Chapter 1 - 9 months ago.

Fiction by ghill

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Chapter 1 - 9 months ago.

Postby ghill » Tue Feb 16, 2016 12:07 pm

The team had been on a short break in the Emerald City while their principle, a Frenchman trying to land a pipeline contract, met up with some local business interests over lunch at the Hilton. Holden had chosen to use the time to go and sit out by the pool and catch up on some reading. He left the others draw straws those who lost remained to watch the Frenchman, those who won tried their best to get into the pants of the two new production assistants with Channel 4 news as they propped up the bar.

The pool area was surprisingly busy; the majority of the sun loungers occupied by achingly beautiful women. Holden tried not to stare, it was not considered healthy to pay much attention to the women. None of them were single; they were all girlfriends or mistresses to one or other of the multitude of Russian businessman here in Iraq doing business with the newly formed Government. The Russian’s were renowned for jealously watching over their girls, two weeks ago there been a massive fight in the bar as a result of an American reporter trying some pick-up artist tricks on a pneumatic looking Ukrainian girl hardly out of her teens. The fat Russian who paid for her enhancements had taken offence, and hit the reporter over the head with a bottle of Vodka.

Holden's interests lay elsewhere, he walked to the far end of the pool, grabbing a free sun lounger as he passed and dragging it into the shade. As he sat he nodded to the man straddling the sun longer next to his. Papers, note books and photos were spread out over the man’s sun lounger. He was dressed in what Holden had come to view typical reporter uniform, pale shirt, chinos and walking boots by a company, which was probably, better known for making running shoes and probably wouldn't last more than a few days if he had to walk anywhere rougher than a hot pavement. The man hardly looked up from his papers, grunted some kind of greeting then went back to work whatever that was. Holden didn't mind he just wanted to catch up on his reading.

The other members of his team were all avid football supporters, which meant the satellite TV was permanently tuned to Sky sports. Holden on the other hand, while he didn't mind kicking the ball around for half an hour, found the idea of watching somebody else doing it boring to the extreme. The when other team members found out he didn't like football they'd accused him of being a typical "Rupert" but as pretty much everything he did resulted in the same accusation, he hadn't risen to the bait. He never suggested they watch the rugby simply recorded it and watched it in the quiet midnight hours when he was on Ops room duties.

Three weeks after he'd arrived in Iraq, he'd read every book in the compound’s library a grand name for what was essentially an old cupboard where those passing through dumped their unwanted airport reading matter. Things had been so dire that Holden had even resorted to reading the technical manuals for the radios and all the other pieces of electronic kit lying around. Three days ago, salvation arrived in the form of a cardboard box a care package from his parents. Top of the pile had been Tolstoy’s War and Peace a book Holden had tried to read when he was younger but had given up on as to much effort, ten years later and with nothing else to read he’s devoured it in ten short days. Now he had moved onto a copy of Herodotus’ History, a real door stopper of a book, which Holden had thought, would keep him occupied for several weeks but which had turned out to be another gripping read and was disappearing at a rapid rate of knots.

Holden leant back in the sun lounger, flipped through the folded page corners until he found his place, and began to read. Somewhere in the distance someone was firing mortars, the crump of the exploding bombs didn't mean anything, it could be Shiite or Sunni punishing one another for some real or imagined slight, or either faction taking the opportunity to give the Yanks a poke punishing them for being in Iraq in the first place. Holden treated the sound of mortars as background noise it was not near and he did not think it was a threat, others around the pool were not so sure and people started to get up and head for cover inside. He looked up to watch them go and caught the 'reporter' doing the same thing they exchanged grunts and raised eyebrows at those leaving, then both settled back to reading again.

Perhaps reassured by Holden’s lack of concern the reporter sat down again. Holden heard the shuffling of papers and the sound of throat clearing. Mentally, Holden sighed, he knew the reporter was going to try to start a conversation.

