“WE HAVE AMERICA”
You must login to vote
A strange man approached their table, pausing before Saundra and his eyes traveled up and down her body in raw interest. In his country, he was considered handsome, and she, of course, was beautiful. She refused his advances, and when she did, he reached down and yanked her up by her hair. His actions caused her friends to jump up in her defense, but they were halted as Rhandi’s men raised their weapons, prepared to shoot on order.
“My men would be truly eager to kill you,” Rhandi spoke to the men. “But this day our mission is different. Observe.” He waved his hand in a direction to their rear, and just as he did, a bomb exploded, sending people scattering, and they were no different.
One of the Americans grabbed Saundra, pushing her ahead of him. “Run, Saundra!” he yelled after her.
Just then, the report of a gun sliced through the air, and fearing the worst, Saundra swung around, only to see her fear realized. Her American friend lay on the ground, holding himself in pain, and Saundra could just make out the stain of blood around him. He was still alive. Thinking only of saving him, she ran to him, knelt down beside him. But his voice told her to go.
“Don’t worry about me,” he spoke through his pain. “Save yourself.”
“Go quickly, before it’s too late.”
Saundra knew the truth of his words, and looking up, saw the danger she was in. “I’ll get help,” she reassured her friend, then got to her feet. One last look at the man told her to hurry, and turning, she began to run, but was stopped by the appearance of Rhandi’s men. She changed directions, only to be trapped again.
“There is no place left to go for you!” Rhandi’s words hit her from behind, and she whirled to face him.
“What do you want?” she cried, all the while sensing the closeness of his men around her.
He nodded, and the men closed in on her from behind, grabbing her and holding her. She fought against them, but her strength was nothing compared to theirs.
“Bring her to me!” he ordered his men, and they obeyed, dragging her resistant body to their leader. Saundra’s gaze wandered to the body of her friend. Was he still alive?
Just before reaching their leader, a commotion was heard and suddenly, from nowhere, a small boy came rushing out of hiding, apparently to save himself from the flying bullets and exploding bombs. He made an attempt to run past Rhandi, but he never made it, for just as he approached him, Rhandi grabbed him. He held the boy for a moment, then in one swift movement, picked him up with one hand until the boy’s face was even with his own. The boy was fighting, begging to be released, but the man only laughed in his face.
“Hey, American reporter!” Rhandi called across to her. “Report this!” and horrified, Saundra was forced to watch as he withdrew a small handgun from somewhere. He raised it to the boy’s face and pulled the trigger, splattering the kid’s brains in an outward and downward motion. Saundra screamed, kicking at the legs of her captors, then went still as Rhandi approached her. He placed a hand beneath her chin and forced her to look at him.
“Maybe you would like a picture?”
“You’re sick!” she spit the words at him. “How could you do that? He was just an innocent boy!”
“In my country, there are no innocent boys.”
“But he was just a boy! How could you do that?” She was terrified, her breathing labored, and she struggled to control her own emotions.
Rhandi raised his gun to the side of her face, rested it there. “Perhaps you would like to join him?”
Saundra felt the death of the muzzle against her skin and closed her eyes. She held her breath for what seemed like hours, waiting for the bullet to come crashing through her face, but it never came. Cautiously, she opened her eyes to see him staring at her and smiling. Then his smile turned to laughter. The man was truly sick, beyond help. Her eyes darted across to the man who still lay on the ground. Catching this, Rhandi lowered the gun, and turned to see what she was looking at.
“Ah.” He walked over to her fallen comrade. “A friend of yours, perhaps?” He turned to look at her, then back at the man on the ground. “You Americans never learn,” he said, shaking his head, more in disbelief than sadness. His eyes met the eyes of the wounded man, but only briefly, for they both knew what they had to do. One of them would have to die; the other, be the executioner. Rhandi raised the gun and fired two more rounds into the body of the American, and as he did, Saundra saw the body jerk as each bullet found its place, and then lay still, and she knew her friend was dead. She hung her head and swore under her breath. “You bastard.”
