Allahu Akbar!

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“I’m sorry. It’s insanely crowded. Would you mind if I sat down here?” she asked.

“No. Of course not. Yeah, it really is busy,” he replied.

“Where are you headed?” she asked as she set her purse down before taking the only available seat.

“Ohio. I’m an Ohio State alumnus and I’m heading back to attend my 20th reunion,” he told her. “How about you?”

“That’s incredible!” she exclaimed. “I’m going back to Seattle for my 10th high school reunion. Talk about a coincidence, right?”

“No kidding,” he agreed. “What brings you to the DC area if you don’t mind me asking?”

“I work at the Navy Annex,” she told him.

She quickly sized him up then said, “And you look like you might be on active duty.”

“I just retired,” he told her. “As in yesterday.”

“Congratulations! Which branch were you in and how long did serve?”

“I was in the Marine Corps for exactly 20 years.”

“Okay, so since you’re a college graduate, I’m gonna take a guess and say you retired as a lieutenant colonel.”

“Not bad,” he told her.

“You kind of get a feel for it after a while,” she admitted.

“How long have you been at the Annex?”

“Five years now. I graduated from the University of Washington as a pharmacist five years ago, and this was my first and only job.”

“Do you enjoy it?” he asked.

“Yeah, it’s great. I love being around people who feel like they’re part of something bigger, you know? Almost everyone is a dedicated professional. Almost.”

He laughed and said, “Right. The proverbial 10%.”

She laughed too, and told him she’d heard that several times.

“It really is true,” he said. “You spend a lot of your time on the infamous 10% who just can’t get with the program.”

The younger woman smiled and said, “So I hear. Oh, I’m Ashley, by the way.”

“Bart. Nice to meet you, Ashley,” he said as she offered him her hand.

She looked down and saw a wedding ring and her smile faded as he seemed like a very interesting guy who was clearly very good looking.

“Is something wrong?” he asked not having noticed what she’d just looked at.

“Oh, no. Well, maybe. I was going to say you’re a very nice-looking man, but…you’re taken and that means hands off so…”

He smiled politely then glanced at his watch.

“I really should be going. It was nice talking to you, Ashley. Can I buy you another drink before I leave?”

“Oh, no thank you. I’m not much of a drinker. I just don’t like flying all that much so I thought I’d have a drink to try and calm myself down.”

“I don’t suppose it would help if I told you flying is by far the safest form of transportation, would it,” he said as a statement of fact with a pleasant smile.

“Statistically speaking, I know you’re right. It’s just that when something does go wrong, it can really go wrong!” she told him.

“I won’t argue with you. I flew F-18s for 16 of the 20 years of my career, and I ended up having to eject once and only once, and that happened during my first year in a flying squadron. Everything that could go wrong went wrong and my only choice was to get out.”

“Oh, my goodness. I’m glad you’re okay. You see, that kind of thing scares the daylights out of me since they don’t have ejection seats on civilian planes.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to add to your fears. I was trying to make you feel better in an obviously clumsy kind of way. Maybe I should tell you I flew nearly 2,000 hours and only had one incident and I made it through that one just fine. If that made things worse, please forgive me. That certainly wasn’t my intent. And while I’m rambling, the only thing that really scares me these days is Islamic jihad. Well, that and maybe an asteroid hitting the earth.”

Ashley laughed at the asteroid strike then said about jihad, “That’s understandable considering your profession. Or…previous profession I should say. I’m truly grateful for people like you who keep people like me safe.”

Bart smiled but didn’t reply. He stood up to leave so Ashley killed her vodka and tonic then got up, too.

“Which gate are you headed to?” he asked her.

“Um…lemme see here.” She opened her boarding pass and said, “C-17.”

“I’m flying out of C-11. Do you mind if I walk with you?”

“Not at all. I’d enjoy the company. When does your flight leave?” she asked.

“I’ve got about thirty minutes. You?”

“Closer to forty-five. I’m always way early to everything.”

“Me, too. I can’t stand being late,” he agreed with a big smile.

“Or people who are always late,” she chimed in.

“Bingo!” he said agreeing even more. “Okay. Shall we?”

They both grabbed their carry-ons, and Ashley slung her purse over her shoulder as they headed toward the C concourse. They’d already been through security so they knew there was no need to hurry.

“I’m not flirting or anything, but you’re a very attractive woman. Are you seeing anyone?” he asked.

