From that day on it became like Groundhog Day to Afarin. Kit inspection from Staff Sergeant Hoffman, who was now at the shouty, throwing things about phase. The morning before he had taken Umbridge to her using para cord for boot laces. That morning, he caught Afarin smiling as he pulled out her water bottle, only half full. She had forgotten to fill it.
“Do you find this amusing, Ms Khan? Do you think I’m here to provide a little light relief? Well, I’ll tell you how funny I find this. Why don’t you run down to the 500-metre point and run back? With your rifle held above your head at all times. If I see you walk or let your arms drop, we’ll do it again at lunchtime or this evening until you get it right. What, no laughter? Well off you go, shake that not so little arse of yours.”
She ran down to the 500-metre point and on the way back, the rifle was heavy in her arms and they started to shake.
“Come on, Afarin. Keep going,” Zelig yelled, to encourage her.
When she finally got back, Hoffman feigned indifference and Dan said: “זוג ציצים חסר תועלת, (Useless pair of tits),” to her.
But Hoffman noted the aversion between this pair and resolved to keep an eye on them. Secretly, he had rather a soft spot for the little English Muslim, because he knew she had guts and was a fighter. But did she know when to fight and when to avoid it?
After a session of circuit training and a quick shower, he handed them over to the range officers who split the eight into two groups. Afarin was glad to see that Dan was with the other group. Her four carried out a series of fire with movement, taking cover, standing, kneeling and prone. Her scores were impressive with tight groups even though standing and breathless after running down from 500-metres to 200 metres and three magazine changes. The others saw her wisdom of using tracer rounds as her magazine changes were fast and sure, putting the empty magazines in her pouches and still able to fire one-handedly.
After firing the Tavor they moved onto the pistol on the 50-metre range, in her case, the Glock 19. While Afarin’s group had been firing the assault rifle, the other group had fired the pistol. Now after a short break they changed over. Her groupings with the Glock were better than the Jericho, but the groupings expanded when she did rapid firing, with one or two pulled shots. The range officer chatted to her.
“Ms Khan, while your shooting is acceptable, it isn’t as good as it could be. The pistol will be your weapon of choice for close in work. The Mista’arvim’s weapon, should you need to shoot, must be the pistol, with or without a silencer. Now what you are doing is firing at a target of plywood and paper. You don’t care, you just want to hit the target and get a good score.
“I want you to think differently. I want you to humanise that target. It is no longer plywood and paper. It is a living thing with blood vessels and a brain and it wants to kill you. It could be a Palestinian boy wearing a suicide vest, about to blow you to pieces, or a woman with a knife who wants to hack to death off-duty Israeli soldiers. Put that into your mind and we’ll run through rapid fire again. Magazine of fifteen rounds, load. Ready.”
Afarin cocked the Glock.
“Watch and shoot, watch and shoot… UP!”
She was back outside the Muwafaqiya Police Station and a member of the JAM had come up to her, threatening her with his weapon, Get out of here, you disgusting split-arse. Why are you not with a chaperone?
Chaperone this you fucker!
She fired five rounds, changed position and fired five more, finishing in a kneeling position, her forearm supported on her knee. After the fifteen rounds, she dropped the magazine and changed it, then stood up.
“Check the slide lock is applied, ground your weapon and let’s see how you’ve done.”
He picked up a piece of chalk and they walked up to the target. He firstly drew a large circle on the target.
“This was the first run,” Then he drew a second, smaller circle, “And this one was when you just fired. Much tighter, but still two stray shots, there and there. We will work on it tomorrow and soon you’ll be firing one-handed and with a silencer. Paste the target and then go for lunch.”
Afarin waited until the others had finished and they jogged to the mess hall. As the queued for their meal, Dan asked her: “You spent a lot of time on the 50-metre range. Are you crap at shooting the pistol?”
“No, Dan, not crap. I just need to get a bit better.”
“I hope we’re not carrying a liability around with us.”
Afarin picked up a plate and looked at him, “Don’t worry, Dan. We’ll cover for you.”
As the oldest man, Zelig was the paternal member of the team and he said grace and broke bread for them.
“To our English guest,” he toasted and they all followed, even Dan.
Afarin took a few spoonfuls of the chicken soup and then asked Zelig a question. “Zelig, why are you, a pilot here? I thought you’d be gold dust, the same for you, Aisha.”
“Well, it’s because I had a run of bad luck. I was shot down in an F16 by a Syrian pilot, over the Beqaa Valley. He was in a Mig 29 and he was a bloody good pilot. Hit me with an R23 missile and I had to eject. I spent two days on the run in the Lebenon until CSAR picked me up. The second time was a flame out in an F15 on take-off. I had to bang out again and the doctors identified that if it happened a third time, it would damage my spine.”
“And you would end up as a dwarf,” Dan said superciliously.
They ignored him and Afarin looked at Aisha and she spoke slowly, carefully choosing her words, “I just got bored flying on C130s and my husband left me for a younger model. I had a lot of anger so decided to channel it and volunteer for this job. And here I am with you reprobates, Zelig excepted.”
Afarin noticed that they were a wide spread in ages and background expertise and she was probably the youngest, or perhaps Batya was. It was difficult to ascertain Heyfa’s age, but once again she was staring at Afarin. It was so strange. She found it difficult to tell if it was a look of dislike, or intense curiosity. Perhaps she thought all of the English were anti-Semitic or perhaps it was because she was a Muslim and knew of the unhappy relations between Lebanese Christians and Syrian Muslims.
After they had eaten, Afarin went to her apartment and checked her phone. There was nothing from Jean-Claude, which probably meant the sale and all the legal stuff was going through in its own, glacial pace. They would be in the classroom that afternoon, so she took the time to clean her rifle. Despite its rather plastic, toy like appearance, the Tavor was a neat, compact assault rifle. She also cleaned the Glock, which was like an old friend to her and then settled down to read a couple of chapters of Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
That afternoon they carried on with instructions concerning small unit tactics and the set-piece attack. The importance of support fire was drummed into them, classic fire with movement and covering the withdrawal. Although the Israeli doctrine seemed to be attack, hold the ground and counter-attack vigorously. They also covered working with armoured vehicles in a built-up are, specifically armour/infantry mutual support in towns.
Their group was given a task to individually produce an 8,000-word essay to be presented in essay form to the director of the course and a thirty-minute presentation for the rest of the class. This was to be presented to the class and invited guests on the Wednesday and Thursday after Pentecost.
That afternoon they started firing on the 500 Metre electronic target range, where random targets would suddenly appear and a course member who was playing the role of section commander would indicate the targets and the type of fire directed on them. They were told that they would be doing this for real the following week, albeit with blank ammunition, against members of the Golani Brigade who were playing the baddies.
While they were running through their drills, Afarin’s mind was working to try and think of a subject for the essay and presentation. Finally, she had an idea having read an article on the SAS raid on Pebble Island during the Falklands war. It was a case where ground troops had performed the role of attacking enemy aircraft in a strategic setting. It would do as a germ of an idea, which she would flesh out during the Pentecost holiday. She thought about incorporating Operation Certain Death, the plan to use Special Forces on the Argentine mainland to destroy aircraft on the ground. But she wasn’t sure if this operation was classified UK Eyes Only.
They were tired as they trudged back to the gym for indoor hockey. She wasn’t troubled by Dan during the game, because she was more agile than him and had played at RAF station level. Once again, they used a rush goalkeeper. The sticks were plastic with a plastic puck, that moved very fast on the wood floor. In all, they enjoyed the game, went and got a shower before eating in the mess.
This was her time of endless days spent on the ranges, but her pistol shooting was by now, first rate. She could fire with either hand and react to threats with startling speed. Her rifle scores went up and up, but she knew that the automatic pistol would be her weapon of choice. She was an accepted member of the team, trusted by all of the others apart from Dan, who had resumed his skirmishing with her and never missed an opportunity to put her down. Heyfa continued to say very little and watch her a great deal and Afarin knowing that a showdown with Dan was coming.
She was on the edge of a small wood, lying in a depression. As 2IC, Efrayim was lying next to her. She stared at the dilapidated farm buildings, part of the range and saw a helmet covered by a Mitznefet move inside the building and a camouflaged vehicle behind.
“I reckon there’s at least four in there,” Afarin said and handed the field glasses to him. He watched for about five minutes.
“At least eight I would say. There’s another two on the roof, but there is a way in that’s in cover. He indicated to the left of the buildings with a sweep of his hand.
“Immediately left of the buildings is a low wall, but it’s so obvious that they would plant trip flares and grenades. But look out far left of arc. There is a winding depression, probably a goat trail.”
“If you detour behind that hill on the left flank, you can flank the buildings and approach using the goat trail. Of course, they may have put traps out, but it’s a risk worth taking with so few of us.”
Afarin thought out a plan of action, “OK Efrayim, we’ll split the team into two bricks. You, Batya, Zelig and Heyfa with the Negev LMG supporting the attack, moving in when I say so over the radio. The rest of us will flank the hill and come up the goat track. What do you think?”