Rhandi turned to her, putting the gun back from where he had gotten it. “I might be.” He waved a hand toward his men and turned to go. “Release her.” They did. “I must go,” he told her, throwing the words over his shoulder, “but I am sure we will meet again. My country is very small.”
Too small, Saundra seethed under her breath.
It was the day before the Inauguration and Saundra was preparing to return to the states. She would be catching a flight within the hour that would take her back to the world, and she couldn’t have been more eager. She was in a hurry to leave. It was getting too dangerous for her here. She was ready to go. And she missed Tyler. She would be happy to see him, even though she knew he probably wouldn’t be happy to see her. In fact, he might even refuse to see her, after what she had done, and she wouldn’t blame him.
She would be leaving with 14 other reporters who were also eager to leave. They were all beginning to feel the heat. An overly extended stay could only mean danger for them.
The bus to the airport left at exactly 1030 hours, and they had been informed that it would take one hour, so they all settled back for the ride that would take them back to freedom and away from the danger that had threatened them every day of their stays here.
While en route, they shared their many and varied stories of their visit to the country. They exchanged names, and where applicable, addresses. They promised to keep in touch with each other. They shared their fears that had been with them since their arrival, and they shared the joys of their stays, for despite all the death and danger, there had been joys and it was these joys, these successes that had made their trips worth all the danger.
And they took the time to mourn the emptiness the passing of their comrade had caused. Saundra would forever remember the man who had saved her life, only to have his taken. She would remember him as a good man, a brave American; a patriot who would be dearly missed.
Some of them even prayed, counting their blessings, almost not believing they had actually lived through all the fighting, and the bombs. They had made it out alive, all save one, and they were practically home free.
“I don’t know about you guys,” one of the men said, “but I won’t feel safe until I’m on that plane outta here.”
“Me, too,” one of the women said. “I just can’t believe we’re going home.”
Just then an explosion rocked the front portion of the bus, causing it to veer off the road and flip over. The occupants were bounced around, tossed like rag dolls. The bus came to rest on its side.
“Is everyone okay?” a male voice asked from somewhere near Saundra’s right shoulder.
Moans greeted his words, and a few shuffles, as people tried to move, testing the mobility of their bones. Then, as the initial surprise wore off, words.
“Yeah, I’m okay, I think,” someone said.
“Me, too,” came another voice, male.
“Saundra?” the first voice prompted. “You okay?”
Saundra inspected herself, finding a deep gash on her upper right thigh. It was bleeding badly.
“I’m okay,” she lied.
At her words, the bus rocked violently as several men jumped onto it. Everyone looked up through shattered windows, into the muzzles of Armalites at the ready. Then the door was yanked open from the outside, and a soldier jumped into their midst. He pointed his weapon toward the door, gesturing for them to leave.
For a brief moment, no one moved, and then slowly they began to crawl out of the bus, always conscious of the gun in their backs.
“Looks like we won’t be going home today,” one of the men said, trying to inject some humor into the situation.
“Quiet!” one of the soldiers said, jabbing a gun into the man’s gut.
Saundra had a hard time getting out of the bus, already weakened by the loss of blood, and the unsteadiness of her wounded leg. She made it out of the door okay, but fell when one of the soldiers forced her over the side. Her leg refused to support her weight. The soldier grabbed her arm roughly, yanking her to her feet, and pushed her toward her other comrades.
“I thought you said you were okay,” the man belonging to the first voice said.
They were rounded up like cattle, forced into a tight line in front of the mangled bus. A young woman stood beside Saundra, and Saundra could tell she was seriously wounded, and scared.
The soldiers withdrew, opening a hole for their leader to walk through. As the man approached, Saundra’s stomach tightened, for she recognized him as the man who had shot the little boy and then her friend. She knew the other reporters recognized him, too.
He came forward, stopped about ten feet away from them. His eyes touched each of them individually and when they got to her, they stopped. He smiled in recognition, nodded to one of his men who stepped closer to her in response.
His eyes left her to address the others. “I am Rhandi Abi, leader of this Army, and you are my prisoners.”
“Hostages, you mean,” came a muttered response from one of the captives.
