Our hero knows he’s in serious trouble.
The problem is, there are familiar faces and a question of who is a friend and who is foe made all the more difficult because of the enemy, if it was the enemy, simply because it didn’t look or sound or act like the enemy.
Now, it appears, his problems stem from another operation he participated in, and because of it, he has now been roped into what might be called a suicide mission.
Bamfield met me at the airport, before we took off. Monroe had come over and told me there was a visitor in one of the rooms, the one with Operations crookedly glued to the door. She opened the door, ushered me in, then stepped back out closing the door after her.
Mental note: the door to that room would not withstand a good kick.
There was a table, two chairs, and one of them had Bamfield sitting, looking up expectantly when I entered the room. His eyes beckoned me to the other chair, so, after a look around the room, nothing else other than the table and chairs were in the room I casually made my way to the chair and sat.
We glared at each other over the tabletop.
”I’m guessing this is the last place you expected to be?”
“You have a funny way of issuing invitations?”
“Would you have come along if I asked you politely.”
Another minute’s silence while he looked for the words that would be anything other than an apology for coercing me into a corner. I’d come to realise that Bamfield was far from the sort of officer I’d first thought him to be.
An excuse could be made that because he needed to find people to do particularly dangerous and covert operation, nothing was off the table, including blackmail, in order to get the job done. How he was justifying it using armed services personnel was anyone’s guess, but it would have been kicked higher up the food chain before approval was given.
These operations weren’t conceived by military commanders, just the CIA on a good day, allowing the armed services to tag along. But make no mistake, this would be a CIA operation, and the CIA to take the credit if it worked out, and the army would take a hit if it didn’t. Either way, it would never reach the newspapers.
“You don’t need me to tell you how important this is, and that we’ve only got one shot at it. If you get caught, any of you, we cannot acknowledge you, so you will be on your own. Your team will obey orders. Monroe is there to maintain discipline if it’s needed.”
“So she’ll be shooting first and asking questions later?”
“Something like that. She’s a tough officer, and worthy of your respect.”
“And the rest?”
“Good soldiers who just got into trouble. They’re being given an opportunity for redemption, and this mission will count towards lessening their sentences. At any rate, Monroe will have your back.”
Good to know.
“You’ll be going to a new destination, after stopping over in northern Uganda. We’ve arranged for the plane to land at a disused airstrip, when you’ll be met by Colonel Chiswick ex British army, unofficially there to train the local troops. He’ll be arranging you and your teams travel arrangements from there. I can’t tell you any more at this time for security reasons.”
“You do realise that a group of people who look every bit like mercenaries are only going to get as far as the border crossing before they get arrested, or worse. I’ve had time to think about it, and this is as ill-advised as you can get.”
He smiled, which worried me more than the idea of getting shot by Congo border guards.
“That’s what I was thinking too, so I told Lallo to devise a plausible cover story.”
Off the top of my head, one that would be ‘plausible’ didn’t come immediately to mind, and dropping it in Lallo’s lap, well, he didn’t strike me as being an ‘ideas man’. We would look like a team of mercenaries looking for trouble, and hardly tourists taking in the African countryside, particularly where there were dangerous warlords and child soldiers roaming free. It was going to be hard to disguise that.
“This should be interesting,” I muttered half under my breath.
“It is, in fact. Lallo surprised me. You will be going in as a documentary making team who, by the time you arrive at the border, should have the appropriate clearances. It seems the place you’re now going is quite near the Garama National Park, where I’m told there are Elephants and Giraffes that are nearing extinction. I suspect you might even run into one or two poachers. Apparently, they come down from the Sudan. Before you cross the border, being escorted by a platoon of Ugandan soldiers, you will be coming from the Murchison Falls National Park, and before that the Mathenik Game Reserve. Your passports have all been stamped appropriately and Monroe has all the documentation. She’s the Production Manager. There’s two large crates with all of the photographic equipment you’ll be taking with you.”
