The next time they visited Sirte, Belhaj was more disposed to see them. Afarin said nothing in the pick-up truck and was totally incognito in her silk farrashia and this time, Jean-Claude introduced Julian to Belhaj, while Edge and Jarvis stayed to guard the truck.
“Well Englishman, you were true to your word. Can your aircraft open the road to Misrata?”
Julian nodded enthusiastically, “But you will need to get your troops and vehicles to south of Misrata to capitalise and follow up the air attacks.
“I will need a week to get the tanks into position. Once they are at Abugrein, we can finalise and coordinate our attacks.”
“How long have you been hobbling around on this?” Edge asked.
“About a week.”
“Well, you’re right, it is an ingrown toenail, and it is infected,” he gently pressed on the nail bed and a bead of puss appeared at the side of the nail. Jean-Claude hissed with the pain.
As they were operating unsupported, Edge didn’t have a full medical bergen, just a medical side pouch that was packed full of as much kit as he could get in it, “Do you feel hot and feverish?”
“Put this thermometer under your tongue to make sure.” While he was waiting Edge cleaned the toe with antiseptic wipes, “You don’t have a temperature, which is good. Is there plenty of room in your boots, are they pinching?”
“Right, I’ll give you a course of antibiotics to kill off the infection and cut you nail straight, but not too short. You’ll have to soak the foot at least three times a day and put on clean socks each time. I’ll look at it again in a couple of days and if the swelling’s gone down I’ll gently trim the nail away to stop it digging in. I’ll put on a dressing to keep it clean and give you a pack and tape for use after you soak your foot. The water must be hot and in future, don’t cut your nails too short.
“Thank you, Edge. Lesson learned.”
They were laid up on the edge of an olive orchard about ten miles south of Al Hayshah. From this position the motorway service station’s lights were visible, northwest of them on the main coastal highway. They couldn’t see the armoured fighting vehicles in the darkness but could clearly hear their engines. There were other engines to be heard; the sky seemed full of the rumble of aircraft. Jarvis looked into the eye pieces of the SOFLAM laser designator, which was sitting on its stumpy tripod on the parapet of the drainage ditch, in which they were sheltering.
“Well, I have to say that the Spooks’ operative was bang on the money. There are at least forty armoured vehicles, T62 tanks, Cairman APCs and at least one ZSU twenty-three-four. And they’re all nicely clumped together.”
Edge was on the Tacsat radio talking to the pilots. The two Spooks were well behind them in an orchard, probably on their short-range radio to their “contact,” “Jarvis, we’ve got three Rafale fighter bombers inbound, three minutes away. Fire up the SOFLAM.”
In the green of the night vision mode, Jarvis could clearly see the vehicles, including the hot spot of their running engines. He concentrated the vehicles in the middle of the laagered vehicles, a series of coded pulses of laser light fired from the SOFLAM. These signals bounced off the target into the sky, where they could be detected by the seeker on the laser-guided munition, which steered itself towards the centre of the reflected signal.
The skies above were screeching with jet engines and for the next five minutes, they witnessed a scene of absolute carnage. The jets unseen above them, were queueing up to drop their ordnance of AASM guided bombs. They circled in a holding pattern waiting to be called in. The first bombs tore the heart out of the armoured formation and the tanks and APC.s tried desperately to find dispersal. The soldiers were abandoning their vehicles and trying to find cover in a sea of flame. Jarvis concentrated the SOFLAM on the tanks that were attempting to move out and even in shelter the laser and the guided bombs found them. After such a short amount of time, the massed armour had been virtually annihilated and the threat of an attack out of Mistra had been vaporised by air power. The rag-tag group of rebels with their technicals had been blindly firing towards the Libyan army forces, a useless and unnecessary waste of ammunition.
“Bloody hell,” Edge said, “Let’s get out of here.”
The road was empty. No pickup to take them back.
“Where the bloody hell is our transport and that interpreter?”
“We’re on our own, Guy. Let’s leg it.”
Even from this range they could feel the heat from the burning vehicles and heard the ammunition cooking off inside the furnaces of the tanks. He folded the Tacsat antenna and packed the radio away in its container, which was clipped and strapped to the top of his bergen. Jarvis did the same with the SOFLAM and they slung the heavy rucksacks and moved out of the drainage ditch. They would move along the edge of the olive orchard at the edge of the road and rendezvous with the two MI6 officers. They were jogging east along the side of the highway when there were sudden bursts of fire from the south of the road, emanating from a cluster of buildings. Jarvis, who was in the lead, cried out in pain and went down.
