The Art of Smuggling Camels
A MacGyver fanfiction by CatMercer a.k.a. Lothithil
"I don't understand," said Sam, taking a sip of his soft drink.
MacGyver smiled at his son, then at his friend Pete sitting across the table from him. "You know, your great-grandfather used to say, 'Knowing is today's lesson. Understanding is tomorrow's'."
Sam rolled his eyes in good humor. He loved to hear about Harry-- especially from Mac-- but summoning anecdotes was a sure sign that Mac didn't want to answer a direct question; he was aware of what a poor liar he was to people who knew him well.
"Look, if it's something you can't talk about for security reasons-- fine," Sam said, "but I don't understand the need for such secrecy. There are conflicting stories and I just want to know which one of them is true."
Pete smiled, turning his head in Sam's direction. "Truth is a versatile thing when you have done work in national security. But Sam's right, Mac-- there's no real reason for him not to know."
Mac shrugged, his mouth full of food. Sam had invited them both over for dinner and had fixed one of Mac's favourite dishes; grilled trout. It was perfectly marinated and served with wild rice and lemon. Mac had once suggested that Sam should hang up his camera and give up photojournalism in favor of becoming a chef.
Sam waited while he watched Mac chew slowly; smiling because he knew that is father was stalling.
"Just give me a nod or a sign or something," Sam pressed, dishing his father some more rice. "There's the story of Jack Dalton's cab and Murdoc, and then there's the 'camel' story, which I have never heard in its entirety. If I am forced to guess, I'd say that the camel story is the real one."
"What makes you say that?" said Pete.
"Lack of detail, for the most part. Not that I'm saying that the Murdoc story isn't true--" Sam faltered when he saw the smile on his father's face fall. Talking about Murdoc usually provoked this response. Even when it seemed a sure thing that the homicidal maniac who had hunted MacGyver and his friends for years was dead, he somehow managed to come back again and again. The last time Murdoc had tried to kill MacGyver, he had driven off of a cliff and the vehicle had exploded, but the body had never been found.
Sam didn't want to ruin the evening's festive mood, so he pushed away from that sensitive subject. "I've heard all about the taxicab and that maniac. In fact, it is the great detail that suggests that the other story is true. Didn't you say that Harry used to teach you that a good distraction is more interesting than what you're trying to hide?"
Mac chuckled, his humor returning swiftly. "That's right! He did say that to me. But I wouldn't say that in this case that saying really applies."
Sam gave him a sharp glance. Was this the sign he was looking for? Pete was beaming, and Mac was fluffing the rice on his plate with his fork. Stalling again.
"Come on!" Sam was begging, "tell me about the camel. Is that the true story of how you and Pete first met, or is it just a joke?"
Mac hung his head, glanced away from Sam, ran his fingers through his hair, then glared at Pete, who was laughing quietly. "You're not going to help me out here, are you, Pete?"
"I can't see any way out of it, Mac. We might as well come clean."
"Well, if I have to do this then you are going to have to help," Mac growled. His plate was empty now and he was wishing he had not eaten so heartily. Good food or not, it weighed heavily within him, like a rock in his stomach.
Mac pushed himself back from the table and sat plucking his lower lip. Finally he sighed and threw up his hands. "Okay. The truth-- if you think that's what you really want to hear. But Harry was right... the diversion is much more interesting...
"According to the 'Murdoc story', Pete and I have known each other about twelve years. But, as you have guessed, we actually met quite a while before that..."
"Actually, both stories are true," Pete threw in as Mac paused.
"How can both be true? You said you met for the first time in Dalton's cab. How could that be if you..."
"Hey, do you want me to tell this or not?" Mac asked with playful irritation. Sam and Pete both held up their hands, giving him the floor to speak. "Okay. Pete's right; both stories are true. We just left out some key details. When I met Pete in 1979, he didn't know who I really was, and I didn't know his real name. You see I used to be in the Air Force. Special Forces, in fact. I joined after I received my degree in Physics from UCLA. I had just broken up with a girl and I wanted to see the world, so I figured that the Armed Forces would be perfect."
"If he were French, he'd have joined the Foreign Legion," quipped Pete. "You're such a romantic, MacGyver!"
"Shut up, Pete," Mac tossed a balled-up napkin at his friend, which Pete deflected with his hand; he wasn't completely blind yet. "Anyway, I was in a unit that specialized in rescue and recovery operations, as well as threat assessment and bomb defusing and disassembly. We had our fingers in a lot of pies, you could say," Mac scratched his nose, coughing lightly. There was a lot that he couldn't say, a lot that was still confidential. He couldn't even say that he couldn't talk about certain things. He glanced up and saw with relief that Sam and Pete both understood.
"Anyway, while I was in the Forces, I... had an accident." Mac reached up and touched a spot on his head, a long-healed scar completely hidden by his thick mop of light brown hair. "It was in Afghanistan, a night drop with a team of paratroopers. We were going in to rescue some American soldiers and civilian natives. The whole mission ended up scrubbed because my chute opened late. I hit hard and didn't get up again." And he rubbed the spot on his head. His fingers could still feel the scar as if it were fresh, though in truth it had long ago faded to near-invisibility.
"It took three days and two rescue helicopters to extract us. I had a concussion and a skull fracture. Twenty stitches-- thank you very much-- and I couldn't remember my own name for six weeks. I got tired of people walking into my hospital room to tell me I shouldn't be alive. That scar is the real reason I let my hair grow long; they shaved it all off when they operated. I look ridiculous with no hair," he added, trying to lighten the mood.
"Did they ever manage to complete the mission that your unit was originally sent in to do?" Sam asked, pouring a glass of water for his father.
Mac accepted the water and took a sip. He set the glass down and then smiled up at Pete. "Oh, yes... eventually. That's where the real story takes place. You see, one of the 'rescuers' ended up needing rescued himself…
part two, Fallout
"But, Mac... I thought that you hated guns. How could you have joined the Armed Forces? Surely you would be expected to handle them, and even use them against people!"
Mac's smile contained no mirth, and his eyes downcast were full of shadows. "You're right. I have always hated guns, ever since Jessie died. But it's important to understand the things that frighten you. It seemed the best thing to do, at the time."
"Did Harry want you to join up?"
Mac took a drink of water before answering. "You're great-grandfather wasn't in my life at that time, Sam. I don't think he would have disapproved. Mom said she was proud of me, but I could tell she was worried, too. She had long since given up the idea of holding me back from running."
US Armed Forces Hospital, Paris, France 1977
"Is he awake?" A bold American voice; curt and direct.
"Monsieur, it is a miracle that this soldier is alive at all. He was seriously wounded and only recently has recovered his memory..." The doctor's voice, the one who had been treating him since he had been brought here. His named floated just out of reach of MacGyver's mind. For a moment he panicked, afraid that he had forgotten everything again. He forced himself to take a deep breath and ran through his facts: My name is MacGyver. I am twenty-seven years old. I am a Captain in the Air Force. Breathe. My name is MacGyver...
Mac opened his eyes and tried to focus on the sources of the voices. The nurses must have dosed him with morphine again. He wished that they wouldn't; the pain from his healing wounds was not so bad, and he didn't want to have to fight an opiate-addiction. He needed to tell the doctor to have them lay off the medication, but he couldn't make his tongue and jaw work at the moment. He blinked his eyes, then squinted toward the blurry shapes at the foot of his bed.
"His eyes are open." The whitish blob moved closer and reached out to touch Mac's face, what small patch of skin was not swathed in bandages. Suddenly a painfully bright light stabbed into his skull. He closed both eyes and groaned.
"I am sorry, Msr. MacGyver. I must test your reflexes." Firm fingers peeled back his eyelids one at a time, assaulting him again with the light. "Very good. I will send the nurse in with some medication for you shortly. Right now, there is a man from your government who would like to speak to you on an important matter. Do you feel up to it?"
"Doc--," Mac started, then he coughed lightly. The doctor quickly brought a cup of water and a straw to him. After a sip of the cool liquid, Mac found he could speak easier. "Doctor, I've asked before, I think... I don't need to be narcotisized for pain. I'd rather just do without."
The doctor pursed his lips, disturbed. "Msr. MacGyver... you still require an anti-inflammatory and despite your protests, you are still in a considerable amount of discomfort. However, I will concede somewhat to your wishes. We shall try some analgesics with codeine instead. Do you think you have the strength to talk to this gentleman?"
Mac was about to answer, but the room was swimming out of focus and his mind was drifting. His head fell back gently against the pillows. Just before sleep took him, he heard the other voice say, "This is getting us no closer to rescuing those people. Just bring me the report of his debriefing after he was..." and then the voice faded away-- or Mac did; he wasn't really sure.
part three, Decommissioning MacGyver
Pete was chuckling softly and shaking his head. MacGyver looked at him and gave a pretty frown. "What's tickling you, Pete? That was your keister I was being sent to dig out of the sand!"
"I know! I was just thinking that if only I'd hung around that French hospital until you had come around again, I'd have saved myself a lot of sunburn and saddle-sore!"
Sam looked sharply between the two older men. "That was you? In the hospital, talking to the doctor about Dad?"
"Yep. I was brought over from the Army to assist in the second attempt to rescue those people. I was so much younger and less patient back then! And Mac...! Sam, your father looked like death-warmed-over in that infirmary bed. He was all wrapped up in bandages so that I couldn't see his face. All I learned was his name, and I was so focused on the mission that I didn't note it at the time."
"So when you met during the Murdoc incident, you didn't realize who Mac was until he told you his name?"
"To tell you the truth, Sam, I didn't even put it together then. I was focused on another problem at that time, and your father was just another troublemaker-- and a nuisance! Until he saved us from Murdoc's bazookas..."
Mac smiled. "Nice to know my work is appreciated."
"Well, I appreciated your help even when I didn't know it was you. You see, Sam, I was stuck in a sink-hole..."
"Pete! You're getting ahead of the story!"
"Sorry! As you were saying, Mac."
For someone that was usually so reluctant to talk about the past, Sam thought that Mac was really warming up to his role as storyteller. He covered his smile by taking a drink, while Mac continued his tale:
"It wasn't the first time I had been in a hospital with something broken but, this time, it was a very important turning point in my life. When that parachute failed, the fall lasted a few seconds that seemed like hours. I got an instant replay of my life before I was reintroduced to the ground. Add to that six weeks flat on my back under heavy bandages-- a guy has a lot of time to think. I decided to leave the military. I had come to know that I had to find an alternate way to accomplish peace. I could no longer do it from behind a gun..."
Two weeks later, aboard a commercial freighter in the Persian Gulf
Center for American Military Ops
A thin man knocked on the portal door, entering only after he heard a short bark of invitation. He removed his hat as he ducked inside. A short ruff of blondish hair covered the man's scalp, barely concealing a half-healed scar. He ran his fingers over his head, a rueful expression on his face. It was hot in the room, and the three electric fans that purred at different speeds did very little to give relief against the oppressive humidity.
A man was sitting at a small desk, sweating, shuffling through a huge pile of papers and folders. He glanced up at the man who had entered and directed him to go on into the inner office.
There were two stars on the door. The man knocked briefly and let himself inside, closing the door behind him. It was slightly cooler in this room. He could hear the hum of an overworked air-conditioner under the sound of a baseball game playing on the radio.
He stood at attention in front of the desk, hat tucked under his arm and eyes forward, while the man sitting at the desk read through a report. Despite the cool drafts the tall man's face became beaded with sweat. The general sighed and let the leaves of paper drift to the polished wooden surface. He looked at the young officer thoughtfully, toying with his fountain-pen.
"MacGyver. I have your request for a discharge right here." He indicated a thick folder lying on top of a pile of similar folders. Several red slips of paper stuck out of the side of the folder. "See those tags? As far as anyone knows, you're still laid up in a hospital with bandages over your face, and yet I got requests coming in from generals and colonels all over the world, asking for you to be reassigned to them. And you want to leave? Why? Because you got dropped out of a plane with a tangled 'chute and landed on your head?"
"No, sir. I want to leave because it is time for me to leave. I need to be with my mother. She is ill, and I am all that is left of the family."
"I understand. And before I make you sweat anymore, I will tell you that I have granted your request and given you a hardship discharge... with full honors. You'll be able to come back when you decide that you've been a civilian long enough." The general closed his fist and tapped it on the top of the pile of papers. "That parachuting incident would have killed anyone else. Are you sure that you want to do this? I can arrange an extended leave...and you'd be looking at a promotion to Major..."
Mac smiled slightly. "I am sure, sir. Thank you... but no, thank you. I need more than a few weeks, sir. I need a life."
"Well, you're mine for two more weeks, Captain. And there are still pieces of that rescue fiasco to pick up. Are you ready to go back to work?"
"As ready as I can be, sir."
The general slipped a smaller folder out of Mac's file. "This report gives you a clean bill of health, Captain. It had better be accurate. I don't like to think about the chance I'm taking that you might have a relapse while you're out there and risk the lives of men under my command."
"Well, sir," answered the young officer glibly, "I should think that amnesia would come in handy in this line of work, since I can't tell any secrets if I can't remember them."
"Impudence!" The older officer grinned despite his harsh words. He came around the desk and took the young officer's hand in his own. "Good to have you back, Mac, even if it is for a little while. The unit's going to miss you."
"Thank you, sir."
"I had to send the boys back to attempt the mission again, backed up by a unit from the Army that Air Force One foisted on us." The general gestured to one of the chairs set in front of his desk. MacGyver sat down, setting his hat on his knee. "God, what a disaster! They managed to rescue the soldiers and civvies that had survived, but not until after a whole lot of nastiness happened." Instead of retaking his own chair, the man walked around the office, pausing in front of one of the portholes to peer out.
Mac studied the silver wings on his hat. When the general did not speak again, he braved the question, "What were our losses, sir?"
"Three from the original team, two from ours. Murphy and Davenport." Mac closed his eyes, containing his grief at learning of his comrade's deaths. "One of the Army unit is missing and presumed dead."
The general took his chair and straightened the papers in front of him. When he raised his eyes to MacGyver's, there was steel in his stare. "Are you sure," he said, tapping on the papers, "that you are 100 percent recovered? Because I need you to go and find the bastards that escaped from us, before they regroup and strike again. Intel suggests that they were being fed inside information, straight from the Pentagon, and that leak has not yet been plugged. I want you to do this, Mac. You've got the training, you know the area, and you have luck like you're being followed by a flock of saints. And as far as the Pentagon is concerned, you're still racked out in an army hospital, slated to be shipped stateside.
"The remaining terrorists are hiding out in the Great Desert. Find them and find out who their spy is, Mac. Or I'm afraid that we are going to be burying a lot more boys beneath that godforsaken desert."
MacGyver stood up. "I'll find them, sir."
part four, Doorway In The Sand
(chapter title an homage to my favourite author, the late R. Zelazny)
It was a familiar tangle of clichés; the sun was beating down, the sand was hot enough to cook eggs in the shell, and Pete's throat was dry as a bone. He wasn't sure now how much time had passed since he and the rest of the rescue team had begun their mission. He'd been wounded during the attack, then captured by the escaping terrorists. They'd taken him along as a hostage when they'd fled from Afghanistan for one of their hiding place in the north of Africa. After a few days he'd managed to escape them by running into the desert. He had feared that they'd pursue him, but now he realized that they more likely had given him up as good as dead-- just as his own people had probably done by now.
But Pete wasn't dead and he wasn't going to give up on himself so easily. The Thornton's were a tenacious breed, even among Irishmen, and Pete was as stubborn as they come. He laid in what little shade he could find by day and walked in the night, for as long as the water in his stolen canteen lasted.
That water was long gone, but Pete kept his canteen, just in case he found a well or an oasis. It banged softly against his leg as he walked, like an echo of hollow laughter. Each dune he crossed looked familiar, and he wondered if he were indeed walking in circles.
There was a dancing wave of heat above the crest of the next dune. A mirage, perhaps, or water vapor-- Pete hoped for the latter. He sloughed up the dune and down the far side. His feet sank into the muddy soil as he slid down the last few feet. He had found water.
But he had found trouble, too. The mud sucked at his feet and held him firm. The edges of the pit crumbed away as he clawed for a handhold to try to escape. He sank deeper, until his chest was buried and the hot mud seemed to be sapping the strength from his body. The cruel sun mocked him. He drew in a breath to shout his defiance, but it came out as a call for help.
A rope slapped the surface of the quicksand, knocking dirt and filthy water into Pete's face. He shook his head to clear his eyes, and tried to crane his neck around to see from where it had come.
"Don't move around! You'll sink faster." The rope was pulled taunt, closing the noose around Pete's chest below his arms. He reached back and grabbed the rope, pulling desperately to draw himself out of the mud. "Just keep your head up. Dingo will pull you out. Hut! Hut!"
With a great surging jerk, Pete was hauled up out of the mud and dragged several yards through the sand. He could hear someone bellowing Whoa! but it wasn't him-- his mouth was full of sand. He rolled over and coughed, fumbling to loosen the noose from around his bruised chest.
Hands were helping him, and that was the first thing he noticed about his rescuer; his hands were long-fingered, tanned; weathered but young. And the voice was pure American with an unmistakable Minnesota twang. "Told you we'd get you out, bud. Piece of cake." The hands offered a canteen. Pete took it and drank, spacing long sips with long breaths.
Pete studied his rescuer as he recollected himself. The man wore a turban with a long scarf wound over his nose and mouth, in the style of the Bedouin in the deep desert. He was dressed in sand-colored robes and dirty white athletic shoes. He tapped at the knees of the large camel until it knelt on the sand, casting them both in a long shadow, then he coiled the rope and sat on it. He opened a second canteen and drank from it, then poured some onto his hand to rub on the camel's nose. "Good boy, Dingo," he said to the beast, slapping it's dusty flank with rough affection.
After he had washed the sand from his mouth, Pete spoke. "I would be dead if you hadn't come along, stranger. Thanks."
"Just glad I could help," the man answered. "My name's Mac."
"Hi, Pete. Do you mind if I ask what you are doing on foot in the middle of the Nafud?"
"Would you believe I'm a tourist?" Saving his life or not, Pete was still aware that his mission was classified, and he couldn't tell anyone the real reason he was there.
Mac's eyes sparkled with humor above the concealing scarf. "Right. Me too. And I suppose that the pack of Afghanistan terrorists that are riding around the Empty Quarter, searching... are just looking for a contact lens that someone dropped... and not a US Army officer who's been presumed dead for over a week."
Pete spilled some of the water he was trying to drink. He glanced sharply at Mac, but the man was climbing to his feet and retrieving the canteens. "We had better be going."
"Where are we going?"
"Jedda is close, but the sand between us and it will be crawling with people we don't want to meet. If we can make it to Cairo, we can...
"Cairo? Egypt? That's hundreds of miles from here!"
"Exactly. It'll be the last place they'll look."
Pete was still trying to protest as Mac grabbed one of his feet and hoisted him onto the back of the camel. 'Dingo' snorted at the extra weight when Mac climbed up behind him, but he swung into an easy loping-trot when Mac touched his flanks gently with the coiled rope.
It was all Pete could do just to keep from sliding off. He groaned through clenched teeth and grabbed two hands-full of scruffy fur.
part five, A Collective Conjugation of Camels
(special thanks to Halavana for contributing her technical expertise)
"Staying aboard a camel running at full speed is more of a trick than most folks know. They run at a pace; the legs on each side working in unison. There's a rhythm, of course, for both the rider and the runner. Once you slip into it, it can either rock you to sleep... or make you sea-sick."
Sam noticed the color rising in Pete's face and guessed easily whom it was who got sick during the journey. Sam said nothing; he had always proved wise for his age.
