An Excerpt from RED GROUND: The Forgotten Conflict

RED GROUND: The Forgotten Conflict
Massacres in Sierra Leone
A Military Thriller based on True Events

Sierra Leone
February 1995

I was too slow… unprepared. I had heard nothing through the crashing of a tropical rainstorm.
For that error, there would be a price to pay. 
I would become a man haunted by my mistakes. I should have died … I didn’t.
We had been surrounded. Neither my men nor I had heard them approach. The hut door flew open with a savage bang followed by a stream of shells from AK-47s slicing and cutting through the flimsy mud walls. The small space filled with the raw smell of cordite and an overwhelming noise of gunfire, and African voices shouting, screaming and yelling. 
This was it. It was all over for us. 
But I was wrong. 
It had only just begun. 
From the first day we arrived, I had been the over eager white man with the superior technology, regarding the Sierra Leone conflict as a Marx Brothers comedy. How fucking wrong I was!

I tried standing, but then a rifle butt smashed high up on my temple, sending me crashing back to the ground in an accelerating panorama of pain. 
A withering flash of whiteness and I plunged into the infinite dark ocean of a physical and mental blackout. How long before I came to, I had no idea.
I breathed. I moved. I was still alive. 
The basic body parts appeared to be functioning. 
I could feel myself moving, but my muscles felt taut, stretched and elongated. Echoing in the background of my hearing ... lingering voices ... unintelligible. Through swollen eyelids, I could see and feel the equatorial sunlight streaming through the jungle foliage, and wafts of damp steam moving upwards on hidden air currents. It must have rained, I thought. Why I thought that was bloody stupid. My fatigues stuck to every inch of my body. I sensed it was a combination of sweat and blood. My immediate thought was, at least I hadn’t stopped a bullet. 
As cognition surfaced, it didn’t take much working out to realise that I was trussed up: barefoot, standing between four large wooden poles, my limbs spread eagled like a star. How long I’d been strung up, I couldn’t tell, but one clear thought came to me … 
Sgt. Alexander Dalloway, you are in a deeply dangerous predicament.
Then it came ... searing pain. Something struck me violently between my shoulder blades, again and again. Agony shrieked through every part of my battered and bruised body, short circuiting nerve ends and sinews, but letting me know I was being beaten alive ... alive ... but for how much longer? 
Mercifully, it stopped almost as soon as it had started. Through my jumbled hearing, I heard someone moving away from me. I had never felt so grateful to be left alone in my life.

The tropical sun cut down across the compound, pushing the temperature up to forty degrees. The heat was cloying, saturating everything and refusing to dry. Swarms of mosquitoes hummed and buzzed around me, enjoying a free meal. 
I became aware of my parched tongue, swollen and dry, with my throat raw and gasping for water. With some effort, I was able to turn my head. Through the gaps in my puffed eyelids, I saw my two comrades bound up in similar fashion side by side. They looked like butchered meat ... barely alive, like animals being prepared for ritual slaughter. Their heads were tied tightly backwards, with strips of leather thongs that pulled and stretched out across their necks, forcing them to look directly up into the sun. Their eyes were wide open and couldn’t be shut. The lids had been slit.
“Holy fuck!” A deep fear pulsed rapidly through me. I was staring at my own fate.
Me, Sgt. Dalloway, of a very clandestine Special Forces army unit, was about to discover what that might be.

The man swaggered slowly towards me. He was six feet tall. His face was fleshy, almost fat, and he wore Aviator-style dark sunglasses that hid his eyes. His uniform was military, complete with a maroon British Army style beret, and his epaulets carried the insignia of a Major in the army of the Armed Forces Ruling Council. 
The AFRC were basically insurgents, formerly with the Sierra Leonean Army, and now partners with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
Their slogan: “No More Slaves. No More Masters.” 
Allegedly, their aim was to depose the Government, clean up corruption, and build a better future for the people. But their true intent was to seize control of the diamond mines and ferment revolt throughout Africa. Led by Foday Sankoh and with the backing of Charles Taylor, the Liberian warlord and later President, their trademark was terror, unprecedented cruelty, mutilations, amputations of limbs, extremities and genitals, and rapes regardless of age. Behind all the political ferment was the backing and financial support from the shadowy figure of Colonel Gaddafi, seeking to be the master of West Africa
The Major carried in his right hand a thick ivory baton, which he continually rapped into his large left palm. On his feet, he was wearing what used to be my boots. He spoke, and immediately, even in my beaten state, I detected the exaggerated Oxford and Sandhurst educated vowels.
“Nice boots, Sergeant. The British Army always had a high standard in that area, and they fit me perfectly. Much better than those from Guinea or Liberia.” His accent was eerily misplaced, and sounded sinister as it wafted across the blood-drenched scenario surrounding him. A thin smile crossed his face. “I can save you, Sergeant, but before I do so, I need some information.”
“Go fuck yourself.”
“Possibly enjoyable, but difficult.”
There was a passage of eternity. 
He stared down at me and then with an abrupt smoothness, the baton smacked hard under my jaw, jerking my head back hard. It stayed there as the baton was pushed firmly across my jawbone, forcing my head to remain tilted at an uncomfortable angle. 
Holy shit. My eyes flicked in his direction as he stared down at me through his mirrored shades. I was speechless, dehumanised. 
“You work for the Army who are told what to do by your government, and they have your country’s commercial interests at heart, especially in our new oilfields and diamond deposits. It is not in their interests to have certain parties rule this country. So, where are the rest of your men hiding and who are supporting you? I want names and I want locations, and I want them fast. We’ve known you were here since the day you arrived, but now, captured by us useless nigger soldiers, it’s not looking too good for you, is it? So … please tell.”
“Go fuck yourself.”
The baton dropped and then moved with sudden force upwards in an ascending arc across my mouth, causing my teeth to rattle, and blood to gush from my lips and tongue.
The Major smiled, but behind the shades, his eyes remained stony, like chipped flint. 
“Bravery will kill you and it will kill your friends. By the end of the day, they will be blind. I can promise you that.” 
As he pushed his face closer to mine, I detected something on his breath. Something chemical, almost like cordite. 
“Now, speak or I will arrange for these two to die slowly, very slowly, before I personally finish you off. Your reply could save them.”
“Get fucked, arsehole!”
The baton swung hard across my right temple and then against my left, rocking my head in both directions like a ping-pong ball. Pain ricocheted in my head and I seriously wondered if it would explode. With breath-taking force, another one crashed heavily into my testicles.
I never knew the true meaning of pain until now. 
“Get fucked!” 
Another blow ... Gut-busting agony. All my torture training was being put to the test, and the Major in front of me knew it.
“Tell me, Sergeant, or I will work on your friends, and I promise you will have a ringside seat.”
I didn’t doubt him. Only I could save my comrades’ lives. They’d all undergone torture training techniques, but nothing quite prepares you when it becomes a reality and the torturers are for real. 
The Major snapped his fingers and two warrior soldiers appeared, nothing more than filthy, drugged up, shirtless teenager scum bags, eyes on fire with hate. They marched over swiftly, carrying knives, axes, and assault weapons. He spoke to them in the Krio language. Words were exchanged and the soldiers moved to my comrades. The soldiers placed their thumbs and fingers around the slit eye sockets, and waited for the Major’s command.
“You see, Sergeant, one snap of my fingers and your friends will have no eyes and they will be forced to swallow them. Interesting, don’t you think? And if that doesn’t loosen your tongue, their testicles will be next. Then, it will be your turn.” He raised his hand, fingers ready to snap.
“Stop! Stop! Don’t do it, for God’s sake! I’ll tell you what you want to know.” My mind locked like a frozen film frame. I tried speaking, but at first the words wouldn’t come. They stuck deeply in the back of my throat. It was against everything I had been trained to do. A look across at the other two and the words began gushing out in an angry frenzy. “Yes! Yes, for God’s sake! I’ll tell you!” 
“Much better, Sergeant. I somehow thought you might. Now, start talking about everything you know about this operation.”
I began talking. I named names, dates, whereabouts, those involved, and our mission objectives. I left nothing out. I wasn’t going to let my men die for a handful of politicians with their snouts stuck and swilling deeply into a trough, corrupt with illegal commercial interests.
“Thank you, Sergeant, some surprising information there has given me food for thought. You might like to know that I’m not generally perceived as a kindly person, and I have no intention of changing that view.” He turned and looked at his two soldiers, raised his hand again, and snapped his fingers.
“For fuck’s sake, NO!”
It was too late. My words were lost in the sound of horrific screams. As if in slow motion, I saw each man set on and the carnage completed. With a grim smirk, the Major raised his hand again.
He never managed the next finger snap.
A brilliant orange explosion was followed by a second thunderous eruption, as several 81mm mortar shells smacked into the centre of the red dirt compound, followed by the whining rounds of RPGs ripping into the fragile huts, and the unmistakable rattle of AK-47 assault rifles. Thick smoke began billowing across the compound, which was filled with noise and confusion, added to by the screams of the wounded and the dying. 
Turning my head, I realised that the Major and his men had quickly disappeared into the thick foliage of the jungle. My two comrades were trussed up, eyeless, mutilated, dead. Burning rage consumed me and from my parched throat came a scream of horror. I didn’t feel the knife cutting through my bindings, causing me to drop to the dirt in a crumpled heap. Verging on the unconscious, I felt feminine hands and arms hauling me, beginning to drag me somewhere, somewhere I didn’t know.