Writing about writing a book – Day 24

Time to put the team back together, well, sort of.

We’ve been given the introduction to who Barry McDougall is, or the man otherwise known as ‘Brainless’, and after three days of trying to get it straight, this is the first rough draft of his start in the story.

 

Barry, whose daring selfless deeds earned him the nickname Brainless because that was the only way to describe the motivation behind them, was one of the regular soldiers, and, for a long time, had been my only true friend.  His was a reputation both friends and foes alike considered awesome.  He’d been in Vietnam, and later just turned up at Davenport’s camp, reporting for duty.

Davenport was more surprised than I was at his arrival, but obviously, after checking his credentials, was impressed because he let him stay.  And it would be true to say, if he had not, I would not be here now.

So Barry was just the sort of person I needed to help me.

That was the good news.

The bad news was Barry, at the best of times, either on one of his ‘benders’ using drugs or alcohol, whatever was easier to get at the time, lost to everyone, or locked up in a mental institution, having admitted himself.  He had no interest in participating in life, hadn’t worked in years, and often said, in moments when he was at his lowest, that he did not care if he lived or died.  It had not always been that way, but his demons had all but taken him over, and despite the help, I tried to give him, nothing could shake him out of this lethargy.  He said once he envied me that I could not remember the dark days, and, now those memories had returned, I knew what he meant.

For a long time, I could not understand why he didn’t try harder to help himself, and I guess he humored me by accepting the jobs I’d found him, and the help I offered.  I owed him a great deal, but that was probably the one honorable thing about him, he never expected, nor wanted, anything in return.

He tried to make a go of being a police officer and lasted several years before he resigned over an incident that didn’t reach the papers.  There was, he said, no place for heroics in modern society.  I hadn’t got to the bottom of it, but I heard he shot some thieves at a time when the police were trying to promote a pacifist image.

He tried a few other occupations with an equal lack of success, so now he survived on whatever money I gave him.  He lived on the street, and when he was not there, I knew he could be found in a bar, in one of the more seedier parts of the city, a ubiquitous underground bar called Jackson’s, named after a man who had a salubrious reputation that hovered between load shark and saint, and who was reputed to be buried under the storeroom floor.  The present owner, or what I assumed to be the owner, was a large, gruff, ex-prizefighter, who had the proverbial heart of gold, most of the time, and who took my money and looked after Barry without making it look like he was.

I’d called the bartender in advance, and he said he was in his usual spot, and that it was at the start of the next cycle, having just discharged himself from the hospital after a bout of pneumonia.  It was, he said, getting worse, and taking longer to recover.

It was probably only a matter of time before it took him, so perhaps this time I would have to try harder to convince him to give up his nomadic lifestyle.

When I walked in, the aroma of spilled beer, stale sweat, and vomit, mingled with the industrial-strength carbolic cleaner almost took my breath away.  In the corner, two construction workers were sitting, quietly smoking and drinking large glasses of beer.  In the other, Barry was being held up by the table, an untouched double scotch sitting in front of him.  Sitting at the bar was a woman of indeterminate age, badly made up, and thin to the point of emaciation.  I was not sure what she was drinking, or what it was she was smoking, but I could smell it from the front doorway.

The bartender, Ogilvy, no first name given, was pretending to polish glasses, standing at the end of the bar, looking at the television, playing some daytime soap.  He didn’t look over when I came in, but I knew he didn’t miss anything.  I saw him flick a glance at Barry, and then shake his head.  I think he cared as much about Barry as I did, but could recognize the sadness within him.  As much as Ogilvy said, which wasn’t much, he too had seen service in Vietnam, and it had affected him too.

I ordered an orange juice, caught the glances from the construction workers, and a steely look from the woman then went over to Barry’s table and sat down.  Despite the loud scraping noise when I moved the chair, or the creaking as I sat in it, Barry didn’t move.

Whilst the bar had that seedy aroma, Barry was showing the signs of having spent the time on the street.  It was one of the disadvantages of having no permanent residence and though there was a shower at the bar which Ogilvy let Barry use from time to time, he obviously hadn’t for a few days.

A groan emanated from the table, and Barry moved his head slightly.

