Empire of Gold


Copyright © 2011 Andy McDermott

For my family and friends



The barren landscape was simultaneously alien yet oddly familiar to Eddie Chase. The young Englishman had grown up in the rugged hills of Yorkshire, the topography of the northern county in many ways similar to the gnarled ground below the helicopter. But even at night, one difference was obvious. The hills and moors around his home town were green, a living countryside; beneath him now, everything was a parched and dusty brown. A dead land.

More death would be coming to it tonight.

Chase looked away from the window to the seven other men in the Black Hawk’s dimly lit cabin. Like him, all were special forces soldiers, faces striped with dark camouflage paint. Unusually, though, the participants in this mission were not all from the same unit, or even the same country. Five were from the 22nd Special Air Service Regiment, one of the United Kingdom’s most admired – and feared – elite units. The remaining three, however, were from other nations, the team hurriedly pulled together by the Coalition for the urgent operation.

Despite this, Chase doubted they would have trouble working together. He already knew two of them, even if his previous dealings with Bob ‘Bluey’ Jackson of the Australian SAS had only been brief. Jason Starkman of the United States Army Special Forces – the Green Berets – had, on the other hand, been a friend for years.

The third foreign soldier was the unknown quantity, to Chase at least. Although he had been vouched for by the team’s commander, Major Jim ‘Mac’ McCrimmon – and to Chase there were few higher recommendations – he still wanted to get a handle on the beaky-nosed Belgian’s personality before they hit the ground. So he had taken the seat beside him with the intention of teasing out information about the Special Forces Group’s Hugo Castille.

As it happened, no teasing was necessary. The genial Castille had volunteered so much that even a trained interrogator would have struggled to keep up. ‘So we found a little bar off Las Ramblas,’ he was saying now, ‘and I met the most beautiful Spanish girl. Have you ever been to Barcelona?’ Chase shook his head, wondering how the conversation – well, monologue – had moved from a military operation in Bosnia to chatting up women in Spain in the few seconds he had been looking out of the window. ‘Its architecture matches its women! But as for what we did that night,’ a broad smile, ‘I am a gentleman, so I shall not say.’

Chase grinned back. ‘So there actually is something that stops you talking?’

‘Of course! I—’ Castille stopped as he realised he was being ribbed, and sniffed before taking a polished red apple from a pocket and biting into it.

A Scottish voice came from across the cabin. ‘Eddie, you accusing somebody of talking too much is a definite case of the pot calling the kettle black.’ The comment prompted laughter from most of the other men.

‘Ah, sod off, Mac,’ Chase told his commanding officer cheerily. The tightly knit, high-pressure nature of special forces units allowed for a degree of informality uncommon in the regular military – to a point. ‘At least I talk about more interesting things than bloody cricket and snooker.’

The stiff-backed man beside Mac had conspicuously not joined in with the laughter. ‘Your definition of interesting isn’t the same as everyone else’s, sergeant.’ Like Chase, Captain Alexander Stikes was in his late twenties, but the similarity ended there. Chase was fairly squat with a square, broken-nosed face that could at best be described as ‘characterful’, while the six-foot-tall, fair-haired officer had the high brow and straight nose of a throwback to Prussian nobility. ‘I think we’d all prefer a bit of quiet.’

‘Quiet is the last thing we’ll get in this tub, Alexander,’ said Mac, a hint of chiding audible even over the roar of the Black Hawk’s engines.

Amused by Stikes’s telling-off, Chase turned back to Castille. ‘That’s the third bit of fruit you’ve had since we left the base. Last I had was a banana for breakfast, and one end was all smushed.’

Castille took another bite. ‘I always bring lots of fruit on a mission. Much nicer than rations, no? And I have my ways to stop them getting bruised. My father taught me how to take care of them.’

‘So he’s some sort of . . . fruit vet?’

The Belgian smiled. ‘No, a grocer. Nobody wants to buy mushy fruit. What about your father?’

The question caught Chase off guard. ‘My dad?’

‘Yes, what does he do?’

‘He works for a logistics company. Shipping,’ he clarified, seeing Castille’s uncertainty. ‘He transports stuff all over the world, gets things through customs. Oh, and he’s also an arsehole.’

‘Like father, like son, eh, Yorkie?’ said one of the other SAS men, Kevin Baine. Unlike Mac’s earlier remark, the estuary-accented comment was devoid of playfulness.

‘Fuck off,’ Chase replied in kind. Baine’s flat face twisted into a sneer.

‘An arse-hole,’ echoed Castille, the word somehow comical in his Belgian French intonation. ‘You do not like him, then?’

‘Haven’t spoken to him since I left home ten years ago. Not that I saw much of him even before then. He was always off travelling. And having affairs behind my mum’s back.’ The admission took him somewhat by surprise, Castille’s affable questioning having drawn more out of him than he had intended. He gave his SAS comrades warning looks, daring anyone to make a joke. Stikes’s expression suggested that he had stored the fact away in his mental database, but nobody said anything.

‘Ah, I am sorry,’ said Castille.

Chase shrugged. ‘No problem.’ He had exaggerated – as far as he knew, there had only been the one

Вы читаете Empire of Gold
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату