Making a career out of Special Forces, Special Forces of any country, is a bit on the masochistic side. Getting through basic training, specialty schools, deployment, and then SAS training takes a special breed of man. The type who revels in proving he is better at his craft than anyone else and is willing to use those skills in the service of Queen and country. Deployment in regular units is chancy enough, what with a fair chunk of Islam having lost their minds gradually since the late 1940s and the Yanks forgetting how they helped with two World Wars. Or so it seems to those of us watching them flail about the last half century, give or take a few years. Deployment with Special Forces is even riskier. And there seems to be less and less care as to what six or eight rounds in the Sandbox does to a man’s mind.
Desert Storm went off better than some of the other Yank wars and interventions of the last five decades. The Iraqis were better at terrorizing helpless Kuwaitis or their own citizens than they were at fighting, with a few exceptions. I saw some action with SAS in both the lead up to the invasion of Kuwait and Iraq and the actual war itself. Not a lot, given how good the Iraqis were at running, but enough to appreciate what a hellhole the entire region was. When the war ended with Saddam Hussein still on the throne, I knew it would not bode well for anyone involved. The man was an egomaniacal megalomaniac who would never accept the box into which the Yanks tried to shove him.
So there I was in an American Army hospital at the old HMS Juffair naval base in Bahrain that the Americans took over after taking a round in the thigh on a mission so stupid I am still not sure what it was really about. It was third deployment to the Sandbox since before the Gulf War and my second wound in as many idiotic missions. My mates had dropped by earlier that morning to tell me I would be getting a medal for taking a shot meant for my lieutenant but I was still a more than a mite morose as I pondered if this was what I wanted to do until some idiot not long out of Sandhurst got me killed.
I was shocked out of my glum reverie by an Australian accent hailing me cheerfully, “Edgar! I heard you were about, mate.”
Looking up, I smiled wanly at Ambrose Devlin, an older, far more seasoned vet from Australia I met on a couple of joint operations in Southeast Asia when I was just an infantryman temporarily stationed at Diego Garcia. He looked as dangerous and competent as ever, even if he was smiling sympathetically down at me from the foot of my comfortable bed. He was dressed in a fine suit and had a large cannon under his arm. He was darkly tanned, showing he had been in the region for a few days at the very least.
“Captain? What are you doing here, sir?” I asked incredulously, struggling to sit up straighter.
He shook his head and walked around to help me. “Just Ambrose Devlin these days, Sergeant. I did my twenty and retired a lieutenant colonel. I am in private security now. For someone we both know, as a matter of fact,” he said with a chuckle as he sat in the chair next to my bed, his eyes twinkling. “Do you remember your lieutenant for that operation against the pirates in Sumatra? Lieutenant Spencer?”
I grimaced and nodded. “A greener officer I never saw,” I growled in memory. Lt. Spencer was someone important’s kid when I was in my first unit and we somehow were chosen for a raid on a pirate den with the Australian and Indonesian units tracking them. Spencer actually didn’t turn out too bad, mainly thanks to Sergeant Adderton.
Devlin chuckled again. “Well, his daddy died so he wound up having to resign his commission to take care of the family affairs,” he informed me a little more soberly. “Now he is a Foreign Office trouble shooter and I run his security. We are here to talk to some Russians. Yeltsin has his knickers in a twist over something and the PM and the Americans thought Lord Spencer would have better luck with him than someone from the U. S. State Department.”
It sounded like a boring, very well-paid bit of work. “If you ‘run’ his security, what is with the cannon?” I asked, nodding to the grip of a very large automatic sticking out of his jacket.
It was meant as a joke but his eyes turned very serious. “The Baron has his share of people who are less than fond of him,” he replied vaguely, and then he smiled with a hint of exasperation. “And he has a niece who is terminally paranoid. A little slip of a girl from back home that he adopted when his brother died. She thinks there is no such thing as too much security. After a few incidents, we have all decided to humor her. Especially since she is very fond of the words, ‘I told you so!’ The child has a doctoral degree in Constructive Paranoia MI6 would be proud of and she is only fifteen.”
