Only the Brave
After twenty-four hours of non-stop brutal violence and cruel bloodshed, the soldiers had had no sleep and little food or water. They had repeatedly engaged in hand-to-hand combat against the demonstrators. Even though the soldiers were heavily armed and armored, they had taken serious casualties. Now, tired and angry, everyone they found looked like a rebel.
The hospital had been a place of healing—now it became a makeshift prison. In a large observation room, the soldiers sorted people into three groups: the wounded men, a smaller group of women and children, and the medical personnel including Hawkins and Joshua.
With bloodthirsty eagerness, the ranking officer repeated, “Take these rebels out and shoot them,” pointing to the first group.
As the first group was headed toward the door, Hawkins stepped forward, planted his feet wide apart, and shouted, “Stop, Colonel!”
Outraged at the ruthlessness of the order, he put his hands on his hips and said, “You can’t execute these men.”
The officer turned toward the disturbance and said harshly, “It is my duty to safeguard the nation. Am I to care for the lives of rebels?”
“For the sake of humanity, yes,” said Hawkins, his voice strong and vibrant. With an unyielding stare, he added, “This is still a civilized world, not a lawless state.”
Crossing his arms without taking his eyes off the interloper, the immaculately attired colonel seemed disconcerted.
Hawkins said, “These men have not been properly charged.”
The colonel remained unimpressed.
“There are always witnesses to any massacre, Colonel.” Making a grand sweeping gesture with his arms, he added, “Just look around.”
The colonel frowned as he surveyed the frightened faces of the women and children. Then seeing the uncertainty on the faces of his own men, his frown deepened into an angry scowl.
“Eventually, there’ll be a reckoning,” said Hawkins, waving his hand to take in the hellish carnage throughout the city. “The government will look for scapegoats to justify this harsh reality. It wouldn’t be prudent to be so easily identified with merciless acts.”
The colonel stared daggers at Hawkins. For a moment his hand hovered over his pistol, as if he were considering putting a bullet in Hawkins’s head right then. Instead, his eyes narrowed as recognition dawned on his face. He sneered, “Why, I know you. I served with you at Gambaro Ridge.” A smile crept across his face, and he said with a strange blend of sarcasm and irony, “You were killed.”
“Not quite,” responded Hawkins with an outlandish grin.
“I saw you shot to pieces when you recklessly charged the enemy stronghold,” said the colonel, smirking, and nodding his head. He laughed, “That was insane. You were definitely killed.”
“As you say,” said Hawkins, letting a chortle escape his lips.
“Your assault gave the rest of us a chance to escape,” the colonel remarked thoughtfully, considering the memory in a new light.
Undecided on how to deal with such an uncommon man, the colonel pointed at him and exclaimed to his troops, “Ha! Here’s something you rarely see—a disgruntled ex-Marine.”
A roar of laughter erupted from his soldiers.
Hawkins threw his head back and laughed as well, “Ha!”
The colonel stepped closer to inspect him.
A small, jagged scar over his right brow was nearly hidden behind the shock of unkempt sandy brown hair, which draped over his forehead in a careless manner. He was tall with an athletic build, and he stood forward on balls of feet, like a boxer. His strong jaw and intense gray-blue eyes purported an iron will. The colonel remembered Hawkins as a courageous, but utterly reckless, officer.
Hawkins recognized the colonel as well. Anthony Rodríguez was swarthy, ruggedly handsome with a broad mustache and a muscular physique. Hawkins remembered him as a fashionable man, his uniform always well-tailored. What he lacked in imagination, Rodríguez made up for as a stickler for protocol, meticulously carrying out orders to further his career.
After a long moment, Rodríguez barked, “Don’t be foolish enough to believe I feel any obligation to you. You did your job. Now I’m doing mine.”
Throughout the observation room, frightened people waited for the tension to burst. They realized that in many ways their fate was bound together with this tête-à-tête.
Rodríguez said, “I don’t believe your battlefield antics were ever acknowledged. Some might have thought you a fool.”
Stone faced, Hawkins retorted, “Then you stand here today—alive—as a testament to my folly.”
Coloring slightly, Rodríguez took a moment to recall his orders and began parsing the words to extract their broader intent. Finally, he asked, “What are you doing here? Are you a rebel?”
“I’m no rebel,” said Hawkins adamantly. “The generators were failing. No technicians were left to bring up the backups, so I was called here to protect the women and children.”
“Called here? By whom?”
“What does that matter?” asked Hawkins.
“I’ll decide what’s important,” Rodríguez snapped.
Joshua spoke up, “It was me.”
“What was your business here?”
“I came to help.”
“Help whom? Were you with the demonstrators?”
“Yes, but I was looking for my mother . . .”
“There. By his own admission, he’s a member of the rebels,” said the colonel delighted at finding something clearly within the bounds of his orders.
Joshua tried to explain, “I not a rebel. I just wanted to …”
Rodríguez ordered, “Put him with the rest of the rebels.”
As the soldiers pulled Joshua away and placed him with the group of rebels, Hawkins said, “He’s just a boy. He was involved in things beyond his understanding.”
Rodríguez shot a disdainful look at Hawkins and asked, “Oh! Were things beyond your understanding, when you aided the rebels hiding in this building?”
“I came to succor the weak and helpless, as is the duty of any man of honor,” said Hawkins.
Offended and enraged, Rodríguez stormed, “No! You were aiding a rebel force attacking our nation’s capital.”
“I—was—saving—lives,” spat Hawkins. “Once again!”
The veiled reference to Gambaro Ridge made Rodríguez flushed crimson—the emotional cocktail of anger and humiliation was so powerful that his face looked as if it would explode. His voice contorted into a rapid-fire staccato of orders, “Place this man under arrest—along with the rest of these rebels—march them all to prison.”
Several pairs of hands reached out and grabbed Hawkins, but as he twisted free several more soldiers joined in the brawl. Six soldiers were as battered and bruised as Hawkins before they managed to pin him down. They bound his wrists and flung him against the wall with the rebels.
His dark eyes blazing with contempt, Hawkins’s deep voice boomed, “Anthony Rodríguez, if I survive this barbarity,” he took a deep breath, and said slowly, “I hope to chance upon you—once again.”
Other distraught prisoners began yelling their own protestations, but Rodríguez bellowed over the clamor, “Take them away! Take them away!”