SECTION ALPHA
Part 1 of the Section Alpha series of books.

Copyright © 2012 Alan Kiernan
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

The information, views, opinions and visuals expressed in this publication are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect those of the publisher. The publisher disclaims any liabilities or responsibilities whatsoever for any damages, libel or liabilities arising directly or indirectly from the contents of this publication.

A copy of this publication can be found in the National Library of Australia. ISBN: 978-0-9873672-0-4 (pbk.)
Published by Alan Kiernan

sectionalpha@hotmail.com www.sectionalpha.com

Book One: Section Alpha Book Two: Fallout Book Three: bombPROOF

Acknowledgement

For my wife Michelle, and children Alexandra, Liam and Zali. For all those times you allowed me to go and write when you wanted to play.

Special thanks to my friend Jacinta Russell, whose editing and proofreading skills proved invaluable.

Beware of extremism in religion, for it was extremism in religion that destroyed those who went before you.

The Prophet Mohammed

Prologue

HINDU KUSH MOUNTAINS, NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN SPRING 2004

It slowly speared across the deep blue sky far above him. Just a white speck, silently churning out four puffy white contrails flowing behind that looked more as if it was producing fine cotton wool than greenhouse gases.

A big one, maybe a 747, he thought to himself, it’s heading northwest, probably on its way to Europe.

He watched its speed as it burned eleven tonnes of fuel every hour while transporting its precious human cargo to exotic destinations, sipping French champagne in their comfortable seats while enjoying the latest movie; Destinations that seemed a million miles away from here, now, which was hot and dusty.

They certainly wouldn’t be pushing 7.62mm bullets into a scratched, Russian-made AK47 assault rifle magazine.

He afforded a smile as he whispered to himself in Afghani, a statement that roughly translated as ‘lucky fuckers’.

Grunting, shifting his weight onto the other side of his arse cheek, his head dipped and gaze lowered, looking back to earth, back to terra firma, back to the task at hand which was moving across the landscape out in the distance. He could just make out his targets through the shimmer of heat haze rising from the rocks. He blew the dust off the last of the bullets before pushing it into the clip, its temporary

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home until it would come out the other end with a thunderous crack, breaking the sound barrier after he had squeezed the trigger.

The light suddenly dimmed. White clouds scudded across the sky leaving ghostly shadows moving quickly in the serene valley below. Rimmed by jagged rocky mountains and hills at each side, the brown landscape stretched out into the distance and was speckled here and there with patches of green. Colourful scented wildflowers brought out by sporadic recent rains danced in the breeze, and birds could occasionally be heard chirping as they dived and swooped, catching and feasting on insects swept up to the top of the range after having been carried there from the valley below; their world an innocent and more serene one than his.

His weathered face, darkened by years of harsh sun and wind — a reflection of the relentless landscape around him. The eyes, pale olive green and sharp as an eagle’s, studying, assessing, belonged to Ahmed Qaderi, who was sitting on a rock just down from the top of the mountain ridgeline so not to be silhouetted against the clear mountain sky. He blew the dust from the clip and placed it into his bag, his gaze immediately refocusing on the distant targets as he felt around inside. He lowered the weapon he had across his knees, leaning it against the rock, and produced a brown paper-wrapped package from his bag. Carefully opening it, his hand wrapped around the spinach and cheese slice inside, a food very popular among the local Tajik people in the Panjshir valleys. In his right hand was a pair of powerful binoculars that were focused on the team of donkeys being led into the mountain pass on the other side of the valley. It had been three days now, tracking them heading southeast toward the border with Pakistan. He found the group crossing the Kundûz river, heading down

the valley just north of Baghlân and into the Khwaja Muhammad range in the Hindu Kush mountains that run like a massive scar across Afghanistan and into Northern Pakistan.

There was something strange about this group of smugglers that had garnered his attention. He couldn’t quite pick it, maybe it was just a feeling, maybe it was years of experience talking; they didn’t seem to be Taliban fighters. For a start there were four donkeys but only three were carrying goods, the fourth was a spare, making this a valuable load — whatever it was. Then there was the fact they were led by four men armed with AK47’s, an assault rifle of choice that most people carried around these parts, but these men moved differently, and he had noticed that on the first day they had lagged an extra man behind now and then to make sure they weren’t being followed. This was unusual for opium smugglers to do, he had a gut feeling they were Russian, maybe from around Georgia or Chechnya. They didn’t look Turkmenistani, and coupled with the fact they were coming from that direction, this made him think there would be more than drugs on the backs of those donkeys. But what?

In the afternoon sun, he had spotted some long boxes under the blanket as one of the men tried to re-adjust the load. A gust of wind had blown the blanket off the donkey’s back uncovering the cargo, but was quickly replaced. Yes, there was certainly something strange about the behaviour of this group. If they had been opium smugglers he couldn’t care; opium was not his main priority.

Popping the last of the slice into his mouth, he pulled his robes tighter as the chill wind whipped up and dust began to swirl around. His clothes were designed by the specialist camouflage department at MI6 to fit into the local geological surroundings and not be out of place with the

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local people. His work here as a roving MI6 operative was to observe the local valleys and report any unusual activity. The main aim as a one-man team was to track guns being brought into the mountains by the Taliban. He was also here to be on the lookout to bag high value Tier One targets like Osama Bin Laden who had been around these parts after September the 11th 2001, and had spent a lot of time in the Tora Bora caves and valley hideouts in these

remote mountain ranges, mostly moving around at night. Then not long after, the Americans and the British SAS came looking for him, searching for this man. They were armed with all the right equipment and all the wrong information, and Bin Laden found it easy to stay one-step ahead of them as the Delta Special Forces troops swept up the valleys and through the caves, fighting hand-to-hand, searching for this man who had burned at their hearts and changed the world forever. The only problem was the Americans hadn’t allowed for the will and the laws of the Pastun people; an unaggressive visitor to their land would be protected and given shelter, as their ancestors had followed this law for a thousand years, especially a brother mujahedeen fighter that had helped to rid the country of the Russians years earlier. Why should they change for one man, especially a visitor who had brought them new guns with which to fight the neighbouring tribes they were constantly at war with around the region? Bin Laden had won their hearts and minds, the psychological battlefield that is the first step in gaining the help and trust of the local

people, and the key to winning any war.
In fact, Delta force troops came close one night to

catching Osama not far from here after a heavy bombing by a B1. A spotter drone had picked up the heat signature of the generator used to run the dialysis equipment that Bin Laden required every few days for his kidney disease. It

was the only time they had ever gotten so close. Freezing cold and injured, he was saved by a quick thinking 13-year- old boy with a donkey that spirited him from the caves and over two mountain passes to safety in Pakistan as the Americans swept up the valley below. It was a victory for mountain simplicity over new age technology. Since that night, Bin Laden had taken his personal security a lot more seriously and had look-a-likes and doubles constantly moving around from hideout to hideout, and bribed local officials to stay on his side. Hearts and minds – oh, and don’t forget—money!

Qaderi felt a chill as he watched the donkeys going into the shadow of the mountain. As soon as they cleared the entrance to the pass, he would quickly have to traverse across the ridgeline down the back side then across the valley to the next hills in order to keep following them. As he suspected, they had once again left behind a man who was now catching up to the group as they entered the mountain pass, and he had a good idea which way they would go.

As shadows fell, the wind was getting stronger and whipping up a lot of dust as the sun fell lower in the sky. Qaderi wiped the grit from his eyes, as raising his hand he peered through the binoculars again. Yes, there they were, they were definitely headed into that pass—a pass that was guarded by large rock formations that jutted up from the earth like daggers, a towering testament to the ferocity of the many earthquakes that rocked this isolated region on a regular basis.

Suddenly, a strong gust snapped around him, covering him by the dust it stirred up. He pulled his robes tighter and moved his headscarf around his face as the wind grew stronger and the dust heavier, infiltrating his eyes and his clothes. He would have to work hard now to make it to his

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next observation point as his MI6 training had taught him. Grabbing his bag and AK47, he edged his way down the mountain into a crevice and rock overhang to ride out a strong sudden wind that should only last a few minutes. He took this time to gulp some water, as it began to die down he started his move across the ridgeline to the next observation point a good distance away.

