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Beirut

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Preface

On July 2, three lawyers flew to Beirut to interview witnesses in the Federal trial of Jose Padilla and 4 other defendants being charged under the new Homeland Securities Law as being part of a terrorist cell and building a “dirty bomb”. The lawyers were scheduled to fly home on July 14.

On July 8 2006, my husband, daughters and I flew to our annual vacation at a small lake on Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula. We stay there for a week with my Godmother and her large family, all in multiple cottages arranged around a common property. At that time, there was no cell phone coverage where we were, unless one wanted to stand in the middle of the lake or go into town. There was only one cottage that had an internet connection.

My Godmother is a prominent attorney in the city of Detroit. She is a frequent trial partner and close personal friend of one of the lawyers, a Lebanese American, also a lawyer in Detroit.

On July 12, the militant group Hezbollah fired rockets over the Lebanese-Israeli border, killing 3 Israeli soldiers and taking 2 captive. Israel retaliated, bombing Southern Lebanon as well as the city of Beruit, destroying the airport and blockading the harbor. Over 25,000 non Lebanese citizens and ex-pats who had recently returned to a newly rebuilt Beirut were stranded. The American lawyers, a television host and his production crew were among those who were unable to evacuate the country. Sophie and Tara also happened to be in Beirut at this time.

From July 12 until we left on July 15, we ferried messages from cottage to cottage as emails, Skype messages and TV news reports were received and sent from a small cottage in Michigan to Beirut.

July 12, 2006
Tara and I slept through the first round of bombing, the main target, among others, was the Beirut airport, disabling what little air force the Lebanese had. Of course we didn’t know any of this until later that afternoon.

We sleep late then wander out looking for food before picking up my dress. At first it’s hard to tell that anything has changed. The residents of Beirut, who liked to say ‘they partied through the civil war’, act as if nothing has happened. People fill the restaurants, walk the streets and greet each other with smiles. If something is different, maybe people seem just a bit more on edge, look a bit sadder, not quite as proud of their renewed city as they had been the day before. We aren’t really paying attention, being caught up in the fun of the markets and street vendors, eating and talking and laughing our way through the streets.

Several times we came upon a small film crew. The though the host seems a bit familiar and the crew speaks American English, Tara and I are both a bit camera shy so we don’t stay long enough to find out what is going on.
It isn’t until late in the afternoon when we hear the commotion. Cars full of cheering people, supposedly Hezbollah, honking horns and firing off guns in celebration of the Israeli soldiers’ abduction as they drive wildly through the downtown streets. It is horrifying seeing the faces of the Lebanese people, Arab, Jewish and Christian, who had been so proud to show off their city, as they lower their eyes and heads in embarrassment. Those who know what is coming, suggest we head back to our hotel immediately.

Once back at the luxurious Phoenician, the experience is surreal. We are well taken care of, sitting by the pool, sipping drinks while Israeli jets fly low over-head and bombs exploded nearby. We hear that the airport has been destroyed. No planes will be leaving Beirut any time soon. Any hopes of chartering a boat have been put on hold as word of an Israeli blockade of the harbor makes its way to us. For now, we are told to wait.

Tara is burning her nervous energy swimming laps in the pool. The men, and many of the women, are as mesmerized, as am I, by the glimpses of tan wet skin as it flashes in the sunlight. I know what I am thinking and it’s not hard for me to guess what the others are thinking. I’ve had enough to drink and enough daydreaming. It’s time for me to go to work, to figure out what’s going on and how we’re going to get out of here. I find anyone who will talk to me. The Lebanese who work at the hotel want to go home. The news they are getting from their families is not good. They want to leave Beirut and travel to Syria as soon as possible, before the bombing starts in full, before the border is closed. The others, the French, Italians, British, etc. are all in touch with their Embassies. Extractions are being arranged. They are all sure that they will be leaving at any moment. The Americans have no information. No calls from home, a war between Israel and an Arab country is not big news in the States. The Embassy, when they bother to answer their phones, have nothing to say. People are rightly frustrated but there really is nothing to do but wait.

