Saturday, August 8, 2009

Chapter 41: Change of Direction

I woke with someone shaking my shoulder. It took me a few seconds to orientate myself. I looked out of the window of the Landrover and recognized Westville hospital.

I sat up and thanked Rifleman Mkize for driving us, then clambered out the passenger door. All the rest of the bunch climbed out after me and Daise and Alina stuck close to me as we walked. I got the sense that the relationship between the two of them had changed significantly over the past few days.

Alina had been the stronger; the more worldly of the two, and Daise had given off a sense of innocence and naiveté. That had changed subtly with Daise definitely taking the lead and Alina following her. I suddenly occurred to me that Daise had killed two men in the last week and been exposed to combat for the first time, and I hadn't really given all that much thought to how it had affected her. From what I could see, she was just fine, but I knew how deceptive that could be. I resolved to ensure she got professionally 'debriefed' as soon as possible. The last thing I needed was for her to join the ranks of the combat-related PTSD sufferers, and I knew, from bitter experience, that the likelihood of dealing effectively with the stress was directly proportional to how soon after it happened she got counseled or debriefed.

The bunch of us entered the lobby of the hospital and I got everyone to sit in the couches provided for waiting. Daise wouldn't leave me alone, of course, while I went to find out where Roy and Sharon were.

We found Gill on the third floor, sitting quietly on a couch worn shiny by the many worried people who had been there before her.

She looked pale and drawn and her worry and fatigue were written large across her face.

"Hello Gill," I greeted her quietly, "how're they doing?"

Gill started, caught by surprise. She looked up at me and I was wracked with guilt at the sight of the pain in her eyes. "Hi Roy, the doctors say they'll heal well physically. There is some question how well Sharon will handle the mental aspects."

"I'm not surprised to hear that Gill. Relieved to hear about the physical. I know some other girls who've gone through some similar stuff with the same gang, maybe they can help by talking it through with Sharon later on?"

"Whatever helps," Gill shrugged in reply. "At this point I'm still trying to get my head around it all."

"Just let me know if there is anything I can do. Anytime. OK?"

Gill just nodded and dropped gaze to her lap again. I turned to look at the policeman guarding the door to the ward. "Ok if we go in to see them?"

He looked at me for a second, then, obviously recognising who I was, stood aside and gestured me to enter.

Half an hour later we were back on the road, headed for Johnny's place. I was simmering quietly, but my tension must have been as readily apparent to Daise as hers was to me. Hearing the story from Roy had not been easy, especially when the physical evidence was so clear.

When we got to Johnny's place, he showed us where he had piled a stack of blankets and pillows and we spread out over the lounge and the spare bedroom. I ended up being very warmly snuggled between Daise and Alina, and before I knew it, the stresses of the day caught up with me and I was fast asleep.

In the morning, the consensus was that there was no way we could feed the hordes in Johnny's tiny kitchen, so we all headed out to the Wimpy nearby. We got there just as they opened so we had the place pretty much to ourselves. Everyone place their breakfast orders, and once the immediate hunger pangs were satisfied, we started talking through our options. There were lots of declarations of intent, but no concrete ideas. I kept quiet and just listened. Eventually, Johnny turned to me and asked, "So what's going through that brain of yours? I can see the wheels turning and smell the rubber burning..."

I smiled at his joke, and didn't say anything, but the whole table got very quiet as everyone turned to me, waiting to see what I had come up with.

"Ok, I'm not too clear on the details yet, but I have a vague idea. Essentially there are two basic principles. Firstly, we have been waiting for them to come to us, and we all know that the best form of defense is attack. We saw what happened when we took them on directly yesterday, we cleaned their clocks. The second is that we've been playing to their strengths. I think we need to take advantage of the fact that this is our home ground, and use that to our advantage."

"Don't get all philosophical on us now, just point us in the right direction and pull the trigger," Bird said between bites of his third helping of breakfast.

"Relax Bird," I smiled, "the one part of our advantage is that we have time. That's sort of the point I was trying to make. We have no need to rush, they are the ones trying to set up an operation to be ready in time for the World Cup. Our only timetable is the one we make for ourselves. I think what we need to do is take some time out to rest and recover, plan properly and train. Once we are ready, then we can execute our plan."

"So what do you want to do Rupert?" Johnny asked.

"As I said yesterday, I want to move everyone out to the farm. There's plenty of space for us all to stay, and as you know, some nice training facilities."

"What farm is this?" asked Daise, puzzled.

I smiled at her. "It's our other business. Johnny, Bird, Sgt. Maj. Dhlamini and I are joint owners of a farm out towards Cato Ridge. We have an adventure center out there. A lot of corporates use us for team building events, and we get quite a few school groups and Scout Troops going through our various activities. We normally run it on demand, when someone requests a particular package. Bird handles most of the day-to-day stuff, the rest of us get involved as we are needed."

"What sort of 'adventure' stuff is this?" Alina asked.

"All kinds of stuff. We have a pretty good paintball setup, with urban and bush arenas, kayaking, abseiling, rock-climbing, an obstacle course, a quad-bike course and a very tough 4x4 track. We also keep some game there, not much just a small herd of Zebra, some Giraffe and quite a few Springbok and a couple of Eland. We recently got some Ostriches and a pair of Warthogs moved in on their own. We suspect that they escaped from the Ithala Game Reserve, which borders our property on the eastern side. Their fence through the river is always giving trouble, so some game slips through."

"That sounds wonderful," Daise said. I was astounded by the look of adoration and wonder on her face, and it made me feel all squishy inside. "But aren't the animals dangerous?"

"One of the things we do is a mini-survival course, where we teach people about the bush, how to treat it with respect so that they can stay live in harmony with it. Nothing in the bush is really dangerous if you are well prepared and act correctly."

"Except for Hippo," Bird muttered darkly.

I laughed. It was an old joke, but one that always managed to tickle me. Daise looked to me for an explanation. I rolled my eyes at Bird and explained.

"Forget everything you've heard about how dangerous Lions and Elephants and things like that are. Other than disturbing a Mamba or a Puff-Adder, the most dangerous animals in the bush are the Hippos and the 'Flat Dogs'. They kill more humans in Africa than any other animal."

"Flat Dogs? What are those?" Daise asked again.

"Crocodiles. Bird hates hippos cause he was chased by one once. Bit his Klepper boat in half. Him and his partner were very lucky to get out alive."

"So, do you hunt these animals?" This time from Alina. I could see Lisa waiting for the answer to this question, and guessed that she had the typical kid's misconception engendered by their 'Disneyfication'.

Johnny, Bird and I shared a look. Both of them shrugged at me which I interpreted to mean I could tell them or not.

"The short answer is no, we don't hunt the animals. We realised a long time ago, that the only animal that is dangerous and wily enough to hunt, is another human being armed the same way you are. What do you think Daise, after today, do you think you would get as much of a rush from shooting a buck?"

Daise looked startled and I could see she didn't know what to say.

"Don't answer that. We're not against hunting, especially for food, but it's just not something that we do. If other people want to hunt, not on our land, that's not a problem to us."

Daise's expression turned thoughtful, and I could see she was starting to process the events she had been part of in a slightly different way.

"Make no mistake, it is not something that I would wish on anyone else, but combat has to be the greatest rush you can experience, even though we've all had to wash our underpants out at some stage..."

I could see that Bettina was uncomfortable with the conversation taking place in front of her daughter, so I checked to see if everyone had finished eating. Everyone, except Bird, had, so I got up and paid for the meal at the cashier's station and we all trooped out to the vehicles. I ignored Bird's mutters about having to leave food uneaten.

We drove back to Johnny's place, where we loaded up the little we had managed to salvage of our possessions and hit the road. We detoured via the Pavilion Mall where it only took two hours to outfit everyone with the basics, before heading out to the farm.

Chapter 40: Counting the cost

Chris had just finished patching me up, when Bird appeared on the bank above us.

“Hey Boss,” he called down and both Johnny and I turned to see what he wanted. I deferred to Johnny.

"Status?" Johnny asked.

"Looks like we got most of them. Rasta's got a bee in his bonnet about some spoor he's seen heading off west, but I told him he can't go haring off on a hunt now," Bird reported. I nodded my head in agreement, although I would regret that decision later.

"We have no own-force casualties. Four of the bad guys are still breathing. We're still finding and counting the bodies."

"Thanks Bird," Johnny said, "leave the bodies for the police to recover. I think we should take the prisoners and move back to the parking lot. Ok Rupert?"

"Sounds good to me," I agreed with Johnny. "I'd like to make sure that all my people are safe, and I'd really like to find out how this arsehole, Dimitri, found out where I live. Maybe we'll have some luck with getting the prisoners to talk..."

Chris helped me stand, with Daise supporting me on the other side, and we started making our way back down to the parking lot.

It wasn't too bad walking, now that I had been all strapped up, but I was reeling from the post-combat fatigue; mostly the after-effects of an adrenaline high. I thought briefly of the amphetamines we used in the old days, then decided that those drugs should be a last resort; I had loyal friends and employees, I wasn't operating five hundred klicks into enemy territory, so I decided to keep them in mind if I really got desperate at some later time.

When we arrived at the parking lot, I was surprised to see the Landrover with all the girls in it, parked there. I turned to Cpl. Maseka, who had come to meet us halfway, and he told me that it had been his call, as the safest place where he could protect them while still acting as a reserve element for me.

Any conversation on the issue was obviously not going to take place though, not until I had dealt with the semi-hysterical bunch of women who descended on me at that moment. There were exclamations and demands for explanations thrown around in four languages. Well, at least I could understand three of them; the Russian or Ukrainian, I was sure which, was flying between Daise, Alina and Kat. I figured Daise would sort that out and I proceeded to do my best to reassure the others that I was really going to be alright, that my wound was not that serious and would everyone PLEASE relax?

Eventually, the babble subsided and we got all the cats herded I mean, we got everyone into vehicles. A quick conference with Johnny decided our story for the police, and we started out to head back to my house.

I had thought that the house might be quite a bit damaged, but it was a lot worse than I had thought.

I walked through the burnt out ruins of my house, trying to identify what could possibly be salvaged. The contents of my safes was all fine, the safes were designed for that after all, but the rest was a complete mess. What was making me more than slightly upset though, was the growing realization that a good proportion of the damage was smoke and water damage or breakage. It looked as if the firemen had destroyed my house in order to save it.

Just getting to the stage where I could walk through the house had not been a trivial exercise. The police had descended in force, hot on the heels of the fire department and they were convinced that a mini-war had taken place. Johnny was very eloquent in his explanation of the bunch of us having the weapons as part of his security companies' training program, but it was apparent that the whole lot of us were going to have to spend some considerable time in the near future providing statements and telling our versions of the story.

I tried to get hold of Roy, thinking that he would be able to assist with the whole police thing but, unusually for him, the call went to voicemail. I left a message telling him that there was a situation and that we could do with his help.

Rifleman's Zondi's body had been removed to the morgue, and I had made the call to his father. The man was devastated and didn't even try to hide it. I promised to cover the costs of the funeral and felt guilty at the amount of gratitude that offer generated. I knew how important the funeral was in the Zulu culture, so I understood this was not going to be a trivial expense. With Sgt. Major Dhlamini out of action with his wound, I had already started to rely on Cpl. Maseka.

I walked out of the ruins of the house and stood under the large Acacia tree in the front yard. Cpl. Maseka had been trailing along behind me everywhere I went, and he stood now waiting to hear what I had to say.

Daise, Alina and Katerina had been waiting under the tree for me. Bettina was running around after Lisa who was fascinated by the fire-engines and what the firemen where up to.

Once Cpl. Maseka and I had joined the group under the tree, I started going through the various things that we needed to accomplish.

"Corporal," I started, "I want you to start getting things together for Zondi's funeral. I'll leave it to your judgement, but I'm thinking we'll need at least four cows, three or four hundred kilos of mielie-meal (corn porridge) and I whatever ingredients the abafasi will need to make beer. Spend what you need and let me know how much it costs. I'll organise the chapel and the hearse."

Cpl. Maseka nodded, and I could see from his expression that he approved wholeheartedly.

"Johnny," I greeted him as he joined us, "How's it going with the cops?"

"They are a little suspicious but they are buying most of it. They have already got some confirmation that these guys were Russian, so they know that at least part of my story is correct," Johnny reported.

"That helps," I said with some relief.

"Oh, by the way Corporal," Johnny said to Cpl. Maseka, "you underestimated the numbers you were facing by at least half. Initial estimates are that there were as many as twenty five of them, not the twelve you reported."

Cpl. Maseka frowned in thought for a moment. "There were definitely only twelve who were attacking the house when I made the call. I agree that there were more, but they only got involved later."

"That makes sense," Johnny replied, "I just thought you should know."

"We have some other things we need to arrange," I interjected, "such as a place to stay for the night."

"You are all welcome at my place, as you know. Even if this place wasn't destroyed, you'd have to stay somewhere else, 'cause they know where you live. It won't be safe here until this Dimitri character is dead, and maybe not even then," Johnny offered.

"Thanks Johnny. That's great. I think we'll have to move out to the farm, but I'd like to do that tomorrow. There's too much going on now."

My phone rang just then and as I saw from the caller ID it was Roy. "Hi Roy," I answered it.

"Hi Rupert, it's not Roy, it's Gill."

"Oh, sorry Gill. Did Roy get my message?"

"That's why I'm calling, Rupert," Gill said and I could hear the strain in her voice.

"What's wrong Gill," I asked, "Has something happened?"

"Yes. Roy was beaten very badly and Sharon, my daughter dammit, was brutally raped. I'm at Westville Hospital. They've both been admitted. Roy asked me to call and tell you he's sorry. It was the first thing he said when he came round. 'Tell Roy I'm sorry.' He said that before he even asked about Sharon. What the fuck have been up to Rupert?"

"Shit. Sorry Gill. I'll do whatever I can to help. I'm really sorry this had to happen. Are they going to be OK?"

"The doctors aren't committing themselves yet. You know this is why I divorced him, don't you? I expected something to happen on the job though, not to have him attacked at home and I never expected Sharon to get caught up in it."

"I'll drop in to see you guys a bit later. Please let me know if there's anything I can do."

There was no response. Gill had hung up the phone. I told the group what had happened as well as my suspicion that this was how the had managed to find out where I lived.

We loaded everyone up in the cars and set out. I felt like Lot's wife, wanting to look over my shoulder at the ruin that was being left behind. I was putting a good face on it, but my thoughts and emotions were in turmoil inside. I was really devastated by the ruin of my house, but that could be rebuilt. Kat's rape had happened before I rescued her. The death of Zondi and what had happened to Roy and Sharon though, that was different; personal, and my fault. If I hadn't been playing 'white knight' it wouldn't have happened.

As we drove, I resolved to take this fight to Dimitri; to wipe him and his ilk out completely.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Chapter 39: Interlude III

Dimitri's day wasn't going well. It had started on such a high note, and then rapidly gone to shit.

He had managed to find out who the bastard was who had stolen girls from him and killed some of his men.

A piece of luck, finding out that the cop on the scene that night was a friend of the arsehole, then a little chat with him had soon gotten that they needed. It turned out that breaking his legs wasn't enough, but when his teenaged daughter arrived home from some party or other, a threat to her had gotten him to talk quickly enough. She had provided a little fun for him and his two lieutenants afterwards, and her father's cries of protest had been sweet music indeed. I had been a bit of a surprise to see find that she had been a virgin, considering the way she had been dressed; but that had simply added some spice.

Gathering a group of his men had taken some time, as most of them had gone to ground after working most of the night.

Dimitri had been a little surprised to discover that there were guards at the guys house, and for a few seconds he had considered backing off to observe for a while before moving in, but quickly decided that it wasn't necessary; these weren't any {I}mujahedin {/I} that knew how to fight. It was just some rich white guy with a couple of security guards.

It started off very well with the gate guard walking right up to their vehicle with no suspicion that anything was wrong. He went down easily enough. After that Dimitri had gotten the first inkling that things were not as they appeared.

The first sign was the speed with which the rest of the guards reacted, but even more telling was the way in which they reacted. None of them made the amateur's mistake of rushing out to see what was wrong, instead they all went to ground, and then within a few seconds, they were delivering fire from well concealed positions.

Five of his men were blown away in that initial exchange of fire, and that was with hand guns against their assault rifles. The twenty two of his men that were left after that started to waver, and for a second he thought that they might actually defy his order to attack and run away.

A few well phrased threats, backed up by his known propensity to shoot subordinates who disobeyed him, gave them the necessary backbone, and they formed up in a ragged skirmish line and started sweeping towards the house, firing at any possible cover.

Dimitri found himself almost nostalgic for the days in Afghanistan, where he had at least known that all the men were trained to fight like soldiers. This bunch was mostly just thugs, with only a few veterans among them.

The guards certainly acted like soldiers, and Dimitri was forced to re-evaluate his opinion of them as they fell back towards the house in good order; firing and moving backwards, something he knew most soldiers didn't do well, even the best trained ones.

As far as he could see, they only managed to wound one of them, while he lost another three of his men.

Once they were in the house, it became even more difficult, and Dimitri discovered, to his dismay, that the white guy's vehicle was gone. He decided that it was still worth his while attacking the house however, because it was one way that he could hurt the guy.

Dimitri considered his options for a while as his men traded pot-shots with the men in the house, then decided that he needed to take a couple of prisoners and destroy the house.

One of his men reported that he had seen the soldiers, as Dimitri had started to think of them, escaping from the back of the house into the bush. Dimitri ordered his best lieutenant to take fifteen of the men and follow after them, while he remained behind and set fire to the house.

It only took Dimitri and the four men with him ten minutes to sweep through the house searching for anyone who might have been left behind, and then to set it alight.

Once the house was burning properly, Dimitri set out to follow on the trail of the others into the bush. He had deliberately kept the experienced soldiers close to him; they shared a bond from their days in the terrible mountains of Afghanistan, and still remembered the skills learnt there.

It was soon obvious that the bunch he had sent ahead weren't much use outside the city doing their normal jobs of enforcing, extorting and pimping. The soldiers were moving quickly and leaving booby-traps on their spoor which were catching more than their fair share of victims.

Dimitri directed his small group to move parallel to the spoor and at a distance of around fifty meters from it, and they managed to avoid all the booby-traps. When the inevitable ambush came, Dimitri's group was largely unaffected by it, but the soldiers moving away from the ambush surprised him by moving in his direction, almost ninety degrees from there previous direction of travel. The two groups practically stumbled into one another, and in the short, sharp, fire-fight that followed, Dimitri lost one of his group.

Once the soldiers had broken contact and moved off down the hill, Dimitri was forced to deal with another incipient mutiny, as the seven men left in the original group, and the three in his, were very reluctant to continue.

It took Dimitri almost fifteen minutes to calm them all down and convince them that he had a plan to accomplish what he intended.

Dimitri counted on the fact that the soldiers would have reported back to the white guy, Rupert, as soon as the first shots were fired, and that he would come running back. He suspected that his intention was to meet up with his soldiers, deal with the wounded, and then launch a counter-strike.

Dimitri was coming to think of the man as a soldier and a commander of soldiers, and use that to predict his actions. One of the best indications of the nature of a man is the quality and training of the people who work for him and this performance had convinced him that Rupert was a soldier.

Dimitri proceed to set up an ambush in the position that he felt offered the best chance to catch Rupert and his men when they came up the hill. One of the most important factors for choosing the site of the ambush was the best guess as to where they would climb the hill. He selected a spot that provided good cover for his men, as well as good fields of fire, and they settled in to wait.

The inexperience of his men provided the next cock-up of the day. Rupert had confounded him yet again, by coming up the hill on the other side of the stream-bed, and they were well spaced out. One of the idiots that worked for him set off the ambush too early, taking a shot while they were still too far away for it to do any good. Dimitri saw one man go down, before the rest of his men opened up, blazing away with no effect that he could see. Of course, Rupert and this new bunch of men he had with him chose this situation to prove that they were no neophytes when it came to situations like this. Their return fire came back incredibly quickly, with almost no pause that could be taken advantage of, and it was surprisingly accurate.

Once Dimitri saw that the men that were initially pinned down took cover in the stream-bed, he grabbed one of the men closest to him and started moving around to the right to see if he couldnt out-flank them and shoot them from behind.

They moved as fast as they could through the tangled under-growth, while he listened to the battle stalling; only sporadic fire coming from both sides.

When they reached the stream-bed, Dimitri sent his companion ahead with instructions to sneak up on Rupert while he provided cover from the top of the bank. He watched with satisfaction as his companion set up to take a shot around a corner of the stream-bed and then got off a shot that took Rupert down. Just as he started moving along the bank to get into position to fire himself, he got the most incredible shock: his man went down, shot in the head. He dived for cover hoping that he hadnt been spotted, and then watched in amazement as a woman emerged from the bush and ran towards Rupert, carrying an old .303 rifle. From what he could make out, it was Alinas girl-friend, the one that had got them into this whole mess.

Dimitri lay quietly and watched; not sure now whether it would be safe to move. His caution was vindicated after a few minutes. The whore started fucking Rupert, and shortly after they finished, two others emerged from the bush on the far side of the stream-bed and joined Rupert.

Dimitri crawled slowly back into the bush until he was far enough away, before getting to his feet and starting to run for the road. He decided that he was going to cut his losses and abandon the men that were there. He could hear that there had been a further assault on their position and he held no hope that it had gone well for his men.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Chapter 38 - Exploitation

There was only sporadic fire coming from above us in the tree-line. That didn't surprise me at all considering that from their perspective, we had basically disappeared. There was no way that they could see us in the stream-bed, and when we popped up to fire every few seconds, we were well protected by the undergrowth and the fact that we didn't appear in the same place twice.

We had won the initial fire-fight, the uncontrolled phase and then created and won the controlled phase. I had a maneuver element that was moving in to perform a flanking attack, and my fire-support element was well setup and protected. With all those elements taken care of, I decided that I could spare some time to see if I could get acasevac going and move Cpl. Maseka into position to follow up any retreat.

I got out my phone and called Chris. I didn't get a chance to get the first words out.

"I'm on your tail with my medical bag. How badly do you need me?" Chris asked as soon as he answered his phone.

"Thanks Chris. Johnny is down. They got him with the first volley. I have no idea what his status is, I haven't had time to check on him. He's pretty exposed, though if you close up as much as possible, we should be counter-attacking in the next few mikes."

"Ok. I have one rifleman with me for protection and as a stretcher bearer. Cpl. Maseka was bombing up when I left the parking area."

"Excellent. You'll know when we go. Probably in the next three minutes."

I hung up and dialed Cpl. Maseka's phone.

"Major," he answered, "where do you need me?"

"Get on the road and go round towards the house. If any of them run from us, I expect them to west and head for Everton Road. See if you can set up some OPs along there and ambush them if they come through."

"Will do Major."

I hung up the phone, pretty happy that I had got that set up. As I started to turn back to the fire-fight, I was hit low in the side by a round fired from somewhere down-stream; from behind our position. The round knocked me the rest of the way around as it threw me against the bank.

As I slumped down, I saw one of Dimitri's men emerge cautiously and take aim at me again. Rasta and Bird didn't notice anything amiss, as they were still busy shifting position and firing, and they were further up the stream. From where they were, there was no chance that they could see the guy that had shot me, never mind bring their weapons to bear.

I struggled to lift my rifle, and as I did, I got the terrible feeling that I had come to the end of the road, as I could see that the round that had hit me had ricocheted off my weapon before hitting me. I figured that might have postponed my death, but it had damaged my rifle in the process.

I let my rifle drop, and started making the transition to my hand-gun, but slowly, so slowly. I was focused on the man taking aim at me, while a voice in my head was screaming, 'faster, faster you idiot'.

I had barely gotten my hand on the butt of the weapon, when the man's head seemed to explode. He toppled in what felt like slow motion, falling forwards into the sand and mercifully hiding the ruin of what had been his face.

I was completely confused for a few seconds, still tensed for the impact of the shot that my body expected, and fumbling to pull my hand-gun from the holster and jacking a round into the chamber. I noticed, as a vaguely interesting piece of trivia, that I hadn't needed to do so, as a bright shiny round was ejected from the weapon and arched away to fall to the ground.

I came back to myself suddenly; the sounds around me suddenly become clear and sharp again, and my mind started working.

Daise! I had completely forgotten about her. Now I could see her emerging from the bush further down the stream, standing poised on the top of the bank for a second before plunging down the bank and running towards me.

"Bird," I shouted, "take over, I've been shot."

"Are you gonna be OK?" Bird shouted back.

"Yes, medic on the way. You know what to do."

"Yes," Bird shouted one last time, and I swear it sounded as if he was laughing.

Daise reached me just then, and she dropped to a knee next to me and started pulling at my shirt to get to the wound.

"Hey, Daise. Thanks for that," I greeted her, "I'd forgotten you were even there."

"Forget about that Rupert, let me see where you were shot." She sounded seriously pissed at me, almost as if it was my fault for getting wounded. I pulled up my shirt so she could see what I had already figured out, that it wasn't more than a grazing shot. I suspected, from the way that it hurt to breath, that I had at least one rib cracked or broken, but it certainly wasn't life threatening.

As Daise started to look at my wound, I got distracted by what I knew immediately was Spyker and Moose's flanking attack. The sounds of the short bursts from their R5's sounded distinctly different from the sporadic AK shots.

Bird and Rasta waited a few moments before clambering up the bank and starting an attack in support, and I was deeply regretful that I wasn't with them.

My attention was snatched back suddenly as Daise, looking for something to use to clean the blood away from my wound, pulled her T-shirt off over her head.

My adrenaline was already pumping, and the sight of Daise in only a skimpy bra in the middle of a fire-fight, was suddenly the most erotic thing I had ever seen in my life.

I reached out one arm to grip her neck and pull her close into an intense kiss, and slipped the other hand under her bra to grasp at her breast.

Daise was startled by my actions, and pulled back from me at first. Then she changed direction completely, and started kissing me with incredible hunger, trying to bore into my mouth with her tongue and devour me with her mouth.

I slipped my hand down under her skirt and cupped her between her legs. Daise moaned loudly, and reached to unbuckle my pants and free my penis. Once she had accomplished that, without separating our dueling tongues, she flung her leg over me and settled herself down, impaling herself on me.

I shifted my hands to hold her buttocks, guiding her up and down my shaft. I was vaguely aware that my side was extremely sore, and I would suffer for this later, but in the heat of the moment I didn't care.

There was no finesse, just 'hot monkey sex', which didn't last long. With a shudder that ran through her whole body, Daise came, and I erupted into her a few seconds later.

"Oh god, that was intense," Daise said once she had caught her breath. I just nodded helplessly.

"Well, I hate to disturb you ..." I heard and almost died of fright. It was Chris, and he was supporting a smiling, wan Johnny.

Daise went bright red, and buried her face in my neck.

"Good to see you up Johnny. How are you," I asked.

"Hit my head on a tree when I took cover," he answered, obviously struggling to suppress his amusement at my predicament.

"Shit, you weren't shot?" I asked in surprise.

"No, but unless she was a virgin, that blood must be from you," he answered.

I laughed and pushed Daise up. She just stood and her skirt fell back into place, leaving her completely covered again. She took her T-shirt with her and clutched it to her chest. I had to tuck myself away, before Chris bent over me to check out my wound.

"It doesn't look too bad," he told me, and then proceeded to start patching me up, ignoring all my protestations and complaints.

Chapter 37: Into the Bush

As I took my first few steps, I found that I was back into the rhythm. Once it has been pounded into you by instructors and experience, you never forget it. Eyes flick from right in front of your feet to check your footing, up and to the right, scan right to left, close to far, and back again in a never-ending cycle. Walking slowly and stepping high so that you clear any obstacles; checking every few steps that your spacing is correct to avoid the natural tendency to gravitate inwards towards your comrades; checking back at the section-leader; checking up in the trees to break the cycle and avoid getting into a rut that allows your concentration to drift from what you’re doing. Breathing deeply to counter the effects of adrenaline; using the butterflies in your stomach to help keep you sharp. As your eyes scan, remembering to look for shape, silhouette and movement. Checking, checking, and checking constantly.

As I settled into it, the conscious drills faded into the background. I kept doing them, but I didn’t have to think about doing them, just move, slowly and steadily. I had calculated that if Dimitri’s men had followed the predictable pattern, they would have taken about twenty minutes to recover from the fear of ambush as they advanced slowly and found that the way was clear of booby-traps and soldiers, and started to pick up confidence again.

We reached the stopper group that Cpl. Maseka had left behind, and they got up and retreated once we were past.

As we moved further along, the undergrowth thinned out a little, and we spread out a bit further.

I spared a few seconds to search the bush behind me, and saw that Daise was walking with her rifle butt tucked into her shoulder, and a fixed serious expression on her face. I didn't seriously expect her to be engaged, but I felt it was her right to be a part of what was going on. Johnny noticed my inattention, and gestured furiously at me to indicate that I should concentrate on what we were supposed to be doing. I smiled at him and focused back towards our axis of advance.

We had moved more than five hundred meters through the bush in the last twenty minutes, and passed the scene of Cpl. Maseka's last ambush, with no sign of any of Dimitri's men. I wasn't too concerned because I guessed that they had retreated back to the house and probably to their vehicles.

We couldn't move too quickly though, because that was just asking for trouble. We needed to spot any possible ambush before we triggered it, and our extended V-formation was designed to foil any such attempts.

Just as I was about to suggest to Johnny that they had bugged out, everything went to hell in a hand-basket.