Sweat was pouring from him as he eased his way to the top of the rock and peered into the valley below. The mountain pass was visible from this point but there was a rocky out crop blocking his view forcing him further along to get a better vantage point. On his belly, he carefully slithered closer to the edge, now with a good view of the valley and the pass—but where were the donkeys? He swept the binoculars from left to right and up and down but they were nowhere to be seen. He cursed to himself for not seeing it coming and his mind was now working furiously running all options, they must have doubled back and used a different pass for some reason because they were certainly not here. Standing up his eagle eyes scanned the valley. There was no movement and the only sound he could hear was the wind making its eerie chant as it slipped and whistled through the rocks and over the mountaintops, filling every crevice with a ghostly reminder of the remoteness of this land, and the fact that things can get lost here—even people.

If only I had been quicker across the ridgeline, he thought to himself, I might have had a chance of knowing their direction. Who knows what they were carrying or where its final destination might be, as his eyes searched back and forth along the vast valley and mountains on the other side. One thing seemed for certain, this cargo was headed toward the vast mountain ranges of northern

Pakistan, through areas where a good bribe to local police would see safe passage to cargo and—of course—smuggler.

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Alan Kiernan

One

MANILA HARBOUR, PHILIPPINES SUMMER 2004

‘Move you idiot! Aw come on mate, just move to the left a bit,’ he gritted his teeth, mumbling to himself as he refocused the binoculars on the fat sweaty uniformed customs official who was in conversation with a beautiful Filipino woman on the docks of Manila harbour.

‘A bit more…that’s it, that’s it, oh yeah.’

Mentally he was urging him to move, sending him a telepathic message. Maybe I need to send it in Tagalog, he thought to himself. He allowed a smile to crease his lips. The official changed his weight from one leg to the other and moved just enough for him to catch a full glimpse of the white slacks and green top the gorgeous woman was wearing as she chatted to the official. She was doing her job, the one she was supposed to do, keeping the official distracted. Who had paid her? It didn’t matter. His attention settled again on the white slacks, tailored and shapely.

‘Now that’s the best arse I’ve seen in a long time. Fuck, I hope you’re getting this, J,’ Dave Coulter remarked to himself. This was the best thing, the most exciting thing that had happened to him today, apart from a really good scratch of his right nut earlier that brought sheer relief, after which he spent the next fifteen minutes wondering if he had picked up some sort of rash from this shit hole. Not Manila itself (he wouldn’t touch the girls here); he meant his present location. It was fairly boring and uncomfortable

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lying in the roof space of a rat-infested, dusty, bird shit filled, disused waterside warehouse collecting information and intelligence. Extremely hot and uncomfortable, and made even more so because the humidity had begun to soar as a distant tropical rainstorm slowly made its way across the bay toward him. Ship horns blared and noise filtered up as a breeze blew dust around from an open hole in the side of the wall.

‘Fuck it’s hot,’ he groaned, as a single bead of sweat ran down his cheek into the eyepiece. He blinked, wiping it away with his meaty knuckle. She didn’t look like a terrorist, she looked more like a fashion model—but he’d seen her photo before and he was certain it was on the board of his secure base just outside the city—an office base he shared with the other covert members from Section Zulu.

She flicked her hair as she moved her breasts around in a flirtatious manner and wiggled her tight white slacks that contained that wonderfully shaped arse. He wished Lucas were here to share in this incredible scene as he was certain that they wouldn’t believe him back at The Vault, their name for home base. He hoped Lucas was also watching this scene play out from down there on the dock below where he had headed. After all he’d been gone for—his eyes flicked a glance at his watch—‘Jesus, almost an hour! Fuck, where are you J?’

Dave Coulter and Jason Lucas had partnered ever since they’d arrived in the Philippines as part of Section Zulu twelve months earlier, as one of Australia’s roving secret overseas squads that were dispatched to spy on her close neighbours and report any terrorist movement back to central headquarters in Canberra.

Section Zulu had been formed in the aftermath of 9/11, when the government realised there could be a threat to

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Australia after having sent troops to Afghanistan to join the ‘coalition of the willing’ in search of Osama Bin Laden and to wipe out al-Qa’eda, and was relaying very useful information that was keeping Australia safe from the threat of terrorist acts. Every country that bordered Australia now had one covert section squad in place, sort of the first line of defence. However, more recently, the information collected had a worrying overtone; it appeared there could already be organised terrorist groups established inside the fence— within Australia. Not just the little ones that were known and had been under surveillance for the past few years, but more organised ones with links to Jemmah Islamiah and Abu Sayyaf, ones with connections to al-Qa’eda and the network of evil that now appeared to span the globe. Section Zulu was the perfect way to keep Australia safe. The United States set up a section of homeland security known as Black Eagle to do the same and it was proving effective.

Dave had decided to join Section Zulu as his way of fighting the demons inside his head, the ones that burned at his heart after robbing him of his world. Demons that almost destroyed this happy-go-lucky, football-loving, beer- drinking Aussie bloke. This was his way of fighting back; his way of dealing with this menace to the world.

In the past, he had been fairly happy patrolling Sydney Airport as a Protective Services Officer after joining the Australian Federal Police (AFP) a few years earlier. Even though it wasn’t all that exciting dealing with drunks and people misbehaving, it did give him time with his beautiful girlfriend Rebecca, a girl he’d met at a party and knew one day he would marry. He was happy and the world seemed an excellent place to live and breathe.

Then in October 2002, Rebecca went to Bali on a holiday with her girlfriends, and was walking with her

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friend Kelly back to the hotel to call Dave and say goodnight. Their route took them down Tenjung Mekhar and past the Sari Club, and they snickered at how packed it was and how everyone was drinking and having a good time.

‘The girls’ll come past here when they leave the restaurant and won’t get home until four in the morning I’ll bet you,’ Kelly remarked, as arms around each other they laughed about it, feeling oh so happy. Then in an instant of bright orange fireball, they were both ripped apart by the blast that made history, and was the beginning of the end of Australia’s long love affair with the exotic island paradise.

‘Lukey, you copy?’ Dave whispered into the comms mouthpiece, but all he got back was static. ‘Lukey, you copy?’ he repeated.

Shit, where was he? He should’ve been way back by now, Dave thought as the smell of satay cooking on the dock invaded his nostrils making his stomach growl, reminding him of just how empty it was and how Lukey hadn’t brought back lunch like he promised. He flicked the top off a water bottle and drank a good amount, feeling the cool liquid slide into the empty pit. Lucas had left their observation perch earlier to get a closer look at the cargo that was being loaded onto the rusting hulk of a ship moored at the dock in front of them. Some long boxes wrapped in tarps had seemed out of place with the other cargo being loaded and warranted further investigation. The both of them were here after a tip off from one of the local snouts, who gave them information from time to time and were paid well for it. They had set up a network of informants, preened them over time and it seemed to be secure and was starting to pay off.

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‘Lucas, are you receiving this?’ Still nothing. He had to make a decision based on the situation. Maybe there was a comms failure. After a few minutes, he decided to look for his partner as the integrity of the team was paramount over the information collected. The last he saw of him was slowly checking crates further up the dock. Dave edged back from the video camera and binoculars, making his way to the dock below.

The smell was the first thing to hit him as he stepped out into the doorway, the sun beating down at what seemed like four thousand degrees. The sweet aroma of food cooking was occasionally overpowered by the smell of the rotting rubbish floating in the water below, as it grabs you by the throat snapping you back to the reality of where you really were. He looked around and walked toward a crate grabbing a clipboard that was on the top and pretended to check some numbers as he moved along the dock trying not to arouse any suspicion. This was really strange, where was Lucas? And why hadn’t he reported back by now? He only went for a closer look, so he should have been fairly easy to locate.