Tara is done swimming and I pull her to the side to talk. “What passports are you carrying?” I ask her. “I’ve got an Italian and a French and an Egyptian. And of course a British and an American.” She looks at me funny. “What do you mean?” “I mean, are you traveling on an American passport? What others do you have?” “I only have American” she replies. I look incredulous. “You only have ONE passport?” I ask. “No. Of course not” she answers. “But they’re all American.” I start to say something and she interrupts. “I’m not like you Sophie. I can’t just be anything I want to be. Look at me? No one would believe I was Egyptian.” I still can’t believe what she’s saying. “European?” I ask. “You could be from anywhere?” “Sophie, I can’t speak the languages like you can. No one would ever believe I was from Sweden or Germany or anything like that.” “Canadian?” I ask wearily. She shakes her head. “Well, first thing we do when we get back is get you a Canadian passport, eh” I say dropping into my Canuck impersonation. She shakes her head and walks begins to walk away. “Its Ok Tara. Not a big deal. The Americans will get us out. It just might have been faster if we both were carrying something else but American will work.” She looks at me and gives me a smile but the look never makes it to her eyes. She knows I’m disappointed not to be joining the others as they pack their bags.

I decide it’s time to call Nate. This is a conversation that I really don’t want to have with him but, with no word from any part of the American government, it’s time to put my own plans into action. It’s not like I don’t know the best in the world at this sort of stuff.

Nate picks up the cell phone on the first ring. “Sophie. Where are you?” “Hi Nate” I’m not yet sure how I’m going tell him about my current predicament. “What the Hell are you doing in Beirut?” he demands. Well that was easy. Probably Hardison tracking my cell. “I’m fine Nate. Thanks for asking.” He doesn’t say anything. He’s waiting for an answer but I’m not going to give it to him. “Nate. I need help. I need to get out of here.” More silence. “Nate!” “Yeah OK. I’ll call Eliot. We’ll see what we can do.” “Thanks Nate.” He doesn’t say anything. I can hear Hardison’s fingers on his keyboard as he pulls up any relevant information. Finally, Nate talks again. “OK Sophie. It looks like locals are still getting across the border to Damascus and the French have something going. What kind of passports do you have?” Here we go I think. “That’s my problem Nate. All I’ve got is American.” “You’re kidding right?” he asks. “I wish I was. Let me talk to Hardison. I’ll give him some names” and a piece of my mind but I don’t say that out loud. Don’t want to scare the kid any more than he already is. “Names?” Nate asks. “Yes Nate. Names. Plural. And we’re not getting into this right now!” “Yeah. Right Sophie. Whatever. You don’t owe me any explanations” he says though his tone tells me something very different.

The next voice I hear is Hardison’s. He’s talking fast and I can hardly understand him. “I’m sorry Sophie I didn’t want to but Nate wanted to know and you didn’t have your ear bud and I told him you would probably want to kill me and I really don’t want..” I finally had to cut him off. “Hardison! We’ll talk about it later” I know that’s the last thing he’s going to want to do but I just don’t have the energy to explain how mad I am right now. “Hardison? You ready for the names?” “Uh yeah. Sophie? Is..uh..is it..ummm” Poor kid. I let him out of his misery. “Yeah. She’s with me.” He sounds relieved to know that Tara is OK and that we’re together. I wonder if he’s keeping track of her as well. It wouldn’t surprise me. I mentally add that to the list of things to yell at him about when I get home.

I give him the information he needs to create some sort of paperwork to get us out, should the Americans ever decide to mount a rescue. He tells me that my cell phone is likely not to work much longer. He needs me to find a computer and send him a message so that he can do whatever it is that he does. I promise to find him one and leave him with one more request. “Can you please tell Parker that everything is OK and I’ll be home soon?” “I promise” he tells me.

I track down Tara and let her in on what’s going on. I don’t tell her about Hardison’s tendency to keep tabs on us. Tara’s wound up enough and I don’t trust her not to hurt him. Not that he wouldn’t deserve it, just that he’s mine!

