Personal Protection (A Spider Shepherd Short Story)

Personal Protection (A Spider Shepherd Short Story) by Stephen Leather

Book: Personal Protection (A Spider Shepherd Short Story) by Stephen Leather Read Free Book Online
Authors: Stephen Leather
    By Stephen Leather

    November, 1997
    The change in the engine note as the Hercules began to descend woke Dan ‘Spider’ Shepherd from a fitful sleep. He glanced around him. As usual Jock McIntyre and Geordie Mitchell were still sleeping. Both of them had the uncanny ability to sleep anywhere at any time, no matter what noise and distractions - even gunfire - there might be, yet on a whispered word of command, both would be instantly awake and alert. James ‘Jimbo’ Shortt’s lanky frame was also prone among the jumble of equipment stacked and lashed to the Hercules unforgiving steel floor and walls, but his eyes were wide open, staring at the ribbed metal roof.
    Shepherd yawned and stretched, then peered out of the tiny window to his left. As the Hercules banked around, he caught a glimpse of the radomes of the listening station high on the flanks of Troodos Mountain. Beneath him, the dark shadow of the Hercules was etched across the brilliant white salt flats north of Akrotiri, the heat rising from them in shimmering waves. The aircraft rumbled in and touched down with a thud that shook Jock and Geordie awake.
     ‘Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Cyprus,’ Jimbo said. ‘Thank you for flying Crabs Airlines, please remain in your seats until the aircraft has come to a complete stop outside the terminal and the pilot has switched off the seatbelt signs.’
     ‘You’d have made a lovely stewardess,’ Geordie said,  ‘if you weren’t so butt ugly.’
    The Hercules juddered to a halt and as the tailgate was lowered, Shepherd hoisted his bergen onto his shoulders and led the others down the ramp on to the concrete hardstanding of the UK Sovereign Base Area. It was a fiercely hot day but after the tropical heat of Sierra Leone the lack of humidity in the air was as refreshing as a cooling breeze.
     ‘Not much of a welcoming party,’ he said as he looked around. A lone figure, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt was striding towards them. He was craggy faced and greying at the temples and though his legs and upper body were hard muscled, the thickening around his waist suggested that he was now spending more time driving a desk than on training and ops.
    ‘Anyone know him?’ Shepherd muttered as the man approached.
    ‘No,’ Jock said, ‘but you can tell he’s been around a bit, one of the old and bold.’
    ‘How do you know?’
    ‘Just look at his right hand.’ Shepherd followed his gaze and saw that the man’s fingers were curled over.
    ‘All the old guys get like that,’ Jock said. He held up his own hand. ‘In fact it’s started to happen to me too - it comes from holding a rifle for years.’
     ‘Morning guys,’ the man said as he walked up to them. ‘I’m Rusty. I don’t think I know any of you, do I?’
    ‘You’re not Rusty Nail?’ asked Jock.
    ‘The very same,’ said Rusty, narrowing his eyes. ‘Do you know me?’
    ‘Not personally, but I know you by reputation,’ Jock said. ‘You’ve worked on a couple of team jobs with a mate of mine: Spud.’ 
    Rusty broke into a smile. ‘Bloody hell, that’s a blast from the past. Any friend of Spud’s is a friend of mine.’
    The others introduced themselves. ‘So are you just passing through like us, Rusty?’ Shepherd said.
    ‘No, I’m based here.’
    ‘I didn’t even know we had a presence in Cyprus,’ Shepherd said.
    Rusty nodded. ‘It’s not an operational section, purely administrative.’
    Shepherd glanced around, squinting against the bright sunlight. Beyond the usual sprawl of hangers, concrete buildings and Portakabins that characterised every overseas base, he could see pine clad mountains in the distance to the north, and the sails of windsurfers and yachts speckling the Mediterranean beyond the sandstone cliffs and beaches flanking the peninsula that surrounded the base on three sides. ‘Looks like a pretty cushy posting,’ he said.
    ‘You can have it, if you want it, and

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