Operation Herrick VII December 2008
There was no special treatment this time. Just a flight out on the Wednesday Trooper from Brize Norton with their weapons bagged and they would be carried on board as hand baggage. They arrived late at the terminal because Morrison maintained that with the fog, there would be no flights until it cleared, so there was no need to hurry, much to the chagrin of the movements staff. But he was right. By 10:00 the fog was only just beginning to lift and a C17 loomed out of the gloom, its grey flanks glistening like a beached whale. They were glad it was a C17. More room to stretch out and sleep on their kit.
There had been some aggro at the check-in desk when one of the movers had decided that Edge’s ID card was too dilapidated as formal travel documentation. Morrison had taken issue and demanded that the sergeant summon his boss and to stop being such a “fucking Jobsworth.” The senior mover was summoned and the flight lieutenant knew that this four would simply get on the phone to Hereford and he would be told to wind his neck in. He had been around long enough to know how these things worked. He also promised to keep the compulsory drug testing team away from them and Morrison thanked him.
They settled down to wait and Jarvis engaged in one of his favourite pastimes, people watching. He started with his band of brothers. Morrison, supremely confident and a natural leader with the lightest of touches. He knew the team well and what was expected of them, they would give in spades. Mickey Keeble had a shock of red hair and green eyes. Jarvis recalled that Morrison was in an on-off relationship with Mickey’s sister and Micky didn’t seem to mind. He was oblivious to all the comings and goings around the terminal, playing a game on his mobile phone. Mickey looked very young, but he had been in the Regiment about as long as Edge had been. He was quick to smile, but also quick to fire up angrily. He was a good signaller and a wiz with electronic equipment. He could fix anything.
And there was Edge. Jarvis’ bête noire. Edge the sniper, a cold, dispassionate killer. He seemed permanently angry and it was as though he had a particular disdain for Jarvis. He said very little, but those cold, grey eyes seemed to be constantly watching him, like he was waiting for him to make a mistake. For someone who was so analytical and normally good at reading people, Jarvis had totally missed the point. Edge wasn’t angry, he was often anxious and deeply worried about making a mistake. He didn’t hate Jarvis, he wanted his approval and friendship, but he was too reticent to show it and too worried that Jarvis would take him for a fool. But he watched Jarvis closely, and learned a lot because Jarvis was good and made everything seem so easy. If only Edge had had the courage to say so. So they skirted around each other like wary tomcats, neither of them realising just how much they had in common.
The next few months would be strange. They weren’t going to Helmand or the border areas this time. They would be running a patrol house in Kabul, keeping an eye on the comings and goings. Intelligence had indicated that the Taliban were beginning to regroup in Kabul, for a major attack against ISAF forces or the Embassy quarter. Observation and intelligence gathering was just one of the Regiment’s missions, but they all suspected it would be rather tame.
Edge stood up to go outside for a cigarette and then went to the Terminal shop to buy a book. After ten minutes he returned with a copy of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, much to the amusement of Mickey Keeble.
“Oh, Edge, you right old romantic, you. Antonio, play me like your Mandolin, Pelagia, said breathlessly.”
“I believe the book is quite different from the film, that you seem to know so much about,” Edge said rather huffily.
At about nine, the RAF dragged a couple of trolleys with urns of tea and coffee and Paninis wrapped in silver paper.
“Another hour at least,” Morrison told them and went to fill their flasks with coffee, despite the disapproving looks of the catering staff.
Jarvis moved from introspection of his team to the others in the terminal building. There was the usual throng of Toms going back after a spot of R&R, highly disgruntled because they had been compulsorily drugs tested. There were a few civilian civil servants on their way out to the headquarters in Helmand, wide eyed and worried in their blue body armour. And then his attention focused on a middle-aged RAF officer, sitting alone and trying to read a book. It was amazing the amount of information that could be gleaned just by looking at someone.
