In the late afternoon Hitu and his party returned and not long after that his own company. As before, their missions had been uneventful. Andrew’s team had found the ambush site easily enough and cleared the LZ, and hadn’t encountered any ‘locals’ after they’d passed through the village.
The next day was a ‘rest day’ for most of the men, only those whose turn it was to guard the camp having anything they were tasked to do. The men spent their time catching up on their own laundry, then sat around talking or playing cards. Andrew would have loved to join in with the poker sessions that were now popping up, but he’d heard somewhere that this wasn’t a good idea. Suppose he won and was put in the position of taking money off the men he was supposed to be leading? He couldn’t remember if the prohibition of taking money off the men was something he’d been taught back at the Academy or something he’d picked up from one of the films he’d watched ort books he’d read. Either way, it seemed sensible not to indulge in this particular pastime.
Once Hitu had finished his own personal tasks, they spent their time playing backgammon. It wasn’t a game he was particularly fond of. There was skill, of course, but a lot also depended on the luck of how the dice rolled. He could tell, by the copious amounts of cash he seemed to be losing, that this was a game that Hitu excelled at.
His evening meal was taken once again with Captain Kergoat, using his desk which doubled as a table for the purpose. This time they were joined by Hitu. They discussed the plan to send out four teams instead of two. The captain had told Hitu of this before he’d left on his last assignment, but Hitu hadn’t been involved in the more detailed discussions that had followed. He readily agreed that his own sergeant major was more than capable of leading such an assignment, and that splitting the work in this way would ensure it was finished so much more quickly. They’d leave one member from each team in a company, taking turn and turn about to provide these from Andrew’s and Hitu’s forces. The four men that this would provide wouldn’t allow for guarding but could ensure that the more essential tasks around the camp were completed. The captain agreed that guarding, at this stage anyway, wasn’t really necessary nor a priority, and was happy to see this particular duty curtailed for a while.
“We’ve mainly been doing it to keep the men occupied,” he confided.
The next day he led his company back down through the village along with Hitu and his team. It was easier to walk down to the main road then along it before heading back upwards on the trails they needed to take. Hitu’s destination lay in the other direction once they it the crossroads so they parted, each wishing the other a successful and uneventful trip. Andrew’s company stayed together till they reached the first of the trails they’d been assigned to. Andrew sent Sergeant Major Smith down this one before leading his own, now much smaller, team the short distance they needed to traverse before their own trail would take them up towards the border.
It was getting dark when they’d finished. This particular site needed quite a lot of work to ready it to a standard Andrew was happy with. The routine, before finally sleeping, was pretty much the same as before, as was the work on the LZ the next day. It was very arduous, and took quite a while now that he had so much smaller a force to use. This time Andrew rolled up his sleeves and worked physically now and then when his help was needed. It was still light though, when the chopper arrived to take them back to base. It was flown by Lieutenant Pedersen, and their conversation as they headed back was only light.
He was pleased to find that his was the first team back at base, followed not long afterwards by Hitu’s sergeant major. Both choppers had headed straight back out, to pick up the remaining two teams which had by then also completed their tasks. There wasn’t really a competition between himself and Hitu, certainly not ‘formally’ at least, but he was a bit proud to think that his own company was achieving their objective a little before Hitu’s each time.
The next few days were pretty much the same. He’d lead his men out, split when appropriate, and march on to begin their own task. Once, he changed the proposed ambush site, having found what he considered a better one a short way back down the trail. This involved clearing the new LZ with one of the helicopter pilots before commencing any work, but he felt that the small delay would be worth it if they had to use the ambush point in the future.
They’d passed one lonely old man, leading a tired looking mule, on one of their forays. The man had waved his hands to show he wasn’t carrying any weapons, and pointed at the packs the mule was carrying, offering by sign language to open them up for inspection. Andrew had no-one with him that day who could have translated. He just smiled and let the man pass on. Strictly speaking, the man probably shouldn’t have been there, coming from the other side of the border, but their job wasn’t one of border patrol so he felt perfectly comfortable letting this fact pass unquestioned.
It took only a matter of days for the tasks of preparing all of the sites to be completed. Then, it was just a matter of waiting for a train of traffickers to come down one of the trails.
Each day one of the companies would be readied for action, the other on ‘stand-by’ in case the first was called out. He and Hitu took this task turn and turn about. Once their kits had been prepared on the first day there was little more to be done, until called into action. He knew that much of the time life for him, and for his men, would be ‘boring’. He’d heard and read it often enough. He hadn’t really appreciated this though. He didn’t relish the fighting that was an inevitability of the politicians’ decision to make this ‘war’ more active, but would welcome the break in the routine that they’d fallen into. There were a few ‘false alarms’ of course. Sometimes the sensor were triggered by single passers-by, like the one he’d met on one of his expeditions, and small ‘legitimate’ trains using the trails. More often than not, they were set off by the passing of one of the local wildlife. No doubt this equipment would soon be in civilian use, if it wasn’t already. It would be ideal for capturing images of the rarer creatures around the world, once their tracks and paths had been located. He thought of the many nature programmes he’d watched, and thought something similar at least must already be in use. There was apparently now even one image of a jaguar doing the rounds, a rare sight indeed.