Chapter 14 – Mamison


Fifteen minutes out of Buron on the road to South Ossetia, Eduard was on the phone to a colleague in Moscow when the military convoy took an unexpected right turn off the highway. At sight of the signpost his conversation halted. “Mamison,” he uttered.

The Ossetian Military Road dated back to Tsarist times and it crossed the Caucasus about 3000 metres above sea level at the treacherous Mamison Pass, which itself dated back to mythology.

“Mamison Pass is closed,” he told Garik, who glanced at him sideways before turning his attention back to the winding gravel road.

A few miles beyond the village of Verkhniy Zaramag the road terminated in a loop near a hamlet – a few shepherd’s huts surrounded by a complex of abandoned Soviet era commune farm buildings come military barracks. The men dismounted the broad cabins of the tank transporters and immediately set about un-hitching their tanks in a flurry of clanging and banging. One after another, and several at the same time, big diesel engines fired into life. Amid much yelling of directions the mighty destructive beasts clambered off their transporters and formed up in a column spearing toward a narrow valley where a clear stream twinkled in the mid-morning sun and steep mountainsides converged.

“You’re a fool, Captain. You can’t go into Georgia this way, you’ve directly disobeyed my orders, General Yudenich’s orders, and you’ve put the mission in jeopardy,” yelled Eduard, whipping himself into a frenzy. “I promise if it takes the last breath in my lungs I will see you court-martialled and stripped of your pension.”

The soldiers all overheard it and went about their business on tenterhooks, silently passing glances among themselves.

Garik took a small pack from the back of the UAZ before heading for his tank. It had been almost two hours since the target left Kutaisi. There was no time to waste on discussion with the bureaucrat. “Ambrolaui. Ambrolauri Eduard,” Garik requested calmly, cutting the SVR man off amid his ongoing protest. “Have they reached Ambrolauri?”

“I said they’ll call me when the target reaches Ambrolauri!” Eduard barked.

“Check now,” Garik calmly ordered, not breaking stride as he mounted the T-90 marked ‘K’. “NOW!” he growled from atop the turret, before looking each way along the column of tanks. He poked his head down into the turret and yelled out to his Gunner. “You ride with Sergeant Zharkov for now.”

Eduard looked around and realised apart from the drivers of the transporters he was the only man not on a tank. A Private landed on the ground beside him and ran toward the tank that had Eduard’s equipment tied onto it.

“Get up,” said Garik to Eduard. “And let’s get one thing clear – I don’t take orders from you ever, but while you are riding with this unit you will follow my orders directly, swiftly and without question or I will put a bullet through your skull.” He patted his sidearm then turned his stare into the mountains. “Let’s go,” he yelled.

The tanks moved off with Eduard still climbing aboard. As he went to climb through the hatch into the tank Garik pulled him back.

“You sit up here and contact your agents in Ambrolauri,” he said before dropping through the turret into the Commander’s seat and beginning to connect himself to his own communications equipment.

Eduard was incensed but he was in the hands of the insolent fuck for the time being. All in good time he would have the opportunity to put Garik in his place.

Chapter 13 – the mountain road

The aid convoy set out slowly, soon leaving Kutaisi beyond the rear vision. The rural countryside took on a different nature, the rolling floodplain of the Rioni River giving way to more hilly landscape, each rise and fall creating tremendous variation in the convoy’s speed so that Konrad’s mind worked overtime constantly re-estimating and re-guesstimating their arrival. Herb too found his laptop’s communication with the outside world increasingly sketchy, until finally in frustration he decided to quit until they stopped, when he could use the satellite router again. Alan’s GPS unit periodically protested its isolation, and some of the truck drivers and Martine found their phone conversations dropping out.

Larger mountains could be seen east and west but ahead of them and gradually looming the Caucasus Mountains dominated everything, intimidating the entire living landscape. A radio station or two found its way between the hills and along the Kutaisi-Tkibuli-Ambrolauri Highway as it followed the Tskaltsitela, the Mtis Chala and then the Tkibula Rivers, inspiring a variety of views among the truck drivers. The one Herb had chosen for company cursed the Rusebi for meddling in Georgian affairs. Others like Gvantsa blamed the Georgian government for the current crisis – what do Mingrelians care if South Ossetians want some independence fromTbilisi?

At Tkibuli Gvantsa phoned Vaja in the truck ahead who was only too willing when Alan suggested a quick stop. The other side of Tkibuli was the first of the really great climbs the trucks would have to do. Vaja chose a well known truck stop and while others ruminated over coffee and fried breakfasts he was desperate to look over the older trucks, quizzing a driver on movements of the temperature gage. All seemed to be holding up.