May 6, 1994.
The jungle was alive with movement. Movement all around. The only still things in the jungle were the soldiers. They had been still since before first light, it was now ten thirty, just gone. They were British soldiers but they wore American clothes. No standard issue British army combat kit. Their kit was made in the USA but it was made for hunters in the Southern states. There were only two of them. Not a standard eight man section or four man fire team. Just two of them. They carried Remington shotguns. No British issue rifles or machine guns.
The problem was simple. They were operating in Guatemala, Central America; a country hostile to Britain. In fact if any of their kit was examined there would be no way to identify who they were or where they had come from. Deniability.
Their mission was to watch a junction north of the jungle hamlet of Tanjoc. The American intelligence agents said that they believed that workers from Tanjoc were transporting coca leaves up to the junction where they passed it over to others who would take the raw leaves into the jungle factories and refine it into the cocaine that was swamping the streets of America and Western Europe.
The Two soldiers were to watch the junction all day and then at night extract and return to Belize where, the next day, they could get heli-lifted out of the jungle and returned for a full debrief to Airport Camp, Belize City. It would be a long and boring day. Both of the men had done this mission dozens of times over the past months. They had been in the field now for two weeks, today was their last day on the observation point. They occasionally saw a kid walking by or maybe a rough four wheel drive pick-up truck pass if it dare brave the terrible ‘roads’. Whilst laying in the brush Bombardier Pol Winchester passed the time by allowing his mind to wander. It is a trick at which he had become expert. His body could lay there in the weeds in the forty two degree heat and humidity whilst his mind was at home with his wife or in the bar enjoying a nice cool beer. Any movement on the track only thirty meters away from him would snap his attention firmly back to the here and now.
Pol’s right ankle was crossed over the ankle of Lance Corporal Stuart Hicks. Hicks was from a different regiment to Winchester, but since they had been in Central America they had worked together regularly. It was almost accidental, Hicks’ normal partner had been bitten by a coral snake and was evacuated straight out. It was fortunate that Winchester had been in the camp at the time. He was the only radio operator with the required experience available for the senior ranks to use. Hicks’ unit was the Special Boat Squadron. There had been some resistance when it was suggested that the Artillery unit supply the signaller to the observation team amongst those senior officers. But Winchester was a tough veteran of Northern Ireland and Operation Desert Storm. Since his move over he had become a fully integrated team member. He had fitted in very well.
The man appeared on the track in front of the soldiers. He was coming from Tanjoc. He was carrying a large cotton pack on his back. The pack was huge, it seemed to bury the man and give him a top heavy appearance. The man had a pair of dirty beige bloused trousers on and pink flip flops. He wore the ubiquitous Manchester United football shirt. He wasn’t a young man, maybe fifty years old but it was difficult to tell with these people. His Hispanic features like old leather.
The pack on his back would have been harvested from the small fields in the jungle. Cut out with his machete, dug by hand with a spade. The product of a year’s hard work. He would have a family to support and the coca crop would be the thing that fed them throughout the year. The only cash crop that was available to these subsistence farmers. The Anglo American Narcotics Intervention Team searched for the fields and sprayed them with weed killer. The farmer would lose a year’s crop and income. He was a victim of the war on drugs.
The soldiers watched him. Prior to stepping out into the jungle the soldiers had looked over albums of photographs of the local people suspected of being involved in the coca trade. They knew this man. They had never spoken to Jesus Vinales, or his wife Gabi, but they knew him by face, they knew where he lived. They had studied him, amongst the folders and files that the analysts had prepared. Seeing him in person gave him identity and took him from the realms of theory and into physical existence. Pol knew that Jesus scratched a living on a patch of dirt near his one room shack in Tanjoc. As Pol watched him walk slowly along the track underneath the heavy load of the coca leaves he was overwhelmed with a feeling of empathy for this man. He was forty five years old, younger than the fifty plus that he looked. He was unlikely to make fifty. He would be broken down and worn out before that.
