#6 Bang On
Guy Douglas grabbed his girlfriend's finely manicured hand and placed it where it would do most good.
'You need to stick it in there,' he said, showing her where there was.
She frowned. 'It doesn't look like it will fit. I'm sure it's too big.'
'It'll go. Don't worry. They are made for each other.'
'It won't go, it's stuck.'
'Yes, it will. Don't be shy. Really shove it!''
'Now it's bending!'
'It's supposed to. Keep going.'
'I don't want to. I might break it!'
'You can't! Put your back into it.'
'Oh...I felt it move; it's going in!'
'Push harder then! Don't let it slip out again. Just a bit more...'
'That's it! It's in! Now what?'
'Make sure it's fully erect.'
'I'll hold it up, you fasten it into place.'
'That's it. Let go, let's see if it will stand up by itself,' he announced after a few moments frantic fumbling.
'Hooray. Well done, sweetie,' Debbie declared. 'That looks grand. What now?'
'Now we do the other side!'
'Can we have a rest first? That was hard work.'
'Just for a minute, but now we've got the hang of it, the rest should be a doddle.'
Fifteen minutes later, the couple stood back and admired their newly erected tent.
'It looks a bit skewiff,' she said, eyeing the canvas edifice critically.
'It will just take a few tugs on the ropes to square it away,' said Guy. 'It's looking pretty good!'
'If you say so. Are you sure we're going to have enough room?'
'Of course we are. Two double bedrooms, one for us, one for your clothes and shoes, and space for the table and chairs. How much more room will you need?'
'An indoor loo would be nice.'
'The toilet tent will be just outside, a few feet away.' He squared his shoulders against her pout. 'What's wrong now?'
'I'm not sure I want to do this. I just don't think it's...me.'
'Of course it is. It's an adventure. Something you haven't done before.'
'Maybe it wasn't such a good idea. I'm used to something more...substantial, preferably with stars. At least five of them.'
'This is substantial. It's guaranteed waterproof, windproof, bugproof...'
She screwed up her freckled nose. 'Bugs! Eww! You didn't mention bugs!'
'We're in the countryside, Debs. There's bound to be some bug or other.'
'And I'll get bitten, I know I will.'
'So what? This is rural Gloucestershire not darkest Africa. You're not going to get the dreaded lurgy, and if you do, you can get some cream from the pharmacy in the village. Most of the creepy crawlies are harmless...'
'It's the ticks you have to watch out for.'
She shifted uncomfortably in her trainers 'Ticks! Where?'
'In the grass.'
She began to hop from foot to foot. 'For God's sake, Guy, why didn't you tell me about any of this before we set off?'
'Because, my love, I knew you would do exactly what you are doing now - making a mountain out of a molehill.' His hand crept around her shoulders and pulled her close to him. 'There is absolutely nothing to be frightened of. It'll be fun. Trust me.' He kissed her forehead. 'We're going to get the full DSS experience - drinkin', screwin' and shootin'. What better weekend could we wish for, eh?'
'Oh, well, if you put it like that...' She pressed her lips to his, at the same time putting her hand to his crotch. 'Let's get to it!'
'Okay then!' He clapped his hands and rubbed them briskly together. 'Now, you be an angel and make us a cup of tea while I hammer in the pegs. It'll be looking like home from home in no time at all, you'll see.'
Debbie rummaged around in the boxy trailer attached to the rear of the Range Rover until she found the small gas stove and the kettle. 'Where's the water?' she asked.
Guy broke off his hammering and looked around the field, now rapidly filling with other campers. He spotted the tell tale blue pipe half hidden in the grass and followed it with his eyes until he saw where it connected to a standpipe. He pointed with the mallet. 'Over there! See.'
Debbie did see and pouted. 'But that's miles.'
'It's about a hundred yards, darling. Remember, it's the green Jerry can for water.'
'What's in the red one?'
'Petrol for the genny. Don't get them mixed up.'