I pull Tara into an alcove where we’re somewhat hidden from the others hanging around the pool and tell her about my conversation with Nate and Hardison and not to worry. “You called Nate?” she asked. “Of course” I tell her. “I trust Nate and the team to get us out of here a lot more than I trust the American government.” She is leaning against the wall behind her. She doesn’t look happy and though I try, I can’t tell what she’s thinking. I put my hand on the wall on either side of her shoulder and lean into her until our chests are touching. “It’s going to be OK Tara. It really is. I’m sorry if I was harsh with the passport thing. I was just surprised.” She narrows her eyes. “What?” I ask but she just shakes her head. “You really under estimate yourself, you know.” I tell her. “You are an amazing grifter. You are so talented with everything you do. Forget the language thing. That’s my thing not yours. You are so much more than that. You are wonderful, smart, funny and so damn sexy I don’t know how anyone can keep their hands off of you.” I lean closer and whisper in her ear. “You really are amazing you know.” She responds by nuzzling my neck just under my jaw and I feel goose bumps move up my arms. I run my hands down her sides, her swimsuit is still damp and it sticks to her. I feel a familiar flutter in my stomach. She wraps her arms around my waist and pulls me tight into her, still nibbling on my neck and driving me crazy. “Bloody Hell Tara!” I exclaim. “I want you so bad right now.” She lifts her face and kisses me and I hear myself groan. “Tara...we can’t. Not here. I don’t want…” She kisses me again and her hands move lower. “Tara…” “I don’t care Sophie.” She whispers. I don’t think it’s possible to get two bodies any closer but she pulls anyway. I arch my back and press to her, feeling her warmth spread through me. I try one more time to stop her but my resistance is faltering. She still has a tight hold on my back end and she begins to rub herself against me. “God Tara!”

“What Sophie?” she whispers. “Do you want me to stop?” She pushes her leg between mine and presses it into me. I squeak and she kisses me again. My knees wobble and Tara whips me around so my back is to the wall, pressing me into it. She takes my hand off her hip and slides it down between her legs. I can feel her through the thin material of her swimsuit. I take a sharp breath. She laughs quietly. “Is this what you want Sophie?” “Tara I…there’s people…” She laughs again. “I don’t care Sophie” she says again as she slides her hand down the front of my pants. I moan and she asks me again. “What do you want Sophie. Tell me. Is this what you want?” She begins to move against my hand, moving hers on me in time. She’s still talking. Asking me what I want. I can’t think any more. I don’t want to think. I don’t want to talk. I shake my head though I’m not sure which question I’m answering. She pushes her body hard into me as I feel her muscles contract. As her hand tightens on me, all I can think about is what she’s doing to me, how she’s making me feel until I can’t think about anything at all. In the distance, I hear Tara’s voice. “Maybe that’s the difference between you and me Sophie. I’ve always known what I wanted.”

My knees sag and the only thing holding me up is Tara’s body pinning me to the wall behind me. As she lets go and moves away, I slowly slide down the wall until I am sitting. I pull my knees to my chests and wrap them with my arms. I’m confused. I don’t understand what just happened. What did she mean by that? Her words sounded angry but why would she be angry? Is it still about the passports? I thought we talked about that. Or maybe I talked. Did she ever answer? I let my head fall into the cement wall behind me. The sudden sharp pain helps to clear the confusion from my brain. I can’t continue to be distracted by this. We can sort it out later. I have work I need to do. I still need to find a computer for Hardison. We still need to get out of here.
I try to put myself back together. I finger comb my hair and straighten my clothes. I have no idea what I really look like but I can only do so much. I move slowly out of the alcove, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. I wander slowly toward the bar and order a sparkling water and lemon. Most people are drinking, there’s really nothing else to do. Normally I would get myself a glass of wine but I don’t think I need anything else clouding my mind right now. I scan the area for Tara but I don’t see her. I do see several laptops though.