The first large rain drops started to patter on the crates and ground as the sky grew dim, the burning sun replaced by rising humidity. The girl had gone, but the customs officials were still ordering people around as the cranes lifted pallets onto the rusting ship. Stopping at a stack of crates and boxes, he glanced around the dock area for Lucas but couldn’t locate him. Larger drops now fell, as there was a rumble in the distance and the smell of rain was apparent as the breeze picked up offering only slight refreshment from the heat. He was about to move further along the dock when he noticed a singular drop of blood on the fresh wood of the crate. Glancing around, he found another on the ground, then a few more. He started to follow the blood

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drops as they mingled with the rain, one here, and one there, and they had a definite trail that was now being washed away as the rain drops grew more frequent. Searching he had lost the trail until he spotted another drop on the side of a wooden crate which led him toward a dirty old van parked against the side of the warehouse. Looking around everything seemed normal. He followed the drops to the back of the van; there was one on the bumper bar. The windows were painted over, so checking the handle he opened the back door and froze where he stood. The sight of Lucas, eyes locked open in horror and throat slashed, was surreal. The blood had already drained from his body leaving his skin a sickly grey colour. It pooled on the van’s floor along with rubbish, cigarette butts and empty coke cans.

Coulter stood there as if frozen in time, as if the world had instantly stopped turning and the large raindrops were suspended in mid air.

How could something like this happen to a switched on guy like Lucas? Time seemed to be moving agonisingly slowly, frame-by-frame, as an overwhelming cold feeling, a tenseness inside took over his body. He could sense people moving in behind him and instinctively his hand reached into his shirt and wrapped around his Glock 9mm. His breathing felt sharp and deep.

Demons. This thought ran through his mind as it screamed danger, and he was amazed at how slow everything seemed to be happening; the horrific scene inside the van, the people moving behind him, the drawing of his gun. Suddenly, he felt a sharp cold searing feeling under his left arm as he turned to face the demon behind him.

Again—there was that ice-cold pain again under his arm, what was that? Turning his head, he looked into the

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dark Asian face of the man with bared yellow teeth and hatred in his fiery eyes as he plunged the knife furiously repeatedly up under Dave’s ribs. The Glock was now out and pointing in the general direction; his finger squeezed the trigger with a jolt from the recoil, he countered it and squeezed again. Bang bang. And the eyes with hate opened wide with shock, fear and pain. He felt somewhat calm, gaining the situation back, until he looked further at something that shocked him even more than the knife entering his ribs, as another blow rammed into his side from someone else. It was the sight of the Customs official barking orders at the men to hurry up that really horrified him, as he felt another knife spear into his spine and a strange electric tingling sensation run down his side as he lost control of his arm dropping the gun. It was as if he was looking down a tunnel at a surreal scene happening to somebody else in slow motion. Hands were on him and he was powerless to stop them from bundling him into the back of the van next to Lucas. The last thing he saw on this earth was the flash of the bloodied knife, as in one quick movement it slashed across his throat.

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Two

CARLTON CEMETERY MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA AUTUMN 2005

The ground was still wet from the autumn downpour that had passed through a short time earlier, cleansing the headstones and tree leaves, watering the green lawns and washing the pathways between the final resting places for so many. The puffy white clouds were moving away to the east, a monolithic silent sentinel to the city it had just washed clean.

The smell of burning leaves still hung in the air from the pile the gardener had incinerated earlier, the mound still smouldered, slowly smoking under a massive oak tree as he raked up more leaves further down the path, and a group of people huddled in a rotunda not far away. The place was nearly deserted.

A passing thought crossed the mind of the silver-haired man, it hadn’t rained for days maybe even a week, as he stepped from underneath his Burberry dark umbrella and over to the hole in the ground, the resting place for one.

Handsome in his own way, John Form looked resplendent, dressed in his charcoal Armani suit, crisp white Italian cotton shirt and powder blue silk tie. He stepped to the graveside and glanced in at the coffin, his cool blue eyes drinking in the scene. Bending down, he picked up a hand full of soil then straightened up his weary bones. He was about to drop the soil but turned his hand over, opening it. In the middle a worm was wriggling,

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upset at this intrusion to his world. Form watched it for a minute, almost mesmerised, until it stopped suddenly and tried to burrow its way back under to the safety of not being seen. Existing but not in anyone’s view. This was how John Form felt at this precise moment. A moment he could only share with his annelid friend.