When she returned ten minutes later, Guy had almost finished beating the last of the tent pegs into submission, pulling the guide rope taut and stretching the fabric of the tent until it was as rigid as a drum. He stood up and stretched his back, admired his handiwork and praised himself. 'Excellent! We'll be as snug as two bugs in a rug once we get the beds made up.' He filled his lungs to almost bursting point with fresh country air, clean and sweet, but with a subtle undertone of freshly spread manure. 'We'll sleep like logs, I guarantee it. And tomorrow, we'll lock and load and then...bang on!'
#7…"Return to the Battleground”
I didn’t know what force had drawn me to that side of the street and had then compelled me to walk through the latched-back door. Without warning, without any conscious decision, I had traded the brightness of the afternoon for the gloom of the Ferry Arms public bar. I had vowed never to set foot in that place again, but suddenly there I was, standing slap-bang in the enemy heartland – and the scene of my nightmares for the last twenty years.
Only moments before, I had slipped away from the wake going on in my old haunt, the Forth Bridges bar. Having begun quietly and solemnly, the wake was growing more boisterous by the minute. But it wasn’t so much the noise and the heat in there that had made me feel uncomfortable. Nor was it that sea of unfamiliar faces, among them Muldy’s third and latest wife, the grown-up children from that and his previous marriages, and the partners of those children; all strangers to me. No, what had unsettled me most were the images smirking down at me from the walls of the bar.
Someone had decided to plaster the walls with photographs of Muldy. There were scores of them, spanning the six decades of Muldy’s life from when he was a wee boy in short trousers right up to what must have been very recently, when he looked old and yellow and emaciated. And in every one of those photographs, there was that cocky grin of his; Muldy’s signature grin. It was all around me, mocking me wherever I looked and causing all sorts of feelings to rise within me; feelings of anger and sadness and regret. Wanting to escape the confusion of emotions for a while, I had gone for a walk, but inexplicably my footsteps had taken me straight there.
If I was looking for a calm spot in which to sort out my thoughts and memories of Muldy, I had certainly found one in the Ferry Arms. There were only two customers in the bar: two old men standing at the counter, neither of whom I recognised. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel threatened at all; in fact, the place seemed almost welcoming – comforting, even.
I bought a pint and took a seat at a table to the side of the entrance, from where I had a clear view of the full length of the bar. I found myself staring at the black resin floor in front of the counter. Was it my imagination or was the floor scarred there in the centre? I wondered whether the scars had been made by the weapons which appeared as if from nowhere that night so long ago – Beastie’s hatchet, maybe, or the psycho’s machete.
My stare moved up to the enormous, gilt-framed mirror, which took up most of the wall opposite the counter and which I’m certain wasn’t hanging there that night. I began to wonder again. What if I went up to the mirror right now and peered behind it? Would the blood splashes from the carnage still be there?
Then the memories came rushing at me. I could hear shouts and taunts coming from the far end of the bar and I could make out the ghostly shapes of the men who were uttering them. The bad guys, the nutters, were up at that end. Us good guys, the heroes, were down here. The battleground was in between. And a bleeding body was stretched out in the middle of it. I was trying to remember what the face on the body looked like when it and the other shapes and the sounds all vanished abruptly, and I was back in the hushed bar watching Lenny, the Hippy, slouch towards me with a pint in his hand.
A thin young man in a dirty khaki colored raincoat and badly scuffed
faded brown shoe pushed his way through the crowd propelling a baby
carriage in front of him like a weapon. He was sweating profusely. He
had just entered the lobby of the Bangles and Bows Toy Store in Times
Square New York. The entrance way leading up to a miniature ride for
children on the first floor of the store was packed with parents and
their screaming and jumping children.
“Get out of my way,” he shouted. “I have to get through, get away, move
out of my way damn people. It’s your fault,” he cursed in a hoarse
voice. The smell of liqueur reeked from his breath as he continued up
an entrance ramp spewing saliva and curses.