The soldiers brief was to simply watch and report back. The track was close, in the jungle everything was close. Thirty meters away from the soldiers the mud at the edge of the rutted track started. Winchester and Hicks lay concealed in the spreading shadows of a large leaved palm. Their faces painted in green and black stripes. The hollows around the eyes pale green, the raised areas of the cheeks dark to give them shadow. The shapes of the faces hidden and disguised by the black camouflage paint. Sweat beaded on Winchesters brow, ran and joined in rivulets on his eyebrows and ran down his nose and dripped onto the jungle floor. One drip at a time. A small pool of salt rich sweat formed on a leaf below Winchester’s head. Insects, smelling the salts, came in to drink in this small oasis. Winchester lay still and watched as Jesus walked in front of him as a small jungle fly left the pool and flew up and landed on the cheek of the stationary soldier. The soldier had controlled his breathing. His breaths were shallow and controlled to be minimize movement. The fly, on the soldiers black painted cheek, bit and drank the soldier’s blood. The pain was sharp and hot as the fly feasted on him. The soldier lay still, his breathing calm his attention trained on the man in the red tee shirt.
Hicks and Winchester were part of the jungle. Fully committed to the brief. Weapons in their hands with safety catches off. In the chamber of the Remington shotguns were loaded commercial buck shot. Each cartridge contained only nine lead balls. Each one of these balls weighed the same as an individual nine millimetre bullet and travelled a third faster. The impact of one shot from one of these soldiers’ guns was more than the impact of nine pistol bullets at one time. But, using the weapons was a last resort. Any shot would compromise their position and potentially prejudice the operation. Emerging onto the track behind Jesus came a small mongrel dog. This was an unexpected complication. The dog could cost the operation's integrity. He could scent the soldiers and bark. The jungle was not good for tracking and scent. The heavy humidity and profusion of wildlife hampered the spread of scent. Not many people could afford to keep a dog in the desperately poor existences they suffered. There was no record of Jesus owning a dog. He turned round and looked behind him at the dog.
"Hola Chico" the dog wagged its tail and approached Jesus. Clearly the dog knew the old Guatemalan farmer. Pol watched carefully as the drama started to unfold in front of him. The intelligence section had not mentioned that Vinales had a dog. It was possible they didn’t know, but they knew of other farmers with dogs; that was always in the profile.
The dog was a small mongrel, uniform brown in colour with erect pointed ears and a long high tail. Not much bigger than a spaniel. He fussed around Jesus’ legs and the as the farmer continued under his burden the small dog ran along with him.
It seemed as though the dog and farmer might walk along the track and out of sight with no further incident. Pol hoped so, the pain of the insect that was on his face was becoming really quite distracting and he really wanted to brush it away. The dog stopped in its tracks and pricked its ears. Pol saw the change, he could feel Sticks tense up through their touching ankles. Jesus continued to walk.
“Just keeping walking, Jesus” Pol willed silently.
The dog’s hackles rose and they could see, although not hear, the dog was growling. Its lip pulled back in a snarl exposing his white canine teeth.
“Aqui Chico” They both heard Vinales say to the dog. They had very little Spanish but enough to know that Vinales was calling his dog to him.
The dog barked.
Jesus turned round and looked at the dog, he looked at the edge of the jungle. He looked directly at where the two British soldiers lay concealed in the shadow.
“Lo que pasa, muchacho? bandidos?” Vinales spoke to the dog.
The word “bandidos” was all that Pol could get from the sentence. Occasionally the farmers would get robbed by desperate bandits on the forest tracks.
The old farmer looked scared as he stood rooted to the spot and surveying the impenetrable wall of jungle foliage in front of him. He let the big bale of leaves fall from his back and on to the ground beside the track.
He stood for a second as if caught in two minds of what to do. Both soldiers willed him to pick up the bale of leaves and head into the jungle.
The dog started to bark continuously and advance on the soldiers. This was not going according to the plan and pattern that the two soldiers, hidden in the jungle, were used to.
Jesus stood looking towards the dog and took a step forward.
“Buen perro, ¿dónde está”
The British soldiers could not understand that Vinales was praising his dog, but the tone of his voice was clear. He stepped towards them. As he stepped off of the track, within twenty meters of the men, he reached with his right hand behind his head and between his shoulder blades.
With a deepening sense of despair the soldiers watched him pull a large parang from behind him. The parang was a heavy bladed jungle machete, originating in South East Asia but had now become accepted as the best machete and in universal use. The blade was over a foot in length with a deep cutting edge. The type of weapon that would kill easily with one blow.
Jesus stepped off the track and closer to the soldiers, the little dog in front of him, the barking continuous and only interspersed with snarls and growls.
“You take the dog” Hicks breathed to Winchester. The words were so quiet and gentle they could be no indication of what was to follow.