I shifted the drink in front of him, and then a hand went out and moved it back.  He lifted his head to look at me, and then lowered it again.

“I thought it was you.”

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2020

An excerpt from “Strangers We’ve Become” – Coming Soon

I wandered back to my villa.

It was in darkness.  I was sure I had left several lights on, especially over the door so I could see to unlock it.

I looked up and saw the globe was broken.

Instant alert.

I went to the first hiding spot for the gun, and it wasn’t there.  I went to the backup and it wasn’t there either.  Someone had found my carefully hidden stash of weapons and removed them.

Who?

There were four hiding spots and all were empty.  Someone had removed the weapons.  That could only mean one possibility.

I had a visitor, not necessarily here for a social call.

But, of course, being the well-trained agent I’d once been and not one to be caught unawares, I crossed over to my neighbor and relieved him of a weapon that, if found, would require a lot of explaining.

Suitably armed, it was time to return the surprise.

There were three entrances to the villa, the front door, the back door, and a rather strange escape hatch.  One of the more interesting attractions of the villa I’d rented was its heritage.  It was built in the late 1700s, by a man who was, by all accounts, a thief.  It had a hidden underground room which had been in the past a vault but was now a wine cellar, and it had an escape hatch by which the man could come and go undetected, particularly if there was a mob outside the door baying for his blood.

It now gave me the means to enter the villa without my visitors being alerted, unless, of course, they were near the vicinity of the doorway inside the villa, but that possibility was unlikely.  It was not where anyone could anticipate or expect a doorway to be.

The secret entrance was at the rear of the villa behind a large copse, two camouflaged wooden doors built into the ground.  I move aside some of the branches that covered them and lifted one side.  After I’d discovered the doors and rusty hinges, I’d oiled and cleaned them, and cleared the passageway of cobwebs and fallen rocks.  It had a mildew smell, but nothing would get rid of that.  I’d left torches at either end so I could see.

I closed the door after me, and went quietly down the steps, enveloped in darkness till I switched on the torch.  I traversed the short passage which turned ninety degrees about halfway to the door at the other end.  I carried the key to this door on the keyring, found it and opened the door.  It too had been oiled and swung open soundlessly.

I stepped in the darkness and closed the door.

I was on the lower level under the kitchen, now the wine cellar, the ‘door’ doubling as a set of shelves which had very little on them, less to fall and alert anyone in the villa.

Silence, an eerie silence.

I took the steps up to the kitchen, stopping when my head was level with the floor, checking to see if anyone was waiting.  There wasn’t.  It seemed to me to be an unlikely spot for an ambush.

I’d already considered the possibility of someone coming after me, especially because it had been Bespalov I’d killed, and I was sure he had friends, all equally as mad as he was.  Equally, I’d also considered it nigh on impossible for anyone to find out it was me who killed him because the only people who knew that were Prendergast, Alisha, a few others in the Department, and Susan.

That raised the question of who told them where I was.

If I was the man I used to be, my first suspect would be Susan.  The departure this morning, and now this was too coincidental.  But I was not that man.

Or was I?

I reached the start of the passageway that led from the kitchen to the front door and peered into the semi-darkness.  My eyes had got used to the dark, and it was no longer an inky void.  Fragments of light leaked in around the door from outside and through the edge of the window curtains where they didn’t fit properly.  A bone of contention upstairs in the morning, when first light shone and invariably woke me up hours before I wanted to.

Still nothing.

I took a moment to consider how I would approach the visitor’s job.  I would get a plan of the villa in my head, all entrances, where a target could be led to or attacked where there would be no escape.

Coming in the front door.  If I was not expecting anything, I’d just open the door and walk-in.  One shot would be all that was required.

Contract complete.

I sidled quietly up the passage staying close to the wall, edging closer to the front door.  There was an alcove where the shooter could be waiting.  It was an ideal spot to wait.

Crunch.

I stepped on some nutshells.

Not my nutshells.

I felt it before I heard it.  The bullet with my name on it.

And how the shooter missed, from point-blank range, and hit me in the arm, I had no idea.  I fired off two shots before a second shot from the shooter went wide and hit the door with a loud thwack.

