Book: Recovery (2015)

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Lucas Martin had been a friend of mine when I was in the Army.  At the time he was a Staff Sergeant with Australia’s Special Air Service Regiment, the SASR, or more simply the SAS.  These were Australia’s Special Forces and had originally been modeled after the British SAS.  There numbers are small but they are one badass group of operators.

Lucas and I first met at the British SAS training facility in Hereford, England during a NATO special operations summit.  He was as outgoing and jovial as I am reserved and we’d struck up a fast friendship.  We endured what had felt like endless and pointless meetings for three days, until the fun started. 

Sitting on our asses for the conference earned us two days free run of the training center.  We tromped all over the English countryside and let me tell you, that little island is anything but flat.  Competitive shooting events, kill house clearing, rappelling, parachuting and fast roping out of Lynx helicopters cemented our friendship.

We stayed in touch afterwards, as missions and life allowed, and got to work together once in a shithole third world African country that shall remain nameless.  His unit had been in country for several weeks, and knowing the lay of the land had been integrated into mine when we arrived.

It had been a very long month before our mutual politicians decided to pull all of us out.  The country was ramping up to whole scale genocide and the UN was getting ready to send in peacekeepers.  We did more in that month than the UN troops accomplished in the next three years, but there was concern that someone would notice that the US and Australia had SF troops on the ground.

We had worked in a small corner of the country, the worst area, as there were so many wannabe warlords that you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting one of them.  Living deep in the jungle we were ghosts that came out at night and hunted the bad guys who were terrorizing the helpless civilian population. 

There were a couple of locals who had been working with the CIA for years and they would supply us with intel about who was getting ready to do what.  Before we were recalled word had gotten to us that the warlords and their rag-tag armies were afraid to leave their compounds at night because of our hunting expeditions.  This had encouraged us and Lucas and I had decided to take the fight to where the bad guys lived.

For a week, we assaulted a compound every night.  One of them shocked even us once we broke into the Catholic church that had been taken over by a particularly ruthless man named… well, let’s just call him Wazi.

Children were locked in cages that had originally been built for animals.  They couldn’t stand, sit or even lie down.  All they could do was stay curled into a ball.  Women and young girls, some didn’t even look like they had reached puberty, were stripped naked and chained to a wall by their wrists.  If one of Wazi’s men happened to feel the urge, well that’s what the females were there for.  Some of the younger girls were dead, still bound in place, their corpses left to rot.

We killed every single member of Wazi’s army that night before releasing the women and children and escorting them to a small village that was miles away.  Lucas had found Wazi, hiding in a confessional booth, and had beaten the man to death with his bare hands.  I’d finally wrapped my arms around him and moved him away as he continued to wale on the corpse.

Walking out of the courtyard we’d discovered a mass grave where the brothers, sons, husbands and fathers of Wazi’s victims had been unceremoniously dumped after being hacked to pieces with machetes.  The killers were also using the grave as a latrine.

This was one of the worst atrocities we came across and we encountered more death and torture during the operation than I could have imagined.  By the time we packed up our camp and set out for the extraction point, attacks on the civilian population in the area had all but stopped.  The surviving warlords were terrified as word of our actions spread and were afraid to leave their compounds even during the day.

Experiencing what we had, and fighting together to do something about it, had formed a lasting bond between Lucas and I.  But we hadn’t seen each other since.  We had stayed in touch with the occasional email and rare phone call over the years.

He had met a bouncy, blonde New Zealand girl and married her a few years ago, soon retiring from the SAS and settling down on a vast swath of land in the territory of South Australia.  The last I’d heard from him had been a couple of years ago when his wife was pregnant with their third child.  He’d said they were going for an even half dozen.

I had a standing invitation to come visit him and his family whenever I wanted, for as long as I wanted, but had never had the time to take him up on it.  Now, I wanted to talk to him and ask a favor.