The RAF officer looked to be about fifty, stocky, shaven headed, and wearing spectacles. He was wearing full Osprey body armour, so he was on his way back out, after R&R? Obviously the Osprey meant he went outside the wire. He didn’t think the RAF got R&R, their only doing four months. He was definitely a REMF, despite the Osprey, Jarvis could tell that just by looking at the man’s boots. Magnum Hi-Tec, great for posing around the headquarters, but not much use in the Cuds. But these boots were faded and split across the toe, like they had been worn many times and were old friends. His desert combats were old and faded, his jacket was too big, like he had borrowed it from his Dad. Where he would normally wear the RAF’s DZ flash on his upper right arm, this officer had a square of Velcro. What patch should I wear today? He wanted to be incognito, just another bod, a grey man.
But it was the demeanour of overwhelming sadness that seemed to be crushing the life out of this solitary, lonely RAF officer. And he felt grateful that he was surrounded by comrades, even Edge, unlike the RAF who would go out and do digital postings, and then went back to their normal work. Jarvis thought about the medics like Penny Morris, God that was so long ago, who would have to see and deal with terrible things, then go back to work in an RAF medical centre or hospital, just getting on with it. And then it hit him. This RAF officer was a repatriation, going back out to theatre. Jarvis knew that it hadn’t gone well. You poor bastard, he thought.
They started boarding in the late morning and Edge went out for a last cigarette. They found a space to the rear of the aircraft where they could stretch out and sleep on the deck. The loadmaster obligingly covered their kit with a small cargo net and stropped it down, while Jarvis watched the RAF Officer. He was talking to a nurse from the aeromed team, obviously medics because they were wearing growbags and had red crosses on an arm patch. The nurse embraced him and as he went to sit down, Jarvis noticed that the RAF officer seemed close to weeping.
They slept most of the flight and it was night-time as the C17 began its descent into Kandahar. They were woken to put on their helmets and body armour for the tense, weaving approach into the ISAF base. While the rest of the Pax were bussed to the rows of cot beds in the transit accommodation hangar, Morrison the good boss that he was, managed to blag them a bed for the night in the visiting aircrews’ accommodation.
The next day, they were disgruntled to discover that there was no direct flights from Kandahar to Kabul and they would have to take the round robin flight to all points in the ISAF locations around Afghanistan. They clambered aboard a Canadian C130 along with the throng of Toms who had got off the C17 the night before. The flight to Camp Bastion was a relatively short one and the Hercules emptied apart from Jarvis’ team, two Italian Air Force officers, some cargo and the RAF officer he had been watching the previous day. He looked tired and shabby, probably because he hadn’t had their luxury of a shower in the transit hangar.
They took off for another short hop to Herat, where the Italians disembarked. The C130 tracked up the east of the country to Qala-e-Naw where some of the cargo was unloaded. Nobody got off or on. There was a longer leg of a couple of hours as the aircraft headed north-east to Mazari Sharif and landed at the Soviet-built airfield. It was laid out in the typical, utilitarian, Soviet style of a single runway with a parallel taxi-way. More cargo was loaded via the Herc’s rear ramp and the crew got off to meet a Danish General who was getting on board with two of his flunkies, probably bound for ISAF HQ in Kabul. Edge got off for a piss, his usual problem on long trips.
The Danish entourage were shown to the seats nearest to the forward bulkhead and some of the cargo was unloaded. Thirty minutes later the engines started and they were climbing out. It seemed that the Kunduz leg had been cancelled because the aircraft went in a steady climb to the south-east and presently the beautiful mountains of the Hindu Kush were sliding below. The sun was beginning to set and it cast the snowy peaks with a dusting of rose pink.
It was colder in Bagram and the RAF officer stayed on board, probably headed for ISAF HQ in Kabul, Jarvis concluded. It was another short trip to Kabul in the mountains and the precipitous approach to Kabul. The final approach to Kabul International Airport was over the Pul-e Charchi Industrial area and the Jalalabad highway. It was a road classified on the NATO maps as Route Violet. Because of the vast numbers of burned-out ISAF trucks and tankers, it was colloquially known as “Route Violent.” The trick was to stay out of range of ground fire at altitude for as long as possible, and then descend for landing very quickly, the classic Kha Sanh approach. The loadies strapped in and the flaps and undercarriage were deployed with a slight rumble. The four turboprop engines throttled back to a whisper, the nose went down and the aircraft fell away from underneath them. In the negative G, dust and debris, including discarded foam ear defenders came up from the deck of the aircraft. The aircraft pulled up just above the runway, the sudden positive G cramming them down in their seats.
The C130 trundled to a standstill outside the terminal building and the four of them lugged the kit and weapons off the aircraft. An unmarked station wagon was waiting for them to take them to the Special Operations Command (SOC) HQ in the city. There they would be able to relax, until moving the next day to take over the patrol house. Jarvis caught one last look at the RAF officer who was trying to get a lift to HQ ISAF. He wished him well.
Theirs was a strange existence for the next few months. The patrol house was located in a jumble of buildings south of the Turkish Embassy. It was single story with a flat roof that had a breezeblock sanger with good all-round visibility. The house was located inside a small, electronically gated compound and all looked fairly normal apart from the satellite communications dish and the tall aerial. There was a 4×4 and two motorbikes parked in the compound. Inside the converted shop there were seven rooms leading off a central hall, with access to the roof. Four small rooms were their bedrooms. There was a walk-in shower room, lavatory and sink. There was a spacious, well-appointed kitchen area with sufficient room for a table and four chairs. There was a store room come armoury with a large, radio set. The final room was the living area with a sofa, two chairs, a TV, DVD player and games console. There were no windows in any of the rooms, so the feeling was that they were living in a bunker. The roof space was popular with patio chairs and a barbeque. The previous incumbents had started to grow a few trees in pots, so Edge volunteered to tend them, even adding a few species to grow from seeds after stratification in the freezer. It gave him an excuse to be up there so his occasional smoking didn’t wind them up.
The patrol house was also a safe house to go to, if any of the ISAF vehicles got themselves into trouble. Bizarrely, a young, Russian cleaner visited the house once a week on her scooter to tidy up and do housework. She was paid by Supreme, the large company that supported ISAF logistics, but on their handover/takeover with the Australian SF team, they were warned that she was in the employ of the Russian GRU and not to leave any krypto, maps or sensitive data lying around. But she was achingly pretty and they cautiously enjoyed flirting with her during her Friday visits. Naturally, she seemed very interested in the locked store room and Guy Jarvis, who had learned recently to speak Russian. In which priority was anybody’s guess. She was frightened of Edge, although he was pleasant to her and helped to fix her scooter, which was misfiring during one visit.
Most of the time they sent out a pair in the Q-car to do reconnaissance or as they called it, Dicking, keeping their ears close to the ground to find any information on Taliban intentions. They had grown beards and dressed just like working class Afghani men, although because of his ginger monstrosity, they wouldn’t let Mickey Keeble go anywhere without full face and head covering. There had already been an attack on the Serena Hotel and they were expecting a large, multi-pronged offensive on ISAF or Afghan Government assets. What was also clear was the large numbers of agents from the Pakistani Inter Services’ Intelligence (ISI) operating in the city, being closely monitored by the Indian Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). It paid a malevolent Pakistan to keep Afghanistan permanently disrupted and as a failed state to increase their zone of influence and maintain a buffer between their Sunni and Iran’s Shia religious schisms. The Taliban was a child of the Pakistanis.
The Russians were still in the country, discretely continuing to take care of business and still engaged with the British in the new version of the “Great Game.” The Russian had supplied the Afghan national Army with AK47s and reopened a cultural centre in Kabul. They were happy to disrupt and destabilise ISAF operations and business and if the Americans caught a cold, Afghanistan would get pneumonia. Their Russian cleaner Agata was just another small cog in the “Great Game.” The irony was that they knew and they knew she knew, but it was part of the game, a game which would consume Agata like a moth in a furnace.
One Friday morning, Jarvis and Mickey were still in bed after a long observation mission of the Intercontinental Hotel the previous night and morning. Morrison was up on the roof doing a relaxed stag and Edge had been sent to the SOCHQ to pick up any fresh intel and the mail. Jarvis was in a sound sleep, but someone had come into the room without knocking and he was suddenly awake. His Glock was under the pillow and he moaned as if still asleep and reached under the pillow. He waited, gently sniffing the air. She was reading his journal that he had updated before sleep. She quietly thumbed back several pages to read the entries from the previous week.
“What the hell are you doing, Agata?”
She gasped and dropped the diary. The pen slid off the bedside cabinet, “Just dusting Mr Jarvis.”
She spoke in Russian, “My English is not so good. I dust your room, Mr Jarvis. I didn’t want to wake you. I knocked your diary off the table.”
“Your English is perfectly good, Agata,” Jarvis said in Russian, “And how do you know it was a diary if you weren’t reading it?”
She became flustered and picked up the items, “I just dust. Sorry to wake you.”
“You’re a dammed liar, Agata, and you’re not very good at it. Why waste your time snooping around when you could be here in bed with me?”
He expected her to flounce off and at least show some shame, but to his amazement, she pulled the tabard over her head and stepped out of her clothes.
“Move over, English Spetsnaz.”
“Is this part of your normal duties or a special request by you handlers? I was only joking you know.”
“No. You should never joke of these things, Englishman. You are nice looking and I want to fuck with you,” she said matter-of-factly. In truth she had wanted to do this the first time she laid eyes on Guy Jarvis, “After all, fucking you will merely be the continuation of politics with other means,” She delved under the pillow and pulled out his Glock and raised her eyes. He unloaded the automatic and put on top of his diary.
“Claus von Clausewitz unless I’m mistaken. Are you an expert in military theory, Agata?”
“No, I am a cleaner.”
“And I am a Dutchman,” Jarvis said as he gently nibbled her inner wrist. Her other erogenous areas were soon crying out for him. She was at first excited because she had been taking a huge chance in snooping in his room and part of her wanted him to discover her. She was an extremely low-level intelligence operative and she was compromised. Now her excitement was of a more primeval nature. She didn’t care and for an hour they forgot who they served and their bit parts in the Great Game; history and nationality meant nothing. They wanted each other and Agata leaned back and sighed deeply, her blood flowing to the skin, to her breasts and nipples and her pupils dilated with release of oxytocin and dopamine. Her uterus was telling the rest of her body and her brain its purpose. Jarvis’ craving was simpler and more obvious and always more acute just after waking.
“Ty krasivaja,” Jarvis told her.
“YA khochu tebya seychas, anglichanin. YA khochu priyti…”
He saw the flush of blood on her neck and she smiled at him. Guy would never tire of looking at an aroused woman. English, American, African, Chinese it didn’t matter. It was all testimony to the power of attraction with a dash of lust. It wasn’t about identifying as being this or that, or being gender fluid. It was primeval with a splash of chemicals such as pheromones and attraction, loneliness, danger. The reactions of the female body were always the same. Guy kissed her stomach and she stroked the soft hair of his beard, pulling it gently.
“I wanted you from the moment I saw you,” she told him in English. He could feel a pulse in her stomach as he moved his area of operations south and she groaned…
Sometime later up on the roof, Morrison was getting miffed that nobody had even thought of bringing him up a cup of tea. With a sigh he padded downstairs and stopped with a start. He heard a cry (of pain?) coming from Jarvis’ room. The door opposite opened and Mickey poked his sleepy face out.
“What the hell was that?”
There was another cry, not of pain but that of la petite mort.
“Oh really?” said Mickey.
“Yes, really,” Morrison confirmed.
“He truly is a bastard.”
“A lucky one. If I fell in a barrel of nipples, I’d come up sucking my thumb.”
“My sister doesn’t seem to have thought so.”
That evening they were sitting round the table. Jarvis was cooking the dinner and Mickey was up on the roof.
“There aren’t any potatoes. It’s Coq Au Vin with rice but no Vin I’m afraid,” Jarvis told them.
Morrison leaned forward and said to Edge: “Guy is pretty good at Coq Au many things, aren’t you, Guy?”
Jarvis took Mickey’s meal up to the roof with some bread in a mess tin, ignoring him.
“What are you talking about, Henry?” Edge asked.
“Guy fucked our cleaner this morning,” he said as Jarvis came back into the room, “Didn’t you, Guy you naughty boy.”
“Bloody hell. What was she like, Guy?”
“Like a woman. You know, breasts, soft bits, nice places. She is very nice.”
“Sleeping with the enemy?” Morrison said without any rancour.
“All’s fair in love and war, I suppose,” Edge observed, but Jarvis could tell he didn’t approve. Edge surprisingly had a complex moral code.
“Eat your dinner before it gets cold. I’ve been slaving over a hot stove for hours.”