Pol slowly moved his right hand down to his waist belt and from his belt pulled a knife from its sheath. Not the big heavy survival knife of Rambo fame but a long narrow bladed dagger called a Fairbairn-Sykes. The razor sharp blade was nearly twenty centimetres long. Finished in a gunmetal black it remained invisible in the shadow. There could be no discharge of guns in the forest, the crash of the report would be heard all around.
Jesus was now slowly walking toward the soldiers through the scrub between them. He weighed the parang in his right hand and held it close in front, blade vertical. As he looked to one side and then the other the soldiers moved their legs forward and got in a position to get to their feet quickly.
The dog had stopped barking, he was just growling and advancing with his head held low now. He knew how close the soldiers were.
Jesus was now only a meter from the soldiers who remained concealed in the bush. He turned and looked in the direction he had come from and both soldiers knew this was the moment. Without any speaking or communication they exploded from the cover. The hours of inactivity had been overcome by the constant exercises they had performed keeping the circulation moving. Clenching of the toes and calves whilst lying motionless.
Jesus and the dog were startled both leaped back a step to be confronted by the two big and heavily armed men with black painted faces.
Pol took one step forward and as he dropped down towards his knee he was able to plunge his knife in between the dogs front legs, he knew the point would penetrate deep into the heart of the animal and that his death would be almost instant and painless. Withdrawing his blade he turned to his right to assist Hicks. He did not need any help. Hicks was highly skilled with a knife and as Jesus had swung the parang down in a sweeping vertical arc Hicks neatly stepped to the left of the swing and transferring the knife to his left hand he grabbed the farmers right forearm isolating the parang and with his left hand struck between the collar bone and the side of Jesus’ neck. The point of the dagger swept through the aorta inside of the old farmers chest and within a second the degree of blood loss made him unconscious and death followed seconds later. There was little blood, the narrow blade of the dagger left a small puncture wound. The bleeding was all internal.
Pol swatted the fly from his cheek.
“I’ll search him” said Hicks.
Meticulously Hicks checked over the dead Guatemalan every pocket checked and turned out, he had nothing. Not a single Guatemalan Quetzal, nothing. They searched him for evidence or intelligence that might be of use to the agency. But the man carried nothing of any use to the soldiers.
“We can make it look like bandits have done this” Said Hicks.
“For sure, but your job looks a bit neat for a bandit job”
“If we hack him about a bit and chuck the dog in the bush then it will be ok” Hicks replied.
“What, chop his corpse about?” Winchester asked, looking directly at Hicks.
“Yeah, not many bandit murders are done with a technique practiced in Poole,” Replied Hicks bending down and taking the parang jungle knife out of the hand of the still warm Jesus. Vinales.
Pol was incredulous, he understood clearly why this had to happen. The killing of Jesus had been unavoidable and necessary to keep the operational security intact. But this was the mutilation of a human.
Hicks said “Just stand back a bit, Pol, don’t want you to get blood all over.”
“Ok mate”, Pol took a few steps back but he was fascinated by the ghoulish spectacle unfolding in front of them. Hicks raised the parang high above his head and struck Vinales across the top of the head, he grunted with exertion as the dark steel smashed through the dead man’s skull and into the brain. The blood, brain and bone fragments splashed up Hicks arms and in to his face. The SBS man wiped them away and carried on with his work.
The bright sunshine shone off the exposed white skull, the man’s head had split open and gaped open three centimetres. His scalp shrunk away from the bone and his brain was exposed below. Both of his eyes were open and as Pol moved away he felt like they were following him. Big, dark brown Hispanic eyes, still clear. They had not yet fogged up with death.
“Just hold his arm up for me, Pol” asked Hicks.
“Yeah, no problem, why?”
“They need to look like defensive wounds, like he has had his hands up to protect himself” replied Hicks.
“I see,” Said Pol as he lifted Jesus’ arm up and across his face.
“Venir aquí, buen perro, ¿dónde estás?” The voice carried clearly through the jungle. It reached the soldiers and they stopped their macabre work.
Both looked directly at the source of the voice. They both saw the boy at the same time. He was watching the soldiers, he saw what they were doing.
“Abuelo, es lo que,” He said.
As he finished his sentence he turned and ran back down the track. He was running back towards Tanjoc. If he got there he would tell the people what he has seen. How he had seen the two soldiers chopping up his grandfather.
Pol had no choice. He needed to stop him getting there. Pol set off in pursuit. As he ran down the rough, rutted, muddy track he closed on the boy. As he did he realized how small the boy was. He was less than one hundred and fifty centimetres tall. He overhauled him quickly and grabbed him round the throat. The boy was only about twelve years old.