“Whatever,” Rhandi replied, waving his arm in a gesture of dismissal. He turned to his men, about to say something, when the woman next to Saundra spoke.
“Excuse me, I’m hurt!”
Rhandi walked over to the woman, feigning concern. He looked down at her, for he was a rather tall man, noticed the extent of her wounds. “So you are,” he mused, “and badly.”
“What are you going to do about it?” the woman asked.
He placed the muzzle of his gun against the soft skin of her forehead directly above her nose. “This,” he smiled, and pulled the trigger.
Shocked silence greeted his gruesome act, and for the third time in less than a week, Saundra had witnessed, up close, his careless murder of another human being. The man appeared immune to the devastation he was causing. It was obvious the man didn’t care much for life; therefore he could not mourn the passing of it.
Rhandi watched the woman’s body drop to the ground, satisfied at the result of his work. Saundra couldn’t control her breathing, hysteria was clawing at her, but she fought hard to prevent it from taking over.
Rhandi took a small step backward, eyeing the other prisoners as a starving man eyes food. “Is anyone else hurt?” he asked, his eyes coming to rest on Saundra. His eyes traveled down the length of her body, paused on the bleeding wound on her thigh. He brought his eyes back to hers, daring her to speak. Approaching her, he placed the gun beneath her quivering chin, and repeated his question. “Is anyone else hurt?” He applied pressure to the gun, pushing it into the soft skin of her throat. She felt his breath on her face.
“No,” she managed to say.
“Good.” He withdrew the gun and turned around, speaking to his men in their own tongue. Several men came toward them, brandishing lengths of rope. Each hostage was tied up, bound around the wrists so tightly that blood showed. Saundra couldn’t stop the whimper that came to her lips, though she tried. Rhandi’s eyes warned her against any further displays of emotion. When his men were finished, they stood back. What now, was the question running through Saundra’s mind. Were they going to be executed? The fear was so thick around her, she could barely breathe.
Rhandi studied them as he would a piece of artwork in a museum, and then said, “Come. It is time to go. We have a long walk ahead of us.”
“Where are you taking us?” one of the men hostages asked, holding back.
“That is not your concern, American,” Rhandi said, waving to his men, shouting orders in a foreign voice. His men rounded up the hostages as a cowboy rounds up strays, forcing them into a tight bundle, and prodding them with their weapons.
Saundra tried her best to keep up with the others, but it was soon evident that her leg would hold her back. She winced with every step she took, biting her lip to keep from crying out, knowing that if she did, Rhandi would silence her—forever, for he had made it very clear he would not tolerate weakness in anyone.
One of the other male hostages deliberately hung back with her, helping her on several occasions. She was grateful for his presence, but even his closeness couldn’t take away the pain that was eating at her insides. She was getting weaker with each step she took, until eventually, she could take no more.
She had been walking for nearly an hour when it happened. Her leg buckled under her, and she fell, unable to stop the cry that escaped from her dry lips. Immediately, the man beside her rushed to her side to help her up, but a soldier stopped him, pushing him away with his weapon. The man refused to be intimidated, and tried to rush the soldier, but was quickly surrounded by other soldiers, guns aimed and ready to fire. “Can’t you see she’s hurt?” he cried.
Rhandi, who had been leading in the front, doubled back at the sound of the commotion, his trusty M52 in his hand, locked and loaded, ready to kill. He saw Saundra lying on the ground, half-propped on an elbow, and frowned. Then he looked across at the man his troops had surrounded. “Is there a problem?”
“The lady’s hurt, can’t you see that?” the man cried again, obviously distressed. “She needs help. She can’t walk anymore!”
Rhandi turned to Saundra, who lay whimpering at his feet. Her face tear-streaked, she favored her wounded leg. Her eyes avoided his. Squatting down, he used the muzzle of his gun to brush a strand of hair away from her face. “I do not think you want to die here,” his voice was quiet, but menacing. He stroked the side of her face with the muzzle of his gun in an almost seductive manner, bringing it to rest beneath her chin. She was compelled to look at him then. “I think it would be wise if you got up now, don’t you?”
“You can’t expect her to get up and walk!” the man behind him said. “She’s got a wounded leg, for Christ’s sake!”