The following Friday, Agata didn’t turn up on her little scooter because the city was burning. There were bombs going off up at the airport and suicide attacks on the French camp in the north just off Route Violet. They received a call for help from the New Zealand Special Forces to help clear the insurgents from the airport area, where a number of aircraft were damaged on the ground. Morrison took a radio, a LAW and plenty of grenades. Edge took his sniper rifle, a Minime with several ammunition belts and a LAW, then they headed off in the 4×4 while Jarvis manned the roof and Mickey the radio. Later that morning there was an explosion much closer, in the direction of the junction of Sehat-e-Ama Road and 4th Macroryan Main Road. Jarvis yelled down to Mickey and reported the explosion. Mickey monitored the radio and predictably a call came through, relayed by the SOC from HQ ISAF. He took notes and went up to the roof.
“Where was that explosion?”
Jarvis indicated to the west where a spiral of oily smoke appeared above the skyline.
“They have lost an ISAF vehicle whose ECM has stopped transmitting.”
“I suppose we’ll have to go out and look.”
“Let me get my stuff and we’ll head out.”
As they left the compound, the trickles of people congregated into a crowd and they pushed through, heading for the junction. A 4×4 was burning. It had been cut in half by an explosion and Jarvis saw three troops in British combat clothing. Only one seemed to be in any state to remain on his feet and this man watched them run through the crowd. There was a great deal of blood.
Oh God, Jarvis thought, This is bad!
Mickey headed for the burning wreck while he covered the junction. The single figure on his feet went down to reduce his profile, cocked his rifle and fired a single round at Mickey, which fortunately missed. They were both dressed like the Taliban.
He yelled angrily: “STOP FIRING YOU FUCKING IDIOT!”
To be fair to him, he was lucky to have survived the IED which had cut the vehicle in half. As he ran up the headscarf flapped open the man guarding the injured passengers saw a pair of the greenest eyes he had ever seen and tousled shock of ginger hair. Mickey hit the firer on the side of his helmet with an open hand, not enough to cause damage, but enough to register disapproval at being shot at. Jarvis went into concealment at the junction to cover them. The man smeared with burned rubber soot and blood began to give a sitrep. He was an RAF officer and clearly shocked and terrified.
“Save your breath, mate. You’ll need it,” Mickey gently pulled the injured lance-jack up onto his shoulder, “You’ll have to keep up.”
They started with the RAF Officer dragging the driver along, they ran back up 4th Macroryan Main Road. Mickey fired off a short burst over the heads of the gathering crowd to disperse them, then they ducked up a side street and into a maze of poor-quality buildings. Even though their saviour was carrying the weight of the casualty, Margin was sprinting to keep up and by the time they were led up an alley, the RAF officer was blowing out of his arse and it was the driver who was pulling him along.
They approached a high wall with steel gates. Mickey delved into his pocket and the gates slid open. They were inside a small, walled compound with a single storey building, steel shuttered with breeze-block sangers on the roof. The building the RAF officer noted, was a basic but comfortably equipped dwelling of seven rooms, with a single staircase up to the roof. The living area had a sofa, two chairs, television and a coffee table. There was a PlayStation controller on the table and someone had been reading Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.
“Our patrol house,” Mickey told them and they were joined by the second bearded man with the Afghan hat, “What about her?”
The RAF officer went into the kitchen and moved the breakfast detritus off the table. He was feeling less sick now, but still frightened, “We’ll need two sleeping bags and a waterproof poncho. Put them on the table, then the poncho for the blood and put her on top.
“I’ll need to go on stag on the roof,” Jarvis told him, “But I’ll get them first.”
“Which one of you is the patrol medic?”
Mickey laid the body gently down on the table on the poncho. “That would be Mark, but he’s not here. He’s gone to the airport with the boss, for a spot of ultraviolence with the Kiwis. You picked a shit day for sight-seeing. There have been multiple attacks all over the city and they’ve knocked out several aircraft at the airport. It’s completely sealed off.”
“Did he take his medical bergen?”
“No. It’s in the store room.”
“Get it and I’ll come with you. I don’t want her to hear.”
“She’s out of it, mate.”
“But she can still hear,” explained the RAF officer, whom Mickey suspected was a medic of some kind, “Hearing’s the last sense to go.”
