Writing about writing a book – Day 26

On the surface, the relationship between Bill and Barry is an odd one.  I’ve thought about it, and at the moment, there’s some aspects that need to be written to provide background for what follows later.

I think I would like to make Barry one of those people who were built for soldiering, and not for civilian life, and it has to be said, he is a bit of a sloth once he becomes a civilian.

And, yet, under all of that, he’d be the first one in line to help his friends.

I just have to strike that balance so that I don’t make him too unsociable.

So, a little more about them, and Barry in particular.

 

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.” A croak.

“Mate.  Not looking too good this afternoon?”

He groaned again, and then struggled to sit up, trying to smooth his hair back into place, and failing.  He rubbed his face and realized he had a week’s stubble, giving him the look of a deranged sanatorium inmate.

“Someone’s gotta try and get me off the gut rot Ogilvy calls booze.”  He nodded in Ogilvy’s direction, but typically, Ogilvy ignored him.

“You don’t have to drink it.”

“That’s what I keep telling myself.  Only it doesn’t work.”

“Perhaps you should try harder.”

He looked me over, looking for the changes since the last time he saw me, about four months ago.

“Where you been?”

“Hospital.”

“Not surprising.  Work too hard, no fun.”  He looked at the drink on the table, took it in his hand, then holding it up to the light.  Perhaps he thought it was the magic elixir that would fix him.

“Someone shot at me.  I nearly didn’t make it.  One thing it did, though.  Brought back all those memories I’d shut away.  Now I know why I did.”

“Shot at you?  Why?”

“I don’t know.  You should see the other guy.  He’s dead.”

“What other guy?”  He put the drink down, untouched.  He was beginning to look a little more alert.

I had not expected it would make much of a difference telling him about my problems, but it had.

“Take it from the top.”  Then, over towards Ogilvy, “Bring me some coffee.  Black.”

I started, a little hesitantly, not quite sure how much or little I should say.

Ogilvy came over with coffee for him and my orange juice.  He glared at me, then Barry.

“Your account is a little overdue,” Ogilvy said, standing over him.

“It’ll get paid.”

By little, I assumed it was more than Ogilvy was willing to stand.  He was kind, but kindness had its limits.

I pulled out two hundred dollar notes and gave them to him.  “Will this settle it?”

“I don’t want your money.  You should throw him in a detox center.  That would make more sense.”

“It’s only money.  If he wants to drink himself to death, who am I to argue?”

Ogilvy shrugged and took the money.  As he turned to leave, Barry said, “And take the scotch back.  I’ve had enough.”

He looked at Barry with surprise, no, I think it was more shock, but did as he was asked.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ogilvy drink the scotch himself, and another for good measure.

I picked up the story where Aitchison and I were shot in the street and related what I knew from there.  He asked only two questions, who was Jennifer, and what had happened to Ellen.  He’d absorbed the rest, and judging by his reaction, probably not understood any of it.

“You have a friend?  Does Ellen know about this friend?”

“Ellen and I are divorced.  Don’t you remember me telling you several years ago?”

“Has it been that long?”

He’d been like this off and on over the last twenty years.  It had been getting worse in the last few years, his health failing, and, at times, his memory.  I watched him pick up the coffee cup, his hand shaking so badly, he needed to hold it was two.  It took a minute or so before he could drink it, and then, his face was of a child, taking medicine.

He looked over towards the bar.  “More coffee.”  He set the cup down carefully, and then looked back at me.

“What can I do?”

“I need someone to watch my back.  I have the odd feeling I’ve got myself into a situation.  The people I work for, well, I can’t put my finger on it, but they’re probably doing something they shouldn’t.  I have some evidence, and I think they know I’ve got it, and they’ve attacked me, like I said, at least once since I got out of the hospital.”

“You want me to get this Kowalski character and beat it out of him?

I smiled at the thought.  I had no doubt if I asked him, he would do exactly that.

“Not yet.  We have to get a better case against them first.”

“So, just watch your back?”

“For the moment.  And for Jennifer.”

“But you are not sure about her.  I get the impression you think she might be involved in more ways than one.”

“Did I give that impression?”  I had no idea he would pick up on my doubts.  But he was right.  I did.

“Yes.  But it doesn’t matter.  If she is we’ll find out soon enough.”

In the space of five minutes and the arrival of the second cup of coffee, to be followed by a third, his whole manner had changed.  There was still the pained look from the hangover, but the eyes were brighter, and he had a purpose.

“Then you’re in?”

“Might as well.  It’ll be better than the last bodyguard gig I had.  Had to thump the little turd.  Smart arse needed it.”

 

To be honest, I didn’t expect Barry to take up the challenge.  Perhaps I’d become used to seeing him down and out, and not expecting anything else.  It was the look in his eyes that changed my opinion.  The same look I’d seen all those years ago, in the jungle.

