By John Ratti
Published by Deep South Publishing Company
June 2001; 1-931-39135-1; 350 pages
Captain Kasey Lawrence frowned and called her squad to attention, "We're getting a visit from a headquarters puke who struts over spit and shine! Don't give him a reason to linger.
The unit scrambled to get up to regulations. Captain Lawrence never busted them about little things, so long as the work got done. She saw it as the only way to operate in this hoary desert near the Iraq border. They were miles off the road running across Saudi Arabia northwest from Jordan to the Persian Gulf southeast, a US Army chemical and biological substance detection team working on the edge of the Empty Quarter looking for evidence of materials used by Saddam Hussein's forces during the Gulf War.
Major Jack "Cowboy" Bowers vaulted out of a mutt followed by an attendant combo. In rapid stride he surveyed the troops, effortlessly finding something to criticize about everyone. He ended with Kasey, her image reflecting in his mirrored shades, "Captain Lawrence, unbutton your coat."
Vertically embroidered along the edge of the lining, knurly stitching on top of the finished weave, as the words - America, One Nation, One Destiny.
Bowers knew it. He smiled, "Your uniform is not up to code."
Kasey peered at his hat, "With due respect sir, neither is yours."
Her crew stifled smirks while Bowers failed in search for an appropriate. "You're coming with us," he finally fired off. "General Zalman wants to see you."
Captain Lawrence dropped command on Lieutenant Moore and climbed into the jeep.
They moved south. Toward the outpost near Badanah. The Gulf War ended years ago, but America continued enforcing no-fly zones in north and south Iraq. An effort mostly carried out by US personnel in Saudi Arabia, America's best friend in the Arab Mideast. Their relationship was mature and elegantly polished in the ways it had to be. The US provides the force to warn off outsiders with eyes on Saudi oil and gas reserves while Saudi Arabia keeps the tap flowing and the price down. That much both countries admitted to themselves, each other, and the world. Neither dared acknowledge American presence as serving to deter internal threats to the Saudi royal family. They never went there with each other - it's a diplomatic no-fly zone.
En route, Bowers engaged in a rant disguised as small-talk, criticizing in minutiae the expertise of her unit and finally degenerating into a tirade about women in the military: "Politicians are bending over to curry favor with female voters and liberals. Brass is being forced to lower standards."
Kasey stared ahead in silence until Bowers turned to her and growled, "Fact is, you know I'm right. Don't you, captain?"
He left himself wide open, "Sir, if so, why am I, working in the field, a captain, while you, always in an office, are a major? We both graduated from West Point in the same class." Kasey took no delight in dishing it to Bowers. It's always been too easy to one-up him. At least he became quiet. That was satisfaction enough.
Kasey met with General Zalman soon as she arrived at the seven year old temporary base. She noticed his white hair had grown long. Seems he's been near retirement forever. A good man but one who should have found something else to do with his life long ago, as the peccadilloes leaving his face a raw crimson revealed.
"I have an order from DOD that came in on a diplomatic back-channel," Zalman said when they were alone. "I am to send the highest ranking intelligence officer in the region to the Iraq border. From there, Iraqi military will take you to meet with an official allegedly possessing information of major security interest to the region."
Captain Lawrence digested his words. Outside a window her eye caught a glimpse of a small plane landing and its sole occupant, a man, exit and walk toward them.
"Seems an issue for the diplomats," Kasey observed.
Zalman shrugged, "The order comes from high-up on the chain. Iraq wants the meeting right away. Likely some new ploy to get sanctions lifted. DOD wants to handle it informally."
"I'm to go alone?"
"No. A comparably ranking Saudi will accompany you."
A very unusual pairing. Kasey raised a brow.
Zalman elaborated, "The matter is said to be of significant interest to them."
The pilot of the plane, Air Force Captain Nasir ibn Saud, entered the room. He ignored Kasey, presented himself to Zalman and went on without missing taking a breath, "General, it is inappropriate for a woman to attend this meeting with me. As a member of the royal family, it is unacceptable-"
Zalman, too played out for such posturing, stepped on his protest, "I will follow my orders. If you won't go, that's your choice."
Kasey moved toward Nasir and extended a hand, always her first act in dealing with fixed attitudes, try to ignore them and move forward. Nasir avoided the gesture.
The general turned away from both of them and delivered a weary dirge, "Captain, or Prince Saud, I won't argue etiquette with you. Saudi Arabia will have to get a briefing from us after the meeting."
Kasey watched an Army convoy pull up outside. Two ACAVS, a Lorry and an M113. Worn hardware, back from the Desert Storm era. Kasey walked down the hall after being dismissed and listened to Nasir harangue Zalman about political repercussions. She came across Bowers loitering by the exit. "Better watch your ass up there," he sneered.
"Maybe you should tag along. You've been watching my ass since the day we entered the academy." Kasey kept walking and had a seat in the Lorry.
Nasir at last emerged. An angry gait launched him next to her where he perched like a cramped animal. The caravan moved off. Zalman stared at them as he poured a shot of whiskey.
Kasey and Nasir didn't swap one word all the way to the Iraq border.
2001 John Ratti
Honor Bound is a provocative new novel that sweeps across the genres of contemporary mainstream, military and political thriller fiction. Ultimately an inquiry into the price paid for denying the suppressed self, Honor Bound emphasizes the moral challenges of living in today's world, often exploring how we regard others, the molding of public perception and affectations of institutionalized authority in a time when important things are difficult, even dangerous to know.
Leading a biological warfare detection squad in the Saudi desert near the Iraq border years after the Gulf War, US Army Captain Kasey Lawrence receives an abrupt summons to Command and is ordered on an immediate assignment inside Iraq to meet a high ranking official allegedly possessing information of vital importance to the region. During her briefing, Saudi Arabian Air Force Captain Prince Nasir ibn Saud arrives and is declared her mission partner. Captain Lawrence raises an eyebrow at news of such an unusual pairing while the Saudi royal objects to being teamed with a woman, a violation of protocol between the nations. Told there is no time to stand on ceremony, he reluctantly accompanies her. Together they embark on a life altering journey that unfolds among revolution, political intrigue, clash of cultures and forbidden encounters that involves monarchs, criminal gangs, family militias, self-serving terrorists, freedom fighters, diplomats, state leaders, Mossad, the CIA, an American president, Saddam Hussein and a twenty-five thousand member female rebel army, all existing in a looking-glass reality where assumed allies tell lies and presumed enemies speak the truth, finally leading Captain Lawrence and her Saudi cohort to a startling revelation that will forever change the world.
John Ratti believes things important to know are difficult, even dangerous, to learn. His work anticipates tomorrow's headlines while emphasizing the moral challenges of living in today's world, often exploring how we regard others, the molding of public perception and the affectations of institutionalized power. John lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts.