The supply convoy snaked through a small canyon toward the river it needed to cross. Large boulders and rocky outcroppings studded the steep walls of the defile. No bushes greened its slopes. Beyond the river, the road ran without obstacles for the convoy’s destination – a village ravaged by warfare.
The forward truck edged around a final curve in the road a hundred yards inside the mouth of the canyon. In the passenger seat, Captain Bonnie Miller, commanding officer of Brava Company of the Interfaith Battalion of Nurses of God, frowned at the two men sitting on a large log dropped across the opening. She looked up her side of the defile at rifles bristling from behind the large rocks. Oh, no, she thought. Not again!
She grabbed up the radio microphone and spoke evenly. “OK, people. We’ve got a bandit roadblock here. Let’s everyone be cool. Execute Plan D. And send Lieutenant Hasanov forward.”
The forty-four-year-old female doctor regretted the need to bring the Azerbaijani officer sent by the host country’s army. His masculine arrogance irritated her.
She had returned his salute when he reported for duty as their guide and translator while she looked him over, from the blue beret covering his short, black hair, past his khaki uniform to the spit shine on his parade boots. The toothy smile on his shaved face had her compressing her mouth into a line. Then she’d invited him to sit and they had talked about the mission to the battle-torn mountain village.
“That is bandit country,” Hasanov had exclaimed, wide-eyed. “Who will protect you women?”
Miller had eyed him coolly. “We are Fighting Ezers. We protect ourselves.”
She saw the lack of comprehension in his dark eyes. “Lieutenant, you understand that ‘ezer’ is the Hebrew word for ‘helper’, right?”
When Hasanov nodded, Miller had continued. “The word is used first in Jewish scriptures for Eve who was a helper sufficient for Adam. Thereafter, the word is used about God Almighty. He is said to be Israel’s helper and shield. He fights for them.
“So, we women – and a few men – are doctors, nurses, paramedics…and soldiers. As part of the IBNG, we help people by bringing relief supplies and medical care to victims of war, disease, and pestilence.
“We’re also a paramilitary organization, trained for combat so we needn’t rely on soldiers of the countries we help. We can fight to protect our supplies and helpless people against the predations of bandits and warring factions.”
The next day, Lieutenant Emily Coulton had accused the Azerbaijani of insulting her. “He had the gall to say I should have been a belly dancer!” Fists clenched on her wide hips, the lieutenant’s muscles filled most of the stout, young blonde’s blue uniform. Her broad face tightened in a scowl.
Miller had run her hands through her ear-length, graying-brown hair and asked, “What did you say to that?”
Emily had bent to draw the stiletto from her boot sheath. “I asked if he wanted to dance with a woman who wielded a knife.”
Bonnie had chuckled. “You tell him about your Ranger training?”
The lieutenant had frowned. “No. Didn’t think of it. I said I’m a nurse with better skills than for prancing around, being ogled by lecherous men.”
Back in the canyon, Bonnie replaced the mike and lowered her middle-aged figure out of the dusty deuce-and-a-half, her hands out from the sides of her blue utility uniform and away from her service pistol. The Azerbaijani lieutenant strode forward as the two men on the log stood and came over, rifles at the ready.
The officer moved his arms out also and spoke sternly to the bandits in their language. The larger man wore a dusty, blue jacket of quality material that covered most of his dirty, white shirt. Sturdy pants fell to dusty boots. His short, dark hair didn’t seem to have been washed in some time though his moustache was neatly trimmed. He sneered at Hasanov’s uniform and spoke past the cigarette that dangled from the corner of his mouth.
The officer’s face darkened as he translated. “He say, ‘Who speak for you women?’”
Miller said, “Tell him this is a supply convoy, traveling under the protection of the United Nations.” Citing the UN, she knew, sometimes got them better results than their little-known relief aid battalion.
As she listened, the captain cast a quick look back along the convoy. The last two trucks had stopped beyond the curve in the road. The bandit spoke again just as Lieutenant Coulton walked up to join them.
Hasanov translated, “Your trucks and supplies now taken in name of people of this area. All drivers and soldiers must stand away from trucks while his men inspect contents.”
He turned more toward Miller. “Captain, do not trust him. He is thief and murderer.”
The bandit pushed between them, speaking forcefully.
Bonnie glared at the officer. “Just tell him these supplies are needed by the village a few miles ahead where a recent battle devastated the place. His men may ride with us, if he wishes, to insure the supplies arrive safely.”
As Hasanov translated, the bandit scowled then dashed his cigarette to the ground. Angry words accompanied gestures that included emphatic pointing at Lieutenant Coulton. The Azerbaijani officer translated simultaneously.
“I am Ali Achmed, warlord this region! I will say who may do what and who will do as I say! All you will stand away from trucks so my men may drive them away! In addition, yellow hair… er…woman will come with me!” Hasanov gestured at the ponytail that hung from under Coulton’s field cap.
The stout, young woman stepped back but Ali Achmed strode forward, seized her arm, and pulled her against him. Emily turned her face away from the man’s stench. Both bandits aimed their rifles at the other two.
Miller’s hand lowered to her sidearm but Emily flung back a hand. “Captain, no!”
The bandits cocked their weapons. Bonnie froze then moved her arms slowly out again. The look she gave the men would have dropped them had it really been lethal.
She said, “Courage, Lieutenant. Wait for your chance.”
Miller climbed into the cab of the truck and lifted the microphone. “OK, everybody, out of the trucks. We’re to let these bandits paw through our things and take what they want.”
The captain got down again and watched with arms crossed as drivers and other personnel in the visible trucks climbed out and clustered to one side. She turned back to the others.
Ali Achmed held Coulton with her back against his chest, one arm under her breasts. He spoke and Hasanov translated. “You wise, Captain.”
She replied, “You give me little choice. Something like this happened a few years ago. One of my nurses was taken then as well. We found her ravaged body three days later. I swore I’d never let that happen again.”
Miller looked at Emily and motioned Hasanov to stop translating. “Sergeant?”
“Not yet, Bonnie.”
Hasanov spoke forcefully to Achmed who sneered as he replied. Miller rounded on the Azerbaijani.
“Lieutenant, please don’t interfere. Sergeant Osgar is almost ready.”
Hasanov threw his arms up in frustration.
The captain turned back toward the bandits and saw the raised thumb on Emily’s fist. She stepped forward, used her left hand to push away the other bandit’s rifle, and slammed the meaty base of her right palm against his jaw. His head snapped back and she plunged her left fist into his gut. He doubled over and she met his falling forehead with her knee.
When Miller looked up from checking the unconscious man, she saw Ali Achmed on the ground with Emily on his back, her fist in his hair and her stiletto at his throat. Pistol fire cracked from both sides of the defile and scattered rifle shots replied. Soon the rifles were still and a feminine voice on the right called, “Clear!” An answering “Clear!” rang from the left and several uniformed women and men rose from behind the rocks, pistols at the ready. Dark-skinned hands bristled instead of rifles.
Miller smiled and called out, “Very good, people! Disable and throw their weapons down here. Watch your backs getting back to your trucks.”
Then she turned to the lieutenant and her captive. Emily’s hand on his forehead kept his head pulled back but did not stop his ranting. Bonnie told Hasanov to translate.
He said, “You not like what he say.”
She nodded. “Then I’ll do the talking.”
Squatting sideways before the bandit, she said, “If you promise to behave, I’ll have the lieutenant let you up.”
Achmed glared and spoke in a surly tone.
Hasanov translated, “Better you kill me.”
Emily blinked. “You really want me to?” She tightened her grip on the dagger, which pressed it harder against his windpipe. “It’s just that I don’t want to send you to Hell.”
“I am disgraced before my men…by a woman.”
“Have it your way.” Emily moved her hand to tilt his head down. She repositioned the tip of the stiletto against the back of his neck where a quick thrust would slice his brain stem.
The bandit leader threw out his hands, yelling.
Hasanov said, “Wait! I promise!”
Still holding the knife against Achmed’s neck, Emily moved slowly off his back. Once he felt the blade go away, the bandit sat up and faced the squatting captain.
He narrowed his eyes at her. “Who are you women?” He ignored the officer who translated above them.
Miller sat on the ground, her legs sideways to avoid spreading her knees. She glanced up as tall, slender Sergeant Neena Osgar stood beside her, holstering a smoking pistol. Bonnie said, “We are doctors, nurses, and paramedics of the Interfaith Battalion of Nurses of God, also known as the Fighting Ezers.”
Osgar grunted, “Hoo-ah!” She adjusted the cap over her shoulder-length dark hair.
The officer said, “I am Captain Bonnie Miller. Behind you is Second Lieutenant Emily Coulton. That is First Sergeant Neena Osgar. This man translating is First Lieutenant Hasanov of your country’s army. As a member of my team, he is due the same respect you would give me.”
She jerked a thumb at the trucks behind her. “As I said, these supplies are for the next village. Do you and your men protect those people?”
Achmed nodded. “We do. We also bring them what supplies we can after the army destroyed it.”
Hasanov spoke sharply to the bandit until Miller put up a hand to stop him. She said, “Lieutenant, I think we’ve proven to you…and him…our ability to protect ourselves and our mission. It’s time to move on.”
The bandit grinned and spoke again. “We now help you take these supplies to my village.”
Miller shook her head. “No. We would have made it without your ambush. Now we will do it without your help. God has said, ‘You must not steal,’ and ‘You must not commit adultery.’ I presume you’re married.”
The bandit glanced at the translator then nodded.
The captain said. “I would spare you the temptation to try either one again.” She paused and grinned. “You may move the log for us, though.”