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Authors: William W. Johnstone

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Ambush in the Ashes (23 page)

BOOK: Ambush in the Ashes
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not wanting to come nose to fangs with a large venomous snake … something Africa has plenty of.

When nothing slithered out, Ben crawled in. He was very very tired but wondered if he should sleep. A moment later, that decision was made for him. He didn’t wake up until four the next morning.

He crawled out of the brush, stiff and sore, and stood in the silent pre-dawn hours. Then he squatted down and using a flashlight that had been hooked onto the sergeant’s battle harness, rummaged around in the first-aid kit until he found a bottle of aspirin. He shook two out and then ate one of the candy bars. This time he kept it down. Then he took the aspirin and walked on. He had to change direction because of a swamp and several yards later, literally stumbled onto the dirt road that he knew paralleled the main highway. About two miles separated the two. Ben guessed it was a logging road.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” he muttered. He sat down on the side of the old highway and took a drink of water and wished for a hot cup of coffee and a smoke. In that order.

The sky began to lighten and Ben found himself looking at a dead man. Another Rebel. Ben took the man’s dog tags and batde harness. He did not have a rifle, but did have two full magazines for his 9mm in a web pouch. He also had a rucksack filled with food, grenades, a small gun cleaning kit, and several packs of cigarettes. Ben sat by the dead body and smoked.

Then he walked on as the sky changed from silver gray to full light. He passed several more dead Rebels and stopped at each one to remove the dog tags. The bodies had been stripped of everything except underwear; even their socks had been taken.

Ben’s head had stopped throbbing, and he was experiencing only a slight ache. He knew he was going to

 

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have to stop and clean out his wound sooner or later, and that was not something he was looking forward to.

The carrion birds were beginning to circle ahead of him, off to his right, and Ben knew he was not far from the ambush site. Ben found what appeared to be a path through the brush and took it, reaching the main highway. He stayed in the brush for several minutes, listening and watching. He could detect no sight or sound of human life, but he could smell the unmistakable odor of the dead.

Staying in the brush, Ben cautiously made his way toward the border crossing. As he rounded the curve, now only about a hundred yards from the east edge of the Rebel encampment, he braced himself for what his eyes would soon see and his mind be forced to register.

Still in the brush, Ben came to a halt at the almost unbelievable sight in front of him: what appeared to be hundreds of naked or near naked bodies lay swollen and bloated everywhere. They had been stripped of everything the guerrillas might possibly use. The vultures were feasting on the bodies, flies covered what the carrion birds had ripped out and not eaten.

Ben was forced to sit down on the edge of the road for a moment in an attempt to regain his composure. Many of the dead had been with him since the beginning of the dream of a new nation.

Now they were gone.

He willed himself to rise, to walk slowly toward the horrible scene. On the way he picked up a large stick and began whacking at the buzzards. Some of them were so bloated from eating dead human flesh they could not fly. They just waddled away a few yards and stared at Ben balefully.

Many of the vehicles were gone, taken by the guerrillas. Just about as many had been burned, destroyed during the fighting, which must have gone on for hours,

 

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perhaps all day, the Rebels fighting to the last person. Wisps of smoke still drifted out of the hatches of many of the tanks. The commanders, or the last person alive, knowing the tracks had been blown off, disabling the MBT, had pulled the pins on grenades, killing themselves and destroying the interior of the tanks rather than let them fall into enemy hands.

Ben stood for a moment, literally trembling with rage at the awful sight that lay all around him in the African morning.

He forcibly willed himself to calm down.

He pushed personal survival ahead of his emotions.

He began slowly walking the encampment, checking each bloated body, gathering dog tags, looking for anything that the enemy might have missed that he could use to survive … and Ben was going to survive. Somebody was going to pay for this, and when Ben found them, they would pay the ultimate price. He would write their names in their own blood across Southern Africa.

As he walked, turning over bodies when he was forced to do so to make a visual, Ben found small articles that the enemy had missed; articles that he could use in his own quest for survival and revenge.