The two security guards lounging against the railing on the far wall of
the entry way started to run toward him to see what the commotion was
about yelling, “Stop, stay where you are. Don’t move.”
The thin young man hunched over the baby carriage, screamed, “Allah
Akbar—God is great,” and the bomb went off.
The bomb blast killed twenty-one children and their parents lined up
for a free ride on an in store miniature railroad train all decked out
in Christmas tinsel glitter and plastic sugar canes. Another sixty-two,
many of whom were children, were injured as the blast slammed its way
full of shrapnel and nails to the fourth floor atrium. The sheer force
of the bomb blew a five-foot wide hole in the roof as acrid black smoke
forced its way out into a cold rainy night at the toy store in the
middle of New York City. The stench of blood and burning flesh was
It was the first suicide bomb detonated in New York City by a
homegrown terrorist, and things would never be the same.
You could see it in the eyes of the people. Fear griped the inhabitants
of the City of New York and the Nation as a wave of copycat bombings
took place in retail department stores, malls, sports arenas, railroad
and bus terminals, and anywhere else these terrorists could strike
terror into the hearts of the people.
The first attacks were designed to scare the population, and convince
them that no one was safe and nobody was sacred, not even the children.
Sometimes the bomber blew himself up with the bomb and sometimes a
remote triggering devise was used, but in all the cases where a suicide
bomber caused the explosion, the police and the Federal Bureau of
Arrests (FBA) had determined that the terrorists were homegrown natives
and citizens of the USA. It was almost too much to fathom. Someone
crying, “Allah Akbar—God is great,” was enough to send people running
in fear and crowds panic as they pushed to get out of whatever venue
they were at. The first thing you checked when you went to a show or a
movie was the exits.
Who were these horrible ingrates that hated this Country so that they
would sacrifice themselves to kill innocent strangers and children?
What have we done to create such hatred for our Country by people who
grew up and lived here? How can we fight terrorists who don’t even
value their own lives? Who would be next on the terrorists list?
Southern Zaire, Central Africa
Eliot Adams’ blond hair fell over his tanned face. Dark blue eyes took in the hostile environment as he led his squad of government conscripts. For seven days there had been no sign of the rebel force they hunted. The heat of the early morning sun awakened the animals, their noise masking any made by the men.
He stopped, signaled with his left hand and shaded his eyes. Ten clicks confirmed safety catches released. A large man emerged from the trees and they spoke before the other returned to his position.
The trees ended, a vast desolate land lay in front of them. Their route led across this bleak expanse. Scattered groups of boulders littered the ground as spirals of dust grew and collapsed in the hot wind.
Eliot remained sharp, his eyes sweeping the terrain for threats. He turned and checked his men; their combat uniforms soaked, stained and stinking with days’ old sweat. He indicated and they separated, crouching at the rear of boulders. Irregular stripes of cream camouflaged dirty, unshaven faces. His squad readied weapons as a precaution.
A shadow distracted Eliot. “Nothing behind,” said Bear Morris. “Problems?”
“Gut feeling,” said Eliot, as he raised his binoculars. His sight flitted from one spot to another. A flash of sunlight caught his attention. Suddenly a heavy machine gun opened fire. “Shit.”
An assault of bullets whistled, droned and flew over their heads. Ricochets rattled off rocks and showered stone splinters. Everyone froze.
Bear leaned towards Eliot. “I think these bastards were waiting for us.”
Eliot and his men remained where they were. The enemy’s location was well chosen, open ground in front, to the rear massive sandstone slabs, a fortress.
He made a rapid calculation. They were over two hundred yards away, too far for perfect accuracy. A volley from the rebels interrupted his thoughts. “Bear, let’s get on with it.” He handed his binoculars to his friend who lay beside him. “What do you think?”
“One, two. No more.”
