Chapter 22 – SERE
The Nimrod MR4A had been replaced by a USAF Rivet Joint flying out of Incirlik in Turkey. The updated Boeing 707 was in a gentle holding pattern, 35,000 feet above Falluja. It was monitoring cell phone traffic and tens of thousands of bytes of data could be processed every few seconds, the sensors’ electronic brains programmed to detect certain key words and phrases. CIA trained interpreters would listen in to calls of interest.
Three consoles down towards the less glamorous rear of the aircraft, signals from two Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) suddenly appeared and were beamed back to the aircraft from a geostationary satellite over the Persian Gulf, one of many. The USAF Master Sergeant zoomed in her console to show Basra City and the surrounding waterways. She notified her supervisor.
“Captain, I think we’ve got a bird down in Basra.”
“Really?” he looked over her shoulder at the city map and saw the two signals, so close together it looked like a single trace apart from the datum labels, “Let’s get a real time view from Cyclops.”
The Master Sergeant manipulated the display via computer programme and the image of the city appeared on her console. They were viewing a real-time picture with a delay allowing for satellite links of a few seconds.
“It was by that island, down from the bridge. Can you superimpose the readout from the PLBs onto the real-time satellite telemetry?”
She shook her head, “No, but I can run the two displays in parallel.”
She zoomed in and they saw the wreck of a helicopter, very badly mangled and partially obscured by reeds and vegetation at the side of the river.
“One of ours?”
“Don’t think so,” he said. “Brit, probably a Puma, certainly not a CH 47.”
“One of them is on the move.”
They watched the red dot marking the last known ping move south along the river, leaving a trail of green dots marking the progress.
“I can’t see him. Can you zoom in?”
“They must be in the undergrowth as I’m at max magnification. How do you know it’s a he?”
“Sorry, sexist assumption.”
Ladies and gentlemen, your survival will be the most catastrophic event of your lives. You are alive, but you are at your weakest and most vulnerable. The decisions that you make in the next ten minutes will ultimately decide whether you have grandchildren, or come home in a flag draped coffin. The problems you will face at the beginning of the ordeal are exactly the same faced by crew of a Lancaster bomber who have bailed out, or a paratrooper who has been accidently dropped in the wrong area behind enemy lines.
At this point your duty is to continue the fight by other means. It is time to repay the taxpayer for your training and for you members of the one and two winged master race, it’s no longer about poncing around in your growbags, looking cool. Your sworn duty is to survive, evade, resist and extract.
The interior of the Puma was a shambles, the aircraft lying partially on its port side. Half of the interior was full of stinking, muddy water. Gilmore groaned and pulled himself into the cockpit, having to push the pilot’s body out of the way. The instrument panel had come forward and seemed to be pinning Louise’s bloody legs. He went in further until his back was resting on the panel and he twisted to get to her face. There was a searing bolt of agony in the side of his chest and he contemplated passing out again.
“Louise, you OK?”
She wasn’t breathing so Gilmore wriggled his fingers into each side of her helmet and felt for the angles of the jaw, hooking his index and middle fingers behind the angle of the mandible. He put his thumbs on her cheekbones and gently pulled her jaw forward. Louise gasped, coughed and showered his face with bright red frothy blood.
“Is that you, Gary? I can’t see.”
“It’s all right Lou, I’m here. You’ve got blood in your eyes, only a bit. “I’ll get you out.”
She felt for his face and caressed it, “You’d better get out of here, Gary.”
“I’m not leaving you!”
“Gary, I’m going to die. There’s something inside me and it’s done terrible damage. I can’t feel anything below my chest and my legs are smashed to fuck.”
“Oh, Louise,” he sobbed.
“Stop grizzling Gary and go.”
Despite his pain, he hugged her, “Oh, Louise.”
“I always loved, you Gary. Does that surprise you?”
“Yes,” he was weeping openly now.
“Fuck off, Gary, while you still can.”
It is vital that you have a plan. Something to work towards, otherwise events will overwhelm you. Be sure of what you are doing, your goal and how to achieve it. But at this point your overwhelming consideration must be to put as much distance between you and your ejection, crash site or landing point as possible.
He headed south, following the course of the river, which was too wide to swim across. There was a pontoon bridge by the zoological gardens and he might be able to cross it in the water, moving from one pontoon to another. He was aiming for the British base that was at Basra Palace. He could hear helicopters but none of them came close enough for him to show himself. It was very boggy underfoot in the reeds and his progress was slow. He could hear shouting and vehicles from his left. Someone was obviously looking for him.