It was another good sign when he asked for an hour to clean up so he could become inconspicuous.  I told him he could take over my place, gave him the key, gave him some money, and then told him where he could find me in an hour.

It was exactly what I needed.  The Barry of old.

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2020

I’ve always wanted to go on a Treasure Hunt – Part 45

Here’s the thing…

Every time I close my eyes, I see something different.

I’d like to think the cinema of my dreams is playing a double feature but it’s a bit like a comedy cartoon night on Fox.

But these dreams are nothing to laugh about.

Once again there’s a new installment of an old feature, and we’re back on the treasure hunt.

The shrill ring tone of my phone woke me.

And, for a moment I was in a state of panic because I’d woken in unfamiliar surroundings.  Until my eyes cleared and I realized I was still at Nadia’s.

And it was morning.

What the….

The phone was still ringing, and Nadia, lying on the bed beside me rolled over and said, sleepily, “Are you going to answer that?”

I picked up the phone off the bedside table and pressed the green button.  

I already knew it was Boggs.

“Don’t you know what time it is?”  It was nine, a respectable hour of the morning to call.  It was just that I was tired.

“Where are you?”

I could lie, or I could tell the truth.  I don’t think I should say at home because I suspect that was where Boggs was now.  And my mother would be there, wondering what happened to me.

“Out and about.  Nice day for some exercise.  Why?”

“Your mother is not happy you didn’t come home.  And I’m surprised.  Where were you?”

Good question.  One that needed time to consider, time I didn’t have.

“Surveillance.  I’ve been watching Alex and his friends.  It’s been a long night.  What do you want?”

“I was going to head down towards Kentville, check on the other river.  We need to drive down there.”

“Well, right now I’m busy, so it will have to wait until tomorrow morning.  Sorry.  I have a job to do, and then I have to get home before I go to work.”

“What was Alex up to?”

“Not over the phone.  I’ll tell you when I see you.  Come back home about lunchtime.”
I could tell by the silence he wasn’t happy. 

“OK.”  He hung up.

I glared at the phone and put it back on the table, then turned to look at Nadia.  First thing I noted, we were both still in the clothes we were wearing the previous night.

“What happened?”

“Nothing.”  A momentary look of disappointment crossed her face.  “You were tired and I told you to stay.”

“Nothing can happen, or I’ll become Vince fodder.”

“I wouldn’t tell him.”

“He’d find out.  He has walls as spies.”  I looked around the room looking for potential spy cameras or bug locations.

“He wouldn’t dare.”

I climbed off the bed and smoothed out my clothes.  It didn’t make much difference to the crumpled look.  “At least it looks like I’ve been on an all-night surveillance assignment.”

“What are you going to tell Boggs.”

“Nothing.  There’s nothing concrete to tell him yet, just that Alex is, like the rest of us, running around in circles.

Nadia remained on the bed, and even though she looked as messy as I did, hers was a far more alluring messy.  I could feel the pangs of a forbidden desire.  Time to go.

“Come back tonight.  We can go on a voyage of discovery, see the mall as you’ve never seen it before.”

“Sounds like a Discovery Channel documentary advert.”

She sat up then stood and teased the knots out of her hair.  It was the first time I’d seen it out.  It gave her a whole new, softer look.

“Is that a look of desire I see in your eyes, Smidge?”

And the whole moment was shot to pieces.

“Don’t call me that.  I’ll see you tonight, though I’m not sure why.”

I let myself out, after carefully checking to see if the way out was clear.  The last thing I wanted, or needed, was to tangle with Vince.

Or ending up letting the dream become reality.

 
© Charles Heath 2020

Writing about writing a book – Day 25

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, he 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 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.

 

Getting all of this background in shape is hard work, and having toiled long and hard, tomorrow I’ll have a go at getting Barry back.

© Charles Heath 2016-2020

 

 

Past conversations with my cat – 89

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This is Chester.  We have been discussing the possibility of being stuck in the house for anything from 14 days to 10 months.

Yes, the Coronavirus is finally arriving in Australia, and though it is slow to catch on, we are being warned that it could get a lot worse, very quickly.

Chester has suggested we barricade the doors and windows.

Alas, I tell him, this is not the same as the American cowboys fending off an Indian attack.  No circling the wagons, and definitely no John Wayne to ride in and save the day.

Too many westerns on Fox.  I keep forgetting Chester has mastered the art of turning the TV on and changing channels on the Foxtel remote.

I also tell him that the virus is not only airborne, spread by those who cough or sneeze, but also by touch, like shaking hands, and hugging.

At that, Chester takes a good three, four steps back away from me.  So, he challenges me, what are the options.

Well, firstly cats may not get the virus.  Only one dog, as far as I know, had got it.  You, I tell him, do not need to worry.

As for the humans, well, we are in trouble if it comes.

We will be staying in, in some sort of forced quarantine, trying to avoid the rest of the world until it goes away,

So, he says, that means you have enough cat food and litter, the proper one?