“Oh, thank you,” she replied. “That’s really sweet of you to say. No, I’m not seeing anyone. I was in casino oyna a pretty serious relationship until about a year ago, but that ended and I’ve been taking it kind of slow since then.”

“That’s smart. You’re young and attractive and you’ll have all kinds of opportunities. If you’re marriage-minded, the right guy will come along at some point and it’ll be worth the wait.”

He smiled at her then said, “I can tell you from personal experience when you find the right person, it’s always worth the wait. I didn’t get married until I was 35 and when I found her it was mag…”

Without warning, Bart stopped talking as his eyes followed his ears in the direction of the threat. He instinctively grabbed Ashely’s arm and pulled her hard and fast toward the wall as someone started shouting. Ashley couldn’t hear what he was saying, but Bart knew exactly what it was.

The words ‘Allahu Akbar!’ were being shouted out by someone who fit the profile he knew all too well. He’d been in Afghanistan as a Forward Air Controller or FAC ten years ago when he served a two-year tour with a Marine Special Operations Company from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. His unit had been up-close and personal with these religious fanatics many times, and he knew those words were almost always followed by some form of violence.

His biggest fear was a suicide vest laced with ball bearings although any weapon, to include a knife, in an enclosed area like an airport, could wreak a lot of havoc in short order.

“What’s going on?” Ashley asked, her voice filled with fear, as he continued to shove her towards the wall. He saw a ladies room and hoped to be able to get her inside before…

There were screams followed by a series of loud popping sounds.

“Bart? What’s going on?” she screamed, now very frightened.

Just as they got to the door, they saw him walking toward them, a pistol in his hand as he continued firing, and shouting ‘Allahu Akbar!’

Bart reached across her body, pulled hard on the door handle, and shouldered her into the restroom just as the weapon recoiled in the man’s hand. Ashley shrieked as she fell into the room and then onto the floor. She jumped up and instinctively ran for the stall furthest away and locked herself inside. Also following her instincts, she stood on the commode to avoid showing her feet as her body shook violently. She was sobbing and more afraid than she’d ever been in her life. She heard more shrieks and a very loud male voice then two more muffled pops followed by more screams, and then it got very quiet.

“Oh, God! Please don’t let me die! Please don’t let me die!” she said as tears streamed down her face that was contorted in abject fear.

She was too afraid to move and stood there for what seemed like hours until she heard the door burst open. In reality, she’d been in there less than three minutes. She tried to be quiet but couldn’t.

“No! Please! Please don’t shoot me!’ she said before she heard, “Police!”

“I’m…I’m in here!” she called out, a wave of relief washing over her.

A police officer moved her way, his weapon drawn and ready to fire. The man slowly opened her door then quickly stepped in front, his weapon pointed right at her.

“No! Don’t shoot!” she screamed.

He holstered his weapon, lowered his head and spoke into a transmitter. “All clear.”

He offered Ashley a hand and she literally fell into his arms.

“Oh, my God! I was so scared!” she said still trembling and shaking. “Is it safe?”

“Yes, you’re safe,” he told her. “Can you walk?”

“Yes. I think so,” she said as he lowered her down. “Thank you! Thank you so much!”

“Are you okay?” he asked. “Are you hurt?”

“No, I’m not hurt,” she said. She looked in the mirror and noticed her white blouse was splattered with blood and her knees buckled.

“Come on. Let’s get you out of here,” the police officer said as he helped her stay on her feet.

“I…I was walking with someone. A man. Is…is he okay?”

The police officer didn’t answer her. He just wrapped her arm over his shoulder to help steady her wobbly legs and escorted her outside.

“We’ll need to ask you some questions so you’re to stay with this officer until you’re released. Is that clear?” he told her as he stood her next to another cop in full tactical gear.

“I…I have a flight to catch,” she said not fully in touch with reality yet.

“All flights in and out have been cancelled. Once we sort through all of this, the airlines will figure out what to do with their passengers. For now, stay put. Please.”

There were emergency personnel everywhere along with heavily-armed security types carrying semi-automatic rifles and pistols. Ashley saw gurneys with saline bags and medical people tending to the wounded. As she looked around she also saw the twisted face of a mother in agony as she knelt beside her dead child, and the image caused her to retch violently. She couldn’t get back inside the restroom or even to a garbage can before her lunch came up along with the drink she’d just had. slot oyna When she turned around, someone was covering the child with a blanket of some sort and the mother fell to the floor shrieking in agony.

