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November 2004 Review

Writing Progress

A short review this month. Again I have done little in the way of writing. It seems that I have always got other things to do. Mind you, I like to allow my ideas to ferment in my mind before I write. It just seems to be taking a little longer than expected.

I have a few ideas for “The Twelve Great Ships,” particularly with regard to characters. I fancy having one or two really nasty ones. They're always much more fun. And I think I know what these two are going to be like. I also have a pretty good idea of what the basic thread running through the story will be based on, but I still need to pad a few things out. Anyway, that's my excuse for sitting around and thinking instead of writing.

Maybe I'm looking forward to Christmas?

As promised, this month features “The Heroic Englishman: Part III” as the Short Story Serial. “The Heroic Englishman: Part II” has been added to the List Page. Next month the Short Story Serial will take a rest (for Christmas). But I might have a seasonal replacement.

November's Short Story: The Heroic Englishman: Part III

THE HEROIC ENGLISHMAN

Patrick had met Claude Lacont in the French Foreign Legion, and they had known one other for ten years. Claude was about the same age as Patrick, but a little smaller and thinner. But although he was thin, he was tough and wiry, and looked just as mean. He had brown hair that was cut very short, and a thin face. He also had very cold, piercing, blue eyes.

The introductions were short, and Claude got down to business almost straight away.

“What you are asking will cost a lot of money,” he said in a French accent. “We will need transport, and weapons. And we will need papers to cross the borders. We will need everything to be delivered in Iraq legally; we do not want to be arrested before we even get into Iran. This will all cost money, money that you will have to pay up front, on top of what you pay us. Do you understand?”

I nodded.

“But can you afford it, Monsieur Wright?”

“Whatever you want, I can afford. Just ask.”

Claude stared at me for a few seconds before turning to Patrick. “Where did you find this Santa Claus?”

Patrick smiled. “He was wandering around the bars and clubs asking for hard men until Jean-Paul found him.”

Claude grunted and gave a short laugh. “You are fortunate, Monsieur Wright, that someone else did not find you and relieve you of all this money. Do you have it with you?”

“Naive I might be, stupid I’m not,” I replied.

Claude laughed even louder, and slapped me on the back. “Good answer!” he said, his voice raised. “We will find and rescue your girlfriend, Monsieur Wright, do not worry. But first, Patrick and I must sort out the details.” Claude became more serious as he continued. “Go back to your hotel. We will contact you when we have a list of equipment to be purchased, and you will give us the money we need. When the equipment has been purchased, we will tell you our plans and what you must pay us. You will pay us in advance. After that, you will not see or hear from us until we return.”

“I’m going with you,” I said without hesitation.

Claude and Patrick both looked amazed, while Jean-Paul was overcome with sudden emotion. “The Englishman wants to be a hero!” he exclaimed. “He wants to rescue his girlfriend! Oh! It is so romantic!” He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at his eyes.

Claude glanced across at Jean-Paul disapprovingly before saying, “The Englishman wants to get us all killed!”

“It’s out of the question,” Patrick said. “We go alone.”

“I’m going with you!” I repeated with determination.

“Non!” Claude said, banging the table hard enough to make the coffee cups jump.

I leaned towards him. “I have to go with you!” I insisted. “I can’t just pay you lots of money, and then sit in my hotel room waiting for you to come back! Now that would be stupid, wouldn’t it?”

“You do not trust us?”

“Would you?”

Claude stared at me, but said nothing. Then Patrick asked, “Have you ever fired a gun?”

I shook my head, and Claude immediately shouted “Hah!” as if in triumph, and started to talk quickly to Patrick in French. I could hardly understand a word, but I gathered that he thought that the whole idea was ludicrous. And of course he was right. But I had to go with them, I just had to. Patrick seemed to be on my side by the way that he and Claude began to argue. Even Jean-Paul joined in, talking faster than the both of them. And every chance I had I repeated my demand.

“I have to go with you!” I kept insisting.

And Claude would break off from his argument with Patrick to shout, “Non!” before continuing.

“But you don’t know what she looks like!” I said desperately.

“You have a picture?” Claude asked in the sudden pause, and before I could reply, he shouted, “Non!”

“But how do you think she’ll react when you turn up? What if she runs away? Or screams? Or causes any kind of commotion?”

At last that seemed to have an effect. Claude and Patrick stopped arguing, and Patrick said to Claude, “He has a point. The last thing we want is any confusion. And as soon as she sees him, she’s bound to know what we’re there for.”

Claude sat back in his chair and shook his head in resignation. “Alright, but if we must take him, then you must teach him first,” he said. “Only if I think he is good enough can he come with us. And once we’re out there, if he makes a mistake, if he balls this up, then it comes out of your share, Patrick, not mine.”

Jean-Paul was ecstatic. He raised one of the coffee cups in a mock toast. “To lovers and success!” he announced.

Patrick lifted another cup. “To the heroic Englishman!” he added.

Claude lived up to his profession by shaking his head and stating in a very mercenary fashion, “Non! To money and the stupid Englishman!”