A burst of fire hit him in the upper thighs, one round tearing through the fleshy area behind his right femur. Two 7.62mm rounds had hit him in the left leg, one splitting and tearing the recto femoris muscle, the second hitting his femur, the round breaking up along with bone fragments. The supersonic rounds caused immense tissue destruction, by the effects of cavitation, the transit of the bullet and its shock waves through soft tissue.
Edge went into cover and started to return fire as soon as he could pinpoint the position of the gunmen. The fire seemed to be coming from the building to the right and he fired at the flashes. Unlike Jarvis who had the C8 Carbine, Edge was armed with an M16 A2 rifle with an underslung 40mm grenade launcher. He only had one grenade and made it count. But they were alone, surrounded by hostile forces… He hurled a smoke grenade towards the buildings. As the smoke billowed out, he heaved Jarvis up onto his back, who cried out in pain. Staggering under the weight of the man and both their kit, Edge pushed into the grove of olive trees and headed towards the distant village.
Afarin had been asked by Julian to reconnoitre the Libyan troops dispositions past the aircraft and tanks that had been attacked by air assets. Even from over two miles away she saw the tanks burning, and knew where there was burning armour, there would be panicked men who would fire at anything. She turned right off the main highway and took the desert road, running parallel to the main road. She was going to be a few minutes late to pick up the troopers, but she was sure they wouldn’t mind. She would never make the rendezvous.
The desert smelled fresh with the purplish hint of sky to the east. There was an enormous flash of white light and fortunately she opened her mouth as the blast wave ripped through the inside of the pickup as well as shrapnel. The vehicle was picked up, spun twice in the air, and landed on its roof. Most of the front offside and the engine was wrecked and there were flames in the cab. But her shoulder thudded against the door stanchion and the agony made her feel sick. She was jammed between the driver’s seat and the steering wheel, which had come down to pin her. Her legs were beginning to burn, and she screamed to a God she didn’t believe in.
“I don’t want to burn alive!”
The bottoms of her trousers were burning and her boot soles melting. She tried to wriggle from her seat, but the steering wheel prevented it. She slid sideways into the flames and pushed with her legs. The toughened glass had gone in the rear window, and she slithered out like rebirth. Ever the professional, she grabbed the rifle.
The flames were spreading, burning fuel dripping down. There was a small gap between the back of the pickup and the road, and she wriggled out, jammed between the road surface and the pickup’s tail gate. She heaved herself out, her clothes and head covering ripping open on a jagged piece of steel. Her body was ripped as well, but finally she was free and vomited with the pain in her right shoulder. She tried to raise her arm or move her hands, but it caused too much agony.
My shoulder is smashed to fuck! I’m deaf and burned.
She sank to her knees and sobbed.
This is not the time and place for you to start blubbing. Get back to your hide and use your morphine autojet. Come on, move!
She set off into the night towards Abugrein, her rifle in her left hand, right arm tucked inside her ruined hijab to support it.
Just one more, Jean Claude. I promise…
The three of them watched the medivac helicopter head out to sea at low level, its rotors stirring up dust. Edge gathered the two MI6 officers in the cover by the ruined and dilapidated building, “OK, now we’ll get you man, sorry, woman and then we’re out of here. Dawn’s coming so Julian, you hang on to that C8, we may be needing it.”
Julian smiled in the darkness. He carried the weapon like it was the holy grail, watching Edge’s every move, the way he carried his M16. He was both dreading and elated that he would have the chance to use it. Ahead in the lightening darkness they saw the abandoned block of flats. Edge hunkered them down.
“OK, if she’s in there, we’ll get her. You go first Jean-Claude and I’ll follow to give cover. Julian, you cover our exit and engage anything you see. Short bursts, constantly moving position and stay in cover.”
It had been his mission and now it was effectively over, he was happy to defer to Edge. He was in charge now. Jean-Claude cautiously led the way inside, his Glock drawn, and he found her. She was lying on the sleeping bag, a tight foetal ball to ease the pain. Jean-Claude went over to her and gently shook her, dreading that she was dead. She opened her eyes and the tears started.
“I… I thought you’d left me.”
He cuddled her and she gasped in pain.
“What’s wrong, darling?”
“Shoulder smashed, legs burnt. Was deaf, now ringing in the ears. Driving me mad. Pick up gone, anti-tank mine I think.”
Edge crouched down next to her, “I’ll need to treat the burns. Trousers off please.”
While Edge opened the medical side pouch, she pulled off the trousers with Jean-Claude’s help and used them to cover her crotch.
“Commando,” she explained.
After cleansing and sterilising his hands, he cleaned the burns and dressed them with a dry dressing, “Partial thickness burns. Take this course Oxymorphone tablets, two now and every four hours.”
He looked at her, “I’ll need to examine your shoulder to make sure the fracture hasn’t stopped the blood supply. I’m sorry, but you’ll need to take your top off and kneel facing me.”
