Chapter 12: Embassy
Colonel Allen Murphy strode purposefully through the dimly lit halls of the American Embassy. Even in these times, he didn't normally get a summons from the Ambassador in the middle of the night. His eyes were constantly moving, noting every nook and cranny in the shadow-draped halls. He stopped to swipe his card through a card reader that gave him access to the courtyard leading to the residential wing of the Embassy.
Goose-bumps rippled up his arms, and a chill ran down his spine, as he exited the building. Allen slowed perceptibly, his eyes probing for what had caused his senses to go on alert. There was nothing, or at least nothing that he could see.
It was the witching hour. Memories of his Irish Grandmother's tales of things that go bump in the night flashed through his mind. Allen crossed himself as he murmured a quiet prayer, and continued walking. Maybe the chill was only someone walking over his grave!
Colonel Murphy had been on edge all evening, but he didn't know why. He didn't feel endangered any more than he normally did, in this God forsaken country, but he couldn't shake the feeling that something unknown was afoot. He had quietly raised the alert level of his guard posts, based on his gut feeling, increasing the number of on-duty Marines at each primary and secondary post. Receiving a summons to report to the Ambassador's apartment ratcheted his nerves even higher. He shivered again.
Thirty-one years earlier, Colonel Allen Murphy had joined the Marines on his seventeenth birthday. His father, a Sergeant in the Baltimore Police Department, had proudly signed for his son to enlist. His grandmother had cried, but still smiled proudly when Allen was sworn in. His mother had died in child-birth, and his widowed grandmother had moved in to take the place of a mother in young Allen's life. He was raised on tales from Ireland that his grandmother had heard in her youth. Leprechauns and elves were as real to the young Allen Murphy as the cakes and cookies his grandmother hid in his school lunches.
Allen was also steeped in a sense of duty and a fierce pride in his country from his father. Papa Murphy was the epitome of an Irish cop, without the failings emphasized by popular media. He drank, but only socially and never to excess. 'Alcohol is fun, but no excuse for losing control, ' Papa Murphy had often said. His belief in the rule of law was absolute, but subject to interpretation. 'Laws were made by men, boy. It's up to men to interpret them and decide what's right!' was another oft repeated admonition.
The plan had been to spend four years in the Marines, and join the Baltimore police after his discharge. Allen needed to be twenty-one for Baltimore's finest to hire him. He had graduated from high-school when he was seventeen. It didn't make sense to get a job with the clear intention to quit after four years. Continuing his education would be ideal, but he didn't want to pay for college when there were ways to get someone else to pay. In four years, Allen's military service time would give him extra civil service points, raising his score as much as forty points after finishing the police academy. That was good for advancement by at least one pay grade, and possibly two, in the police force. He would be twenty-one at the end of his enlistment. It was a good plan. Allen hadn't planned on finding a home in the Marines.
He'd finished college during his first eight years in the Marines, with a bachelor's degree in law enforcement. Allen was nominated for an officer's program, and became a Second Lieutenant during his tenth year in the Marines. He was a 'Mustang': an officer that has spent time as an enlisted man.
Though he was respected, Allen didn't belong to the right cadre for rapid advancement. He wasn't a graduate of 'the long gray line, ' or Norwich, or Annapolis. His protectiveness of the men under him had been noted in his fitness reports: not negatively, but with cautionary remarks. He would never make General, and under the current rules, it was promotion or retirement.
Colonel Allen Murphy knew this was his last tour of duty in the Marines. He would retire after finishing his three years on State Department duty, assuming he survived. He had one more year to go. He had a feeling that survival over the next twelve months was going to be problematic.
In his opinion, Iraq would make a very good parking lot: the whole damn place. Any religion, or group of people, that thought using little kids as suicide bombers was a good idea, needed to be obliterated, root and branch. A religion that held classes for five year olds, teaching them to hate by chanting death to whoever, needed to be eradicated. He was disgusted by the mindset of both sides of the religious war.
Allen stopped outside the entrance to the residence wing, and slowed again. Someone was watching him. He could feel it, and his attention to that feeling had been honed in combat. He never ignored the warning, but he couldn't find what was causing it.
He touched his M9, the 9mm Beretta on his belt, and then touched the 1911A1 45 ACP Colt in his shoulder holster. The M9 was his service issued weapon, but it didn't have the stopping power of the Colt. Jihadists didn't always stop when hit with 9mm bullets. If he tagged one with the 45, he went down. If the tag was anyplace other than the hand, he stayed down.
Allen swiped his card again to gain access to the residence wing, his eyes never still. He paid particular attention to his peripheral vision. Often, enemies invisible when looked at directly, could be seen with peripheral vision. Allen assumed the skill was a survival trait humans had evolved from their hunter-gatherer days that said, 'Hey dummy! Pay attention!' A shadow on his left moved, or seemed to move. He moved his head slightly trying to get a fix on what had changed. Finally, he looked directly at the spot where he thought he had seen movement.
There was nothing. A bare wall. Not even ornamentation to hide something. There was a shadow cast by the quarter moon.
A previous security commander had tried leaving all interior Embassy lights on, for security, so no one could sneak around inside the Embassy. Snipers on both sides of the crazy religious war appreciated the light for firing at night, and the Embassy had lost eight employees before the security commander was hit. That was why Allen was assigned to this post. His first order was to turn off the damn lights at night. Only lights along the walls would remain on, leaving the interior of the Embassy in darkness.
Allen slowly relaxed, his eyes darting around. He pushed the door open, and stepped inside. The door closed, and he stiffened again. He could still feel eyes on him!
The Ambassador stepped from the conference room door, several doors farther down the hall. Allen's grip tightened on the Colt. He didn't even remember reaching for it.
"There you are, Colonel," the Ambassador called with a smile. "Come on down to the conference room, please."
"Mr. Ambassador, are you alone, Sir?" Colonel Murphy asked tensely, not moving.
Ambassador Lee's smile turned into a very wide grin when he said, "Actually, no. That was one of the things I wanted to talk to you about." He chuckled before saying, "There is no danger to you, me, or the Embassy, Colonel. Come in and have a seat, please," before turning and reentering the conference room.
Allen quickly looked around, before sliding down one wall to get to the conference room. He could see a reflection in a window of the Ambassador and another man, seated at the conference table. He took a quick look in both directions in the hall, but still could see nothing that would cause his senses to jump like they were.
'Maybe it's time to get out of the Marines, ' he thought to himself grimly. 'I'm getting as jumpy as a damn boot Private!'
He stepped into the conference room, keeping a wary eye on the stranger. He sat at the far end of the table.
The stranger looked at him in bemusement.
The Ambassador was grinning at him, before he asked, "Colonel, do you think someone can get through your security?"
"Anything is possible, Mr. Ambassador," Allen said cautiously, his eyes flicking to the stranger and back.
"Okay, how about ten? Is that possible?" James asked.
"Once again, anything is possible, but I would say it is highly unlikely," Allen said tightly. "Mr. Ambassador, what's going on here?"
James held up his hand in a 'just a moment' gesture, and said, "You would probably get more upset if I asked you about forty men, including a couple of wounded and a body bag, getting in, so let's drop that for now. Colonel, I would like you to meet Major Caleb Connor. Major, this is Colonel Allen Murphy. Colonel, the Major is not, nor will he ever be, in your chain of command. I would like the two of you to meet as civilians, and gentlemen."
Allen's eyebrows tried to climb his forehead, as he exclaimed, "What?"
"Shake hands, Allen. That is the way civilian gentlemen greet each other. Believe me. You really want to meet this man," Ambassador Lee said with a smile.
Caleb stood, and walked to the other end of the table, his hand outstretched. His other hand was held away from his side.
"It is good to meet you, Sir," Caleb said in greeting.
Allen didn't answer, but he did shake Caleb's hand, with his left hand on his M9.
Caleb smiled, nodded to the Ambassador, and returned to his seat.
"Colonel, you are very good," Caleb began. "I don't think one man in a thousand could spot my men. You did, after a fashion."
Allen flinched, remembering his feelings in the court-yard, and in the hall way.
"In the court-yard, or in the hallway?" Allen asked carefully.
"Both, actually," Caleb replied with a grin.
Allen flinched again, quickly running the images through his mind. He shook his head, saying, "They would have to be ghosts."
"That's the name of our unit," Caleb answered. "We are under orders, Top Secret Presidential. Even our existence is considered Top Secret. Your position as honcho of Embassy security means you have a 'need to know'; and please, take your hand off your weapon. I would like to prevent accidents."
Allen slowly released the pistol, and put both hands, palms down, on the conference table.
"My unit is doing a little guerrilla work in Iraq. We need to rest up for a few days, and drop off a body bag. We lost a man," Caleb said solemnly.
"What kind of guerrilla work?" Allen asked.
"Those ISIS set-backs at Baqubah and Migdadivah are some of our work," Caleb replied.
"American forces weren't involved with either action," Allen protested.
"Yep. That's right," Caleb said with a smile. "That mish-mash of camel jockeys beat some of Saddam's best officers, in two consecutive battles."
Silence reigned in the room, as Caleb let that thought sink in.
"Smart," Allen said after a moment, nodding thoughtfully. "Make them, and the whole world, think the Iraqis defeated ISIS."
"They can't point fingers at the US for their defeats," Caleb agreed. "They can't use the defeats as a recruiting tool."
"How do your men hide so well?" Allen asked, still not completely buying this story.
"I'm going to tell you a tale, in just a moment," Caleb began, frowning slightly. Before I do, I need to ensure I have your undivided attention, and complete belief in what I have to say."
Allen opened his mouth to say something, but Caleb held up his hand, saying, "Don't worry about it. You're supposed to be skeptical. It's part of your billet description. Let's start with something simple. How many people are in this room?"
Allen looked around, noting only one door in and no windows. He shrugged and said, "There are three of us."
"How about seven?" Caleb corrected. "Gentlemen, if you please."
Smooth, dark gray, humanoid shapes appeared in each corner of the room. The shapes split down the middle, and the metal shells folded in on themselves, leaving four additional men in the room. Allen recognized one of them.
"Top Benson! What the hell is going on here?" Colonel Murphy demanded.
"Morning, Colonel," First Sergeant Ted Benson said, nodding to the Colonel. "Congrats on the Eagle. You should have had it a lot sooner, in my opinion."
"That doesn't answer my question, Top," the Colonel barked.
"Sorry, Sir," the First Sergeant declined, nodding towards Caleb. "The Major is the answer man. He'll make you an offer you won't want to refuse. You might even get some of this nifty armor."
Colonel Murphy turned back to Caleb, his brows furrowed angrily. "Okay, Major. You've got my attention! I'll suspend my bullshit meter for the time being, but this had better be good. Get on with it, please."
Caleb nodded as he leaned back in his chair. "Do you believe in aliens, the kind from out there someplace?" he asked, waving his hand at the ceiling.
"Do you expect me to believe that bullshit?" the Colonel demanded, thirty minutes later. His scowled darkened as he growled, "I'll grant that you have some pretty amazing technology, but I'm not buying aliens in your head. Now I want to know..."
"Colonel!" Caleb barked right back. "I..."
Caleb stopped, and took a deep breath to calm himself. He looked around, as if looking for the answer to a question. Nodding to himself, Caleb turned back to the officer.
"Pick a number between one and one hundred," Caleb demanded.
'One thousand, ' the Colonel thought to himself.
"One thousand," Caleb repeated aloud. Without pausing he snapped, "That's cheating. Think of something, anything, as long as no one else knows or can know."
'Mary had a little lamb, ' the Colonel thought.