Tick Tock is like no other military romance I’ve read. Not only did it exceed my expectations, but its power storyline unbalanced me to the point where I had to sit back and seriously think about what I’d read. However, there were moments the story begged me to turn the pages at lightning-fast speed and when I did, I found myself re-reading passages, chapters, highlighting and making notes. It’s extremely believable, sheds light on the dangers a bomb disposal expert faces day in, day out and the attitude he has towards a profession he’s dedicated his life to and loves. Also, I take my hat off to the author for tackling an issue such as is religion with so much delicacy and consideration for her readers’ feelings. Add love and war to the mix and it’s an angst-ridden novel.
James has a mission and it’s the most complicated one he has ever had to take on. His thoughts regarding it are loud and clear; he’s not happy when he finds out exactly what’s been asked of him. It seems like an impossible task, the clock is ticking and only his expertise can stop a disaster. It’s difficult to imagine what it would be like training two people who have no idea from one end of a bomb to another. But James never loses his cool; he has a job to do and will give it his all. Showing Alan Clayton and Amira the intricacies of explosives not only conveyed to me how high-risk it was for his students but James’ sensitivity and patience towards them I found nothing less than splendid. And I have to say I had no trouble investing in this beautiful man whose soul is so generous, and whose only concern is the safety for those he teaches.
Born to Muslim parents, Amira is an enigma. Used to the ways of the western world, I didn’t question her religion per se, but how she measured her true faith. At times, her inner conflicts confused me. I wondered why she’d agreed to being recruited by an intelligence agency and although a past happening was an influencing factor, I couldn’t quite come to terms with her reasoning regardless of her misery. Emotions run high, giving the story that added bite and throwing my feelings into a real turmoil–especially in one scene where I felt she’d been unfair to James. Hers and James’ relationship is such a complicated one and I’d be fibbing if I didn’t say I wanted to jump into my Kindle to give them both a good talking to; separately, of course! There’s no time or place for lovey-dovey scenes here, nonetheless, these two opposites have chemistry, the action flows at a fast pace and intrigue abounds from all corners of the globe.
It cannot be denied that Harvey-Berrick’s a courageous storyteller. Tick Tock is a very character driven story and you can easily see that she’s done her homework. Facts have been used from her research without prettying results up, the detail essentially setting the story in a stressful environment under harsh conditions. But I’d like to make something clear if you’re having doubts, something I give a lot of importance to. This story is neither racist nor hate-oriented. It is about two brave people striving for their goals. It’ll make you hold your breath and just wait for the ending, it knocked me for six! The secondary character development is spot on. Clay; what a marvellous man so full of life, so lovable. I’d really like you lovers of military romances to give book one in the EOD series a chance. You won’t regret it! Bravo Harvey-Berrick and thank you for the exceptional narration from Amira and James’ viewpoint.
We’re born alone and we die alone.
I’ve never been afraid of dying. It’s living that scares the hell out of me.
But in the bomb suit, I am utterly alone.
There is no today, no yesterday, no tomorrow.
Just here, right now.
There is no God, no Devil, no good, no evil.
Just me. And the sound of my breathing, loud and rhythmic.
Just me. And this bomb.
A bomb is a device that is designed to kill, maim or harass.
I’m not afraid. I don’t have time to be afraid.
The sun burns down, the light is a white haze, sweat runs into my eyes. The longer I’m out here, kneeling in the dust, the more vulnerable the team watching my back.
I can’t be quick. I have to be certain.
Because if I’m wrong, I die.
I am an EOD operator.
I am the Tick Tock man.
I raised my SA80 rifle and aimed at the man’s chest. Got him!
From 20 yards, I couldn’t miss. But then again, neither could he.
He was driving an old Jeep, so battered that it looked as though string and chewing gum held it together. He revved the engine threateningly and I ducked behind a lamppost so he wouldn’t be able to run me over. I couldn’t see the driver’s hands. What was he doing with his hands? He could be reaching for a weapon, or he could be arming a device that would blow a hole through the world.
Shit just got serious.
I gestured with the rifle, my voice harsh and gritty—a command.
“Raise your hands and place them on the steering wheel.”
He didn’t move, he just stared at me, his eyes narrowed with hatred.
“Raise your hands now!”
The soldier next to me started to twitch.
“Staff! He’s not doing anything! Does he even speak fucking English?”