Holding out his hand, he tipped the soil onto the coffin, and then produced a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his hand clean. He watched in morbid delight as the worm wriggled its way along the smooth wood surface and then slid down the side into oblivion. A smile creased his lips until his expression changed. When he had finished wiping his hands, he shook the handkerchief out and wiped the tear that had started to well in the corner of his eye and run down his cheek. It looked out of place on such a hard face, a face that told a story of a hard past, a story of a man that was used to having control. Staring at the polished wood of the coffin, he started to choke up as the delayed reaction of loss overwhelmed him. He grunted and his lips tightened. He loved this person. The situation was done, no time to dwell now, be strong. He nodded his head as if in approval that it was time.

‘Goodbye,’ he said, turning to walk away, needing every ounce of energy to do so. He headed in the direction of his car.

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Three

5 WEEKS EARLIER
THE MCAVIN FAMILY HOME, OUTER MELBOURNE

Tony McAvin was standing at the breakfast bar in his kitchen. His fully opened hand cradled the freshly cooked slice of toast he was spreading with Vegemite, as he tried to shrug off the Monday morning blues. He stretched his neck side to side, it cracked and the muscles felt tight and sore from the massive workout he had subjected himself to a day earlier. A shade under six feet tall, he was strong and muscular from his sometimes-manic fitness regime. But he felt good—felt in control—and he was sure the day could only go smoothly as he stretched his shoulders forward feeling the muscles in his back. It was a good feeling being sore after a workout; it made him feel alive.

Now and then, he glanced up at the television news bulletin that filled the screen with carnage. The news bulletin that beams into living rooms at seven every morning with the words ‘Newsflash’ or ‘Breaking News’ giving it all that sense of urgency, hooking viewers like it just happened, even though it may have been hours before. It is part of the modern world—major events that are going on in another part of it that can make their way through TVs, into people’s senses and brains, within hours or even minutes of them unfolding.

‘The death toll from last evening’s massive car bomb that ripped apart the Australian Embassy in Jakarta has reached 68 with another 47 people injured, most of the… ’

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Blonde haired and looking very much the image of his father, his son Todd, aged four, played happily oblivious on the living room floor with his toys, less interested in the horrible world event that was being played out on the screen behind him than he was in his Tonka dump truck smashing into blocks.

‘…injured were locals, but a group of foreign dignitaries who were attending the party, including the host, the Australian Ambassador, and three of his closest staff, were almost certainly killed instantly as they were leaving the building for… ‘

McAvin glanced up at just the right moment, just as the telephone on the wall started to ring, and he spread Vegemite across his hand as well as the golden toasted piece of wholemeal bread.

‘Shit!’ he hissed to himself through gritted teeth as the warm buttery mix of black ooze ran down his hand and he realised what he’d done; attempted to do two things at once, something a woman would say a man is totally and utterly incapable of doing. The ringing phone waiting to be answered just added to the problem, making it three things and that would have been simply impossible. To top it off, he was then hit by the reality his six-year-old daughter Amy was sitting at the breakfast bar watching him, and with eyes narrowed was regarding what was taking place in her cool calculating female mind.

He grunted and tried to save the situation. ‘I mean, bother,’ he added after a few seconds silence, thinking he would dodge a bullet on this one as he put down the toast and attempted to wipe his hands with a paper towel, the phone still ringing, insistent on getting his attention and being answered.

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Her little lips parted and innocence filled her face. ‘Daddy did you say a bad word?’ she asked politely, with all the grace of angels as she tilted her head.

‘No, I said, umm, ship!’

She looked at him and her big blue eyes narrowed as she took it in, not quite believing him. A small but deep breath of frustration exhaled.

‘…although no-one has yet claimed responsibility for this massacre, it is thought to be the work of Jemmah Islamiah, and has all the trade marks of being a highly organised operation… ‘

April, his wife, walked into the room, still trying to put an earring in that was giving her trouble and Amy turned to her. Oh no, he could feel it coming, like a slow moving train crash that he couldn’t stop. ‘Mummy, Daddy said a bad word,’ the angel of grace let slip.

McAvin took in a deep breath. ‘No I didn’t. I said ship,’ he explained to her.

Once again, her little eyes narrowed. ‘It sounded like shit to me.’

‘Amy,’ her mother snapped, glowering at her. ‘Don’t say that even if Daddy did,’ she shot him a nasty look—the one that could freeze vodka solid.

‘Sorry, just sort of slipped out,’ he said sheepishly. After wiping the last of the thick black ooze from his hand, he finally reached for the phone. ‘Hello… but I’m on a day off,’ he glanced back at the TV.

‘…the scale of the threat was… ’

‘Okay. I’ll be there as soon as I can.’ He placed the phone back in its cradle, feeling the pair of eyes behind him burning into his head.

April was glaring at him from the other side of the breakfast bar. ‘What is it?’ she enquired, as she finally got her earring in the right place.

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‘They want me to come in for something important.’

She stopped what she was doing, her temper starting to rise. ‘You promised me you would drop the kids off to school,’ she snapped as she attempted the other earring. ‘You said you would, so do not expect me to do it, you know I want this.’ Her slightly stressed demeanour told him what he already knew.

He smiled reassuringly. ‘I know and I will,’ he answered in his calming voice. ‘I know how important getting this job is to you.’

She stopped fiddling with the earring and blinked. ‘To me,’ she glared. ‘You mean to us! We, not I, we need this job. If I get this job it will put us back in the black, and you know how important this is to us!’ She snapped at him as she spun on stockinged feet and stormed back down the hallway. ‘Todd put your shoes on please,’ the order given on the run, while disappearing into the bedroom. He sighed and took a gulp of tea as he looked back at the television.

‘…although it is likely to be the work of Jemmah Islamiah they have never taken out an operation of this magnitude and it could signal the start of a new level of terror in our region… ‘

The reporter on the screen was talking into the microphone in front of the carnage of twisted metal, shattered glass and papers blowing around the street. He was pointing at the shell of what could have been a van.

‘…wreckage was strewn across the street and it appears that the van may have been where the bomb had been placed… ‘

Amy looked at her father as he cut the toast and put it on her plate. ‘Daddy, is Mummy mad at you?’ she asked, a waver of concern in her young voice.

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‘No sweetheart, Mummy is just a little scared and stressed about going back to work after so long off looking after you two cheeky monkeys.’

For the past almost seven years April had been out of the advertising industry to have their family. It had been hard for her to go from a successful career woman on the rise, to housewife and mother with almost no outlet for those creative juices and dependent on her man to support her. Having to wait for the weekly handout of funds to run the household and hopefully have enough left over to get her nails done. It’s a transition a lot of women find difficult and fall by the wayside, unable to cope with the 24/7 pressure it takes to be a mum of two, with none of the financial reward that they feel they have rightly earned, no tangible dollar in their hand for their efforts at the end of the day.

He’d met her in the bar at the Canberra Rowing Club one bright Sunday afternoon. She looked a picture in the printed summer dress she was wearing, the late afternoon sun reflecting off the water behind her making her look like an angel as she graced the room with her ethereal presence. Anthony James McAvin was there at the bar sinking a few beers with his best mate Nick Weldon. They were attending Duntroon Military College to become officers in the Royal Australian Army.

She and her friend Kylie walked up to the bar and ordered some drinks. McAvin was stunned and could barely speak; he stood there, handsome, cool, and trying not to seem amazed at the vision of womanhood before him. The cool persona all quickly unravelled when he edged across to get Nick’s attention and knocked over his full glass of beer, which ran across the bar, spilled onto the floor and almost got April’s dress as she jumped backwards.

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‘Jesus how embarrassing,’ he said, and she looked at him and laughed, their eyes smiling deep into each other’s. It wasn’t long before a full-on relationship had developed and the couple was almost inseparable, taking the place of the best mate’s relationship that Nick and he shared. Nick didn’t mind though, as he liked April and was happy that McAvin had found true love, something he would do as well.

