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.
I had hoped we’d land in daylight, but I could see the benefits of arriving at the landing strip after darkness had fallen, and a more primitive form of landing lights had been used.
Less interest from the local people and no bright lights lighting up the runway.
The only lights I could see from the air were the primitive landing lights, fires burning in used fuel drums, and a glimmer of light emanating from two of the buildings set back from the airstrip.
It did worry me, probably more than it should, that the pilots would be landing a plane of this size in virtually a paddock, flying by the seat of their pants, and all credit to them if they got the plane on the ground. I guessed they’d flown into more than one hot spot around the world, and at least at this one, they were not being shot at.
Their turn around would be quick, just enough time to take on a small amount of fuel and then leave. No one had said if it would be a fuel tanker or by drums and hand pumps.
The plane had a short distance to go from the end of the runway to what might be called terminal buildings. The moment the engines were cut, there was a flurry of movement, and after the fuselage door was quickly opened by the co-pilot, then the rear access ramp lowered and standing at the end, once it hit the ground, I could see a tanker and a Land Rover heading towards the rear of the plane, with only small headlamps on.
Monroe had joined me. Behind me was a hive of activity as the team moved the crates of camera equipment to the end of the ramp, and then the individual packs. Jacobi was escorted down on the ground by his two-man guard.
“Is this necessary,” he asked as he passed by me
I ignored him.
The Range Rover stopped just by the bottom of the ramp, and two men got out, one I assumed was Colonel Chiswick, former British Army, came over to train the local soldiers, and didn’t go home, and the other a Ugandan soldier with Sergeant stripes. Perhaps this was one of their airfields feeding supplies and troops for border patrol duties.
Monroe went down first, and I followed.
Chiswick came up to me, holding out a hand. “James, I presume?” I shook it.
I nodded towards Jill, “And Monroe.”
“Welcome to nowhere in particular.”
In the distance, another three Range Rovers were heading towards the plane and then stopped within easy distance of the ramp to easily facilitate the moving of the camera equipment into the rear. Drivers of the cars ushered them, taking their packs and putting them in the back.
I saw a meaningful look pass between Jacobi and Chiswick. They knew each other. No surprises there. If Chiswick was running this base, then he’d have to know about Jacobi whom we knew had friends in all the high places on every side of the fence.
Another car pulled up, a jeep. “For your man to get to the base. I gather he has his instructions?”
Mobley nodded, threw his pack in the back, and the jeep drove off.
“Nice night,” Chiswick said, finally, “Glad it’s not raining, or it would have been a rather sticky landing.”
“How long before the plane leave?”
“About an hour. Don’t worry. Planes come and go here all the time, so no one really cares much.”
The crates, packs and other men were loaded and taken away. Monroe had a final word to the pilot, now down on the ground and supervising the fuel loading, then joined me in the Colonel’s car.
“You’ll be leaving just before first light. Best to get away before the villagers stir. There will be one or two curious souls, but they’re harmless. The soldiers here have been informed that you are here for a training exercise, nothing unusual as we get squads from all over from time to time. As I said, your arrival will have caused little interest.”
From the locals. It was anyone else other than the locals I was worried about.
There was not much else to talk about in the few minutes it took to get to the compound at the back of the so-called terminal buildings. It consisted of about ten large barracks, an administration building, and what looked to be a mess.
Pale lights were showing from one of the barracks, and seeing the cars parked out the front, I assumed this was where we would stay until we departed.
The Colonel didn’t get out of the car. “We’ll be leaving at 04:00 tomorrow morning. Make sure you’re ready to go.”
“You’re coming too?”
“Bamfield asked me. Wants to make sure you had someone who knows the lie of the land.”
“I thought you’d delegate that to a few of the soldiers.”
“No. Can’t have them involved in an incursion or there will be trouble. This is an off the book’s operation. Looking forward to it, actually. There are a few people over there I’d like to have a talk to if we get the time.”
I shrugged. Just one more problem to deal with. The Colonel didn’t strike me as being a talker, but a man who let actions define who he was. And just because Bamfield vouched for him didn’t mean he might be not be working on his own retirement fund.
© Charles Heath 2019-2021