“And do some burpees?” she asked, and Edge smiled.
Jean-Claude helped her remove her top, cutting around the injured shoulder and she was kneeling, facing Edge. He looked at her body professionally with a head torch, comparing sides and then as gently as he could, he felt the shoulder. Afarin whimpered in pain.
Edge cleaned and dressed the laceration on her torso and covered it with a dressing
“OK, thank you. Jean-Claude, could we go next door for a chat?”
In the other room Edge explained, “We need to get the hell out of here and move fast because we’re running for our lives. She has to keep up. At the moment she can’t and we will have to leave her behind… Dead. I’m so sorry but if you can’t do it, I will. Do you understand? It sickens me to my guts, but they will take her, and…”
“Would you do that to Mr Jarvis? To yourself?”
“Of courseI would. I would be dead inside, but sometimes the mission is more important than the individual and it would be kinder in the long term. Better than her screaming her guts out in some filthy dungeon, with no way out but death
Jean-Claude nodded, his face ashen grey and his eye closed. “I’ll do it. My life will be finished, but I know what they would do to her. I will lie next to her lifeless body and join her. She is my life now and we will be together in death.”
“For God’s sake Jean-Claude…”
“Without her I have nothing. No family, no friends. A woman I loved died. If she dies, then what’s the point of staying alive?”
“She doesn’t have a fractured shoulder, it’s dislocated. Reluctantly, I have to re-set it and I’m going to need your help. Kneel behind her and hang on to her. She mustn’t move while I manipulate her shoulder, so distract her, talk to her and she can talk back, but she mustn’t move. It will hurt, but hopefully it will be over quickly. Are you up for this?”
“If it stops her pain and keeps her alive, then yes.”
“Good man. Let’s do it.”
They went back in, and Edge explained to her what he was going to do, “Right, this technique is over 3,000 years old and paintings of a physician doing this were inscribed on Egyptian temple walls. Ready, Jean-Claude?”
He reached round had held her waist tightly and kissed her neck, “You’ll be fine.”
Afarin was shaking in pain or was it self-pity?
“Why am I always injured. Why does it happen to me? I don’t want to be defined by being a victim.”
“I’ve got some news for you, princess. Life is shit and then you die. Take it from a grand master of the shit life, I know. We are all of us in the wrong line of business for a long and happy life. As Colour Colour Sergeant Bourne put it in the film Zulu: Because we’re here, Lad. Nobody else but us. I promise I’ll be as gentle as I can.”
Edge grasped her right hand and elbow. He bent the affected arm at 90º at the elbow, adducted against the body. Slowly he externally rotated between 70º to 85º until resistance was felt and she cried out in pain. Edge nodded to Jean-Claude, and he started to talk to her about the cranes and bulls in the Camargue. Edge gave him plenty of time to distract Afarin. When he was satisfied, she was relaxed, he lifted the externally rotated upper arm in the sagittal plane as far as possible. He internally rotated her shoulder to bring her hand towards the opposite shoulder. He felt the humeral head slipped back into the glenoid fossa and she screamed and felt immediate relief with the pain suddenly eliminated during the process.
“Good girl,” Edge said and carefully felt around her shoulder. It was in but would need supporting with a sling until the muscles and tendons were back to normal, “Try and lift your arm up, not too far and stop if it hurts. Good, now wiggle your fingers. Colour looks good. Get dressed but let Jean-Claude help you. Go through your bergen and get rid of everything that’s not essential, sleeping bag, spare clothes, cook stuff.”
She did but decided to keep the silk farrashia because it was such a beautiful garment. With Jean-Claude’s help, she hefted the bergen, picked up the rifle in her left hand and Edge put on a sling to support the arm. Downstairs, Julian was assiduously guarding their escape route. It was grey and getting lighter and Edge knew they would have to move fast. He got them together and drew a map in the dirt.
“We skirt the south of Abugrein, then cross the coast road, heading north. Once we’re in the cover of the scrub and salt lagoons, I’ll call in a chopper. I will lead and Julian can cover our rear. Questions?”
Heads were shaken, “OK, let’s go.”
They set off at a steady jog and it took them about three hours to reach the scrub and brackish water of the lagoons. They would have gone faster but for the burns on Afarin’s legs. She started to drop behind and stopped.
“I’ve had it, Jean-Claude. I know what you were discussing in the other room. Kill me and carry on.” She was crying and knelt with her head down, as though waiting for an axe, “I loved you so much, Jean-Claude. I’m so sorry… Please don’t screw it up. Nape of the neck angled upwards.”
Jean-Claude caught sight of Edge reaching for his Glock out of the corner of his eye.
“The hell I will!” He said and pulled her up and put her across his shoulders. She could feel his strength and determination.
“You’ll never do it,” Edge said, re-attaching the safety strap on the Glock’s holster.
“Fuck you, Edge! Julian, can you manage the spare radio?”
Edge smiled grimly, “Let’s go. Not far now.”
It was daylight when they reached the evacuation point and went into all-round defence. Edge finally got on the radio and made the distress call. He closed the canvas carrier and sat back exhausted. Jean-Claud was using her H&K rifle, keeping watch out of his arc, as Edge had shown him, although he hadn’t needed any showing. Afarin was curled up next to him, her arm wrapped round his waist. Julian was the other side of their position, alone and despondent. Edge went across to talk to him and lay in the sand.
“Anything?” he asked, and Julian shook his head.
“Julian. I can feel that you are upset, and your mission has failed. If it has, that is no fault of yours. You carried out your mission and have done more that was expected of you. The fault lies with the politicians who haven’t got a clue about the dynamics of the country. There is something more powerful than western political play. It is Islam and we can’t begin to understand it.”
He looked over his shoulder at where Jean-Claude was lying, “She gets it. This so-called Arab Spring is nothing more than another Islamic conquest of the Maghreb and we have facilitated it in Libya by getting rid of Gaddafi. We have no more right to be here than the Qataris who shot Mr Jarvis.”
Julian looked at Edge with respect, “Your no thick, killer, are you? You should be doing my job.”
Edge laughed, “No thank you. I don’t do politics, which is why I’m still a staff sergeant.” he patted Julian on the shoulder and went across to the other two. Afarin was sleeping.
“You have big balls, Jean-Claude. Thank God you didn’t have to… Well, you know.”
“How long will her tinnitus last?” asked Jean-Claude.
“It’s not easy to quantify. A few days, a month. Never. It depends on the person and the damage done to their hearing. Sorry I can’t be more specific,” Edge suddenly put his head to one side, “Talking of hearing, can you hear that?”
Jean-Claude listened carefully. There was a high-pitched whine and soon the beat of rotor blades. Helicopters. Afarin woke up and stared towards the north.
Edge spotted them. Two lynx helicopters, one low, the other high, armed with missiles and rocket pods. He stood up with his arms raised vertically, back to the wind. The high Lynx circled the landing point, while the second came in, touched down and Edge yelled at them to get on board. Afarin went on first, then Jean-Claude followed by Julian. Edge took one last look round the landing point, to make sure there was no kit left behind. He got on board, the smell of hot oily exhaust enveloped him, and the Lynx went up into nose down pitch to increase lift and speed.
They were over the sea, two pilots and a medical crewman and within minutes they saw the outer pickets of the task force, a type 23 Frigate, and a type 42 Destroyer. After forty-five minutes, they saw HMS Ocean ahead, the flagship of the task force and after a transit, they landed on the flight deck. The deck crew indicated the way off the deck and Jean-Claude and Julian went into a large mess deck, where clumps of odds and sods were scattered around the chairs and table. RAF Technicians, Apache crewmen, Signallers, and a few members of 22 and 23 SAS whom Edge recognised. Afarin was escorted down to the Echelon 2 (Enhanced) medical to be examined and have her burns dressed.
After an hour and two cups of coffee, Edge excused himself and went down to the sick bay himself. He found the high dependency ward and Afarin was sitting at the side of a bed of Guy Jarvis. She looked up, her face shocked and almost grey.
“He could die. The nurse told me. They’ve externally fixated his legs, but he could die of complications. They are waiting for an aeromed team to come in on a Chinook.”
Edge pulled up a stool and sat next to her, “Afarin, you are in a terrible dilemma. He could die. He may never walk again if he doesn’t, you could end up being his carer, with you in your twenties. Guy is a good man whom I’ve known for many years. But your dilemma is Jean-Claude. I have only known him a matter of weeks, but he is a good man, kind, honest and gentle. But he is very brave. The problem is they both love you. Guy is reluctant to take that final step, but Jean-Claude is absolutely besotted with you.
“I know what it’s like to be in love with two women. I made my decision,” he grasped her hand, “You must make yours. We’re waiting for a helicopter to take us to Gioia del Colle, but it will be hours yet. Choose wisely, Afarin.”
They drank endless amounts of tea and had some sandwiches when they came round on a trolly. The crew of the Chinook arrived and waited while Jarvis’ HDU bed and equipment went up to the deck on the aircraft lift. A Flight Nursing Attendant from the aeromed team came in and spoke to the pilot and the aircrew filed out. Jarvis was on his journey to the Birmingham hospital. The fire door opened, and Afarin came in and sat next to the sleeping Jean-Claude. She took his head in her hands and kissed him.
She had chosen.
© Blown Periphery 2022