It started with the distinctive snap-crack of an incoming round. That gave us the warning, and we all went to ground instantly, just before the hailstorm of fire started lashing the foliage of the trees around us.

The old drills kicked in without thought, 'dive-down-roll-observe-sights-fire'. Without any conscious thought, I found myself in a prone firing position looking over the iron sights of my rifle. I was orientated at about fifty degrees left of our line of  advance, as the fire was coming from our left front.

We had been moving up the right side of a stream, and the muzzle flashes showed that the enemy were on the other side of the stream, about two hundred meters in front of us to the left.

I was firing single shots into the base of the bushes in the general area that the muzzle flashes appeared; one shot to the left, one to the right and one in the center, then moving to the next bush.

Once we were fully engaged, I took a look around, because Johnny should have been taking control of the fire-fight by then, issuing fire-control orders, getting us ready to maneuver.

When  I looked back, I was horrified to see that Johnny was down. The first shots must have got him.

I did a quick appreciation, shifting mental gears back to being a Section Leader (small team commander). Moose and Spyker weren't engaged; they were on the right, and sufficiently far over to be obscured from sight both by the vegetation and by the fact that the slight curve of the side of the hill we were moving up, put them into dead-ground. Bird, on point, was pretty much pinned down, and Rasta and I, while in direct line of sight from the ambushers, had both found good cover behind trees.

At this point there was fairly  sporadic fire from across the stream. I guessed that our immediate response to the ambush had caught them by surprise, and our disciplined return fire had been very effective in keeping their heads down.

Time was compressed, as usual, and the whole process took no more than a minute or so. I hadn't even finished my first magazine, when I started issuing orders.

I shouted, in Afrikaans to avoid having my words understood by Dimitri's men.

"Moose, Spyker. Right around flank attack. Move now." (Regsom kantaanval. Beweeg nou) Bird, break contact. Individual fire and movement left on my command.(Breek kontak. Onderlinge vuur en beweeging links op my bevel.) Rasta, covering fire for Bird, then fire and move to the left into the dead ground. (Dekkingsvuur vir Bird, daarna vuur en beweeg na links tot in dooie grond.)"

I paused between each command for the 'battle talk' process, basically everyone shouted the commands back to me, so I could be sure they had all heard and that there were no misunderstandings.

I couldn't see Moose and Spyker moving, but I got a shouted report, "On the way (Op pad)" so I put them out of my mind.

"Swapping magazine (Wissel magasein)" I shouted, to alert Rasta. I pressed the magazine release catch and shoved the empty magazine down the front of my shirt, grabbed a new one, clicked it into place and was firing again within a few seconds.

As soon as I was done, Rasta did the same.

"Move Bird", I shouted, as Rasta started firing again.

Bird came running past behind me, and a few seconds later he started firing.

As soon as I heard Bird firing, I rolled back then ran, crouched over, behind Rasta and Bird, and took up a firing position (Vuurstelling) on his left flank. Rasta followed suit once he heard me firing, and then Bird did the same.

When it was my turn to move again, I was finally able to jump into the stream-bed and get some decent cover against the far bank. Rasta and Bird were soon in the same position, and I could finally take some time, in relative safety, to think about our situation.

I would really appreciate comments on this chapter, especially from Vets, about how true the combat sequence rings.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Chapter 36: Rendezvous

I put my foot down, racing back towards home. My mind was spinning even faster as I considered all the possible actions and consequences.

Dimitri and his henchmen had stepped firmly over the line; they had killed one of my own, and wounded another.

It took me closer to twenty minutes than thirty to get to the RV point. I pulled into the little grass picnic area slowly, keeping an eye out for anyone who might be there. The place looked deserted, which was a stroke of luck.

I stopped the Land Rover under some trees at the edge of the bush, killed the engine and got out with a curt order to "stay in the car" directed in the general direction of the occupants.

Once I was away from the Land Rover, I hauled out my hand-gun, checked that there was a round in the chamber, and then stood and waited for a few minutes. I couldn't bear to wait without knowing what was going on, and worse than that, with no cover or all-round defense.

I walked to the rear of the Land Rover and opened up, unlocked my special storage compartment and hauled out the Lee Enfield that was stashed there. As I was loading the clip into the ten round magazine, Daise climbed out and joined me.

"Let me," she said, removing the rifle from my hands. I looked at her with a raised eye-brow and saw the determined expression on her face. I just shrugged and reached back into the storage compartment and removed my 'fishing knife'. The fact is I hated fishing. That was a combat knife, but I had had to justify the expense of ordering a US Marines K-Bar from a specialist supplier somehow, so 'fishing knife' was how I had explained it to my wife.

I attached the scabbard to my belt and tied the bottom to my left leg.

I checked my watch, and only four minutes had passed. I reached back into the storage box and grabbed a box of .303 rounds which I handed to Daise.

"Get up in that big tree," I told her, "the fork over there should form a stable enough firing platform and you'll be able to provide us with top-cover from there throughout this area.

Without a word, Daise trotted off and climbed the tree. Just as I checked my watch another time, I heard the sound of an approaching vehicle. A quick glance told me it was Chris arriving. 'Damn,' I thought, 'you can always rely on the medics.'

Chris pulled up next to my Land Rover and pulled his medical bag out after him.

"They still in the bush?" he greeted me.

"Ja. Should be getting here any minute."

"We got backup?"

I gestured to the tree. Chris tracked his eyes up into the branches and did a double-take when he spotted Daise. I just smiled and nodded when he turned to look at me. He shook his head and looked around the area.

"Anyone else?" he asked finally.

"Johnny's on his way. He'll probably call Bird, Rasta, Moose and Spyker."

"The old team."

"Ja. He should be here soon too. Dunno 'bout the others."


Just then my eye caught some movement in the long grass under the trees. I turned to look at Daise, and saw she was tracking it with her rifle. Satisfied that she knew, basically anyway, what she needed to do, I dialed Cpl Maseka's cell phone.

"Ready to come in Major," he said into his phone before I could say a word.

"You in the long grass?"

"Some of us."

The phone went dead as he hung up, then the grass started moving again and within a few seconds two of the Cpl's riflemen emerged carrying the Sgt Major on a makeshift stretcher.

Chris hurried over to meet them and as he did, Cpl Maseka emerged from the bush ninety degrees further around the edge along with one of his riflemen, and three others emerged opposite him. If we'd been hostile, they would have flanked us on both sides.

I didn't say a word, just watched as the Cpl Maseka deployed his soldiers into an all-round defense using hand gestures. When he'd finished, he looked at me.

"Stopper group?" I asked.

"Yes Major, two of them in a quick ambush about two hundred meters out."

"Ok, well done Cpl. We have some reinforcements coming in and you can debrief when they arrive. I just want to know bow, did they chase you into the bush?"

Maseka's white teeth gleamed as his grin split his black face. "Yes, but we made it a little hot for them. Probably three or four won't be going anywhere ever again."

"Ok, but are the rest still on your trail?"

"Coming very slowly, yes."

"Good. Ah, here's Johnny," I said as a battered old, dirty green, Ford Cortina pulled up.

Johnny had made an absolute fortune the past seven or eight years working for a PMC company in Iraq, but almost every cent he had was invested off-shore. He was used to living a frugal life, and making money hadn't changed that at all. He had once let slip that he was making around forty thousand US$ a month, and spending next to nothing.

Johnny pulled his car around so that it was facing to the nine O'clock position, if mine was the twelve. Old habits die hard, and he was instinctively following the laager drill. I knew that he hadn't even thought about it, jus done it instinctively.

Johnny unfolded himself out of the driver's seat, and stretched out to his full 6 foot five inches. I knew that most people watching him would never have guessed that in those few seconds he had scanned the situation and his mind had processed every scrap of terrain, calculating and storing possible tactical actions and reactions.

Johnny was an instinctual tactical genius. He had no formal schooling beyond high-school, and all the army courses he had been on, he had aced the practical and failed the written theory exams. He was such an incredibly soldier though, that he had been promoted in spite of the courses, but because of the way he performed in the bush. He was an NCO, and became an officer only under great duress, and then only right at the end of the war in Angola.

"Howzit Captain," I greeted him. Using his old rank was an old way of teasing him, because he still thought of himself as an NCO with the traditional disdain for Officers. He returned my greeting with a grunt, and turned a raised eyebrow to Cpl Maseka.

With a glance at me for my permission, Cpl Maseka proceeded to go through his debrief. Johnny and I listened intently without interrupting until he finished with how he joined up with me.

"Ok, to summarize," Johnny began, "this is a bunch of criminals with AKs and hand-guns. They have a basic knowledge of tactics based on the way they fire and move, but they are not used to the bush. They are also not fit. Correct?"

"Yes Captain," Cpl Maseka replied. As usual, Johnny was able to extract the essentials.

Just then, a double-cab Nissan bakkie pulled into the picnic area, turned and stopped in the Three o'clock position, and four guys got out. Bird, Rasta, Moose and Spyker, for smallish guys with no really outstanding features. Definitely no bulging muscles. They were like Whippets, quick and lithe and could go forever. Like Johnny, the Sgt Major and I, they were in their mid forties, but physically, would put them up against any bunch twenty years younger. The fact that the seven of us had each won fifteen bronze medals in the Comrades Marathon, was just proof that some people aged like brandy; getting better with age.

Bird opened the canopy that covered the back of his bakkie, and handed out R5's to the other three, then brought two over, one each for Johnny and I. Owning his own private security firm made it both easy and legal for him to own these weapons.

I cocked mine, checking that the chamber was clear and that the working parts were all ... Well ... Working, before walking over and helping myself to a fifty round magazine in the back of the bakkie. There were six pre-loaded and a box of empty thirty round magazines. I attached the loaded magazine to my weapon, shifted the firing selector to 'R', racked back the cocking handle and released it under control, forcing the first round from the magazine into the chamber, then shifted the firing selector back to 'S' with my thumb. Once that was done, grabbed a few boxes of 5.56 rounds and started loading magazines.

I wasn't the only one, the rest of the bunch were standing around the bakkie, loading magazines quickly with deft fingers.

Cpl Maseka had followed me over. “Cpl, we’re going into the bush after them. I want you to send assign someone to drive this bakkie, and someone else to either drive or ride along in my Land Rover. Bettina might want to drive. The two guys who carried the Sgt Major can go with Chris as protection. You stay here with the rest of your guys as backup for us. Get the vehicles out of here now. Tell your guy to find a place to stop where they can wait out of sight until they’re called.”

“What about her?” he asked with a jerk of his head in Daise’s direction. Johnny looked at me expectantly, also interested to hear my answer to this.

“She’s made it clear she wants to be involved. Leave her with us.”

Cpl Maseka saluted and went walking off. Johnny just waited, not taking his eyes off me as he continued to load magazines.

“She’s earned it. She shoots that 303 like a dream and she was cool as hell the other night. I told you about that.” I answered his unspoken query.

“Ok, if you say so.” One of the nice things about Johnny is that he doesn’t do sarcasm. If he said something, then that is what he meant. Just that, no more, no less.

I checked my watch again. We’d been busy for just on eleven minutes. Cutting it fine.

“Ok, Opsaal.”

Everyone grabbed their magazines and weapons and we headed off to the edge of the grass area and formed up without any thought or signals into an extended skirmish line; Bird on point in the center, Rasta and I to his left and Moose and Spyker to his right. Johnny stood slightly behind the line in the center where he could control our movement with small tapping noises on his weapon to and hand signals.

I moved the selector on my rifle to ‘R’ for semi-automatic fire, and tucked the butt into my shoulder, then stepped off as I heard the sound of Johnny tapping his magazine twice. I looked left and right to ensure that the spacing was right, and shifted slightly until it was about fifteen meters between us.

This chapter is dedicated to Cpl (Acting Platoon Sgt) Johan "Vaaitjie" Schoeman. RIP.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Chapter 35: Contact, Contact. Wait. Out.

I decided to take the old road that wound up the coastline as it was more scenic, so we were right near Virginia Airport when my cell phone started playing Mike Batt’s “The Ride to Agadir”, so I knew it was the Sgt Major calling.*

“Hi Sgt Major,” I answered the call by pressing the button on my Bluetooth headset.

“Major …” I heard, then my skin started crawling as I heard the unmistakable sounds of an AK47 firing on full automatic in the background.

“Contact, Contact. Wait. Out”

I pulled over to the side of the road and shouted for everyone to “Shut the fuck up” and then focused my entire attention on the phone. I could hear the sounds of heavy breathing, and more firing then “Oh Shit” and then nothing for a while. I pounded my fist on the steering wheel in frustration. I had no idea what was going on, other than it sounded like a major fire-fight. I needed to know what was happening. I reached out to Daise and gestured for her to hand me her cell phone. Just as she passed it over, I heard Cpl Maseka’s voice on the other end.

“Major, is that you?”

“Yes Cpl. Contact Report!” I demanded impatiently. This should be second nature to them after the many times we had been through the drill. I was scared now; it didn’t seem good that Cpl Maseka had taken over the Sgt Major’s phone.

“The Sgt Major’s down. He’s been shot in the upper chest, but we think we’ve got the bleeding under control. Rifleman Zondi is dead.”

“The enemy and situation Corporal, tell me what’s happening.”

“About twelve of them. They arrived at the gate in a Toyota Hi-Ace. We thought it was just a taxi, but when Zondi asked them what they wanted; one of them just shot him in the chest with a hand-gun.”

“What’s happening now,” I asked, thinking that no matter what, we were going to practice Contact and Situation reports again when this was over. I shouldn’t have to drag this stuff out of him. “Are you still engaged?”

We got into a fire-fight with them. I think they under-estimated both our numbers and the fact that we were ready to shoot back. We’ve had to drop back to the house though, they’re in the front garden and they take pot-shots at anything that moves. We’re trying to stop them from surrounding us completely.”

“Ok. Abandon the house. Leave Zondi’s body, it’ll be picked up faster if you leave it behind. I have all the woman with me, so it’s just you guys there. You know the route down into the Kloof, go there and lose yourselves in the bush. I’m heading back now; I’ll call you as soon as I can.”

“What about the Sgt Major?”

“Make a stretcher for him and take him with. You know this; we’ve practiced it enough times. Now MOVE.”

“Yes sir. Out.”

I dialled the emergency services number, and as soon as it was answered, reported “Someone’s shooting like crazy. Please send the police to help.” And gave them the name of my road before hanging up.

Next call was to Chris. “I need a medic. Gunshot wound to the upper chest. Can you meet me?” As usual he was completely on the ball. He wasted no time with extraneous nonsense.


“7.62 AK 47”


“The Sgt Major. Cpl Maseka tells me they’ve stopped the bleeding, but they’re loading him on a stretcher and are bugging out under fire from my house into the bush.”

“Ok. He’s a tough bastard. Been shot before, so I think he’ll handle the shock OK. Meet you at the river in the Kloof?”

“Yes. Come armed Chris. These fuckers have attacked my home. Zondi’s dead. This has escalated beyond a game now.”

“Damn right. You gonna put out the call to some of the others?”

“Next call. Thanks Chris, see you in a few.”

I hung up and gave the girls a quick summary of what was going on. I told them that we were going to go back and collect the guys and then we would find a safe place for them to stay while I took the battle back to the bad guys. Daise got a stubborn look on her face, and I knew that there was going to be an argument from her, but decided that it could be postponed. There were more important things to take care of for now. I dialled another number on my phone.

“Johnny, you packed?” I asked when the phone was answered.

“You mean like in the old days?”


“What’s the situation?”

“Twelve guys plus. Russian Mafia types. Attacked my house with AK 47’s and handguns. One rifleman is dead. Sgt Maj Dhlamini is wounded. I’ve got Chris on the way to RV at the river in the Kloof below my house. You know the spot?”

“Yes. I took my kids there on a picnic a few weeks back. You want me to call around, get some of the others?”

“Absolutely. I’ll brief you properly later. For now I have a bunch of civilians with me and I need to make pickup. I need some protection for that and some transport. After we’ve got them, we can go to that place on the Bluff.”

Johnny laughed. “Yes, JUST like the old days. Ok. RV at the river. My ETA is twenty-five mikes. I’ll call the others on the way.”

“Ok. My ETA is more like thirty mikes. Thanks Johnny.”

* Boney M’s Version and for Mike Batt’s original with the London Philly.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Chapter 34: Moving on

I was actually very happy to have Lisa in the house. I loved kids, always had. Against many people’s expectations, I had actually spent some time baby-sitting as a teenager, and I had experienced absolutely no problems looking after my own daughters when they were growing up, right from the diaper stage. You know: when you feed them at one end and wipe it off at the other.

Sitting at the breakfast table, I looked around and found that I was happy. Having all these people in my life added something to it, it didn’t take anything away. I loved the sound of everyone talking and watching them made me feel good. I suddenly realised that no matter what else had happened, I wasn’t lonely any more.

I had been dragged along into this situation, without planning much of it at all, and that bugged me in a lot of ways, but I decided that I was far from unhappy with the results. I had no idea what was still ahead of me, and in a lot of ways that was a large part of the reason why I was unhappy. Predictability is a killer. Boring makes you old. Having young people in the house also made me feel a lot younger. Of course, the fact that most of them were young beautiful women had something to do with that.

I decided to shake things up a little though so I calmly dropped a bombshell. “We’re leaving in an hour to go shopping.”

The squeals of protest that followed my announcement just made me grin. I knew that women liked to have more time to prepare, especially if they were going out, but I knew that some sort of ultimatum on time was the only way to get everyone moving in the same direction at the same time. Herding cats? Pah! They’re simple compared to herding women and children.

Did I say that I knew what I was doing when it came to women? If so, someone remind me never to do that again. It wasn’t even ten minutes after my breakfast table announcement that everyone was in the Land Rover waiting for me.

I had gotten up from the breakfast table and gone straight to the shower. When I came out of the shower, I found some clothes laid out on the bed, ready for me to pull on. I could see neither hide nor hair of any of the women when I came down the stairs. Not even Nqobile.

Sgt Major Dhlamini was sitting on one of my lounge-suites and he smiled at my confusion. “They’re waiting for you,” was his laconic comment with a gesture over his should at the door to the garage.

I climbed into the Land Rover to a chorus of teasing cat-calls about how long MEN took to get ready, which I took in good spirit, and with a large smile plastered to my face.

Once we were moving, the interrogation started. Daise had been appointed the spokesman ... umm spokesperson … for the group, and she wanted to know where we were going, why, what we were going to do there and …. I had to interrupt her flow of questions before it got too much, so I just told her to calm down and started exmplaining.

“I thought that we could go up to Gateway Mall. It’s right the other side of Durban, to the north near Amanzintoti, and I think that it should be fairly safe, especially at this time of the morning. My gut feeling is that Dimitri and his crew are primarily night owls. I want to go there because it is a really large mall with a wide variety of shops, and there are some things that I thin we haven’t thought through properly which we can solve there.”

“What did you have in mind?” Daise asked. I glanced across at where she was curled into the passenger seat, with her legs tucked under in her in that wonderful way that girls do, and I could see the gleam in her eyes… I laughed at her, and a little at myself. She had experienced my version of shopping before, where I decided what I wanted and then went and got it, ignoring the cost completely.

“I was thinking that if the bunch of you are going to be living with me, even semi-permanently, then you will all need some clothing and female products. I also see that Nqobile has a fixed and determined look in her eye, and I am sure she intends stocking up her larder to the max!”

“Oh, OK.” Daise was happy with that, and after sharing what I had said with the rest, the whole crowd settled down a bit and I got on with driving.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Chapter 33: Expectations

I was disturbed once during the night by Alina climbing into bed with us, but she said nothing, just snuggled up to me on the opposite side to Daise, so I soon dropped off to sleep.