In the storeroom he picked up the bergen, “What’s your name, and don’t say Soldier A.”
“I’m Mickey. Jarvis is up on the roof.” He peered at the officer’s rank slide and name on the front of his smock, “Squadron Leader Margin.”
“OK, I’m Chris, the girl is Karen and the driver’s called Biff. Listen Mickey, that young lady’s going to die if we don’t get her to hospital. She’s bleeding out, so I’m going to try my best. The Czech field hospital is a non-starter. Can you contact the Americans?”
Mickey nodded, “Yes, through their SEAL teams.”
“Tell them we need a Black Hawk, Pedro, Dust-off to this location or as close as possible. Severe lower limb trauma that’s a Priority One and a mental trauma, Priority Two. Are you squeamish?”
“A little,” Mickey admitted with a frown, “I’ll never eat off that table again. I’ll make the call on the radio.”
He went back through and Margin took off his body armour and smock and was just wearing a t-shirt underneath. When he came back, Mickey looked at the angry spots and patches of burns on his right arm but said nothing. Margin went through the bergen and took out everything he would need. He washed his hands with alcohol gel and put on latex gloves.
“How long?” asked Margin, “And put these gloves on.”
“At least thirty minutes flying time. More likely nearer an hour.”
“Take her boots and socks off. I need to see the capillary refill on her toenails.” Margin started to cut off the trousers with a pair of bandage scissors, starting at the inside seam, up the leg, carefully across the crotch and then down the other leg. Then he cut around the protruding fragment of shrapnel. He rolled the cut material out of the way to expose the wounds.
“Jesus,” Mickey observed, “I guess you don’t pull that chunk of steel out.”
“No. Do you know how to make a ring bandage?”
“Make one out of this triangular bandage and we’ll use it to pad the area around the knee, but first the thigh.”
Margin dreaded taking off the field dressings and sure enough the blood continued to bleed steadily. He applied a tourniquet from the bergen then checked her toes.
“Left leg is compromised. Very slow refill on her right leg. The blood in her body hasn’t enough volume so it’s drawing into the core to protect the vital organs, heart, lungs and brain. The tourniquet’s not enough. Do you know where the femoral pressure point is? You may have to delve into her intimate area, I’m afraid, Mickey, long enough for me to put on the coagulant powder and dressing.” He showed him where to press and Mickey baulked.
He opened a plastic container, “Ready? Harder, Mickey, she’s beyond modesty now.”
The blood flow slowed to a trickle, then Margin applied the powder and then the coagulant impregnated field dressing, “Good, you can retrieve your hand and just apply gentle but firm pressure to this pad over the dressing.”
The officer finally made a secondary survey of the casualty aware that he was in danger of becoming fixated with the obvious injury. Margin carefully unclipped the waist fasteners and opened up the Osprey’s Velcro. Then he undid her smock and lifted the t-shirt, checking carefully. There was no other injuries or suspicious swelling that could denote internal injuries. He pushed his hand under her body, pulled it out and checked for blood. Worried about her ragged, noisy breathing he tried to insert a Geudel airway, but she started to choke and retch, so she wasn’t fully unconscious, “I’m so sorry, Karen,” Her distress was like a kick in the balls. Apart from only responding to painful stimuli, she had a pale and clammy skin. Her pulse was fast and weak and her lips and fingernails were blue with cyanosis. She was going to die of hypovolemic shock and he was responsible. He thought he could feel his father close by.
“I need to get some fluids into her, Dad.”
“What?” Mickey questioned, sincerely hoping that the officer wasn’t slipping into shock.
“But I’m not current. I haven’t done this for over ten years.”
“It’s like riding a bike. You never forget everything,” Mickey told him, slightly puzzled.
The best site would have been the external jugular vein, but he had never performed the procedure and only seen it carried out once, in much more of a clinical environment. Margin grabbed a cushion from the sofa and put it under her right arm. He looked at the veins on the back of her hand but they had closed down. The Cephelic vein in the crook of her elbow looked more promising and he tapped the area, and applied a small, rubber tourniquet, four finger widths up from the site.
“Mickey, could you please make a fist of her hand and flex the arm downwards.”