“Silence him!” Rhandi shouted to his men, and they carried out his order in haste, one of them stepping forward and slamming the butt of his rifle deep into the man’s stomach, dropping him to his knees. Rhandi stood up then, towering over Saundra. “You get up or you die. It is your choice.” He had lowered the gun to his side, but Saundra knew he would waste no time in using it. If there was one thing this man loved to do, she had learned, it was to kill. The man loved death.
Slowly, and with tremendous pain, she stood up, trying not to put too much of her weight on her bad leg.
Rhandi smiled, but without warmth. “I knew you would see it my way.” then he turned to his men behind him. “Keep them separated,” he told them, adding, “if she falls again, shoot her. We can’t afford stragglers.” He smiled across at Saundra. “You understand, of course.” Her head nodded almost of its own accord. “Good.” He addressed the rest of the group. “Then let us continue,” he said, reclaiming his post at the front of the group.
The hike lasted at least another hour before finally reaching a destination. Each step had been a constant torture for Saundra. She had stumbled on several occasions, but had not fallen; the only thing keeping her on her feet was fear. Rhandi had given his men the order to shoot her if she fell. She wasn’t eager to get shot, so she had forced herself to be strong. And now, here they were, within sight of a rebel camp, in the middle of who knows where.
They were taken to a place near the middle of the camp, where they were allowed, or rather, forced, to sit. They were offered no food or water. Their number was small compared to the men around them. They were 12, whereas the rebels were 50 or 60. They were in a crude sort of shelter, with just enough overhang to keep the elements off them.
The driver of the bus had been killed in the explosion, along with two reporters, one man and one woman, then Rhandi had killed the other woman outside the bus. Saundra was the only woman left; the rest of the hostages were men, all of them American reporters.
They would be missed at the airport about now, seeing as they were supposed to be there over an hour ago. Would someone come to look for them? Saundra hoped so. Tyler was to be sworn in as President tomorrow. She had told him she would be back in time for the Inauguration, but now she was beginning to realize the impossibility of that. She had just been taken hostage by a man who called himself Rhandi, and his army of rebels.
She was worried, and had every right to be, for she knew from a journalist’s point of view, that a hostage situation was a delicate matter. The path to negotiations was even more so. Handled wrong, the lives of the hostages would be in danger. She had seen the results of collapsed negotiations, and personally, she did not want to be one of those results. But, at the same time, she recognized the possibility of becoming just that. Would she make it out of here alive? Would any of them? What was her destiny? To die a violent death on foreign soil, in the company of rebels? To be a martyr for America? And yet, the choice would not be hers to make. Her life was not in her hands anymore—it wasn’t even in God’s hands anymore—it was in the hands of rebels.
Briefly she thought of Tyler, of the Inauguration, of his future as President. Could she bear the thought of never seeing him again? Because she truly believed she would never see him again. Would he notice her absence tomorrow, and be concerned when she didn’t show up, or would he write it off as just another of her displays of selfish independence? How long would it take for him to find out that she and 11 other Americans had been taken hostage? What steps would he take to secure their release? Would he refuse to negotiate with the terrorists—refuse to give them what they want? She hoped not, but at the same time, understood.
Past history spoke for itself. Governments had refused to negotiate before, and in many instances, hostages were killed. Her own government had a similar track record. America adamantly refused to give in to terrorist demands, although on occasion, the government had complied, as was the case in 1980, when the American Embassy was seized in Tehran. Fifty-two hostages were eventually released in January 1981, in exchange for Iranian assets of six million dollars frozen by the U.S. She wondered what demands Rhandi would make of her President.
They were forced to sleep on the cold ground that first night, and the following morning they were awakened early by the soldiers. They were taken to a room where they were greeted by Rhandi himself. This room had no chairs, so the hostages were forced to stand. This posed a slight problem for Saundra, as her leg had gotten worse overnight. A podium stood at the front of the room, and Rhandi approached it. He stared at them in silence for a few moments, shaking his head.
“I trust you slept well,” he began, and smiled. “Our accommodations are a bit scarce, even for us.”