Pete chuckled with good humor in spite of his embarrassment. "Mac, you saved my life before I even learned who you were, and before you really knew who I was. If I haven't thanked you before, I thank you now. But I have to tell you; there were moments during that ride when I would have preferred to have died! I don't know which was more sore: my head... or my hind-end!"
Mac raised his glass of water in a mock toast. "It was a rough ride, that's for sure. It took six days, Sam, to cross the rest of Saudi Arabia and go through Jordan and Israel-- dodging both terrorists and legitimate border guards-- and though I wouldn't say it was easy, we did manage it smoothly. Until we got to Egypt. That's where we met our biggest challenge."
In the Nile River Valley
Pete lay back against the dune and closed his eyes, wishing that the rocking sensation would cease. He was sunburned, seasick, saddle-sore, and he smelled funky, like... like a camel. In addition to these discomforts, he now bore Dingo's teeth marks on his leg. The wily, half-wild camel had turned his head back and bitten Pete-- for no reason!-- just before they had come up to the border of Israel.
Mac had clucked at the beast and waved his rope and finally whacked it on the rump with his hand. Dingo then subsided and obeyed him. But the damage was done; Pete was keeping an eye on the camel, and it seemed to him that Dingo was keeping an eye on him, too.
Mac had suddenly called a halt in the middle of their sixth day of riding, sliding off of the camel and urging Pete to do the same. Dingo happily flopped down on his belly, tucking his long legs beneath him, and promptly went to sleep. Mac handed Pete their last canteen and left him, climbing up the tallest nearby dune and digging in; and there he still was, with his binoculars held to his eyes. When Pete's stomach finally stopped swaying, he crawled up and settled down beside him, squinting into the dancing distance at what appeared to be nothing but more miles of burning sand.
"God, I'd give anything to see a tree again," Pete muttered.
"You should come to my neck of the woods sometime; to Minnesota. I'll show you a tree or two." What Pete could see of Mac's face over his Bedouin scarf was smiling. He passed the binoculars to Pete. "Take a look over there, beyond the dunes."
Pete took a moment to focus the glasses. "I can see... what is that... water?"
"The Nile. This time of year she's pretty low. We should be able to find a place where we can cross, but we're going to need some help. See those tents?"
"Yep. I see lots of tents. And some armored vehicles. Is it the terrorists?"
"No. We left them back in the Waddi Nefud, but those may be their allies, or at least people willing to sell us out for a buck. We need to get past them quickly, and without too many questions."
"Then we should lose the camel and move at night. We can steal a boat and be in Cairo by dawn the day after tomorrow." Pete was already assessing the distance and how much time it would take to cross by foot.
"Or we could keep the camel, and will a little help we can be in Cairo in time for dinner tonight."
"Tonight? How? And with what kind of help?"
"The four-legged kind." Pete looked at Mac, but Mac was not looking ahead. He was staring back down the dune at Dingo, who was now in the company of three wild camels. They stood together as if in a huddle, touching noses and grunting at each other.
Pete groaned. "Not more camels!"
Mac laughed softly. "In this case, the more the merrier. I got an idea..."
Amir leaned against his rifle and cursed. He cursed the heat of the sun that was burning his neck. He cursed the sand that was filling his boots, and invading his clothing no matter how he tried to avoid it. He cursed the bitter water he was forced to drink. He cursed his commanding officer who had told him to guard this shack, the furthest post south on this side of the river, as punishment for being caught playing dice in the barracks. He'd lived all his life near the desert, but that didn't mean he liked it. He cursed the desert, shaking his fist at the shining dunes that rose beyond the river valley.
He saw movement out of the corner of his eye; a camel had come out of the desert and was walking down to the river to drink. As Amir watched the camel was joined by another, and it was followed by two more. They stood with their long spindly legs spread, drinking noisily. Amir growled another curse, glad that he was upwind of the foul beasts.
He never saw Mac creeping up behind him. He felt a light tap on his shoulder and turned his head, and then the day went dark as Mac's fist connected with his jaw.