I shake my head like he does when he’s annoyed.

Well, if it happens, I’m sure we’ll find out.  Besides, I add, you need to lose a kilo or two.

Writing about writing a book – Day 24, a missing piece of the puzzle

There’s always the necessity for creating backstories so that the reader doesn’t come across a part of the story that doesn’t make sense.

Perhaps one of my failings is that I have to go over what I’ve already written, sometimes to make sure there is continuity and that what I’ve written makes sense.

This collection of memories our main character is having serves the purpose of setting up later plot points, but more importantly, is supposed to give the reader an idea of what the main character has gone through before arriving at the start of the story.

This part will serve to provide a little more information on the relationship between Bill and Barry, though I rather like the nickname I gave him.

 

“Bastards,” Killer muttered.

We called him ‘Killer’ because it was the nickname the Army had given him.  We were sharing the guard duty and had spoken briefly over the watch, but up till then, the silence had stretched over an hour or so.  It didn’t take long for anyone to realize he was a man of few words.

He’d been in the regular army for years and asked for the posting.  He’d made Sergeant several times, only to lose those same stripes for fighting, usually after R&R and a bout of heavy drinking.  Now assigned to our platoon to lend his experience, the conscripts were expecting him to ‘look after’ them.  Other than myself and the Lieutenant, he was the only other regular soldier.  Unfortunately for them, he hated both conscripts and the Viet Cong in varying degrees, and depending on his mood there was little tolerance left for the rest of us.

“The people who sent us here or the people trying to kill us?” I asked before I realized I’d spoken.

I didn’t hear the reply, the skies opening up with another torrential downpour that lasted for about five minutes, and going as fast as it came.  When the sun finally came up, it would make the atmosphere steamy, hot, and unbearable.  It was quite warm now, and I was feeling both uncomfortable, and fatigued.

Killer looked just as stoic as he had before the rain.  He looked at me.  “Damn weather.  Worse than home.”

“Scotland?”

“Scapa Flow, Kirkwall.  I should have been an engineer on ships like my father, but I was too stupid.  Joined the Army, finished up here.  What’s your excuse?”

“Square peg in a round hole.  The army seems to handle us in its stride.”  It was more or less the truth.  I joined the Army to get away from my parents.

“That it does.  That it does.”

The rain came and went, during which the rest of the camp roused and went about its business.  It had been a long night for some, still getting over the shock of the attack, and the ever-pervading thought the enemy was still out there, biding their time.  It would be, for them, a waiting game, waiting for the conditions to wear us down, and lose concentration as inevitably we would.

Certainly, by the time we were relieved from sentry duty, I felt I was in no condition to match wits with a donkey, let alone the enemy on his own home ground.  When I stumbled over to the mess area and looked at the tired and haggard looks on the faces of the platoon, I realized that went for all of us.

Killer and I managed to get about an hour’s rest before the call came to move out, rain or no rain, and after a breakfast to make anyone ill, we left.  For hours it rained.  No one spoke as we strained to listen over the rain spattering on the undergrowth, all the time expecting the unexpected.  That was the benefit of the surprise attack; we no longer took for granted we would be safe.

Water gathered in pools along the trail, hiding any chance of seeing landmines.  Rainwater and sweat ran into our eyes, making it difficult to see.  Water leaked everywhere, making it very uncomfortable.  This was not war.  This was utter stupidity.

I was about to remark on the futility of it all to the Lieutenant, who had taken the lead, when one second he was talking to me and the next he crashed to the ground, a sniper’s bullet killing him instantly.   Someone yelled “Contact” and we hit the ground, bullets flying all around us. 

Too late, I thought, as I felt the hit of what seemed to be a large rock, then the searing pain in my leg, just as I hit the ground…

 

© Charles Heath 2015-2020

 

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

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.

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

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

In a word: Lot

I’ve got a lot of time on my hands…

Or not.  It’s just an expression, where a lot means plenty.  Only the rich and idle seem to have a lot of time on their hands, and a lot of money, sometimes more than they know what to do with.

It spawns another saying, the devil finds work for idle hands.

This is distinct from the other form of a lot; a piece of land that can be used to build a house, an office building or warehouse, or just land to graze cattle or sheet.

For those with a lot of money, they can buy two lots or four lots.

Lot can also mean everything, i.e. he bought the lot.

Now it’s getting confusing, as only the English language can.

How about, there’s a lot of love in the room.   Well, it’s certainly not at a political debate that’s for sure!

Then, still having more money than sense I went to an auction and bid for two lots.  Unfortunately, there was someone else who had more money than I did.

My mother had a lot of quaint expressions; once we were sitting opposite a man of dubious character and she said, he’s a bad lot.

Back in the old days, and sometimes these, the word lot was used instead of lottery when names were put in a hat and one drawn as the winner.  Today its a little more sophisticated, balls are put in a cage.

And I was never happy with my lot in life.  Not till I got older, anyway.