He found the vein with difficulty and swabbed the area with an alcohol swab. He took the cannula out of the sterile packaging, flushed it with a syringe of saline drawn from the fluids set, opened the wings and removed the needle covering. He stretched the skin on her arms to make the site more prominent. Mickey was watching with fascination, still holding her hand, “Shouldn’t you say at this point, you might feel a small prick?”
He inserted the cannula at a slight downward angle towards the shoulder and gently advanced it until a flashback of blood was seen in its hub. He advanced a further 2mm until the cannula was in the vein, removed the needle and taped it in place, finally removing the tourniquet. He doubted there would be a sharps box so he put the needle in an empty coke can then flushed the cannula again with saline, looking for local tissue swelling. There wasn’t any which was a relief, otherwise he would have to start again. Margin connected an extension then a litre bottle of Haemaccel which he handed to Mickey.
“Hold this up and squeeze gently, very gently, because we need to get the fluids in quickly. I’ll find a stand.” He fashioned a drip stand from a couple of wire coat hangers, his Leathermans and Para cord, “That’s good, she’s had about 300 millilitres. I’ll hang the fluid bottle and see to her other knee. Could you get an ETA for the Black Hawk and where it can land?”
“About 400 metres out back. We’ll have to carry her in the poncho as the boss and Mark took the vehicle. Jarvis will have to cover us.”
Mickey came back after making the radio call, “Ten minutes inbound. We’d better prepare to move. Can you help to carry her?” he asked the driver who nodded.
“Two on the head and arse, one on the feet. That’s your job, Biff. I’ll put a loop on the bottle and carry it round my neck.” Margin said and put on his smock and body armour and rear slung his rifle.
Mickey yelled up to Jarvis and together they lifted her in the poncho, the partially coagulated blood slopping across the table and floor, then they were out of the building and compound and headed towards waste ground at a steady trot. They could hear the helicopter coming in and the trooper called Jarvis ran on ahead and threw a smoke grenade. The Black Hawk circled once above them and then came into land into wind, its rotor blades chopping the purple smoke into ribbons. The three on the poncho crouched down and waited for the crewman to wave them forward. There were crewmen posted on the miniguns on each door, covering the landing site.
One of the medics waved them in and helped lift the casualty onto the helicopter and a stretcher. Margin did a swift handover, shouting above the engines, “Roadside IED on vehicle. Female is a Priority one, GCS of four. Upper and mid-leg trauma, both legs. Severe blood loss but now controlled. Morphine administered at 09:10. Coagulant powder and dressing administered to left thigh. Shrapnel injury to right knee, foreign object still in place. She has so far been given 750 millilitres of Haemaccel. Other casualty severe mental trauma and shock, but recovering and responsive. GCS of fourteen. Get on board, Biff.”
“You should go as well.” Mickey yelled in his ear. “No. I need to report to their bosses and mine as well. My fuck-up.”
The American medic gave the thumbs up and they moved away and crouched down as the Black Hawk pitched up and roared over their heads. They jogged back to the patrol house and Margin cleaned up the mess in the kitchen, mopping the floor, bagging the blood soaked swabs and the giving set.
“You’ll have to stay here for a while, Chris, until we put the lid back on this city. You look like you could use a cup of tea.”
“Thank you, Mickey. That would be grand.”
Mickey replaced Jarvis on stag. As he went down, Jarvis was assailed by the horrible, coppery reek of blood. He had never been in one, but he suspected this was how a slaughterhouse would smell. The two of them chatted while Margin saw to the burns on his arm and leg the best he could, while Jarvis helped. In places the metal had burned into the flesh and would have to be dug out later. He cleaned and dressed what he could and took some opiate-based pain killers.
“Looks nasty, squadron leader.” Jarvis suddenly realised that this was the officer he had been studying in the departure area at Brize Norton. What a small world.
“Christophe. French name is it, Squadron Leader?
“Yes. I forgot to put on my Breton smock this morning.”
Mickey said you’re all right. He said you saved that girl’s life.”
“We don’t know yet. I hope so, Mr Jarvis.”
The officer suddenly slumped down with his head in his hands. He started to shake and Jarvis’ heart went out. He had been terrified, perhaps not for himself, but for the responsibility of the female driver and it was now overwhelming him. Plus he had been alone in a hostile city. Jarvis was struck by the many facets of so-called bravery and how this ageing RAF officer had fought through, metaphorically speaking.
