MIKE JOHNSON - I started writing late in life. Age sixty four to be exact so I suppose that comes under the category: it’s never too late to learn! I’m English from the county of Yorkshire but moved to Spain in the year 2000. My writing career began after meeting other published author’s here on the Costa del Sol. My first novel; Dragon - written in long hand at first would you believe – was edited by my wife who I found was more than capable – and far less expensive – than the Publishers. The next two novels in the series; The Korean Connection and The Buddha in Ice followed soon after. It may be of interest to learn the wrap around front covers were designed by me, and illustrated by a local design company. You have no idea how cost effective that is for a first time writer self-publishing? In between these novels I began writing short stories: The Little Home on Wheels was one of them, but my readers wanted to know; what happened next? The story begins here in Spain in places I have visited and know well.
The small convoy set off again with Alex taking up the rear. They would stop for a rest every two to three hours but even so the constant driving was not something she was not used to and asked Congo to take over for a while. That evening she was glad to make camp by the road side.
Carmen noticed the strain taking effect and joined her in the motorhome ‘you should get some sleep Alex we should reach your village tomorrow I would think’
‘Thanks Carmen but I can’t help worrying what has happened to the hospital and dad would remind me what you have just said’
‘I don’t understand’
‘You said my village. He keeps warning me not to get personally involved, but it’s hard not to’
‘Oh I see. Your father is a wise man and a respected surgeon you told me?’
‘Mum as well. When I was growing up my parents used to discuss their patients at home. I must have been absorbing all that information without realising it but in truth I was really interested in medicine. By the time I was sixteen I had read most of the medical journals in the house while most of my friends were discussing the latest gossip in the Hello magazine. Bit of a conversation stopper that was. I delayed entering medical college until I had passed all my degrees and then waited another year until I was sure it was what I really wanted and not just following in my parent’s footsteps. They separated that year by the way’
‘I’m sorry to hear that’ Carmen sympathised.
‘Everything turned out well in the end but at the time I didn’t realise how upset I was with both of them. Three years flashed by before I knew it. I was top of the class all the time of course much to my colleague’s annoyance. Then it happened!’
Carmen was fascinated by her story ‘what happened?’
‘One day I was sat in the hospital canteen having a drink when the walls seemed to start closing in on me. It was like a scene from the Star Wars movie when they get trapped rescuing the princess. I was sweating, shaking and feeling really weird. It was at this point I pulled the engagement ring off my finger’
‘What engagement ring?’
‘Oh sorry I forgot to mention that I had become engaged to Terry another doctor in the hospital. Even now I can’t explain why I agreed to marry him it just kind of happened. Anyway once the ring was off my finger I calmed down. I just sat there for ages assessing my life and what I wanted to achieve. One week later I was on a plane to Africa having joined help the Children’
‘You did break it off with the young man before you left didn’t you?’
‘Err not quite!’ she answered fidgeting a little.
‘Come on Alex you can’t stop now’
‘Oh crap!’ she sighed ‘it wasn’t one of my finer moments but that turned out for the best as it happened. I put the ring in an envelope and asked another doctor, one of the few I was friendly with to give it to him’
‘Oh Alex you didn’t. Why did it turn out for the best?’
‘The friend was very pretty and I know she had a crush on him. The last I heard they were due to be married next year. People fall in love in mysterious ways’ she started singing.
Carmen was in tears ‘Oh Alex you tell a good story that’s for sure’
‘Thanks Carmen you’re one of the few people I’ve confessed that to’ she really was a nice person thought Alex.
‘You know when I first saw this motorhome I thought it was quite quirky but impractical. I have to say I’m really enjoying being around it. The toilet facilities are a lot better than what I was used to that’s for sure. Privacy is a premium on these road trips’
‘You can say that again. How is Colene coping by the way?’ she asked ‘this being her first trip so to speak’
‘That young lady has been sent by god that’s for sure. She never complains or argues the point and I think you are beginning to realise she is an exceptional nurse’
‘I won’t argue with that. In fact, I’m surprised she hasn’t thought of becoming a doctor herself?’
‘I did ask her that once but she just said she was happy being a nurse. Not everybody has your persona Alex’
‘I’ve never been told I have a persona Carmen’ she grinned.
‘Don’t be cheeky young lady you know what I mean. It would never occur to you not to treat a patient would it; no matter what the circumstances? You may question what the best treatment would be but after that self-doubt would be out of the question?’
‘You know I have never thought about it’ she mused.
‘Good!’ she told her ‘don’t start now. You are young, talented and dedicated to your profession. I was going to say you will be a wonderful doctor someday but I think that day is already here’ she said standing up ‘good night and god bless Alex’
Alex watched her go and suddenly began crying. It would be a restless night.
The convoy made good time mainly due to the lack of traffic on the road. The N3 was also a decent enough road although in need of repair in places. It was when they reached Kiffa the problems started.
The road block was a rudimentary affair just enough to stop any traffic and warn them of the dangers ahead. Heavily armed soldiers sat under trees or awnings but made no effort to stop them.
It was the same at Ayoun el Atrous but here the soldiers actively questioned why they needed to go any further. It was obvious to anyone the convoy was a charity and carried medical supplies. They warned us however that the Red Cross on the side of the containers would not stop the raiders from attacking them.
At the town of Timbedra they came to a halt. The soldiers refused to let them travel any further until the all clear was given from the forward troops. Congo did his best to persuade them but in the end even he admitted it would be foolish to continue until the situation became clear.
They made camp and avoided Alex.
The next morning a soldier entered their camp and saluted smartly ‘I understand you have a doctor in your party?’ he asked in French.
Jack responded first ‘Yes can we be of assistance?’
‘My sergeant was injured three days ago but refuses to be evacuated. He is in command while our Captain is in the forward position’
‘One moment and I will fetch Doctor Trent’ he said moving away to collect her.
When she arrived she questioned the Corporal ‘what kind of accident?’