LESSONS

The gun felt very heavy. I had never lifted one before this day, let alone fired one. It was an automatic of some sort. Patrick had told me that it was Russian. We were in the grounds of a small country house just outside Paris, and I had been shooting and missing the same target attached to a tree for nearly half an hour. Now my arm was getting tired.

“Let’s face it, Stephen,” Patrick said as he took the gun from me and reloaded it. “You’ll never make a mercenary.”

“But do I have to know how to shoot? Isn’t that your job?” I remarked.

“You mean, why do you have to pay for a dog if you have to bark yourself? Because if you run with dogs, you have to bark like one. If you want to come with us, you have to learn. If not, you can stay in your hotel room and wait. It’s up to you.” He held the loaded gun out to me.

I sighed and took the now even heavier gun from him and pointed it at the target, squinting down the sight. I pulled the trigger and the gun jumped in my hand. A twig over a yard from the target was knocked from the tree.

“Not like that!” Patrick snapped in annoyance. “Hold it with both hands, like I told you.” He grabbed my hands and made me hold the gun properly. “Hold it straight and tight! And don’t jump like a frightened rabbit every time it goes off!”

I fired again, and another twig was blown from the tree.

Patrick kicked at my feet. “Stand with your legs further apart. And don’t pull the trigger, squeeze it gently.”

Another bang, and this time a piece of bark nearer to the target jumped into the air.

“Better! Now keep both eyes open. Look down the sight at the target. See how far away it is as well as where it is.”

Another half an hour had gone by when Jean-Paul came out of the house and came to stand next to us. He had a piece of cotton wool sticking out of each ear. He looked down at the many empty shell cases on the ground around our feet, and then up at the pock- marked tree and said in a solemn voice, “I think the tree is dead. Where shall we bury it?”

Patrick smiled as he reached out and pulled one of the pieces of cotton wool from Jean-Paul’s ear. “Alright, angel, we’ll give it a rest for awhile.” His expression was serious again when he turned back to me. “But remember, Stephen, we only have until Claude returns to knock you into shape. Let’s go inside.”

I thought about that as we walked towards the house. Claude was the one in the team who made all the deals. He knew all the suppliers. Whatever you wanted to buy, Claude would know someone who was willing to sell it. Once he and Patrick had worked out what they would need for the job, Claude had gone off to contact the people who could provide what they needed. It would take a couple of days to make all the deals, and then Claude would return. By then I would either be fit for the job, or left behind.

The house belonged to Patrick and Jean-Paul. Inside it was a picture of middle class elegance. There was nothing outrageous or arty, and nothing to give away the violent source of the money used to buy and furnish it. In fact, it would be easy to think that an affluent couple had made this house their weekend retreat from the bustle of Paris. The only things that gave away the identity of the true owners were the many photographs on the walls and on the tables. Some were of Patrick and other men in uniform. I recognised Claude in some of them. They both looked younger. Even more photographs were of Jean-Paul, mainly in his dancing costumes. But most of the photographs were of Patrick and Jean-Paul together, happy, smiling, embracing. When I asked him whose personality the house most reflected, Patrick told me that everything I saw was the result of Jean-Paul’s taste.

“Does it surprise you that the place is so conservative?”

I was too embarrassed to admit that it did, but Jean-Paul saved my blushes.

“You should see our bedroom,” he said with a flash of his eyes that brought an instant response from Patrick.

“He better not!”

“Jealous!” Jean-Paul retorted.

“Jealous, nothing”, Patrick remarked as he made himself a drink and sat down in the kitchen. “Show him the gym.”

Jean-Paul now smiled in a wicked manner and beckoned me to follow him. “This way, Englishman!”

The gym was in an extension built onto the back of the house. It had everything you would expect to find. Jean-Paul led me around the room, pointing out everything and telling me what it was as if I were a child.

“These are the bars where I practice,” he said. “These are the weights Patrick uses. And this is the mat.”

As I stared down at the mat in the centre of the room, Jean-Paul grabbed me by the arm and threw me. I landed on my back with a thud in the centre of the mat.

As I lay there, dazed and in shock, Jean-Paul hurried towards me. “Oh, I am sorry! Did you fall?” He began helping me up. I was halfway to my feet when I was flying through the air again. I landed with another thud.

I heard Jean-Paul tut-tutting as he came to help me up again, realising now what I was in for. I tried to resist as he helped me to my feet, but in a moment I was airborne again.

By the time Patrick came into the gym to see how I was getting on, I was a complete mess. I was over-heated, my clothes were all pulled out of shape and I was so winded I could hardly breathe.

“You haven’t killed him have you?” he asked Jean-Paul when he saw the state I was in. “You haven’t forgotten that he hasn’t paid us yet?”

Jean-Paul put a hand to his mouth in shock. “Oh! So I am throwing him for free? If I had known I would not have thrown him so far!”

I climbed onto my hands and knees and stared up at Patrick. He was standing in the doorway eating a piece of bread. “Is this really necessary?” I gasped.

“There’s always that nice comfortable hotel room,” he replied.

I moaned and rolled over onto my back.

As I lay there in a sweat, Patrick beckoned Jean-Paul over to him. They stood together and Jean-Paul took some of the bread from him, and as they both ate, Patrick said thoughtfully, “Maybe were going about this the wrong way.”