Mac caught the soldier as he collapsed and lowered him gently to the ground. "Sorry 'bout that," he said softly, patting him on the shoulder. Then he turned his head and gave a whistle. Pete appeared, carrying their gear. "Pete, come and fill the canteens from one of these water barrels."
Mac quickly tied up the unfortunate soldier, using strips of silvery duct tape he took from a flattened roll he kept in his back pocket. Then he searched the small shack from the dirt floor to the rafters. He found several barrels of water, a few books of matches, a dented can of kerosene and a lantern, a few half-melted candles, a warped deck of playing cards, and a box containing shells for the rifle.
The rifle was lying in the sand where it had fallen. Pete picked it up and brushed it off, wondering if any grit had gotten inside to foul the mechanism. He chambered a round and smiled at the smooth action; it was oiled and well-maintained, evidence of a truly bored soldier.
When he glanced up, he saw that Mac was watching him with a frown in his eyes. "This might come in useful," Pete said. "Did you find any ammo for it?"
"I think we'd be better off without that," was Mac's answer. He took one of the canteens and the rope from Pete, and then headed down to the water to harness Dingo.
Pete stared after him. What a strange man, he thought. He shouldered the rifle and covered it with a stolen robe. The box of shells went into an inner pocket. They rattled as he walked down to the river to join Mac.
Herding the camels was easy; the females happily followed Dingo. He was obviously their idea of a perfect mate. He trotted ahead, snorting frequently and nipping the other camels--and his riders-- to show his dominance. Pete acquired two more camel-bites before they arrived at the bustling, busy marketplace of Lower Cairo. The sun was just starting to make long shadows across the streets as they dismounted for what Pete hoped was last time.
Mac took Dingo's massive, ugly head in his hands and scratched him behind his ears. The camel groaned with pleasure and gave Mac a rough, wet lick with his tongue, then turned on his tail and trotted out into the sands again with his new harem on his heels.
Pete watched them running together, and he had to laugh even as he rubbed his sore parts. "At least we know one fellow in Egypt who is going to get lucky tonight."
Even the dirty scarf across his face couldn't hide Mac's rakish grin. He slapped Pete on the back, raising a cloud of dust, and together they walked into the comfortable crowd of the Cairo marketplace. They couldn't keep their spirits down; it seemed that they were home free.
Until they turned the corner to approach the American Embassy and found the alley full of rough-looking men. They were surrounded in seconds, in the very shadow of their sanctuary.
Mac looked around desperately as Pete sighed, "Where's a camel when you need one?"
part six, Fifty-Two Guard Pick-up
"You missed Dingo already, eh, Pete?" Sam asked, setting out a tray of banana bread to go with the coffee he had brewed as his father was speaking. He took a slice and spread it with butter, setting in front of Mac. "Try it, Dad. It's the recipe you gave me from Grandma Jackson."
Pete laughed, stirring some cream into his coffee. "I wouldn't do so far as to say I missed him, but I wouldn't have objected to a stampede of wild camels at that moment... or wildebeests, or crocodiles... anything would have been welcome! I was sure that we were both dead men."
"Ye of little faith," Mac said, talking around a bite of bread. "Mmm... your great-grandmother would have been proud of you, Sam. You're a good cook."
Sam grinned. "So, what happened? Obviously you both escaped somehow. Finish the story!"
"In a second... unlike revenge, banana bread is best when served warm!" Mac finished his slice and washed it down with a sip of coffee. "Ah! This is even better than that date-bread that they served at the American Embassy, remember Pete?"
"How could I forget? It was the first food I had eaten for days that didn't smell like camel or was coated with sand! But how did you know about the bread? I didn't see you after we got separated..."
"Whoa! Wait now! Don't tell the story out of sequence! Dad, have another slice and get on with it!"
"Yes, son." Mac consumed the bread as he had been directed. He licked the tips of his fingers to show his appreciation. "We were in Cairo, we were surrounded by bad guys, and we were fresh out of camels. I was beginning to wish I had headed back out into the desert with Dingo and the girls."