‘My sergeant is not a man to ask his troops to do anything he wouldn’t do’ he told her proudly ‘but in this instance he should have let one of the men test the bridge first’
‘The bridge was not as strong as he thought and it collapsed underneath him. The medic is with the forward troops but he refused to order him back. We think his leg is broken but there was also a gash in his leg’
‘Let me get my medical bag and I will come with you’
‘I’ll accompany you Alex’ Carmen announced running to collect her own bag.
The sergeant was in his own tent with a guard outside. Alex knew instantly she entered the tent that the man was very ill.
Pulling on a mask and gloves she preceded to unravel the blood sodden bandage. When it was fully removed Carmen had to look away for a minute. Alex ignored the gore and sniffed the wound.
When she looked up Carmen knew exactly what she was about to say ‘gangrene?’
‘I’m afraid so and well advanced. The skin is pale and greyish and is making a crackling sound when I touch it. He has a very high temperature and is sweating like the proverbial pig’
‘Can we do anything for him?’
‘If I don’t remove the leg in the next few hours he’s as good as dead. Even if I do remove it there is no guarantee the infection hasn’t already spread up to his calf?’
‘I think we should inform the Corporal and let him make the decision. This man is in no state to do that’ Carmen told her.
The Corporal given him his due didn’t flinch ‘if he can be saved then so be it. What do wish me to do?’
‘Sister Carmen will administer a drip and start pumping him with anti-biotics. If I attempt to operate in that tent he will more than likely die anyway so that’s not an option? Give me one hour to prepare then stretcher the sergeant to the motorhome. You’re now going to find out why I won’t let anyone into the bedroom’ she told Carmen.
Back at the camp she told everyone what was happening then turned to Congo.
‘I’m going to need your help Congo’
‘Anything you need doctor just ask’
‘Ok if you’re sure. I want you to get completely naked and come into the motorhome!’ she told him then turned to the other two men ‘please close your mouths gentlemen it’s not what it seems. When I was in Gibraltar I made a few changes to the interior. The double bed was removed to be replaced by a single one that can be turned upside down to make a passible operating table. Plastic sheeting is positioned all around the room and can be dropped down to make it reasonably sterile. There is also an arc lamp that can be plugged in and hung from the ceiling’ she informed them then turned to Congo once more ‘you need to use some sterilising soap I’m going to give you. Use the shower and scrub yourself until it hurts. Then I want you to convert the bedroom to what I’ve just described, can you do that?’
‘Leave it to me doctor’ he said already moving away and discarding clothing.
‘As soon as Congo starts on the bedroom I will scrub up’ she said then turned to Colene ‘this is going to be a messy and tricky operation Colene; are you up to it?’
‘Maybe I should scrub up first doctor to help Congo. Do I have to be naked as well?’
Alex had to stop her-self from smiling too much ‘no I think a hospital gown will be required for you but not wearing anything else would help us to keep cool I suppose. Those arc lights will make the room very hot even with the air-conditioning on’
When Colene moved away she spoke to Jack and Freddie ‘there is no guarantee the man will survive even if I remove the leg successfully’
‘Right now you’re the only chance he’s got Alex what can we do?’
‘When the stretcher comes he will need to be man handled into the operating room. You cannot enter the motorhome for risk of infection so pass him over to Congo’
‘Very well leave it to us’
When she was out of earshot Jack turned to his friend ‘that’s one hell of a woman Freddie and that’s for sure!’
The sergeant was already well sedated as Alex entered the temporary operating theatre. The idea to convert the bedroom had been in the back of her mind since Henri suggested she travel to Africa in it. By the time she reached Gibraltar her plans were well advanced. The Royal Engineers were only too happy to help out.
‘Ok let’s begin’ she told Colene automatically reverting to French.
Jack and Freddie played cards.
The Corporal stood to attention in the background and didn’t move.
Three hours later the door of the motorhome swung open and everyone froze.
‘The operation was successful. I mean the patient didn’t die on me’ she laughed to herself ‘it will be another 24 hours before we know for certain the gangrene hasn’t spread to his upper leg’
The Corporal walked forward and saluted ‘thankyou doctor I will inform the men’
‘He will need to be moved to a hospital as soon as possible Corporal’
‘I have already contacted command. They are waiting for a report on his condition before they send a helicopter to transport him’
Alex resisted the temptation to say what she was thinking ‘good’ was all she said.
Carmen approached ‘I will relieve Colene. Why don’t you get some rest?’
‘Thank you Carmen I will. I think by the way Colene is the best nurse I have ever worked with’
‘I’ll let her know that, she will be pleased’
Twenty four hours later the good news was the sergeant would survive. A helicopter had been dispatched to transport him to hospital in the Capitol city Nouakchott.
Alex was now determined more than ever to see her village and the hospital. She would not be satisfied until she knew the people were safe.
Jack returned from a meeting with the Corporal.
She was about to start bullying him to take her but he stopped her ‘the Corporal and his men will escort us all the way to the village. He suggests we leave the little home on wheels here and just take the Land Rover’
‘The little home on wheels; I like that’ Alex grinned.
‘Sister Carmen and Colene should stay here as well; to look after the patient of course’
‘Tactfully put Mister Warner’ Sister Carmen smiled.
‘When you’re ready we’ll leave?’ he announced.
The two trucks full of soldiers slowed to a crawl as they approached the village.
Two by two the soldiers dropped down from the rear and disappeared into the
scrub on either side of the road.
Jack was impressed ‘whoever trained these men has done a good job’ he told her.
The village was deserted. So was the hospital. It had been ransacked and looted but thankfully there were no signs of violence.
‘According to the Corporal the village had warning the raiders were in the area and decided to move out of the village’
‘But where did they go to?’
‘I’ve scouted the area and found lots of tracks moving west’
‘But that’s the direction we came from isn’t it?’
‘Yes but these tracks lead into the bush. I guess the thinking was it would be harder for the raiders to catch them?’
‘That’s typical of Doctor Jacques always thinking ahead’
‘Was that the man in charge of the hospital?’
‘Yes, he’s more like a native he’s been here that long. If anybody can keep the people of the village alive it would be him’
‘Well the good news is there are no bodies and no signs of violence. What do you want to do?’
‘Now the soldiers are here do you think this place will be safe for the villages to return?’
‘I would think so. If my information is correct these men have travelled a long way from their usual home in the bush. With such little pickings it would be a waste of time returning’
‘In that I case I want to leave the Medical supplies here. Could we hide them somewhere just in case?’
‘It’s a risk but I don’t see why not. Without them the Land Rovers could possible track your people over land; but that was your thinking wasn’t it?’ he suddenly realised ‘dam it Alex you would make a dam fine tactical officer in the military!’
‘So let’s get going’
‘No chance Alex and this time I mean it. The charity has already been on my case about putting you in danger. I’ll call up Freddie with the other supplies and we’ll start to unload and hide them. You’ll be going back with the Corporal and no arguments!’
Alex knew it was no good arguing. She had pushed her luck getting this far but now she was sure the village people were safe she had no more excuses ‘very well Jack but please radio us or something if you do catch up with them?’
‘I promise Alex. Now you and the other two ladies should return to the Capital where you will be safe’
Alex reluctantly agreed.
By the time Alex returned to their camp site the motorhome had been thoroughly cleaned.
‘Where has Congo disappeared to’ she asked Carmen.
‘He went to see the Corporal I think. Ah here he comes’ she said pointing up the road.
‘Are you ready to go?’ she asked him noticing his reluctance to hurry.
Congo frowned and scratched his head clearly something was bothering him.
‘What is it Congo? We’re all friends here aren’t we?’
He looked at the doctor and made a decision ‘Mister Warner will not like it if you disobey him and don’t return to the coast’
‘Why should we not return to the coast?’ Alex asked sensing he was trying to tell her something.
‘The Corporal has just informed me the people of your village are close to the border with Mali. They will soon be out of the armies’ jurisdiction as they are in another country’
‘But Jack told me they were all heading west to the coast. I don’t understand?’
‘It seems Jack was not telling you the truth Alex. You can understand why?’
‘Dam it Jack!’ she swore.
She began to pace up and down trying to think what to do. The motorhome was their only source of transport something Jack had obviously considered when taking the two Land Rovers. She had been tricked and she didn’t like it.
Carmen looked at Colene who just nodded in her direction ‘are you sure?’ she asked her.
She nodded again to confirm she agreed.
‘Alex!’ she called ‘the quickest way to Mali is south along the RN4 if I’m not mistaken’
Alex had not seen the exchange and was caught off guard ‘Carmen I can’t ask you to come with me. I’ll get you back to the capital I promise’ she said now looking guilty at not discussing things with them.
‘You know as well as I do it is too far for one person to drive by themselves. You don’t believe we would abandon you now do you?’
She was lost for words but none where needed. They boarded the motorhome and set off.
Later that day they entered Mali. The RN4 road would eventually reach the capital Bamako but she hoped that they would meet up with the villagers before then.
Congo was confident they would ‘there are women and children but no patients from the hospital. Your doctor Jacques had the good sense to send them west in the only trucks they had. It means they are walking but should be making good time’
‘We could go faster?’ she suggested.
‘Not a good idea doctor. This is a fine vehicle but these roads have deep potholes. If we get a puncture that’s not too bad but anything worse and we could be in trouble’ he said steering carefully around a bend in the road.
He really was a good driver she thought but he still had that worried look. I wonder why?
‘How long have you worked with Jack and Freddie?’ she asked casually.
‘About three years now’ he shrugged keeping his eyes on the road ahead.
‘Did you meet in England or in Africa?’
‘Both!’ he answered not wanting to elaborate.
‘Have you worked for the charity long?’
It wasn’t working. He would evade her questions all day and she knew it.
Very well let’s try something else ‘was your military training very hard?’
That made him glance sideways quickly ‘I don’t understand doctor I’m just a driver for the charity’
‘Congo it’s time we stopped playing games and before we leave each other I want to know your real name’
He grinned flashing a smile he had not shown before ‘the Brigadier warned me to be careful around you doctor and he was right. It’s time we made camp for the night’ he said pulling onto the side of the road.
Congo erected a small tent for himself; the women would sleep inside the motorhome but with all the doors and windows wide open.
They needed to preserve as much fuel as possible ‘there’re not many petrol stations around here’ Congo had warned them.
When they had settled down for the night she approached Congo ‘you know I’m going to keep asking questions until I get to know what is happening so why don’t you just tell me?’
‘The Brigadier will not be happy with me Alex if I do’
‘In that case I promise not to discuss it with anyone’
He looked at the doctor and was glad there were people like this one in the world.
He had been skeptical of her abilities at first but after the way she had saved the sergeant, and worked with the refugees in the camp he admitted he had been wrong, very wrong.
‘Jack was in the SAS until recently. He recruited me in Africa after my family were murdered. If it wasn’t for him, I would have hunted the men down and killed them and probably been killed in the process. I was not a soldier you see but a scholar.
My father sent me away to England to be educated. You are our future he told me when I left. It was because of him I agreed to do things a different way than just killing for revenge’
‘You said Jack was in the SAS but I have a feeling he still keeps in touch with the military?’
‘Officially we work for the charity as you do but with the understanding we are free to help out the authorities, your MOD for example if it does not involve any of their employees directly’
‘People like me, Carmen and Colene you mean?’
‘Yes. Our contract states quite clearly we should never put you in danger if at all possible’
‘I guess that could be difficult here in Africa’ she said feeling a bit guilty over her attitude to Jack.
Now he had started Congo decided to explain the rest ‘things are a lot more complicated than you realise doctor’
‘I think you should explain it to me then!’
‘The recent terrorist’s attacks in some of the capital cities of Europe not to mention Tunisia and Egypt have made the security services nervous to say the least. The fundamentalist aren’t only in Syria and Iraq but in Africa too. Mali for example is split into ethnic fractions even more complicated than Syria.
