Thilo

by Andrew Foote

Chapter 12

"Do you want to know something?"

"Such as what?"

"I really worry about you sometimes!"

"I'm okay? What's to worry about?

You've seen how fired up all the guys are; how much their shooting's improved, and how supportive they've been?"

"Yeah, all of that, but you taking up RSM Collins' challenge. You didn't think it through!"

"I'm prepared to take him on, and you never know, I might even beat him."

"And therein lies the problem. Not having seen him shoot a hand gun, but he was so taken aback by your last target that I know he's expecting you to thrash him!"

"So, what's so bad about that? You're a much better shot with rifles than I'll ever be, but we carried hand guns with us all the time back home. Those Beretta's are really good to handle, - much better than what I had, so okay, I stand an evens chance of winning. So what?"

"Try…… winner buys the drinks?

Doesn't the loser have to do that normally?"

"Oh shit! Maybe I should regress some!"

"Not in your nature."

"I'll have to raid my piggy-bank for loose change, either that or ask Ben if I can put the drinks on the slate!"

"You already run a tab. We settle up at the end of each month, remember?"

"Maybe talk to my uncle. See if he'll sub me?"

"With almost a billion quid in the bank, I don't think that getting Mr Collins legless will make that much of a dent in your resources!"

"I was trying to save that for a rainy day!"

"You've still to settle my invoice for courier services rendered.

It's about to piss it down!"

"I'd forgotten about that, but on a different subject?

Did you catch up on why Nigel has always been a crap shot, but more importantly, how Martyn turned him around?"

"Only that it had something to do with sighting?"

"Nigel is a natural left hander, but then he had a skiing accident and damaged some nerves in his left hand. Even now his handwriting is worse than a doctor's prescription, but they never reset his gun sights to compensate for the fact that he now has to shoot right-handed. Martyn picked it up, and his last results might even put you to shame!"

"I'm pleased for him. Nigel always had a downer on himself when it came to cadet corps stuff. Academically gifted beyond anything I might achieve, but he always hated brigade stuff."

"I'm not keen on all that square-bashing thing either."

"Who is?! At least we only get to do ten minutes of it before hitting the shooting range."

"Talking of which? Tomorrow morning……"

"The shoot-off between us and Mr Collins?

Trust me, I hadn't forgotten. At the very least, it won't be me having to stump up for the drinks afterwards!"

"I could throw the competition. Ever thought about that?"

"You're too competitive, and even if you did, I doubt I'm halfway good enough to beat Mr Collins."


"Rules of the competition boys.

Given that my gun only holds 17 shells, there will only be 17 targets, meaning only one shot per target.

To score a kill, only head shots count. This is because all the target heads have bags of red chalk dust inside them so it's easy to judge accuracy.

At the start of each round, we will be standing with our backs to the range, then as soon as you hear a whistle, you turn and crouch down on one knee to take your shots.

Stay in that position until all 17 targets have been released. If you stay alert, you should be able to tell which direction they're coming from by listening to the fly wires.

Of these 17 targets, there are possible permutations of five directions they can come from, and to avoid the possibility of being able to second-guess the order of events, a list of these directions have been given to your friend and fellow student Alun Rhys-Davis.

I asked him to compile three separate orders of play, so some might be fast moving, some slow, some single or perhaps even pairs or triples. None of us will know what might happen in much the same way as might happen if you were being ambushed, so keep your wits about you.

One final point. Should any of us inadvertently fire two shots at the same target, even if it shows as a kill on the first shot, that result won't be included in our final score.

Now we should think about who goes first, second and third.

Have you ever played Spin the Bottle?"

We both nodded our heads.

"Good.

Process of elimination. Whoever the bottle points to first, shoots last, then the next shoots second and whoever's left takes the lead.

Alun is in control of target release, and the adjudication is in the hands of Ben Forester and Nigel Priestman.


Why me??

I was first man up, with Mr Collins and Thilo sitting in an office away from the range.

Actually, I thought I did passably well! I counted 14 scoring hits and two hits to the neck, but as had been explained, they didn't count. One lose round, but I could live with that.

Next up was Mr Collins, with me joining Thilo away from the range.

"How did it go?"

"Not going to tell you!"

"Why?"

"Because if I do, you'll be even more fired up than you are now.

All I'll say is that I was happy with my score."


Thilo. Last man up, so I was joined by Mr Collins.

"Beat that if you can Mr Roker!"

"Okay, but what was your score!"

"You'll find out soon enough. It's time for you to eat shit!"


Once Thilo had finished, James took us back to the range and announced the final scores.

"In third place with a score of 14 is Steve, but in fairness, two of his missed shots were to the neck and would've killed someone, however, under the rules of the competition, they don't count, but with only one wild shot? A pretty fine effort.

Here's what surprised us, because with our two remaining competitors tying with scores of 16 apiece, we don't have an outright winner, so do we go again?"

Mr Collins looked at Thilo.

"Up for a rerun?"

"Sure. Why not!"


We called a halt.

