Running Dogs
Book Sample


Even before Sniffer came back too soon, you knew you were in the shit. You got it in the fuckin’ neck—early warning system: it happens like that sometimes. Not always: that’s the fuckin trouble. Just sometimes.

You’re sitting there, back up against a tree with your nose stuck up a stick book—thumb in your bum and your mind in neutral—when all of a sudden you’re rubbing the back of your neck, like some fuckin’ insect bite only it don’t sting. Just tingles. You rub it and then, you realise.


Now the tingling gets into them hairs at the nape and you know it’s on. You look up, the last words you read already forgotten.



You look toward the way Sniffer’ll come but he ain’t there yet. Look the other way. You can see Snowy through the lightspeckled shadows, twenty feet away, flanked by the gun, and Alby Dunshea further over. Nothing there. You know the others are beyond. No sign of them.


Fuckin’ nothing.

Swing back round. Bugsy lies beside you with his hat over his eyes, sound asleep? Nope. He’s absently rubbing the back of his fuckin’ neck! Now he lifts the hat an inch off his eyes and peeps out to see if you’ve got it too. Yeah, Bugsy, I got it too. Has to be Sniffer. Has to be. You peer back that way. A few clear feet of shadow under the canopy of the jungle and then a hell of a tangle of green shit, but there’s a gap you can see through at this angle, right down. Not so far as the sentry post, but far enough. Wait for it. Wait for it. There he is!

Sniffer comes creeping back through the greenshit, real quiet, well in from the track. He stops, bends, peers—he’s trying to spot you. You move your arm a few inches—all it needs. His eyes pick it up, and he stoops a little more so you can see his face but in all that shadow and shit you can’t make it out clear—he’s still twenty yards away. But that’s enough. Very methodically, Sniffer holds his fist right in front of his face with the thumb pointing upward and then turns it over, slowly and deliberately, so the thumb points down—just like the Roman Emperor does at the Colosseum and it means the same fuckin’ thing too! Sorta. It’s the signal for enemy approaching.

You give the same signal back, and keep watching him close, while Bugsy is watching you and sees the reply. He immediately offers the thumbs down signal along the line to Snowy and Alby Dunshea—they aren’t fuckin’ looking. Bugsy finds a small twig and throws it their way. Now he can pass the signal and they will pass it, on to Nigel and Greyman who are further over that way somewhere. All this you are only vaguely aware of, sensed at the periphery rather than seen—you are concentrating on Sniffer.

When he sees you’ve got the signal, Sniffer, very emphatically, shows four fingers on one hand, then one with the same hand. Four of them, maybe one more. Okay. You pass that signal on to Bugsy who sends it down the line. There’s another possible signal that doesn’t come—a pumping of the fist like someone in the latter stages of wanking a giant prick. It means they’re right on top of you and you’re in a hurry. But Sniffer makes no such signal. Plenty of time. Sniffer now settles down where he is, ten yards in from the track. Time to move.

Carefully, you slip your stickbook into your pack and fasten the clips—set to bug out fuckin’ quicksmart if necessary. Then you shove off the tree, pick up your SLR and crocodilecrawl forward a couple of yards to a place aligned with Bugsy but about five yards toward Sniffer’s position from him. Check it carefully. Clear view of Sniffer from here, clear the other way to Bugsy, and beyond the vague outlines of Snowy and Dunshea. Moving slowly, you check your SLR—full mag, one up the spout, safety off. Check your pouch for extra mags, the other for the grenade if that’s needed. All set. Let’s have yer, you little slant-eye bastards!

You settle into your prone position, the ground is cold on your belly and thighs but that’s alright. Bare earth means not much fall-out from the trees to crunch and crinkle. Means you can see any fuckin’ snakes or scorpions coming too, thank fuck! Means you’ve got good footing if you have to move. You manoeuvre again, a few positioning wriggles to get comfortable, get your elbows onto smooth ground so the nerves won’t be jarred, and all the time ensure clear view of Sniffer one way and Bugsy the other. From Bugsy’s direction comes the common ‘okay’ signal—thumb and forefinger pulled into a circle. Everyone ready. No probs. Sniffer is settled, Bugsy is settled—time to concentrate on the track.

The track is narrow and winding through the greenshit, at this point ten yards directly up front. Here the jungle is dense, dank and dark, but over the track the canopy is breached and sunlight comes through illuminating the track so that it kinda flows through the dimness like a river of gold. Out there, you can see everyfuckin’thing that moves—it’s like a lighted stage waiting for the actors to walk on—and just as an actor on a brightly lit stage can’t see the audience, so too from the track, we are completely fuckin’ invisible.