He found ration packets that were still sealed, first aid, supplies, bottles of pills that the Rebels had to take every day to ward off local diseases. He picked up 5.56mm rounds as he walked, putting them in his pockets; the same with discarded magazines. Even though he did not have a rifle, he’d get one. Somewhere.

Ben picked up several small bottles of water purification tablets. They would be indispensable when he started out on his own. A mess kit, a tiny one-cup coffeepot, heat tabs, waterproof containers of matches, an entrenching tool, a machete, a small camp axe.

He walked on.

A numbness, a deadness of soul, began to overtake

 

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him as he beat away the carrion birds and looked into the face-if the body had a face-of the dead. He soon realized he could not take all the dog tags. There were hundreds of dead. He emptied his pockets of the weight he did not need, leaving the metal identification tags and neck chains scattered on the muddy ground.

And he cursed the knowledge that he did not have the means to bury his friends.

He found signs where larger animals had dragged off bodies into the brush, and he cursed again.

He could not find Dr. Chase. He could not find any of his team.

But he knew that meant nothing. They might have been dragged off into the brush to be eaten later. They might have been taken prisoner. They might have been badly wounded and staggered off to die alone in the mud and jungle as Ben had done, he supposed. He still had not been able to figure out exactly how he came to be several miles from the encampment. Maybe he never would. To hell with it. He had more important matters confronting him to worry about that. He was alive, and he intended to stay alive.

He found a walkie-talkie under one of the trucks and a fresh battery pack. But he could not find a rifle.

In a rucksack, he found several pairs of clean socks that would fit him. But he could not find a rifle.

In another rucksack he found clean underwear that would fit him. No rifle.

Then in a burst of remembrance, he recalled that just before he was hit, Anna had dropped her CAR into the muddy waters of the ditch and up to the time he was dropped into blackness, she had not found it. Maybe? …

He located the ditch and began carefully searching the muddy, bloody water, pushing his hands deep into

 

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the muck. Then he smiled as his hands touched metal. Found it!

He pulled out the CAR and stepped out of the ditch, walked to what remained of a tent. Enough was left to provide him some shade. Then, he took down the CAR and carefully cleaned and oiled the weapon, then reassembled it. It worked just fine. Ben was back in business.

He slung the weapon and once more began prowling the encampment. He found a pup tent, ground sheet, and blanket. He continued to pick up and carefully wipe off each 5.56 round he saw. A couple of grenades. An unopened package of flashlight batteries. Other small but important items that could help keep him alive. He found a small hand mirror; probably from a woman’s kit.

He found a roll of toilet paper and continued his prowling among the dead.

He did not attempt to count the dead. There were too many. Ben’s 1 Batt had been destroyed. He would have to rebuild, and he sure as hell planned to do just that.

He found signs that the enemy had used rocket launchers in their attack.

He kicked a carrion bird away from a woman’s body and beat the ugly flesh-eating bird to death with his heavy stick. He did not dare use his rifle or pistol for fear the shot would be heard by the enemy.

Ben noted that the civilians who had been used to hide the first wave of attackers were dead. Men, women, and children.

He returned to the tent lean-to and began putting together a pack. Then he hefted it. Heavy, but he could carry it.

Then he steeled himself and opened his head wound. He almost lost consciousness but managed to maintain some degree of alertness, albeit through a cloudy haze

 

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of intense pain. He inspected the wound with the tiny mirror, cleaned it and closed it as best he could, then bandaged the gash. He gave himself a shot of antibiotics and then sat for a time, letting the waves of pain dissipate while he gathered his strength.

Ben ate a portion of a ration pack, took two more aspirin, and began filling magazines with the rounds he’d found. After a few minutes, he realized he was once more hungry and finished the ration pack. That’s when he smiled and knew he was getting better.

Ben made one more walking tour of the carnage and found about fifty more 5.56mm rounds that he’d missed. He knew there were many, many more in the churned up mud, but he didn’t want to take the time to grope around hunting for them.

Besides, he had things to do.

And people to track down and kill.

