give up their meal rather than put up with his pestering. Price told his soldiers to identify anything they were eating as pork. If Seagull didn’t want to learn to read English, he’d just have to take their word for it. It didn’t stop him from begging the accessories that came packed in every meal. There was a time when combat rations came packed in cans instead of plastic pouches. It was inconvenient, but more fun to throw at someone who was pissing you off. Price decided that the next time he heard from Dave Sharp he would ask him to send him a couple of cans of Spam.
This particular day they had set up just on the outskirts, on the road that wandered generally to the west. A quick check of his map showed that eventually it led to a border crossing with Iran. Not the best indicator of insurgent traffic, but worth a gamble. Even Seagull looked nervous when they had set up and started checking vehicles. Price felt he might be on to something if the locals were worried. He remembered stories he heard when he was a very young soldier about South Vietnam, and how one good indicator of Viet Cong activity was the absence of civilians, or the reluctance of the Army of Viet Nam (ARVN) soldiers to go into the area. He warned his two American companions to stay alert.
About 1100 hours traffic started to pick up. There was one vehicle in line that the Afghans seemed to be acting deferential to the occupants. It might not mean anything, but Price started wandering over to the barrels that made the vehicles slow down and weave through the portable barriers. He pulled a bottle of water out of his cargo pocket and started to take a swallow as the car, a white Toyota, was almost up to him. He dropped the bottle and stepped in front of the car, bringing his M-4 carbine across his body for emphasis. The driver stepped on his brakes and looked over to the passenger sitting on the other side in the rear seat. Only important people left the front seat empty to sit in the back. Price gestured the driver out. He called Seagull over and had him go through the standard drill. ID papers were scanned, and inkless fingerprints were taken. Price took out the facial scanner and got a good clear picture of his features. The man was fidgety, and sullen, but cooperative.
“OK, Seagull, get the other one out here.”
“He is not an Afghan, Sergeant Price. His name is Hosni Jabbar Mahoud. His driver tells me he is a Palestinian relief worker. We have no jurisdiction over him.”
“Says who?” Price’s radar was up now. “If he’s in this country, we have jurisdiction.”
“Sergeant…”
“Only the bad guys don’t want to be scanned, Seagull. Get his ass out here, or I will, then you can go looking for another job.” Price started to walk around the car. Seagull knew that his life depended on working for the Americans. He lived in their compound, ate their food and enjoyed their protection. Take that away and his life expectancy would be less than that of a swatted flea. He moved to cut Price off. He made a big show of arguing with the man who went by the name of Hosni Jabbar Mahoud, finally reaching in and pulling the man out. Price could speak to a Palestinian; he spoke enough Arabic to converse with the best of them. He decided to keep this to himself while Seagull alternated between pleading and ordering the man to cooperate. The Palestinian argued back. “Do you know who I am? Is your life so worthless you would put your hands on one of your betters?”
“Forgive me. The American forces me.”
“The American forces nothing. You are no better that an apostate, an infidel for taking their coin. Don’t try to put your hands on me again!” He started to get back in the car when Price kicked the door shut and prodded him with his carbine.
“I’ve got a Russian pistol in my pocket I’ll be taking off your dead body if you don’t start cooperating.” Price said with a smile. He prodded with his muzzle again. The Palestinian started to say something, and stopped. His eyes fixed on Price’s and stared. His mouth was moving, saying something unintelligible. Price got the feeling this rag head recognized him. He mentally ran through his limited data base of Arabs he had dealt with. This one drew a blank, but there was something there. The Palestinians hands went up and he indicated he was reaching into his robe for his passport. Price nodded and indicated he could go on. The passport was scanned, and Price personally finished the processing. His two American companions moved in closer to observe and provide cover. The Afghans seemed to shrink back out of the way. Once Price was satisfied with the data he motioned the Palestinian back into the car, and then waved the driver in too.
Two cars back, Hosni Jabbar Mahoud’s two man security detail were debating what to do. They didn’t know who their charge was, but they knew he was important, and their own lives were worthless compared to his.  The passenger reached into a space under his seat and withdrew a grenade. He pulled the pin, stepped out of the car and ran towards the road block, shouting “Allahu Akbar!”
The Afghanis reacted slowly. Price already had his hand on the pistol grip of his carbine when he looked up to see who was yelling. His eyes immediately locked on the grenade in the upraised hand. He smoothly brought his weapon up, moved the safety switch with his thumb, and fired a long burst into the attackers’ upper chest. The body flew back, dropping the grenade in front of him. Everyone but Price scrambled for cover. Price kept his weapon up, scanning the area, trusting to the inherent inaccuracy of the grenade as an area weapon. The shock wave hit him like a strong wind, and the ringing in his ears started again.
Afghan civilians fear suicide bombers and terror attacks, but like people the world over, once someone else has been the victim of the violence they become your typical tourist. Hosni Jabbar Mahoud took advantage of the confusion and directed his driver to pull away. Somewhere ahead was his other escort car, the one that should have kept him from getting screened here. Now that his face and his papers were part of an American data base it would be time to shave his beard and change his identity again. He was running out of clean passports to use. His escort car was pulled in at a roadside fruit stand, the guards looking back to the road block. His driver pulled in and he conferred with the escorts. It was decided he would continue on in their vehicle, a faded blue Hyundai. His old car and soon to be dead driver would be left behind for the infidels to find. Mahoud considered his good fortune that the trail vehicle was ready to perform their duty on his behalf. The two he was currently riding with would have to pay for their laxness, but not until they reached Zaranj on the Iranian border and he could pick up his next set of escorts who would guide him across the border. He looked back over his shoulder as the car drove off, now thinking about the American who had accosted him. Who was he, and how had his photo come to the Sheikh’s attention? Perhaps the Iranian intelligence service could shed some light on it.
 
Afghan security was swarming the area, as well as a scratch force of Americans from the PRT compound. Price’s head was pounding from the blast now, and all he wanted to do was sit somewhere out of the sun and get some aspirin. He knew he had been concussed, and this blast aggravated the hell out of it. He leaned into the back seat of his HUMMV and poured some water over his head, waiting for a medic to show up, when he noticed some civilian types in tan outfits and light weight body armor moving through the crowd, buttonholing likely looking suspects and doing biometrics on them. CIA, he thought. A day late and a dollar short if they were looking for anything here. One of them looked hard at Price and broke into a smile. Price recognized him too, but his fuzzy brain couldn’t put a name to the face. He thought he remembered him from the 75 Rangers from before the start of the Iraq war.
“Hey, Price, what the fuck are you doing here directing traffic? We heard you got out and were screwing around with some National Guard outfit.”
Price could read the name on his vest now, Cummings. He remembered Cummings from before the war. He remembered he didn’t like him, but he couldn’t remember why. “What are you doing here, Cummings? You’re a little late.”
“We’ve been here all along, Price. We’ve been following that Arab you were hassling. Did you see where he went?”
“No, I got a little distracted. Who was he?”
Cummings handed Price a stainless steel flask. “You look like you need this more than water right now.”
Price sniffed it and pushed it back. “I’ll pass. Somebody smells booze on me and I’ll really be fucked. Tell me about the rag head. Who was he?”
The flask disappeared into a cargo pocket. “No idea. We’ve been following that gomer since Kandahar. CIA put us on to him, but we don’t know why. We’ve pieced together some of his back story, but not much. He might be a courier. Rumor has it Paki Intel turned his picture over after the SEALs got bin Laden, but it’s only a rumor. Guy you shot was his chase car. We took out the other guy. But you got the guys biometrics, didn’t you?”
Price reached for the scanner that had been tied to his vest with an idiot cord. His fingers closed on jagged metal. He held it up for the other man to see. There was a grenade fragment sticking out of it. “Too bad, Price. We could have used that info.”
Another tan clad soldier came up to them. Price didn’t know this one. He reported that a Predator drone was up and checking the road to the west. There was a white Toyota that looked good parked about a mile up the road. They were going to check it out.
“Keep in touch, Price. You get tired of this traffic cop bullshit and we might have a home for you.”
Price waved him off. His head was throbbing and the light was hurting his eyes. He hiked himself back and lay down on the gun platform. All he wanted to do was get some sleep. The scanner rolled off his chest and fell on the deck. He untied it from his vest and dropped it into a dump pouch. He’d worry about it later.
Some medics finally arrived and started checking over the US personnel before they went to the civilian casualties. Price had a cold thought that at least they couldn’t blame him for this. It wasn’t his grenade, so the JAG dickhead wouldn’t be around passing out hundred dollar bills. One medic took one look at Price and called his partner over. Price could feel himself fading in and out and was having trouble focusing. The medics coaxed him out of the HUMMV and had him lie on a stretcher. Where the hell did that come from? Price wondered. The medic was yelling in his face, something about an IV. He felt a stab in his arm and his vision started to clear. There was a clear plastic bag hanging from the door handle of the truck.
“How’re you doing, Sarge?”
“I’m OK” he tried to tell the medic. “Just a little bit of a headache. Got any aspirin?” He felt another prick in his other arm. He looked and saw a hypodermic needle being withdrawn. What the hell was that for?
“OK my ass, Sarge. You’ve got blood coming out of your nose and your eyes are all bloodshot. You’re about as fucked up as you can get without having any extra holes, so just stay there. We’ve got a bird coming for you. I gave you something for the headache. It should be going away pretty soon.”
He felt himself being lifted and put into an ambulance. The medic was right about the pain. It was slowly going away, and so were all his other feelings. It was a short bumpy ride to an open field where he could hear a Blackhawk coming in. He strained to look for it, but his eyes didn’t seem to want to open. The rotor downdraft felt sharp against his face from the dust it was kicking up. The medic was yelling something unintelligible to the chopper crewman, and he felt the straps going across his legs and chest to keep him from sliding out. He hoped they’d be flying with the doors open. He always enjoyed a helicopter ride more when they left the doors open.
 
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