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Towner In Peru - The High Puna
When There Was No Pope
When The Russians Wouldn't Play
When There Were No Shadows
Who Are the Watchers?
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Towner In Peru - The High Puna

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A day later it began with the blowing of the fence about three a.m.

It came down in a bunch.  It was followed by a barrage of RPGs.  We … I couldn’t see to shoot.  The house was collapsing.  The roof near me fell in.  I dashed to the inner corridor but, stupidly, I didn’t have a window to shoot from. 

From the sounds of the shooting I could tell they were behind us, firing into the window slots.  I made my way upstairs to the first floor through smoke and dust and sat on one of the lower steps to catch my breath.

Through the window I could see vague moving shapes in the dark.  I set the fire selector on auto and let go a burst.  I was rewarded with a yelp.  I felt a heavy body near me.  It was Jason.  He slid past me and went to the gaping window.   He knelt and began firing short bursts with his AK-47.  Foolishly, I knelt beside him and joined in.

I matched his firing pattern, three shot bursts directed at the muzzle flashes outside.  They were on the ground.  I had plenty of targets.  There were plenty of muzzle flashes.

Then a beam of light flashed out from a window above me.  For a brief second I could see a dozen or more shapes in firing positions spread out before us maybe a hundred feet out.  The beam of light immediately drew their fire and went out.  I tried to remember where I saw the forms and went back to firing.

I was out of ammo before I knew it.  I mean that literally.  The last shell case had popped out at least thirty seconds before I realized I was just squeezing a trigger that didn’t even click anymore.  I knew that loaded mags were kept in the bottom of the radio “L”.  I slithered across the floor through puddles of empty cartridge cases.  I found AK but no M-16 mags.  There was an old M-1 rifle and a bag of eight round clips, though.  I grabbed both and swam back to Jason.

The muzzle flashes stopped.

After all the firing, my ears were ringing like fire alarms but I heard Jason shout, “They’re making for the fence, fire, fire, fire!” and he cut loose again.  So did everybody else.

In the muzzle flashes I saw one scene I think will stay with me forever.  It was one man standing alone as he got hit by a bullet fired by one of ours.  It was not mine, thank God.  The cliché is “the bullet passed through him clean”.  That wasn’t the way it happened.  There was a flash just as the bullet hit his chest and I saw a gout of blood squirt out.  At the same time gobbets of flesh and blood erupted out his back.  No man could live through that.  I tasted vomit in the back of my throat.


Then, without warning, there was an explosion perhaps fifty feet in front of us.  In the light of the blast I saw three men standing with grenades ready to throw.  I sprayed eight shots  in their direction until the clip popped out, and, from the roar, I think everybody else did, too.

Then it was silent as everybody reloaded.

Bad break for the bad guys – they were going to throw grenades to cover their retreat but someone’s fire – probably Jason’s because he was firing so methodically – hit someone just about to throw a grenade.  He dropped it and the flash from its explosion revealed three others.  Once revealed, the terrorists were easy targets.

Then it got very noisy again as two of the terrorists’ grenades went off.  I guess the third guy never even got the pin out of his.


Sometime in the night I heard in the far distance a jeep with a bad muffler starting up.  I couldn’t tell but it seemed to head west.  It didn’t use lights.  None of us moved until the sun gave us enough light to see the killing ground spread out before us.  When we could see, I counted seven bodies.  There were three not far from the house that were not much more than bloody smears in the pebbled dirt.  I felt like getting sick again but I didn’t because I’d probably hear about it from Willi.

I looked over at Jason and he gave me a “thumbs up” and a flicker of a smile.  I was grateful for that. 

Outside looked like Berlin after the war.  A part of the house had collapsed.  The roof was in tatters.  Our carefully stacked sandbags now looked like a sand castle a mean kid had beat apart with a stick. 

Jason, Willi and I were the ones who took the quick trip outside.  I figured a five hundred yard shot needed a lot of luck so we were probably safe.  When we were checking the back of the house we heard a drone coming from the south.  In the house’s shelter we watched the dot in the sky grow bigger.  It was a helicopter.  As it got closer I could see it was a big one with a wide side door – is that a Huey?  In the door was mounted a piece of equipment I knew very well.  They called them chain guns, electrically powered Gatling guns that could lay down an almost solid wall of fire.

The helicopter came in low but did not land, staying just at the ground hover effect level.  There were two men back in the bay with the chain gun.  One of them lowered a bag with a rope then the chopper started to rise again.  In the bag, blessedly, was a hand held radio.

Willie turned it on.

“What’s your situation, Rancho Bravo?”  It was an American voice, speaking English.

We explained the attack and what we assumed was the position of the terrorists.  The helicopter gained more altitude and headed north.  It circled and then drifted lower, hovered and then took off to the east.  In a minute it was back.  This time it landed behind the house.

The copter pilot was a lanky American from Texas named Rickie Skelton.  He worked for the gamonale as a kind of chief of staff in addition to being the gunship pilot, a job he had held in Viet Nam.  He had a new shortwave radio in the copter and he took it into the house with him.  Inside, we all popped the tops on bottles from our dwindling stock of precious Heineken and found chairs still intact enough to support us.  Aaron sat in the corner of the ruined room, his eyes bright like someone in shock.

“Yeah, they’re out there,” the copter pilot said.  “I saw ‘em way off in the distance.  They probably never even saw me.  It looks like they’re leaving.”

“We’ve got to go get them,” Jason said without emotion.

“Hey, what you mean ‘we’, white man?”  Ricky took off his baseball cap revealing a corpselike band of white above the freckles.  “They’re gone.  Let ‘em go.”

“There’s a man with them.  We think he’s still with them, anyway,” I said.  “He could …”  Jason raised his hand to stop me from saying, “be valuable.”

Rickie took a swig from the bottle.  “Can’t fly after drinking.”  He grinned.

“Look,” said Jason, “I can pay you.  A lot of people are interested in this guy.”

Rickie’s eyes got shrewd.  “How much?”

“Ten thousand.”

The eyes went from shrewd to disappointed.  “Peruvian?”

“American.”  The eyes brightened slightly.

“Dollars?  You come with us?”

“I have to.”

“You CIA guys know how to run a chain gun?”


“Okay.  Then my guy stays here and drinks beer and you and I go up.”  He turned to Willi.  “Willi, want to go with us?”

Willi’s grin was answer enough. 

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