“Interesting kid,” I responded with a grin. I winced as I tried to squirm into a more comfortable position.
“Let me let you get back to resting and healing,” Devlin said, rising. He gave me a long look and took out a card from his jacket pocket. “Look me up when you get healed up and back home. And definitely look me up if you decide to get out after this latest adventure of yours.”
“Yes, sir,” I replied, glancing at the card that had his name, telephone number, and a slightly altered Devlin crest on it. I looked up at him at him once more and nodded thanks for the offer he never explicitly made. “And thank you, sir.”
Less than a year later, I was done. I had enough of chasing crazy people who seem to have fried their brains by standing in the African and Middle Eastern sun for way too long. I spent a few months detoxing the violence and blood out of my system on the sofas of various friends around London before deciding I needed to do something with myself. I searched my meager belongings for Devlin’s card but couldn’t find it. Lieutenant Spencer’s family was fairly prominent and it wasn’t hard to find out where they lived in London. So I went and bought a decent enough suit and took myself off to Spencer’s London townhouse.
“Yes?” a haughty female voice accented with a mix of Australian and Chelsea demanded, sounding a little winded, over the intercom at the town house’s gate after I pushed the button for the third time. “May I help you? My apologies. You interrupted me at something.”
Manners crept into the second question and I smiled up at the camera. “My name is Edgar Laetham, madam,” I replied politely. “I was hoping to find Ambrose Devlin here.”
There was a long pause before the gate started to open. “Come up to the house. Give me a minute to let you in,” she ordered warily.
I walked through the gate, up the steps, and stood before the somewhat imposing door to the Baron of Spencer’s lavish abode. And waited. For a while. I was beginning to think the woman on the intercom had forgotten about me when the door swung open on Twiggy’s daughter. Twiggy’s apologetic daughter. The girl stood under a meter and a half with a thin, muscled build hidden under an elegantly baggy and thin shirt and capris of white silk. Her sun-kissed, slightly sweaty auburn hair was pulled back into a loose pony tail and she had an impish face as she gestured me to enter, amusement dancing in her blue eyes.
“Edgar Laetham, you said?” she asked as she led me into the house. Her movements were graceful. And predatory. Her eyes seemed to see everything in their darting glances. I knew men, veterans of some of the most vicious firefights I had ever seen, who didn’t scare me as much as that little girl did at that moment. Those eyes had not only seen death but dealt it. And she couldn’t be much more than twelve or thirteen. When I nodded reluctantly, an eyebrow arched and her lips quirked into something that was probably a smile but made me shiver. “I really should have sent you away,” she told me with what sounded like an apologetic tone. “I am the only one home at the moment, aside from the cook and the maid.”
That stopped me on the threshold of a well-appointed sitting room. “Huh?” was my brilliant response.
That slip of a girl who was scaring the bloody hell out of me sat in one of the expensive arm chairs and imperiously waved me to another. “Most of the household is off to Scotland and the Spencer estate there, Ambrose included,” she told me, making me jump to my feet with confusion before her glare cut my knees from under me. “My name is Dame Alice Spencer-Killdare, Baron Spencer’s niece.”
I was gawking. I knew I was gawking but could not help it. This was the paranoid niece who made Ambrose Devlin walk around with a cannon? “Er, sorry to interrupt whatever it was you were doing, Miss Spencer. I’ll just leave you to it,” I blurted out, rising once more only to plop back into my seat again at her glaring gesture.
“It is Spencer-Killdare, Mr. Laetham,” she corrected with a mild rebuke. “And you may as well tell me why you are here. I have already cooled down, so I won’t be returning to my practice.”
“Er, that is I ... well,” I stumbled haltingly in the face of what looked like someone’s baby sister but who had to be twenty or twenty-five years old with a personality much older. I cleared my throat and tried again, knowing I was blushing. “Ambrose Devlin and I served together once or twice and he told me to look him up when I got home. Truth be told, Miss Spencer-Killdare, I could use a job.”
She looked at me with that piercing, predator’s gaze and nodded. “SAS,” she stated with mild approval. It wasn’t a question. This child took one look at me and simply decided I was SAS.
.... There is more of this story ...