I saw a red dot wavering as it honed in on me and I fell to the floor, stretching out, looking up where the origin of the light was coming and pulled the trigger three times, evenly spaced, and a second later I heard the sound of a body falling down the stairs and stopping at the bottom, not very far from me.

Two assassins.

I’d not expected that.

The assassin by the door was dead, a lucky shot on my part.  The second was still breathing.

I checked the body for any weapons and found a second gun and two knives.  Armed to the teeth!

I pulled off the balaclava; a man, early thirties, definitely Italian.  I was expecting a Russian.

I slapped his face, waking him up.  Blood was leaking from several slashes on his face when his head had hit the stairs on the way down.  The awkward angle of his arms and legs told me there were broken bones, probably a lot worse internally.  He was not long for this earth.

“Who employed you?”

He looked at me with dead eyes, a pursed mouth, perhaps a smile.  “Not today my friend.  You have made a very bad enemy.”  He coughed and blood poured out of his mouth.  “There will be more …”

Friends of Bespalov, no doubt.

I would have to leave.  Two unexplainable bodies, I’d have a hard time explaining my way out of this mess.  I dragged the two bodies into the lounge, clearing the passageway just in case someone had heard anything.

Just in case anyone was outside at the time, I sat in the dark, at the foot of the stairs, and tried to breathe normally.  I was trying not to connect dots that led back to Susan, but the coincidence was worrying me.

 

A half-hour passed and I hadn’t moved.  Deep in thought, I’d forgotten about being shot, unaware that blood was running down my arm and dripping onto the floor.

Until I heard a knock on my front door.

Two thoughts, it was either the police, alerted by the neighbors, or it was the second wave, though why would they be knocking on the door?

I stood, and immediately felt a stabbing pain in my arm.  I took out a handkerchief and turned it into a makeshift tourniquet, then wrapped a kitchen towel around the wound.

If it was the police, this was going to be a difficult situation.  Holding the gun behind my back, I opened the door a fraction and looked out.

No police, just Maria.  I hoped she was not part of the next ‘wave’.

“You left your phone behind on the table.  I thought you might be looking for it.”  She held it out in front of her.

When I didn’t open the door any further, she looked at me quizzically, and then asked, “Is anything wrong?”

I was going to thank her for returning the phone, but I heard her breathe in sharply, and add, breathlessly, “You’re bleeding.”

I looked at my arm and realized it was visible through the door, and not only that, the towel was soaked in blood.

“You need to go away now.”

Should I tell her the truth?  It was probably too late, and if she was any sort of law-abiding citizen she would go straight to the police.

She showed no signs of leaving, just an unnerving curiosity.  “What happened?”

I ran through several explanations, but none seemed plausible.  I went with the truth.  “My past caught up with me.”

“You need someone to fix that before you pass out from blood loss.  It doesn’t look good.”

“I can fix it.  You need to leave.  It is not safe to be here with me.”

The pain in my arm was not getting any better, and the blood was starting to run down my arm again as the tourniquet loosened.  She was right, I needed it fixed sooner rather than later.

I opened the door and let her in.  It was a mistake, a huge mistake, and I would have to deal with the consequences.  Once inside, she turned on the light and saw the pool of blood just inside the door and the trail leading to the lounge.  She followed the trail and turned into the lounge, turned on the light, and no doubt saw the two dead men.

I expected her to scream.  She didn’t.

She gave me a good hard look, perhaps trying to see if I was dangerous.  Killing people wasn’t something you looked the other way about.  She would have to go to the police.

“What happened here?”

“I came home from the cafe and two men were waiting for me.  I used to work for the Government, but no longer.  I suspect these men were here to repay a debt.  I was lucky.”

“Not so much, looking at your arm.”

She came closer and inspected it.

“Sit down.”

She found another towel and wrapped it around the wound, retightening the tourniquet to stem the bleeding.

“Do you have medical supplies?”

I nodded.  “Upstairs.”  I had a medical kit, and on the road, I usually made my own running repairs.  Another old habit I hadn’t quite shaken off yet.

She went upstairs, rummaged, and then came back.  I wondered briefly what she would think of the unmade bed though I was not sure why it might interest her.