The morning light coming through the window woke me up again. I extracted my arm from under Daise’s head and checked the time. 05H20. It took some effort to untangle myself from the two bodies entwined with mine, but aside from some muttered complaints, I managed it without waking either of them. After a quick change into my baggies, I headed down to the pool for my morning swim.

As usual, I swimming helped me to clear my head and start focusing my thoughts. I had been too focused on Daise’s reaction to the short fight we had had the night before to spend any time doing any thinking of my own, and I needed the space to get my thoughts in order. It seemed to me that I was just reacting on instinct with the whole situation and I needed to think my situation through properly. In a few short days, I had moved from a fairly normal life on my own, with it’s associated problems of boredom and loneliness, to one where I was rapidly filling my house with assorted women and my life with all kinds of complications.

I had been quite happy with Daise coming into my life, and thought that adding Alina would add a friend for Daise. The signals that I was picking up from the two of them were a little worrying though. It felt as though they were both acting like they were my partners, with Alina’s focus moving from Daise to me. I knew that Alina had some very bad experiences with men, and I suspected that my treatment of her had started to shift her expectations. There had been some clear indications that she wouldn’t be too averse to getting sexually involved with me, at the same time that she was involved with Daise. I was fairly straight-laced in some ways, so this was an eye-opener for me. On the other hand, having two beautiful young women who wanted to be with me was enormously flattering.

On the gripping hand, I had now added both Bettina and Kate to the mix the previous evening. Bettina’s comment in the hot-tub indicated, on reflection, that she wasn’t too averse to some sort of similar arrangement. I considered that my rescue of her from the club, along with her daughter, obligated me her. The sense that I got in the hot-tub though was that she might want to extend her stay beyond just a few days. Kate was another wild card. She had been extremely effusive in her thanks the night before, with a world of implied promise delivered in her affectionate kiss.

I decided to play it by ear, and see what developed. I had long since learnt that women run a man’s life, and not the other way around. What was much more worrying to me was the situation with Dimitri and his crew. The previous night’s events had definitely thrown down the gauntlet, and I suspected that the confrontation would become a lot more immediate and personal, as what I had done would be seen as a direct challenge. Much more so than the initial arrangement with Daise, or even my ‘turning’ of Alina.

I finished my swim and towelled dry. My Labradors were hanging around the pool and I felt a little guilty that I had given them so little attention the past few days. Jaxon, the large male, was looking mournfully at me and holding his rubber ball in his mouth. I called him to me and he suddenly looked like a big puppy as he dropped the ball at my feet and ran a few meters away, waiting for me to throw it.

I walked out onto the lawn and started throwing the ball for him, which he would pounce on as if it was some rabbit he had to subdue, then return it to me to be thrown again. Holly just lay quietly and watched. Her hips were giving her problems and she seemed to be in pain again, so she didn’t chase the ball with Jaxon.

After ten minutes or so of this, I noticed that Bettina’s daughter had come out of the house and was standing and watching the game. She had an incredibly sad, yearning expression on her face.

“Hi,” I greeted her. “We didn’t have much time to introduce ourselves last night. I’m Rupert. What can I call you.”

“Lisa,” was the shy response. I paused to take a proper look at her. She was fairly tall for her age, with very long light brown hair. Looking at her, I decided that she had either gone through a growth spurt recently, or she wasn’t eating well. She was all sharp angles and long legs. There was no baby fat at all. She was wearing blue-jeans and a Hannah Montana T-Shirt.

“Hi Lisa. Would you like to meet my dogs?”

“Yes please. They won’t bite me will they?”

“No. This is Jaxon. He’s an absolute baby. He would be very upset if he thought that you were afraid of him. You aren’t afraid are you?”

“I’ve never had a dog. We’ve always lived in a flat and we weren’t allowed to have pets.”

“Ok, come over here and meet Jaxon then.”

Lisa walked over to join me where I had stopped Jaxon and was scratching his neck. She reached out very hesitantly to touch him on his back, and slowly started petting him. When I stopped scratching him, he turned to investigate this new person and to Lisa’s embarrassment, nosed her in the crotch. It was very difficult for me to suppress a laugh and I had to explain to her that it was just his way of smelling her so that he would know who she was.

It didn’t take too long before I knew that the two of them were going to be fast friends. After she had thrown the ball for him a few times I left them for a second and grabbed some dog biscuits from the pantry in the kitchen and brought them back. Lisa was very impressed with the fact that Jaxon sat and waited for her to give the biscuits to him and didn’t snatch them from her.

While Lisa played with Jaxon, I very carefully drew her out. It was quite obvious that she didn’t realise that I was doing so, but over the course of the next twenty minutes, I learnt a lot about both her and her mother. What I heard both impressed and depressed me. It was clear that everything that Bettina did was aimed at providing for Lisa’s needs, but Bettina hadn’t been able to avoid closeting Lisa in a small cycle of home and school, and Lisa was quite clearly a very bright little girl who had realised that there were some people in her mother’s life who weren’t very nice. She let slip that she had seen various bruises and contusions on her mother and that there had been a few visits to the hospital as well.

When Jaxon decided that he was tired, and disappeared into his kennel with the ball, we went back into the house. Nqobile had started on breakfast and Lisa and I sat down to eat. Lisa was very excited with the choices that she was given for breakfast and explained readily that she wasn’t given any choice normally. After much negotiation with Nqobile, she decided that fried eggs, sunny-side-up, and bacon was a wonderful treat. I decided to have the same.

While we were eating, the rest of the household slowly came awake, with first Daise and Alina joining us, then Kate and finally Bettina. Everyone was fairly quiet and subdued, except for Lisa who was bubbling to her mother about the fun she had had playing with Jaxon. This eventually culminated in a question to her mother.

“Are we going to live here now mommy?”

Bettina glanced and me, then answered her daughter, “Yes, for now. We will probably have to find a new place to live though.”

“Bettina,” I interrupted, “we haven’t really discussed it, but there is absolutely no rush. You are welcome to stay for as long as you wish.”

“Oh thank you Rupert,” Lisa gushed. Bettina just looked at me, then mouthed ‘Thank you’.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Chapter 32: Going Home

We hadn’t been driving more than ten minutes before the reaction started to set in. The first to go was Daise. I saw her start to go a little green around the gills, and her hands started shaking. When it turned into dry heaves, I shouted at her to open the window, hoping that the fresh air would sort her out. She made it, nearly. Half the vomit went out the window, the rest splattered all over the door.

“It’s alright Daise, nothing to worry about. You’re having a completely normal reaction,” I tried to reassure her.

“I’m OK,” she responded, but I could see she was far from OK.

“It’s the reaction. You were on an adrenalin high and now you’re coming down from it. Don’t worry about it, we’ll get you into a nice hot bath when we get back and you’ll be alright.”

Alina climbed over into the front seat and helped Daise clean up a bit, before holding her in her arms and comforting her. I then noticed that Bettina was sobbing quietly, but she stopped as soon as her daughter woke up. The distraction of keeping her daughter safe was sufficient stimulus for her to suppress her emotions and focus her attention. Also totally normal. The person who bothered me the most was Katerina. I could see her pale face in the mirror, and it looked as though she was wearing a mask. I would have preferred her to cry but, at first, it looked as if she was going to just suppress her emotions. I thought that was going to be very unhealthy.

“How’re you doing Katerina,” I asked her.

“I am very glad that you rescued me,” she replied, “but I am a bit worried that I will stain your seats.”

“What?” That was a complete surprise. “What do you mean?” I asked.

“I’m bleeding worse.”

“Shit. Sorry Katerina. I completely forgot the reason you were on the way to the hospital. Are you in a lot of pain?”

“It’s OK. The pain does not bother me so much. It is just the blood.”

“Just hold on. Don’t worry about the seat. It’s you that we need to worry about.”

I thought for a moment, trying to figure out what I could do. I was reluctant to go to any of the hospitals because I didn’t have any faith in their ability to keep quiet about her injuries. Nurses were poorly paid and would be very susceptible to bribes. I couldn’t think of any doctors that I knew well enough to call on in a situation like this, but then I remembered an old friend. I figured he could help. I fired up my cell and found his number one-handed while driving.

“Hi Rupe, what’s up,” Chris answered after the third ring. He was a school headmaster now, but he had once been an Ops Medic, well trained in treating trauma, and I knew he had kept up his knowledge as part of the Occupational Health and Safety requirements for his school.

“Are you doing anything tonight Corporal?” I asked him.

There was a slight hesitation. I could almost hear the gears turning. “I haven’t been a corporal for a long time now.”

“Yes, I know. I would push your button unless I really needed you Chris.”

“Ok. How bad is it?”

“Not sure. Bleeding. Pale face. Some sweating, but that’s probably from shock not internal injuries.”

“Ok. I’ll grab my bag. Where can I meet you?”

“My place. We’re enroute now. ETA 20 Mikes”

“Cool. I should make it in about 25 to 30 Mikes. Just have to explain to the mother of my children why I have to abandon her at this time of night. Should I carry?”

“Probably a good idea. I’m pretty sure you won’t need it. We don’t have anyone in ‘hot pursuit’, but you never know.”

“Ok. SeeYa.”

The phone went dead in my ear. I turned to Katerina and told her, “I have someone on the way who will take a look at you. He’s not a doctor, but he’s the next best thing. He’ll be able to tell us what we should do at least.”

“Ok. Thank you,” Katerina replied, the effort to suppress her pain obvious in her voice.

I gave Sgt Major Dhlamini a call and he told me that he was already back at my place, and that everything looked OK. He reported that Nqobile was busy putting something together for us to eat as soon as we got back. I was happy with that. There’s nothing like a bit of an adrenalin high, then the drop back down, to get my appetite going; both for food and … other things. I glanced over at Daise a little guiltily, but saw that she seemed to have calmed down. Alina had fished some wet-wipes out of somewhere and had cleaned up her face, and was in the process of cleaning some of the mess off the car door.


The rest of the trip was anti-climatic, although I did keep a wary eye out for any pursuit. The road was quiet and the few other cars on the road were all content to roar past me as I deliberately kept left, in the slow lane.

As we got to my gate, I pressed the remote control and the electric gate slid open in time for me to drive in without stopping. The garage door opened on the same control, and I saw the Sgt Major waiting for me in the double garage. I pulled in and heaved a sigh of relief when the door closed behind me.

“I’ve got the guys patrolling the fence Major,” the Sgt major greeted me, “some of them are really pissed that they missed the action.”

“No doubt they’ll get their chance later. Just warn them that Chris will be arriving in a few minutes.”

“Chris who?”

“Sorry. He’s an old friend of mine. Was an Ops Medic.”

“We have some injuries you didn’t tell me about?”

“Just Katerina. She didn’t get to see the doctor at the hospital.”

“Oh, OK. I forgot about that.” His voice trailed off and I turned to see what had attracted his attention.

“Hey you horny old goat, that’s Bettina’s nanny. You leave her alone!”

“Ok,” he replied, not taking his eyes off her for a second. I just laughed at him and started helping the girls into the house. I half helped, half carried Katerina up the stairs and got her settled into a bed in the second guest bedroom, with Nqobile fussing around like an old abafazi. We had just got her settled when Chris arrived.

“Howzit man. You have no idea how glad I am to see you,” I greeted him.

“No problem. You have to tell me the what the hell is going on here. You have a house full of beautiful women and what look like soldiers patrolling the yard.”

“It’s a long story. This is Katerina. She’s the one with the problem.”

“Ok. Everyone out. Give me some room please.”

I led the way out of the room and started downstairs. Nqobile bustled past me and headed for the kitchen. I went out onto the deck and started up the Jacuzzi, turning the heat to it’s highest setting. Once it was bubbling nicely, I went back inside to get hold of some of the Boboti that Nqobile was dishing up.

“What is that stuff,” Daise asked. I was happy to see that she had changed into a clean track-suit and looked a lot better.

“It’s like a meat-loaf, just a lot more spicy. Based on a Cape Malay traditional recipe. It’s one of my favourite meals.”

“And the yellow rice?”

“That’s the result of the seasoning. Try some, I’m sure you’ll like it.” I fed her a spoonful from my plate and after the first taste, Daise’s reluctance disappeared and I surrendered to the inevitable, handing her my plate and dishing up onto another plate for myself. For the next few minutes there was silence as everyone made a valiant attempt to scrape their plates clean. As we were finishing, Chris came down the stairs, carrying his bag.

“Any of that left for me?”

“Sure, help yourself. What news on Katerina?”

“Kate will be fine,” Chris answered me quietly. “The injuries aren’t as serious as I thought they might be. I stopped the bleeding, which was the most serious. The tears should heal quickly as long as they aren’t aggravated. It seems that the problem is that she has been repeatedly raped and never got a chance to heal. I would still get her to a proper doctor as soon as possible though.”

“Ok, but she’ll be OK for tonight?”


Chris sat down and I introduced him around. He polished off his food rapidly and I suggested that everyone join me in the Jacuzzi, then walked out onto the deck and just stripped before climbing into the tub and easing myself into the water, not waiting for the reaction of any of the others. It was only a short time before first Daise, then Alina joined me, their pale bodies lit beautifully by the moonlight as they climbed into the tub. Bettina followed shortly afterwards, telling me as she stripped down that her nanny had tucked her sleeping daughter into bed. Daise climbed onto my lap and snuggled into my chest and the others spread themselves out on the seats in the tub. Chris came out briefly onto the deck and excused himself.

“As nice as the scenery is,” Chris said, “I need to get back home. My son is teething and I need to do my shift so my wife can get some sleep. Don’t forget to get Kate to a doctor, OK?”

“Sure. Thanks a million for coming out tonight Chris. I owe you one.”

“And don’t you forget it,” he said with a smile before disappearing back into the house.

Sgt Major Dhlamini appeared briefly. “I’ll sleep here tonight Major, see you in the morning,” he said before vanishing. I suspected that the nanny was going to be experiencing the full force of his charm within the next few minutes and silently wished him luck.

We sat and soaked for a while in silence, content to just enjoy the warm water bubbling around us and the scenery of the deep Kloof in the moonlight. Someone had turned out the house lights, so it was dark on the deck. The faces of the others were just pale blobs, I couldn’t make out any features.

I slowly became aware of Daise moving her cheek on my chest, rubbing it against me almost like a cat, and it made me become aware of her as a naked woman in my arms. The feel of her against me changed from that of a cuddle to concentrate on the rubbery feel of two breasts pressed into me and I shifted uncomfortably as my erection pressed up under her legs. Daise suddenly shifted so that she was straddling me and before I knew what was happening, I was buried inside her as she rocked gently on my lap. I bent my head to kiss her, forgetting completely that there were other people in the tub with us.

“Oh, that is so hot,” Bettina said quietly, which startled me and brought me back to an awareness of where I was. I tried to pull away from Daise, but she just locked her arms around my neck and pulled my head back into the kiss. I decided that it was dark enough that I didn’t need to worry about being embarrassed, and lost myself again in the sensations.

We stayed like that for some unknown eternity, until it suddenly became urgent and I spent inside her. I wasn’t sure what Daise had experienced, and started to apologise to her, but she just ‘shushed’ me and kissed me again lightly. After a few more minutes, she got up and we both climbed out of the tub and headed off to bed, leaving Bettina and Alina in the tub.

Chapter 31: Another Interval

The man was sitting at the first booth on the left as people entered the strip club. He liked sitting there as it allowed him to keep an eye on who was entering or exiting the club, and to make sure that he was always aware of what was happening around him. He was focused on the documents he had on the table and seemed to be oblivious to the artificial charms of the semi-naked women who prowled the tables of the club.

He paused his reading for a few seconds, and an astute observer would have noticed the fact that his face became flushed for a few seconds, before he returned to the papers in front of him.

The man turned his head and gestured with his head for the manager of the club to join him. As the manager approached the table, he had to pause to allow a topless women to crawl out from under the table before he could take a seat.

The man, known almost universally as Dimitri, continued to read for a few minutes, keeping the club manager waiting. The manager's apprehension became markedly worse as he was forced to wait.

After some indeterminate period, Dimitri put down the papers and focused his full attention on the manager. His single raised eyebrow was the equivalent of a large dose of Truth Serum. The manager started babbling but had to stop after a few seconds as his mouth proved unable to keep up with his desire to tell everything he knew as quickly as possible.

He stopped, drew in a large breath and visibly gathered himself, before launching into his tale a second time. His second attempt proved to be more coherent, but ultimately unsatisfying as he really had no explanation for the events of the evening. He finally wound down and stopped. His eyes betrayed his state of mind, however, looking everywhere except at the man in front of him. There was no escape though, as Dimitri's glare had him pinned in place like a butterfly on a board.

"So, you are telling me that you have three men dead and have two others arrested?"

The manager could do nothing but nod to indicate that Dimitri had summarised most succinctly what he had said.

"And you have lost two women."

This time it was a flat statement, not even a rhetorical question. Again all he could do was nod.

"And the child?"

"Gone, along with the nanny."

"Who did this?"

"We don't know. Our men say that they were taken down by two black men who looked like car guards."

"Bullshit. There was a team there. They were too slick. Someone must have seen something. Find them."

Dimitri waved his hand and the manager scrambled out of the booth, frantic to get away from Dimitri and any possible retribution. As soon as he was gone, Dimitri's shadow appeared. He was a quiet man, dark hair and a flat, expressionless face. He listend carefully to the instructions that Dimitri issued in a few staccato sentences of Russian. His only response was a curt "Da" before he got up and left to follow the manager out of the club. Anyone observing his face would have recoiled from the implacable sense of purpose there.

Dimitri allowed himself a small expression of satisfaction. There would be a new manager of the club in a short while, one of his own men, while the old one met with an unfortunate accident.

He returned to his papers. There was a sense of satisfaction in seeing the figures on paper, and he knew he could rely on the paper where a computer introduced too many chances for someone to intercept the information. Everything was going well; the drug trade was firmly under control with most of the rivals eliminated, he was well on his way towards establishing control over the prostitution setup, with most of the clubs either under his direct control or paying 'protection' to him. There was very little street trade, but what there was would be controlled within a few days. The only fly in the ointment was the bitch Alina who had disappeared and now this incident tonight... As he thought about it, he suddenly wondered if the two were connected.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Chapter 30: Cleanup and Regroup

I called out to Daise to warn her that I was a friendly, then moved further round the front on the car to confirm that the threat was past. A quick glance told me all that I needed to know, and I rushed back to the driver’s seat of the Landrover. As I jumped in, I called to Daise and she sat back down, pulling her door closed behind her.

I shifted into reverse, and pulled back, wincing as the car I had crashed scraped as it pulled free of the Bull-Bar and crashed back down onto the road. Once I was clear, I shifted back into first gear and swung round to shine my head-lights onto the first car that had arrived at the hospital.

I was gratified to see that my confidence in Cpl Maseka’s ability had been fully justified. The driver of the car was face-down on the tarmac and his hands were secured behind him. Cpl Maseka’s helper was standing with one foot planted firmly in the center of his back, and his pistol pointed down aimed approximately in the direction of the back of his head. I could see two heads with long hair through the back window of the car, so I guessed that the women were still OK.

I left the Landrover with it’s engine running and jumped out. Cpl Maseka was in front of the car busy with something that I couldn’t see. When moved around to where I could see him properly, I could see that he had just finished binding the hands of a second man.

“Everything under control Cpl?” I asked

“Hundred Percent Major,” he replied, “no major injuries.”

“Major injuries?” I asked.

“A few cuts and scrapes from ducking into cover. Nothing a few plasters won’t fix.”

“The girls?”

“We just shouted at them to keep down when we pulled open the car doors. These idiots hadn’t even drawn their weapons.” His voice dripped with scorn as he gestured with his head to one side. A glance told me that he had recovered both of their fire-arms.