“No me hagan daño, por favour” The soldiers would never know that Jorge Vinales was his name. He was ten years old. He was helping his grandfather in the fields during a school holiday. They would never know that he loved his little mongrel, Chico, and his old grandfather. They would never know how his mum, Maria, worked as a prostitute three nights a week so that young Jorge could go to school and she hoped that her nameless sacrifices could pay for him to have a different life away from the coca leaves.
Pol knew that he had no choice; that the little boy must die to preserve their mission. At what cost their mission? Was this little Guatemalan boy a cheaper price than an American boy from the Midwest heart land of the republican electorate?
The soldier spun the boy round so that the boy was held tightly against the left hand side of his chest. His right arm went around the boys head, he could feel the sweat of the boy’s brow on his wrist. His fingertips touched the soft top of Jorge’s ear. His right hand crossed the boy’s face lower. His fingertips hooked behind the jawbone of the boy.
With a sudden explosive application of power he broke the boy’s neck. There was no loud Hollywood style crack or snap.
Pol felt the dislocation as the resistance in the neck gave. He knew that the two vertebrae would shear against each other and he knew that the boy’s spinal cord would be severed the second he felt that. The dislocation was high in the neck, at the atlas joint. The pathway for the impulses that made the boy’s heartbeat was cut. He was dead.
Pol held the dead boy close to his chest as he felt the boy twitch involuntary. He could feel the warmth of the Jorge’s body. Jorge felt so small and light in his arms. A warmth spread onto Pol’s thigh as the boy’s bladder voided. The boy was still.
Pol stood in the middle of the track with mud on his boots. The track stretched before him towards Tanjoc. Behind him towards the junction of the tracks. The track cut through the solid wall of the jungle like a river gorge. The walls of the gorge were made of large leaves and jungle vines and creepers. Jungle birds flew backwards and forwards across the gorge. The screech of the parakeet just another noise in the cacophony that is the normality of the rainforest wildlife. The vista continued around the motionless soldier now holding the boy he had killed. For Pol the world stood still. This had not been a hot contact between fighting men with weapons, this had not even been a planned strike on a target that was engaged in terrorism. This had been a murder to Pol. An innocent had been murdered to allow a report to be sent to a faceless suit in an office. Pol didn’t even know which country the suit’s office sat in.
Waves of sorrow built up and gathered momentum, they swamped Pol with black hopelessness. He lifted the body of the boy and took it into the jungle just a few yards away from the edge of the track. He threw the body into the bush. The animals of the jungle will strip him to bones within days. He swallowed down the power of the raw emotion that had threatened to overwhelm him and turned back to the track. He would see Jorge Vinales in his dreams. In the longest darkest watches of his night, Jorge would be with him always.
He broke into a trot and made his way back up the track where he soon came upon Hicks who had finished his macabre work and was washing his hands in a muddy puddle in one of the ruts along the track.
“All done mate?”
“Yeah, sorted.” Pol replied.
“Ok mate, let’s get the fuck out of here”
The soldiers took a drink from their water bottles and looked at each other for a few seconds. The bond between them was sealed in this moment.
They put their water bottles in their webbing pouches and unslung their shotguns. Pol worked the pump on his gun and chambered a cartridge.
“You, better believe it, let’s fuck off, I need a shower”. Said Pol.
They turned and headed through the green wall and back into the primary jungle. Under the canopy the light was muted and dull. The soldiers slid soundlessly through the half light of the jungle. The moved with silent, smooth fluidity. Became part of the fabric of the jungle. Each footfall was placed and rolled out. This prevented any sticks being broken underfoot. The men patrolled back through the jungle towards the Belizean border.
The border was not far from the track near Tanjoc. As per their orders the soldiers performed a snap ambush. This was purely a routine to be sure that they had not been followed by the Guatemalan army. Both men knew that they had not been followed. It was not arrogance it was a realistic evaluation of their skill set when compared to any opposition that they might find within this theatre. They would soon be at their admin area, an area where they had left their large ruck sacks.