I choose the most likely mark, a nice looking gentleman, not too much older than myself. He’s not drinking either, just sipping a water and watching the people around him. I size him up quickly. Intelligent. Successful. Wary. I decide not to try to con him. It’s something I’ve been trying to teach the team. Often there is no need for elaborate games and complicated cover stories. Sometimes, you just need to ask for what you want. Of course a low cut top never hurts I think as I pull mine lower.
I take my glass and start to walk across the pool deck towards the gentleman with the laptop. I don’t need to get his attention. He’s been watching me for a while now. I think that I’m probably the most interesting thing that’s happened here all day and I feel my cheeks pink. I sit in the chair next to him. I notice that the alcove where Tara and I did our thing was much more open than I thought, especially from this angle and my cheeks burn hot. I’m rarely at a loss for words but I find myself suddenly with nothing to say. I’m still staring at the corner when he decides to put me out of my misery. He leans over and tells me “I don’t think anyone noticed.”

I smile but I still don’t look at him. “I don’t believe you.” I tell him. “But that really isn’t me. I’m usually the good girl” I lie. He tells me, “Now I don’t believe you.” I laugh and turn to look at him. He holds out his hand “I’m Bill.” I take it and introduce myself as Sophie. “It’s nice to meet you Sophie” he says with a smile. “Now what is it that you need from me?” I laugh again. I read him right. He is not a man to mess with. “Actually Bill, I need to borrow a computer and you seem to have one right here.” “And why would I let you use my computer?” He asks. “Because you want me to stay here and talk to you and because I am by far the most interesting person you will talk to today.” He smiles. “I don’t doubt that” he tells me as he passes his laptop to me. “I am waiting to make skype call” he tells me “so please don’t go too far.” “I promise I tell him.”

I quickly find the information that Hardison needs to clone or slave or whatever he calls it when he hijacks a computer and send him the information before passing the laptop back. Bill and I chat while he waits for his call and I wait for word from Hardison. He tells me that he’s from Michigan, Detroit specifically. He’s a defense lawyer currently working on a US Federal case out of Miami. I am purposely vague about what it is that I do though I imply that money is not a concern and that I travel quite a bit. I also mention that an American Federal defense lawyer might be someone I would like to know.

Bill gets his Skype call to go through to a colleague from Detroit, currently on vacation in the middle of nowhere. I turn away to give him some privacy just as my cell rings. It’s Hardison and he’s wound up as usual. “Sophie! Who the Hell did you get this computer from?” “I’m fine Hardison. Thanks for asking.” “Hi Sophie. How are you? Do you have any idea what is on this computer? Hinky stuff that’s what. Hinky! Terrorists and dirty bombs? Lots of stuff in Lebanese too and Arabic too. I don’t need to know about this kind of thing. I have enough trouble sleeping at night already!” I am finally able to interrupt him. “Its OK Hardison. The guy’s a lawyer. Yeah I wish I knew about it before but it’s just stuff about a case.” “A lawyer?? Sophie have you completely lost your mind” I sigh. “Yes Hardison. I think I have. Just tell me if you have what you need.” “Yeah” he says and outlines what he needs me to do. “I’ll do what I can.” I tell him. I thank him and, as I disconnect I can hear him going on about crazy women and lawyers and what Nate is going to do when he finds out. What indeed I wonder. Nate is going to go ballistic over every part of this little adventure.

While Bill and I are chatting, I keep look for Tara but she’s staying out of sight. I’m still bothered by what she said. I don’t understand what she was talking about. Is she mad at me? Is she questioning my commitment? Because I didn’t want to have sex in public? Didn’t I start that? I might have hesitated but I didn’t stop it did I? And here I’m being held hostage because of her. I could be home in Boston by now but I would never leave her behind under any circumstance. I shake my head. I just don’t understand.

News begins to spread around the pool deck as friends and family at home call with the latest news. President Bush has finally decided to address the issue. The news is predicable yet disappointing. The US will support Israel in their attack on Beirut, no matter the excessive force being leveled on the city and the number of innocent lives being lost. What’s worse is that, when informed of the number of Americans and others awaiting rescue, Bush declared them, us, an acceptable loss. The Calvary is not on it way. The anger and outrage is palpable as is the wave of despair. We’ve been waiting for news and now that we have it, there is nothing else to hope for. I want to go find Tara, find out what she’s heard, to remind her that we still have the team working for us.

More news, the American Embassy has finally responded. They won’t be rescuing us any time soon either. They’ve decided that the best plan will be to move everyone to one place, another hotel south of the city, less bombing, easier to keep track of everyone. Bill and his associates choose not to go. They will stay here at the Phoenician. Bill is Lebanese American. He speaks the language. He has contacts. He will take his chances on someone other than the Americans. Later I learn that they catch a ride to Cypress with the Norwegians.

He holds out his hand and bids me good bye and good luck. Before he lets me go, he leans close and tells me to remember his name. He’s pretty sure I may need his services one day. I smile. I think he’s probably as good at reading people as I am. I promise I have his name and number memorized.

I find Tara in our room, throwing her clothes haphazardly in her bag. I come up behind her and wrap my arms around her waist and put my lips on the back of her neck. She stops but she doesn’t turn toward me. “I see you’ve heard the news.” I tell her. She nods. “Come sit for a second” I pull her to sit on the edge of the bed. “I know the news isn’t good” I tell her “but there’s no need to worry. Nate and the team are working on their own plan. They’ll get us home.” Tara rolls her eyes. “What?” I ask. She shakes her head. “Tell me Tara”. She sighs. “Is this about Nate?” I ask? “I thought you two made your peace. I know he doesn’t show it but he likes you Tara, he really does. And he would do anything for you.” “Does he know I’m here with you?” she asks. “No” I admit “though I think he might suspect it by now.” She shakes her head. “I don’t get it Tara?” “I know” she says. “I know.”

The conversation is over. She won’t talk about it anymore and I am still confused. Word comes that we’re leaving immediately. In the rush to get out and moved, I forget about the whole thing.

Things at the new hotel and much the same as the old. Lots of people hanging out at the pool, the alcohol is flowing freely. The music is turned up loud in a feeble attempt to drown out the sound of Israeli jets and bombs going off in and around the city. We know that food in town is becoming scarce but there seems to be plenty for us. The TV host we saw around town just a few days earlier is holding court poolside, mixing mojitos, playing cards and telling dirty jokes. I decide to avoid him as much as possible. Tara is swimming again, only because there seems to be nothing else to do. I sit and idly watch her and the other “guests” while I nurse a glass of wine and wait for Nate or Hardison to call me with some sort of plan.

We are being handled by a gentleman known only as Mr. Wolfe. We were told we would be met by a “cleaner”, someone who would move us to a safe place, make sure we are all OK. Most were expecting a hitter, someone like Eliot to show up, automatic weapons slung over his shoulder, ready to lead us to safety. The reality was disappointing. We meet in the lobby of the hotel at 3 am. Mr. Wolfe is a short mousy guy. Not at all the Rambo everyone was hoping for. I make him immediately. He is not a hitter. He is much more dangerous than that. He’s a spy. The difference between my kind and his is that he believes his fight is righteous. It’s a position from where any action is appropriate, no matter how atrocious. I decide to stay far away from Mr. Wolfe.
Our rooms in the hotel are moved frequently. We are told to vary our schedules, memorize escape routes, practice them. We are shown pictures of different features in the hotel to make sure we recognize each route. Mr. Wolfe even gives us a substance called Kwik-Clot which is supposed to stop arterial bleeding should we be shot or hit by shrapnel. I find most of Wolfe’s cloak and dagger techniques tedious but I do slip some Kwik-Clot into my purse. Who knows when something like that might be useful in my line of work.

With all of the room shuffling and time wasted at the pool, it is difficult for me to get private time with Tara. I know we need to talk. She’s friendly but distant. Affectionate when it’s appropriate yet she seems to be just going through the motions. I desperately want to get her alone to talk. I need to touch her and have her touch me back. I’m getting desperate enough to want to re-enact our pool side tryst at the previous hotel if only I can corner her long enough.
I need access to a computer. Cell towers are being bombed. It’s getting harder and harder to get calls in and out. My best option is the TV host. I’ve been avoiding it but it’s time to get to know him. I slide up to the table where he is holding court and sit for a while. In spite of myself, I find his stories entertaining and remarkably insightful. He is a traveler, something I understand, and a study of the human condition. He is still crude and drunk most of the time but I find a sort of kindred spirit in him. When he gets the chance, he is a fantastic cook as well. I decide to look up his show when I get home.

