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"Bugger me, they're at it again!"
Gunfire erupted fifty meters away as Warrant Officer Derrick Martin wiped his hands on his "spotty dots" camouflage trousers and unslung his Steyr F88C assault rifle. Peering 'round the corner of the bullet-pocked market front, he was glad not for the first time that he had violated orders in carrying his personal weapon in the "blood box" armored ambulance. "Presence" was fine and good when all you wanted to do was impress the locals. It was downright stupid when those same people wanted to nail your hide to the wall like a plaster duck.
The American-made M113 "Bucket" continued burning a block and a half down the littered street, drawing a crowd of African celebrants. Few in the mob were armed, but some realized that the white soldiers who escaped from the light armored vehicle must be on foot. One Australian had not. His body was dragged away from the APC and some teenagers began stripping the corpse.
"They nailed Joji all right," Martin called to his wounded driver, two meters behind him.
Lance Corporal James Frasier looked up from his sitting position. "What about Dimitri?"
"Never bleeding got out, I reckon." Martin shook his head, pondering the geographic irony. What were the odds that a Fijian and a Russian would emigrate to Australia only to die in Chad?
It's Mogadishu all over, Martin thought. Arsehole politicians keep sending Diggers as peacekeepers, then complain when we enforce the bloody peace. He looked around, seeking a hiding spot. Besides his carbine, he was most grateful for the Wagtail radio that the wounded driver dragged in his left hand. The man's right hand was blistered and raw from detonation of the RPG, as was his right leg. Martin glanced down at his friend. "Jamie, how ya going?"
"I'm about buggered, Derro," Frasier croaked. He was hurt, winded, and scared. The fact that he addressed a superior by his nickname was an Aussie trait.
Martin ignored the response. "You got anybody yet?"
Frasier hefted the backpack radio. "Nothing yet. I've tried the allocated frequencies but this kit is only good for about eight kilometers. Only thing left is the high setting, but it'll use more juice."
"Well, give 'em a hoy. Every bleeding sot in this bleeding pesthole must know where we are by now."
As Frasier switched channels, Martin realized that the Australians had been seen. Several armed men motioned in their direction from up the street and began jogging toward the market. Martin looked around, confirming that he was out of the mob's line of sight. Sure enough, a woman waved a cloth from the second floor of a building behind him. She was saying something in Arabic, pointing to him and shouting to make herself heard.
Bloody bitch. Martin swung his Steyr to his shoulder, put the "death doughnut" aiming circle on the black woman's torso, and took up some of the slack in the single-stage trigger. She saw the 5.56 mm muzzle raising toward her and ducked inside, not knowing if the white man had intended to shoot.
Neither did Martin.
Frasier got his attention. "I can't get through, mate. It's jammed with calls. Apparently the army and a rebel faction are fighting all over the city."
Martin safed his F88, slung it again, and leaned down. He raised Frasier to standing and helped him limp down the dirty street, forcing his way through pedestrians with a wave of the Steyr. Along the way, Martin's U.N. cap slid off his head but he was glad to be rid of the baby blue "target marker."
"In there!" Frasier called.
Frasier did not reply. He just pointed inside an office with a sign "Importons et Exportons." Without asking why, Martin helped his friend through the door and shut it behind them.
Frasier reached for the telephone. "Please, Lord, let it work. I frigging promise I'll go see the damned God both-erer on Sunday." He lifted the receiver and grinned through the smoke on his face. "I've got a dial tone! What number should I ring?"
"Hell's toes, I don't know. Try ..."
A middle-aged Arab emerged from the rear of the office. He stopped dead in his tracks, assessed the uniformed strangers, and smiled. "Sir, I can help?" He spoke English with a French accent.
"Too bloody right, mate." Frasier extended the phone.
Martin responded more formally. "Yes, sir. We sure would appreciate any help. We need to contact our lot at the United Nations compound."
"Ah, oui." The dignified businessman bowed slightly, raising a hand to the tie he wore. He accepted the receiver from Frasier, dialed a number, and spoke alternately in French, Arabic, and English. Less than two minutes later he passed the phone back. "This is U.N., ah, house. Person talks not good English. Mostly French."
Bloody ethnics. Martin nodded his thanks. "Could you please tell him where we are? Ask if we can speak to anybody in the military advisory group." He tried to conjure the phrase: something like Groupe advisory militaire.
Mr. Haroun, as he introduced himself, was helpful and patient. Perhaps uncharitably, Martin was wondering what the businessman would expect in return for his assistance when a crowd of blacks rounded the corner half a block away. The composition was made for trouble: young, male, and angry.
Martin reached for Frasier and helped him toward the rear of the office. Mr. Haroun, apparently unflappable, remained standing at the desk, phone to his ear, awaiting more response from the functionary in N'Djamena.
Moments later the leading elements of the crowd reached the debris-littered street in front of the storefront. One of the young men leaned down and picked up an object. To Haroun it appeared as a colored rag. Apparently it meant something to the angry rioters.
Then he knew.
He slammed down the phone and paced to the rear of the store. Gesturing animatedly, he made shooing motions. "Allez, allez! You go! Now!"
Frasier looked up, confused. "What's he ..."
"Oh, my God." It emerged as a low, fervent curse. Martin was peering around the hallway corner, fifteen meters to the front door. He turned back to his friend. "The bastards found my hat. We gotta be off like a bride's nightie."
Crashing glass and rising voices echoed through the building. The front rank of rioters reached the outer office, smashing furniture and fixtures. Martin turned his head. "Mr. Haroun, see to him, will you?"
"Derro! C'mon, mate!"
"Can't do it, Jamie. They'll catch us sure. You chuff off!"
With that, Martin turned back toward the hallway, already filling with men vocally intent on homicide. There were few firearms but several machetes. Martin looked over the top of his optical sight and began shooting.
Copyright © 2007 by Harold Coyle