Hector looked through the broken café windows to the empty street. An overturned hydrant sprayed water through the windows. An overturned motorcycle lay atop of the shelled out flaming car that had harboured the bomb. Beside this, a wall of sandbags lay defeated from the blast.
The sirens were still distant and he wondered if they were even coming here. He looked back to the man who sat crumpled and wincing.
“They will be here soon. Pedro. Eyes up. They will be here soon.”
Hector didn’t know the man’s name, but he called him Pedro. The man tried to talk, but couldn’t. He croaked and then tensed, and then conceded and eased, somewhat, as though, in accepting his helplessness, a great many of the tensions that were currently plaguing him evaporated.
Hector wiped a shard of china from a cut in the man’s cheek, and then placed a napkin he had doused in the fresh water which now filled the floor. He lifted the man’s hand, and his eyes squinted in recognition before limply holding the napkin against his wound.
Hector watched him for a moment. This man was only a worker, a businessman caught in the crossfire. Not his business nor suffering this. It was cruel, very cruel. The man seemed well educated and Hector hoped he didn’t perish.
He sighed and cleared a table of rubble, and lay his suitcase flat onto it before unlocking the straps. He then groaned as his shoulder hurt and wiped sweat from his forehead; he looked back out of the window, checked each street leading off from the square, before leaving the man’s side and searched around the rest of the room, scrabbling through the bodies and blast debris.
“Hector, mister Hector!”
The voice was from the Gabrielle’s boy. The boy was knocking glass from the window frame with a rock, before hanging onto it with his elbows.
“Hector, you survived!”
The boy smiled, but Hector dashed and grabbed him by the shoulder, uprooting the boy from the windowsill and making him tumble back into the running water and debris.
“Get out of here boy are you an ass? They coming here soon to finish this…”
He picked up movement in the shadows across the square.
Silhouettes. Two of them. Two men with old style army caps. Two of General Chizo’s philistine bastards.
“Boy get here. Give me your hands. Quick now hurry; there is no time to lose. Here now; no don’t look back: get up here. Pass me your hands, quickly boy.”
He’d just pulled the boy up when first a bullet and then another one pinged into the wall beside them.
Pistol fire, thought Hector, thank god they weren’t armed automatic weapons.
Hector opened his suitcase, and took out his rifle attaching the butt to the barrel and loading it quickly.
He looked up. A man in a shabby army suit was approaching carefully across the square. Hector lifted the sight to his eye and shot. The man’s ankle exploded and he fell to the ground screaming.
Hector ducked down as another bullet pinged into the café behind him.
“Hector, mister Hector,” said the boy by his feet. “We have to get out of here or more of General Chizo’s bastard rebels will arrive. We have to move, back to mine, back to Aunt Gabrielle.”
Hector waited and listened. The man in the square was now weeping.
Hector looked around.
“Boy, Manuel, go find me a bottle of strong stuff. You know what that is boy? Good. Then go quickly.”
The boy left and Hector peeped over the windowsill. The man in the square was grimacing and trying to sit up; his ankle was limp from a large wound. Between him and the cafe, were several vehicles: parked motorcars, a vacated florists delivery truck and an empty ice cream cart on its side. Around there, were bodies and blood, and an iridescent stream shone around the truck. The petrol tank was leaking.
The boy returned.
“Got it as you asked: the strong stuff! What are you going to do?”
“When I say, you must jump and run, boy. Hear me? Jump and run. Only when I say so though.”
“Aye, Hector. What are you going to do?”
“Pass me the drink.”
Hector unscrewed the bottle, and took a good drink. He then tore enough of his shirt arm away and cursed at the waste, and then took another mouthful of the meths and then plugged the hole with the rag.
“Not yet. When I say so.”
Hector waited, and then lit the rag and then shouted, “Hey philistine. Hey you. That’s right. Hey bastard Chizo’s man. You be very good now and take this to your boss, you hear me?”
Hector threw the bottle, and ducked. It took a few minutes, before there was second and then third and then forth explosion in the square. The man in the square started screaming.
“Aye!” the boy shouted.
Hector said to the man, “God help you Pedro.” After the heaviest of the vehicle debris had fallen, Hector shouted, “Now boy now. Run!”
They both jumped through the window and back up the square. Hector fired a couple of covering shots, through the smoke in the direction of the man in the alley, before running behind the boy, back off into the maze of back streets. They were safe, for now, no thanks to the damn police.
I wrote this when I was at college after being inspired by our course text. See if you can guess what it was. The story itself is of three old men, reminiscing on the River Thames.
As twilight glistened now upon the harbour waves, the carbon swells – semi-formed, as if of clay – massaged her hull clumsily, as though an intoxicated lover. Beyond her creaking bow, The Thames shrank from the shoreline into a greyish blackness, which encroached like a shadow in the night.