In the distance behind him, he heard men shouting Allahu Akbar and firing in the air. They had found the helicopter. He tried not to think of Louise, part of him hoping she had died quickly. The injury to his chest was slowing him down and he was gasping for breath. He would have to go to ground.
You should keep moving unless injury or the enemy’s physical presence demands that you hide up. If a location is obvious to you, it will be obvious to those who are searching for you.
In a creek joining the river from the north, he came across a pipe or conduit and it was just big enough for him to wriggle into. It was a sewage pipe, but he was beyond caring.
* * *
“I think he’s stopped moving. And let’s not get bogged down with the PC bullshit. I’m assuming it’s a he, which is reasonable.”
There was a sizeable group huddled round the console. “There’s a group of bad guys following him on the road above the river bank. They must have others in the undergrowth. They’re good.”
The immobile dot at the crash site disappeared off the screen.
“They’ve found the bird,” the Master Sergeant observed.
The group on the road moved down towards the river bank, heading towards the immobile red dot. It didn’t move and ten minutes later, it too disappeared.
“They’ve got him.”
This is not going to be pleasant hearing for many of you. With all respect for the brave lads of Bomber Command, you won’t have the luxury of a roughing-up in Dulag Luft, where a frightfully civilized German officer offers you a cigarette. There will be no Stalag Luft III where you can dig tunnels, forge documents and sing Christmas Carols.
Ladies. You are going to be raped many times and continually by many different men. Gentlemen, you will be forced to watch your female comrades abused and beaten, then it will be your turn. The filth who have you, don’t care what sort of orifice it is. It’s just another way of stamping their authority, barbarity and control over you. Just prey you don’t get a hard-on.
And one day, sooner or later, they will drag you in front of a camera and very slowly, they will cut your head off. Reflect on that and decide on which way you want to die.
They dragged Gilmore out of the conduit and stripped him of his body armour, smock, boots and trousers. His Glock was waved in front of his face, and he cursed, because like the unmilitary PONTI that he was, he had forgotten all about it. They found the PLB and smashed it up, before dragging him to a waiting people carrier where he was hooded and thrown inside. The men with him reeked of filth and tobacco. In the back of the vehicle, Gilmore received the first of many beatings. There was no hardbody bitch wearing just skimpy bra and pants, laughing at the size of his cock and blowing cigarette smoke in his face. He wasn’t forced to stand in stress positions against a wall. The fists, boots and rifle butts were very hard and very real and very painful.
He could tell despite the stinking hood that the vehicle was going across a bridge back into the city.
He even knew that he was heading west because of that innate sense of direction that aircrew develop. He also knew that he was a high-value catch and he was deeply in the shit. They dragged him out of the vehicle and dragged him down two flights of stairs to some kind of basement. Judging by the smell of oil and fuel, it was a garage of some kind. He was thrown against the wall and the hood was dragged off. It was an underground car park. Then there followed the inevitable ritual of a few kicks and slaps, some random and pointless spitting in his face and some nice selfies where various, assorted Iraqis gurned to mobile phone cameras, holding Gilmore’s hair, which he had allowed to grow to a convenient length. Then someone pissed on him and how they laughed. In fact they all thought it such a good idea they were queuing up to empty their bladders on one of the Royal Air Force’s finest. In between the odd, random smash with an AK47 butt.
Then they left, leaving Gilmore to be guarded with a lad who couldn’t have been much older than sixteen. His AK was real enough though. Gilmore looked at the lad and smiled. He looked away, scowling with a certain self-importance. He was in charge. Gilmore studied him. It soon became obvious that this lad was simple. To describe him with a word that Gilmore hated, the boy was a retard. His eyes burned with self-importance, but he was a gapped-tooth simpleton, a few chromosomes short of a picnic.
Your first few minutes after capture are crucial. The longer that you are held by the enemy, the deeper into their system you will go. The more difficult it will be for us to find you and for you to escape. You must take your chance as and when it arises.
“Do you want to see a trick?”
The boy stepped back and shouted something in Arabic. Nobody came to see what was going on. OK, might be promising.
“I can pull my thumb off.”
The boy spat at him.
“Seriously I can.”
Gilmore showed him the timeless trick of pulling his thumb off by deftly manipulating his hands. The boy’s eyes widened and he leaned in, then realised what an important job he had been given and stepped back, unslinging the AK.
“Can I have a cigarette please?” Gilmore asked and made a pretence of smoking with his hand.
The boy grinned. His teeth were manky, “Fuk yoo,” he said and laughed.
Gilmore smiled and held up his thumb again. The boy leaned closer.
