– The Fourth Chapter –

 

 

It was the kind of weather that he loved: cold and crisp, with a bright sun in a powder-blue sky.  The shrubs covering the raised garden of the patio and the willow screen behind the garden were bathed in the soft rays of the sun this morning.  Alison and he had bought most of the shrubs a few years before from the Royal Botanic Garden, just down the road here in Edinburgh.  He couldn’t remember all of the names of the plants, but he knew that the tall one in the centre was called a winter sun mahonia.  Once, when it was on the verge of blooming, its bulbous tip poking up through its fern-like leaves, Alison’s brother had referred to it as ‘the knob’.  That name had stuck ever since.  The knob was blooming again now, its tiny lemon flowers sparkling in the sunshine.  Those flowers would last all the way through winter.  They would be joined soon by the sharp yellow blooms of the winter jasmine plants that Alison had planted all along the screen.

 

He drew his eyes away from the knob and back to his laptop and the manuscript beside it.  He was feeling good about the project today.  He had learned some things about his younger self during the last couple of days, things that he had long forgotten.  He had been stubborn, that was for sure, not wanting to change a word of his novel.  He had been meticulous and able to plan, that was also clear.  And he was probably much more tolerant back then, especially about the bourgeoisie.  Most of all, though, he could write.  Now he was eager to experience more of that writing.  He turned to the fourth chapter, which was in four parts.

 

1

 

The pale light of the crescent moon cast faint filigrees of spun silver on the inky waters of the night.  The dark sky was mottled by the darker shapes of gathering rain clouds.  The weather was changing.

            Jeff Wheeler shivered.  From some far-off place, the sound of a village clock chiming out the twelve strokes of midnight came drifting to him on the chill breeze.  Two more hours to go.  For the hundredth time that night, he peered through the heavy binoculars into the murkiness.  Nothing stirred.  On the stony beach a few feet below him, he could hear the crunching steps of his old companion.

            ‘What a funny old world,’ Jeff mused.  ‘Only yesterday, I was relaxing on the beach yonder, enjoying the sunshine.  My whole life was cut and dried: University degree, good job, marriage to Debbie, nice flat in London beside our folks.  The lot.  And now look at me: standing in the cold in the middle of the night in a land of strangers, waiting for ... waiting for what?  Death, perhaps.  Since yesterday, a war has been declared, I’ve seen my first dead man, and I’ve seduced – or did she seduce me? – the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.  What’s next, I wonder?  Maybe ...’

            Jeff’s reverie was halted abruptly by the sounds of Robbie Sinclair clambering up towards him.

            ‘Jeff, lad,’ Robbie half-shouted, ‘the Commander asked me to report in again at twelve o’clock.  I’ll not be long.’

            ‘Okay,’ answered the young man as Robbie disappeared into the blackness.

 

Twenty minutes later, Jeff was still waiting for Robbie to return.  He grew anxious.  Perhaps the old man had slipped and fallen on his way to the camp, or maybe on his way back.

            ‘I’ll give it another five minutes,’ he decided, ‘and then I’ll have a look-see.’

            Before the five minutes were up, however, the sound of heavy footsteps behind him allayed Jeff’s fears.  He turned to greet the old man.

            ‘Thank good– ’ he began, but the rest of the words were stifled in his throat.

            The approaching figure was not Robbie.  Jeff only had time to glimpse the balaclava-clad head of the heavy stranger, who loomed up at him from out of the darkness, before the rifle butt came crashing down on his left temple.  The excruciating pain that filled his head was quickly followed by the merciful, numbing relief of unconsciousness as he collapsed to the ground.

            The blow had not been as hard as the stranger had intended it to be, and only a few minutes had elapsed before consciousness gradually crept back to the young man.  Slowly, painfully, he dragged himself up to a sitting position and then agonisingly onto his feet.  Swaying precariously and trying desperately to regain some clarity of thought through the haze of pain, he stood there for some moments.

            ‘Oh, my God!’ he half-choked when realisation dawned fully on him.  ‘The others!’

            Clasping at his forehead with both hands, he stumbled off in the direction of the emplacement.  He was only a few yards away from the building when he almost tripped over the prostrate body of Robbie Sinclair.

            ‘Jesus Christ!’ he exclaimed, turning over the old man’s body.

            Through the half-darkness he could discern the large pool of blood that had collected on the ground from the gaping wound in Robbie’s neck.  A wave of nausea swept over him, making him gasp for air.