Two hours passed as again they lay in the sweltering jungle mid-day heat. The humidity was very high and both men were sweating very heavily, they lay still. Pol’s eyes fixed on the game trail through the forest that they had used as their route. In his left hand he held the claymore clacker. The device, correctly known as an M57 detonator is a small pulse generator that would fire the claymore mine. The claymore was concealed just off the game trail in a small depression. The tactic was simple. Should any enemy personnel come along the track Pol would engage them with the shotgun. The following men would seek cover from the fire in the small depression. When they did the claymore would be detonated raking the whole depression with a deadly spray of steel balls, there could be no survivors in a contact like this. As soon as the claymore was detonated the two British soldiers would deploy a smoke grenade and extract back down the track. Back towards the border, although out here borders didn’t stand for much. The line on the map was a long way from the sweaty heat of the close jungle contact. Here the contacts were close, visibility was short and ten meters was quite typical. Sometimes Pol could actually smell the men, sometimes after the contact he could smell the blood and the stench of the smashed intestines and stomachs. This type of fighting was personal and close.
This time there was no contact, no patrol of Guatemalans winding their way after the British soldiers. After the two hours had passed the men rolled over, sat up and drank deeply from their canteens. They each took two salt tablets to make up for the electrolytes they had lost and sat quietly for a moment. Without saying a word they got back to their feet and made their way east. They recovered their back packs from their concealment under a large spiky bush. They hefted them on to their backs and continued through the jungle. They moved less cautiously now whilst under the huge weight of the packs. The area they had planned to spend the night was only three and a half kilometres away. Three and a half kilometres was a long way on foot in the jungle heat.
The men were now well inside Belize and prepared to spend the night in the jungle. The helicopter extraction was due at first light. They quietly sorted out their camp. Hammocks and mosquito nets were essential. The rain started to fall heavily on the men as they put their hammocks and ponchos up.
The rain washed the remaining morale clean out of Pol’s spirit. The poncho was up and held tight between trees with elasticated cords. Pulled taut over the hammock and sloping steeply to drain the rain away. His back pack suspended on a cord beneath the poncho to keep the rain off and the snakes out.
Pol lay in his hammock listening to the rain on the poncho. The jungle animals and insects imposed their own wall of noise over the descending night.
“Oi, Winnie, you ok?” Stu’s voice ventured from the dark.
“Yeah mate” Pol replied, he actually felt very far from ok.
“Was he the first for you?” asked Stu.
“No, but before it was not like that. It felt like I murdered him” Pol confessed.
“Think about it, mate. You know the score, you had no choice it has to be that way”
“I know this. Have you got any antihistamines in the first aid kit? This fucking bite is going to shut my eye if we are not careful.” Pol said.
“Yeah, no problem”
A moment later a hand appeared from the darkness at Pol’s hammock and passed two tablets in.
“Here you are, sweat. They should help take it down.”
“Cheers bro, it is fucking killing me” said Pol.
“So, your others weren’t like that?”
“No mate, only two before”
“Oh right, where were they?” asked Stu.
“One in Belfast and one about five miles north of here.”
Pol did not expand on it any further. He knew that talking about the day’s operation would help him deal with it but he did not feel like talking about it. He wanted the shelter that sleep would give him.
In most theatres the men would have posted sentries and would have shared the night watching the tracks. When darkness fell in the jungle its inky blackness was impenetrable and prevented any sort of military operation. There was no need for sentries here.
“Mate, I am fucked, I need some sleep. Let’s have a beer tomorrow night”
“Alright, Pol, now cock off” Sticks replied. It had become a standing joke between the men.
Sleep came quickly for Pol. Jungle operations are extremely demanding and tough on the body. The next day they would return to camp, get cleaned up and embark on a recuperative feeding regime to try to replace the weight they had lost in the jungle.
It was late in the night when Pol awoke, the darkness of the jungle made him ache to hear. His vision was null and void, hearing the only sense he could rely on. The jungle animal night shift had commenced and unseen animals screeched and called through the darkness. The rain had stopped. He lay still, not sure what had disturbed his sleep. The bite on his face was swollen, his skin felt stretched and hot. His mind wandered towards home. He tried to remember how his wife’s body felt in his arms. He tried to remember the taste of her kiss, the shape of her breast. She was very far away. She felt very far away.
Through the dark the image of the dead boy burned itself into his consciousness. Try as he might he could not get the image out of his head. Pol slipped back into the realms of sleep, Jorge Vinales went with him and stayed with him in his dreams until first light bought him some welcome respite.
“Come on Stu, let’s get down to the pick-up point.”
“Fuck me Merrick boy, seen your mush?”
“No. Is it bad mate?”
“Yeah, sure is, you need to get to the med centre when we get back in, I reckon it has got infected”, said Hicks.
The soldiers packed up their equipment in a few minutes and stowed it in their packs. The small jungle clearing was only two hundred meters from their overnight spot and soon they were in position.
Pol opened his back pack and took out the radio set. The Clansman PRC 320 was a heavy and bulky piece of kit to carry. The radio set was eleven kilograms and the batteries a further four. Normally this radio was carried as a full back pack on its own. But in this case it was just another piece of kit in Pols back pack. The radio used an end feed trailing wire antenna which was defined by the frequency of operation. In this case pol had to wind out fourteen meters of the green cable. The angle and direction of slope was important to the propagation of the signal and with his compass he located the correct direction. He tied some normal green string to the end of the antenna and a stick on the end of the string. Throwing the stick over a low branch he was able to pull the string down and establish the correct angle and direction on the antenna. With the radio attached at the end he knelt bent over the big high frequency set and adjusted the tuning. High Frequency radio was the only method to get reasonable range of communication in 1995.
He plugged in the telephone shaped hand set.
“Hello zero this is November four two, over”
HF whine and feedback. Pol cleared his throat as if that would make the signal clearer.
“Zero, send over” the voice from the radio responded.
“November four two, we are at point charlie zulu, awaiting alpha whisky over” replied Pol, alpha whisky was the helicopter unit’s call sign.
“Zero, roger figures ten, out”
Ten minutes until the helicopter arrived and lifted them to civilization.
The radio was dissembled and packed away. The men waited and strained their ears for the sound of the aircraft. Pol’s face was sore now, very swollen and hot. His eye was not closed, but it was close to being so.
The sound of the aircraft built slowly into their consciousness from a low and distant thump building all of the time until it became clear. The two bladed Bell Iroquois seemed like a throwback to Vietnam and the jungle war in that theatre. Pol mused on this as he waited the last couple of seconds and he thought about how the lessons had been learned there by the Americans and the SAS had been translated into the new tactics they had employed in the jungle. The British SAS has rotated its soldiers through the operation under the guise of the Australian SAS. The combat effectiveness of the Aussies had been legendary. Together with the British they were able to carry forward the skills learned in Malaya and Borneo and had taken to the jungle in small and flexible units under the command of non-commissioned officers to hunt down the Viet Cong in their own environment.
Low to the canopy the helicopter appeared up the valley. The American captain piloting the old bird looking for the clearing, he knew the landing would be tight, normally only with a couple of feet to spare around the rotor disc. Sure enough this pick up point was cut in dense jungle.
“This is a tight one, Zak” he spoke to his co-pilot.
“Yes sir, this will be close, I can’t see them or any smoke” Lieutenant Zak Cohen was a recent arrival in the Anglo American team, a fine pilot just learning his way round the jungle.
“You won’t see them, they will appear and get in”
The captain spoke as he gently put the helicopter into the centre of the clearing with inch perfect precision. As the skids touched the ground the load master opened the doors.
Cohen saw two figures appear from the tree line and run to the helicopter. Both were so dirty the pattern on their fatigues was indiscernible. Both men bearded and one of them had an injury to his face. The two men they were collecting had been in the bush for over two weeks on hard routine. Their skin was orange tinged with the anti-malarial quinine tablets they had taken and the effects of the sun under the canopy.
The load master pulled their heavy packs on board and the men climbed into the cabin, sat in the orange nylon webbing benches and strapped themselves in. They unloaded their shotguns as the helicopter left the ground and very quickly they were both sound asleep. The pilot flew low out of the jungle, the rollercoaster ride did not disturb the exhausted sleep that had overwhelmed them both.
Twenty minutes later skids were down at Airport Camp, Belize City. The soldiers climbed out of the helicopter and dragging their back packs with them they walked in slow motion towards the Nissan hut. They handed their shotguns in at the armoury.
“Winny, get yourself to the med centre mate, your face looks bad”
“Yeah, will do Sticks, just going for a shower and to get changed and I will. What about debrief?”
“It has been set for 10.00 tomorrow morning.” Replied Hicks.
“Ok mate, let’s have a beer later”
They would not go for a beer, Winchester’s insect bite had become infected and he spent the next five days in the military hospital on intravenous antibiotics. Hicks gave the debrief in the morning and when he disclosed the killings that had taken place in the field it was decided that they could no longer operate in the theatre. Hicks was flown to Fort Bragg in Carolina where he temporarily joined a training team. When Winchester had recovered sufficiently from the infection he was returned to his normal artillery unit. It was as if Tanjoc had never happened.