“I’ll show you how, for a cigarette.”
The thumb came away from the rest of the hand, yet again. Gilmore showed him his open hand.
“No thumb here. See?”
The lad grinned and leaned further forward. Gilmore rammed his index and middle fingers into the boy’s eyes. He felt an eyeball burst and was nauseated and disgusted with himself. The boy screamed and clutched his face as vitreous humor trickled past his fingers down his face. Gilmore forced himself to remember a dying Louise and he rammed the butt of the AK into the boy’s face. He was screaming with a high-pitched wail of a child. He was up and trying to drag the rifle away from the boy, but the sling was twisted round his neck. Gilmore was on his feet and he was stamping hard down with his heel. He felt the boy’s nasal cartilage break under his foot and the screaming stopped.
Out of here. Which way? Stairs? No they’ll be having a fag at the top. Up the ramps. The coarse concrete hurt his feet but soon he was out in an alley, blinking in the harsh midday sunlight. He ran down the alley, the rubbish shredding the soles of his feet.
I’m out, I’m fucking well out!
The car hit him from the side and he thudded up the bonnet and over the roof. Something went inside. There were at least four that arrived and proceeded to beat him to a pulp. This was the mother of all beatings and he went under gratefully, through a pink mist of his own blood.
* * *
He didn’t know how long he had been awake. His head felt twice its normal size. His back and kidneys ached. His liver was burning and he could barely see out of his swollen eyeballs. The man in the suit spoke to him, Gilmore’s head lolled forwards and he puked bloody bile. The man in the suit started screaming at the other men with guns, incandescent with rage. He slapped one of them around the head, gesticulating to the bloody body in the corner, sitting in its own blood, piss and vomit.
That evening they moved him. Very gently this time. Gilmore drew back into himself. He knew he was going to die, but he conserved enough strength and moral fibre to be sure he would take the man wielding the knife with him.
Never give up hope. If we can find you, we will come and get you. All the assets we have at out our disposal will be applied to come and save your arse. When we come, do everything we tell you to. It will be sudden, very noisy and very violent.
* * *
Satellites had scoured the city in all modes. Tornado GR4s flew endless sorties above the city with their RAPTOR Pods, but is was Mk I eyeball that found him. An eyeball belonging to a young woman who had grown up in Derby, had failed her GCSEs and who’s dad had the sense to insist that she went to college and pass English and Maths. A daughter who joined the army at eighteen as a supplier, who saw a notice in Daily Orders for volunteers for duties of an arduous and unusual nature.
Now she was just another woman in an Arab city. Shrouded from head to foot in a Chador, from which her beautiful eyes peered. The car hooted angrily at her and she dropped the washing she had been carrying. As she picked up the folded clothes and dusted them off, she watched the car grind to a halt and three men drag out a body wearing Service issue boxers and a brown tee-shirt. Because she was just another, shrouded and oppressed, worthless woman in an Arab city, nobody took the slightest notice of her. This piece of chattel had a Glock under her Chador and a Fairbairn Sykes fighting knife tucked into a sheath on her inner thigh. She also had a VHF radio, throat mike and earpiece and she clicked her jaw to activate the radio.
“I’ve got him. Position as follows…”
* * *
Gilmore could tell it was dark because the air smelled differently. They had carried camera, sound and lighting equipment into the room next to where he lay chained to a radiator. Tomorrow they were going to decapitate him. Tonight they would give him a drink, heavily laced with drugs to make him dopey and compliant. He would stare at the camera, glaze-eyed while they sawed through his neck. Well fuck them! He was going to go down fighting. He would make himself sick rather than ingest the tranquillisers. He thought about how he was going to kill the knife-man. It was difficult with arms tied behind the back. Perhaps smashing his head, thick frontal bone first into the nose and maxilla area. With any luck he would knock himself out. Anyway, a knife-man with blood pissing down his face wouldn’t look too good on Al Jazeera. Gilmore smiled grimly.
“Fuk yoo Tommy. Tomorrow choppy-chop,” his guard said seeing him smile.
“Fuck you, you inbred piece of Mohammed shit. The best part of you dribbled out of your Dad’s camel’s arse. Your mother fucked goats coz they are better at fucking than your…”
The door blew in off its hinges and Gilmore instinctively went down. Three stun grenades went off in quick succession and Gilmore’s eardrums went with them. Four men piled into the room and the guard disappeared in a red mist.
“GILMORE STAY DOWN!” someone yelled. He knew what would happen next and he went lower than a snake’s genitalia.
© Blown Periphery 2020
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file