It was hot at two in the afternoon. It would get hotter and the various biological items the locals left around would stink worse than ever.
The sniper team being relieved took care to update their reliefs, although little was happening. It would be a long, somnolent afternoon, glassing the town to the west side of the American compound. While the sniper settled himself and his rifle, the spotter caught the attention of the French compound’s sniper team and waved. A lean arm returned the wave, which meant that the agreed-upon action drill was still current.
In the courtyard, a patrol was saddling up to run Route Charlie, interrupting trouble and showing the flag. The sniper and the spotter would be particularly responsible for covering the patrol. Nothing like last month was expected, when this sniper team had dropped two bad guys from their perches onto the street in front of a patrol.
The patrol moved off and the heat eventually defeated the slight excitement among the loafing locals.
The spotter murmured his observations of the scene down a phone line to the intel section where what little he had to say of note would be analyzed.
The sniper used his powerful scope to see if he could spot the likely ambush sites. The position had a chart of various locations with their target code names for the artillery and the sniper looked at them with particular care. Considering the general dull beige theme of everything except the burning, brassy sky, he calculated he could see and hit a man in the clear at about a thousand meters. Beyond that, he could, as was once said about another war on another continent, “fire into the brown of’em.”
Subjects for original discussion had been worn out weeks ago. Then, after a long hour, the street stirred, which is to say an indefinable sense of motion, or a reduction in the apparent lethargy caught the attention of the team. The spotter took a quick look at the French compound and noted their teams were sitting up and scanning more energetically.
Within a few moments, a mob assembled, seemingly by multiplying the locals who’d been, to that point, not all that thick on the ground. Where they might have actually come from was a puzzle. A large car, an ancient Chrysler, swung around a corner and smoked to a halt in front of the French compound. Two women tried to get out and, it seemed to the snipers, to head for the gate. They were knocked down and the mob, under the leadership of a large man in a green robe, began beating the two women.
Footsteps hammered up to the sniper team’s position. The spotter looked over his shoulder for an instant. Two men appeared. One was a burly rifleman for extra close-in protection and the other, body armor hanging crookedly from his skinny frame, was the interpreter.
The Battle Captain, responsible for the defense of the American compound, was watching the affair from the wall.
“Are you clear for the man in the green robe,” he shouted.
“Affirm!” the sniper yelled back.
Green Robe’s splattering fall shocked the crowd. For an instant, they seemed to think the shot had come from the French and looked to try to storm the compound. But they came to their quite modest senses. Nobody would assault a Legion position.
In the interval of silence, the French loudspeaker system broadcast a mocking statement in what the sniper team thought was the local language. Their interpreter laughed.
“You see something funny,” asked the rifleman.
“Yeah,” said the terp, “he told the crowd not to be assholes where the French can see them.”
Some in the crowd were pointing at the American position and the mob poured across the square.
One of them, an older man with an impressive flow of white hair, yelled up at the Americans that the women were prostitutes.
Behind him, the gate of the French compound opened and a flying wedge of Legionnaires came out with some Green Crescent workers behind them. The Legion’s formation passed over the motionless women and halted. The relief workers picked up the women and the whole disappeared, in an orderly fashion, back inside the gate.
Some of the crowd had looked back and their howls of disappointment cast some doubt on the crowd’s concern for neutral justice.
The elderly man continued to upbraid the wall in front of him and the Americans above him.
The interpreter stuck his head over the sandbagged parapet. He yelled something at the crowd which snarled back.
The terp lowered himself and sat with his back against the sandbags. He was smiling to himself.
“What’d you tell them?”
“I told them not to be assholes where we can see them.”
“Damn,” said the grunt. “I hope you got a green card. You ain’t going to be popular around here.”
“Green card, hell. I’m a citizen. Born here. The folks came to the States when I was ten. And I intend to be on the last plane out of here.”
“Out of here?” asked the spotter.
“Yeah. I told them not to be assholes where we can see them. How far can you see them, man? How far can you see?
—Photo The U.S. Army/Flickr