Both Mr Collins and Thilo straighted it with clear rounds of 17 hits, all of which counted.

"Very good performance Thilo! I honestly thought I'd have you with a score of 16."

"Likewise Sir. If not for a momentary lapse in concentration, I should've straighted it. I thought you'd get a 17 no problem the first time around."

"Like you, I should've, but no matter.

What are you lads up to next Sunday?"

"Not much. It's our one clear day without lessons."

"If I'm able to swing things, would you be up for a trip to the Scottish borders?"

"Sounds better than sculling around here all day. What about you Stephen?"

"Sure. Any particular reason?"

"The army have a base that encompasses an abandoned village. They've made this place in a way that simulates what it must be like to be a patrol advancing through enemy lines.

Targets pop up around you, some are the enemy, some are friendly and you have just split seconds to decide whether to open fire at them or not. Points awarded for enemies eliminated, but deducted if you fire on friendly faces.

It isn't easy either. The terrain is muddy and rocky, sometimes you have cover, sometimes not. They can even arrange for armed response; a bit like paintballing gone serious. Get hit and you're out of the game, but with training, our elite forces learn to recognise the signs and proceed accordingly.

After this morning's competition, and the amazing shooting you're both capable of, I thought it might be a good idea if you displayed those skills to a wider audience, like if some of your friends came along to watch you at work.

There's always the possibility that some of them are nervous being around you in the belief that you're not ofay with handling that type of weaponry.

This way you prove that, not only can you handle the damn things, you're very good at it."

"I'd love to give that a try!"

"Thilo?"

"All the way!

By the way Sir?

What Regiment were you in?"

"Not up for discussion."

"So…… 22 Brigade!"

"I said…… it wasn't up for discussion!

Anyway, the 22 isn't a Brigade, it's a Corps."

"Seals the deal then!"

"Go away!

Go and have a chat with your friends and try and find out if any of them are up for Sunday!"


Fourteen out of twenty slimmed down to eleven once they saw how awful the weather had turned out. I'm not blaming them, I would have done the same, because no joking, it was horrible outside!

"Thilo? Stephen? You're to wear lightweight fatigues and your berets there and back, but cover yourselves up with your sleeveless combat jackets to hide your guns. Bring a change of uniform with you. You'll be out in this shit for around five hours.

The rest of you lads, wear whatever you like, but for God's sake bring waterproofs and hiking boots. The mud will make the area very greasy if this bloody rain continues to fall.

Let's try and get away in around thirty minutes please lads."


Despite the weather, the hills and the area surrounding Loch Trool Barracks in Dumfries and Galloway were spectacular.

Evergreen forests and lochs, the high rolling hills and craggy rock faces were truly awe inspiring.

We had arrived.

We were told to disembark, then we were shepherded into a briefing room while the other boys were shown into a canteen.

RSM Collins motioned us to take a seat.

"We're going to be briefed by a chap by the rank and name of Major Paul Shipton. He used to be my boss before I took a round in my shoulder and invalided out of the service.

Just salute him and be polite, but no bullshit, okay?"

A few minutes passed then the door opened and an officer stepped into the room.

We all stood, snapped to attention and saluted him.

He saluted back, then told us to stand easy and go back to our chairs.

"Hello Mark! How's life treating you!"

"Not as often as it might Sir!"

"Crap! You're looking good for an old timer!"

"We're about the same age Sir, remember?"

"Fuck!

Forgot about that!

Who do we have here then?"

"Stand up boys.

This lad on my left is known at school as Stephen Broadhurst. Titles we ignore, but he's actually Viscount Broadhurst, son of Lord Broadhurst of Breedon.

This young man is Thilo Roker. He hails from Namibia."

"Then welcome to Loch Trool lads!

I'm going to organise some coffee for you while I have a chat with RSM Collins. That way I can have a better idea of what show we put on for you.

We'll be about fifteen minutes, okay?"


"I take it you noticed the lapel motif?"

"Um-hm. Winged dagger. 22 Special Air Service. The elite to fuck all elites.

Stephen? I hope we're not going on a yomp with these guys?"

We're here to shoot, not bust our balls?

Anyhow, I'd turn down such a kind offer!"

Just then, RSM Collins together with three other men including Major Shipton walked through.

Major Shipton spoke.

"May I call you by your first names?

It would be much less hassle?"

"Fine Sir."

"Thank you.

May I see what you're carrying?"

We unzipped our combat jackets and placed our guns on the table, but not until we ejected the live round in the chamber.

"Good procedure, but you've one of the finest tutors, so I'm not that surprised."

He lifted one of the guns and flexed his wrist.

"Nice. Wonderful balance if a touch heavy for my use.

Mark tells me that you're pretty good at handling them?"

"We try our best Sir, but it's early days."

"Today we will be putting your modesty to the test.

This is the plan.

You are on foot patrol on the edge of enemy lines.

This area might be safe, but then it might be the last bastion of resistance to your force's advance.