            He stumbled on towards the emplacement.  On entering it, he could see that the old spirit lamp was still lit.  At first inspection, the recumbent figures of Tom and Ewan seemed to indicate that all was well, but, moving closer to them, he found to his stark horror that their faces had been mashed brutally, leaving them almost beyond recognition.  The sight of their pulpy heads, the blood-soaked sleeping bags and the red-splattered walls around the corpses shrieked horrifyingly at the young man.  This time, the hot nausea that swam into his befuddled mind forced him to puke violently.

            The revulsion that Jeff experienced from the bloody visions of his dead companions was quickly replaced by cold fear, however, when he heard the raucous voices outside.  His body stiffened, the skin on his face became taut and the rough hair on the nape of his neck stood on end.  His already sickened stomach begun to churn furiously.  Slowly, and with trembling hands, he unshouldered his rifle and, with the barest of noise, pulled back its safety catch.  The voices stopped suddenly.  Through clenched teeth, Jeff began to count to himself very slowly:

            ‘One, two, three, four, five’ ... the dull ache from his bleeding temple brought back the vivid memory of the evil face of his attacker ... ‘twelve, thirteen, fourteen’ ... the wide knife wound in old Robbie’s neck seemed to laugh sinisterly at him ... ‘nineteen, twenty, twenty-one’ ... the hideous corpses of Tom and Ewan, murdered brutally in their sleep, haunted his throbbing brain ... ‘twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine’ ... a smouldering rage was growing within him ... ‘thirty-four, thirty-five’ ... a terrible fire was sweeping through him ... ‘forty’ ... stirring him into action ... ‘Now!’

            Screaming horribly, he rushed through the opening and out into the night air.

            ‘Bastards!’ he shrieked.  ‘Fucking, lousy bastards!’

            There were four of them: four dark figures, dressed all in black save for their white armbands.  On the point of jumping into the small dinghies that had so stealthily carried them out to the island, they stood stock-still at the end of the jetty.  The bloodcurdling cry from within the emplacement had struck terror into them.  They were further petrified by the sight of the wild-eyed, bloody-faced man who rushed at them.  Before they could move, Jeff’s rifle spat out.

            When Jeff’s rage had subsided and the twenty bullets of his weapon had been spent, the four assailants lay dead.  He stood staring at the bodies for a long time afterwards, until, finally, weak and emptied of all strength and feeling, he let the rifle slip from his numb hands and clatter jarringly on the rocks below.  He felt giddy, and a red mist was swirling turbulently before his eyes.  There was no pain, just a numbness, a light-headedness.  Concussion from the savage blow to his head had been staved off only temporarily, and now he collapsed on his knees.  His lifeless body keeled over slowly onto the slimy ground.

 

He was sorry to see Robbie Sinclair go, but he was so glad that Jeff had managed to stop puking long enough to grow some balls at last.  More seriously, though, he thought that the narrative was reminiscent of Alistair MacLean.  He was keen to read on.

 

2

 

Icy beads of sweat trickled down the Sergeant’s back.  Once again, the cold, blunt barrel of the small automatic was prodded viciously into his ribs.

            ‘Tell General Saunders that there’s nothing yet to report,’ he concluded the message.

            ‘Will do, sir ... Over and out ...’ the acknowledgement crackled through the receiver, and the microphone was snatched roughly from Jock Wilson’s hands.

            ‘All right, soldier boy,’ spoke the chilling, educated voice of the tall, fair-haired leader of his captors, ‘you can join your friends now.’

            One of the others grabbed his arm and hauled him out of the chair.  At gunpoint, he was shoved out of the small, dimly-lit office and along the dark corridor into the clubhouse bar-room.  The door was opened by a scowling, heavy-built man, who grabbed at the Sergeant’s shirtfront and pulled him violently into the room.  As the Sergeant fell awkwardly to the floor, a loud wail was let loose from the fear-stricken women.

            ‘Shut your bleedin’ mouths!’ the guttural Cockney voice of their captor sounded out.  ‘Or I’ll use this on you!’

            With a sharp click, he pulled back the catch of his sub-machine-gun and levelled the weapon menacingly at their heads.  Save for the stifled sobs of some of the women, the room became immediately quiet.

            The burly, pug-faced Cockney handed over his machine-gun to the man who had brought Sergeant Wilson from the office.  A smile flickered across his lips.  He muttered something undistinguishable.  His companion seemed to understand the nature of what was about to happen, and a leering grin broke out on his face.  Cockney wet his lips and looked at the women.