You tried it yourself earlier—stood out there and looked right where Snowy was, and saw fuckin’ nuthin. All we have to do is stay still and no one would ever know we are here. That’s the skill of an ambush, to see without being seen. They could never detect you in a million years, but we will have a bright clear unobstructed view of them. They’ve got fuckin’ buckley’s.

We’re good at this. Watch how surely it is done. You look back toward Sniffer: he is down and motionless, watching the track—for sure he expects them to appear right away. At some distance now, you hear the ringing sounds of what might be bird-calls, but they ain’t. No fuckin’ fear. They are the voices of people calling light-heartedly. It sounds like a discordant song. Definite Vietnamese. You lie there, sweating it out.

There is a tremulous feeling rippling through your body, a feverish anticipation, like a child about to receive a Christmas present. The sweat breaks out on your brow, your neck, the palms of your hands, that same cold sweat that comes with nausea. Your belly dislikes the hard contact with the damp earth; you need to shift your knees slightly, you tense and flex the muscles in your legs and back to keep them supple, tighten the buttocks and free them. It’s like fucking the ground itself. You have to remember to breathe as well, for the tendency is to hold the breath. You seem to have slipped your entire body into manual drive. Nothing happens unless you consciously will it. And it is all focused, channelled, into the eyes and the ears. You must concentrate on that track. Nothing else matters.

The ringing voices are nearer. You are locked in, the trap straining against itself to be sprung. Check back with Sniffer—he’s watching for you. Again, he raises four fingers—a confirmation. You pass the signal to Bugsy—rugged, rough Bugsy, but now his florid face is pallid and strained as, you must suppose, your own is. Certainly the four fingers you display are trembling. Back to the fuckin’ track, concenfuckingtrating. Where are they? Where the fuck are they? There!

They are visible for just a few seconds, but at such moments, time slows down and you see and hear and feel everything in minute detail, like a slo-mo replay only it’s for fuckin’ real. They come hustling along in their short-stride gait, chatting in sing-song Noggie as they go. The actors, entering stage left, each weighed down by a disproportionately ponderous load. Actors never really work that fuckin’ hard.

The man in the lead is barechested and barelegged, with ricetubes looped about his torso and he has an enormous bundle of straight sticks on his back, longer than he is tall, bending him forward as he moves. He carries an AK47 cradled on his forearm. You can pick it from the curved magazine and your eyes light up. Nasty little buggers, them. A woman, his wife perhaps, follows in black pyjamas and straw hat. She too is stooped under a huge bundle wrapped in black plastic and carries a .303 slung on her shoulder. She grins sweetly as she chats with the two younger men behind, her cherubic cheeks etched by shadow.

The younger men are lightly built and sinewy—maybe her sons. Both labour under the weight of US ration boxes lashed to their backs. One carries a shotgun, the other a US M1.

All that you see in the first second. You absorb it from a single fleeting moment, and you will never forget it. The first second passes since they hustled into view, and in another second they will be gone. It must be now. And yet, for all their speedy gait, they seem to pass so slowly, caught in a time warp, waiting for death. Without missing a stride, the lead man turns and says something and they smile at his comment, thinking it funny. They will die with those smiles on their lips.

The last man in line is yours. Yours and Sniffer’s. Your SLR is at the shoulder but you don’t use the sights. You’ll start behind and walk the tracers onto him, while Snowy hits them in the guts with his beloved Mabel, taking them all on while we pick off individual targets. Sniffer, accurate shot, will go for one killer hit on your target, while you blast all around him, giving him nowhere to go. Now! Do it now! Go Snowy...!

Snowy lets Mabel have her way. At the moment they draw level with him, he gives them a solid fifty round burst. All four are hurled to the far side of the track as if struck by a great wind, crashing to the ground in a flurry of flailing limbs. Bright horizontal streaks of tracer sear across the track and into their thrashing bodies, showering the track with a hail of twigs, leaves, splinters, dust and smoke. All is obscured, mercifully, except that the woman’s piercing scream can be heard above the thunder of the gunfire, until she stops as if cut off by a knife. The barrage ceases as suddenly as it began.

It is all over in three seconds flat. You’ve fired a full mag into that last guy, although you saw little of him after the firing began. Everything vanished momentarily in a frenzied fog of smoke and dust and leaf fragments and splinters, and when it cleared they were down.