“Will he help?”  Katie asked when I finished telling her about whom I was trying to reach.  We were still roaring north, deeper into Kansas at 140 miles an hour and were waiting for Jessica to see if she could work some magic and get a call through to Lucas.

“No question,” I said with absolute certainty.  “Just like I would if he had called me.”

Katie nodded, understanding the bond that forms between soldiers in combat.  They may not hang out and spend time together once they go back to the real world but they never forget the man they fought beside.

“Sir?”  Jessica said over the phone.  “I’ve got him on the line.  Stand by and I’ll bring him on then drop off so you have some privacy.”

“Thank you, Petty Officer.”

There were several clicks, a moment of loud humming, then an open circuit.  I could hear a baby crying in the background.

“Lucas?”

“John?  Bloody hell, is that really you, mate?”  Lucas’ Aussie strine had gotten stronger since the last time I’d talked to him and I had to listen close to understand what he was saying.

“It’s really me, Lucas.  Is that number three I hear crying?”

“That would be number four.  My first boy!  His name is John.  Hold on, it’s the middle of the bloody night here and the handy woke him up.  Let me step out so I can hear you.”  He was almost shouting to be heard over the baby crying.

“He named his son after you?”  Katie asked.

“Guess so.  His first three are girls, so…”

“I’m here, mate.  Where are you?  Are you OK?”  It was much quieter on his end and I could hear the concern in his voice.

“Long story, Lucas, and I don’t have time.  I’m racing like hell across Kansas at the moment with a couple of Russian helos heading my way.  I’m pretty sure they want me, and want to take my wife.”  I said, wanting to tell him more but there was just too much to the story and not enough time to tell it right now.

“What can I do?”  He asked.

“There’s a CIA listening post in Western Australia,” I said.  “I don’t know its location but I’m betting you can find it with one phone call.”

“Aye.  Probably.  What’s there?”

“A CIA analyst named Steve Johnson.  I don’t have proof but all the signs point to him betraying me to the Russians in exchange for them grabbing my wife and turning her over to him.  It’s a long story and I’m sorry I don’t have time to tell it all to you.”

“Like I asked, mate.  What do you want me to do?”

“Find the station and get hands on this guy.  Find out if I’m right.  He could still be feeding them intel.  If I’m right, I need the problem solved.”  I didn’t need to spell out for Lucas what I was really asking him to do.

“Consider it done.  I’ll call some of my mates at Swanbourne.  If you’re right, this isn’t just personal.  This tosser is going to have an issue for consorting with the enemy during time of war.”  Swanbourne is a suburb of Perth in Western Australia and the location of the SASR barracks.

“Thank you, Lucas.  Write this number down.  It’s my sat phone.  I’m about to be in a world of shit but you might be able to reach me on it.”  I read the number off the back of the phone to him.

“No worries, mate.  You watch your arse!  And if you can get out of there there’s more than enough room here for you and the missus.  You’re always welcome.  Little John needs to meet Big John.”  He said the last with a laugh and broke the connection.

Katie was uncharacteristically quiet after the phone call ended.

“Thinking about Steve?”  I asked gently.

“No.  If he did this, he deserves whatever happens to him.  I was actually thinking about what you told me about when you were in Africa with Lucas.  How the hell did you sleep at night after that?”

“For a long time I didn’t.”  I answered, sounding more defensive than I intended and remembering one of the reasons I don’t talk about things I’ve seen and done.

“I don’t mean what you did.  I mean what you saw being done to those people.”  Katie leaned towards me and placed her hand on the back of my neck.  “I’m glad you did what you did.  Glad there are people like you and Lucas in the world to protect the rest of us from the monsters.  There are some people in this world that are so thoroughly evil they need to be removed from the human race.  What’s the quote you told me once?  About war not ever being good?” 

“War is never good, but there are things that are worse than not going to war?”

“That’s the one,” she said, gently squeezing my neck before leaning back into her seat.  “Who said that?”

“Someone who’s been there,” I said.

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