            ‘You,’ he said, singling out young Meg Harvey, who was standing a few feet from him, beside her sister, Pat, and her distraught mother.

            Meg turned ashen-faced.

            ‘No!’ screamed her mother, throwing her plump arms around her younger daughter in an effort to protect the girl.

            ‘Leave her alone, you bastard!’ shouted Pat; in a gesture of defiance, she planted herself firmly between Cockney and the huddled figures of her mother and sister.

            A gleaming sheath-knife suddenly appeared in Cockney’s right hand.  Swiftly, he grabbed at Pat’s hair with his left hand and pointed the knife at her exposed throat.

            ‘Come with me, girlie,’ he spoke to Meg, ‘or this one will get ‘er throat cut.’

            Meg Harvey was sixteen years old, dark-haired and pretty.  She squirmed loose from her mother’s clutches and walked slowly towards Cockney, her head held high.  Her young, well-developed body shook visibly.

            Cockney threw Pat headlong into her near-demented mother, and then grabbed roughly at Meg’s arm.  Both Commander Bradley and Sergeant Wilson made to move towards him, but the barrel of the machine-gun forced them to stop.

            ‘Back!’ shouted the gun’s handler.

            Cockney quickly led his victim out of the room and into the dark night.  Breathing loudly, he returned the knife to its sheath on his belt and pushed the young girl against the rough wooden wall of the clubhouse.  Saliva was drooping from his open mouth.  With a quick, harsh movement, he ripped open Meg’s flimsy cotton dress.  His fat fingers began to fumble at her bra.  After a sharp tug, the bra came loose, and Cockney’s rough hands were kneading Meg’s young breasts.  He shoved his ugly face into Meg’s and tried to kiss her cold, quivering lips.

            Meg made no effort to resist her assailant, but closed her eyes tightly and prayed.  Silent tears streamed down her cold cheeks.

            Cockney was moaning deeply now.  His hands moved down to the girl’s thighs, tore at her panties and groped around her crotch.  Violently, he threw her onto the wooden veranda floor.  Greedy fingers undid the buttons of his trousers, and soon his fat, iron phallus was exposed to the night air.  Viscid seed was already spilling from its tip.

            Cockney threw himself on top of the trembling body of his virgin victim.  Viciously, he forced himself into her.  His small buttocks tightened, and hot saliva dribbled over the terrified girl’s face.  When he entered her, Meg let out a long, agonising scream.  Mercifully, however, the remainder of her ordeal was over in seconds, and Cockney was standing over her sobbing body, buttoning up his trousers.

            Meg struggled to her feet.  Her eyes were like half-slits, burning into Cockney’s face.  She lunged at him, biting fiercely at the arms which tried to brush her away.  The sheath-knife was in her hands.  With all her might, she lunged at him again, but his hands held firmly on her slim wrists.  Slowly, her arms were forced backwards.  Then, with a sudden jerk, the knife was plunged into her stomach.  Meg half-screamed, half-gurgled.  Her hands went limp.  Again and again, her psychopathic rapist drove the knife into her writhing body, until she slumped lifelessly to the ground.

            Cockney, panting loudly, stood back from the corpse.  One moment later, however, he went crashing to the floor.  Vivid red flashes shot across his vision.  With a heavy grunt, he rose to his feet and rushed at his attacker, but stopped short when he realised that it was the fair-haired youth.

            The leader pointed his automatic at Cockney’s head and spoke icily.

            ‘One more trick like that, my friend,’ he said, ‘and I’ll blow your moronic head from off your moronic shoulders.  Understand?’

            Cockney lowered his eyes and muttered his acknowledgement.  It was then that the first of twenty consecutive rifle reports came resounding through the still night from the direction of the dark shape of the island of Inchmickery.

            The leader cursed.  His angry eyes looked out into the estuary.

            ‘No shooting, I told them,’ he rasped.  ‘No fucking shooting!’

            The shots were also heard inside the clubhouse.  Joe Bradley’s strained expression was fraught with sorrow; his dark, sleep-starved eyes met the pitying gaze of Sergeant Wilson.

            ‘Oh, God,’ he moaned, covering his face with trembling hands.  ‘It’s all my fault.  I let those people join us in the first place.  Christ, I should have known better!’