You knew where he was and sent your bright stream of tracers zeroing into the spot, until the mag ran out. It takes a moment to remember to stop squeezing the trigger. Take a breath of air. Quick change the fuckin’ mag, fuckwit! Whip it off, whip it out, whip it on, click! One up the spout, whack, whack! All neatly done in spite of numb and trembling fingers. Okay. Now check upfront. All you can see out there is your target, down and thrashing on the ground. That’s all you have to see.

As the echo of the gunfire stalks away through the jungle, there is a brief lull. Then come the voices of the victors: sharp, callow voices, all calling at once.

‘Aw, you bloody bewdy, Snowy...’

‘We got ’em...we got ’em...’

‘You fuckin’ balltearers...’

‘Bowled ’em right arse over tit...’

‘Did yer see ’em drop...’

‘That’ll take their fuckin’ minds off sex for a while...’

Then, the more mature voice of Nigel. ‘Awright, awright, shut up, you dickheads!’

The dreadful lull returns. Hate this. But you gotta be sure. No point taking chances. Everyone stays where they are, weapons trained on the bodies, waiting for something, anything. Nothing moves now. The death throes are over.

‘Awright, take it easy. Watch ’em,’ Nigel is saying unnecessarily—his voice has that same hysterical edge to it. ‘Sniffer, that the lot?’

Nigel is invisible at this distance, calling just loud enough for Sniffer to hear him.

‘Yeah, just four.’

‘You okay?’

‘Fine, Nigel.’

‘What’s up with you, Alby?’

‘Got a heap of shit in the face but I’m alright.’

‘Can’t make you any fuckin’ uglier.’

‘Stick a dick in it, Yogi Bear!’

‘I take it you’re still with us, Griffin.’

‘I’m here, Nigel.’



‘Gun dear, Snowy?’

‘Gun clear, Nigel.’


‘No problems, Nigel.’

‘We got four victor Charlie down. Who can count ’em.’

‘I can count ’em,’ Bugsy calls. ‘Four Charlie down and out.’

‘Awright. Check weapons. Reload. Stay where you are.’

Oh gawd, is he gonna ask me? Please, not me. I don’t like this, never want it. He reckons I’m good at it, but I don’t feel good at it. Just don’t shit myself if it goes wrong.

‘Griffin, wanna have a look?’

Oh, fuck it!

You groan in response. You let that be the answer. There’s a snort of amusement from Bugsy, and then Nigel. ‘You don’t have to do it, Yogi.’

Oh, sure you don’t! Then some other poor fucker goes out there instead and goes cunt up and it’s all your fault. Fuckin’ wonderful.

‘I’ll do it.’

‘Play it cool, Yogi Bear. We got all day.’

Like fuck we have. Every Charlie within ten miles in any direction now knows exactly where we are, and there are no sentries. When you’re out there, you’re all on your own, baby.

You roll onto your side—have to anyway because you’ve got a bloody erection and its getting fuckin’ uncomfortable under there. You bring your SLR around where you can check the mag, ensure the spout is clear and there’s one up there, make sure a spare mag is ready. The SLR is a good gat but the barrel’s too long for this sort of job—some blokes lop the muzzle but that kills the accuracy and increases the muzzleflash—no win situation. Maybe you oughta carry a pistol on your belt, except someone’ll think you’re an officer and you’ll end up getting fragged. Right now, the SLR will have to do.

You look at Bugsy but he concentrates on those inert forms out there, his rifle trained. Take your hat off—dump it on the ground, check the machete on your belt. Slide it in and out. Set to go.

You take your time. Slowly you get to your feet, and then look toward Sniffer down the way. He gives the thumbs up. Okay. No fancy stuff now. You stand full upright, and walk slowly, straight forward, and straight away that fuckin’ long barrel tangles in the vines. You pull it free, steady your nerves, and all the way you watch those bodies, nothing else. As long as they don’t move, there’s no problem. At the edge of the track, you pause, wait, watch. Then, finally, you step out in to the sunlight.

This is the hardest moment—when the sun hits your eyes you are blind for a few moments, and have to wait for the eyes to adjust. You do that, standing stock still. It’s not enough to just get reasonable vision, you wait until it is completely clear. That’s good. Here we go. With carefully measured strides, you walk forward. It’s like a slow march—one step, pause, next step. Ten paces at one every second, and you arrive at the first body. No need to worry about the other three—your guardians will shoot if any of them moves. You keep your nose out of this as well. On the air is the dank smell of their rice—something about the way they cook it that is so distinctive—and that of lingering cordite, and gusts of the odour of excrement—one of them has shit themselves but who could blame them for that—and the sickly stench of exposed intestines that you remember as a boy when your father used to skin rabbits.