The military coup last March that ousted Toure resulted in Tuareg rebels seizing the north of the country in a revolt and later hijacked by Islamist radicals. Mali is a former French colony and Africa's third-largest gold producer by the way.
The recent attack on the Radisson hotel in the Capital Bamako has forced the government to take action against the militants’
‘I see. They’re afraid the rebels might capture the gold mines just like they did in Syria with the oil fields?’
‘Imagine what they could do with a few million Euros to spend on armaments?’
‘But how are you Jack and Freddie involved in all this?’ she asked.
‘Until 24 hours ago we weren’t officially. The Brigadier got a call from London asking his whereabouts. When he explained where he was and what he was doing they asked him to provide any Intel on the rebels that he could. When he advised them he may be heading into Mali they really where interested’
‘Is he in any danger?’ she asked worried for his safety which would have made a career soldier like Jack smile for sure.
Congo delayed his answer not sure what to say but in the end he decided they needed to know what they were heading into ‘doctor we may just be heading into a war zone!’
Jack had no trouble tracking the villagers as they headed east. He could even establish when they made camp. He could then calculate the distance travelled each day. The two vehicles would travel on a parallel course through the bush. In that way they would not lose the track if the villagers decided to alter their course.
When he had agreed to find the villagers it had been to placate the doctor who would have insisted on going after them. Her tenacity had surprised him.
But the reason had now changed.
A few hours earlier he had received a coded message from London.
‘We have to stop the villagers crossing into Mali’ he told Freddie ‘if we don’t they’re going to be in the middle of a firefight’
A call came over the radio ‘Jack I’ve found the villagers’ Freddie informed him ‘they’re camped beside a small river due north of your position’
‘Great. Make contact with that doctor Jacques and I’ll be there ASAP’
Doctor Jacques was everything he had expected. Tall but stooped with the coming of age. Unruly hair sticking out from under the spectacles and always looked like he needed a shave. His eyes however were clear and bright and bore into you. You had the feeling you shouldn’t try and lie to a man like this.
Jack explained what was happening and gave him the good news it was safe to return to his village. He also explained where the medical supplies were hidden.
‘Tell that young lady thank you and that we will be alright without her. That wasn’t meant to be unkind by the way. She is a dedicated and exceptional doctor but wasted in an out of the way place like ours’
‘I’ll give her the message I promise’
Before the two vehicles set off Freddie contacted Congo to make sure they had reached the Capital.
The look on his face when he pulled off the head phones said it all ‘you’re not going to like this boss’
‘What has she been up to now?’
He told him.
‘That woman has done it again. How far into Mali are they?’
He told him.
‘Shit!!!’ he cursed ‘Call Congo and tell him to get back across the border. The damned rebels are heading straight towards them. If they get caught out in the open, they could be in trouble’
Command post Alpha was located only a few miles from the airport at Mopti in Mali but few if any civilians knew it existed. It was home to the French and now British Special Forces and the command centre for the Drone aircraft now flying Recon missions all over Mali.
The eight man SAS team, the helicopter pilot and his co-pilot had just returned from one such mission and were relaxing in their compound.
A courier entered the tent, saluted smartly and handed a message over the teams Commander who nodded and said he would go now.
‘Wonder what that was all about?’ one of the team asked his comrades.
‘If it’s another mission the French can sod off I need a beer and some entertainment’ he moaned.
Half an hour later the Commander returned. He glanced around the tent and settled his eyes on one person who suddenly became very uncomfortable. The rest of the team sensing something was about to happen went silent and waited. The Commander knew his men intimately and did not keep anything from them.
‘Flight Lieutenant John Spencer we need to talk’ he announced.
John stood to attention ‘yes sir?’ he responded puzzled at what he had done wrong.
‘You have only been with us a short time Lieutenant but we have been impressed with your ability as a flyer. I think the men will agree to that?’ he stated getting nods of agreement from the others.
‘Thank you; sir!’ he responded now even more puzzled.
‘Forgive me if I intrude on your private life for a moment Lieutenant but what did you get up to on your recent leave of absence?’
The men were now sat up and paying attention. Something was going on and their Commander was milking it for all it was worth.
John gulped unsure how to answer ‘I’m sorry Major but I’m not sure what you want to know?’ now really puzzled by the questioning.
The Commander walked towards him and produced a set of aerial photographs.
‘Did you by any chance purchase a motorhome and register the vehicle in the UK?’
John accepted the black and white photographs and his jaw dropped open.
‘What I need to ask Lieutenant is why the said vehicle is now in the middle of Africa?’
John couldn’t answer. He just gaped at the photograph. He recognised the motor home immediately there was no doubt it was his vehicle. The number plate stood out clearly in a blow up.
‘I take it by your expression Lieutenant that you were not aware the vehicle was actually in Africa am I correct?’
John recovered his senses ‘I left the motorhome with Alex, sorry Doctor Trent when I left Spain. She was going to sell it for me. I haven’t been in contact since the beginning of this mission as per my orders Sir’
The Commander smiled ‘take a seat John we need to talk’
John sat down willingly trying to make sense of it.
‘It was a simple matter to trace the vehicle from the number plate. The French were really surprised when they spotted it from one of the drones. You don’t get too many British camper vans in this part of the world’
John was tempted to correct him but kept quiet now was not the time ‘Doctor Trent works for help the Children, a UK based charity organisation. I can only assume she has travelled here in the motorhome to help out in some way. I thought she was going back to the UK?’
‘You appear to know the young woman quite well John is there something we need to know?’
The team were now all leaning forward. This was too good to be true.
John gulped knowing he was going to get ribbed by the team from now on ‘we were close’ was all he said.
That response got a few whoops and guffaws.
‘Settle down boys I’m afraid this is more serious than it seems’ the Commander said producing more aerial photographs ‘these were taken shortly afterwards. The French have been tracking a breakaway group of insurgents. As we all know the regular army with French commandos have been operating in the North of the country with much success. It means however it has created a vacuum further south which we have been tasked to monitor. The breakaway group are small in number but heavily armed. Until now the French have been content to let them move north unmolested thinking they should be out of the country soon. Two days ago they decided to alter course’
The Major opened up a folded map of the area and put three crosses on it with a marker pen.
‘This first cross indicates where the insurgents are now. They are heavily armed like I said but are also mobilised which means they are catching up to this group of people here who are on foot’ he said pointing to the next cross.
‘Who are they?’ one of the men asked.
The Major didn’t clarify but said ‘The French contacted them and advised them to move away from the area until they could mobilise a unit to protect them. That will not happen for another 48 hours’
‘By which time they’ll be dead’ the man decided as a matter of fact.
‘Correct Sergeant and so will the people here if they don’t move away’ he said pointing to the next cross on the map.
No one wanted to ask the question, they all looked at John who was having trouble breathing ‘that’s the motorhome isn’t it?’
The men all looked at their pilot. He had not been with the team very long but they all realised he was good at his job and would not let them down if they got into trouble on a mission. There were no more wise-cracks. People’s lives were at risk.
‘Have you any idea what that vehicle is doing here or who the people are?’
Before he could respond the tent flap opened and the same courier entered, saluted and passed over a message. He saluted again and left.
The Major read the message carefully digesting the implications of what it revealed.
Finally, he turned to John ‘the situation is getting more complicated by the minute. The vehicle is on loan to the charity. The motorhome and two Land Rovers with medical supplies left Gibraltar nearly two weeks ago. They were heading for a village in Mauritania. Apparently the man in charge of the hospital evacuated the villagers and led them towards Mali thinking to lie low until the danger passed. He must have been heading for the other village that is looked after by the same charity. They have now been stopped and are returning home’
‘That’s some good news at least?’ one of the team suggested.
‘Not really. The men tasked with looking after the doctor and another two French nurses, one of them a nun by the way, are not with the Motorhome. They were the ones who caught up with the villagers and sent them home’ he turned to the men ‘you may recognise the name; Jack Warner?’
‘Brigadier Warner your kidding?’ one shouted out.
‘Yes! The man who probably trained most of this team is at this moment trying to catch up with the three women he is supposed to be protecting’
There were murmurs and discussions among the men.
The Major let them continue for a while before he ordered quiet ‘men we all know our mission parameters. We are here as observers and to collect Intelligence. We are not allowed to engage the enemy unless it is self-defence’
‘But Major! The Brigadier is a top man but no way can he fight off a that many armed insurgents’ one shouted out.
Another man put his hand up ‘Major you didn’t answer my earlier question when I asked who represented the other cross on the map?’
The Major took a deep breath before he answered ‘I told you the villagers were heading towards another village looked after by the same charity?’
The men all sat up hoping it was not what they expected.
‘The group are from that village. It was set up to look after orphans and mothers without any support. Many of them are pregnant. The children are anywhere between two and fifteen years of age. I don’t have to tell any of you what will happen if the insurgents catch up with them?’
The tent was silent.
The Major was their commanding officer and they would not disobey him.
They waited as he decided what to do.
He suddenly stood up and left the tent ‘wait here’ he told them.
His French counterpart was sitting behind his desk as he entered ‘Ah Major you took your time’ he grinned ‘I understand you and your men wish to carry out a Recon near the border with Mauritania. I think that’s an excellent idea, but it’s a dangerous place maybe you should carry more weaponry this time?’
‘Thank you sir we will do just that’ he replied saluting and nodding his thanks.
Back at the tent the men waited.
He stood in front of them ‘lieutenant what is the readiness of your chopper?’
‘It was being checked over by the ground crew after our last mission. If they haven’t started taking anything apart we can be in the air in two hours’ sir’
‘Well then gentlemen’ he said turning to face the team ‘what are you waiting for. Gear up! We have some people to save!’
Congo had received the order from Jack to turn the motorhome around and head back into Mauritania.
Alex was not arguing with the decision now she knew the villagers were safe and heading home as well.
There were smiles all around as they started to pack away their little camp. They had parked the motorhome on top of a small hillock after taking a dirt path off the main road. It gave them a view of the surrounding bush.
‘The drought has done a lot of damage’ Sister Carmen sighed as she scanned the area one last time.
‘It’s a miracle anything survives out here especially the wild life’
‘You must know I believe in miracles Alex’ she teased.
‘After today maybe I will as well Carmen’ she smiled ‘I’m going to miss you all when this trip is over’
Carmen suddenly stood up on her tiptoes ‘what is that do you think?’ she asked pointing to a cloud of dust in the distance.
Alex strained her eyes ‘a herd of wildebeest or something?’ she speculated.
‘It is moving very slow for a herd and I don’t recall any water holes in this area from the map?’
‘Let me get the binoculars from the motorhome’ she said hurrying away to get them
Alex adjusted the focus until the scene came into view then gasped ‘Oh my god they’re people not animals’ she said passing the binoculars over to Carmen.
Carmen scanned the group then gasped as well ‘not just people Alex. They’re all women and children!’
‘Where have they come from do you think?’ she asked already formulating a plan to help them.
‘The Charity has another mission in Mali. They may be from there. It makes sense’
Congo came strolling over ‘the boss wants to know if we are heading back yet. He will rendezvous with us at the border’
The two women ignored him as they concentrated on the scene in the distance.
He was just about to repeat the request when Alex interrupted ‘you had better tell Jack we are going to be delayed. There are people down there who may need our help’ she told him pointing to the dust cloud.
‘Oh no please don’t do this to me’ he groaned ‘I’m in trouble with the boss already’
Jack had passed on his order to Congo. If the motorhome set off know it would be out of danger within the hour. At their present speed now they had reached the main road they should rendezvous with the motorhome within the next two hours.
He gave a sigh of relieve and relaxed his muscles as the two Land Rovers made their way down the road.
He was concentrating so hard on the road ahead he missed the call on his satellite phone. It was therefore half an hour later when they stopped for a comfort break he read the text message.
‘God dam son of a bitch’ he shouted making Freddie jump.