I get my messages through to Hardison who tells me that Nate and Eliot are in the Middle East. They have a plan and I should hear from them soon. It’s time to go find Tara. When things happen, they are going to happen fast. We need to be ready to move with a second’s notice.

I track her down on a deck chair next to the pool. I fight the urge to throw myself on top of her. Wisdom prevails and after a quick kiss, I tell her the news. “I talked to Hardison. We should hear from Nate soon. Hopefully in a day or two” I tell her. She starts to stand up and I pull her back down. “Tara! Tell me what’s going on? I know this is stressful but it will be over soon.” She sighs. “It’s not only that Sophie. It’s just that, well I thought things were going well. I thought that maybe…” She let her thought trail off. I just look at her. “I don’t get it Tara. We’re got stuck here. I’m sorry for that. It’s my fault but don’t worry OK? Nate will sort it out. We’ll get home.” She practically growls at me. “Home? To Boston?” “Of course” I tell her. “That’s where I live. Where my work is. And my friends.” “And Nate” she adds as she gets up and walks away. I follow her and corner her by the bar. “Is that what this is about Tara? Because I called Nate? Are you jealous? Because I don’t know what is going on between me and Nate but it’s nothing to do with you. Nothing will change us. I won’t let it change. I promise!” I expect her to be pleased by this but she doesn’t look very pleased. I see flashes of sadness and disappointment before she closes me off. She quietly tells me “I know Sophie.” She lets me give her another quick kiss before she wanders off.

I order myself another drink from the makeshift bartender. He’s pushing Mojitos still and that’s fine with me. I drink it and order another. Getting drunk with the rest of my fellow hostages is starting to sound like a welcome option. I try to sort through what Tara was trying to tell me. Was she talking about our week in Greece? She knows I love spending time with her but she knows that it’s not real life either. We both have our lives and our work. Anyway didn’t we just talk about this? Why it would never work for us? Why it’s better for us to live the occasional fantasy than full time reality? Did I misunderstand all of that too? Did she?

My head hurts. I want another Mojito but that probably isn’t a good idea. I need to be clear when things go down. I check my messages. Nothing from Nate or Eliot. I sigh. I might as well go try to talk to Tara again. We need to get this fixed between us while we have the chance.

I find her in the room we spent the last night in, along with several other ‘guests’. I flop down on the bed, hoping she comes to join me. She doesn’t so I sit on the edge of the bed and watch her. I try to find words to explain, I want to make it better. I want her to come to me and hold me. I want to feel her hands and mouth on me. I want to make her understand how much I need her. I don’t say anything at all.

I’m sitting on the edge of the bed, my head in my hands. Tara is pacing the room, back and forth, stalking, her fists clenched. Finally I can’t take it anymore. “Tara. Stop! You’re driving me crazy!” She turns to look at me. “Why don’t you go down to the pool…” “And what?” she demands. “Swim? Drink? I can’t take it any more Sophie. I’m going crazy. I’ve got to get out of here!” I sigh. “We all want that Tara. We just have to wait for Nate and Eliot. They’ll get us out.” She turns again and stares at me. “Except for you right?” I give her with a puzzled look. “You don’t have to be here do you? You made that clear earlier. You can go be British or French or Egyptian or whatever the Hell you really are. You can just walk out of here.” Her voice is getting louder with her frustration. I try to calm her down. “I’m here with you Tara.” “Well don’t do me any favors!” She’s yelling now. “I don’t need you here to babysit me. I can take care of myself!”

I’m angry now too. I stand up to confront her. “I’m here because you are here. I’m not just going to walk away. And besides, I never asked you to come. You practically begged to come along”. “I wanted to spend some time with you Sophie.” She’s still yelling. “That’s what people do when they’re in a relationship.” “A relationship?” My voice is very loud now. “This is not a relationship! Showing up every other month, getting drunk and sleeping together is not a bloody relationship!” She shakes her head at me. “I thought you wanted me to be in your life. I thought you needed me.