Still unable to process what had happened, two EMTs hurried by pushing a gurney with a man on it whose shirt was soaked in blood. One of them was holding a pressure dressing on the wound, and Ashley thought she’d throw up again when she realized the man on the gurney was Bart.

“Is he okay?” she called out as they moved quickly passed.

“He’s alive,” one of them called out without slowing down.

Ashley couldn’t stand up another second and collapsed on the shiny tile floor and began to cry again as her body shook uncontrollably. She cried until she couldn’t cry any longer then just sat there until a police officer told her to come with him.

The next several hours passed in a hazy fog as she answered every question she could to the best of her ability.

Yes, she’d seen him. No she hadn’t gotten a good look. Yes, she’d heard him hollering. Yes, she saw the gun. No, she didn’t see the man she was with get shot.

The same questions were asked over and over first by the FBI and then by someone from Homeland Security. It was nearly ten o’clock at night before Ashley was finally released and allowed to go home.

She took a taxi back to her townhouse in Arlington, Virginia, and sat there just staring at the back of the seat in front of her. She didn’t remember paying the driver or whether she even tipped him. She somehow managed to get inside her home and got herself undressed before taking a shower that lasted until the hot water ran out maybe an hour later.

Running on instinct, she got ready for bed and laid there all night wide awake playing and re-playing the events over and over in her head. Each time the fear was just as real and just as palpable, and at some point she wondered if she’d ever forget. Each time she thought about that small child and the mother, she knew the answer was ‘no’.

She was quite sure that whatever happened, she’d never feel the same way again. And then she wondered about the man who’d been so friendly to her and who, according to the FBI, had almost certainly stepped in front of her taking a bullet that was meant for her. And that’s when she began to cry again and couldn’t stop crying for several more hours. At some point, out of sheer exhaustion, Ashley finally fell asleep and managed to get several hours of rest before waking in a cold sweat only to relive it all again and again and again.

Ashley forced herself out of bed, and although it wasn’t cold, she was shivering. She grabbed a blanket off the bed and wrapped it around her as she went to make herself a cup of coffee. She thought about turning on the news but couldn’t bear the thought of watching scenes of what had happened at the airport.

At some point she did check her cell phone and noticed she had over a dozen messages. Most of them were from her mother. She could tell her parents were worried sick as she listened to the voicemails getting more and more frantic. She hit ‘redial’ and heard her mom answer on the first ring.

“Ashley? Are you all right?” she blurted out.

“I’m fine, Mom,” she told her.

“Thank God!” she said. Ashley heard her tell her father their daughter was alive.

“Were you there?” her mother asked, her voice shaky with fear.

She thought about lying to try and comfort her mom, but that went against everything she believed. Telling the truth was the only option.

“I was,” Ashely told her.

“Oh, honey! I’m so sorry. Do you need to talk about it?”

“No. No, I…I don’t want to talk about it, Mom. It was just so…horrible and so surreal.”

Her parents, Edwin and Susan Morgan, had never been overprotective, but she knew they worried about ‘their baby’ living alone so far away from home. She’d tried consoling them by reminding them she still lived in Washington.

“I’m in Washington DC while you and Dad are in Washington AC.”

Her attempt at humor had gotten a good chuckle the first time she said it, but she knew it would do nothing to quell their concerns this time. Ashley also knew her mother wished she’d find a nice man to settle down with or at least get a roommate. Living alone worried her mother a lot more than it did Ashley.

“Oh, honey—I can’t even imagine,” her mother said. She wanted to ask for details, not to be voyeuristic, but to help reassure her her only daughter really was okay. She forced herself to respect Ashley’s wishes and changed the subject.

“So do you know when you’ll be coming home?” her mom asked.

“No. Not yet, Mom. I’m going to have to call the airline this morning and find out. Well, unless they contact me first,” she told her glancing at the other missed messages on her phone.

“Oh, okay. Well, let us know when you find something out. And before I forget, I ran into Ronnie Williams who goes by Ronald now. He said he was going to the reunion and hoped to see you there.”