 

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Ben headed north, choosing that direction for several reasons. He did not want to plunge deeper into enemy territory by heading east, and he had a strong suspicion that his was not the only Rebel battalion to have been hit by Bruno’s guerrilla forces. If the latter was true, Ike would stop the advance for a few days, and Ben just might, might, be able to hook up with Nick’s 18 Batt, which was a couple of hundred kilometers north of Ben. That was a long shot, but Ben felt he had no choice in the matter.

About five miles north of the ambush site, Ben found two more Rebel bodies in a ditch. They had managed to get this far before collapsing and dying from their wounds. Ben left their weapons and took their ammo pouches and rucksacks, which contained food packets and grenades and other small items. He walked on. He would inspect the rucksacks when he stopped for a rest period further on up the road. He did not want to tarry anywhere close to the bodies, for they were badly bloated and had been eaten on by small animals and carrion birds. Their faces had been gnawed and pecked and torn at so badly Ben could not recognize either Rebel.

Ben came to a small village, stopping a couple of hundred yards from it, ducking into the brush, and squat-

 

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ting for a time, inspecting the tiny settlement. He could detect no signs of life. Staying off the road and in the brush, Ben approached the village cautiously. His caution was needless, for the village was deserted.

Ben prowled what was left, and found nothing that he might use, which was just as well, for he was overloaded as it was. He walked on.

The road north was a secondary road, not paved, and in very bad shape. That was yet anodier reason Ben chose to head north: the road was fine for walking, but would have been hell on vehicles.

Ben stopped to rest, choosing a spot deep in some thick brush, after poking around in the brush with a long sturdy walking stick he had picked up just north of the ambush site. When nothing growled, slithered, or came charging out, Ben crawled into the brush and prompdy went to sleep, for he was still in a very weakened condition.

He awakened two hours later, and ate part of a ration pack. He took another antibiotic pill and crawled out of die thicket, walking back to the road, about a hundred yards from where he had rested. He headed north.

He walked at a leisurely pace, for he was in no condition to push himself physically. Ben figured he was making about four miles an hour, and he stopped whenever he felt fatigued. Several times that day he turned on the walkie-talkie but could receive nothing. The silence came as no surprise.

The afternoon rains came, and Ben slogged on: a solitary figure on a lonely road.

With about an hour of daylight left, Ben came to an-otfier tiny deserted village. He chose die hut furthest from the road, almost in die brush, and spread his ground sheet and blanket. Then he ate part of a ration pack while he brewed a cup of coffee in the tiny one-cup pot, using a heat tab. When the coffee was brewed, Ben

 

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enjoyed a cup of coffee and a cigarette. Then he carefully cleaned his CAR, his pistols, and in the last rays of light, went through the two rucksacks he had taken from the dead Rebels in the ditch.

Another roll of toilet paper, which was a good find. Water purification tablets. Malaria pills, another good find. Several more grenades. Ration packs. Half a dozen full magazines of 5.56mm rounds.

Ben put the contents of both rucksacks into one, and then carefully buried the empty rucksack. He did not want a team of guerrillas to find it, put two and two together, and be on his trail. He was in no shape for a fight. Yet.

Ben slept soundly and well, awakening about two hours before dawn. After seeing to his morning toilet, and then standing outside the hut and listening for several minutes, Ben brewed another cup of coffee and ate a small breakfast. He took another antibiotic pill and packed up, carefully smoothing out the dirt floor of the hut, obliterating all signs of boot tracks. Outside the hut, Ben sat down and changed socks, carefully rubbing his feet for several minutes and sprinkling a bit of foot powder between his toes. Then he laced up his boots and once more headed north.

At noon, he came to the river and was relieved to find the old bridge still standing. But he did not immediately cross it. He squatted in the brush and watched the bridge for half an hour. There was no movement, foot traffic, bicycle, or motor vehicle. When he was sure there were no guards on the bridge-something he found very strange-he hurried across and then rested on the other side; the jog across the bridge had tired him. While he was resting, the wind changed, bringing with it the unmistakable odor of death. Ben followed the scent to its source. He found about a hundred ci-214

BOOK: Ambush in the Ashes
10.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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