Solemn Vow: Chapter 8
Iraq is a place alive with history dating back thousands of years. A desert oasis, I read somewhere when I was a kid. Now that I’m here, I can tell you it is a load of copper bottom bullshit. There are no harem girls dancing by firelight. No one sitting around eating figs and dates beneath a palm. But then what’s not to like about six species of venomous snakes whose favorite spots are places like the dirt we are sitting on. Throw in some scorpions, always a nice touch. And did I mention camel spiders. God I hate spiders, always have. The damn things are the size of a lobster. Really. Well maybe not quite that large but they are big. And this part is true. They can motor at speeds up to ten miles per hour. “Christ,” I heard myself say. “What a hell hole.”
The men were well rested or as much as one could be. It was 0030 and we had ground to cover if we were going to evade detection and put the five finger discount on a helicopter for the ride home. Our trucks headed back out to the gravel road leaving behind a cloud of dust. I couldn’t help but think about Owens’ body wrapped in ponchos on the truck bed.
In the distance, the lights of eight trucks were on a collision course for our tour group. They had not spotted us since we were using our NVG’s and driving without lights. Our small convoy quickly pulled off the side of the road, bouncing over the uneven terrain. We stashed our vehicles out of sight in a ravine.
“Let’s go. You guys know the drill.” They spilled out of the vehicles and set up a defensive positon. T.C. and I picked a spot several yards off the road, using a rocky outcropping for concealment.
“That’s a lot of trucks. Lots of guys. And lots of weapons, Bry.”
Observing the raghead parade heading in our direction, I said, “You know, T.C., I can’t even think of a smart ass remark.”
“That’s a first,” the big man chuckled. “Let’s just hope they roll on by.”
I watched as the first truck roared past kicking up a cloud of choking dust. The vehicles were spread out by a distance of about fifty yards. I still wasn’t sure who they were, but I knew they weren’t friendlies. Iraqi insurgents. Freedom fighters. Syrians. Who the hell knows why they were driving around out here this time of night? You know what they say, nothing good happens after midnight, unless you factor in the dead camel jockeys we left behind.
Everything went smoothly. No one had any idea we were watching the motorcade when I spotted a man in the open bed pounding on the cab of the roof in the last truck. So the bearded fellow is frantically yelling as the truck slowed and pulled to a halt right in front of our position. Luck was not a vocabulary word for the evening. Farouk jumped down and hurriedly stumbled his way across the mix of rock and sandy soil. T.C. whispered, “What the fuck?”
“Don’t do it. Just go somewhere else,” I mumbled.
Farouk slid to a halt and squatted less than five feet away. As we heard him grunting, a look of disbelief washed his face. From the back of the truck, one of Farouk’s buddies hollered at him, rattling off a string of words. Basically, giving the guy shit which was appropriate under the circumstances.
Farouk’s urgent need to empty his bowels suddenly vanished as the realization struck that eyes were upon him. His mouth opened in a circle to raise a cry of alarm. Left without a choice, the pistol bucked once in my hand. The silencer threaded on the end dulled the effect of the shot making it sound like a light hand clap. Farouk tumbled over backward and fell into his own waste. One of Farouk’s buddies turned on a flashlight and spotted the recently deceased.
“Take’em down,” T.C. whispered into his mike. The desert night erupted into a blaze of nearly soundless winking starbursts. The pinging sound of sheet metal being struck and high-pitched shouts of alarm was replaced by the dull thud of bodies hitting the ground. I spotted a driver bringing a hand held radio to his face and quickly sent him to Jannah to hang out with Allah and the girls.
We came up on the winning end of things, at least for the moment. Now we had another concern. Making a run to the border with the possibility of our new friends crawling up our backside. Time was of the essence. We were all hoping they weren’t Syrian forces so once they got to the border they would turn around. Yeah, thin, I know, but options were few.
The guys finished up and we headed west toward Syria as I held my foot to the accelerator. We jostled and bounced along the gravel road threatening to undo every bolt and rivet in the truck. My shoulder hurt but there was nothing to do about that for now. A sinking feeling came over me as I caught distant headlights in the side mirror just after crossing the divide in the sand. Syria looked no different than Iraq and definitely not a tourist destination. If I had to bet, I would say they had those damn spiders here, too.
“T.C. We got company.”
“The map shows a series of small ridges a few miles from the airbase. It’ll be a good place to hole up while I come flying back to save the day.”
“I feel slighted by your churlish response.”
We managed to stay ahead of our pursuers and I left T.C. and the gang to their own wiles. Right now, I had important things on my mind. Like not getting shot again for starters. The great thing about make it up as you go is you have to be ready to change directions at a moment’s notice. Keeps you on your toes.
I am good at thinking on my feet. My plan was sound. Drive up, jump in, and fly out. Simple. Well, maybe not. Hovering all around this were the colonel’s words. A friend died because scurrilous people were operating an illegal drug ring and netting God knows how much. Not to mention the other things I recently learned from our friend. I could not shake it. I did not know how, but one day I would get to the bottom of it.
Closing to within a few hundred yards of the small outpost, I shut the truck down. The surreal world through my NVG’s did not turn up anyone out to offer me a friendly greeting. A ripple of relief ebbed and flowed. I did my best impersonation of an A-Rab track star racing across the desolate terrain toward the location of the helicopter, or at least where it showed up on imagery a couple days ago. I didn’t tell the guys but I was not completely sure if it would still be there. I had to trust it was.
There were no fences surrounding the camp. Come to think of it, why in God’s name would anyone want to come to this forsaken piece of the planet? Nearing the first building, a sentry rounded a corner, seemingly stunned by my presence. Figured the need to say hello was not imperative so I punched a hole in his chest with a silenced .45 caliber slug and moved on. Cat footing inside the compound and making every effort to avoid detection, I made my way to the chopper, a Russian made MIL-17. A nice fit for my purposes. Opening the door, I climbed in to get cozy with the instrument panel. Everything was written in Arabic. My eyes roamed over the panel of switches and on to toggles in front of me and above my head.
Fortunately, controls were fairly similar to what I had flown. That part was good. Once I switched on the engines, someone would wonder why this bird was getting ready to fly. Then the fun would begin. People wandering about shouting and shooting. Downright unfriendly. I could get off a few bursts and perhaps make them duck and cover for a time, but operating one of these birds takes two hands. Until I could get far enough away, I would be an easy target. I guess it is worth mentioning that is the bad part.
No time like the present. My fingers flew across the dials and switches and I heard the distinct humming whine of the two Klimov engines come to life. Sliding back the cockpit window, I anxiously waited for them to rev up to full power so I could take off. This was a crap shoot all the way around. Fortunately, someone filled the tank and it would take every bit of that fuel to make it to where we were headed. I happened to notice this model came with fashionable extras. It sported a pod on each side of the aircraft filled with rockets. The only missing element was the racing stripe.
I constantly shifted my eyes back and forth from the dials to the tarmac. Amazingly, the two guys running toward me looked like Farouk’s twins or so I thought. I triggered a burst from the CQRB and dropped them. Pressing the release, the weapon’s magazine clattered onto the floor. I tapped in a new magazine and pulled back the bolt. Locked and loaded I waited for the next wave of haji greeters. They must have wanted me to stay by the way they were waving and saying something like huckalucka, a sure sign of a welcome. Their hospitality quickly soured when I heard bullets pinging against the fuselage. I took offense at their lack of manners along with a quick aim, spraying them down with thirty rounds from the M4. Several dropped like rocks while the others scattered for their lives.
My focus turned back to the controls, twisting the handle of the collective. The aircraft became airborne and simultaneously my feet tap danced on the pedals as I pulled on the cyclic to add power. The chopper’s speed picked up rapidly as the ground sank beneath me. More bullets tore through its metal fabric. Fortunately they hit nothing vital. Unscathed, I made my way back to T.C.’s location.
“T.C. Do you copy?”
“About damn time. What took you so long?
“Miss me that much?”
“Not a very ingratiating welcome.”
“We’ve got problems down here. We’re in up to our necks with these goat jockeys. A couple of the guys got nicked. Nothing bad. They’re still up and running. What’s your ETA?”
“The cavalry’s coming and I’ve got a little surprise for our haji friends.” I know T.C. like a book and did not give him a chance to ask. “You’ll see soon enough. I’ve got a lock on your coordinates. How far away are your playmates?”
“Mostly a hundred yards southwest of our position.”
“Ok. Sit tight and keep your head down.”
(To be continued...)
Solemn Vow © 2016 by William Beck. All Rights Reserved