“Yeah well I never asked you to did I?” I yell back at her. “I never asked for any of this. I don’t need you. I don’t need Nate. I don’t need ANYONE!” “So that’s it then.” She yells. “God I can’t believe I wasted 20 years on you!” “Wasted? You didn’t waste anything Tara, except for this fantasy of a relationship. You set the rules remember? We aren’t friends. We never were friends. It was all about the sex!” I want to hurt her now. I lower my voice. “And the sex was good wasn’t it?” I look her up and down, focusing my stare at her chest and I lick my lips. My voice is filled with lust now. “That’s all you really wanted wasn’t it. The sex. And I gave it to you. I let you have anything you wanted. I let you use me and I used you right back. That’s not a relationship Tara. That’s a booty call.”

She looks shocked, hurt by my words. She says, very quietly, “I thought I knew you Sophie. I really thought I knew you.” As she turns and walks out the door, I step back and sink to the edge of the bed. My head falls back into my hands and I say out loud “My name isn’t Sophie”. If she heard me, she didn’t stop.

I don’t know how long I sit in the room by myself. I want to cry but there are no tears. I want to run and find Tara and apologize but I don’t do that either. I don’t know what to do about her or Nate or anything else in my bloody life. All I ever wanted was to be happy but I only ever seem to fall for screwed up people. Am I that screwed up myself that I can’t be with anyone sane? Why do I try to be the one to try to hold broken people together? Who is going to hold me together when I’m breaking into a million pieces?

My pity party is interrupted by the sudden buzzing of my phone. I jump then scramble to catch it as it tumbles to the floor. I put it to my ear and hear a low voice growl “Where are you?” It’s Eliot. The cavalry finally came and the timing completely and utterly sucks!

Eliot comes through the door looking every bit the part of the retrieval specialist he is. Most of his hair is tied up in a ponytail and a red bandana keeps the rest from his face. He is amped up and wild eyed. In spite of the intensity of the situation, it was easy to see that he was loving every second of the adventure. “Let’s go!” he says holding the door open. I shake my head and don’t make any move to get up and take his outstretched hand. Eliot stares hard at me. “Sophie! Now! Let’s go!” I shake my head again. “What the…? Sophie!” he fights the urge to run his fingers through his hair. I can tell he wants to just grab me and carry me out. He wants to but he wouldn’t dare. “Damn it Sophie!” he growls again. “We have to go NOW!” “I can’t Eliot. Not now. Not yet.” “Jesus” he mumbles under his breath.

I can tell he’s working hard to keep himself calm, keeping his voice low and his frustration under control. He takes a step away from the door and closes it behind him. He turns back toward me and waits for me to explain. “I need to find someone first” I tell him. “It’s important?” He asks. “Yeah Eliot! Its important!” I hear the anger creeping into my voice. He talks to me as if he’s placating a child. “Tell me where she is. I’ll go get her. That is who we’re talking about right?” I narrow my eyes, letting him know that I’m not going to just let this attitude go but now is not the time.

“You don’t know where she is? Could she have left the hotel?” he asks. I shrug and he raises his hand to his hair again before stopping himself. “Fine! I’ll go find her. You stay here! You hear me? STAY HERE!” I give him the evil eye as he starts toward the door. “Eliot wait! There’s a guy here. You need to stay out of his way.” He waits. “Mr. Wolfe. He calls himself a ‘cleaner’. Been running us all around” Eliot looks at me incredulously. “Short guy? Glasses? Looks like a librarian?” I nod. “Jesus Sophie!” “You know him?” “Yeah I know him” he growls. “Hitter?” I ask. “Worse” he says, affirming my first impressions. He stalks out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
I start to panic. What if Eliot can’t find her? I can’t leave without her. I promised I would never do that. I’m here because of her. I’ve put Eliot and who knows who else in danger because I wouldn’t ever leave her behind. I have faith in Eliot but I also know Tara. If she doesn’t want to be found, no one, not even Eliot will find her.