Ashley wasn’t ready canlı casino siteleri to smile yet, but this was so like her mom. Ronnie had been her first real boyfriend in high school, and he’d been the most handsome guy she’d ever dated. They drifted apart once she went to college as Ronnie had stayed in their home town and worked in his family business. She hadn’t seen him since running into him the summer of her junior year at The University of Washington in Seattle, and it had been a very pleasant meeting. Still, she doubted they would have much in common after all these years.

“That sounds nice,” Ashley said not knowing what else to say.

“Maybe I could invite him over for dinner while you’re here.”

Ashley was too tired to argue. She told her mother that sounded nice, too, then said she needed to give the airlines a call.

“Oh, okay, dear. Well, your father and I are just so glad to know you’re all right. Let us know when you’ll be getting in, okay?”

“Yeah, sure. I will, Mom. Tell Dad I love him too, okay?”

“Okay, honey. Bye!”

Ashley ended the call and just sat there staring out the tiny kitchen window from the second floor of her modest town home. Once again, she found herself reliving the events of the shooting when it hit her just how close she’d come to dying. And had Bart not jumped in between her and the shooter…

Her body trembled as a surge of adrenaline coursed through it. Once it passed, she again found herself wondering how her unlikely hero was doing. She took some solace in knowing the authorities would have contacted his wife by now, and that she and their children would be by his side. Even so, she wished there was some way to find out how he was doing, and more importantly, to thank him for saving her life.

Ashley thought about not going home, but after all that had happened, she knew her mom would be beside herself if she stayed in Northern Virginia. An hour later, she called the airlines and was routed to a special line where, after spending nearly a half hour on hold, was able to get rebooked on a flight late that afternoon.

By 5pm, she was on her way to Seattle, and although she hadn’t forgotten about the retired Marine who’d saved her life, she began trying to focus on seeing her family, attending the reunion, and moving on with her life. Actually doing doing that however, would prove much more difficult than she’d imagined.

*****

“How are you feeling this morning, Mr. Patterson?” Bart heard a voice ask as he forced his eyes open.

“Like a Mack truck ran over my chest,” he replied quietly.

“You’re a very lucky man,” the voice told him.

Bart forced his eyes to focus and saw the words ‘David Feldman, MD, internal medicine’ on his lab coat.

“The bullet entered your rib cage here,” the doctor said pointing to his right side, “and exited through your back. It missed your right lung by about 3 millimeters. Had it not been a metal-jacketed round, it almost certainly would have done a lot more damage.”

“Yeah, lucky me,” he said through the haze of morphine.

“I’ll be back this evening to check on you again. If you’re doing okay, we might be able to let you get out of here sometime in the next day or two.”

“Oh, doc?” Bart said weakly.

The doctor was already turned and ready to leave. He stopped, turned back around, and listened.

“I was with a young woman. Maybe 25 or so. Pretty. Is she okay?”

“I can’t really say, Mr. Patterson. All I can tell you is no one fitting that description was brought into this hospital.”

“One more thing,” Patterson said. “How bad was it?”

“The last thing I heard was three dead and six wounded.” The doctor paused then said, “One of them was a four-year old girl.”

Patterson nodded slightly and said, “Okay. Thanks.”

He’d never felt so tired in his life. He didn’t want to sleep. He wanted to turn on the TV, but he was too tired to even reach for the remote laying next to him. He planned to only close his eyes for a few seconds but was out for another four straight hours.

When he awoke, a very attractive, younger black woman was standing near his bed. She smiled and asked how he was feeling.

“Better. I think,” he said.

“Are you in any pain, Mr. Patterson?”

“No. At least I don’t think so,” he said still mostly out of it.

“Good. That means the morphine is doing the trick.”

She smiled again then asked, “Is there anyone I can call for you? Your wife maybe?”

“Um…no. My…my wife passed away four years ago,” he told her without emotion.

“I’m so sorry,” she told him. “So…no one at all?”

“No. I don’t think so. Thank you, though,” he said trying to smile.

“Okay. I’ll let you get some rest then I’ll see you in an hour or so.”

“I…I hope you will,” he said still struggling to smile.

Aware he shouldn’t say it, he couldn’t stop himself.

“You’re really pretty.”

She smiled back then said, “See you soon, Mr. Patterson.”

Two days later he was allowed to leave once there was no real, serious danger of infection. The round had passed cleanly through him missing both bones and vital organs. He had a prescription for antibiotics just in case and one for two more days of oxycodone for pain.

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