The next night you could feel the tension build. We all felt it. We didn’t know if we’d make contact that night but we were ready to throw down a fight at the drop of a hat. We almost wanted it at that point, we were bred for this and the situation evoked all of our instincts to kill and destroy. But it never came. Another day sleeping in the dirt and trying not to get heatstroke and we were on the move again come dusk. After four hours, just before midnight, the birdcall came out of the darkness and we all froze.
Each of us like statues, our eyes heaved open and peeled to inhuman shapes. Nothing followed, just silence until it came again. I crouched down, pointed at Longshot and we both jogged forward into the night. As we moved the sound of our footsteps sounded thunderous, our senses were peaked.
“Sir,” came a whisper out of the black night.
“Where are you?”
“Jesus, Murphy, you’ve turned fucking invisible!”
“Fuck, all right, I see you.”
“Sir, it’s just up here, we’ll need to come at it from over this way, Sir.”
“How does it look?”
“It’s just right here, Sir.”
“Jesus, half of that wasn’t even on the map. Longshot, get setup and tell us what you think. Good job, Murphy, head back to the lads and tell Junior I said to flatten out the unit and wait one. ”
And so we sat there and watched, Longshot and I, soaking up the scene of Kyzylorda; both of us analysing the town from top to bottom. There were two main roads running into it from the northeast and the northwest and at three miles wide it didn’t cut a formidable image. I knew to be wary too, because inside that town a contingent of Serik’s men could be lurking, hungry to rip us to pieces at the first opportunity. I knew well enough not to assume anything.
In less than ten minutes we sized up the situation. There wasn’t any sign of Serik’s boys, no road blocks, no banners. The town hummed with the usual, calm droning of a small city. Almost all of the lights were off, leaving it in a dull lifelessness as I decided to bring my men into its confines. We still had two hours before dawn so I double-timed us up and into that still sleeping town to find a place to hold up for the day. Tony had spotted an apartment complex just inside the limits of the town and that’s where we were headed.
As we got in amongst the streets we moved in single file, tight against the shop fronts, and wound our way to the apartment buildings. They were long and low, only five storeys tall, but the rooftops gave excellent command of the surrounding area and afforded cover by way of a lip that ringed them. Breaking the lock on the service door I waited as my men filed up one by one and made their way to the roof. Within minutes we could hear people stirring on the floor below us but wedging the access door shut kept us locked away from them.
“Get men setup on each corner, Junior. Longshot, I want you with me, we’ll take our own hide up front over the main entrance. Everyone else, I want you lined up along the lip to get your heads down out of sight. We shouldn’t have any bother up here today lads, but be ready for it to kick off!”
Tony and I setup at just back from the lip of the rooftop, lying down side by side with both our rifles perched in front of us. As we began our vigil of observing the town waking up I glanced around and saw four pairs of my men settling into each of the four corners of the rooftop and the rest of the lads spreading out to get some rest as dawn broke. We were both safer and in a more precarious position than we had been since we left the checkpoint, but with realising the chance of resupplying and the hope of getting up Syr Darya to the reserve, it felt like we were finally in the fight.
The building we had chosen faced south. It gave us views down a main street that curved west out of sight at five hundred yards, before joining the main avenue that ran almost all the way to the southern outskirts of the town. The surrounding buildings in the area, about two square miles in total, were laid out in a grid so there were views in all direction via each corner. As for Tony and I, we watched the distance and the neighbouring apartment buildings.
By the time the first rays of light reached down onto the street we had eyes on all sorts. There were a lot of schools in the town so students filed out of almost every building early in the day but once they had reached their destinations the streets again became deserted. With the heat of day rising the bustle died off into blank silence as the locals all retreated into their homes to avoid the maddening temperature. We swapped out shifts at the corners every four hours, but Longshot and I stayed put – resting one at a time.
We watched the streets like hawks and saw no sign of Serik’s presence in the town. No patrols, no rooftop watches leering at the people below, not even a stray gunman going about some business. By evening as the students flushed back onto the streets and then disappeared again, I was hopeful we’d stumbled into friendly territory. That being said, Serik could have ordered a night time only presence. Or, if he had already gained control of the outlaying area then he didn’t need to take the town per se, he could just sit back and smother its vital supply lines from afar.
Darkness fell that first night and with it came the first shower of rain we’d experienced in more than three months. It wasn’t uncommon around that time of year, but Christ it was sweet. I had forgot how it felt to have it fall on your body. It was heavenly despite only being a light shower. Just as well though, because the temperature then took a sudden drop by midnight. At that stage we’d been on watch for sixteen hours and hadn’t seen any reason not to sneak farther into town and try to get some materiel. I crouch-walked over to Bacon, Murphy and Pretty Boy who were sleeping under the lip and had them get down onto the streets and take a look around.
They headed east and Tony and I watched them for as long as we could until they were out of sight. The lads on the south eastern corner kept an eye on them as they entered a shop though. Most small businesses had domestic residences right above them where the owners would lived with their families, so it was a risky move. Still though, we needed food and water and needs must, so Murphy, Bacon and Pretty Boy pried open a shutter and entered with their side arms drawn. They had made considerable noise getting inside so the upstairs light came on as they entered and I was called over to the south eastern corner to observe.
Watching through my binoculars I saw all three men roll out from under the buckled shutter at the front of the shop and start back to us carrying bundles. There was no sign of anyone else and they seemed in perfect health as if nobody had come down to investigate our breaking into their shop. In no time they had made it back and were divvying out bottles of water and tins of fruit. There wasn’t a whole lot but to eat tinned fruit was amazing. I’ve never tasted such sweet and delicious pears.
“Pretty Boy, what happened? We saw the upstairs light come on.”
“Sir. The owner came down but we got the jump on him. Bacon clocked him from behind and he was out cold before he got a chance to see who we were.”
“Good job, Bacon!”
“What else did he have in there, Murphy.”
“Sir. He had some kitchenware, tools and various foodstuffs. If you wanna give us more men to carry more stuff back I’ll show them the way.”
“No. I don’t want you going back there again. We’re gonna wait and see what response the locals mount before undertaking any more actions. Junior and Longshot will pick three teams of three to go back out once I give the all clear.”
“Sir. Yes, Sir.” came their reply.
“Rehydrate and put yourselves around some of these pears here. Talk to Junior or Longshot if you want to go back out. It won’t be long till the next wave of teams will be on the ground. Go.”
Walking back to Longshot I handed him a bottle of water and a tin of pears then explained the situation. Together we watched the streets as a dated looking police car wound its way north through the town centre, then to the east where Pretty Boy & Co. had relieved the shop owner of his wares. Twenty minutes later it returned again in silence and once more the streets took on the forgotten appearance of a ghost town. Waiting, we scoured the area for any signs of life, but all seemed clear. Giving Tony the nod, he walked over to Junior and together they assigned the teams their duties then came back to me.
“Thanks, Tony. Whenever you’re ready send them out.”
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey