booksandstories.com

October 2004 Review

Writing Progress

Not much writing to report this month, I'm affraid. As mentioned last month I am working on my current Short Story Serial “The Heroic Englishman,” and part three is already done for next month. I am also continuing my research for the story and I think it will be the better for it. With luck I may even finish it this time! As regards my next large project, “The Twelve Great Ships,” it's still all in the mind, which means I haven't written anything yet. But I will in time.

I envisage that “The Twelve Great Ships” will be another large and complicated story like “The Friendly Ambassador.” It more or less begins where that story finished, but much time has passed. As I think more about it, allowing characters and possible scenes and events to drift through my mind, I have become more itchy to get started. But I will have to organise a few things, like aliens, settings, and all those characters, before I actually do start writing. And I have “The Heroic Englishman” to finish first.

Things are moving on slowly with my publishing venture. I haven't had the proofs back yet but I have had correspondance with Publish America so I know things are moving forward. It all seems a bit slow, but that might be appropriate at this point in my life.

A further change in my personal circumstances has meant that I will probably concentrate more on research than writing over the next few months. I have left my old job and gone back to university to do an Engineering Doctorate. This is very much like a Phd but with additional bits thrown in. So I am now a research engineer/student. A bit of a laugh at my age, but I have been a mature student before. I took my Masters degree in 1999 and I enjoyed being back in academia after all those years in industry. Now after a few more years I am back again, and I hope it all goes well. It should be fun, but I know it will also be arduous. I hope I can cope!

It's nice to know that a few people have been visiting the website for a read or two. If you are new, welcome, there is lots to read. And if you are a frequent visitor you probably already know that. I am pleased to see you all.

As promised, this month features “The Heroic Englishman: Part II” as the Short Story Serial. “The Heroic Englishman: Part I” is already on the List Page.

October's Short Story: The Heroic Englishman: Part II

PREPARATIONS

Well, what else could I say? She was in a bad way, and she was asking for my help, and I loved her, I had to say yes. And at the time, I don’t really think I understood the implications of what she was asking me to do. Even if I did, I think I still would have said yes. In fact I know I would. I loved her. I loved her more than anything in the world. I just dropped everything.

The next day, I packed my bags, drew as much money out of my accounts as I needed, and drove to the channel. I didn't tell anyone what I was doing, I just went. And by the afternoon I was in Paris. I checked into a hotel I found off the Boulevard Haussmann, and went in search of the bank that Soraya had told me about on the phone the night before.

Soraya’s father had transferred most of his money to a French bank a couple of years before. He was smart enough to know what was coming and that a foreign bank would be safe from both kinds of government pilfering. Soraya knew the accounts and the pass numbers and had used them before when she was here in England. She gave them to me over the phone. I would need some of that money if our plan was to succeed.

As I walked through the streets of Paris surrounded by people and traffic, my head was filled with the task that faced me. It sounded so simple on the phone with Soraya, but they were only words, not deeds.

Hire some men, get to Tehran, rescue Soraya, and bring her back to England.

Those words had kept going through my mind as I had travelled across the channel to France. From mild mannered nobody to Rambo in the space of a phone call. What was I thinking of? I had left my home, my job, everything, and now here I was. I was beginning to realise how daft this all was when a man clad in black leather suddenly rode his motorcycle up the pavement towards me.

I jumped back in shock, my mind filled with suspicion caused mainly by my own fears. The black-clad man on the motorcycle pulled a long vacuum like tube from the back of his bike and quickly used it to suck up some dog muck from the pavement nearby. In a matter of seconds it was gone and the pavement was washed clean. The man in black leather then sped off on his motorcycle, searching out another victim. I was left standing on the pavement feeling rather stupid. Some of the people that passed by laughed at my reaction. I hadn’t even done anything yet, and I was already nervous and edgy.

As I walked on, I contemplated that only in Paris would a man clad in black leather riding a motorcycle be used to clean dog muck from the pavements. In Manchester it would have been an old bloke in a white overall with a pooper-scooper.