Eliot pointed. “I’m going over there to get a better shot. Sergeant, when I start, I want every man to fire and hit that gun emplacement.” His squad stayed low while he altered position.
He slithered on his stomach, working his way through the rocks and scrub grass. His movements conveyed no urgency. Twenty minutes later he found a spot near enough and managed to squat. He raised his AK47 to his shoulder, held his breath and placed his forefinger on the trigger. The foliage-covered slit, no more than four inches in height, displayed in his cross hairs. The heat rising from the baked earth shimmered in the air. Sweat ran from his forehead into his eyes. Suddenly there came a hail of gunfire. With conviction he set his weapon to automatic and opened fire.
His squad blasted the dugout. The ground shuddered as the barrage struck. Their magazines empty they reloaded.
Ten minutes elapsed, the silence nerve racking.
In his own language, the sergeant shouted orders. Firing from the hip, he and his men charged.
“Freeze,” screamed Eliot. “Stand fucking still.” The Sergeant bellowed the order.
Regular army training taught Eliot to look for the unexpected. He could see it now. Hot, swirling wind had shifted the dust. Dark-grey lids stood out in the light-coloured soil.
The rebel leader had set the trap well.
Eliot looked on powerless, as one man ran discharging his weapon. Fear pumped adrenalin into the man’s body. A brilliant flash and explosion shredded his legs. Blood drained from minced stumps. The soldier dragged his bloodied carcass across the ground, a dark trail staining the dry earth. He died when his hand found another mine.
Shrapnel showered the squad. Ragged wounds erupted on arms and chests. No one moved.
Eliot dashed back. He removed his pack. “Bear, you know what to do if this goes tits up.”
Bear shaded his eyes and in his deep gravelly voice said, “Does that mean I’m being promoted?”
“Get behind those rocks and shut the fuck up.”
Eliot dropped to his knees and brushed the surface with his hand, searching. With a thin-bladed knife he painstakingly probed. On finding a mine he eased it from the earth and placed it to one side. The sun’s unrelenting heat torture. On reaching a trooper, he signalled for him to walk back along his track. Four anxious hours elapsed before every man rested.
Shattered, he staggered into the damaged rebel dugout. His sense of victory, momentary. On the ground lay a girl, no older than ten. Blood seeped from multiple wounds. He tore his eyes away. “Why are we killing kids?”
“Because they pay us,” said the sergeant.
Eliot shook his head. “I’m a professional. I don’t wage war against children. Destroy the weapons and blow the ammo. Then we leave.”
Eliot sat on a rock next to Bear Morris and looked at this giant of a man. He picked up a water bottle and drank the warm liquid. “I don’t need this. What are we doing here?”
“Time we changed jobs,” Bear replied, shrugging.
“My friend, you and I enjoyed army life. It’s what makes us tick, but this....” He grimaced. “We’ve certainly seen what this life offers.”
A solitary cloud journeyed across the sun and a chill passed through him. His insides tightened and he vomited. He checked the time on his cheap digital watch; a few minutes past one in the afternoon.
“My men want to bury Samuel,” said the sergeant.”
Eliot glanced up at half a dozen vultures. “Nature has a better idea. Your decision.”
He nodded and strolled away.
With the rebels’ weapons destroyed, Eliot asked, “How are the men?”
“A few nasty cuts but nothing that won’t mend,” said the sergeant. “Field dressings fixed the worst.”
“That’s good. Get them together,” ordered Eliot. “We have a plane to catch.”
The squad heaved on their packs and started walking.
She’s dead. I know she is. I killed her. Yet, I still hear her voice bouncing around my tired, fragile mind. I know it’s not really her. It’s just a figment of a diseased imagination - one which has clearly got her annoying traits down perfectly for she’s still managing to get on the last of my nerves... still telling me what to wear... who to talk to.... who to see.... who to visit.... who to kill.... I wish I could block her out - ignore her whinging words and barking orders but I can’t... and so.... another girl must die tonight.