"Got any ideas," Pete asked, wondering if he could bring up the rifle quick enough to shoot their way through the men to freedom.
Mac's hand on his shoulder stopped him. "Yeah. Give them the gun so they don't shoot us right now."
"Any good ideas?" Pete asked with bitter irony.
Mac held up his arms as if in surrender. Pete saw that he had something square-ish in one of his hands. His answer came in a whisper that Pete barely heard, "Here's a few ideas: Stay low. Move fast. Think smart. And if you go, take company along." Mac met Pete's eyes, and Pete saw a mischievous twinkle there. He nodded slightly, and one of Mac's eyes gave him the flicker of a wink.
Pete made a show of taking out the gun, moving carefully so that the men would not take out their guns. As he drew their eyes and attention, Mac made his move.
Back at the shack by the river, Mac had found a battered pack of playing cards. They were warped beyond use; apparently someone had spilled kerosene on the deck. They still smelled of the stuff, and Mac had pocketed them on impulse. Now he took them out, along with one of the books of matches he had also taken. With practiced fingers, he bent one of the matches down and struck it with a snap, causing it to flare to life. All of the matches caught and as the flame leaped up, he pinched the edges of cards in his fingers and scattered them into the air above the fire.
The pasteboards ignited instantly, fanning out over the heads of the men. They cried out and ducked, some falling down and tripping the others, trying to avoid being burned. Pete slugged the man who had taken the rifle from him, and then he was shoved hard in the direction of the Embassy.
"Run for the gate!" Mac shouted. Pete did, and he sighed with relief as an American soldier swung the heavy iron thing open so that he could slip through to safety. But to Pete's great dismay, Mac had not followed him. There was sounds of a struggle coming from the alley, some smoke from where someone's beard had caught fire, and then-- as Pete most feared-- the sounds of gun-shots ringing out.
The soldiers inside the Embassy would not allow Pete to go back outside. They insisted that he stay while the city guard was called and the scene was investigated. The bandits-- or whoever they were-- were long gone, of course. No body was discovered. All that was found were a few singed playing cards and a flattened roll of duct tape.
"And all that time I spent with your father, Sam, I never saw his face," Pete added, after Mac made it clear that he was finished talking. "I never really believed that they had killed him, but I didn't look for him after it was all over. He could have been anyone; a soldier, an expatriate, a smuggler... and I had no witnesses that could corroborate that he even existed. Nobody at the Command Level would admit that they had sent him.
"It wasn't until much later, after I met him again in '79, that I put the name 'Mac' and 'MacGyver' together. I checked the files and discovered who it was that had been sent to locate the terrorists. Your father left the military right after that incident, but General Hawkins had kept track of him, reactivating him for special assignments... like that trip to Burma."
Mac grunted when Pete mentioned Burma, and he threw his friend an icy glare.
Pete waved him off. "That has been declassified for ages now, Mac. Anyway, I'm lucky that I had the high security clearance that I did in the DXS, or I would never have learned the truth."
"The Versatile Truth, you mean; as recorded by the military," Mac said, his voice heavy with sarcasm. "You won't find any record of what I just told you anywhere in those files, and you know it's the truth."
Pete nodded; there was nothing more to say.
"That's it?" Sam gaped at Mac, who was helping himself to the last slice of bread. "But how did you escape? Why didn't you go to the Embassy, too? And did the Afghan terrorists ever get caught? What about..."
Mac laughed, holding up his hands in a gesture of surrender. "Hey! I just finished one story, and now you want another? Do I look like Mother Goose?"
Sam laughed. "Okay, I'll give you a break... today. But answer just one more question for me..."
Mac sighed. "What?"
"Why did you name that camel 'Dingo'?"
"I thought you'd never ask." Mac grinned, warming up for the punch line. "I bought him in Aden, from an Australian smuggler who was going to have him put down. Said he couldn't train him well enough to sell for a fair price, because he was 'mean enough to eat children'. So that name seemed to fit."
"I can testify to that," Pete said, rubbing his leg as if it still hurt because of a certain camel's bite.
The sound of three men laughing rang out through the peaceful California evening.