With thanks to Tim for editing and Kate for reading. The help
was invaluable guys.
The mission had been a difficult one, get into Lebannon and
extract the high ranking Libyan Government official. Achmed Fraub
was a double agent. The man's cover had been blown by the release
of information to the press from the US State Department following
the September 11th atrocities.
The whereabouts of some of Bin Laden's closest supporters
had been a little too explicit and after a witch hunt by the
Libyans two men had been identified as the possible source of
the information. One of those two men was already dead and Fraub
did not intend to be the second victim. He had got out, gone
to ground in Lebanon, his home town, and got a message out to
Trout. Matt had been called by Trout and asked to pull the team
together at short notice.
Deke was skiing in Canada and in the time available was unable
to get a commercial flight out. Trout had promised a military
flight but snow storms had grounded everything. Nick, in New
York for a family Christmas, had reported that after a particularly
cold night he had slipped on the frozen sidewalk. He had only
just been released from the emergency room. His arm was heavily
strapped and in a sling and he had three stitches in his forehead.
He was in no fit state to participate.
Turning to Margo and Benny Ray, Matt put the phone down and
said simply, "I guess it's just us guys."
Trout had detailed information on Fraub's location. Margo
had been to Lebanon before and after reviewing the intel they
decided the three of them could carry out the mission safely
and successfully. And so it had proved. They had encountered
no difficulties, they had their man and were on the way to the
harbour where a contact of Margo's had a small boat waiting to
ferry them out to a submarine patrolling in international waters.
Benny Ray was driving a beaten up VW camper van with Matt sat
beside him up front. Margo and the double agent sat behind. They
had slowed down through narrow back streets to avoid piles of
rubbish lying around when the van was sideswiped and pushed towards
an old school building partly demolished during the war and never
rebuilt.Benny Ray had been looking to his left when the van was
hit, looking for a turn Margo had indicated was around here somewhere.
The seat belt did nothing and his head hit the side window. The
window shattered on impact but not before the blow had broken
his nose. Blood spurted and pain shot through his head.
The attackers reversed to take a second go. Matt, Margo and
the agent took the chance to escape the vehicle. Margo pulled
the agent to the rear of the van and into what little cover she
could find, turning back to do what she could to deter the attackers
from ramming the van a second time. The attacking vehicle was
an old military truck and wasn't easily stopped. Matt noticing
that Benny Ray had not followed him out of the van turned back
and yelled when he saw the blood and his second in command struggling
with his seat belt. Matt could smell petrol and wanted Benny
Ray out of there fast. He leaned back into the van and grabbed
the collar of Benny Ray's jacket to drag him across the passenger
The buckle had jammed. The damn thing hadn't prevented him
from being thrown forward, thought Benny Ray, but now it was
trying to get him killed. At Matt's yell Benny Ray pulled out
his knife and cut the webbing strap. He turned to Matt and saw
the truck approach for a second time. He shouted a warning to
Matt and threw himself flat on the seat, covering his head with
his hands. Matt turned and ran following Margo. A split second
later the truck hit the van and the sound of tearing metal ripped
through the early morning. The truck stayed put and men jumped
down from the back firing at Matt and Margo's position.
As soon as the truck stopped Benny Ray was out through the
driver's side window. His way to the rear of the van was blocked
by mounds of partly demolished building and moving forward he
tried to gain a position where he could fire on the truck's inhabitants
and at least slow the men in pursuit of Matt and Margo. The driver
he took out with a single shot.
"Bastard." He muttered as he gingerly wiped the
blood from his nose on his sleeve. He moved forward trying to
ascertain if there was anyone left in the truck when a hail of
gunfire made him dive for cover, jarring his whole body as he
hit the ground and sending waves of pain through his head once
more. He returned fire and the van exploded. The truck went a
second or so later.Both vehicles were an infernno. Over the comm
link Benny Ray could hear Matt's voice demanding a sit rep. He
told Matt there was no way he could get to them and they both
agreed that he would make his own way to the harbour and they
would rendezvous there. They also agreed to maintain radio silence
as much as possible.
The explosion and fire had finally attracted the local militia
and Benny Ray beat a hasty retreat. As always his attention to
the details of their route out and surrounding area was first
rate and mentally he was already planning an alternative route.
With blood still dripping from his nose he made his way cautiously
through the streets which now echoed to the early morning sounds
of any major city. If he didn't make the harbour soon he was
going to attract some very unwanted attention. Lebanon was still
a dangerous place for foreign nationals, especially ones that
were bleeding and heavily armed. Twice his route was blocked,
once by a group of militia who looked like they were taking an
early morning coffee break and then by another building which
had collapsed into a small alleyway. Urban regeneration was obviously
not a term applied here Benny Ray thought sourly.
He had to find cover, people were coming onto the streets
on their way to work and school. He was not going to get to the
harbour undetected. His nose had finally stopped bleeding but
he felt sick. Ahead of him was a warehouse that looked long since
abandoned. He made his way inside and contacted Matt. They too
had not made it to the harbour and were being sheltered by Margo's
contact. It was agreed that they would lay low during the day
and try to exfil as soon as it went dark and the streets emptied.
Benny Ray signed off and looked at his home for the next few
The place was empty. Few internal walls still stood but there
was the remains of an office in one corner. Light flooded in
through broken windows high above and Benny Ray slowly made his
way to the office. There was no door to the room which smelt
of goodness knows what but looked comfortably gloomy. A pile
of what looked like old sacking was stacked in one corner. Benny
Ray made his way to it and sank to his knees. He was more tired
than he realised, his head and face ached horribly and he still
felt sick. His stomach lurched and leaning forward on all fours
he suddenly vomitted. His stomach settled and out of the corner
of his eye he saw movement. He turned to look, pulled his Glock
out of its holster and scanned the area. It could have been a
rat or even a stray cat or dog, but it wasn't. A child appeared
from the corner of the room. He was dressed in rags, had bare
feet and was dirty and thin. He looked about ten.
"Stay where you are." Benny Ray ordered sternly.
The boy looked at him curiously and didn't seem to be afraid.
He stepped forward. Benny Ray was going to repeat the order when
he vomitted for a second time. When he looked up again the boy
was standing beside him and behind the boy in the gloom he could
make out another three figures. More children. He put down the
gun. The tallest boy spoke,
"Are you alright, Mister?"
His English was heavily accented but perfectly understandable.
"I will be when I stop spraying my innards all over the
place." He muttered to himself.
The boy held out a grimy cup, "Water, Mister?"
Benny Ray shook his head and pulled his own canteen from the
back of his belt. He knew the water in that was clean. He doubted
anything here was. Settling back on his haunches he realised
he must be a very odd sight and smell. The front of his jacket
was covered in blood and he stank of blood, sweat and vomit.
His face was still streaked with camoflage paint and he was heavily
armed, the MP5 slung across his back. Despite this the kids weren't
scared. The tallest boy called the other children forward. He
didn't speak to them in English, so that probably meant they
didn't speak it, Benny Ray thought. The boy did the introductions,
"I'm Daniel, this is Rika, Tomaz and Sebe."
The last was a small blonde haired boy no more than about
five Benny Ray guessed. He held the hand of the girl Rika and
sucked the thumb of the other hand. He had large blue eyes which
somehow reminded Benny Ray of his youngest.
Benny Ray returned the favour,
"Benny Ray." and he held out his hand until Daniel
took it and they shook. Rika giggled but said nothing. A silence
descended upon the small group until Benny Ray reached into his
hip pocket and pulled out two Hershey bars. Daniel's eyes lit
up, he knew what they were.
"Hungry?" Asked Benny Ray, who since vomitting had
found himself decidedly unhungry.
Daniel nodded gently, took the offered bars, broke them into
four equal pieces and handed them out. Sebe took his thumb out
of his mouth and took a small bite of the candy. He smiled and
gobbled down some more. He suddenly stopped eating and stepped
towards Benny Ray offering him the last piece of chocolate. The
other three who had all finished looked guilty that it had taken
the youngest amongst them to offer to share. Benny Ray took all
this in and was amazed that these street kids showed more humanity
than many of the people he had met in his line of work, when
they had nothing of their own.
"Do you live here?" he asked Daniel. The boy nodded.
"When was the last time you ate?"
Daniel thought, "Yesterday. Rika stole a cabbage."
Benny Ray was stunned, "You cooked a cabbage?"
Daniel cocked his head to one side and smiled, " No,
we just ate the cabbage."
Benny Ray grimaced. Cabbage had never been his favourite and
raw cabbage was worse.
"Where did you steal the cabbage from?" He asked.
The two children exchanged a few words and Daniel replied,
"There is a restaurant not far from here and she took it
"Can you show me?" Said Benny Ray standing up and
feeling his stomach calm.
It was an odd group that finally made their way onto the streets.
Daniel had 'found' some cothes for Benny Ray to wear and by the
damp feel of them when he put them on, he guessed they were 'found'
on someone's washing line. The four children walked with Benny
Ray and no one paid any attention. They were soon in an alleyway
that ran past the restaurant and Rika shyly pointed out the back
door. With a whispered "Stay put", Benny Ray drew the
Glock from under his shirt and approached the door.
There was no sound from the door opening. On the other side
of the door was a storeroom filled with cans and bottles. He
couldn't read the labels but could tell for the most part what
was in the cans. He grabbed as many tins of fruit as he could
carry, backed out of the door and gestured to Daniel. The children
ran forward and he loaded them up. As he turned back a door at
the other end of the storeroom opened and a large florid faced
man shouted "Hey" and started gabbling in a language
Benny Ray didn't understand, but he got the message that the
man wasn't happy. He stepped forward and with two short jabs
laid the man out cold. Going through the door into the kitchen
Benny Ray checked to see if the commotion had been noticed. A
movement to his right made him bring up his arm to protect himself
and the frying pan wielded as a weapon hit his arm. The young
man with the frying pan squeaked in horror when he saw the gun,
dropped the frying pan and turned to run. Benny Ray stopped him
in his tracks with a chop to the back of his unprotected neck.
Looking quickly round the kitchen, Benny Ray grabbed up a can
opener from the work surface and stuffed it in a pocket. He sniffed
at a large pan simmering on the cooker. Lunch was well under
way. It smelled like chicken and it smelled good. Grabbing up
the pan with its lid he backed out of the kitchen and into the
alleyway. Within a few minutes they were back in the warehouse
with the food.
The kids couldn't have eaten properly in weeks, maybe months.
Benny Ray sat back and watched them fall on the food like vultures.
They ate every last drop from the pan using their fingers. As
they sat back after with full bellies Sebe burped and they all
laughed. Having eaten the children settled down to sleep the
meal off. Sebe came over and sat in Benny Ray's lap while Daniel
stacked the cans of food in the corner with the opener. The other
three children settled themselves around Benny Ray by the sacking.
Sebe put his hands on Benny Ray's face and kissed him on the
cheek. He said a single word. Benny Ray, a lump in his throat,
didn't trust himself to reply to the little boy curled in his
lap. He leaned back on the sacking and the children settled down
to sleep even though it was only early afternoon. All five were
A sound had Benny Ray instantly awake. The outside door had
been opened and voices raised. As Benny Ray awoke so did Sebe.
He looked up at Benny Ray who put his finger against his lips
to indicate silence. Sebe nodded in understanding. Benny Ray
peered round the wall of the office and saw two men standing
talking. A package went from one man to the other and whatever
was being said wasn't friendly. One of the children cried out
in their sleep and Benny Ray turned to check on them. Sebe had
his hand on Tomaz' mouth to stifle any more noise, his eyes wide
open in fear. The two men had heard the noise and were walking
towards the office. Benny Ray came into a crouch, he couldn't
let anything happen to the children. As one of the men drew level
with him, Benny Ray kicked out at the man's kneecap. The man
dropped to the floor and a blow to the back of his head with
the butt of the Glock had him tumbling to the ground unconscious.
The second man had held back, more cautious. He saw his comrade
go down and as Benny Ray hit the first man's unprotected head
the second man rushed in banging his knee into Benny Ray's ribs.
With the breath knocked out of him Benny Ray staggered back.
The second man pressed home his advantage, throwing punches most
of which weren't connecting. Benny Ray held his ground, he knew
the children were behind him. Stepping inside a wild punch he
threw two of his own to the man's stomach. They both hit home
hard. Closing quickly, Benny Ray wanted to finish off the man
before the children saw too much. Having doubled over at the
blows to his stomach the man threw his head back as Benny Ray
closed in. The man's head connected with Benny Ray's face smacking
into his nose. He cried out at the impact, blood once more spurting
down his face. Benny Ray had had enough. Three sharp jabs put
the man on the ground where he lay still.
"We have to get out of here," he said to himself
and looking at the children cowering in the corner he continued,
"it's not safe."
He risked talking to Matt.
"We're breaking cover. This place has been compromised.
We will meet you at the harbour."
Matt had replied with "Roger that." before he realised
Benny Ray had said "We."
Benny Ray bent down and called Daniel to him. "Can you
show me a way to the harbour?"
The boy thought for a second and then grabbing his hand started
pulling him to the door. The other three were already trotting
behind. Matt was going to be mad as hell, Benny Ray knew but
he could leave these kids behind as much as he could leave his
own behind in this situation. He would cross that bridge when
he came to it.
They moved slowly through the streets looking almost like
any one else on the streets. Daniel led them on for over two
hours. For the final 30 minutes Benny Ray had been carrying Sebe
on his back. His nose had stopped bleeding but a dull ache threatened
to take over his whole head. Daniel stopped at the end of a narrow
alley. It had grown dark and cold very quickly. Rika was shivering
in her thin T shirt. Benny Ray put Sebe down, took off his blood
stained jacket and hung it over her shoulders. When she put her
arms in the sleeves it swamped her, but her smile could have
lit up the entire street. Now it was Benny Ray's turn to feel
the bite of the cold. He checked his watch. 4.30pm 12:23:01.
The day before Christmas Eve. They crouched in the alley looking
out over the harbour. Benny Ray had explained to Daniel where
the boat was moored and he had taken them straight to it. They
sat huddled together for warmth as much as anything and eventually
the signal came from the boat. Benny Ray moved the children out
and they were soon clambering down the ramp that led to the boat.
The boat barely looked big enough for four let alone the children
A voice hissed out of the dark, "Benny Ray you better
have a damn good explanation for this school outing."
He turned and saw Matt at his shoulder. Matt drew back when
he saw the state of Benny Ray's face. Both eyes were now blackened
and blood had dried in patches down his chin and neck. The nose
was badly swollen and misshapen.
"Major, we can't leave them behind." Benny Ray pleaded.
"And we can't take them with us." Matt retorted
Daniel listened to their conversation and tagged at Matt's
belt, "We'll be good Mister." He promised tears in
Matt looked down at the boy and then turned back to Benny
Ray, "No, Benny Ray, no."
Sebe who had hardly lost physical contact with Benny Ray since
the fight that afternoon, peeked out from behind his legs. Benny
Ray looked down and Sebe smiled that angelic smile again.
"If they don't go Major, neither do I. We'll find our
own way out." He stood his ground.
"Benny Ray this is ridiculous. Get in the boat and that's
an order." Matt had lost all patience.
