Two twin-turbine Mi-17 helicopter gunships streaked across the crystalline sky. Both were equipped with 57mm rocket pods. One veered west and headed over the massive expanse of jungle to a target near the Thai border. The lead craft maintained a steady course, NNE, toward the heart of a hostile wilderness, deep in Cambodia’s Ratanakiri province.
As Air Mission Commander, the Deputy Chief Sang Rith had selected two flyers who’d served on operations with him back in the nineties. The pilot at his side was a close friend who provided air support when his ground forces attacked the Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin. That had been the DC’s finest hour. Now he was on a mission to kill the despicable Liú Lang Han and his motely gang of predators.
Could this operation be the beginning of the DC making a difference in his beloved country? Would the annihilation of this most sinister of international crime syndicates be the first of many? The future wasn’t written but if he was going to put a dent in the sex trafficking industry, he had the men to do it. In the hold behind were his twenty-two most trusted officers, wearing full battle regalia. They squatted, side by side, their Type 97A bullpup assault rifles at the ready. The gunner had loaded his .50-caliber machine gun with five hundred rounds.
With genuine affection, the DC referred to those officers as his commandos. For most of them, this would be their first experience of becoming what the DC liked to call baksaei del mean krohthnak, a term which loosely translates from Khmer as the deadly birds.
The early morning sun rose over the Indochinese peninsula.
The pilot squared the coordinates on the radar and GPS with his visuals. He took a deep breath and confirmed air assault engagement to commence with the DC, who affirmed, glanced over his shoulder, and held up four fingers for every officer to see. Four minutes until contact. He gave them the thumbs-up. From every officer came the cry of commando! They raised a fist in a strong arm salute before taking up disembarkation positions. Two of the more senior commandos nodded and winked at the younger officers who wore blanched expressions and clenched their weapons with iron grips.
The pilot switched to lone attack mode and tracked through the sun’s rays. Only the flickering shadow running over the emerald canopy below betrayed the chopper’s presence. It veered east, and began its descent towards the compound.
At the perimeter and ready to engage, the chopper hovered just above the treetops. On the ground, the D.C. sighted approximately ten armed guards watching over a dozen slaves tending to the compound lawn. He made out a helipad and the manhole leading to the underground chambers. Some of the slaves dropped their rakes and backed away to the fence. Child slaves ran for the main gate as the leaden drone of the chopper filled the air.
Six commandos fast-roped to the earth. They split into two teams of three and darted along the fences. The pilot peeled the chopper away maintaining straight-and-level flight. He did a circular then looped back to undertake what was expected to be a landing under fire.
Now hovering above the center of the compound grounds, the machine gunner opened fire. A hailstorm of bullets fired into the guards at the rear who fired back but ultimately dropped and writhed like cut lizards. Three remaining guards on the west side blasted away at the chopper as the commandos fired at them from deep in the haze of green. The guards’ Uzis flashed in the gray dawn; translucent yellow tulips bursting from the barrels.
A gang of prisoners scaled the fences as the commandos cut the three remaining guards down, thus clearing the helipad. The metallic beast descended. Its rotor wash stirred the grass and foliage into frenzy.
The chopper settled on the helipad as more guards clambered out of the manhole. The commandos sprung out of the chopper and onto the grounds, one by one and firing. They blew away the guards. The slaves disappeared into the jungle. While a dozen commandos kept watch over the perimeter, the DC emerged from the chopper. He directed four of his men to surround the manhole. This is what he was here for. The man he’d sworn to kill was there, below ground, the DC could feel it in his bones. He flung the hatch open and bellowed an order directing those below to surface.
One by one, the predators struggled out. They were shoved into a line and roughly frisked. Defeat radiated from haggard faces whipped by the rush of air generated by spinning rotor blades. Liú Lang Han, the man the DC so desperately wanted remained underground. A rusty iron ladder reached twenty feet below to a concrete floor.
Once at the bottom of the ladder, the DC and two of his best men were in complete darkness. He flicked on his flashlight and scanned the walls and ceiling of the narrow corridor.
With their weapons at the ready, they made their way inside. On their left, the space resembled some kind of dormitory, with bunk beds and cupboards. A cigarette smoldered in an ashtray. The thick air stunk of red wine, semen, and that curiously rancid odor generated by sweaty old men. A commando lobbed a flashbang. It sailed through the air then rolled on the ground. A burst of light and sound.
From a dark corner, a lone predator opened fire, catching a young commando in the shoulder. The DC emptied a clip into the old man who died cursing his killers. The overhead lights came on. Naked and shivering, Liú Lang Han slunk away from the generator at the back of the dorm and raised his hands. The DC grabbed him by his shock of thick, black hair, dragged him through the chambers and threw him to a waiting commando who bustled him up the ladder.
The below ground quarters were cleared. Concrete bunks and bloodstained torture chambers. They released a dozen more slaves from their cells and directed them to go over-ground and join their counterparts in the jungle. The entire compound was about to be wiped off the map–they were to get as far away as possible. Only two slaves stayed behind too sick and scared to depart. The commandos ignored them. They set the charges. Twenty minutes to detonation.
Some of the predators could barely stand, such was their shock at the invasion. Two commandos marched Han to the chopper. The dead guards were thrown down the manhole. The predators–once rulers now prisoners–glanced at each other. All thirteen of them knew what was coming.
“It was Viscount Hastings who got a location on this place and sentenced you all to death.” The DC’s cruel smile exposed a horseshoe of yellow teeth. He lit a cigarette to demonstrate he was savoring their demise. Took one puff then flicked it. “Do any of you have a message for him?”
No one replied but it was clear by the shock on their faces they hadn’t expected to hear Hastings had orchestrated their downfall. Every predator had assumed he was dead. The DC sounded the order; the commandos emptied their weapons into them. He ordered his men to cast the bloody corpses down into the underground chambers. As the officers gave the grounds one final sweep, the DC instructed the medic to treat the wounded officer in the chopper, not on site.
He took a moment to feel the blistering winds blowing in his face and stared out at the densely-forested mountains on the horizon and the colossal clouds that shrouded them. Dark, heavy and holding the promise of the rainy season. Outside the compound, the adult slaves would be rounding up the young and injured and setting off on the long trek to the safety of a friendly village. Maybe this operation was nothing more than piss in the wind–but they’d made a start.
The commandos sealed the manhole shut. The DC led the way as they re-boarded the chopper. His pilot performed a vertical take-off to a hover and leaned on the throttle in slow ascent. At approximately five hundred feet, the DC threw Liú Lang Han out into the open sky. He dropped ten feet; his body jerked as the rope on his ankle smarted. His screams were drowned out by the sounds of the accelerating rotor blades. The pilot veered west then looped back and shot a line of rockets into the compound. Fires blazed in the greenery. The DC noticed a tremor in the earth. The charges below had detonated, unleashing a massive explosion.
The chopper headed towards the rising sun. When they’d climbed to a thousand feet, the D.C gleefully cut the rope and his boys cheered, while Liú Lang Han’s freezing, semi-conscious body rocketed down into the jungle.