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
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
bite only it don’t sting. Just tingles. You rub it and then,
Now the tingling gets into them hairs at the nape and you know
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.
Swing back round. Bugsy lies beside you with his hat over his eyes,
sound asleep? Nope. He’s absently rubbing the back of his
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
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,
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
Emperor does at the Colosseum and it means the same fuckin’
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
fuckin’ looking. Bugsy finds a small twig and throws it their
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
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
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
from here, clear the other way to Bugsy, and beyond the vague outlines
of Snowy and Dunshea. Moving slowly, you check your SLR—full
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
You settle into your prone position, the ground is cold on your belly
and thighs but that’s alright. Bare earth means not much
the trees to crunch and crinkle. Means you can see any
or scorpions coming too, thank fuck! Means you’ve got good
you have to move. You manoeuvre again, a few positioning wriggles to
get comfortable, get your elbows onto smooth ground so the nerves
be jarred, and all the time ensure clear view of Sniffer one way and
Bugsy the other. From Bugsy’s direction comes the common
signal—thumb and forefinger pulled into a circle. Everyone
probs. Sniffer is settled, Bugsy is settled—time to
concentrate on the
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
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
Snowy was, and saw fuckin’ nuthin. All we have to do is stay
no one would ever know we are here. That’s the skill of an
see without being seen. They could never detect you in a million years,
but we will have a bright clear unobstructed view of them.
We’re good at this. Watch how surely it is done. You look
Sniffer: he is down and motionless, watching the track—for
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.
fear. They are the voices of people calling light-heartedly. It sounds
like a discordant song. Definite Vietnamese. You lie there, sweating it
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
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
to Bugsy—rugged, rough Bugsy, but now his florid face is
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
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.
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
Nigel is invisible at this distance, calling just loud enough for
Sniffer to hear him.
‘Yeah, just four.’
‘What’s up with you, Alby?’
‘Got a heap of shit in the face but I’m
‘Can’t make you any fuckin’
‘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
‘I can count ’em,’ Bugsy calls.
‘Four Charlie down and out.’
‘Awright. Check weapons. Reload. Stay where you
Oh gawd, is he gonna ask me? Please, not me. I don’t like
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
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
and goes cunt up and it’s all your fault. Fuckin’
‘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
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.
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
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,
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
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
This is the hardest moment—when the sun hits your eyes you
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
vision, you wait until it is completely clear. That’s good.
Here we go.
With carefully measured strides, you walk forward. It’s like
march—one step, pause, next step. Ten paces at one every
you arrive at the first body. No need to worry about the other
three—your guardians will shoot if any of them moves. You
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
that of lingering cordite, and gusts of the odour of
them has shit themselves but who could blame them for
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
slide out your machete and bend, and the muzzle of the
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
there are three huge holes in his chest—exit wounds coming
his back. Good grouping. Check his hands—you can see both of
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.
explanation. He wouldn’t have been alive long enough to roll
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,
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
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
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
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
geometry is all wrong—length of your arms and SLR barrel, and
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
seems that he is right there, his lips at your ear.
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.
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
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
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
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?’
‘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
‘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
Greyman, eternally curious, prods at his body—the
‘Hey, look at this! Her brains are gone and you can see right
Sniffer scurries over excitedly. ‘Yeah, mine’s got
an arm blown clean
off. Aw, shit yeah. Get onto it. Like a passionfruit after
‘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
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
‘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...’