The three stooped around the long battered cabin table. They sat in a Sarabande silence, broken, only slightly, by the understated movement of restless limbs underneath, the tapping of fingers or the deft stub of a teacup on the table. Like punctuation marks in the stillness. Occasionally a mutter, and three more streams of loosely poured English tea would appear like brown gravel in their tinted cups. A pardon. A vague acknowledgement. And the comforting stillness would return.
Just as the grey skies that had long overlooked London’s waters, they gazed sombrely toward to the dense river, or to the shore, or to the last clutches of light, the pearly horizon.
A faint clink as someone disturbed the tea-leaves, and then they drew a breath…
‘Ten years since I lost Maggie,’ remarked The Professor.
He reached into a pocket and almost immediately lit a thick, half-smoked cigar. His stark eyes moved and an intense face followed, almost as suddenly, to the night sky as though a fabulous phoenix had flown by. The smoke he now blew filled her canopy above, and the brass linings echoed the embers in his frail hand.
Around them, the salty air now tasted musky and probably rewarded The Professor with glory times, when as youths the two of them would light beach fires upon Brighton Beach. The narrator knew this from countless discussions upon countless similar nights. He looked across at his friend. The professor’s woven sweater still held a strong posture. With his leg bent proudly over knee, he caressed the soft breeze with vast plumes of rich smoke and shook his head.
‘Seems like yesterday. It was so sudden and unexpected; as you know she was well and walking to that day. So sudden…’
‘May god bless her dear soul,’ replied Barker. He patted the professors shoulder gently, and then withdrew sausage fingers back to the string he was tying. The vast salt-shaker frame of his was wedged between the wooden table and back hatch. Weathered sideburns protruded around his ears, and a frayed rope lay knotted by his slumped shoulder.
The New Winter Princess was his abode, and choice, and where he still welcomed good friends. In times gone, he had provided her with luxurious voyages – to Marseille and Naples, and to all the summer happenings of the age – where her painstakingly painted turquoise hull had always adopted naturally to the warm waters. The decking nearly always saturated with jazz and cheers and youthful abandon.
Now she sat, as he, proudly nestled in a quiet, forgotten dock.
Gulls screeched distantly. The time was a little past nine.
Caught also now, in the mists of memory, the narrator sighed and sat slightly back, with one foot resting upon the cabin stool…
The Normandy sands were still sore, naturally, when they had first met by chance and duty. Hard waves had already washed away the stains, cleaning her battered body, but the barriers and barbs still stood; whilst above it all towered the cold, hungry emplacements that seemed like lone wolves, still howling from history’s blackest horizon…
Harper-Bob barked loosely. Barker comforted him, his fingers sloppily stroking the mongrel’s wide head.
‘There there there, boy, silly boy Bob.’
The dog slumped back, mesmerized. Its twitching feet lay half on and a worn sheepskin rug that sprawled cosily across the decking. It groaned, and grumbled, and then licked its lips and kicked a leg out several times in abandon.
‘That is a fine animal you have got there.’ The Professor stated with an authority. ‘I say a fine animal you have got.’
Barker grunted and patted Bob’s stomach, before withdrawing his hand slowly back to his tea. The professor stubbed his cigar immaculately into a tattered ivory ashtray. His studious eyes then relaxed, and his hands moved so smoothly that neither friend, nor animal, noticed that he nestled the cigar secretly back inside his pocket.
Barker made certain his beast was relaxed sufficiently, took a lasting swig of tea, then a weary exertion, and he was up up and away, sighing and balanced, climbing creaky stairs to an unknown destination. Harper-Bob made a passing glance, but friendly feet still adorned the floor.
The Professor didn’t attempt to talk as though an unspoken recognition had been passed, and the narrator neither. They simply sat with thoughtful, distant eyes adorning the dusky silk layer of the water. The narrator made a pittance of a glance up to where Barker could be heard, creaking upon the upper deck. The professor seemed to be smiling in the thickening gloom, and it seemed that he was also lost now to the methadone of his memories.
The narrator stretched his mind back down the well worn path, and felt ashamedly glad that those times were so cruel: that through the bleakest scars of war he could also evoke a perfect, undiluted feeling, which was also nurtured in those times.
How they had set the friendless sands alight that day, running and laughing. The sun had hung proudly over it all, as though it didn’t want to leave the sudden outburst of life, of laughter and many songs they sang together, and only slipped late into a discrete sunset, as sparkling waves had crept in around them.
Barker’s heavy footfall could again be heard, like buzzards on the roof. He appeared slowly, and turned on the old gaslight, as he always did, then sat with the hound snugly around his battered sandals.
The Narrator and Professor noticed little his presence, and little less the mutterings he pronounced to the furred shape on the floor. Above them, the stars shone as brightly as ever; maybe brighter still. The narrator slipped a hand inside the old worn wallet, and gently removed the precious card, printed some fifty years by. Those years he had spent preparing to meet her again and he smiled: what would be heaven but contradiction.
Barker produced some playing cards and began to shuffle.