She helped me remove my shirt, and then cleaned the wound.  Fortunately, she didn’t have to remove a bullet.  It was a clean wound but it would require stitches.

When she’d finished she said, “Your friend said one day this might happen.”

No prizes for guessing who that friend was, and it didn’t please me that she had involved Maria.

“Alisha?”

“She didn’t tell me her name, but I think she cares a lot about you.  She said trouble has a way of finding you, gave me a phone and said to call her if something like this happened.”

“That was wrong of her to do that.”

“Perhaps, perhaps not.  Will you call her?”

“Yes.  I can’t stay here now.  You should go now.  Hopefully, by the time I leave in the morning, no one will ever know what happened here, especially you.”

She smiled.  “As you say, I was never here.”

 

© Charles Heath 2018-2020

In a word: Mine

Well, that’s his, and this is mine.  Possession is 9 points of the law, or so they say.

What’s mine is mine and what’s his is mine.  Sound like a divorce settlement?  Sure is!

There are often a lot of arguments over the possession of goods, and who they belong to.  Perhaps it’s best to own nothing, then no one can take it from you.

Sound like a lawyer contesting his own divorce?  Probably.

But that’s not the only mine.  Take for instance a land mine or a sea mine.

Devilish things to walk on, or brush up against.  It spawned a new type of ship, a minesweeper, and I’ve read a few books about the exploits of those aboard, and how close they come to death when a ship hits one.

And land mines, the damage they can cause.

Then, of course, you can go underground, way underground, into a mine.

Gold in South Africa, coal in Wales, tin in Sumatra, copper in New Guinea.

And it doesn’t have to be underground.  You can have an open cut mine, which accounts for a lot of coal mines in Australia.

Oddly, you can mine data, the sort that’s stored in databases on computers.  I’ve done a bit of that in a former life.

You can mine talent,

Or you can mine bitcoin, but that’s a whole different ballgame, and everyone seems to be in on some sort of scam when it comes to bitcoin.  It seems to me the only way you would make money out of bitcoin was to buy units the very first day it was released.

It’s not, and never will be, something I’ll dabble in.

“Sunday in New York”, it’s a bumpy road to love

“Sunday in New York” is ultimately a story about trust, and what happens when a marriage is stretched to its limits.

When Harry Steele attends a lunch with his manager, Barclay, to discuss a promotion that any junior executive would accept in a heartbeat, it is the fact his wife, Alison, who previously professed her reservations about Barclay, also agreed to attend, that casts a small element of doubt in his mind.

From that moment, his life, in the company, in deciding what to do, his marriage, his very life, spirals out of control.

There is no one big factor that can prove Harry’s worst fears, that his marriage is over, just a number of small, interconnecting events, when piled on top of each other, points to a cataclysmic end to everything he had believed in.

Trust is lost firstly in his best friend and mentor, Andy, who only hints of impending disaster, Sasha, a woman whom he saved, and who appears to have motives of her own, and then in his wife, Alison, as he discovered piece by piece damning evidence she is about to leave him for another man.

Can we trust what we see with our eyes or trust what we hear?

Haven’t we all jumped to conclusions at least once in our lives?

Can Alison, a woman whose self-belief and confidence is about to be put to the ultimate test, find a way of proving their relationship is as strong as it has ever been?

As they say in the classics, read on!

Purchase:

http://tinyurl.com/Amazon-SundayInNewYork

In every town, in every country…

The Railway Hotel

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It seems to me that in a lot of towns where the railway passes through, and there’s a station, there is a ubiquitous Railway Hotel.

And, for some reason, they are all very old, as if they were built when the railway first went through, and it was the nearest hotel to the station.

In some railway towns, there’s more than one hotel, because I’m sure the Railway Hotel did actually fill up, and people had to stay somewhere else.

I’ve stayed in one or two over the years, and they are monuments to the past, a glimpse into how the notion of grand hotels was, a hundred years ago.

Now, they’re just tired.

Peeling or fading wallpaper, threadbare and stained carpets, creaking floorboards, staircases that were once grand, but now don’t quite feel as solid as they used to be.

There’d be no sneaking upstairs because there’s always two or three stairs that creak.