“Ok. We need to clean up and get out of here.”

“Two minutes. The Sgt-Major is getting the car.”


I reholstered my fire-arm and moved to the passenger door of the car. As I turned around, the headlights from the Landrover must have illuminated my face sufficiently for Bettina to identify me. The door suddenly flew open and I found my arms full of a sobbing woman.

“Hi Bettina, sad to see me?” I said jokingly.

My only reward was two fists beating on my chest. I gave Bettina a big squeeze, then pushed her away from my chest so I could see her face.

“Are you OK?”

“Yes,” she answered through her tears, “but I am worried about my daughter.”

“Ok. We’ll talk about that in a few minutes. What about your friend?”

Bettina turned back to the car and crooked her finger at the girl still sitting there. “This is Katerina.”

Katerina climbed out of the car slowly. It was obvious that any movement caused her pain. Once she was standing, she took two steps towards me and then reached up, put her arms around my neck and pulled me down to kiss me. I hesitated slightly and the thought ran through my head ‘Never kiss the groupies’, but I shrugged it off and returned her kiss. I figured that this was her way of thanking me for helping her, and that it would demean her to refuse.

“Hi Katerina, nice to meet you. We need to get out of here, so we will talk a bit later.”

I walked to the Landrover, pulling the two girls with me. Once there, I handed them over to Daise with a quick introduction, and turned to look for the Sgt Major. Typically of the breed, he was standing right behind me and grinned when he saw that he had managed to startle me.

“Geez Sgt Major, don’t DO that,” I admonished him.

“Do what?” he asked with a faux innocent expression on his face. “We’re ready to rock and roll whenever you are. Roy just wants to know where the brass is from the shots that you fired at that other car. He doesn’t want to leave any obvious clues.”

“It wasn’t me who fired, it was Daise. I suspect that her doppies ejected straight into the Landrover. She was standing in the passenger door when she fired.”

“Yebo. I’ll grab the other car, load up Cpl Maseka’s crew and make my way back to your place for a debrief. Ok?”

“Perfect. What is Roy up to?”

“He’ll hang around here. Arrest those two clowns and muddy the waters as much as possible when the Police arrive. He’ll have some story worked out by the time they get here.”

“What about the CCTV cameras?”

“What do you expect? Did you REALLY think they were actually working?”

“And if they are?”

“One of the guys has gone to sort that out. We figure a hundred rand or so and the tapes from tonight will be hard to find.”

“Perfect. See you back at my place.”

I jumped back into the Landrover and pulled out of the parking lot. Once we were driving, I called to Bettina, “Where is your Daughter?”

“She’s at my flat. I have a nanny who looks after her at night.”

“Directions please?”

It only took us five minutes to get to Bettina’s flat. I went up with her and helped her gather her clothes and a few personal items. Once we had thrown those into a bag, she went to wake up her daughter. The nanny turned out to be a young Zulu girl, who showed every sign of being petrified of me, until I was able to reassure her that I was not part of the crowd that had been scaring Bettina. Speaking her language helped a lot with that. Once she knew that I was going to take Bettina and her daughter away with me to look after them, she begged me to take her with, pointing out that we would still need someone to look after the child. I decided that she had a point and told her to come with.

Ten minutes later we were all loaded up in the Landrover and on the N3 Highway back up to Kloof.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chapter 29: Boiling a Frog

Waiting is hard, but it is the soldier’s lot. We all knew how to do it. I decided to follow my earlier thoughts and allowed Cpl Maseka to run the ambush. I knew I would have to work hard to suppress my instinct to interfere though so I decided to find a place that would allow me to watch what was happening without interfering too much. Once I had settled myself into a dark shadow at the corner of the building, I took another look around.

The parking lot had a lot less cars than it would have had during the day; a quick count told me there were sixteen. I guessed that the nine or so parked under shade-cloth were Doctors and other staff. From what I had seen of the people waiting in the Emergency Room, I guessed that most of the patients at this time of night had arrived either by foot or by taxi. That reminded me of one of the vulnerabilities that we had, The last thing we needed was more civilians getting caught up in this. Cpl Maseka had positioned some of his soldiers so that they should be able to warn off anyone who got in the way, but it nagged at me as a blind spot. I didn’t like having any variables that I couldn’t control.

I glanced across at the Land Rover, which was parked just around the corner from where I was standing. It was positioned so that it would be out of any potential line of fire. Alina was sitting in the driver’s seat where she could watch me. She wouldn’t be able to see what was happening out in front of the hospital; her job was simply to start the Land Rover on my signal and then scoot out of the seat to allow me to jump in. I peered over and saw a vague blob through the window, so I gave her a reassuring wave.

I had long since learnt how to keep awake and alert at night, and my particular trick was to make sure that I was on my feet. For some reason, when the pre-combat nervousness hit me, I would fall asleep. Just drop off with no warning or nodding, and it happened irrespective of any of the normal tricks. Being cold or uncomfortable was no help. The only thing that worked was being on my feet and making my brain work on all the angles. Thinking about all the possible variations of what could happen so that when something did happen, and the plan went awry, I would have already thought through a whole slew of variations from which I could pick and choose in the middle of the chaos.

This was something that it was extremely difficult to teach young leaders; NO plan survives contact with the enemy. Not even close. My own theory about the ‘Fog of War’ was that it was a mental fog. The battlefield smoke and noise did contribute of course, but an agile brain could deal with that simply enough by knowing where all the elements were and constantly updating that mental map as the battle progressed, both from radio reports and from knowing the terrain and the expected actions of the unit. This presupposed that the unit had drilled sufficiently in training that they would follow the standard operating procedures by instinct. The radio reports, in a good unit, should be simply to update the commander on variations on those drills.

The real fog was the natural reaction of most people to being confronted with combat, especially in a leadership role. Their brains would refuse to process the information in coherent way. I had seen it too often to doubt it. It was something that we could only guess at by making training as realistic as possible, but the reality often overwhelmed even those who did well in training. There were some who operated well in those situations. I had discovered I was one of them and I expended extraordinary effort to identify others that were the same. These were people who didn’t block out the sensory over-load, but who thrived in the input; who were able to take it all in and process it in split seconds to form a coherent picture of what was going on, and then were able make decisions based on that information and convey those decisions as orders to their subordinates in a clear and concise manner so that they were understood. The few exceptional ones were the ones that got obeyed, instantly and without question, in the middle of the battle. There was something in the voice or attitude of those that conveyed itself almost magically to the soldiers around them and under their command.

Sgt Major Dhlamini was not such a leader. He was a very, very good senior NCO, but not what I looked for in this context. Cpl Maseka was. I had y eye on him for a commission. The rule was that he had to be promoted to full Sergeant though before he could be sent on Officer’s Formative training, but that was, as far as I was concerned, a formality. I was just waiting for the signal from Army HQ confirming his promotion so that I could send him to start the process of gaining a commission.

All these thoughts and more swirled through my mind as I weighed the possible actions of each of the soldiers waiting in the dark, and postulated those of the enemy that we expected. In some ways, I thought it might be considered over-kill to plan and think through everything so obsessively, but it takes more time to describe than to do. The process of tactical evaluation was both a skill and an art, and it needed to be practised constantly to hone it. I had taught myself to evaluate things around me constantly in these terms, and it was a process that ran as a sub-routine of my brain during almost every waking moment, so while my surface thoughts were considering whether Cpl Maseka and his men would react as I expected them to, and if Cpl Maseka himself would lead them in the way that I hoped he would, my brain had been busy watching and evaluating the scene constantly.

I suddenly came on full alert as I saw a car turn into the parking lot. I was pretty sure that this was the car we were expecting, and a quick glance at Cpl Maseka confirmed that he thought the same, but what had caught my attention was a car that had been second in the queue behind the one turning in which had coasted to a stop next to the road before the entrance.

My adrenalin suddenly kicked me into high gear. I turned and signalled to Alina as I ran towards the Land Rover. I hadn’t consciously processed all the information yet, I just knew that something was very wrong.

I grabbed onto the Land Rover door and barely touched the driver’s door step on my way into the seat. Alina had barely cleared the seat before I was stomping on the accelerator and hitting the switch that turned on the row of spot-lights on the roof-rack. In the sudden glare of light, it became obvious that the second car was filled with ‘muscle types’ as I was staring into the barrels of at least three rifles. By the time the deep sounding chatter of weapons on automatic informed me that we were being shot at with AK’s, the Land Rover was three-quarters of the way across the parking lot. I spared a micro-second to glance at Cpl Maseka and his helper, and saw that they had taken cover behind a row of cars, before the Land Rover ramped right over the curb dividing the parking lot from the street. The next second, the bull-bar in the front of the Land Rover had caught the sedan car right in the centre of mass, across the driver and rear passenger doors, and was shoving it bodily across the road. I shifted down a gear and floored the accelerator again, but in my haste I had selected the wrong gear and the Landy stalled.

The car I had hit was tilted up at about fourty-five degrees on two wheels and the gun-men who had been shooting at us had been thrown back into the interior of the car. I grabbed the hand-brake and pulled it up to hold the Landy in place, then pulled my hand-gun and jumped out of my door.

As I advanced cautiously around the front of the mortally wounded car, with my weapon held out in front of me in the approved two-handed grip, I could see that I had been spectacularly successful. I could see the driver through the front wind-screen of the car and it as clear from the angle of his head that he was no longer a threat. The passenger side of the front wind-screen had been shot out and there was blood and gore all over the front bonnet. It took me a second to realise that one of the shooters in the back seat must have been firing when we hit and hadn’t stopped. ‘Own Goal’ I thought smugly to myself. Just as I was about to pat myself on the back, I saw movement to my left and swung my fire-arm to cover it. Before I could even get my weapon around, I was startled by the sound of two shots going off in rapid succession, and I saw one of the shooters who had obviously got out of the car, going down. I glanced further left and was surprised to see that Daise was standing in the Landy’s passenger doorway with her weapon extended and obviously looking for more targets.