The traffic rushed by, people rushed by. I didn't see any of them. I passed the Opera; hardly noticing its magnificence so deep was I in thought. I couldn’t help it. The more I thought about what I was about to do, the more scared I got. But I loved Soraya, and I ached to see her again. I couldn’t abandon her.

Finally, I stood in front of the Bank National De Paris in the Place Vendome, and plucking up all the courage I had, I went in.

My French is hopeless, and even if I had been in Manchester, taking money out of someone elses's account was bound to attract attention. It wasn’t long before the funny glances started, and I was soon ushered into an office to see the manager. He was a smallish man wearing metal rimmed spectacles who sat behind a large desk. His name was Jean Darpey.

“Why are you interested in this account, Monsieur Wright?” he asked me when I had sat down in front of him. He spoke English rather well, which was fortunate, because I’d given up all hope of trying to explain in French.

“Because it belongs to my fiancé’s family,” I replied.

“And this gives you the right to withdraw money from it?” he said as he took off his spectacles and began to clean them.

I tried to bluff my way through. “The account number and the pass code I gave you are correct, aren’t they?”

“But of course.” He paused while he put on his spectacles again and stared over the top of them at me while he continued. “But you must understand that you are not a signatory, Monsieur Wright, and so I am rightfully concerned.”

I gave up at that point and decided to come clean. I needed to tell someone, I needed someone to tell me that I was doing the right thing, or to tell me to get the heck back home. So I told him what had happened to Soraya’s parents, and how she needed to be rescued. I even told him my plans.

Jean Darpey sat back in his chair, his eyebrows raised in surprise and disbelief as my story poured out. He looked thoughtful after I had finished, and stared at me for some time as he rubbed at his chin. Finally he said, “The world can be a dangerous place for romantics, Monsieur Wright. I would be doing you a favour if I were to refuse you access to this account, and I would be perfectly correct to do so. But if the parents are dead, and only the daughter remains, as you say, then maybe there is a case for such impropriety.”

“It's her only chance, Monsieur Darpey. Her uncle already plans to marry her off. And if that happens then that money will fall into the wrong hands.”

He paused to think a bit longer, until he finally sighed. “Ahh, France has a soft heart for romantics, and so I will allow you the monies you require for your expedition.”

I was already on my feet and I leaned across the table and grabbed him and shook his hand vigourously. But Darpey merely raised his other hand and wagged his finger at me. “You must bring the woman here to confirm the withdrawal, you understand?”

“Yes! Yes, of course!”

I was so happy when Darpey signed the papers on his desk that confirmed the withdrawal, that I kept thanking him.

“This means a lot to me, Monsieur Darpey, it really does! Thank you! Thank you very much!”

“Do not thank me,” he protested. “What I do will lead to no good, I am sure of it. But as a Frenchman, and in the circumstances, I can do no less. Take the money you require, Monsieur Wright, and I hope you succeed.”

I was leaving his office when Jean Darpey took off his spectacles and added, “A word of advice, Monsieur. The men you seek can be found in the clubs and cafes of Montmartre and Pigalle after dark. You will not find them, but go there to any club or bar and ask for them, and soon they will find you.”

A NIGHT ON THE TOWN

The Crazy Horse Saloon was a mistake. It had more life in it than a jumping been on acid, and the women in the cabaret were all gorgeous and practically naked. But they weren’t what I was here to see, and in a few minutes I had spent more money than it had cost me to cross the channel. But this was where the transvestite dancer had said they would be.

I had done as Jean Darpey had told me. I went to Montmartre as soon as it got dark and travelled from club to bar, and from bar to club. Always I asked the same question. Where could I find some hard men for hire? Men who could do a dangerous job in the Middle East?

I felt stupid whenever I asked that question, thinking that I would be misunderstood, and directed to some den of extreme sexual pleasure. It was all readily available here, but the attitude was very different to that in Manchester or London. Here, your sexual tastes were not considered to be a perversion, no matter how unusual. Instead they were treated in the same way as your choice of drink. The attitude of the local people in the clubs was also far more liberated, and it all resulted in a much more relaxed atmosphere. Only the tourists, like me, were shocked when the beautiful female dancers in some of the clubs turned out to be female impersonators.

