As bullets clawed the air around us and screams echoed down the rubble-strewn tarmac, I felt almost peaceful.
It was a simple mission, they had told me – get in, shake a few hands and mouth a few platitudes, get out. Simple. Yeah.
Things had started going wrong while we were still in the air and only gotten worse from there. So here we were, pinned down, choking on the acrid tang of cordite and the heady scent of human blood. The mission was even simpler now: survive. Whatever the cost, survive.
There was a grunt and a clatter of equipment as Sinbad threw himself down at my side. Sweat glistened on his bare arms, and I could see tendons contracting and relaxing as he squeezed off bursts from his M14. The motion was hypnotic, like a snake about to strike. Perhaps, when all this was over-
No. Concentrate. Focus on the mission. Survive.
A shout from my left drew my head around. Sheryl Crow, guitar still strapped to her back, had taken cover behind a haphazard pile of decaying corpses. Her hair, once lustrous, now lank and greasy, was held back from her eyes by a dirty red headband. Her slim nostrils flared in the dirt-smeared oval of her face, seeking air free of the funeral taint shrouding the airfield. Still, I saw a fierce exultation in her expression that I knew mirrored my own.
Her lithe, nimble fingers stroked the top of an M67 frag grenade, strumming a chord of impending doom. With one quick, economical movement, she plucked the pin free and sent the deadly payload sailing toward the ridge concealing our enemies. My eyes traced the arc, willing it to fly true, to rain death on-
“There!” Sinbad shouted. “The convoy!”
I wrenched my gaze in the direction he was pointing. The boom of the grenade registered only faintly, suddenly unimportant. Thirty yards dead ahead was the real target: the armored convoy, offering safety, shelter, survival. If we could reach it.
“Follow me!” Sinbad roared, levering himself to his feet. As I prepared to follow, a high-pitched whine arrowed across my eardrums and warm, sticky rain splashed my face.
I forced myself to look, already knowing what I would see. The big man lay there, crumpled, the left side of his head a nightmare maze of blood, brains and tight curls of yellowish-orange hair.
Time to mourn later. Survive.
I juked to my left, darting and weaving, somehow making it to Sheryl’s position. Her eyes were wide, shock and fear clouding their emerald depths. “Is he-”
“Gone,” I snapped. “We have to move. Now.”
For a moment I wondered if I would have to leave her behind, but then her jaw tightened and she nodded sharply. “Stay behind me,” she said with a brief squeeze of my hand, then she was up and running, moving like a deer.
I followed, matching her as best I could with the mindless insect hum of lead bees filling my ears and the cracked tarmac clutching at my heels. We ran, time stretching, flattening, the convoy impossibly distant, a cruel mirage, too far, too far . . .
And then, somehow, we were almost there. We had made it, we were going to –
A flat crack and the mournful twang of a guitar string. Sheryl fell, scarlet-splashed splinters from the shattered guitar seeming to hang in the air.
I stopped. Men were flooding out of the brush and streaming around the cars. One approached me, smirking, rifle held casually across his body, smoke still rising from the barrel.
“Every day a winding road,” he said in heavily accented English, shrugging a shoulder toward Sheryl’s body. He stepped closer, almost close enough to touch. “End of road for her today. And you.”
Still smirking, he began to raise the rifle. I lunged forward, freed the ka-bar concealed under my pantsuit, and buried it to the hilt in his chest. He grunted, stiffened, and then slid backwards, the knife making a greedy slurping sound as it pulled free.
The other rebels froze, momentarily stunned. There were a lot of them – too many, surely – but it didn’t matter. One day, I knew, I would be telling this story to rapt audiences as I made my inevitable march to the Presidency. Would this ragged group of smelly goatfuckers be the ones to stop me? Would they?
I raised the blade to my lips, licked it clean, and began to laugh.
Survive. Whatever the cost, survive.
-From The War Journals of Hillary Clinton, Vol. 1