Jean-Paul nodded as he chewed on the bread. “Yes, I think so. But at least he has learned to land well.”

“But we both know that there’s no way we will ever get him into shape in a couple of days, so all we can hope to do is to make him a bit better than he was before.”

“But will that be good enough for Claude?”

Patrick waved the bread up and down as he spoke. “All we have to do is convince Claude that he’s ready, so maybe that’s what we should try and do. Forget about teaching him everything, just teach him how to surprise Claude.”

SURPRISING CLAUDE

The two days passed very quickly and painfully. But when Claude returned I was ready for him. I was also nervous as hell. But Patrick and Jean-Paul were confident of success.

“You can’t fail, Englishman,” Jean-Paul said. “Just do as I told you.” He felt my bruised arms. “At least now there is some muscle under there somewhere, and every tree in France fears you.”

I smiled nervously. I had no confidence at all of tricking Claude Lacont into thinking I was fit enough to go with them, but I was still determined to go. Each night I had returned to my hotel in Paris exhausted and battered. I ached from head to toe. Jean-Paul had done his best, and it was true, I was a bit fitter and harder than before. I had even mastered a few throws. But in no way was it enough. And as for my shooting, that was much worse. In the two days I had managed to hit the target only five times, and those were only around the edges. I wasn't cut out to be a mercenary,and I new it.

“Claude is going to murder me,” I said to Jean-Paul as we waited in my hotel room for Patrick to return with Claude. We were both sitting on the side of the bed.

“Not if you do as I told you.” He patted my leg. “Now be confident. And try to look mean.” I did as he asked, and Jean-Paul quickly added, “Maybe mean is not such a good idea. Just look confident.”

By the time Patrick knocked on the door, my heart was in my mouth. Jean-Paul let them in. Patrick winked at me, and Claude smiled wickedly as soon as he saw me get up and walk towards him.

“Ah, the Englishman who thinks he’s a mercenary!” he said as he put his briefcase down on the table and began to take off his coat. “Are you ready for me?”

Without hesitation I kicked him in the knee and pounced. Claude gave a yell and fell over with me on top of him. Patrick jumped out of the way as we struggled on the floor, and Jean-Paul shouted encouragement. Claude was still caught up in his coat, and I managed to make the hold that Jean-Paul had taught me. Claude struggled and kicked but it was no good, and he knew it.

“You asked if I was ready,” I said, huffing and puffing, and feeling very pleased with myself. “This is my answer! So what do you say? Do I come with you?”

Claude didn’t answer me. Instead he yelled at Jean-Paul, his voice raspy and strained. “You taught him this hold, you false woman!” he accused him, his face bright red. “When I get free I will kill you!”

Jean-Paul just laughed. “But you are not free, my over-confident friend! So what is your answer?” Claude kicked at him, and Jean-Paul jumped out of the way.

Patrick was also now laughing as he leaned on the table. “Come on, Claude! This is silly! Give it up! You’re beaten!”

Claude made a final attempt to break free, before he relaxed and bellowed, “Arrgghh! Alright! Alright! He can come with us!”

I immediately let go and rolled clear. Claude threw off his coat and sat up glaring at me, and then he glared at Patrick and Jean-Paul, who were both laughing at him.

“You two planned this!” he accused them both. “You tricked me! This wasn’t fair!”

Jean-Paul put his hands on his hips and replied mockingly, “Oh yes, I forgot! Mercenaries are supposed to announce their intent by guilt edged card before they attack!” He slapped his own hand. “Silly me!”

“You asked for a test, and you got it!” Patrick added, laughing even more. “It serves you right for being so over-confident!”

Claude glared at them, rubbing at his bruised knee. By now I had got to my feet and Claude turned to me. “Alright,” he said, “you have your victory. Help me up.”

I reached out to help him and Claude immediately grabbed my arm and threw me across the room. I crashed into Patrick and we both fell to the floor, knocking over the table. Patrick shrugged at me. “I guess there’s no hard feelings then,” he said as we lay in a tangled heap, and then he burst out laughing again, even louder than before.

Claude was now rolling his sleeves up as he edged towards Jean-Paul. Jean-Paul backed away, moving nearer to the door.

“I will leave you now,” he said in mock seriousness, just managing to curb his laughter. “I see you have much to discuss, and I am sure you will wish for some privacy.” He suddenly turned and dived out the door just as Claude rushed after him, and they both disappeared. I heard Jean-Paul laughing and Claude shouting as they both ran down the corridor.

“Run while you can, you false woman! Because when I catch you, I’m going to pull both your legs off and make you eat them!”

I turned to Patrick and said, “Aren’t you going to do something? What if Claude catches up with Jean-Paul?”

Patrick was in hysterics by now, and he could hardly talk, but he slapped me on the back and managed to say, “Don’t worry about Jean-Paul! Claude will never catch him! And by the time he gets back he will have calmed down enough to see the funny side of our trickery! Well, my heroic Englishman, for good or for bad, you’re in! I hope you’re happy!”

End of Part III.

Copyright © D. G. Richards 2004

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