Photo by Phil Botha on Unsplash
Frost led the extraction team and their two guests further into the tunnels hewn into the sandstone base rock under the desert above.
Sand crunched under foot and a fine dust hung in the parched air, disturbed by the determined feet of the escapees.
“Keep moving!” Broer ordered, casting a glance back to the doctor and his wife who had started to slow down under the punishing pace they’d kept since entering the tunnels in Gaza.
Frost reached a junction and consulted a map once more. “To the right,” he announced without stopping and headed on.
The woman gave a gasp as if surprised by the change of direction, but flanked by two operatives to their front and rear, she and her husband marched forward.
Another ten minutes passed, with changes in direction and the relentless pace maintained. Frost paused once more and, from behind the rear operatives, Broer let his frustration be known. “Frost, this isn’t the tunnel, you idiot! We should have been at the extraction point already!” Broer cursed.
“I see light, we must be there,” Frost replied.
“Get out of my way, ya fokken domkop!” Broer yelled in his native South African accent, pushing through and to the front of the group.
He headed forward, rifle aimed ahead to meet any response head on.
Near the end of the tunnel, he saw that it rose up to surface level, and through the opening he saw dusk was beginning to arrive. Laying on his front he crawled forward and saw they were not where they should be.
At a distance of around 300 feet away he saw the Egyptian border fence. This tunnel must have come out under it at one point. But instead of finding all the tunnels, the Egyptians had just moved it backwards. Problem solved: let the Israelis deal with the smugglers.
Broer shot back into the tunnel, raced up to Frost and slammed him hard into the wall. “You got us lost! My mission, and you fucked it up!”
“Broer! Stand down!” Byford shouted from behind the group.
As the most senior operative, Byford took ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of the mission. However, as this one was being used to train up Frost and Broer, they’d been leading it.
“Get a grip, assess the situation,” Byford added.
Broer spat on the floor and headed back to the opening. They had to move fast to avoid being caught in the darkness that was drawing in.
He surveyed the area.
Through his rifle sight he saw that the nearest observation post looked to be over 600 feet away along the fence. He waited, but heard and saw nothing else. There were no lights or sophisticated detection systems to be seen, no noises from people or vehicles.
Crawling further out he saw a small trench under the fence ahead. It would need a quick dash for all seven operatives, along with the doctor and his wife.
He played the scenario through in his mind.
He’d go first with two front operatives to secure the fence. Then the doctor and his wife, under and out to freedom. The last two operatives and the old man, Byford, could follow.
It would have to do.
“Seven of us!” he cursed under his breath. He’d wanted three operatives, but Byford had overruled him. Shaking the thoughts off he slid back into the tunnel.
Broer explained the plan, dealing forcefully with various protests and appeals from the doctor and his wife, who were literally shaking with fear. Broer wondered if the doctor would piss himself. He’d seen it before.
“Frost, you follow me,” Broer added, realising he’d completely left Frost out of his mental planning.
Broer and Frost made it to the fence with ease. Broer, leading, crashed side on into the base of the fence, half his body going in the ditch that had been dug out underneath it by the contraband smugglers.
He scrambled under and Frost followed.
Looking back, they saw to their horror that they were no more than 300 feet from a roadway and, just behind it, a series of small huts. As they looked, lights came on within the buildings.
“Move, move now!” Broer called to the operatives holding position at the tunnel entrance.
They shot forward, followed closely behind by the doctor and his wife, and then by the last two operatives.
As they ran forward, Broer reacted instinctively to a black form moving towards them, between the roadway and where they lay. He raised his rifle and starting firing.
Shots were returned, but not from a lone figure — there were at least three Israeli border guards bearing down on them.
In an instant, the night exploded into a maelstrom of automatic rifle fire, shouts and screams, flying dust, bursts of orange light from muzzle flashes and the whizzing sound of rounds passing dangerously close.
Broer ran forward, firing all the time at the shadowy figures. He saw one drop. Then he felt it. Time slowed, noises dulled. The battle mist had overcome him.
There were muffled shouts and harsh screams, flashes of light, the crack of gunfire. The scene around him made sense but there was a surreal nature to it.
He heard rounds wizz past and thud into the ground nearby. Something struck his leg, but even while falling he dismissed it. He hit the desert sand hard.
Looking up, another of the figures ahead dropped.
To his left, one of the operatives had gone around to flank the attackers. Broer saw the man firing and running towards the final figure, who was now turning to the oncoming threat.
Broer raised his rifle and, letting loose a long burst of rounds, cut the final defender down.
The gunfire stopped, but there was a new noise filling the air. Broer turned to the group back at the tunnel.
Blood and bodies littered the ground. Two operatives were dead, their bodies bleeding out into the sand, clothes and flesh torn up. Two others were crawling to the fence, limping and moaning from their injuries.
Byford jumped down from above the tunnel. The final kill had seen him take a minor injury to his shoulder. But the real disaster lay in front of him.
There, half way between the tunnel and the fence, encircled by the dead and the blood-stained sand, were the bodies of the doctor and his wife.
Wasting no time, Byford moved forward and with a grunt picked up the woman’s body and placed it onto his back. He strained to get upright, but, steadying himself, walked forwards towards the fence, staggering under the weight.
Broer was having his own problems. He went to stand but a white hot pain from his lower back made him drop onto the ground again. Reaching around with his hand he touched a warm sticky liquid oozing from just above his backside.
He forced himself to bend his legs up from the knee, Not paralyzed then. “I’m hit!” he shouted.
Frost shot forward to Broer. “Can you stand?”
“Would I be lay around like this if I could,” Broer said, seething with anger, wanting to kill Broer where he stood. He thought about the knife on his belt and Byford must have sensed his intention.
“Broer, stand down!”
He looked over to Byford, wanting to defy him, but thought better of it given his state.
“Get the other one!” Broer spat at Frost.
Broer watched him go back for the corpse of the last operative.
Frost would pay for this mess, but it could wait.
Once the shit storm had settled, his time would come.
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