It was dark when they heard a vehicle outside the compound and the gates opening. Two men came in, lugging assorted weapons and belts of ammunition. Their faces were grimy with sweat and they reeked of explosive and firearms residue. Margin recognised them immediately and they looked at him incredulously.
“What the hell’s he doing here?” demanded Morrison.
“It’s a long story, boss,” Jarvis told him and explained.
“On our fucking dinner table?”
Morrison looked at Margin quizzically, “And you used our patrol bergen?”
“Yes I used your fucking patrol bergen. Sorry pal, my mistake. I should have just let her fucking bleed out all over your nice sofa and PlayStation. Bill me for it!” Margin was almost shouting.
There was a very long pause. Morrison stared at him and then he smiled. “Calm down, sir. I guess we’ve both had a long, tiring day.”
“I need to get back to ISAF HQ. Is there any way of contacting them as I guess you have the situation out there in hand?”
“I’ll drive him.” Edge offered. “Get your kit,” he peered at his rank slide and name tag on the blood-smeared and spattered smock, “Squadron Leader Margin.”
“I’ll come with you,” Jarvis offered.
Outside, Margin went to go in the back seat but Edge shook his head and opened the front passenger door. As they drove through the now quiet city, the driver asked a few questions, “You were in the vehicle when the IED went off?”
“Yes. It was an EFP because there was nothing much left of the 4×4. The blast cut it in half.”
“Weren’t you injured?”
“Some burns caused by the spalling inside the vehicle. I was keeping distance from the driver to watch our six o’clock and because she was pissed off with me. Just as well really, otherwise that EFP had my name on it. Nothing they can’t deal with in the HQ’s MTF.”
“And you cannulated the casualty in the arm? You were lucky to find a vein. Why didn’t you use a central line?”
“I couldn’t risk it. I haven’t put in a cannula for ten years and I’m not even a current medic any-more.”
The driver huffed then chuckled, “You’ve got a lot of balls. What if it had gone wrong?”
“She would have died anyway. We should never have gone out, but I insisted, so I was responsible. I had to try.”
The vehicle pulled in at the turning circle before the first security checkpoint of the headquarters.
“Mind the gap,” said the driver, while Margin climbed out with his kit and rifle.
“Hey, Squadron Leader. Good drills and skills.”
“Thank you, errr…?”
He watched the unmarked Q-car pull back out onto the one-way system.
Edge? What a strange name, Margin thought.
The next Friday Agata still didn’t appear on her scooter. Morrison phoned the Supreme cleaning department on his mobile, to be told she hadn’t been to work since the previous week. Two days later, her battered body was found to the north of the industrial area, dumped in the Kabul River. It was thought she had been abducted and murdered by the Taliban, but in fact it had been the Pakistan ISI as a warning to the Russians not to interfere in their “Manor.”
But who cared for a cleaner, just another casualty of the “Great Game?” Well Jarvis cared. He moped around the patrol house and exploded one evening: “I hate our job. I hate fighting a war in the shadows! I wish I was back in Sierra Leone, fighting a real enemy. Poor little Agata, the bastards!”
It was the beginning of Jarvis’ disillusionment and the first signs that the appeal of life in the Special Forces had been lost. Morrison was concerned because disillusionment often led to mistakes and risk-taking and he discussed this with Edge. But Edge was already feeling his own sense of cynicism and although he knew that soldiers couldn’t pick and choose their wars, unless they were mercenaries, he often despaired at the stupidity of politicians and senior officers.
Edge cared enough to go and look for her on a motorbike when she hadn’t appeared on the second Friday, although he knew it was futile. Somebody cared enough for her remains to be repatriated in a coffin draped with the flag of the Russian Federation, in a military aircraft. The two men who walked into a coffee shop near the Pakistani Embassy and machine gunned four ISI officers as they sat sharing a joke at a table probably cared. And Agata’s mother cared as did Agata’s eighteen-month-old son when he got older.
But when all was said and done, she was just another casualty. Another little moth consumed in the furnace of the Great Game.
Now available on Amazon: War Crimes for the Political Elite
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© Blown Periphery 2021
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file