One day they were watching a Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) fast roping exercise from a Blackhawk helicopter taking place in the oval of the base. The troops in full combat gear with packs slung under their feet quickly slid down the thick black rope as Nick said, ‘That’s what I want to do, that looks like fun.’ McAvin, always ready to have a crack at anything, nodded. ‘Okay knackers, let’s give it a shot, how hard can it be?’ So the pair put in their applications, setting about their next challenge. After they graduated with exceptional grades and were based in the same regiment in Canberra, the fitness training continued. Ten months later they were invited to attend selection at the next year’s course at the Special Air Service Regiment’s base in Swanbourne, Western Australia. Already in good physical shape through all the sports and training they had done, they kicked it up a notch and the weight training increased along with the runs up Mount Ainsley with full packs. Then came the time to put all the training to the test —across to the other side of the continent and up to Bindoon for the infamous Carter course. Selection had been the hardest thing he had ever done. By the time it had finished he’d lost nine kilos and had faced the most gruelling time of his life. Later that year he and Nick were ‘badged’ into the Special Air Service (SAS) and moved to Perth to take up their new positions, and they requested if they could be in the same squadron as they worked well

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together. McAvin invited April to come over and she quit her job to follow the man she had fallen in love with.

He and Nick went to some amazing places with the SAS, and while on patrol in Somalia one evening McAvin had stopped Nick just in time from stepping on a land mine by only centimetres. This no doubt saved his life—or at least his legs.

They accepted an invitation to do two years with the British SAS on a training exercise and interrogation techniques.

Samar El Sir—a little village just outside Rawah in northwestern Iraq. McAvin and Nick had been inserted with members of the British 21 SAS regiment into the desert one cool clear night. There was only the of a moon hanging in the sky but with the exceptional night vision gear the British used, they could see for what seemed like miles. Their mission was to discretely take out a communications building and gather intelligence on the regime of Saddam Hussein, and to sight and record the positions of any scud missiles they came across, as there was an imminent allied invasion planned.

While planting a charge, McAvin was captured by two members of the Iraqi Army and held in an office while they worked out what to do with him. They gave him the occasional beating but were more scared of this mystery man than he was of them. One of them was really just a boy in his late teens armed with a loaded AK47, but his English was good and he asked McAvin if he played football as he liked soccer and his favourite team was Arsenal. McAvin saw the opportunity and used it to his advantage, telling him he was a gunners fan as well, and would send the young man a signed shirt when he got back to England; this stopped the beatings as the young Iraqi told the other soldier to cease. The British had a good idea of what he

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Alan Kiernan

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would face if he were transferred to Baghdad for an interrogation at the hands of experts. Nick was having none of it; he mounted a rescue mission before he was moved, not even having to fire a single shot and no doubt saving McAvin from certain torture and possible death, or at least being paraded on the world stage like a piece of meat. The pair, closer than brothers, did everything together, even their medical training at The Royal Perth Hospital. One night at the RPH, they were having a wheelchair race down a corridor and McAvin flipped the chair on a corner, gashing his leg on the sharp edge of a trolley as he overturned, leaving him with a sizeable scar as a souvenir of his win.

They saw action in places none will ever find out about, and would disappear in the middle of the night for weeks on end with no notice. This caused some problems with April, his new bride at home alone and pregnant. He had no control over his life and she was starting to get sick of the calls that would sometimes take him away from her. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when her father fell ill. McAvin was away on operation and got back only to find he had died and they had buried him ten days before. The lack of control was starting to wear him thin.

East Timor, February 1999. One evening on a road outside Lolotoe, McAvin and Nick were patrolling as security for a group of Dutch peacekeeping troops that were there as part of an expeditionary force to quell trouble that was starting as East Timor looked like it might reach independence from Indonesia. They had both volunteered for this mission, as it was strictly off the books and was only a week long. They were there to report to Swanbourne any useful information, so the Australian regiment could prepare for the inevitable deployment they would face in the coming months, as the violence was sure to escalate. It