‘Oh hell what’s happened now’ he said shaking his head.
‘I can’t get Congo on his phone’ he told Freddie ‘and the insurgents are heading straight for them. Why haven’t they got out of the area?’
‘How do you know they haven’t Jack?’
‘It’s because a Drone from the British base camp in Mali has just spotted them again. That message was from London who is in contact with the base. Dam it Freddie if anything happens to those women I won’t forgive myself. Let’s get moving’
Congo had missed the call from Jack because he was at the time sprinting across the bush towards the refugees. He had given up trying to persuade the three women to return after taking the binoculars and scanning the group of women and children below on the plain. He had also spotted another dust cloud further away but heading towards them.
Having pointed out the danger Alex had started to go down from the hillock to warn them.
He stopped her ‘with all due respect doctor you are not built for running any distance through the bush. Also if they see someone coming towards them who they don’t know it may cause panic. We don’t want them heading in the wrong direction do we?’
She admitted it made sense. Five minutes later Congo set off, making good time but watching out for hazards as he went. The bush may look flat but it was pitted with sink holes, small gullies and razor sharp thorn bushes, all of which could cause an injury.
The villagers were unaware of his presence until he suddenly jumped out of a gully beside their path. One or two of the children screamed in fear but he soon settled them down. After a short discussion with the only man who was in charge of the group, they set off towards the hillock in the distance. It was slow going as some of the women were heavily pregnant. As the motorhome came in sight he picked up one or two of the smallest children and sprinted away to the waiting women. He repeated the exercise twice more until everyone was inside the little camp.
Alex, Carmen and Colene ignored the approaching danger and administered to the women in need of help. Alex decided Carmen had more need of the motor home and its crude operating theatre than she did. Twenty minutes after the group arrived the first baby was born.
Congo finally responded to Jacks call that was by this time barrelling down the road towards them at top speed. Thirty minutes later he skidded to a halt at the edge of the now much enlarged camp.
Freddie came up behind him ‘holy shit! What are we going to do with this lot?’ he swore aghast at the sight of so many women and children.
‘We’re going to protect them Freddie, that’s what we are going to do’ Jack announced unfazed ‘let’s break out the containers shall we?’
The containers as Jack put it were located in the boot of the Land Rovers. After clearing away all the luggage and canisters Jack pulled on two lugs and lifted the cover away. Packaged neatly underneath was a small arsenal of weapons including Kevlar bullet proof vests and a small mortar?
‘Congo you take the right side and Freddie you take the left. Get dug in and keep
concealed until I give the word. We are outnumbered and probably out gunned but we’re going to let them know we are here’
Jack approached Alex who immediately started to apologise for her actions but he stopped her.
‘No need to apologise Alex it’s what you do after all. I should have stayed with you but then these people would probably be dead or worse in a few hours. We can only hope the rebels will pass us by but I’m not hopeful. They have left a trail a blind man could follow. If, or when the shooting starts I want everyone to stay as low as possible. I also want you to abandon the motorhome it’s a sitting target’
‘I’m sorry Jack there are two women in there with complications. Carmen is about to perform a caesarean section on one of the women. If we move her she’s as good as dead’
Jack just nodded and started to move away.
Alex stopped him and then threw her arms around him and kissed him on the cheek ‘I just wanted to say thank you!’
The rebels had no trouble following the tracks made by the villagers. It was also obvious by the items left behind that the group where mostly women and children.
The men grinned at what they thought would be an easy target.
The leader surveyed the hillock and decided there was no danger to his men. He ordered them forward.
They began a leisurely stroll up the hillock savouring what lay over the rise. They could even see the top of a vehicle of some kind.
‘I think it’s one of those caravans the stupid Americans use’ one laughed.
It was the last thing he ever said. The bullet took him in the chest and threw him backwards.
His men suddenly started falling dead all around him. He screamed abuse and ordered them back down the hillock and out of range of the deadly fire coming from above.
‘They will pay for this’ he ranted as he redeployed his men ‘circle around the hill and come in from all sides. I count no more than three shooters but they are well concealed so beware’
The NH90 Caiman is a medium sized twin engine military multi roll helicopter developed by NATO. It has the distinction of being the first helicopter to feature entirely fly by wire flight controls.
Flight Lieutenant John Spencer handled the controls with the touch of a formula one racing driver as he flashed over the tree tops.
His co-pilot pointed to a screen on the console. The drone high in the sky above the hillock had recorded the first attack by the rebels.
The Major came over the intercom ‘if we don’t get down there soon the rebels will have them surrounded. It’s your call as usual Lieutenant’ he told him.
‘It’s pointless dropping the team any distance away from the camp but I can’t go in over the rebels heads so I will circle to the east and come in from behind. It won’t be safe abseiling down. You would be sitting targets for those M2 Browning’s on the trucks below. Get your team ready to disembark the second we touchdown. We’re going in hot!’
The Caiman banked away to the east and then swung around west again to approach the camp from behind. The Major looked at his men who were revelling in the ride. It was what they lived for.
The women in the camp were suddenly blown off their feet as the helicopter came from nowhere. Within seconds the SAS team were on the ground and sprinting towards Jacks position.
The major dropped down next to Jack who showed no signs of surprise unlike Freddie and Congo who couldn’t stop grinning as the watched the team take up positions along the ridge.
‘I’m Major Tom Henderson Recon Force Delta on secondment to the French Military’ he announced ‘we thought you might like a bit of help Brigadier Warner?’ he said saluting casually.
‘Welcome aboard Major you’re just in time’ he said shaking hands ‘please advise your team to hold fire until I give the order and who the hell is that pilot?’
John had informed the Major he would distract the rebels until his men were safely in position.
He had no idea what he meant until now.
John had flashed over the hillock at no more than a few feet taking the rebels completely by surprise. Thinking they were under attack the men they had thrown themselves to the ground but it didn’t take long for them to realise the helicopter was unarmed. The machine guns on the trucks swung upwards and opened fire.
John threw the machine from one side to the other but eventually the gunners found their mark. Bullet holes suddenly rippled down the fuselage.
‘I think we’ve outstayed our welcome’ he grinned at his co-pilot who wasn’t seeing the funny side of things at all.
The leader of the rebels was now fuming and seeking revenge. He ordered his men forward once more. Jack once again waited until his men could inflict the maximum damage.
The rebels were cut down as they stormed the hillock. A mortar found its mark disintegrating the truck and machine gun mounted on the rear. The leader was killed instantly.
The rebels had had enough. Within minutes they were charging away into the bush.
‘Cease fire!’ Jack ordered as the last of the rebels disappeared.
The Major came over ‘the Drone will monitor them until we are sure there is no more danger sir but I don’t think they’ll be back?’ he smiled.
‘Thank you Major but it’s just Jack from now on. I have retired you know?’
‘If you say so sir’ he grinned again looking at the weapon in his hands.
The team would stay in position until the all clear. Jack went to see if any of the women had been hurt in the fire fight but he didn’t think so. He was feeling satisfied and pleased with the outcome.
That was until he saw the stretcher carrying Congo being carried into the camp.
He rushed over ‘what happened?’ he asked Freddie shocked at the sight of his friend.
‘He took a bullet in the head Jack. He’s in a bad way’
Alex had been told there was a casualty but her calm demeanour waivered as she saw who the patient was. Taking a deep breath, she ordered him inside the motorhome.
Colene was visibly upset as she administered a drip. She touched his forehead gently and held back a tear.
It suddenly dawned on Alex that Colene was attracted to the big African ‘well!’ I never saw that coming’ she thought.
Alex examined the head wound. It was deep and would need stitching. It was what she couldn’t see that was worrying her ‘he needs a head scan Colene to find if there is any damage to the brain. We must get him to a hospital as soon as possible’
Colene just nodded and touched his arm gently.
Alex went outside and gave Jack the bad news and then went to find the Major.
‘I’m going to ask you to do something that may be against your orders regarding civilians. Congo is a good man, and more valuable than you realise but I can’t say any more. We need to get him to a hospital and that chopper is the only thing that will save his life’
‘Consider it done Brigadier’ he said pulling out a radio from his jacket.
John landed the helicopter a short distance away. The stretcher carrying Congo as gently placed inside. One of the SAS team would accompany them. The other passenger was Alex.
John placed a set of headphones over his passenger but didn’t make any other comment.
Alex had not recognised the pilot as the helmet covered all of his face. She was also concentrating on keeping her patient alive.
It came as complete shock when his voice came over the intercom ‘doctor Alex Trent! Will you please explain what my motor home is doing in the middle of Africa?’
Alex just gaped unable to respond for a moment ‘John Spencer is that you. Oh my god it is?’
The accompanying soldier was grinning like a school boy ‘hey Johnny boy you were not kidding. The doc is pretty hot’ he said over the intercom.
Alex was now blushing furiously and too shocked to respond after hearing his voice.
John felt a bit guilty at ribbing her and became serious ‘the hospital has been advised of your patient’s condition and will be waiting to take him off your hands when we land unless you want to see him into the operating theatre?’
‘Tell them I want to be involved in whatever roll they see fit’ she answered.
John nodded not surprised at her answer ‘in that case I will see you tomorrow after I have got the team back to the compound’
Alex watched from the background as the surgeon closed the wound in Congo’s head. A blood clot on the brain had been removed. It had been a tricky and potentially life threatening operation but she had been impressed with the surgeon’s skill and the theatre nurse’s efficiency.
The surgeon had called her to the table to explain the procedure. He had expected her just to have a quick glance then step away. He was not expecting the high level of knowledge or the details questions. Her French was also excellent. He decided he wanted to know more about how she came to be in Africa.
The surgeon was confident his patient would recover but an induced coma would keep him in the hospital for quite a while.
‘Doctor Trent. What made you consider a blood clot? Most doctors would have assumed the head wound was just that and never consider it was anything more than a concussion’
Alex went through her reasoning impressing the surgeon even more.
‘I understand that you recently amputated a man’s leg. Was that necessary to save the man’s life?’
Again she explained her diagnosis.
The telephone rang on the desk.
He answered it and said she was on her way ‘there is a young man in reception waiting to take you home, wherever that may be at the moment’ he smiled ‘if you ever need a position Doctor Trent then please call me’
Alex suddenly realised it was morning and yawned. It had been a long night.
Alex woke up in sweat but it was nothing to do with the heat of the day. In her dream she had been caught in a whirlpool unable to escape, the water sucking her deeper and deeper. She breathed deeply and shook the sleep from her body. She was in a bedroom. Actually a very nice bedroom she thought looking around.
‘How did I get here?’ she asked herself.
The bedroom door opened and John Spencer entered carrying a tray with fruit juice and coffee ‘good afternoon Alex. I trust you slept well?’
She was just about to answer when she realised she was naked and subconsciously pulled the sheet around her.
John noticed her embarrassment ‘shall I go and leave you to get dressed?’ he asked knowing what the next question was going to be.
‘I think I should take a shower first. Pass me that coffee first though’ she said ‘I assume I have clothes to wear?’
‘I took the liberty of asking the hotel staff to buy you some new clothes. You were still in hospital scrubs when I put you to bed and the ones you came with were covered in blood’
‘Thank you. I never thought to pack’ she shrugged feeling better already.
‘You saved that man’s life Alex’ he stated frankly.
‘Yes I guess that does warrant a new wardrobe but at the end of the day John it’s what I do’
And you do it magnificently he thought ‘I received a message from your travelling companions. They should be here by tonight. The government got their act together and sent a squad of regulars to protect the villagers just in case’
‘Oh god the motorhome!’ she grimaced suddenly remembering who it belonged to
‘I’m so sorry I didn’t contact you to ask permission. I’ll pay for any damage’.