It was in just such a club, when the cabaret had finished, when one of the dancers came over to me and sat on my knee. I was so embarrassed; I didn’t know what to do or where to put my hands. He -she? -had such long and attractive legs, and the tiny outfit he wore would have come off at a sneeze. When he put his arm around me and whispered in my ear, I nearly panicked and ran.

“The men you seek will meet you in the Crazy ‘Orse,” he said, caressing my face. “Go there and wait, Cherie.”

He kissed my cheek and brushed me with his feathers as he walked away. His movements were light and obviously female, even the way he spoke was female, and his face would have looked at home on the front of any fashion magazine. He glanced back as he skipped elegantly away, dodging between the tables and chairs, and as he looked back, he laughed lasciviously at the sight of my obvious confusion.

The dancers at the Crazy Horse were definitely female. Their costumes, or what passed as costumes, left you in no doubt of that. But as the time passed, and no mysterious men approached me, I became more and more downhearted. I also spent a lot more money. Even before I asked, food and drink would turn up at my table. So if my visit here was to prove fruitless, at least I would leave having had the best that was available, both gastronomically and visually.

Finally, at about three in the morning, when I had consumed far more wine than I had intended, I gave up and did leave.

I had hardly taken a few unstable and faltering steps away from the bright lights of the club before I felt someone’s hand on my shoulder. After all I had consumed that night, I would have been an easy victim for any mugger. But instead of being attacked, I was bundled into the back of a car that suddenly pulled up, and the next thing I remember was being held down on the back seat.

The driver must have driven through the streets like he was driving a dodgem car by the way I got thrown about, but with someone almost sitting on top of me, all I could see was the seat fabric. Eventually the car stopped and I was dragged out.

“I feel sick...” was all I could say.

The man who dragged me out ignored me, and pulled me roughly into another club, dumping me at a table with two other men before he left. Throughout the whole time, he hadn’t said a single word.

I looked around, blinking in the sudden light. It was a jazz club, and it was much more calm and controlled than the Crazy Horse, or the other clubs I had been in earlier. A trio was playing in the corner, and the occupants of the club sat mesmerised as the trumpet player played a solo.

The two men sitting opposite to me weren’t listening to the music. Both of them stared at me. One of them had jet-black hair and brown eyes. His face was square. He looked mean and hard, and a little unpleasant. The other man was very different, and very familiar. He had short, fair hair, with bright blue eyes. He was very handsome, too handsome in fact, and he smiled at me in a most attractive manner.

“You were the dancer!” I exclaimed, and then burped.

“Ah! You drink too much champagne, I think!” he replied, laughing. It was a delightful giggle.

I turned to the other man. “What was all that about? Why didn’t you just meet me, like he said?”

“I wanted to make sure that you could pay for what you want,” the square jawed man replied in an American accent. “If there had been a problem with money, you would have left earlier. I asked Jean-Paul to arrange for you to get the most expensive meal and drinks on the menu. You paid for it all without a qualm. As for your journey, I had to be sure that the money you were so free with was yours, and not the property of some government department.”

“Wyss-hic-siwyg,” I said with a hiccup and a slur.

They stared at me for a moment before glancing questioningly at one another. Jean-Paul shrugged his shoulders and shook his head in a very feminine manner, as if to say, ‘Don’t look at me!’

“You must have got him too drunk to talk properly,” the square jawed man accused Jean-Paul.

“It’s not my fault, Patrick!” he quickly replied, indignantly. “Don’t blame me because he can not take his liquor!”

“Wysiwyg,” I said more clearly this time. “W-Y-S-I-W-Y-G. What You See Is What You Get. I’m it. No government, no police, just me.”

