Andy McNab

Dead Centre



Camp Hope Aceh Province, Sumatra Sunday, 2 January 2005 15.39 hrs

Shit …

This was not going to end well.

The two of them were at it again, and this time one of them was going to get hurt.

Mong towered over BB, his forehead pressed hard against the top of the other man’s skull to prevent him pulling back and trying a Glasgow kiss. Mong’s sweat dripped onto BB’s face, then down into the sand. He was breathing heavily, through clenched teeth. I could hear him even from where I was sitting.

I knew Mong. What he started, he finished.

I jumped up and skirted around a pile of pulverized, multicoloured hardwood that had once been a fishing boat. It was a week since the tsunami, and Aceh was still a disaster zone. There was debris everywhere. The coastal region looked like Hiroshima after Enola Gay. The tide brought in more wreckage and bodies with every wave.

‘Mong — enough, mate! We’ve got work to do!’

He wasn’t listening. He snorted like a bull.

‘Bin it, mate. Back away. We’ve got no hospitals, fuck-all medical kit …’

But Mong was in his own little world. These boys were like two wind-up robots, grinding against each other until their clockwork motors ran out.

BB was going to get it big-time, and he knew it. But he stood his ground.

‘Lads, kick the shit out of each other when we get home.’

It still wasn’t happening.

Mong flicked his forehead back and then down and cracked BB right on the top of his normally perfectly sculpted hairdo. BB slumped, but before his knees hit the sand Mong swung a punch that connected with his right temple like a pile driver.

BB couldn’t do much except take the pain. He flung his arms round Mong’s waist, trying to drag him down as well while he regained his senses. Mong stayed right where he was, but his cargoes went south, exposing the tattooed outline of two hands, one on each cheek, which looked like someone else had already grabbed his arse.

Mong fought to free himself, but BB clung on, closed his arms round Mong’s knees and threw his weight forward. Mong toppled into the sand. They both scrabbled to land a punch.

I peeled a spar off the fishing boat.

Mong wasn’t shouting any more. He was saving his breath for the fight. He pulled himself up onto his knees and threw another two punches that BB managed to duck. Either would have laid him out.

He missed with the third, but the next got BB on the side of the neck and took him down. Mong dropped onto BB’s chest, legs astride, and pumped his fists into the boy’s body.

BB tried to curl up to protect his film-star looks.

I was nearly on top of them. ‘Mong! You gotta stop, mate! Not today!’

White faces gathered by the line of NGO tents about fifty metres behind us — some of the aid workers who’d poured in from all over the world to help. Thousands of locals had fled into the hills for safety and were streaming back every day. They’d heard there was a relief camp, but few came near the ocean. They were terrified of another killer wave.

‘Mong, you listening?’ I stood over them. ‘Bin it — now.’

It was too late. BB was fighting back. It was all his fault; it always was. He’d been having a go at Mong all day. But I had to admire the arsehole. Not many would last this long against the man mountain.

‘Mong, last chance, mate. I’m going to have to hurt you if you don’t back off.’

BB was about to get seriously fucked up. He deserved what was coming, but this wasn’t the day.

I swung the spar down on Mong’s back and kept it in place as he collapsed across BB, so he knew I was still there. BB heaved him aside, got the hint and rolled away. He crawled a metre or so, his face a mask of blood- coloured sand.

‘Fuck off, BB, and get cleaned up.’

I pushed hard between Mong’s shoulder-blades as he tried to get up. ‘Mate, stay down or I gotta hurt you again. He’s a fucking arsehole, but this isn’t the time or the place. Sort all that shit out after the job, OK?’

BB got to his feet and shuffled back to our tent. The throng of aid workers parted like the Red Sea to let him through.

I sat on an oil drum bedded into the sand, still pressing on Mong’s back. The beach was littered with all sorts of shit. The straits were the world’s favourite dumping ground for hazardous waste, and why not? The only people who’d ever know were a bunch of Indonesian fishermen. The dumpers just hadn’t reckoned on a tsunami propelling their dirty laundry into full view of a hundred tent loads of international observers.

‘And pull your cargoes up, for fuck’s sake. Those jazz hands are giving me the hump.’


They’d been in different squadrons, but I’d known Mong and BB since Regiment days. Now the three of us were out, and making a few bob on the circuit whenever and wherever we could.

‘BB’ was short for ‘Body Beautiful, Mind Full of Shit’. He hadn’t come into the Regiment the normal way, from one of the three services or the Oz or Kiwi military. He’d joined the TA off the street after watching too much SAS shit on telly. The problem was, he didn’t get the culture. He didn’t even speak squaddie. He was a mobile-phone salesman who played soldiers every other weekend about fifteen miles from where he lived. He was living the dream a bit too much instead of getting on with the job. He hadn’t realized you had to serve your apprenticeship before going into the trade.

BB hated his nickname. He wanted all his mates to call him Justin. The trouble was he didn’t have any mates.

He was OK, I supposed, and a pretty good operator. He just didn’t get it, whatever ‘it’ was. He was a smooth-talking Geordie fucker who fancied himself. He did all the weight training, took all the supplements. His T- shirts were two sizes too small. He plastered his face with moisturizer, and spent every spare minute building a tan for when he was back in the UK, cruising round town in his red Mazda 5.

Worst of all, he fancied Mong’s wife, and didn’t mind letting him know. BB had few scruples when it came to horizontal tabbing. He was plenty stupid enough to try it on with her. He’d tried it in the past, before Mong was on the scene, but Tracy soon cottoned on that he wouldn’t be giving her what she needed.

Of course, BB wasn’t the only one who fancied her. We all did. She was a good-looking girl. She had the kind of smile that belonged on an infant-school teacher. Everything about her was close to perfect — the way her dark hair brushed her shoulders, the way she dressed. We called her Racy Tracy, but it wasn’t really true.

For everyone apart from BB she was off-limits. She was somebody else’s wife. And that somebody was a mate.

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