“Are you all right, mate?” It hurt to talk through the burning throb of my lips and cheek. I could already feel my left eye swelling shut as I pinched the bridge of my nose through the gauze to try and stop the bleeding.
“Yeah,” Fang replied quietly. “I think it’s broken.”
The blackhat medic crouched in front of him on the road, silently strapping his arm tightly to his chest to immobilise it. She hadn’t bothered trying to wrestle him out of his black fire suit after the less than stoic performance he gave getting his webbing off. That would be taken care of at the hospital, she knew.
She was pretty, in a plain sort of way. Her flawless skin was pale, almost pink, and contrasted heavily with her navy blue beret. Tantalisingly, her lips twitched with concentration as she worked on Fang.
Her piercing grey eyes locked with mine. “Take a picture. It’ll last longer.”
Fang coughed a laugh, delighted that I’d been caught staring. But poetic justice intervened, causing him to wince in pain as his arm moved with the bounce of his chest.
I smiled to myself under the veil of bloody gauze across my face, but kept my gaze firmly on the blackhat. She narrowed her eyes at me, her brow creasing slightly. Realising I wasn’t going to look away, she poked her tongue out, the pink flesh glistening seductively in the sunlight. I was captivated by the shine of the saliva left on her lips when she pulled her tongue back in. It just made me want to stare more. She was suddenly distracted by the crackle of uncontrolled gunfire and the muffled pops of flashbangs going off in the two storey building behind us.
It was absolute chaos!
The 3 Squadron commander had well and truly lost his shit, and was screaming into his radio on the other side of the road. Operators in black body armour and blackhat support staff in khaki camouflage were running around trying to get a handle on the situation. It was a lost cause.
Fang and I exchanged a knowing look. We sat there sheepishly at the medic’s station in the middle of the road, behind the cordon, hoping nobody would notice us. It had been our failed covert entry a few minutes earlier that had kicked off this whole gang fuck.
“There’s your man.” I recognised the polished private school accent of the Signals Major. It was not unlike my own.
“Which one?” the working class voice replied. “The one pissing blood, or the one with the arm?”
The Major sighed as the two men in khaki strode up and came to a standstill above us. “The bleeder.”
“G’day, Boss,” I chirped up at him from the road, flattering him with the address usually reserved for beret-qualified officers.
He bristled, chuffed with my greeting. “As I was saying, we’ve just got him back from the Forward Air Controller Instructor’s course with the US Air Force.”
“So what are you wasting him here for?” frowned the other bloke, an operator in sunglasses and a sandy beret.
“Scheduling, as always,” replied the Major. “My blokes are scattered from asshole to breakfast. I can’t get a worthwhile group together until next month.”
A siren went off behind us, bringing an end to the counter terrorism exercise, and the chaos. The tension in the air immediately dissipated as the gathered crowd relaxed with a collective sigh of relief.
The operator looked around at the activity behind us, then back down at Fang and I. “Looks like you blokes made a fucking mess of this then.” Then turning back to the Major, “And this is your best chook?”
The murderous rage of the screaming behind me caught my attention before I could hear the Major’s reply. “Where the fuck is he?!”
I looked over my shoulder and saw Brill charging out of the kill house about thirty metres away. He was almost pin-wheeling as he shoved blokes aside on his way towards us. His face was a seething shade of red, making him look like a beetroot with arms.
“You!” Brill’s stubby, gloved finger drew a bead right between my eyes. “You little fucking shit! I’m going to fucking kill you!”
I threw the gauze to the ground and shot up onto my feet. “Don’t fucking start, cunt. You’re going to hurt yourself,” I called back in an even tone, which only enraged him further. Then again, I suppose the threat didn’t help.
“What the fuck did you just say to me? This is my house, you little prick.” Brill’s arm flailed wildly behind him, gesturing at the kill house. “You show some fucking respect!”
“Your house?! Fuck you, you Neanderthal!” I roared back. Then pointing down at Fang, still sitting in a black, huddled ball on the road, “You broke his fucking arm!”
Brill’s rage found new heights, if that was at all possible, and he broke into a trot on his way towards me. His fingers balled into fists as he closed to within about fifteen metres.
The impending threat triggered my muscle memory, and my world became a silent slow motion as my tunnel vision focussed in on Brill’s contorted face. I drew my pistol, the zip of the steel against the holster and canlı bahis the click of the safety switch the only sounds I heard. My left hand wrapped around my right, and I stepped into the target. The foresight went blurry against his forehead. I exhaled. And fired, twice.
Brill stopped dead in his tracks, his head snapping back as the two paint-filled wax training rounds struck him in the forehead. He threw his hands to his face and buckled at the knees, splashing to the road like liquid.
Everyone erupted into raucous laughter, from the Squadron Commander down. Some of the blokes even started applauding.
The blackhat medic jogged over to Brill to check he was okay, but she had to stop halfway over to gain control of her giggling. She was hunched over, with her hands resting on her knees, searching for a straight face. She found it. Then her face split into a broad grin when she looked back at me.
Brill was flat on his back, with his knees up. He was pressing his palms to his forehead and groaning softly in response to her asking if he was all right.
I turned to see the operator killing himself laughing, steadying himself on the officer beside him. The Signals Major though, was ashen white, no doubt panicked about one of his men committing the cardinal sin of discharging a weapon outside a firing range.
“Oh, that was fucking brilliant,” the operator cried, wiping tears from his eyes. He introduced himself as one of the 1 Squadron troop sergeants, and when he finally regained his composure, he said seriously, “We’ve been issued a warning order. And you’re with me.”
That was it, no fucking around.
“Make sure this gets signed in, mate,” I said to Fang as I took off my black, counter terrorism webbing, dropping my weapons and training ammunition on the road next to him. “I guess I’ll see you when I see you.”
“Mate,” Fang barked in his boofy footballer voice. “Get fucked.”
I gave him a smile, and the finger, as I followed the Troop Sergeant to the waiting Landrover. We took off for the 1 Squadron area of the Barracks, rumbling past the numerous, nondescript buildings and eucalypts lining the road along the way.
“What was all that about?” the Troop Sargent asked after a minute or two of silence.
“Just Brill getting carried away again.” I explained how he had kicked the shit out of Fang and I when we had tried to gain entry into the kill house. Then I admitted, “I may have got a few rounds in under his face mask during the scuffle.”
“Good one,” he laughed. We waited at an intersection for a pair of canvas-topped Unimog trucks to go by. “So you’re the one that saved the day during the Sydney Olympics last year?”
“Right place, right time,” I dismissed, hoping the flush in my face would disappear. Then changing the subject, “What’s the job?”
“Gus is taking a small team into Afghanistan tomorrow,” he began. “We’ve got to try and find an American commander over there who’ll give us an area of operations. Then we call in the rest of the Squadron and get stuck in.”
“You’re joking?” I balked. “You mean we haven’t been officially requested?”
“Yeah, we have to drum up our own business on this one. Gus spent the last week running around the Pentagon, trying to get us in on the action. Apparently he got so desperate, he sent our last chook into every briefing, doing Steve Irwin impressions.” He smiled in response to my expression and nodded. “I know, but hey, whatever works. They ate it up. We’ve already got an in with one of their generals on site.” He cocked an eyebrow at me. “How’s your Crocodile Hunter?”
“Crikey!” I breathed, eliciting a frown, and shrugging myself. “So what happened to your last chook?”
“Fast roping accident this morning,” he explained as he wrestled the Landrover around a corner. “Shattered both his legs up to the hips.”
I sucked in a sympathetic wince through my teeth.
“Yeah,” the Troop Sergeant laughed. “What a dickhead!”
We pulled up outside the 1 Squadron staging area and headed inside. Much the same as ours, it was a huge, cavernous warehouse, with a gently arching, hangar-like roof. A row of Unimogs were parked up on the right, with pallets of equipment and a dozen or so blackhats buzzing around on the left. And over by the back wall, a clutch of nine operators, complete with sandy berets, stood by a door I figured led to their briefing room.
“Would you get a load of this bruised turd,” one of the blokes called out as we approached them.
“Jesus,” cried another, this one with a shock of dark red hair. “Looks like he copped a flogging with the ugly stick.”
“Okay, listen up, you blokes.” The Troop Sergeant interrupted as we came up on the group. “This is the new chook. He’ll be heading out with us tomorrow.”
I was greeted by nothing but poker faces and piercing, uncompromising stares. I already felt out of place. I was at least ten years younger than the other blokes standing around, and a good six inches taller. The bahis siteleri fact that I was decked out in my black counter terrorism fire suit, while the rest of them were in their khaki disruptive pattern combat uniforms only made it worse. And they were giving me the typical Regiment welcome.
Red was first with the ass sniffing. “Where are you from?”
“North Sydney,” I replied, trying to keep a straight face.
“No, dickhead,” Bruised Turd chimed in. “Which Troop have you been working with? You’re obviously with Three Squadron.”
I knew what Red meant of course, but the sizing up went both ways. “Water Troop,” I snorted.
“For fuck sake,” one of them sighed, while the rest of them rolled their eyes and shook their heads.
“Sorry, should have said. We’re Air Troop,” The Troop Sergeant explained.
“Poofters, huh?” I grinned. “Could be worse. At least I didn’t end up with the fatties from Vehicle Mounted.”
“Are you air qualified, Waterboy?” growled the more grizzled of the group, unimpressed with my taunt. He was about forty, and had a face like a cat’s ass.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been high altitude, but I know enough not to land on my heels when I’m jumping out of a helicopter, if that’s what you’re asking?”
Cat’s Ass pursed his lips tighter by way of reply. I couldn’t tell if that was good or not. Either way, I had no time to ponder it.
The rest of the day was spent in briefings and organising equipment. As the signaller, I was responsible for getting all the communications gear for the team sorted. While it felt good to focus on my own task and avoid the microscopic scrutiny of my new patrol, it was just something else that kept me on the outer.
With the assistance of a few blackhat signallers, I pored over topographical maps of southern Afghanistan, and studied weather charts. It was the vernal equinox, I knew, or the autumnal in the northern hemisphere. And I needed to figure out what communications equipment would function best in the atmospheric conditions of the looming, Afghan winter.
By the time I finished requisitioning the equipment we needed from the quartermaster And made my way back to the warehouse, most of the blokes had already cleared out. Only Cat’s Ass and the Troop Sergeant remained, chatting by the back of one of the Unimogs.
“Comms gear sorted?” The Troop Sergeant kept his attention on the clipboard in his hands.
I handed over the paperwork with a nod, then ran him through the list of equipment I had arranged. He slid it in behind a bundle of other papers he had attached to his clipboard, listening to my account, rather than checking what was written down.
“Good one,” he nodded. “That’s it. Meet back here tomorrow at zero nine hundred. We’ll do one last check of the gear, then head out to Pearce. The Hercules lifts off at thirteen thirty.
“You heard the Boss. If this thing goes the way we want it, we’ll be gone at least six months. Make sure you make the most of it tonight. Fill your boots, yeah?”
I shot him a quick grin, then made eye contact with Cat’s Ass. My smile faded under his withering scowl. I had definitely had my fill of fuckwitts that day, but I held his gaze a second or two longer than I wanted. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
One of the blackhats drove me around to the 3 Squadron staging area. The locker room was deserted, but the blokes had left my stuff on one of the benches. My black helmet and goggles, and webbing, now empty of weapons and ammunition, sat in a neat pile. My respirator wasn’t there, but it had been broken when Brill kicked me in the face. They had also printed off a photo of the whole Troop, with all of them mooning the camera, and stuck it to my locker.
I snorted the odd laugh as I read the messages they had each scrawled on the photo. I had been with these blokes in the Squadron for three years, and Fang for five. We had been best mates from the moment we met on the first day of Selection, standing there buck naked in a gymnasium with a hundred other hopeful dickheads. We had been inseparable ever since.
And just like that, I was going off to war without him.
On the eve of my second major conflict, the realisation that I would probably never serve with these blokes again hit me. If things went well, I would most likely be integrated into 1 Squadron. And if they went badly, well, I was fucked.
I struggled to shake the thought as I showered alone in the large communal bathroom. Standing there in my steamy solitude, I let the hot water drum against the back of my neck for I don’t know how long. The fears and doubts continued their attack while I dried myself and ran a comb through my dark hair. But I managed to push them aside when I focussed on my reflection in the mirror above the row of sinks.
“Fucking Brill,” my voice echoed off the walls of the empty bathroom as I sneered at the angry purple bruise engulfing my left eye, and the fat lip that brushed painfully against my teeth.
I pulled on a black bahis şirketleri t-shirt and jeans, and cleaned everything out of my locker, loading my gear into two large backpacks and a dive bag. Shouldering the packs, I heaved them outside and loaded them into the back of my car. It would all get dumped into one of the 1 Squadron lockers when I returned to Barracks the next day.
Rolling out past the guard post, I turned right onto the West Coast Highway on my way home to Fremantle. The late afternoon sun warmed the side of my face on its agonisingly slow descent towards the Indian Ocean, while the other side throbbed painfully. The heat was starting to annoy me, as was the glare in the corner of my right eye. There was little respite from the sun visor, so I swung it back around to the windscreen with a sigh.
Briefly halted at a traffic light, I lost myself for a moment in the slow stalk of the shadows from the trees on the opposite side of the road. The next time the sun rose, I mused, the day would be longer than the night. But where I was going, it was the darkness that would prevail. The darkness we would bring.
Slowly crawling along the café strip at Freo a few minutes later, the chattering throng of Perth’s trendy latte set obliviously going about their lives fuelled my loneliness. As much as I despised them and their pretentious attitudes, I couldn’t help but envy the companionship they shared with each other in that moment. I had been cast adrift, separated from my mates who would now be preparing to assault an offshore container ship in yet another exercise. And Fang was down for the count, at home getting screamed stupid by his girlfriend for hurting himself playing army men.
I was on my own, and all the clichés of a soldier on his way to war flooded my mind as I parked around the corner and trudged up the stairs to my apartment. . With my face the way it was, I had no chance of picking anyone up at one of the nearby pubs. To say nothing of the fact I was hopeless at it. Even the slim pickings and alcohol impaired judgement of the 2am slut rush wasn’t promising, and not what I wanted for my last night in civilization.
Opting for the lesser of two evils, I stalked into the second bedroom that I used as a study and picked up the Yellow Pages. Flicking to E for escorts, I found the number for Langtrees and dialled. After I exchanged pleasantries with the receptionist, I asked, “Who have you got working tonight?”
A blonde twenty-eight year old named Donna sounded the most appealing by virtue of her age. The string of numbers and measurements meant nothing to me beyond declaring her not to be outside the realms of stereotypical beauty. She was on a job at the moment, the receptionist told me, but they could have her to my place in about an hour and a half. I agreed, immediately noticing the quickening of my heartbeat.
I flew into action, cleaning up my apartment. It was far from the typical bachelor-sty, but still, I wanted it to be in its best condition. I wiped down all the tables and benches, ran a vacuum over the beige carpet, and put a fresh set of white sheets on my bed. It was funny I thought, making an effort for a prostitute. But she was a woman nonetheless, and I wanted to impress her.
The phone rang while I was hanging up some clean towels in the bathroom. It was the receptionist from Langtrees, apologising profusely. Donna’s current client had apparently extended his time with her another hour. Rather than keep me waiting, she had decided to send Angelina instead. Sensing my hesitation, the receptionist assured me I wouldn’t be disappointed, before finally admitting she was already on the way.
My nervous anticipation had reached such a point, I didn’t really care. Instead, I was excited by the prospect of a nubile nineteen year old with “natural, DD” breasts. I was fifteen minutes away from sex with a beautiful woman. I finished getting ready, brushing my teeth and giving myself a quick squirt of Armani. Then I set up an observation post on the balcony, looking down at the street from where she would approach.
The last of the sun dipped behind the horizon, bathing the street in a gloomy, purple dusk. A small group of couples laughed loudly with each other as they made their way to the muffled din of the café strip around the corner, and a black Saab pulled into the underground garage of the building across the road. I watched the clattering metal roller door swallow up the car and cursed the excruciatingly slow passage of time.
It was the clip-clop of high heels on pavement that finally drew my attention to the street corner below. A voluptuous young brunette strode down the footpath on her way towards the entrance of my building, her enormous breasts bouncing seductively in her black midriff top. By the length of her miniskirt, or lack thereof, it had to be Angelina.
She stopped abruptly at the front door and stabbed her finger at the intercom. The aggressive buzzer screeching inside my apartment caused me to shoot up and lunge for the handset on the wall by the door. My blood pumped wildly as I let her in. I could feel the throbbing pulse in my lips and cheek while I waited for her to climb the two flights of stairs.