The Girl with Long Red Hair

KABUL AFGHANISTAN

4 P.M.

John Harter had been in his office at the USAID building when he heard the shouting from the lobby. As he passed one of the offices, he instructed the woman sitting at that desk to call the embassy to have the medical team sent over immediately. The scene in the lobby was chaotic — the night guard and another Afghani man were standing over the body shouting at each other yet accomplishing nothing, while a woman lay on the floor, unattended, her dress covered in blood, and a towel thrown carelessly over her head. John moved quickly to her, kneeling beside her motionless body. He pulled at the towel covering her, casting it aside to his left while he leaned forward to try to feel for a pulse or signs of life.

“Fran!” he shouted as he saw her face. “It’s Fran Rupert. Get the medical team here fast! She’s been shot!” He leaned closer to her. “Hold on, Fran. I’m here now. I’m not going to let you die. You’ve got to stay strong now. I’m going to stay right here with you.”

When the embassy doctors arrived, John moved away and quickly returned to his office. He sent out an urgent message asking for any available medical evacuation. A U.S. Navy Medical evacuation aircraft had just departed Islamabad, Pakistan. It was re-directed to Kabul at the highest priority. They would fly Fran to Muharraq Air Field in Bahrain. It was the closest U.S. facility with a hospital and the flight would take less than three hours.

John received permission from the office of the Secretary of the Navy allowing him to accompany her on the flight. This was something officially forbidden by the Navy. A letter, displayed on the inside of the cabin door of every Navy Medevac plane, made it official. Only patients and attending medical staff were allowed to fly on the plane. The rule was about as clear and concise as any rule ever issued by the Navy.

Medics loaded Fran onto the jet as soon as it landed in Kabul. When they were ready to leave, the flight nurse in charge, Lieutenant Jacobsen, approached John Harter. She informed him of the policy forbidding non-patient passengers on the plane.
“I’m sorry, sir, but I must ask you to leave the aircraft now. We are about ready to leave.”

“I’m going to need to stay on the airplane. I understand it is against regulations under normal circumstances.”

“No, sir, it is against regulations under all circumstances.” She emphasized the word all.

John handed the authorization message to the Flight Nurse without comment.
“I need to show this to the pilot,” she said as she walked toward the cockpit.

“Sir, we have a non-patient passenger with us today,” she said to the pilot as she handed him the document.

“Who the hell says? You know we can’t allow that. Throw the guy off now. We have to get going.”

“Sir, he has that letter from the Secretary of the Navy saying he can fly with us.”

“What? Have him report to the flight deck.”

As John entered the crew area, the pilot turned in his seat. “John Harter? I’m Commander Ray Nansconi, United States Navy. For all practical purposes, this is my airplane, at least for today. We’ve got rules on this aircraft, for good reason. Now, young Lieutenant Jacobsen tells me she has to break one of those rules. So, in just a few words, please tell me just who the hell you are, and what gives you the idea you can get a free ride to Bahrain?”

“Well, Commander, I’m John Harter. I work with the United States Agency for International Development, from time to time. But more importantly, in the terms you are suggesting, I’m nobody.” He paused, mostly for effect, but also to allow the Commander to understand what he had just said. Then he continued. “But as a nobody, you’ll notice that I do have a letter from your boss saying I can ride with you.”

“Well, if you’re nobody, then who the hell is she?” the pilot’s voice rose in frustration.

The tone of John’s voice also changed from pleasant to something bordering on angry. “That’s a bit more difficult to answer. What she is, or who she is, doesn’t matter, either. What matters is that she arrives at the hospital in Bahrain alive, Commander.” Once again, he paused, allowing his comment to be fully understood. “If that happens, it will be the reason you are allowed to continue flying jet planes for the Navy! If you screw around any longer, she might not survive the flight and then, I’m quite certain, the same fate will happen to your career.” John retrieved the message from the SECNAV and waited for any response. The pilot had turned in his seat and begun his preparation for takeoff. “And if this thing has anything close to what a passing gear does in a car, then I suggest you use it,” he added.

John returned to the main cabin. “Lieutenant Jacobsen, please do everything possible to keep her alive until we get to the hospital.” He moved to the side of the plane and slumped into one of the jump seats.

The flight nurse had seen many people worried about patients brought to this airplane. In all her years of nursing, she had never seen anyone so distraught as the man sitting on the side of the plane.

9 thoughts on “The Girl with Long Red Hair

  1. Tayo says:

    I feel disconnected from the story. It feels ‘far away.’ To be more specific, you start with: “John Harter had been in his office at the USAID building when he heard the shouting from the lobby.”

    “…had been…” feels passive rather than active and immediate. Another example: “The scene in the lobby was <<[passive] chaotic — the night guard and another Afghani man were <<[passive] standing over the body shouting at each other yet accomplishing nothing, while a woman lay on the floor, unattended, her dress covered in blood, and a towel thrown carelessly over her head."
    Using passive word makes me feel that the story is not 'immediate' as I read it.

    You also have sentences which feel awkward or don't flow as well as they could: "John moved quickly to her, kneeling beside her motionless body. <<[Does John need to "move quickly to her" and then kneel beside her. What if he just knelt beside her straight away because you already establishes that he was in her proximity] He pulled at the towel > casting it aside to his left while he leaned forward to try to feel for a pulse or signs of life.” <<[This could then be simplified to "He checked for a pulse." I personally find it difficult to read a story where the character's every movement is describes].

    The paragraph starting with "When the embassy doctors arrived…" is entirely 'telling' and, in my opinion, this compounds the feeling of distance or rather it adds to the lack of immediacy which then in turn creates distance between me and the story. Consequentially, I stopped reading at that stage, I just didn't feel engaged. That's just how I feel. Obviously it's easier for me to find opportunities for improvement in your work then see them in my own so please don't take what I'm saying as any more than opinion. Good luck.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi,

    I just read the initial part to your story and it was compelling. It kinda had me hooked from the start and all the way through.

    It would be great to find out what happens next.. It was very good.

    The only criticism I can notice is the dialogue. It was very well written. But, the dialogue did seem a little long winded. If you want sharp and realistic dialogue, appears more believable, then you need to keep the sentences short and make the dialogue more realistic. The best way to write realistic dialogue is to listen how others around you speak and take notes. Remember, realistic dialogue doesn’t have to have long sentences.

    • Roger Schulz says:

      Thank you for your comments and your interest. Obviously, my story needs some serious tweaking. You expressed an interest in reading the entire thing, and I would be delighted if you did so,and then let me know of your thoughts. I will be happy to send it to you in a word doc if you send me your addy. Just understand that i will send the version as it is now, not what it may be like after tweaking.

  3. Marlene Wilson Bierworth says:

    My opinion only:
    I did notice the ‘had been’ in the first sentence as well. Not a good place for a reader to stumble. You left me curious as to the relationship between Fran and John.
    “Moved away and quickly returned to his office” is wordy whereas something short and punchy might be more effective.
    You take a lot of time describing in what should be a fast-paced scene.
    I was surprised at the tone and authority John uses to put the pilot in his place. Is he bluffing or out of character? This nurse says, distraught, and that is an interesting hook.
    Good luck with your story. It has good potential.

  4. David Lodes says:

    Take what I say as an opinion only.
    Had been is passive and suggests he was in the office but is not now. I suggest you also make it clear sooner what he sees that prompts him to call for a medic.Instructed her to call seems a little week to me. It should be immediate. Oh, my god. She’s bleeding, get a medic here. An active voice.The reader should feel they are in the story now. The passive sentences put the reader at a distance

    Maybe just me, but the dialog seems a bit formal. I think you can make it shorter and say the same thing.