John was in hysterics at her sincerity ‘don’t give it a thought Alex please. I would however like you to complete an insurance claim’
She was just about to answer yes when she realised he was teasing her again ‘you’re a terrible person John Spencer’ she said slapping his arm and letting the bed sheet fall away.
He stopped laughing and gazed at her.
‘Maybe I’ll take that shower later?’ she groaned as he kissed her.
Two hours later Alex finally had her shower and dressed. The hotel had supplied a floral dress and some underwear. A small bag containing a few make-up items was most welcome.
She observed herself in the mirror ‘not bad if do say so myself’ she smiled at the reflection.
Her stomach suddenly rumbled and she realised it had been over 24 hours since she had eaten anything ‘I hope you are dressed John Spencer I’m famished. Where are we going to eat?’ she shouted into the bedroom.
‘Let’s stick to the hotel’s restaurant Alex. This is my first trip to the Capital as well’
‘You really were hungry!’ John stated as she finished the last morsel on the plate.
The hotel as it turned out had one of the best restaurants in the Capital.
Alex finished her glass of wine and pushed the plate away ‘your little home on wheels can only carry so much in the way of delicacies’ she answered and grinning at his reaction to the description of the motorhome.
‘The little home on wheels. I like it’ he decided.
‘It was how the Corporal described it after I saved his Sargent’s life’
‘I had to amputate the man’s leg or he would have died’ she answered as a matter of fact.
And I bet you did like it was just another operation that needed to be done he thought in admiration ‘do you wish to visit your patient at the hospital now. Your friends should have arrived by now’
‘Yes and then we need to discuss what to do with your little house on wheels. It’s a long drive back to Spain but it wouldn’t be a problem?’
‘I have a feeling nothing would be a problem for you Alex but I do have a suggestion’
‘Ok let’s hear it!’
‘Would you mind driving it back to England for me?’ he asked then waited for her to think about that request.
‘Err sure if that’s what you really want me to do and why are you grinning at me again John Spencer?’ she asked slapping his arm across the table.
‘You don’t really think I would expect you to drive all the way to England do you. No it would only be from Paris if that’s ok with you?’ he told her feeling guilty again at teasing her.
‘Ok I give in how is that going to happen?’
‘There’s a C40 French Transporter leaving at noon tomorrow. Can you be on it. The French have agreed to transport the motorhome in the hold all the way to Paris’
‘Wow is that allowed it being military and all that?’
‘It is if the motorhome was being classed as a military vehicle which after that firefight it has just been in it could be?’ he shrugged.
‘Now that’s stretching it but I agree. It sounds like fun’ she decided.
‘Great! Then let’s get going. We have one more night together and I don’t want to miss a minute of it!’
Alex met Jack and Freddie in the hospital canteen and introduced John to them.
‘It’s a pleasure Lieutenant Spencer’ Jack told him ‘that was some kind of fancy flying back there at the firefight’
‘Thank you, Brigadier coming from you that’s a real compliment. The whole team couldn’t stop telling stories about you after we returned to the compound’
‘You have a good team John make no mistake and they don’t give compliments freely. Your skill as a pilot was mentioned more than once’
‘Thank you, sir’ he beamed with pride.
Alex left them to talk and went to the wards. Colene sat at Congo’s bed side holding his hand gently ‘wow I really didn’t see that coming at all did I’ she told herself again.
Colene saw her enter the room and went to hug her crying as she did so. The reality of what had happened had slowly dawned on her.
‘I’m sorry Alex we should be used to the suffering shouldn’t we?’ she said attempting to dry her eyes.
‘Does he know how you feel about him?’ she asked reverting to French.
‘No but he wouldn’t be interested in a plain Jane like me would he. Did you know he was a Prince amongst his people, I mean a real Prince?’
‘I had no idea. What is his real name by the way?’
‘His African name is John Chisomo. It means grace in Africa. He will not use it in front of stranger’s s it reminds him of his family’
‘But he uses it in front of you Colene?’
‘Yes we talk a lot when we have time that is. I met John the first time when he visited our hospital in Leon. He came to see Carmen as part of his job with the Charity. I didn’t realise until this trip he was also involved with Jack as well’
‘So this wasn’t just a humanitarian trip after all’ she realised.
Alex talked for a while then said her goodbyes explaining she would be leaving the next day. There were more tears shed by both women.
Alex met Carmen in the hallway outside ‘how is the patient Alex?’ she asked.
‘Making good progress according to his chart. I’ll see the surgeon before I leave but
I think he should make a full recovery’
‘Colene hasn’t left his bedside you know’
‘Did you realise how she felt about him?’
‘I’m afraid so but it is not my place to say anything. I think he feels the same way but it’s hard to tell as he doesn’t show much emotion. The loss of his family still haunts him’
‘You know I’m not what you would call a religious person Carmen but even I will pray for them’
‘I think god would love to hear from you Alex. God bless you in whatever you do next’ she said hugging her fondly.
John noticed the red eyes and the sorrowful expression when she returned ‘is everything ok Alex?’ he asked concerned her patient had taken a turn for the worst.
‘Yes John everything is fine’ she sighed taking his arm ‘you did say this was our last night together for some time. I think we should make the most of it?’
The journey back to Paris and then on to London had been stress free and quite fun. Her mother had welcomed her with more than a few tears having feared the worst.
‘You’ve been in the middle of a war zone Alex, what do you expect. That charity has a lot to answer for and what in heaven’s name is that?’ she asked pointing to the motorhome.
‘That mother is a little home on wheels and I love it’ she sighed.
‘Oh my god are they bullet holes?’ she gasped pointing to three holes at the top of the home.
‘Err yes I had forgotten about them. Never mind I’m sure the garage will repair them when I take it in for a service?’ she shrugged.
‘Take it in for a service?’ she asked astonished ‘you’re actually going to keep it?’
‘Of course John and I may need somewhere to live at short notice when he returns home’
‘John!’ ‘Somewhere to live!’ her mother repeated ‘who is this John Alex?’
‘That’s a long story mother. Let’s go inside the house and I’ll tell you everything from the beginning’ she said giving her a big hug.