The young man. The one you went for. The weapon lies thrown clear. The M1—butt splintered by a bullet. Good, stand between man and weapon. You slide out your machete and bend, and the muzzle of the fuckin’ SLR catches on the ground. Stupid fuckin’ thing. But you don’t want the M1 either. You just flick it with the machete down the track a way, out of reach. That’ll be far enough. Now, the man. He lies on his back and there are three huge holes in his chest—exit wounds coming through from his back. Good grouping. Check his hands—you can see both of them, his arms thrown wide. But he’s fuckin’ wrong way up!—think about that.

Maybe the impact sent him diving nose first into the ground, but he hit with such fuckin’ force that he bounced over onto his back. Only explanation. He wouldn’t have been alive long enough to roll himself. This was your target. You probably made a few of those holes. Somehow the image of the brilliant glowing tracers searing through the body is more awful. Check his eyes. You can see them, the rounded lids half-closed, vacant black pupils staring, and mouth gaping open—shouting a warning maybe that he never completed, carrying the final syllable away with him to eternity. No problem here. With those one per second strides, you walk around him and on to the second body.

The other young chap, lying half off the track, upper torso in the bushes. Makes it tough. Nasty leg wound, hidden by fabric but it bled excessively. Bleeding has stopped now. Good sign—for that much blood flow in so short a time it would have been spouting jets like a stream of piss when you continually squeeze your prick and interrupt the stream. Wouldn’t mind a piss right now myself, or even a pull. The hard knob of your prick is rubbing on the fabric of your pants when you move, exquisitely irritating. Makes it fuckin’ hard to keep your mind on the job. Yeah, so, you can see where the spray squirted to, a blood-puddle a yard from the wound, but now there’s no heartbeat to pump it out. Good indicator, but not enough.

You’ll have to move him. You look around but you can’t see that fuckin’ shotgun anywhere either. Might have thrown it way off into the bushes when he was hit. Might also have it under him, finger on the trigger, waiting to give you a little surprise when you roll him over. You go forward until you are standing with your toes right up against his hip, the SLR trained at the middle of his back. The slightest flicker of life and you’ll fire.

This is very fuckin’ dangerous, and very fuckin’ awkward. You slip your left toecap under his hip, and raise him slightly. His empty left hand appears. Now you put the SLR in his earhole and reach down and grab a handful of his shirt under the armpit to hurl him over. But the fuckin’ geometry is all wrong—length of your arms and SLR barrel, and for a vital terrifying moment, you are off balance, ill-prepared for whatever. Do it quick. Lift him and peep underneath, ready to drop him again if necessary. You haul his upper torso off the ground for a moment. His arms fall limp. Good. No muscle resistance. You glimpsed that other hand and it was empty. No shotgun, no hidden grenades. Okay to roll him, but you straighten first, get that muzzle levelled back at his head, and use your foot. Slip the toecap under his hip and flip him—over he goes. His head comes into view under the bush. His mouth is twisted remarkably, and then you see why—everything from his ear to his collarbone and corner of the mouth to the back of the neck is completely missing. Goner. Good. Can’t see that fuckin’ shotgun but...

‘No weapon here, Nigel,’ you call—your voice astonishingly croaky.

‘It’s alright, Yogi. He threw it this way. We can see it. Keep going. You’re doing fine.’

Doing fine. Now the woman. She’s right in the middle of the track, on her side, curled into the foetal position, her arms tucked in across her belly. No problem there. Her head has split open like an axe through watermelon and you can see the porridge of brainmatter splattered everywhere like dropped scrambled eggs. You move by her. The .303 is under her, still slung on her shoulder. She must have taken Mabel’s burst full on—her middle part that she tried to defend with her arms is just a mincemeat mess. Her blouse has been torn right off her, and there is the delicate curve of a small breast. That doesn’t help. You’ll cream your daks in a minute if you don’t keep your fuckin’ fuckwit mind on the job. But you can still remember what she looked like, in those fleeting moments before... Pretty woman, sweet smile, nice lithe body. Now a blob of offal. But even thoughts like that won’t make that fuckin’ erection go down. The pain is almost doubling you up, crippling now, your bladder and balls and intestines, all ready to burst. Get on with it, before you explode, like she did.