I desperately want to talk to Tara. I want to tell her I didn’t mean any of what I said. I do need her in my life. She’s been the only constant when everything else seems like chaos. It’s just that she pushed me into a corner with all of her relationship crap. Well, I never asked for a relationship. I suppose we do have one of sorts though it’s not something we ever sat down and defined. Now that Nate and I are, I don’t know, together but not? Now that there may finally be something there, now Tara wants more? A commitment? She knows I can’t do that. Me living with a woman? Two grifters? Nothing about that would work even if that’s what I wanted and I’m not sure that I do. We’re so good when we’re together, it’s easy to think that it could be like that all the time but it’s not reality. That’s what makes it so fun. The missing her. The excitement of the reunion. Not being able to wait to touch her again. The escape from reality for a few days. That’s what we love but it’s not enough to build a life on. Is it?

I let my head fall back into my hands. I don’t know what I’m going to do when Eliot gets back. If I leave, I may never see Tara again. If I don’t, I’ve endangered the lives of my friends for nothing. No matter what I do, I can’t win. I don’t think I can live with either choice.

Eliot finally come back. He holds his empty hands out in front of him. “I’m sorry Sophie. I couldn’t find her. I looked. I did.” “I know” I whisper. “So can we go now?” he asks. “I’ve got people waiting and if we don’t move soon…” “I know” I whisper again but I don’t move. He’s getting angry again. “Look Sophie. Tara is a big girl. She can take care of herself. She’ll move when the rest of these people move. She’ll be fine. Now I’ve got to get you out of here before Wolfe figures out there’s something going down.” I know what my choice has to be but I am still reluctant to move. Eliot takes one step toward me. He has a menacing look on his face. He knows I’m not afraid of him but he still says to me, in a low tone, “Sophie, if you don’t get up and get moving I am going to pick you up and carry you out of here and neither one of us is going to enjoy that.” I nod and reach for my bag. “Ok. Ok but can we..? Just one more time?” The look on his face tells me the answer to that question but I still look down every corridor and around every corner hoping to catch a glimpse of her.

Eliot leads me on a circuitous route ending in a side door from the hotel onto the street. Waiting for us is a black sedan. It’s an odd choice for a getaway vehicle but Eliot is not giving any of his plans away. I slide into the passenger seat while he gets in the driver’s side.

It takes me a few minutes to realize that Eliot is heading out of Beirut toward the Syrian border. I start to question his choice, to remind him that the Israelis are bombing that road but he just give me a look that tells me I need to mind my own business. I trust Eliot to know what he is going and I lean my head against the window and close my eyes, just for a second.

I’m awoken some time later by Eliot roughly shoving me in the shoulder. He’s stopped the car on the side of the road. “You need to get in the back” he tells me. He hands me a passport. “Try to look the part” he says but offers nothing more. I move into the back seat and Eliot starts driving again. I look at the passport. It’s Syrian. It has my picture inside and a name. Amira Tharagan. I stare at the photo. Amira. I was Amira once. I don’t recognize her anymore. I get what Eliot is going for. I’m supposed to be someone of importance, someone who’s name will be recognized by the soldiers at the border. Someone of whom they won’t ask too many questions. I dig in my bag for my make-up and a gold clip to pull back my hair. I add a few gold bracelets and a chain. My face is very dark from being in the sun this last week. I suppose I look like the woman in the photo, Amira, whoever that is.

The border crossing from Lebanon into Syria goes as planned. Eliot drives straight to the airport. He shoves a ticket in my hand and rushes me through security. Nate is at the gate, pacing. He runs to me when he sees me, throwing his arms around me for a hug. Once seated on the plane, I let my head fall to the wall of the plane and I close my eyes. I’m not in the mood to talk. I don’t want to think. I especially don’t want to think about Tara.

Post script
On July 20, 2006 The USS Nashville arrived in the Beirut harbor accompanied by two US battleships, including the USS Cole. After a disastrously conducted gathering by the understaffed and overwhelmed US Embassy personnel, the Americans housed in the hotel as well as a large number of Lebanese Americans were transported by the US Navy to Cyprus. They left behind broken families and a broken city. Anthony Bourdain and his American crew members were in this group. We can only hope Tara Cole was among them as well.