Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Running from Abaddon (Part III)

We landed in Yaoundé after sunset. Cpl. Steve Moye met us at the airport with a Cameroonian driver named Ambrose, who piloted a Chevy Blazer with diplomatic plates. At 2500 feet above sea level, it was cooler here than at the coast, and smelled less of dog. We drove north into the African dark, up the winding N2 highway on a bouncing three-mile trek from the airport to the embassy.

We were tired, dehydrated, and hung over – not only from our recent night at Quantico's Command Post pub, but from the half-dozen Bloody Marys we’d had on our flight. I believed that vodka, tomato juice, and celery was the perfect prescription for a genius flying into central Africa with an open head wound.

After a stop at the embassy to drop off our orders, Ambrose drove us to the Marine House, a walled compound that served as residence to the five Marine watchstanders. Inside the house, Jon and I found a beautiful hand-tooled bar, 20 feet of dark and varnished wood with carved images of Africans threshing and plowing. The mirrored back wall was stocked with bourbon, scotch, vodka, rum, and tequila. Whatever you want. Cpl. Moye opened a fridge and popped the caps on a couple cold bottles of beer with “33” on the label.

“Tron-twa,” he said, handing an iced bottle to me and one to Jon and taking a long pull off his own. “Vietnamese brew. Knocks the dust back.”

We were looking forward to dropping our trash, showering, kicking back with our new best friends and some drinks, and getting the lay of the land. 

A three-tone alert blared from a radio in an upstairs hallway. “Dogwood, Dogwood... this is Sawmill. REACT. I say again, REACT.” I heard Cpl. Jon Wood answer the radio. “Sawmill, this is Dogwood. REACT. Copy. En route.” 

Moye set his beer down on the bar and said, "Saddle up. Gotta go.” Dark of night, 14 hours on a plane, five airports and two layovers, hung over, beer percolating in our bellies, scalp split open and probably seeping brain fluid -- and we take off running through the side streets of an African town three degrees north of the equator. Splendid. Just splendid.

“The fuck we doing?” Wertjes and I interrogated Moye as we hot-footed it down the street with the other Marines:  Cpl. Wood, Sgt. Milton Hogan, and Sgt. Dwayne Scott. I noticed that even now, running in the dark and in the spur of the moment, five Marines running together tend to form into two columns and synchronize their step. Left, right. Left, right.

“REACT,” Moye said between breaths. “Simulated riot, embassy intrusion, bomb search, something. Supposed to have one every month.” He huffed, but kept a good pace. “CO’s coming in two days for inspection and we haven’t had a REACT since March. Fucking staff sergeant waiting t’the last goddamn minute.”

“How far?” I said, my mouth dry and my head throbbing and that Tron-twa starting to bubble up my gullet. “About three miles. We play it as worst-case scenario, so no vehicles. Gotta run it,” Moye said. I heard Jon mutter “goddammit.”

(to be continued...)


     Part IV
     Part V
     Part VI


     Part I
     Part II

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