Chapter 4 - Pear Shaped.

Fiction by ghill

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Chapter 4 - Pear Shaped.

Postby ghill » Thu Mar 10, 2016 4:30 pm

It was Holden thought akin to a scene out of bad spaghetti western. They stepped through the gateway and two dozen assorted firearms were cocked and pointed in their direction. Scattered around what had clearly at one time been the loading bay for the little factory, small groups of armed men about their morning chores, were now paying a great deal of interest in what Holden and the German did next. Holden felt the sweat drip down the back of his neck and wondered if the German’s bulk would protect him from injury if he retreated back through the door. Before he could grab the German and push back out through the doorway, Herr Juntz had stepped forward arm raised in greeting. "Assalam-o-Alaikum, I seek Suleiman Sabawi Al-Tikriti. If he is here could you tell him, his friend von Junzt is here." Holden watched two dozen men shift restlessly rifle barrels didn't waver, the courtyard remained almost silent except for the sound of breathing. Holden was wondering whether addressing the men in English, rather than Arabic was a smart move on the German's behalf when Von Junzt spoke again, this time in Arabic. Holden assumed he was saying the same thing but his own Arabic ended with please and thank you, so beyond the names the German could have been saying anything. This time there was a result at the back of the courtyard two men conferred for a moment before one disappeared through an open doorway.

Most of the men returned to their chores, but a number remained where they were, their guns while not aimed at Holden and von Juntz certainly still pointed their general direction. Finally the man returned, this time accompanied by a large man in late middle age, red faced, with thick hair plastered to his head, his torso like some large soft egg, his belly strained against the buttons of a pair of well-worn combat trousers. The man reached into the pocket of a black leather waistcoat worn over a white cotton shirt both a size to small stretched to breaking over a spreading belly, thick pudgy fingers came out grasping a hand rolled cigarette which he stuck into his mouth. As he looked up at von Junzt and Holden then somewhat alarmingly he smiled.

"I know his type" thought Holden "the jolly fat man all benevolence, good humour and bonhomie on the outside, twisted fuck on the inside". Holden looked at the man’s eyes they were dark, made small by the puffiness of his face, they were the only part of his face which wasn't smiling. von Junzt stepped forward hand outstretched. "Assalam-o-Alaikum, Suleiman, old friend. How are you?" Holden noted Suleiman took the time to draw deeply on the cigarette before hiding von Junzt's hand within the grip of his own. Allowing the German's hand to wave in the air for a few moments. Then he laughed. "Welcome, welcome my friend, welcome to my humble abode, not quite my old home, I'm sure you'll agree, but the company is good." Suleiman laughs and some of the assembled men closest to him join in, but then he stops laughing abruptly, he looks at Holden as though noticing him for the first time.

"I must have words with my nephew, I am sure I instructed him to tell you to come alone, yet my men tell me you are here with enough men to start a small war, I would be very upset if I thought it was because you did not trust me." Holden notes for the first time von Junzt looks a bit unsure of himself and Holden wonders whether the German has over estimated his reception, he watches as von Junzt makes some excuses about the state of lawlessness caused by the presence of the Americans and how Saddam would never had allowed things to get so bad. Suleiman waves a hand. "The matter is forgotten. Let us go inside and we will talk about the tablet over some tea" He points his cigarette at Holden. "This one will stay outside" Holden, made to protest but again found himself staring down the barrel several as men moved to block his path. von Junzt turned. “Its OK Mr Holden, I am among friends here. There is no need for you to worry about my safety, wait outside with the cars I will return shortly.”

Holden didn't waste time arguing. Just as he’d done at the museum the day before, von Junzt didn't wait for a response but simply turned his back and disappeared inside the building after Suleiman. Holden reached behind him for the door, making sure he didn't take his eyes of the occupants of the loading bay, with much searching and laughter from those assembled in the loading bay, he found the door and pulling it open stepped through. Outside he had to explain to the others what was going on, the teams response to this was universally negative and very vocal. von Junzt’s attitude had already made him unpopular with the rest of the team and his decision to leave the team while they stood around it what was one of Iraq's most hostile towns did nothing to improve their general feelings towards the man.

The team stood under an increasingly hot sun watching for activity among the growing number of local people on the streets. Fingers remained, if not on triggers then very close, no one paced about, and talk was limited to brief updates as each member of the team informed the others about what changed about the things they could see. One and all they fought boredom. Holden watched the locals, they showed some interest in the team, a brave few waved but the majority of the adults turned their back on the team when they realise they were being watched, they weren't particularly aggressive towards the team, some kids even ran up to them demanding sweets. Most simply seemed sullen which didn’t surprise Holden considering how much of their town lay in rubble. "It’s a tough environment" he thought "they have little to be happy about, so no surprise they don't like us."

An hour later Jock reported a mixed patrol of US marines and police crossing a junction further up the road, some members of the patrol and Holden and Jock jogged the short distance to the junction to check in with the patrol commander, a young Hawaiian, who was happy to break routine in order to chant with the Brits who were stupid enough to come to Fallujah by choice. Fifteen minutes later they all heard the crackle and pop of gunfire, they listened as only professionals can, following the progress of the ambush, by the tempo of the gunfire and explosions. They all wonder whether they are going to get caught up in the Americans fire fight but eventually it quietened down.

After two hours Holden was just starting to wonder if he should go back through the gates and find von Junzt, then all of the sudden the man appeared, saying nothing as he went to the car withdrew his Samsonite briefcase from the back sear and started walking back to the compound. Holden rushed over from the position he taken up on the other side of the street. He wanted to tell von Junzt he was putting them all at considerable risk staying in one location for so long. It was as far as Holden could see all an unnecessary risk. But Holden was too slow off the mark, Despite calling for him to stop, von Junzt simply waved his hand dismissing Holden without a glance and had stepped back through the gate before Holden could grab him. Holden was standing outside the gate swearing to himself when the gate cracked opened and von Junzt's head appeared.

"Tell everyone to get ready I'll be out in five minutes and we will need to leave immediately"

Then just as quickly as he had arrived von Junt was gone again, leaving a fuming Holden to inform the rest of the team they are going to move in five minutes. Von Junzt is true to his word, five minutes later he returns; without the Samsonite briefcase but with what looked to be some kind of stone tablet wrapped in an old worn tea cloth. He almost runs to the car. "Everyone in,we go, we go now." Holden is unsure whether to be amused or worried by the fact he notices von Junzt's German accent shows through when he is worried. He puts the thought out of his mind as moments after von Junt bundles himself into the back seat, the two 4 x 4's are pulling out into the road and Pat foot down start asking directions to confirm the quickest route out of town. Then all of a sudden it kicked off.

At the back of his mind Holden thought the attacker, whoever he was wasn't particularly well trained. Rather than firing short controlled bursts the shooter was simply firing one long burst and marching his fire up the street towards the car. Holden watched almost transfixed as tracers ricocheted down the narrow street, while others kicked up gout's of tarmac, dirt and concrete from the road each round getting closer and closer to the car. The Ambush hadn't been particularly slick or well planned, they'd turned into a street which should have lead them directly to a main road heading out of the town, but as the first car had made the turn two vehicles had pulled out to block their path a dusty red pick-up and a battered white Mercedes, the shooting started as the drivers of both vehicles had jumped out and ran for cover.

Considering the accuracy of the ambushers in retrospect Holden thought it was probably a fluke they hit the 4x4. The first long burst of fire blew out the windscreen, the heavy rounds throwing Pat and jock back in their seats all while Holden was still glancing behind them to make sure the way was clear and shouting at Pat to reverse as he did so. The air inside the car was thick with dust thrown up by the impacts of the rounds and Holden had to almost work by touch as he lent forward past the driver’s seat feeling for and then trying to pull Pat off the steering wheel. Pat's chest was covered with blood and Holden couldn't find a pulse, he gave up when several more of the heavy machine gun rounds hit the car, it sounded and felt like someone was jumping on the car's bonnet. The second round blew the remainder of the windscreen out and punched a fist sized hole through Pat's body, the driver’s seat, and the rear passenger seat only missing Holden by the smallest of margins. It filled the car with more smoke, glass, dust and blood. Holden didn't have to to check on Jock there was little remaining of him which was recognisable he wasn't going to stay in the car. Grabbing von Junzt by his jacket, Holden kicked the passenger side door open only to have it torn off its hinges moments later as it was struck by one of the large rounds pummelling the car.

Crawling on all fours the two men piled out of the Hyundai, as they did so they felt it lurch almost tipping them out onto the kerb; another heavy round had struck the front axle and broke it in two. Clear of the four by four they sat momentarily in the gutter. Fifty metres down the road the other 4x4 had stopped, it was slewed across the road the remainder of the team using it as cover to pour fire down the road towards their ambushers. He saw Dennis the driver of the second car caught sight of them both and start to wave frantically gesturing for them to run back to the second car. Holden thought momentarily about grabbing the German and dragging him along the road to the safety of the others, but their own 4x4 was still being hammered by their unseen attackers another at the end of the street. He might make it but Holden decided there was no way the German would make it in a sprint to the second car. They needed a safer route.

He hauled the German to his feet and pushed him towards the rusted iron door which marked the entrance to someone’s home. The door was locked or bolted but definitely not opening, they squeezed themselves into the doorway as their attackers continued to pour fire into the car behind them, distracted by the pyrotechnics their ambushers systematically shot it apart. Suddenly the door was pulled open from the other side and Holden found himself staring into the face of a very startled Iraqi. The Iraqi started to shout and both fumbled to bring their weapons to bear, Holden slammed his shoulder against the door pushing it open at the same time dragging his Demarco around, pushing its muzzle through the now open doorway and burying it in the man’s stomach before pulling the trigger. It wasn't like the movies, the man wasn't thrown back, he simply crumpled where he stood.

Pulling von Junzt through the door Holden found himself in a small courtyard, he put his back against the door and started pushing it closed. The second Iraqi came running out of the house just as they pushed the door shut behind them. A young man wearing a worn faded ACDC "Black Ice" tour shirt he was struggling to load an RPG launcher as he went, totally oblivious to Holden and von Junzt. Holden snapped a short burst of fire into the young man. They were both careful to step over the dead Iraqi as they moved across the small courtyard through a doorway into the house. Holden moved to stand just inside the doorway hidden in shadow, every so often he'd lean forward just enough, to scan the outside; the two Iraqis they'd run into as they entered the courtyard, lay bleeding in the sun, the one with the rocket launcher definitely dead, but every so often in the lulls between bursts of fire outside, he'd hear the first one softly grunting in pain to himself.

Outside the gunfire seemed to slacken and he could hear what sounded like the team second vehicle driving away. He knew the team would be driving back to the last agreed rendezvous point, an alley a several hundred meters back along their route, he hoped conditions would allow them to wait there a few minutes so he and the von Juntz could get back to them, but if the team had other casualties they'd want to get back them back to the US base and proper medical attention. Holden and von Juntz would be expected to hide or extract themselves, the latter in Fallujah seemed a very unlikely proposition. Holden tried his radio handset again, glancing down he noticed the out case had a large crack in it, it must have have been damaged as he pushed through the doorway; despite his best efforts all Holden could get out of the radio was the hiss of static. Behind him the von Junzt crouched in the middle of the doorway by the body of the second Iraqi; Holden thought he might be having a bit of a breakdown until he heard him muttering to himself, momentarily Holden wondered why Latin, then realised von Juntz must be praying.

Noise at the back of the house made them both look up, Holden gripped the Demarco and shifted towards the corner of the room away from the doorway from where he could cover both the doors, he hissed at von Junzt trying to attract his attention, but the German simply held up a hand to silence him rocking backwards and forwards on his heels he reached forward and started to draw in the Iraqi's blood with his finger. "Cock!, he's flipped" thought Holden. Standing, Holden took two quick steps across the room, reaching out with one hand intent on grabbing the von Junzt by the collar and pulling him back into the corner, as he did so he realised he'd made a serious mistake. The Iraqi stepping through the doorway had his weapon already at the shoulder and instantly swung it to cover where the two of them crouched by the body. There was absolutely no way Holden was going to be able to bring his gun to bear before the Iraqi shot them both, unlike the amateurs in the street this man carried himself like a professional, weapon up, butt in the shoulder already in the aim position.

"It’s all right mate, no need to do anything hasty” Holden lay the Demarco down on the ground, then held out his hands palm up. See mate no gun." The Iraqi lent into the room checking the corners, he yelled in Arabic to someone out of sight, somewhere from the back of the house another voice answered back. Holden continued trying to keep his voice level and not show any fear. "We just all need to be calm about this mate, no reason we can't be friendly, we're worth more to you alive than dead eh." The Iraqi ignored him, walked into the room and knelt down by the body quickly checking for a pulse, then frisking the body. Holden wondered whether he should try overpowering him but the Iraqis gun rested on his knees muzzle pointing uncomfortably at Holden’s crotch, unless he could overpower him straight away he'd likely wind up seriously injured, after which the Iraqi's friends would likely arrive and kill them both.

"He was like that when we got here mate, we tried to save him but he was dead already". Still the Iraqi ignored him, Holden didn't think they'd have much chance of walking away from this any time, unless they could get him to recognise they were human beings rather than some kind of irritation, yet nothing he said seemed to make any difference to the Iraqi fighter, who seemed prepared to act as though they weren't there. Holden made to start another overture, thinking perhaps he could offer him money. Just prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq Saddam announced a general amnesty for virtually all the nation's prisoners, while some of these were political the greater part were common criminals most of whom were happy to shoot at Coalition forces in exchange for the money from any number of sources including Al Queda and Iran. Holden didn't think the offer would work, apart from not killing them both immediately this bloke seemed to be acting pretty professional, but even if he was, it didn't hurt to offer.

"We're worth a lot of money alive mate we..." Holden stopped mid-sentence. The Iraqi had simply stood up and walked outside while Holden was talking hadn't even given either of them a backwards glance. Outside Holden watched as the Iraqi knelt and checked the man in the courtyard and then pulled the door to the compound open just enough to slip through and disappear out into the street.

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