“We can shoot, but I don’t think that includes cameras.”
“Then you have a long flight and a lot of time to study up. I doubt it will come to that, but you must be ready if the Congo army decided to get nosey. The equipment, I’m told, works, but it the greater scheme of things it doesn’t have to come back. Monroe will work out who does what. You’ll be in overall charge.”
“Whatever. Any questions?”
“I have only one question.”
“There is another 999 but I figure none of those will get answered. It was the same question I asked the last time, who are these people we’re supposed to be rescuing?”
A long and thoughtful look. Could he trust me?
“Two CIA operatives posing as trade negotiators, looking to get a deal for some mineral that’s used in mobile phones. I don’t know the details, but it’s apparently more lucrative than gold. They managed to get caught in the middle of a three-way bidding contest but finished up in the middle of the war between government forces and rebels if you could call them that. They’re mostly militia groups who have been attempting to take over the mines for themselves, resulting in the crossfire. Apparently, they made promises they couldn’t keep, and now we have to bail them out.”
“Another stuff up then.”
“Everyone had good intentions, but in Africa, good intentions are often mistaken for something else entirely. This is, however, one other possible problem you may have to deal with.”
Of course, there always was. Nothing covert operations did, didn’t have a wrinkle or three.
“Good or bad?”
He shrugged. “They might not want to go with you. We now suspect they may have had something to do with the last fiasco, and it wasn’t entirely Jacobi’s fault, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he might not be working with them. You’ll be travelling with a small fortune in diamonds as payment for their release, so it may not necessarily be what it seems. Only you and Monroe know about them and they’re hidden in with the photographic equipment, so make sure you hang onto those crates until the exchange. I tell you this, so you don’t get any surprises.”
“Good to know, but I suspect there’s more to the story that you’re not telling me, but I’m hoping Monroe will keep me in the loop.”
“Oh, and there’s one other little problem which we hope to have sorted out by the time you’re on the ground in Uganda. We haven’t secured all the elements of the exit strategy yet, but I’m confident it’ll all come together. One way or another.”
Was I expecting a handshake or a ‘good luck’, maybe, but I don’t think that was his style? He was probably used to sending men to senseless deaths, so another few would stir his conscience. I shrugged, and walked out of the room, not looking back.
We flew out of an unnamed base in an unmarked aircraft, heading for Africa. It would be my second visit. The first didn’t quite go as expected, but there was a chance of redemption this time around.
I was the only one who had been there before, other than our two-faced guide, Jacobi, who by now would be working out how he could double-cross us and save his skin. I had no illusions about a man who would turn in his own mother if he had to.
No doubt Monroe would have a suitable role in our documentary making crew, perhaps a guide. I was looking forward to hearing what he thought of our cover story.
Even so, we were going to need a plan b and a plan c going in with him, because I had no doubt plan a had already been sent to the relevant people, who were awaiting our imminent arrival with bated breath. Pity we would not be landing anywhere near that location.
In fact, none of us would know where we would be dropped, until a few hours before it happened. Security, this time, was going to be formidable. Lallo explained why it was a matter of need to know, and all I had to say was, I didn’t need to know beyond the fact it was somewhere in Uganda, and near the Uganda/Congo border. I suspect Monroe knew, but she was the sort who could keep a secret.
As for the rest of the team, they were a motley crew, but within the group there was an odd sort of camaraderie between them. Perhaps Lallo had told them that if they stepped out of line, Monroe would shoot them.
Aside from the passengers in the C130 transport, there was a pack for each of us, and enough weapons to start a war. The so-called two large crates turned out to be four, no so large, but certainly I would be looking in them before we landed, just in case I had to know what was inside. But, since we would not be calling at any recognisable airport, I doubted we would be having any customs or immigration problems. No one was travelling with any proper identification papers, only the passports and visas required to enter the Congo.
It was that sort of mission.
© Charles Heath 2019