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.

No comments: