Andrew Mason, an ambitious young banking executive, is seemingly unphased by politics and the undercurrent of racial animosity in his native South Africa
Confident, Scholar Cum Laude, gifted sportsman and the son of an affluent family, his swift rise up the corporate ladder seems inevitable. Until, as if having conspired with destiny, two unrelated events intersect to change the course of his future, and within days his well balanced life is abruptly and brutally transformed
Andy is falsely accused of a breach of confidence and unethical conduct within his working environment and is simultaneously called upon by a distraught girl friend needing to reach her parents in her homeland of war torn Rhodesia.
Mason is wholly unprepared for the tragedy that follows and he is left bewildered and traumatized in a country ripped apart by the affects of political intransigence and civil war.
His corporate ambitions in disarray and his emotions in a state of confusion, Andrew enrols in the Rhodesian military where he evolves to become a hardened and ruthless combatant with the elite SAS.
By force of circumstance, through the horrors and tragedies of war, Andy finds himself living two separate lives; one amid the acrid smell of burnt cordite, danger, brutality, sudden death and survival alongside his comrades in “The Squadron” and the other in the overpoweringly intoxicating arms of Alyson Carstens, the spoilt and protected daughter of wealthy parents.
Returning wounded from an ill-fated mission, Andy learns that Alyson is pregnant and they decide to marry. However, on their wedding night, a devastating incident has a dramatic impact on their union, which ultimately exposes an underlying secret liaison of deceit and betrayal with far reaching and catastrophic consequences.
The tragedy of the times is symbolized in Andy’s prosperity, his courage in the face of adversity and the progressive downward spiral as everything he fought for and believes in gradually crumbles.
As one heartbreak follows another, Andrew’s emotional strength is sapped and his decline into alcoholism and despair leaves him vulnerable and reckless.
THE STENCH OF BURNT CORDITE lingered in the night air like a noxious cloud. The ambush had caught them where they’d least expected it, and they’d taken casualties. Stuart’s laboured breathing sounded like the dregs of a milkshake being repeatedly sucked from the bottom of a glass through a straw. The resonance was unmistakable – he had taken a lung shot and was drowning in the blood flooding his bronchial passages.
Twenty metres ahead, Rob had gone down and the awkward manner in which he had fallen left no doubt the shot had been fatal – he had almost certainly died without ever knowing how.
Sergeant Andrew Mason had taken cover thirty metres away and, in the time he’d been lying there – somewhere close to an hour – he had been immobilized in the grip of rising horror, in the face of impending death.
Mason could hear movement close by, just ahead of where he lay. The unseen peril was drawing closer, but the darkness was absolute and for what he could see he may as well have been blind. All he could be sure of was that the slow, soft disturbance of dead leaves and twigs only metres away was not Vern. The fear had slowly crept through him, and it was now a consuming wave of terror. It welled up from his groin, through his tightened guts and chest, and into his throat where it threatened to explode in an anguished scream.
It was five years since Mason had left South Africa to join the Rhodesian army, and in this African theatre of war he’d faced down death in scores of engagements. It was death, in fact, that had driven him from South Africa to Rhodesia – the tragic and brutal demise of two people he’d loved. He had faced the grim reaper with something resembling flippancy, a confidence born of anger and a desire for retribution. He’d been commended and decorated for his conduct under fire, and he had developed the emotional strength to withstand danger and fear. But this was different. Never before had he been so vulnerable. He was trapped, hunted and alone on enemy territory, facing unknown odds in the dark, with no possibility of support or escape.
The emotional control was utterly gone. He had broken out in a sweat that soaked his shirt and denim fatigues, and he trembled as if he’d been lifted from an icy sea and dumped naked onto a cold windy beach. He had involuntarily pissed and shat himself, and the disgusting odour assailed his senses and the remnants of his dignity.
There was absolute certainty in Mason’s mind that this night he would die; and he was so unprepared for it. A thousand thoughts and images, events and people, raced through his mind. So much left incomplete, so many thoughts unspoken, so many dreams and desires cut short, like pages left permanently and unalterably blank between the covers of a half written book. The present reality held him helpless and his fear blended with a deep sense of profound sadness as he pondered sudden and final oblivion
And then, through the rush of images and the gripping panic, there came on him a sudden and overwhelming will to survive. It was like the cracking of a whip, and it brought him back to the situation.
‘It mustn’t happen!’ he thought. ‘Not now, not here, not like this! Focus, Mason! Focus!’
Drawing on every last resource of character, on his training and experience, and on the thought of all that he held precious, he fought to recover control of his mind and body. He pushed the fear back down, and out of his consciousness.
‘Get on top of it! Control it! Think, and stay alive.’
Mason didn’t know how far away Vern had been when, a little over an hour ago, they’d walked into the ambush. Nor did he know if Vern had survived the attack.
It was an overcast and moonless night and they had been making their way to a vantage point. Suddenly out of the silent darkness, the gates of hell had been thrown open with muzzle flashes that split the blackness in a hail of green tracer, like a storm of lethal fireflies that lit up the bush with the radiance of a pyrotechnics display.
In flare of tracer Mason had seen his two comrades go down – Rob and Stuart. He had instinctively loosed off a burst in the direction of the muzzle flashes and then gone to ground, rolling away on the hard rough surface of the hillside. He’d fired from the hip and he was pretty certain as he rolled for cover that he’d achieved nothing other than to expose his position. He’d drawn fire but it had gone high and wide, smashing through the foliage above him.
To move would be suicide. He could sense the enemy’s presence. How many? He had no idea. But he did know that they had a rough idea of his location, and they’d be aware that they’d inflicted casualties. Now they were hunting, looking for survivors and closing in. He, Mason, seemed to be their focus. They seemed to be ignoring Stuart despite the fact that even in the pitch darkness his position could be pinpointed by the gurgle from his bleeding lungs. The hideous noise and Stuart’s soft groaning were unmistakeable. He was near his end. Mason tried to focus instead on the tiny sounds that told of an invisible stalker – who was no more than eight or nine metres away, up ahead and to his right.
All of a sudden there was a flash and a single gunshot from where Stuart lay mortally wounded and the harsh bubbling noise abruptly ceased. Mason just made out the muted sound of a figure – the killer, surely – retreating through the bush, in the general direction of the place where the ambush party had first opened fire. But it wasn’t over yet. Another person was still moving, ever so softly – the stalker whom Mason had sensed to the right of his position. The abrupt end of Stuart’s life tested the limits of Mason’s sanity, but he had to keep cool. He had to stay focused.
Doc Morrison’s face, and his words, came into Mason’s mind. Doc Morrison, combat psychologist attached to the SAS, had given them motivational lectures during their training in enemy tactics and combat discipline.
‘There will be times,’ he had said casually, in a conversational tone, while he paced the lecture room. ‘When conditions or circumstances will strike fear in your hearts. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. Anyone who denies being afraid under fire or in a tight situation is a liar.
‘Chaps,’ he had said, ‘fear is an emotion – a condition of the mind like love, jealousy, anger or hate. Like any other emotion it can be controlled. And it must be controlled. If you don’t learn to control it, it will control you, and that will lead to panic.’
He then raised his voice an octave to emphasize his next words and bring an element of drama into the subject: ‘Panic, gentlemen, breeds panic. It spreads like an odour. Once it’s upon you it will spiral out of control and you will begin to behave irrationally, and that will affect all those around you. If you do that in a combat situation, you will not only endanger yourself, but everybody else as well. Then, you or your friends and maybe all of you,
‘Now it may be noble and patriotic to die for your cause and country but, believe me, you will be of far greater use to the war effort by staying alive and helping the guys on the other side make the sacrifice.
‘Always remember that they are more afraid of you than you are of them. To coin a phrase, the thing that you should fear the most is fear itself.’
This op was supposed to have been a simple intelligence-gathering reconnaissance patrol. Mason’s four-man call-sign had been tasked with setting up an observation post in these hills in western Zambia. The hills overlooked an area where a recent concentration of ZIPRA guerrillas indicated that the enemy was establishing a transit base. Such a base was typically used to re-equip, feed, and brief parties of infiltrators en route from their training facilities further north to the Rhodesian border. The suspected layout and general activities of the base had warranted an in-depth intelligence report, and this required first-hand research from a patrol on the ground.