Capturing Op Toral By Bjorn Ephgrave

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Capturing Op Toral

1649L

  • How far did we travel, Stevens?
  • My guess it was fifteen, twenty minutes. Eighteen, twenty K, something like that.
  • Recognise anything?
  • Nothing, stinking fuckin’ rag wrapped round my eyes.
  • I was out for a bit, pressed down on the back seat. Couldn’t suss anything out.
  • South, I think. I counted five of them.
  • Three of them with you then? Two of them had me.
  • Yeah, sounds about right. You’re losing a bit of blood with that, Gunnar, want me to tighten it?
  • I’ll do it.
  • You sure?
  • I can do it.

1709L

  • What the fuck went wrong, Gunnar?
  • Missed that motorbike.
  • But you were with him.
  • Fuck.
  • Why didn’t you sort it?
  • Fuck.
  • Where is Carter?
  • Gunnar, what happened to Carter?
  • Shut the fuck up, Stevens.
  • And the ANA, where were they?
  • Shut up for a minute, Stevens, or I swear to God.
  • Fuck your God, fuck you, fuck the Afghan army, and fuck this whole fuckin’ operation.
  • Fuck.

1801L

  • Gunnar.
  • Gunnar, you okay?

2108L

  • No thinking – keep it simple, just talk to them, yeah.
  • Deffo, they’re not dicking about.
  • It was a lot quieter out there just now.
  • Outside the house?
  • Yeah.
  • It has died down a bit.
  • If you want to get your head down, I’m okay for a while.
  • Might do.

0127L

  • Quick-fire questions?
  • What?
  • Quick-fire questions.
  • That supposed to be funny?
  • Huh? Oh! Ha, no. You ask me something, and I ask you the same. Just random like. Don’t think about it, just answer.
  • Okay, you go.
  • Right then, erm, favourite film?
  • Easy, Star Wars.
  • Never seen it.
  • You kidding me?
  • Yeah, I love it. Shame about Leia, wasn’t it?
  • Mad as a box of frogs she was. What’s yours?
  • Die Hard.
  • Christmas movie or not?
  • Couldn’t give a shit, cool movie. Sequels were crap, though.
  • Most are, apart from every Star Wars sequel, or prequel for that matter. Right, next question.
  • I know, best place you visited.
  • Holiday or anytime?
  • I’d say have to say Rome. We went before we had Daniel. In fact, Kim was carrying him when we went. Not really into religion, but the buildings and the history of the place is unreal. Went there as part of a cruise, day excursion thing. Walked for miles, but worth it.
  • Cruise around the Med?
  • Yeah, two weeks. Rome, Barcelona, another place in Italy… Genoa.
  • I don’t.
  • Knob.
  • I’m here all week.
  • Your best place – come on.
  • Only really been on holidays with the lads. Tenerife, Ibiza. I’ll tell you where was decent, Bulgaria.
  • Bulgaria?
  • Yeah, eight of us in a villa, better than a shitty hotel room. Sunny Beach we went to, quite touristy, but more Europeans than Brits, which was nice. Bit more chilled compared to Ibiza. Ibiza was banging and all that, but it was rammed everywhere. You even had people queueing up to see the sun go down at Café Mambo as if they hadn’t seen it before. It’s the same fucking sun. Did my head in.
  • The villa sounds good. Fancy doing that. No fighting over sunbeds.
  • No, just fighting over the shag-pad. Talking of which, right, famous person you’d like to nail?
  • … Gal Gadot.
  • Where do I know her from?
  • She’s the new Wonder Woman – Turkish.
  • Israeli.
  • Thought she was from Turkey?
  • No, I know who ya mean, she was Miss Israel a few years back. I saw a biography thing about her on Sky Arts.
  • Whatever. Yours?
  • Probably Cher, or Whitney Houston.
  • She’s fuckin’ dead.
  • Cher’s not dead.
  • Whitney, you melt – and as for Cher. You into necrophilia, or something?
  • Fit in the eighties, though.
  • She’s in her fuckin’ eighties.
  • I still would, but that see-through leotard on the battleship, you remember? I reckon loads signed up after seeing that video.
  • Shame about Whitney.
  • Yep.
  • Yeah.
  • It’s definitely a Christmas movie

0204L

  • You know what, I never fuckin’ trusted that one, Samir. Some fuckin’ guide he turned out to be.
  • The one with the massive head.
  • That’s him.
  • Gilly called him a sniper’s dream.
  • Useless bastard.
  • They got him.
  • Thought they did.

0633L

  • Curry for fucking breakfast.
  • Just like being a student again. Get it down you, Stevens, water and all. We don’t know when the bastards will feed us again. Don’t forget, just your right hand, in case anyone comes in.
  • I never had curry for breakfast in school.
  • University, not fucking high school. Spent three years as a student in Manchester, mostly eating beans on leftovers. That’s where I met Kim.
  • Yeah, what did you study?
  • Politics.
  • Clever twat.
  • Only got a two-one.
  • Thick twat.
  • Shut up and eat.

0635L

  • It’s brain.
  • I reckon.
  • It tastes alright.
  • The bread’s the best bit.
  • Afghan naan.

0844L

  • Did they ask you anything different, Gunnar? You were gone a while this time.
  • Not really, went over the six again and just chatted shit. Not exactly a fluent     conversation, is it? They do know who Gal Gadot is, though.
  • Bet they fuckin’ do.
  • The one called Farj was alright, he helped me change the dressing.
  • How is it?
  • Fine. But listen, you know we were undecided about them being Haqqani or not.
  • Yeah?
  • Well, we were talking about the Peshawar attack, well, they were. They used the TTP in the past tense.
  • Not Daesh then?
  • Can’t be sure, but the mouthy fucker that keeps stroking my Glock was getting a bit chopsy. Kept saying, ‘Deutsche embassy’ with a smile on his face.
  • Stroking your Glock!
  • You remember, Zanbaq Square last May.
  • That was Haqqani.
  • Taliban wanted fuck all to do with that.
  • So, we’re saying Haqqani, then?
  • For now, yeah.
  • Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad —
  • Shhh, Shush.

0912L

  • Those quick-fire questions ended up being like your shooting, Stevens.
  • How do you mean?
  • Not that quick-fire.
  • Well your mum prefers me not to shoot too quickly.
  • That’s one-all.

1022L

  • My missus is into those superfoods. You know, avocado and the like, she has it on toast for breakfast. Looks like putty! It even goes brown as well – when it oxidises.
  • When it what?
  • When the air gets to it.
  • The air?
  • Yes.
  • Isn’t the air always around it?
  • When you peel it, take it out of the skin. You have to eat it quickly or it goes brown. Either that or put lemon on it.
  • Doesn’t sound so super to me, seems like a right faff.
  • Plus, there’s all the juicing, and smoothing and what have you. The kitchen sounds like a power plant with all the machinery going on. She watches that Joe Wicks fella – the body coach.
  • Never heard of him.
  • Don’t get me wrong, you have to look after yourself when you’re knocking forty, you know, but snacks shouldn’t take longer to make than your dinner, should they?
  • It’s bollocks.
  • Makes a right mess, stinks as well.
  • My Laura isn’t really into all that, we got a great big tidy-box on top of the cupboards full of crisps and biscuits. Have to keep it up there so the kids don’t nick any.
  • I could just go a Mars bar right now.
  • Oh, don’t.
  • Been my favourite chocolate bar since I can remember. My nan, when I was little, used to put one in the fridge for ages, and slice into pieces for me to suck on when it had gone hard. Like having a luxury toffee, it was. God bless her.
  • Terry’s Chocolate Orange is mine. The dark chocolate one.
  • Never had one.
  • Chocolate orange?
  • The dark one.
  • You’re missing out.
  • Will have to try one when we get home.
  • Chucking it at the wall to smash it into segments, then licking the bits off the foil.
  • Classy as ever, Stevens.
  • Can eat the whole lot in one go.
  • You won’t be able to do that in ten years’ time. You’d have to go for a run and eat nothing but apples and bananas for a week when you get to my age.
  • No chance, fruit’s all right and all now and again, but all the peeling and stoning and what have you, I mean, I love a nice satsuma like anybody else, but it’s a right ball-ache and makes your fingers all sticky. Does me head in. That’s why I tend to eat them when I’m in the bath.

1145L

  • Stevens, that fuckin’ stinks.

1201L

  • What’s Christmas like at the Gunnarsons?
  • Well, if I’m home we tend to have a quiet Christmas Day, just the three of us, and then her family round Boxing Day. Mum, Dad, and her brother with all of his lot. I’ve missed three out the last four, which was rough when Daniel believed in Father Christmas, they get so excited at that age, you know.
  • I’ve only missed one since we had the girls. The missus buys everything and that, so when they open the presents, I don’t know what they’re getting. I love that.
  • So, you don’t do Christmas shopping?
  • Only for Laura, perfume.
  • I don’t mind it too much, Amazon is a godsend.
  • The adverts that start in September do my head in, what is it, John West?
  • Tuna?
  • No, the department store place.
  • John Lewis?
  • John Lewis.
  • John fucking West!
  • And all of them stupid aftershave adverts. They actually make me not want to buy the aftershave. You’ve got Brad fucking Pitt standing on top of a skyscraper, wearing a tuxedo without a fucking shirt on, splashing on some eau de toilette saying a one liner that’s meant to be profound, ‘Calvin Klein – because you own yourself.’
  • Yeah or, ‘Hugo Boss for men – don’t settle for more.’

1248L

  • Mind if I ask you something, Stevens?
  • Sounds ominous.
  • I know you were in trouble a while back, and you don’t have to tell me or anything. I heard you and Gilly talking about prison and what have you.
  • Yeah, I’m not proud of that time in my life. I really should have dealt with things better. I was a mess. I got Laura from it, so winner winner.
  • Laura?
  • Not gonna go into it all, I was going through some shit when I was about seventeen-ish. Just working whenever and wherever, cash-in-hand stuff.
  • Where was this?
  • Sheffield.
  • That’s where you’re from?
  • Yeah. So, the lads had mostly got themselves sorted out work-wise, they’d buy beers for me if I had nowt, even chipped in for my holiday flights a couple of years. Most weekends, we’d just go the pub. We weren’t necessarily fighting all the time, I just found myself getting angry at knobheads who were out on the piss. I know I was one, but I wasn’t gonna chin myself now, was I? I’d just clack the odd bell-end who was spraying beer and what have you. I was like an unpaid doorman.
  • Missed your calling, I think.
  • I was sat in ’Spoons one night, waiting for the lads. This girl’s head suddenly smacked against the window. I just thought she was pissed. But then there was all this shouting and I got up to have a nose. This lad had a grip of her, dragging her about. The other people were shouting, ‘leave her alone,’ and ‘let her go’, but none of them were actually doing My head was going already. I went outside, couldn’t help myself.
  • Any bouncers?
  • No, they didn’t start for a bit, this was early doors.
  • So, you smacked him?
  • No, I did like the others and told him to get off her. He said something about her being his missus and some other shite. I got between them, but he wasn’t having any of it and just started on me. It wasn’t the most entertaining of fights seen on the streets of Yorkshire. Anyway, after ragging each other around a bit, we separated without much harm done.
  • And that was it? You got done for that?
  • No, he’d ripped some buttons off my Hilfiger shirt and made me stink of fags, so I lamped him one, spark-out.
  • You got done for that.
  • Yeah, affray. Didn’t matter that I was helping Laura get away from him.
  • Ah, so it was Laura he was hitting.
  • Yep. Met up with her a few days later, I think through a friend of a friend, or something. She wanted to say thanks. Tidy, she was. Is. Love her. Been together now for nine years. Her dad is ex-forces, which is really how I ended up at Catterick after all that.
  • Stevens, you are my hero. All that story needed was a bit of Coldplay playing in the background and you’d have had me in fucking tears.

1402L

  • So, you and Kim met at uni?
  • We did, yeah. She was studying primary education.
  • Oh yeah, teacher, isn’t she?
  • She is, yeah. A good one.
  • I love my girls, but could I fuck handle twenty-odd kids all day.
  • More like thirty-odd.
  • Nooo.
  • Nightmare.
  • So how did you meet her?
  • It was actually at Labour Society, I joined, I think, in my second year, yeah, and she was in her third year. She was dead easy to talk to, you know, still is. More politically minded than me, and I’m the one with the degree.
  • Only just.
  • I’m not going to honour that remark with a comeback, as it doesn’t deserve one – knobhead. Anyway, she stayed in Manchester when she graduated. Got a job right away. We got a place together while I was doing my final year.
  • If she’s into her politics I bet she knows about all of this Breckshit then, doesn’t she?
  • I told her if she mentions refer-fuckin-rendums again, I’ll deport myself back to Iceland.

1457L

  • He’s given you a right whack there, Gunnar.
  • Good sleep?
  • I dropped off for a minute and they’d taken you out, either that or you were sleepwalking.
  • Right on my fucking nose with my L85. As if I’m not already getting enough gyp from my bastard leg.
  • Stop giving that cunt a reason to have a go at you. Keep your fucking legs crossed.
  • I know, I know. They were cramping like fuck, only stretched them for a minute.
  • And then fell asleep with your boot soles on show saying, ‘look at me, look at me’.
  • I had cramp.
  • Yeah, you said. You need to get your shit together. I can just see the Colonel now, breaking the news to Kim. ‘Mrs Gunnarson, it is with deepest sympathy that I must inform you that your husband was killed in the line of duty. He was a brave, brave man, who fought like a true warrior for days, weeks, months on end. But eventually, he succumbed to pins and needles.’
  • I’ve got a bust nose, sliced up leg, fuckin’ cramp, the runs – but you know what the worst part of my shituation is?
  • Listening to me?
  • Affirmative.