"No Sir, no can do."
Another voice entered the fray. Margo hissed at both of them.
"What is the hold up?"
She didn't wait for an answer. Taking in the scene before
her she could guess at what was happening. She grabbed Rika who
was still shivering and took her on board. Tomaz followed her.
Benny Ray turned and picked up Sebe and boarded the boat. Daniel
stood there looking at Matt. His eyes glistened with unshed tears
and he held out his small hand. Matt took the hand and Daniel
led him onto the boat.
The journey was slow and bumpy. The children were seasick
and sat sadly huddled together on the single bunk. Margo had
taken one look at Benny Ray's face and proclaimed that she could
do nothing for him and that it would probably need surgery. She
threw him a towel and told him to wash up. By the time he came
out of the bathroom, Margo had done much to placate Matt's anger,
but not enough to prevent Benny Ray getting a resounding tongue
"Major, it don't matter what you say. I had to help these
With his anger at Benny Ray sated Matt became practical once
more and bombarded Benny Ray with questions about what next for
the four. Benny Ray had no real answers suggesting only that
Father Bob might be able to help. Matt's final comment before
they transferred to the waiting sub was, "Trout is going
to love this."
On the sub Sebe would not be parted from Benny Ray and they
ended up sharing a bunk. The other three slept on two bunks in
the cabin next door. When Matt finished reporting to Trout, who,
as he predicted, was not best pleased, he returned to the cabin
he was sharing with Benny Ray. He found his second in command
holding the small child in his lap, asleep but smiling contentedly.
"What did Trout say?" Benny Ray asked.
"He wants your head served on a platter." Matt quoted.
As Benny Ray started to explain once again, Matt held up his
hands, "It's okay Benny Ray, I'm not an ogre, I understand,
it's just...... this is complicated."
"Complicated don't make it wrong Sir." He said quietly.
Matt nodded, "I know Benny Ray, I know."
The child stirred and gently Benny Ray placed the boy on the
bunk and covered him with a blanket. Benny Ray guided Matt out
of the cabin and carried on the conversation in the corridor
so as not to wake the child.
"What is Trout going to do about them?" Benny Ray
asked with concern.
"He isn't happy but he is pulling what strings he can.
Fortunately he is a very influential man."
Benny Ray leaned back against the wall and ran his fingers
through his hair which was still damp from the shower he had
taken once he was on the sub.
"One helluva Christmas Major!"
"Well it will be for those kids thanks to you Benny Ray."
Both men looked at the sleeping form.
"I feel guilty." Benny Ray explained looking at
"About your own kids?" Matt probed.
"Yeah this is the second year in a row that I've not
been there Matt and it hurts like hell. Mary Ellen will make
me jump through hoops to make it up to them and like an idiot
I'll do it."
"Not an idiot Benny Ray, just a loving father."
Benny Ray knocked his head gently against the wall and then
closed his eyes. He found it hard to explain this even to his
"If I loved them enough then I would be there for them,"
he said suddenly angry with himself, "but I'm on a submarine
in the middle of an ocean."
"And if you hadn't taken this mission four kids would
still be starving on the streets of Lebanon."
Matt was calm and logical, he sensed Benny Ray's pain but
was unable to do anything about it.
"I know," Benny Ray retorted hurt and confused,
"but it's always a good cause Matt and someone is always
saved but my kids are at home, I am here and some other guy is
watching them open their presents."
All Matt could do was squeeze his shoulder in comradeship
and tell his second in command to get some rest. Benny Ray nodded
and went back into the cabin. Not disturbing the boy he lay down,
rested his arm behind his head and stared into the dark thinking
of the joy on his children's faces. Joy he wouldn't see again
this year. The other hand brushed away a stray tear and he closed
his eyes to sleep. Matt was right at least these four children
would have a better life now and maybe after all that was a good
cause worth making the sacrifice for, and there was always next
Merry Christmas to one and all and a joyful
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