The man, father, leader. The weapon lies under him and so does one hand as he lies, face down. There’s plenty of blood about him but no obvious wound. Stand still. You can feel what seems to be a scorpion clawing and scratching its way up your spinal cord, but that is only imagination. You want to be sick, to piss, to shit, to shoot your bolt. Bodily functions running riot. Watch him! Let it all flow but don’t take your eyes off this fucker. There is, you are sure, the barest hint of movement. Perhaps a muscle flexing, a final reflex spasm, who knows. But movement. That’s all you need. Without taking your eyes off him, you speak, very distinctly.

‘This one’s still kickin’.’

Out of the void of silence, Nigel speaks. He is still back in there—covering you, watching your every move, but when he speaks it seems that he is right there, his lips at your ear.

‘Finish it.’

You don’t need to move. From where you are there is a clear view of the back of the man’s neck and the wet slicked black hair beyond. All you need. Your SLR remains at your hip, pointed downward and all you have to do is raise the muzzle a few inches, instincts tell you how far, and squeeze the trigger.

The abrupt single shot is deafening. You actually see the bullet hit, as if an invisible axe has crashed down on the man’s neck and the entire body jolts, and when the skin jumps back to its proper place, there is a jagged hole, not round at all, and from the side of the head a brief geyser of blood shoots out. You watch with sullen fascination, until it stops.

‘The rest are cactus.’

‘You sure?’ Nigel asks.

‘Yeah. Real brush and shovel jobs.’

‘Awright, you guys. Let’s tidy this up.’

Time to look to yourself. You step a few paces into the jungle on the far side of the track and unbutton your fly. There is a dark shiny stain all down the thigh of your greens—erk! Probably a few down the back as well. You try to piss but your bladder has nothing to offer, and the erection retracts even as you hold it. The bile had risen to your throat, but now it recedes. The crippling pain fades. All bullshit. Your body has been lying to you about what it wanted. Bloody stupid fuckin’ thing. You button your fly and step back onto the track.

There is a lot of movement in the jungle behind you and the men of the section come through the foliage at various points and onto the track. Nigel, Snowy, Alby Dunshea, Bugsy, Sniffer and Greyman. They stand in a line, solemnly regarding their handiwork. Frozen in time and space. Their faces are lined with shock, with faint disgust, pale and drawn with strain. Nigel breaks the trance.

‘You alright, Yogi?’

‘Fuckin’ marvellous.’

‘Awright. Bugsy, Alby—sentry posts right and left. Rest of you, get the gats and search the stiffs.’

Bugsy and Dunshea move off to right and left. Nigel, you, Sniffer and Greyman will take one body each while Snowy, with Mabel cradled lovingly in his arms, stands protectively over you all like an old mother hen.

‘Four kills, hey. And bodies to show for it,’ Snowy chortles with great pride—this is his best effort yet.

‘Won’t Hatrack be thrilled,’ Nigel says. ‘We’ll be number one boys for this.’

Greyman, eternally curious, prods at his body—the woman—with his bayonet.

‘Hey, look at this! Her brains are gone and you can see right inside the skull.’

Sniffer scurries over excitedly. ‘Yeah, mine’s got an arm blown clean off. Aw, shit yeah. Get onto it. Like a passionfruit after yer’ve ate the guts.’

‘Awright, awright,’ Nigel is saying, though only because he must. ‘Cool the fucking biology lesson.’

He stands away from his corpse, clutching the shotgun and going through some papers in a wallet he’s found. You approach him, like Oliver Twist wanting more, only it is you with the offering. The weapon the father carried, a Russian AK47—now that you’ve wiped the blood and chunks of skin off the butt, is a real prize.

‘This an AK47?’

You know it is.

‘Yeah. Beautiful, aren’t they. Better than our bloody shitsticks.’

‘Can I keep it?’ you ask, almost pleadingly. ‘Give it a try?’

Nigel looks it over. It has the firepower of your SLR but it’s half the length—a real advantage, for doing jobs like the one you’ve just done.

‘Sure. If you can keep the ammo up to it,’ he says.

‘No probs. Standard stuff, by the look of it.’

You strip the magazine to show him. That magazine, so exotically curved, like a cruel piratic cutlass. Nigel nods his approval.

A prize. A real treasure. Something to show for it all when the story is told and retold back at Nui Dat. This the irrefutable souvenir of your finest moment. Excitedly you search the body for extra magazines and ammunition, and maybe best of all, the cleaning kit. And then Nigel is calling. ‘Awright, get yer shovels and let’s get this lot under. Then let’s go and see if we can find some more...’

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