He’d got a strong Geordie accent, so it sounded like, Stav! Ees not dooin’ ennyfink! Doos ee even spook fookin Eenglish?
“I don’t know. Do you?”
He gave me a quick, nervous grin. But my joke had helped him to relax. Or maybe he’d just stepped back from the edge of a big mistake.
I took a pace forward, pointing my SA80 at the insurgent.
“Hands where I can see them!”
Even if he didn’t speak English, my meaning was clear.
But I was distracted by the soldier next to me who was jigging from foot to foot like he wanted to piss his pants.
I glanced toward him.
“Calm down, it’s alright…”
Suddenly, there was a loud bang, a flash of light from the Jeep, and a cloud of dust and blue smoke flared upward.
I lowered my rifle and swore.
“Staff Sergeant Spears!” bellowed Captain Elderman, shaking his head. “If that had been a real device, you and your men would be very fucking dead right now. You should have made sure his hands were in sight. It’s a good thing this is a training exercise in Wiltshire and not a real life situation in Ifuckingdontcareistan. I expected better of you, Spears. See me in my office later.”
Then he strode away.
The Jeep driver grinned, tossed a V-sign with his fingers, racing off in a cloud of dust, the exhaust rattling asthmatically.
“Sorry, Staff,” said my Lance Corporal, his expression crestfallen. “I fooked it oop.”
“You, me, both,” I sighed.
We joined the rest of the Troop and trudged back to the bus that would take us from the training ground to the barracks.
The pack on my back weighed 110 pounds: 50lb of basic Army shit; 60lb of EOD kit. It was 31oC and I was sweating my ‘nads off. English summers weren’t supposed to be this hot.
It was sheer relief to climb onto the bus and crawl to a seat at the back where I could dump my pack and drink some tepid water from my flask.
I looked around at my team that I’d been attached to, all from REME—the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. They were good lads, but young and inexperienced. At 29, I was the oldest. Next stop thirty. When did I get so old?
I leaned back against the seat and closed my eyes, letting the weariness take me. Within minutes, I was falling asleep. That was something you learned in this job: catch some ZZZs while you can. Hours in your sleeping bag can be few and far between on a deployment in a hostile environment. Over the years, I’d trained myself to sleep anywhere: in a hammock, up a tree, in a tank, or lying on a slab of concrete. Time and opportunity was all I needed.
Although a nice soft bed with a nice soft woman in it wouldn be even better, but I took what I could get.
When the bus arrived back at base, I was jolted awake.
Military bases are all essentially the same: red brick housing for families, low concrete barracks for unmarried personnel, ugly buildings, boring offices, hangars for planes or transport, tarmac parade grounds—grey, functional, depressing.
The Ministry Of Defence kept promising to tart up the living quarters, but I hadn’t seen any signs of it lately. At least we all had single rooms now, except for recruits who hadn’t passed basic.
Back at the Armoury, we returned our weapons, and the ammunition was carefully counted. No one wanted ammo to find its way into the wrong hands.
“Well done, lads,” I said, grinning despite my tiredness and our joint failure. “Not a bad op today—we were tight … right up until we had a weapons-grade fuck up. Think about how it could have been improved so next time we’ll be on it.”
“Yes, Staff,” came the muttered replies.
The smile slid from my face as I turned and headed toward the building housing the REME officers.
Not all officers are wankers. By the law of averages you occasionally come across one that you don’t want to shoot. Elderman was alright, not that I knew him well. I’d only been attached here for three weeks—barely enough time to find my way around base.
If I’d been overseas on ops, I’d have used the time to unofficially requisition some better kit for my men. There was always something they needed that the bastard of a Quartermaster wanted to keep tidied away in his nice, neat stores. Raiding his supplies could be a useful training exercise for my team. Unofficially, of course. But on a home base, it would be viewed as highly unprofessional and probably career ending—amassing spares on ops was viewed differently.
Totally against regulations. But that was the thing about the men who were in my trade: ATs, Ammunition Technicians—bomb disposal officers—we made lousy soldiers, but we made great ATs.
Our minds worked differently from most soldiers—we were trained specifically for that reason. We had to see three steps beyond everyone else. We were taught to analyze, taught to think. And that made us independent—which most officers hated.
We were the opposite of fighter pilots: they tell everyone who will listen that they’re a pilot and that speed is life. I didn’t tell anyone what I did, and speed is death.
Captain Elderman accepted my salute briskly and waved me into a chair.
“Fuck up today, Staff. Not your finest hour.”
He’d seen what happened, I didn’t need to apologise for it.
The Captain leaned back in his chair, tapping a cheap plastic biro against the scarred desk.
“I’ve had an unusual request come across my desk and someone at Division HQ thinks that you’re the man for the job.”
I stared at him warily. In my experience, a volunteer was someone who hadn’t understood the question.
“It seems our friends across the pond need some help—someone with your skill-set, as it turns out. Working with their own EOD teams—some sort of training exercise. You need to report to RAF Croughton tomorrow. Apparently the Yanks are so keen to have you, they’re sending transport to pick you up. Be packed and ready by 0700.”
I wasn’t expecting that—a training exercise with American military?
Could be interesting: Americans trained hard. Fifteen years ago, they said they wanted to be world leaders in EOD within ten years, and maybe in terms of equipment, support, numbers and capability they had it all going for them. In the British Army, we’d been trained for decades by learning how to neutralize everything the IRA could throw at us. There was a different background of knowledge to draw on, which was just as well, because we definitely weren’t funded to the same level.
“Yes, sir. How long am I going for?”
He frowned and looked at the paperwork.
“Doesn’t say. Best expect to be away for a few weeks.”
I took the orders that he handed to me and flicked through them as I headed back to my room, growing more and more confused.
The orders simply said when and where I’d be picked up: nothing about the training exercise, how long I’d be away, what I’d be doing, which regiment I’d be working with, or who’d requested me. Weirdly, the only contact was an email address that went to an office I’d never heard of at the MOD HQ in London.
It didn’t seem as though Elderman had been told anything more than was in my orders.
It wasn’t completely unusual to do training exercises with our opposite number in the U.S. Army; I’d even trained with Navy SEALs, and EOD teams in the U.S. Marine Corps—but this was definitely different.
For one thing, it looked as though I’d be travelling by myself rather than with the Unit I was attached to; and for another thing, there was nothing to say where I was heading. Besides, the logistics of these sorts of joint exercises always took months to plan. I should have heard something about it before now.
I pulled out my phone and Googled RAF Croughton:
“Royal Air Force Croughton houses the 422nd Air Base Group whose function is to provide installation support, services, force protection, and worldwide communications across the entire spectrum of operations. The group is located in the UK and supports NATO, U.S. European Command, U.S. Central Command, Air Force Special Operations Command, U.S. Department of State operations and Ministry of Defence operations. The group sustains more than 450 C2 circuits and supports 25% of all European Theater to continental United States (CONUS) communications.”
In other words, spook work.
There was a story behind this deployment, I just didn’t know what it was. Because it sounded like the sort of thing that would usually be undertaken by the Special Forces ATOs. But since I’d been dumped in a dead end unit after the incident in Afghanistan, it gave me a chance to escape to something more exciting—and possibly save my career.
So there was nothing for me to do but pack my bags. Since I’d only been in Wiltshire for three weeks, I hadn’t exactly made myself at home and I’d travelled light in the first place. Packing wasn’t an issue: where to store my Ducati Sport 1000 was. I didn’t trust those clumsy bastards in transport, the Royal Logistics Corps, not to damage it.
But as I was leaving in 12 hours, I didn’t have a lot of choice either.
I decided to shoot a text to my mate Noddy, reminding him that he owed me, and asking him to look after my wheels until I got back.
He agreed, but also wound me up by threatening to ride it while I was away. Noddy had been in my platoon but left the Army five years ago, and now he weighed 300 pounds and had as much balance as a lame hippo: if he tried to ride my bike, they’d be taking him to A&E and my bike to the knackers’ yard.
For a moment, I thought about texting Vanessa, but then remembered that we’d broken up a month ago because she didn’t like being in a long distance relationship. She hated me being sent away all the time, bitching and moaning about cancelled dates and missed birthdays; complaining when she found ants in her kitchen and I wasn’t there to sort it out. What the hell did she think the Army was? A holiday camp where you could come and go as you liked?
The Army was my home—the only one I had, so I did what I was told—mostly—and went where they sent me.
I tried not to think about what I was going to do when I’d served my 22 years. Returning to civilian life at 40 didn’t hold any appeal for me. A few people stayed on after they’d done their full stint, but not many.
I shook my head: I still had 11 years before I had to face that horror story.
I settled down on my hard bunk with my hands behind my head and wondered what the Army had in store for me this time.