    “Well, Commander, I’m John Harter. I work with the United States Agency for International Development, from time to time. But more importantly, in the terms you are suggesting, I’m nobody.” He paused, mostly for effect, but also to allow the Commander to understand what he had just said. Then he continued. “But as a nobody, you’ll notice that I do have a letter from your boss saying I can ride with you.”

    I would think he would be more to the point.

    I’m John Harter, Commander. I work with the U.S. Agnecy for International Development and I’m nobody…
    This letter says I can ride with you.

    “Lieutenant Jacobsen, please do everything possible to keep her alive until we get to the hospital.”

    Of course she’s going to do all she can. That’s a given.
    Lieutenant, I need her alive when we get to the hospital.

    I think you can have a good story here. Just need to rework it a bit.

  5. Brett Mumford says:

    I won’t restate what a lot of the other comments have already brought up about the passive voice in the beginning. It certainly made the opening feel…awkward to me. There was no sense of immediacy about the whole thing. So when the main character starts giving orders, it comes across as a little out of place.

    A more specific point I would make is that the security setup you describe for the lobby of USAID in Kabul, is a too sparse. I was in Afghanistan for 3 years, any American agency with any kind of location, had a much more significant security presence. Also, there should have been a lot more activity (how did the shot woman get to where she is? If she was shot there, why weren’t those shots heard? If she was shot elsewhere, how did she get past the security checkpoint, to collapse in the lobby?

    Also, this confused me, ‘As he passed one of the offices, he instructed the woman sitting at that desk to call the embassy to have the medical team sent over immediately’. Why would he do this when all he had heard was shouting?

    It feels more like a soap opera so far, if that is the feeling you are going for, then kudos. If you are aiming for more Clive Cussler/Tom Clancy/Robert Ludlum feel, then I suggest you keep an eye on how you are pacing the action in the story.

  6. writer33! says:

    I agree with some of the comments above. Especially with the passive voice. Some of the sentences could be tighter. Such as the last sentence in the first paragraph- “He pulled at the towel covering her, ( we already know the towel was covering her head.) casting it aside to his left ( we don’t need to know which direction) while he leaned forward to try to feel ( to try to sounds passive. He should check for a pulse not try to) for a pulse or signs of life.”

    “A U.S. Navy Medical evacuation aircraft had just departed Islamabad, Pakistan. It was re-directed to Kabul at the highest priority. They would fly Fran to Muharraq Air Field in Bahrain. It was the closest U.S. facility with a hospital and the flight would take less than three hours.” ( this is too much information and doesn’t seem important for me to know. You could shorten it with less flight info of who and what).

    the drama seems farfetched in some places. Like the character sees it before we do then reacts to it. where we should be seeing it first right alongside the character.

    My suggestion would be to slow down some and carry the reader with you.

  7. Jen (Full of Love) (@gluedwithgold) says:

    I, too, agree with the previous comments. Your opening paragraph lacks a sense of immediacy, and plainly senses. I’m not brought into the scene viscerally – I can’t see anything, hear anything, smell anything. Maybe a better way to start out would be having your protagonist hear the gunshot, run to the scene and take it in – the smell of gunpowder or blood, the color of the blood contrasted with the woman’s dress, the din of the shouting, and then how all that makes your protagonist feel – does he have chills running up his spine? Does he start shaking with fear? It would be much more effective to really zoom in to what’s happening.

  8. Roger Schulz says:

    Thank you, everyone, for your critiques. I accept them all as valid, but will add a little explanation. John Harter is a diplomat of sorts, and tends to be a little more “refined” (if that is the correct word to use. But now, reading your comments, I agree that I need to condense the dialogue a bit.

    Special to Brett: I should have noted that the time of this is 1969. In those days, the USAID house was a sort of bed and breakfast with 6 rooms, a dining room, a small bar, and five offices. The only security was a Chowkidar at night. Probably a little different then when you were there.

    Thank you, everyone.

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