“It’s a plan. Go back and brief your troops.”
“Thank you Efrayim.”
“Don’t mention it. They are Golani, my Brigade. They are good soldiers, but this afternoon we’re going to kick their arses.”
They slithered back out of sight and went back to behind the wood where the others were waiting. Efrayim made sure everybody took water while Afarin made a model in the dirt. She formed the contours and hills with her hands and scraped tracks to denote the road and goat track. Trees were made from vegetation such as moss from a nearby wall. When she was happy with the result, she called them in to brief them.
She gave timings and call signs and when the support brick could move forward out of cover. Actions-on and who would take over if she went down. Finally, she asked questions and checked understanding. During the briefing, Dan threw bits of dirt in a distracted way and didn’t appear to have been listening.
“Am I boring you, Dan?” Afarin asked.
“We do a left flanking manoeuvre, pick up the goat trail and approach the buildings. We make our final assault under the cover of smoke. It’s hardly the Six-Day War and I have done this once or twice before.”
“So, you won’t fuck it up, will you? We move in five minutes.”
While they waited, one of the Directing Staff called Afarin over to speak with her in private, “Keep an eye on Dan. He’s got his Para head on with the brains removed.”
They synchronised watches and Afarin led her team of four round the back of the wood and down the slight valley to the hill that dominated their left of flank. Once they had picked up the goat track, they moved towards the buildings in a half crouch. When they reached the buildings, Afarin got on the radio to the rest of the team in support.
Commence ripple fire, short burst with the Negev. We’re getting ready to go in.
The firing started from their base line and she ordered: “Stand by, stand by. We get on the roof and clear it first. GO!”
They sprinted out of cover, Afarin and Gad going left to where the external wall had partially fallen away. She expected Dan and Freida to follow her, but Dan said to Freida had other ideas: “There’s a gap in the wall. Don’t waste your time clambering up to the roof, we can get in this way.”
Freida was torn and suddenly indecisive. She knew this was Afarin’s lead, but Dan was a paratrooper and had the most combat experience. Reluctantly, she followed him towards the breach in the wall.
Dan’s overconfidence was as great as his dislike for Afarin. He threw a stun grenade through the breach and moved in to clear the area, firing long bursts into an empty room. It wasn’t empty for long. He missed the gossamer thin wire and activated a booby trap of an M48 stun grenade and a smoke canister. There was a boom, followed by the shrieking grenade and smoke billowed out of the building. A directing staff NCO was soon on top of him, yelling:
“You are fucking dead!” and to Frieda shouted: “And you are badly injured, so start fucking screaming, like you’ve lost your legs!”
Afarin cursed Dan to hell and said quickly to Gad: “Help me up.”
He bent over against the wall and she climbed up on his back and up onto the roof. Dan’s blundering attempted entrance had proved a useful distraction as the smoke billowed up and obscured her. The support fire had stopped, probably because they mistook the smoke for the signal to move. Afarin cleared the roof with long bursts of fire and the three Golani soldiers up there ceased fire and lay down. She helped Gad to pull himself up and they headed for the stairs, both of them lobbing stun grenades into the room below. One went off close to Dan, I hope that deafened you, you bastard!
On the ground floor, Afarin went towards the back of the building while Gad went forward. There were five Golani soldiers firing out of the window apertures and Gad lobbed two stun grenades and cleared the room with long bursts, changing his magazine. Afarin came in to support him.
“Clear!” he yelled and she got on the radio to Efrayim.
“Charlie-two, the building is clear. Two down. Move in. Well done, Gad.”
He smiled shyly and if he had a tail, he’d wag it.
The Directing Staff appeared, shouting at her, “You have two down. One is dead and the other, in case you’re deaf is severely injured. So, what are you going to do?”
Afarin made a request for CASEVAC over the radio and leaving Dan where he was, they dragged Frieda to the agreed regroup position. Batya carried out notional first aid on the casualty and Zelig guided the Blackhawk helicopter in. It took off in a swirl of dust and headed towards the Field Hospital, so the medics could practice reception of casualties. Frieda would be returned in a couple of hours.
They walked back to the ruined building, the insides scattered with fired blank ammunition. The Golani soldiers were leaving and mumbled reluctant and faint praise to the assault team.
“Right, time for a de-brief. That includes you, shit for brains,” The Directing Staff said to Dan.
They sat cross-legged on the ground and as had happened before, the team leader sat, said nothing and listened.
“OK, what went right?”
Zelig spoke up for the support team, “The building was captured, our briefing was comprehensive and there was sufficient cover as we moved forward to the target.”
The Staff NCO turned to Gad, “And you?”
“We captured the objective. She led well when things were going wrong.”
“You were killed and a comrade was severely injured,” He said to Dan, “Why?”
Dan looked evasive and Afarin spoke up, “Perhaps my orders prior to the operation were not specific enough,” she said and stared at him. Dan didn’t look at her and the others knew why.
The NCO nodded and smiled ruefully at Afarin, “Lesson learned.” There was a long pause, “For both of you. Right, back to the classroom and we’ll do a wash-up.”
On the walk back Afarin grabbed Dan, “You deliberately tried to fuck up my lead, Dan, you worthless piece of shit!”
He stared at her with a fury even he didn’t understand, “Fuck off you kusit !”
“This ends this evening. Be in the gym at 18:30 and we’ll sort this out the good old-fashioned way! Trousers and boots, no kneepads. We fight until one of us can no longer stand.”
“Don’t be so fucking stupid!”
“What’s the matter, Dan? Scared of a little Muslim kusit?”
“I’ll kill you.”
“The hell you will, you fucking Kike!”
“18:30. I’ll be there, Althady.”
They waited until the other left after a half-hearted game of four-a-side football. Frieda hadn’t returned from the field hospital yet and Afarin had spent the game avoiding injury from Dan. She put back on her trousers and boots and did some stretches against the wall bars. The gym was empty apart from her and Dan and they moved into the centre.
“Right, no holds barred but no biting. We keep going until one of us can’t or won’t get back up.”
Dan shook his head, “This is fucking stupid, Althady. Why don’t we have a rough fuck instead?”
“You have tried to belittle me since I arrived and you’re doing it now. You have gone out of your way to be unpleasant to me and it stops here and now. I would no more sleep with you than with a goat, which stinks less than you do. I can’t see what Batya sees in you, you fucking repulsive reptile.”
She went into a fighting crouch, forearms up, protecting her face. He mimicked her with a contemptuous laugh,
“Come on then, Arab bitch, sh’giyah . Let’s see what you’ve got.”
She feigned a strike to his face and he blocked her arm easily and then the sole of her boot hit him below his right knee. Dan reeled back and her open hand hit him on the right ear, dizzying and disorientating him. He went down on one knee and she hit him with the heel of her hand under his nose. It wasn’t a hard strike because you could kill an opponent with that attack and risked driving the nasal bone into the brain, but blood began to pour from Dan’s nose.
She backed off and waited to see what he’d do. Dan stood up unsteadily and reeled on his feet and she moved in for the kill. The blood was running down his face and he shook his head groggily, then suddenly recovered and went for her with his fists and elbows. He wasn’t fighting a little Muslim girl because his eyes showed fear. He was fighting for his life. He hit her three times on her breasts, each impact was agony and then he used his head to butt her in the face. Her right cheekbone was severely grazed, her lower lip split open and she was bleeding on the floor.
“Had enough?” he asked sarcastically. They stood facing each other, breathing hard. Afarin could taste blood, his or hers, she couldn’t be certain. She came at him very fast to knee him in the testicles, but he saw the danger and raised his thigh to protect his nether regions. He was on one leg and she cleared it from under him with a judo leg sweep. Her forearms were pressed on his throat and she smashed her head into his. He grunted and his eye socket swelled immediately.
They were both becoming exhausted and she went for his nose and the sensitive trigeminal nerve to gouge him, then felt strong arms pull her away.
“Afarin, stop, for God’s sake!”
Zelig and Efrayim pulled her off him and Batya held him down. Afarin was covered with blood and it was pooled on the gym floor. She retched and looked at Dan.
“Let go of me, Batya!” he yelled and he crawled over to Afarin, “Enough?”
“You cheeky bastard!” She slurred through swollen lips.
She nodded, “You?”
“Don’t ever refer to me as a woman’s private parts again. It denigrates all the women in our team. What would your girfriend think?”
“OK, agreed,” He hugged her, “You are of my blood now.”
Batya was furious with them, “Dan, go and get an ice pack for your eye from the mess. And you, you stupid girl, I will need to suture your lip.”
“Use my apartment,” Heyfa said to them.
“The blood,” Afarin slurred, “Use mine.”
“No. I have frozen peas in the freezer shelf, for when you’ve stitched it.”
“Well get them then.”
Zelig went to the mess with Dan, while Heyfa and Batya took her to her apartment.”
She sutured Afarin’s lip while Heyfa applied an ice pack to her cheek.