Jean-Paul laughed. In fact he laughed so hard he began to cry. “Wysiwyg!” he kept repeating, the tears running down his face. Turning to Patrick he held tightly onto his arm and managed to say, “What a wonderful word, Patrick! It describes me to a tee, do you not think, mon-amie?”

PATRICK

The square jawed man’s name was Patrick Donoghue. He was thirty-four. He had been a Navy Seal until his sexual preferences had got him dishonourably discharged. Not that he had done anything that he shouldn’t. It was just his colleague’s fear that he might that had got him prematurely back into civilian life. That had been in 1968. It had hurt him, that fear, and it had made him bitter. They had covered up the real reason for his discharge, cooking up some other excuse. They had said that he couldn’t do the job, that he wasn’t up to it. The hidden implication being that because he was gay, he was less of a man. Patrick had set out to prove them wrong.

Nine years in the French Foreign Legion and two years as a mercenary had squeezed most of the bitterness out of him. At first glance, he was everything he looked. Mean, hard, and a little unpleasant. Just as I first thought, I suppose. But after I told him about Soraya, and how I wanted to rescue her, he had at least become less suspicious of me.

Jean-Paul said right away that they would help me, but Patrick wasn’t yet convinced. He was more reserved, and urged Jean-Paul to be quiet. He wanted me to explain further, asking me about who I was, and why I was doing this. It wasn’t until I had told him everything about Soraya and myself that he had finally accepted my story and nodded.

“So, you are doing this for love,” he said. “This I can understand. I think you’re being foolish and down right stupid, but I understand.”

After that Patrick sent Jean-Paul to fetch food and coffee, mainly to sober me up. And while I ate a little, and drank a lot, he talked about himself. He told me about his time in the navy, and what had happened to him after that, and slowly, he became more relaxed. As I gradually sobered up, I watched him and Jean-Paul together, and I kept thinking about how they were both very different to the sort of men I had been expecting to find. Patrick was such a large and hard looking man, while Jean-Paul was so slim and effeminate. They were such contrasts. But the way they talked and touched one another so easily and casually, showed the fondness and love that they obviously had for one another.

“Where did you two meet?” I finally asked, being nosey.

Jean-Paul was quick to reply. “I sat on his knee as I sat on yours, but I could feel at once that he was much more pleased to see me!” he said and laughed.

Patrick put his arm around Jean-Paul’s waist and pulled him closer. “Behave, or you will embarrass our guest!”

Jean-Paul put on a hurt look that was obviously false. “Do you think I am too loud for this sweet and innocent Englishman? Or perhaps you are jealous that I sat on his lap?”

“Both!” Patrick snapped. “Now go and tell Claude to come in here. Go on!”

Jean-Paul’s hurt look grew even more convincing as he stood up. He stuck his tongue out at Patrick, but as he passed me he smiled and winked at me.

“You have to forgive Jean-Paul,” Patrick said when we were alone. “He doesn’t realise just how embarrassed, or unpleasant, some people can get around someone like him. Not that being with him embarrasses me. I love him. It’s just that some people can’t appreciate beauty and love unless it comes in the right wrapper. Are you one of those people, Stephen?”

I felt put on the spot, and had to think carefully. “I have to admit that you two make me feel sort of uneasy, but that’s only because I’m not used to it. I mean, I was just as embarrassed in the Crazy Horse with all those women dancing almost nude-”

I gave up then, because Patrick was laughing at me. It was a deep and pleasant laugh, and his smile did a lot to dispel the menace that had accompanied his question. Well, I suppose I was that obvious. I had felt my face growing red as soon as I had begun to speak. Now I shrugged my shoulders and nodded sadly.

“Maybe I am,” I admitted.

Patrick stopped laughing and shook his head. “No,” he said, “You are not like them. You may be embarrassed, but I can see in your eyes that you don’t despise us. And I think you are more intrigued and fascinated than you may admit. But to business, Jean-Paul returns with Claude Lacont. If he agrees, and the money is right, you will have your men.”

End of Part II.

Copyright © D. G. Richards 2004

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