And what’s that interesting aroma that seems to permeate everywhere?  Brass polish.  Wood polish.  Or just the remnants of the last meal; was that cabbage?

There’s always a lounge with a huge fire burning in winter, and there’s nothing like the warmth and smell of burning wood.  All the better to toast marshmallows!

The dining room had the wooden walls, the wooden floors and the wooden tables with crisply starched tablecloths and silverware that’s been polished every day for a hundred years.  Here you are served from a limited menu that has the basics and plenty of it,  Roast beef, lamb, or chicken, potatoes, carrots, mash potatoes, and beans and peas, and gravy that’s to die for.

Dining in that room is still an experience, and perhaps more so than the new hotel’s soulless restaurants with cordon bleu meals, sometimes scraps on a very large plate.

Give me a Railway Hotel any day.

The story behind the story: A Case of Working With the Jones Brothers

To write a private detective serial has always been one of the items at the top of my to-do list, though trying to write novels and a serial, as well as a blog, and maintain a social media presence, well, you get the idea.

But I made it happen, from a bunch of episodes I wrote a long, long time ago, used these to start it, and then continue on, then as now, never having much of an idea where it was going to end up, or how long it would take to tell the story.

That, I think is the joy of ad hoc writing, even you, as the author, have as much idea of where it’s going as the reader does.

It’s basically been in the mill since 1990, and although I finished it last year, it looks like the beginning to end will have taken exactly 30 years.  Had you asked me 30 years ago if I’d ever get it finished, the answer would be maybe?

 

My private detective, Harry Walthenson

I’d like to say he’s from that great literary mold of Sam Spade, or Mickey Spillane, or Phillip Marlow, but he’s not.

But, I’ve watched Humphrey Bogart play Sam Spade with much interest, and modeled Harry and his office on it.  Similarly, I’ve watched Robert Micham play Phillip Marlow with great panache, if not detachment, and added a bit of him to the mix.

Other characters come into play, and all of them, no matter what period they’re from, always seem larger than life.  I’m not above stealing a little of Mary Astor, Peter Lorre or Sidney Greenstreet, to breathe life into beguiling women and dangerous men alike.

 

Then there’s the title, like

The Case of the Unintentional Mummy – this has so many meanings in so many contexts, though I image back in Hollywood in the ’30s and ’40s, this would be excellent fodder for Abbott and Costello

The Case of the Three-Legged Dog – Yes, I suspect there may be a few real-life dogs with three legs, but this plot would involve something more sinister.  And if made out of plaster, yes, they’re always something else inside.

But for mine, to begin with, it was “The Case of the …”, because I had no idea what the case was going to be about, well, I did, but not specifically.

Then I liked the idea of calling it “The Case of the Brother’s Revenge” because I began to have a notion there was a brother no one knew about, but that’s stuff for other stories, not mine, so then went the way of the others.

 

Now it’s called ‘A Case of Working With the Jones Brothers’, finished the first three drafts, and at the editor for the last.

I have high hopes of publishing it in May 2020.  It even has a cover.

 

PIWalthJones1

I think I’m in an alternate reality…

You know how it is, you’re sitting in a chair working on the computer, much like reading a boring book, and you nod off.

And, then, suddenly you wake up…

There’s that moment when you wake up when you’re suddenly disorientated, and it takes a few seconds for the blurriness in both mind and eyes to go away.

That was me, right then.

It worried me, in a sense that in that moment of disorientation, I was not sure what I was doing before I found myself in that chair.

As the fuzziness diminished, I remembered I’d been working on the next chapter of my second novel but ideas wouldn’t come.  Staring at a blank sheet of paper had basically put me to sleep.  In front of me was the computer screen, but it was black.  It had switched off.

Moving in the chair slightly I accidentally moved the mouse, and the screen comes to life.

There was a document on the screen, that same blank sheet of paper, blank except for four words typed in the middle of the page:

You are not alone

Ok, did I typed that, and if I did, why?  I had an idea which had come to me in one of those flashes out of left field.  The one where the protagonist is alone at home, sitting in front of a computer, when…

Reality meets fiction …

A bright light comes on and stayed at the window behind me for a few seconds, the moved on, heading towards the rear of the house.

And then it happened, outside my window.  I saw the bright light come on, move slightly in both directions, before moving further away.

How could that be?  If anyone had come in the back gate the alarm would have gone off.

I got up and went over to the control panel for the alarm system, just inside the doorway to the room, and checked.

Yes, the alarm was still set.

I went into the dining room further towards the rear of the house, one that had a sliding door that led onto the patio.  The light was still there, oddly moving from side to side.

As I opened the sliding door, the light suddenly went out.  Was it the sound of the door opening with a slight screech warning whoever was out there.

I stepped out onto the deck and looked around.  There was an inky like darkness, and with overcast conditions and no moon, it was darker than usual.

I took another two steps towards the edge and stopped.  It was deathly quiet.

A minute, two, passed.  Nothing.  I shook my head thinking I was seeing things again and headed back to the doorway.

A sound.

I stopped and turned.  In that same second, I felt a hand on my shoulder and jumped in fright.

“You fell asleep again.”  A familiar voice.

Still sitting in my chair in front of the computer, dreaming.

Until light suddenly flooded the window.

The story behind the story – Echoes from the Past

The novel ‘Echoes from the past’ started out as a short story I wrote about 30 years ago, titled ‘The birthday’.

My idea was to take a normal person out of their comfort zone and led on a short but very frightening journey to a place where a surprise birthday party had been arranged.

Thus the very large man with a scar and a red tie was created.

So was the friend with the limousine who worked as a pilot.

So were the two women, Wendy and Angelina, who were Flight Attendants that the pilot friend asked to join the conspiracy.

I was going to rework the short story, then about ten pages long, into something a little more.

And like all re-writes, especially those I have anything to do with, it turned into a novel.

There was motivation.  I had told some colleagues at the place where I worked at the time that I liked writing, and they wanted a sample.  I was going to give them the re-worked short story.  Instead, I gave them ‘Echoes from the past’

Originally it was not set anywhere in particular.

But when considering a location, I had, at the time, recently been to New York in December, and visited Brooklyn and Queens, as well as a lot of New York itself.  We were there for New Years, and it was an experience I’ll never forget.

One evening we were out late, and finished up in Brooklyn Heights, near the waterfront, and there was rain and snow, it was cold and wet, and there were apartment buildings shimmering in the street light, and I thought, this is the place where my main character will live.

It had a very spooky atmosphere, the sort where ghosts would not be unexpected.  I felt more than one shiver go up and down my spine in the few minutes I was there.

I had taken notes, as I always do, of everywhere we went so I had a ready supply of locations I could use, changing the names in some cases.

Fifth Avenue near the Rockefeller center is amazing at first light, and late at night with the Seasonal decorations and lights.

The original main character was a shy and man of few friends, hence not expecting the surprise party.  I enhanced that shyness into purposely lonely because of an issue from his past that leaves him always looking over his shoulder and ready to move on at the slightest hint of trouble.  No friends, no relationships, just a very low profile.

Then I thought, what if he breaks the cardinal rule, and begins a relationship?

But it is also as much an exploration of a damaged soul, as it is the search for a normal life, without having any idea what normal was, and how the understanding of one person can sometimes make all the difference in what we may think or feel.

And, of course, I wanted a happy ending.

Except for the bad guys.

 

Get it here:  https://amzn.to/2CYKxu4

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Writing about writing a book – Day 23

I’ve been thinking a lot about Bill’s service, and the characters he meets along the way, some of whom shape the man he became, others he remained friends with after he was discharged, and those that were killed.

Several have a direct bearing in the main story, for instance, Brainless, a rather ubiquitous nickname, given to him because of his actions, that is to say, he acts without thinking, sometimes when in great peril, a man who never quite recovered, but is, for all intents and purposes Bill’s friend and someone he feels responsible to look after, perhaps because of how many times he saved Bill from death, or worse.

There is also Manilow, but we’ll save him for later.

So, this is where ‘Brainless’ get’s his introduction:

 

It was the first time I’d been hit by a bullet, and it hurt.  It was a steep learning curve, realizing you have been hit, and then the brain going into overdrive to tell you first it going to hurt like hell, and then begin to assess the damage, running every scenario from ‘it’s a flesh wound’ to ‘Oh God, I’m going to die’.

At least, that was what had happened to me for my first time.

Seconds, or minutes, or hours later, a man who doubled as a Medic came scrabbling over to me and looked at the wound.  A silly thought, how did he know I’d been shot?  Had I screamed?  He made a quick assessment, told me I’d live, and dressed it as good and as quickly as he could.

There were other casualties.

I lasted until I was brought into a clearing some miles further on, after the enemy had been killed, or had retreated, and loaded onto a helicopter.  There I was told everything would be OK and then the lights went out.

 

My first visit to a mobile army hospital, after being hit, was a novelty.  It was nothing like a real hospital.  Nor was the staff.  It took a different sort of medical personnel to man a front-line hospital where you were just as likely to become a casualty yourself.

The doctor was quite jovial about the whole matter saying I would be back out again in no time, not exactly a prospect I was looking forward to.  It was almost a mend job without anesthetic and the memory of it remained with me for some time.  Facilities were not primitive, but they just appeared that way.

I was one of the less needy casualties that day.  After being stitched up, a nurse took me to a bed in a ward with a mixture of serious and not so seriously wounded.

The nurse, whose name was Wendy, had the same sense of humor I had.  She insisted we be on first name terms from the start.  How she kept her humor was a mystery, for most noticeable was her tired look as if she had been doing the same thing for too long.

The bed was comfortable, the temperature bearable, and the food edible.  Being, and remaining, injured had its good points.

I slept well the first night.  I presumed the injection she’d given me was to ensure I had a restful sleep.  It was long overdue and much needed.

The next morning the numbers had thinned.  Two men had died, several others returned to duty.  To my left was a sad and distant private, who, from time to time, would start moaning.  He’d been in the middle of a mortar attack and was both deaf and had serious psychological problems.

To my right, there was a large man who barely fit in the bed.  He was a perpetually unhappy person, with only minor injuries, a bullet wound to his upper leg.  Nothing serious, he said, and just wanted to leave as soon as possible.  Brainless, the nurse called him.  Always wanted to get back to the war and kill some more of the enemy.  An obsession, she said.

He was staring morosely at the ceiling when I woke.  It took a few minutes to regain full consciousness, a sign I’d been in a drugged sleep.

“What are you in for?” he asked.

“Leg wound.  Nothing serious.”  You?”

“Leg.  Bastards snuck up on me.  And the useless rearguard didn’t do his job properly.”

“Landmine?”

“Sniper.”

I’d seen both.  Tread in the wrong place, and you didn’t do it again.  Sniper’s fire came from almost anywhere, taking out soldiers and civilians indiscriminately.  You could never hear the bullet, just feel it.

“Mongrel,” I said with feeling.

“Yours?”

“Probably the same.  I didn’t see it coming.  I hate it when you can’t see the bastards.  There ought to be some law they send you a message first.  Give you a chance….”

“Chap other side killed himself.  Had enough.  It was written all over his face.  What kind of sooks are we bringing over here?”

“National service,” I said quietly.

“You?” he asked.

I could feel his contempt for ‘Nashos’ and to be glad I was not one.  “I believe I volunteered.”

He didn’t ask what I meant, and even if he had, I probably would have made up a lie.  I hardly thought if I said my father in law hated me that much he would send me here, would make any sense, particularly to this man beside me.

He snorted.  “More the fool you, then.”

 

We were both released on the same day.  His unit had suffered major casualties, and the story he gave me in the hospital was not quite true.  He’d gone down trying to save what men he could in an ambush.  Heroics came to mind, but his selfless actions were much more than that.  Without a unit, he joined ours.

Wendy remained in my mind for some time after that visit.  When I returned the next time, my injuries being more serious, I enquired as to her whereabouts, only to discover she was dead too, a victim of her own hand, simply because she could not cope with the death, mutilation, and waste.

There was no doubt it affected all of us in different ways.  Some didn’t like the idea of going back out into the jungle and found their own peace.  Others, like Wendy, needed something more, but all too often, no-one recognized what the solution was until it was too late.

 

Now that I have paved the way, I must get back to the main story and write the part where Brainless enters the picture.

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2020