I have been neglecting my writing for the last few months due to so much acting work.  I certainly can’t complain!  But I have a free day today (first in quite a while!), so I’ve been hammering away on my keyboard all day.  I’ve managed three pages already, so really pleased with the way it’s pouring out onto the page.  I’ve paused for a spot of lunch and thought I’d update you lovely lot.  Don’t worry I’ll be cracking on again very shortly.  I hope it will be out by July, but here’s a little extract to keep you going in the meantime…

Prologue

The distant grumble of engines pierced the night sky and a small pin-prick appeared on the cloud-shrouded horizon.  The gathering storm buffeted the small commercial airliner as it punched through.

Apart from a skeleton crew, the only passengers were seven men, splayed out around the main cabin, amongst bergens and weapons.  A couple chatted in hushed tones, but otherwise the cabin was quiet and in darkness.

Major Tom ‘Geordie’ Guthrie was hunched over a map, examining it by the inadequate overhead reading light.  The BAe-146 could only seat 110 passengers, so there was no room for luxuries like first class, so Guthrie made do with the tray rest, much to his irritation.  He was often described as a wide man, so economy seating was never going to be pretty.

The man next to him was tall, but thankfully not as broad.  Lieutenant Nick ‘Croc’ Valeros shifted in his seat to get a better look of the area Guthrie was pointing at.  “So, according to the last sit-rep, the rebels still hold the airfield, but there’s no guarantees they’ll still be in control when we land.”  His accent was refined with just a hint of urban New South Wales Australian.

“Aye,” Guthrie muttered.  Glancing up at his second in command, he added, “Could very easily turn into an Algeria …”

Valeros rolled his eyes.  “Don’t bring that shit up, bro.  Should we gather the blokes and go over the exit strategy one more time if it’s a hostile LZ?”

“No need.  Everyone knows what to do.  Just keep Argent close to you, with this being his first time out with us.”

“I checked with several corps NCOs and grunts who served with him in Helmand and they all said he was cool under fire – a bit of a smart arse at times, but solid.”

Guthrie glanced back at the map and said, “This is a high level personality on his own turf.  We’ve got the assistance of the rebels – they’re a handy bunch – and we’ve factored in every possible worst case scenario, but there’s still significant risks and I want to make sure nowt goes wrong and we all get back in one piece.”

“Geordie, I’ll keep an eye on him.”

The plane trembled and then dropped briefly.

Guthrie glanced at Valeros as the pilot spoke over the PA.  “We’re heading into some rough air up ahead, so expect some bone rattling.”

“He’s a real fucking charmer,” Corporal Patrick ‘Paddy’ McFlaherty said, glancing up from his tatty copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.

“What do ya expect, mate, blowjobs and snuggles?” Lance Corporal Mark ‘Ardman’ Argent said.

“Why don’t you fuck off back to The Only Way is Essex?” Paddy replied and fixed his grizzled and unwavering stare on the younger man.

Ardman opened his mouth to speak, but the man next to him placed a hand on his arm.  Sergeant Chris ‘Cooler’ Hilts’ tone was casual, but the advice was anything but.  “Don’t upset grouchy over there.  He hasn’t had his morning dump yet.”

The man sat behind them clicked his tongue, to which Cooler leaned over, and said, “So is it the word ‘dump’ you don’t approve of, Arty?  Or is it ‘grouchy’?”

Corporal Aazim Malik pushed his glasses back up onto the bridge of his prominent nose and said, “You know I don’t like foul language, Sergeant Hilts.”

“Jesus, Arty, you were actually in the Army, weren’t you?” Cooler said, shaking his head in disbelief.

“Royal Army Medical Corps, as you well know.  We couldn’t all be big heroes in the Boy’s Brigade.”

“What the fuck’s the Boy’s Brigade?  Is that some sort of Scouts outfit or something?”

“They don’t have the Boy’s Brigade in the States then?” Ardman asked.

“No, we throw our kids into bear pits for training and then give ’em a real gun and tell them to go kill the ragheads.”

“Fucking yanks are all the same,” Paddy muttered.

“You were in the Boy’s Brigade?” Sergeant Agnar ‘Dolph’ Evenstad asked.  “I thought it was that pussy outfit, the Rangers?”  He grinned to reveal a couple of missing teeth.

Cooler stared at the boulder of a Scandinavian and laughed.  “Hey, at least people have heard of the Rangers, pal.  No one’s heard of the FSK or even knew that you Swedes even had armed forces, never mind special forces!”

“I’m Norwegian, mack.”

“Well, pardon me all to Hell.”

“We just got the job done – we didn’t beg Hollywood to make movies about us.”

“You may be bigger than a fucking iceberg, pal, but you still need your fire-team to watch your six when you’re laying down the wrath of God.”

Dolph picked up the MG 3 machinegun that had been occupying the seat next to him and cradled it like a baby.  “My baby speaks the truth, Coolerman.”

“You’re a fascinating man, Dolph.  You should be being studied.”

Guthrie had observed the exchange in silence.  It was the usual bullshit pre-op banter – they would be taking the piss out of each other’s mothers next.  They all appeared relaxed, even the newbie.  But he knew better than that.  In reality, they would all be stewing over the mission in the confines of their own heads.  One or two might even be thinking ‘what ifs’.  It was easy to put those sorts of niggling doubts aside when the bullets started flying whizzing past your ears, but in the period of limbo before things kick off, they were never too far away.

“Ardman seems to be slotting in alright,” Valeros said.

“As long as he doesn’t fuck Paddy off,” Guthrie said.  “I swear, that bastard gets more cantankerous every time we go out.”

“Nah, bro, he’s always had that winning personality.  Comes from jumping out of planes and landing on his head too many times.”

During the conversation, what had started as an intermittent trembling now had the plane in the grips of a psychotic episode.

“Now I know how the glider lads felt dropping into France on D-Day,” Valeros said with a humourless snort.

“Not much worse than those early Hercs we used to get battered around in, eh?”

“So we’ve got iPhones and Kindles, but we can’t get a decent ride.”

“Mother Nature’s a bitch.”

A blinding blue-tinged flash caused both men to shoot concerned glances at the small window.  “SAM?” Guthrie managed as the smell of cordite filled his nostrils.

Before Valeros could reply blackness engulfed them.