These are testing and very dangerous places to find yourself. Many villagers might be friendly and welcome your presence, but some might be collaborating with your enemy; you have no idea who and where they are as your intelligence network has been infiltrated.

You and your men, - in this case let us pretend that it's just you two lads, have been separated from your unit. You need to get past this village in order that you can regroup, or perish in the attempt.

Here's a map of this village. You will enter at point A, and you have to leave at point B.

How you get there is your call, but remember that there might be enemy snipers on the rooftops, women suicide bombers, children who might not be what they seem.

You have to go along with your instincts, but all the time remembering that if you step beyond acceptable rules of engagement, you will be held to account in a court of law, possibly court marshalled.

You have your hand guns, each of you provided with three clips containing twenty rounds apiece with a backup of a further sixty rounds each in your packs.

Once you run dry, you're fucked, so please keep your usage to a minimum.

This briefing is over.

Collect your ammunition and wait for the order to advance.

Oh...... and good luck! You now have ten minutes to decide what you do."


"Right.

So, red bands around the neck equals a bad guy, blue a mate, yeah?"

"Yep."

"Similarly, red wheels on a vehicle equals a roadside bomb?"

"I think so?"

"Snipers give you five-hundred milliseconds notice before they fire, so keep an eye open for red laser-pointers and listen out for the little POP before they let loose."

"Something along those lines. Maybe we could lose these laser sensors. That way, if we get hit, no one will know!"

"I want to play by the rules."

"Are you nervous?"

"No.

Are you?"

"I don't know how I feel."

"Two minutes to go.

Try to think about those bastards that took out your village, - killed so many innocent women and children, - your parents, and why we're here doing 'Fucking Insane'?

Let's just DO IT!"


"Okay?"

"Focused.

Thanks for the chat!"

"You're welcome anytime.

Where's the map?"

"In your backpack."

"What's it doing in there?

I can't read it if it's in there?"

"Panic not Stephen. You lead, I follow, I read map, I direct you!"

"Screw you!"

"Later maybe…… unless you are careless enough to get my ass shot away!"

"On that promise alone, - are we going in?"


"Strange place. I keep expecting to see real people walking around."

Just then a door swung open and a head and shoulders effigy with a red band around its neck poked its head out.

Thilo dropped down on one knee and BANG.

"One down, and God knows how many more to go. Move right Stephen. Let's try and make for that wall."

Keeping low, we raced across a courtyard, but then a face appeared in a window directly in front of me. Red neck band. I threw myself flat on the floor and fired. I heard a metallic ping as my shot hit the target, but then Thilo threw himself flat and rolled in the mud behind me.

"Bloody laser. Almost got me.

Get to that wall!"

We ran towards it and got within a couple of yards just as I saw another effigy appear at an upstairs window. I swung my gun towards it, then paused.

Blue neck band.

We took a break once we reached this wall, topped up our magazines and studied the map.

"Somehow, we've got to cross this street, but there's absolutely no cover."

"No, and there are lasers up on two of the roofs. Any ideas?"

"What's that noise?"

"Sounds like a car, but that's ridiculous."

"It does sound like one though? Let's wait and see if whatever it is comes this way."

A minute or so later, "Behind us Thilo, and from the left."

Not a real car, but a life size tin cut out of a Volkswagen Beetle towed by a wire trundled into view.

"Blue wheels Stephen.

When it gets close, let's use it as cover from those laser things. It'll also shield us from the left side of the street meaning we only have to concentrate on any targets to our right."

"What if there are lasers on this side?"

"Shit ourselves?"

"Not much of a strategy, but it's all we have.

As soon as it gets opposite the church, make a run for it."


Three hours later, soaked through to the skin and muddied up to the eyeballs, we took a five-minute rest.

We had counted forty-eight hostile targets hit, three red wheeled vehicles and four roadside bombs not to mention countless laser pointers.

The bombs and vehicles were fun. They actually exploded when we shot them! Not massive explosions, but big enough to make the ground tremble beneath our feet, but these laser jobbies were really starting to piss us off.

"They're meant to simulate snipers, yeah?"

"That's what the man said Thilo?"

"And the object of the exercise is to make our way across town until we get to point B and do as much damage as possible along the way, right?"

"Yep.

What are you trying to say here?"

"What might a soldier do if he was getting grief from snipers?"

"If he could see them, he'd take…… them…… out??

Awe, come on? You can't go trashing MoD hardware?"

"Why? So far none of them have found their mark, but the further we go, the more of them there are. Our remit was to get across town in one piece, kill loads of the bad guys, take out any roadside bombs and suspect vehicles, so why not snipers?

If we get zapped by one, it's game over, meaning we died before completing the mission!"

"I can't find fault with your argument, but even so……"

"Look at it this way Stephen. What's the worst that can happen? We get to cough up for their replacements?

I want to get to the other side of town, and if we keep fannying around, the likelihood is we'll get our bits shot to fuck."

"Okay. So, we go cause a few thousand-quid's worth of damage then."

"Yey! That's more like it!

Come on. Let's get mean!"

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