I stood on the veranda and looked down towards the gate and listened to the last calls of the birds before they settled for the night. It had been another crazy day ... not so many kilometres travelled but so much done in so few hours.
There were clothes, underwear, hiking boots, and backpacks to buy. There was food too but how many days should they buy for? Would the enemy come tonight, tomorrow, the next night? All I knew for certain was that we were ready for them ... or as ready as we could ever be.
The road that wound its way around Mount Conbola and ended at a large picnic area and reservoir that supplied drinking water to the town passed the property's front gate. Apple orchards lined either side of the road for most of the way but eventually orchards on the western side of the road stopped and was replaced with dense bush that was almost impenetrable.
The orchard that we were 'hiding' on belonged to Dale's family although none of the family lived in the house. They all lived down in town and travelled up each day to work in the orchard
The house was a low 3-bedroom brick house with a veranda across the front that faced down the hill and access was through a gate 300 metres from the house. A winding dirt track led up from the gate to the house and the entire track was in clear view from the veranda.
While there was a small area for parking in front of the house the track didn't stop there but looped around to the back of the house to a number of sheds that included a large open machinery shed and several large water tanks. A large slice of land had been excavated into the hillside so that the sheds were on the same level as the house but the water tanks sat above the excavated area.
Beyond the excavated area the hill continued but was littered with large rocks and boulders that formed an almost impenetrable barrier for anyone trying to approach the house from the rear.
About 400 metres directly down the hill from the house was a row of native trees about 200 metres deep and around 600 metres long and to the right of that was the apple orchard with trees planted in neat rows that ran down the hill and out of sight. To the right of the house was an open area that had some old farm equipment in it and beyond those it turned into more rough ground
Most of one of the SAS sections were hidden in the trees down the hill with the remainder of that section hidden in the thick bush across the road from the house. The group in the trees down the hil also had three experienced Reserve NCOs manning a light machine gun. Most of the second unit was hidden in the rough ground to the right of the house while the remaining three were in the rough area above and behind the house.
Part of the Reserve platoon was manning an observation post at the bottom of Mount Conbola Road while the remainder were held in reserve in some sheds on the last orchard on the western side of the road.
There was no doubt that we were stretched paper thin on the ground but we had several advantages of those who would be coming. We knew they were coming, our troops were battle-hardened veterans from one of the toughest units in the Australian Army and our guys were under some cover while the bad guys would be out in the open.
If somethings went right the outcome would be exactly what we wanted ... but so many things could go horribly wrong.
When the firing started Angela and I were to evacuate through the back of the farmhouse and use the machinery shed as cover to slip into the rocky area behind the house. If we hugged the machinery shed we would still be able to give the guys in the area above and behind the house a clear field of fire.
We also had the added protection of an F88 Austeyr and a Glock pistol but I seriously hoped that the bad guys wouldn't get that close to us that I had to use them.
I heard the door quietly open and close and then Angela was standing beside me with her arm around my waist. "We seem so isolated and alone here," she whispered.
"I know, but the SAS guys are out there. You can't see them from here, and you could walk right up to them and still not see them, but they're there and they'll stay there till the job's done."
"But what if this goes on for weeks?"
"They're trained to stay in position for very long periods of time and still be ready to come out fighting when the shit hits the fan but this isn't going to go on for weeks. 72 hours will see this all done and dusted."
"Why don't you get on with Nick?"
Her question caught me completely off-guard. My mind had been involved in tactical problems and suddenly her question brought it back to a world of pain. "Actually I get on very well with Nick ... Nick just doesn't get on at all with me."
That was a question that I had been asking myself ever since my marriage imploded. "Would you believe it, I don't really know. I thought we were OK, we talked regularly, he would ask me for advice sometimes and then all two-way communication stopped dead a week after my ex walked out.
"I've tried to talk with him, the girls have tried to find out why he won't talk to me and we all get a wall of silence. 'Hello Dad' last night were the first words he said to me in a very long time.
"I once asked Penny if she thought that there would ever be any sort of reconciliation between us, but she laughed and told me that he was too much like me to ever change his mind."
I'm sure Angela could hear the hurt in my voice ... hell, I could hear it ... but all she did was wrap both arms around me and hug me, "Come on my beautiful man, let's go to bed," she didn't need to say or do anything else.
I held her tight and kissed her forehead. "You crash on the couch but keep your boots on. I'll be out here just in case."
Ten hours later the attack began although it didn't look like an attack to begin with. At about 6.30am an old ute drove up the road and slowed as it passed our gate. Five minutes later the observation post down at the bottom of the road reported two open trucks filled with an unknown number of men had turned into Mount Conbola Road.
I went to rouse Angela and by the time the trucks were coming through the farm gate she was awake and ready to move. Once both trucks were through the gate they opened fire on the house from the moving trucks and we were out the back door and running for our lives.
Suddenly there was the sound of Steyrs and the steady beat of the light machine gun behind us and I knew that the trucks were being raked with fire. There was another noise too ... a loud grinding crunch and tearing noise ... and an explosion ... screams ... fire coming from our positions across the road ... more fire ... and then I was dragging Angela to the ground and trying to kneel and fire at the same time.
'THE FUCKING UTE,' I screamed to myself, 'WE FORGOT THE FUCKING UTE! Effective firing range of an AK-47 350 metres - effective firing range of an F88 300 metres - SHIT SHIT SHIT!'
Bullets around us - she's trying to get up - push her down - get in front of her - keep firing - keep firing - one man down - keep firing - he's backed off - back behind the shed - get up - grab her - drag her - run for the cover of the machinery shed.
Steyrs firing on my left front - more firing - too much AK-47 from behind - they should be dead - too far - we can't make it - we can't fucking stop- drag her into the shed - throw her under a tractor - don't come out - breath Steve - breath!
Turning - I see him - looking in - laughing - know the prick - face - diplomatic plates - roll and bring weapon up - rounds hitting the shed - he's firing at her - screaming from my right - he's turned to me - mag's empty - no time - no Glock - where has it fucking gone - fuck!
I'm up and running towards him - she can't die - attack the only hope - fire from behind me - his face - holes - in his face - in his head - on my knees - ah fuck I'm vomiting on myself.
A digger sticks his head around the corner, "Where's your weapon Dad? Who shot hm?" Not just any digger.
"Dunno," crying from behind me, "Think she did!" I turn and she's face down in the dirt, crying, the Glock is still in her hand.
"Holy fuck!" He's in awe ... I can hear it in his voice then he's yelling - "CONTACT FRONT!" - he's leaning in and firing in the direction of the house ... then silence.
WE'RE ALIVE - WE'RE FUCKING ALIVE - I want to laugh but all I can do is vomit again - some fucking hero I am. I crawl back and take the Glock from her hand and sit there stroking her hair.
Listening to the debrief answered a few questions for me.
As soon as the trucks were spotted turning into Mount Conbola Road one of the team that the Old Man had left behind immediately contacted the local media to tell them that the Army would be conducting a simulated attack on a terrorist camp on the mountain and people should expect to hear plenty of gunfire and stay away from the mountain till sun-down.
Another member of the team spoke to the police and gave them a version of the story that was closer to the truth and were respectfully requested to get some patrol cars up to the other orchards on the road and evacuate anyone found there with the excuse that it was all part of the exercise.
The local hospital was also put on alert so they would be ready to handle any casualties.
What if it had all gone wrong? I didn't want to think about that and fortunately the situation had almost gone completely to plan ... with the exception of the ute and Naziri ... but we had improvised, adapted and overcome.
The ute had continued up the road after checking the gate and seeing me on the veranda, and it somehow slipped from everyone's memory because we were all focused on the trucks that we could hear grinding up the hill.
But the ute didn't go far and as soon as the trucks were in sight of the gate and the focus of everyone's attention it turned and rolled down the hill and was able to be hidden by the shed so the guys behind the house couldn't see it.
The trucks came through gate but didn't get far before the guys down the hill started firing on them and killed many of them before they even had a chance to get out of the trucks . The grinding crash occurred when the driver of the second truck was hit by gunfire and managed to drive his truck into the one in front immobilising both of them.
The explosion came when the one of the terrorists tried to throw a grenade at the section down the hill but only succeeded in getting himself shot before he could throw the grenade. The stalled trucks did provide some cover for five or six terrorists who then tried to assault the house but only four got inside.
Those four then paused and finally worked up the courage to come out through the back door where they were shot by Nick.
While the firefight was going on out the front the guys in the ute had moved through the side fence just in time to see Angela and me run out the back door and head for the side of the shed. They had opened fire and were well within range but somehow they missed us.
I took out the driver of the ute and then managed to get into the shed when the other guy, who turned out to be Naziri, ducked back behind the shed. Once we were in the shed my sidearm had dislodged from my belt and Angela had picked it up and shot Naziri just as he was about to shoot me.
As Diggers often do, when we stood down and left it to a cleaning squad, we all went back to the local Army Reserve drill hall and celebrated with a beer or three.
The press of male bodies around Angela was amazing and I didn't even try and get close to her. Only the Warrant Officer, Nick and myself were standing away from the group.
"OK Steve," Warrant Officer Winters had a beer in one hand and the other on my shoulder, I know Nick said that your girlfriend shot the last guy but did she really?"
I chuckled, "Yes she did. It seems that when she went to the US for business last time one of her friends over there took her to a shooting range where she taught Angela how to use a Glock ... and I'm very glad she did.
"I checked the gun and she had only fired three times and all three hit him in the head but the weird thing is that she doesn't remember shooting him at all."
After the debrief we headed over to Grace's house. Nick had passed on a message that she expected us for a BBQ but he just walked away when I asked him if he would be there. Well I guess you can't win them all.
Once again we were met at the door by two charging pink things demanding hugs and kisses and once they were placated Angela and I followed the Australian tradition of guys heading for the BBQ and women heading for the kitchen.
"OK Steve, what the fuck did they do to my house?" Note, you should never argue with a hulk of a man brandishing a pair of BBQ tongs.
"Umm ... what do you mean?"
The big man sighed, "Steve, you may think that I'm a dumb-ass but I'm not totally stupid. I tried to go up there this afternoon and the place is crawling with cops and other not-so-nice people who wanted to arrest me."
"Yeah, well it's hard not to think of you as a dumb-ass, after all you have hooked up with my daughter."
He looked at me and scowled. "You're not going to tell me are you?"
"Mate I can't tell you anything except any damage will be repaired and the funny holes in the brickwork are probably bullet holes because Nick is hopeless when you put a gun in his hands.
"But listen to the gossip around town and put the pieces together and you just might get closer to the full picture than most of the people around here."
"But what are some of the pieces? This is just a confusing mess that seems so improbable."
"Well, you've got a bunch of SAS guys, you've got an old guy that seems to think that he owes me something and you've got me. There are a few of the pieces that you should be able to build on."
"Yes, but who are you ... and who was that old guy? Grace can remember you being away quite a few times when she was a child and never telling her where you had been ... and everyone was very deferential to that old guy nobody told us what he did.
"And how is a pornstar involved in all of this ... and how come you're dating her?"
"It's all a mystery to me mate," I laughed.
Just then the girls come out of the house carrying bowls of salad ... and immediately behind them came Penny. Once the hugs and kisses were over Penny took me off to one side.
"OK Dad, I don't want to know about what happened up on the Mount and I don't want to know if you and Nick have kissed and made up. I just want to tell you this, Angela is your second chance at happiness ... don't fuck it up!
"The poor woman thinks that the sun shines out of your arse, and yes, I know what she does but you are obviously good for each other so don't fuck it up Dad." Yep, my daughter the straight talker. I wondered if she would ever find a guy who could handle her.
Having delivered that message she went over to where Grace and Angela were standing, talking and gave Angela a hug.
By 8pm I could see that Angela was beginning to wilt so I gave all my girls a hug and took Angela home.