Waves slapped softly against the beach about 100 meters off to the right. The mild, 1:00 A.M. sky was starry over the Carpenters whose low croon "Bless the beasts . . . and the child-ten" treacled from the mouth of the battered transistor--a deceptive link with home. "Home"? Eyelids lightly closing, I could easily have been out camping beneath the eucalyptus trees with Marcia and the kids at the state park south of Morro Bay along the Central California coast. (Indeed, one summer evening we had driven over the hills from Coalinga all the way to Paso Robles just to see the inane movie that had introduced that song.) Suddenly Abu, a cheerful Moroccan from Dimona, gently nudged me awake. This was our 16th day and, 16th night of guarding the access roads leading to the airport outside of Beirut. The "kids" were now 17 and 15, California was a distant dream, and sleep was a dangerous shadow. I hummed old tunes and, sometimes, needed to bite toothpicks or my own cheek to banish sleep.
We hunched low in our jeep-- Abu behind the wheel, I legs astraddle a Browning machine gun--eyes straining at the southern approach to what I had heard is the longest runway in the Middle East. I did not doubt it; it must have surely been, in fact, the longest dormant runway in the world. The five-kilometer strip pointed like the "up yours" of an extended middle finger at the leggy sprawl of darkened West Beirut. Not yet curled into an attitude of accusation, it was just a steady pointer to the west. Between the two of us and the beach ran the quiet, or seemingly quiet, coastal road. A few hours earlier it had fidgeted with restless traffic in both directions: fruit &