1510L

  • You were saying it was your father-in-law that talked you into the Army, Stevens?
  • Not so much talked me into it, and he wasn’t my in-law then.
  • But he was ex-forces?
  • Yeah, yeah, Army. When I left prison, he just thought it was worth a try. I didn’t take that much convincing. My head wasn’t with it, even after doing six months, my head still wasn’t right. Laura and Jim kept me from doing worse. She was used to all the travelling and everything with her dad, she was all for it, pretty much.
  • Fair play. He was right, you know, about the Army being a good thing for you, apart from our current situation, of course.
  • Ha, I wouldn’t say he treated me like as son, he isn’t like that. But he spoke to me more than my old man ever did. He lost his Mum when he was young as well, so I think he knew what it was like to have that frustration inside of you.
  • Sorry about your mum. You’re a fucking good man, Sergeant Stevens.
  • Cheers, Sarge. So, go on then, what’s a nice man like you doing in a bombed mud hut like this?
  • My dad, in a roundabout way. Back in Iceland he was part of the IDF that worked for the US forces, was a NATO thing. They took on civilians to form specific roles. From what he told me, he had no hesitation in helping out.
  • IDF?
  • Iceland Defence Force.
  • Sounds more like the name of a spy agency.
  • Suppose it does.
  • Sorry, you were saying.
  • It was mostly naval ops they did, my dad worked with the firefighting team. Not conventional forces’ work, you know, mostly training, a bit like this shit-show we’re doing. He did it for about ten years, maybe a bit longer? Told me that he’d been able to see a lot of the world doing it: Canada, Norway, Denmark. Eventually, he ended up in the UK. He met my mum there and that was it. He stayed, worked as a full-time fireman, Mum did some admin work at the council. They had me and Mark and set roots in Portsmouth, more or less.
  • So why didn’t you join the Navy?
  • Growing up I was always more into the physical stuff, you know, climbing, guns, Action Man.
  • Eagle Eye Action Man, they go for a fortune on ebay.
  • Only if it’s in the original box.
  • What kind of knobhead buys a toy and doesn’t take it out the box.
  • So, when I went to high school, I got into history a bit, which led to the interest in politics and all that, then uni, then Kim.
  • You don’t need a degree in politics to join the Army.
  • I wasn’t really sure which career direction I’d go into, you know. Was never going to be a politician or nothing. I think that childhood love of physical stuff mixed with what I’d learnt drew me to join up. Kim was supportive whatever I was going to do. Mum wasn’t overly keen, but Dad was. He wanted to come with me to the interviews and the medicals. I always let him. He’d go on about serving your country and being a leader, you know, think he saw me as a captain-in-the making.
  • Captain Jakob Gunnarson. Sounds good.
  • Never gonna happen.
  • What does your brother do?
  • Mark’s a web developer. Lives in Bournemouth.
  • Oh, nice.
  • Yeah, he’s a good lad. That’s it really, Stevens, nothing more to add.
  • You’ve got a boxed Action Man, haven’t you?
  • British Infantry Major, complete with dog tags. Worth at least hundred and fifty quid.

1619L

  • Movement.
  • Yeah.
  • I think it could be —
  • Shush, fucking focus.
  • What? I can’t hear you.
  • Listen then. Sounds like more arrivals.
  • For them?
  • Shush.
  • Fuck.
  • Shut up a minute.
  • Is that? It sounds like.
  • A woman’s voice.

1822L

  • Sergeant Jakob Kristofer Gunnarson. L21673214. Twenty-sixth of March 1979.
  • Sergeant Ryan Stevens. 20926753. Fourteenth of January 1991.

glasses

Bjorn Ephgrave

Bjorn Ephgrave is from Chester, England, and is a writer of flash fiction and short stories. He has had several stories published both online and in print for magazines such as: Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, for whom he also regularly reviews flash collections. Bjorn is also co-founder and co-editor of House of Flash, which is a workshop / magazine specialising in flash fiction.
Social media
FaceBook: @BjornEphgraveWriter
Twitter: @WriterBjorn
Instagram: @bjxvi
Website

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