“You really are a stupid girl,” Batya told her.
“We had to clear the air. It’s been intolerable.”
“Yes, that’s Dan for you. Heyfa and I will clean the gym floor. You go back to your apartment and lie down. I’ll be in to see you later.”
“I’m sorry Batya. You won’t be getting much rumpy-pumpy tonight,” Afarin slurred.
Batya smiled, “Dan has exceptional powers of recovery. I’ll see to that.”
Heyfa took Afarin back to her apartment and she helped Afarin get undressed and into bed. She tidied up the kitchen and went to sit with her on the bed. She woke her periodically and asked her questions to check she wasn’t concussed. Afarin fell asleep and Heyfa lay on the bed next to her. She looked at her and shook her head.
“Hoffman will kill us.” then she fell asleep as well.
The next morning, Afarin sat up in bed and groaned, “I can hardly move. She looked at Heyfa in the dim light behind the blinds.
“Have you been here all night?”
“To make sure you were all right. Dan had Batya to look after him.”
“I need a shower.” Afarin got out of bed and saw Heyfa looking at her body.”
“I know. I’m a bloody mess.”
When Afarin came out of the shower, Heyfa helped her to get dressed and wiped away some congealed blood Afarin had missed, “Do you know that yesterday was the first time you have said anything to me? I thought you hated my guts as well.”
“I’m a very shy person,” Heyfa told her, “I’m also a Christian so I am interested in a fellow outsider. I was watching you. You’re very brave and that lead yesterday afternoon was good. You’re the first Muslim I didn’t hate.”
“It was Gad who cleared the building.”
“Gad likes you. In fact, he likes you a lot.”
“What do you mean?” Afarin asked.
“I will explain another time. Wait here while I get changed and I’ll come back for you.”
The two women went towards the training area, Heyfa carrying Afarin’s rifle and then the time they had been dreading, the morning inspection. Staff Sergeant Hoffman waited for them to come to attention and then started with Efrayim. As he expected from a career soldier, Efrayim was the very model of military deportment and bearing. Then Zelig, a damned pilot so he didn’t expect much and he wasn’t disappointed. Gad looked like he should be at a students’ rally, smoking dope and reading poetry to girls and Dan the paratrooper could always be relied upon to… Holy shit!
“What the fuck has happened to you, Mr Bensaïd, Death from the Skies?”
Dan kept his eyes facing forward, “I fell down the steps outside my apartment, Staff Sergeant.”
His eye was almost completely closed, “Were you drunk?”
“No. I don’t touch the stuff.”
God help us. Now the women. Batya with the hair like she’d shoved her fingers in an electric socket. He turned round and began to look around.
“What are you looking for, Staff Sergeant?”
“The hedge you’ve been dragged backwards through.”
At the far end of the rank, Heyfa giggled. Hoffman stalked towards her and then saw…
“Bat zonáh!” he came to a shocked stop in front of Afarin,
Her beautiful eyes stared at him out of a battered face. It was an obscenity, “Hara! What the bloody hell has someone done to you, Ms Khan?”
“I walked into a door.”
Hoffman turned around and walked away. She and Dan had been fighting. He knew they would eventually, but the scale of the injuries gave testament to the violence. This was no bitch slapping, it had been an attempt to kill one another and their loss of control worried him.
“Everybody fall out and go to the Gym. You pair will remain here while we have a little chat.”
He watched the other leave and then turned to Dan and Afarin, “Right, what the fuck is the story with you two?”
“We had a difference of opinion, Staff Se…”
“Cut the bullshit! I have differences of opinions with my wife. That doesn’t mean I like beating the shit out of her.”
Dan sighed, “I was being a fucking idiot, Staff Sergeant Hoffman.”
“This has been brewing for some time. Do you have a hatred for Arabs, Bensaïd?”
“Well I’m bloody Persian for a start…”
“Shut up. Ms Khan. Well, do you?”
“No Staff Sergeant.”
“Do you detest Jews, Ms Khan?”
“Of course not!”
“Well, I’d hate to see someone you really disliked. What were the rules?”
“Last one standing,” she said quietly, “The others stopped it.”
“Have you settled your differences Ms Khan?”
He reached across to her and took her hand, “Yes. She is my Blood Sister now.”
“Get out of my sight. If either of you can manage an hour’s circuit training without puking, it will be a miracle.”
They watched him stalk off, “Did you mean that, Dan?”
He put his arm round her shoulders, “Yes.”
kusit – coarse term for a woman’s genetalia. As in cu*t
sh’giyah – Tits
© Blown Periphery 2022