"Herodotus, is good, but he did not know everything, 'Great King' Xerxes, wasn't simply intent on enslaving the Greeks, he had other business to attend to, the Greeks were simply in his way, we might all be better off if he had been allowed to go about his business without the interference of the Greeks."

The accent was German, the English perfect apart from the fact he rolled his r so Herodotus’ sounded more like Herrrroditus. He was about to make a swift reply in order to try and cut the conversation short; he needn't have bothered the man was already walking away, watching he saw as the reporter waved to three others. The men were large and tanned, dressed almost identically to himself. Iraq was a small world for the PMC community and Holden recognised the three military contractors. The men worked for Buffalo Security, a Kenyan company which was basically a front for South African’s whose government took a poor view on their citizens working as contractors, hard men with a good reputation, for doing the job right.

He watched the four of them leave, the three South Africans surrounding the German like a trio of mother hens protecting their chick, considering the South Africans reputation, perhaps he thought more like lions herding their prey, he smiled to himself happy at his little analogy. He turned back to his book only for the crump of mortar bombs to bring a frown to his face; moments later he heard Pat yell from across the pool, the principle was jittery about the mortars and he and his guests wanted to relocate. Holden grunted, swung his feet off the sun lounger, tucked the book into his day pack, adjusted his flak vest in a vain attempt to make it more comfy, then went off to join the rest of the team. It would be another two weeks before he saw the German again, by this time he'd finished Herodotus and moved on to Thucydides' The History of the Peloponnesian War, which too had also turned out to be a compelling read.

Holden's circumstances could be traced back at least nine months. He'd been thoroughly bored at work and frequently daydreamed about packing it all in. In quiet moments of reflection or when he was being honest with himself he could admit to himself he was suffering some kind of a mid-life crisis. Other guys would probably have chucked in their jobs and gone off to Pamplona to run with the Bulls, taken up an extreme sport or shacked up with a girl half their age. But Holden simply wasn't that adventurous. The only thing stopping him was a sense it would not make much difference, he was bored with his job, but he had no idea what he would do if he left its warm, reliable, nine to five routine. He wanted to do something outside, something physical, something other than sit on his backside in front of a computer screen all day. Unfortunately, the sort of work he thought he might be interested in invariably involved a massive pay cut.

Occasionally, he thought about re-joining the army, enough time had passed that he now had nothing but good memories about his time as an infantry officer. However, even Holden was not foolish enough to think that at thirty-six he would be able to recapture the life he had at twenty-one year old fresh out of university. Apart from which Holden was unable to ignore the fact he had gone to seed, when he dared weigh himself he clocked in a good two stone overweight and it was hard to ignore the way his knees creaked. What little regular fitness he had done had gone out the window shortly after he'd met Paula, not her fault but spending time with her had been more fun than going running or spending time with the other 'bunnies' down the gym. When the kids had arrived, he had landed the current job and the vagaries of life with young children had made it even harder to get back into any kind of fitness routine without a level of commitment which Holden had simply never had. The only exercise Holden got nowadays was walking to from the snack machine on the other side of the office.

The answer had come one evening, Holden had chased the kids upstairs and into bed read them the riot act about getting out of bed for anything less than blood and broken bones before sneaking in to watch the TV on the sofa carefully avoiding being seen by Paula so she couldn't drag him into the Kitchen to help cook supper for them both. Typically the lead story was about Iraq, another car bombing somewhere north of Baghdad. Holden was only half listening. The reporter, some square jawed blue eyed boy straight out of the BBC school of foreign journalism was interviewing some guy about the bombing, Holden had only really started listening when he realised the guy the reporter was talking to wasn't a soldier but a security contractor. What really made Holden pay attention was the reporter mentioning contractor was earning about 500 quid a day, significantly he didn't look much younger or for that matter much lighter than Holden.

The conversation over the supper table was stilted to say the least, he explained to Paula that he wasn't happy at work but hadn't known up until that point what he might do instead, then he talked about getting a job in Iraq. She’d started to cry immediately, just as she’d burst into tears when she’d started thinking as a reserve he might be at risk of being called up for duty in Iraq. When she'd calmed down he presented her with some self imposed conditions. He'd do a loads of research first, he'd take whatever courses were required. Most importantly he wouldn't even think about it if he couldn't get his weight down. Paula agreed this was an entirely sensible approach then she piled another large spoonful of lasagne on his plate.

Holden started his exercise regime the same day he handed his notice in at work. He worked hard cutting out, renewing his gym membership and making friends with the committed fitness fanatics. Crap was out of his diet, no chocolate, crisps, fizzy pop. He replaced it with fruit people at work laughed at the fruit bowl he installed by his monitor, but a few weeks later they were complimenting him on his shrinking waist line. Two months later on a lazy Sunday morning Paula had brushed her hand down his stomach and pointed with a sly coquettish smile he'd got the start of his six pack back.

Finding a job proved a lot more difficult than losing the weight but. Holden had approached the matter with the same determination as losing weight. He had sent his CV out to all the main UK companies, but apart from an offer for a commission based sales position, he’d been met with a resounding silence. There were simply to many younger, more experienced men out there, men who'd done essentially the same job in Iraq or Afghanistan for a lot less money while serving in the army.

Two months after completing the course and he had only had two weeks work neither of which had paid anywhere near the 500 he'd heard about. The work mainly involved driving a rich Kuwaiti and his family around London and carrying the shopping bags when asked, his instructors would have had a fit if they had seen him in such instances, but try telling that to the guy who's paying you when he hands over the Harrods bags. The atmosphere at home was getting distinctly frosty. After a few weeks, Paula started dropping hints, perhaps he should go cap in hand and see if he could get his old job back. By the end of the second month, she'd stopped dropping hints and simply started yelling at him to sort his life out.

His break had come a few weeks later a friend of a friend pointed out his former platoon sergeant Paddy Green was now working for Armburst, a Private Military Company working in Iraq. He'd made a couple of phone calls and arranged a meeting to talk about old times. They'd met in a Pub off the Euston Road shared a few pints and did indeed share memories of old times, then the conversation had turned to work. Paddy had listened to Holden intently but he's not pulled any punches.

"Look putting aside the bitchiness and backstabbing and all the fucking “Walter Mitties”. The fact is this business is bursting at the seams with guys and gals looking for work. So if you're looking to get in on the Iraq Gold Rush, the last train left long ago. The Corporations are all fighting for the contracts and the way they win them is putting in the cheapest bid. Salaries were the first thing to get cut. I'm paying 230 quid a day and that’s more than a lot of companies are paying. Some well-known names are paying as little as 150 per day. I mean you could earn more laying bricks on a building site back home. Profit margins are king, not a blokes safety."

I mean if this is some midlife crisis why don't you go run with the bulls or start jumping out of aeroplanes, this work isn't going to make you feel any better about not getting up every morning with a hard on. Do you really want to go back to a world where the ability to not fall asleep while staging on in a corridor for 12 hours on 12 hours off , for weeks on end is the key skill. You'll be treated like gash by clients who haven't the faintest. Worse still you'll be doing convoy work through shite hole Province; losing most of your team when you bump into the bad guys, all because some guy in an air conditioned office in Huston thinks armoured SUV's are an unnecessary luxury

Can't say anything about the 'Stan 'cos I haven't had to go out there yet, but I bet it’s no better. Listen, this line of work has always been about knowing the right people, making the right contacts and your face fitting. You've been out for a long time now and you don't know anybody, you’re carrying a bit extra around the waist an that’s being polite and frankly your probably past it by a good couple of years."

Holden didn't say anything at first just nodded his head an almost whispered "I suppose so", then he'd stood up and thanked Paddy for his time, the disappointment writ large across his face.

Paddy sighed. Look, I'll fucking regret this I know I will, but I'll make some phone calls see what I can do"

Holden had flown out en route to Iraq a week later.

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