            ‘Don’t torture yourself, sir,’ the Sergeant spoke softly.  ‘It’s no’ your fault.  This would’ve happened anyway.  Those murderous gets weren’t depending on you letting them in.’

            ‘But I should have known better, Jock,’ the Commander intoned.  ‘I should have taken precautions.  I shouldn’t have split the men up like I did.  God, I made the bastards’ job so easy for them.  They’re out there butchering the poor devils in the dark right now.’

 

It had all happened so quickly.  One moment, he and Sergeant Wilson were sitting in the office, listening to the report from the Inchmickery group, and the next, the door burst open and rifle barrels were poked into their necks.  Four dark-clad men, wearing white armbands, had rushed in.  He could hear the sounds of others as they herded the women into the bar-room.  Their leader – the young, well-educated one – had forced him to finish off his radio conversation with Robbie Sinclair as if nothing had happened.  Then he and the Sergeant were also led into the bar.  The scene that met them there was terrible.  The poor women were absolutely terrified.  In one corner of the room, being consoled by some of the older women, was Mrs Riley.  Her whole face was horribly black and swollen.  She had been the only one who had tried to resist the rough handling from the infiltrators, and she had been rewarded with the brutal crack from a rifle butt that had smashed her jawbone.  Old one-armed Sam McLeod had rushed to her protection, and he had been dealt the same punishment, but this time the heavy butt had crashed down on his frail skull, killing him instantly.  His bloodied body lay in another corner of the room, and no-one had attempted to cover him.

            Of the eight intruders in the clubhouse, Commander Bradley had recognised six of them, including their leader, as having belonged to his own Unit.  From the mumbled conversations they were having, he gathered that more traitors had grouped outside.  The six whom he recognised had all been allocated observation duties and had gone off with other members of the Unit earlier in the night.

            ‘No doubt,’ the Commander had remarked bitterly, ‘they quickly disposed of their unsuspecting companions.’

            The sallow-faced leader had then appeared in the bar-room.  Very politely, almost cordially, he had explained to them that they had nothing to fear if they did as they were told.  Less politely, he had ordered Sergeant Wilson to accompany him back to the office so that a report could be given on the radio to General Saunders in Craigiehall.  At first, despite threats to his own life, the Sergeant had courageously refused, but, at the leader’s command, four of the women were forcibly lined up against the wall.

            ‘Mow them down!’ he had ordered the man with the machine-gun.

            Sergeant Wilson had had no other option but to immediately intercede and thereby comply with the leader’s demand.

 

So much for Alistair MacLean, he thought.  With the inclusion of that rape scene, the writing had become a bit too raw to compare with McLean, a bit too dark – just like his mind must have been when he wrote it.  He really had set out to shock, hadn’t he?  Still, he acknowledged, it kept the action going and it made him want to read the next instalment.

 

There were two parts left in the chapter, both of which were relatively short.

 

3

 

In the cold grey light of dawn, Jeff Wheeler came to life: not all at once, but slowly, torturously.  Little by little, his dulled senses responded to the acute discomfort of his surroundings.  Through the overpowering, stabbing pain that seared into his head, he became aware of the sharpness of the rocky surface which dug into his pained body.  Once again, the awful stink of bird faeces assailed his nostrils, and gradually the booming sound of the nearby surf became more distinct.  Damp, clinging sea mist chilled his blood-encrusted face.

            His eyelids flickered open.  With an almighty effort, he rose to his feet.  When the terrible agony within his brain had decreased to a dull throb, he was able to regard the dank and desolate island.  Still sprawled on the jetty were the four contorted bodies of the men he had killed, and tied to the jetty were their two rubber dinghies.  The old barge was still there, too, but her deck was almost awash: the saboteurs had done their work well.  The dark, bloody deeds of the previous night came flooding back to the young man, and suddenly he felt very alone and afraid.  Seven cold corpses were his only company on this bleak rock.  What was he to do now?  His senses were still very hazy.  Despairingly, he looked around him, searching for the answer to his predicament.  The sight of the emplacement jogged his memory.  The radio!  Yes, of course, the radio!  On stiff, aching limbs, he staggered across the greasy rocks towards the building.

            The faint light of the still burning spirit lamp cast eerie shadows in the dimness of the emplacement.  For a long time, Jeff was unable to draw his gaze from the mutilated bodies of Tom and Ewan.  Bitter disappointment awaited him when he turned to inspect the radio, for the machine had been smashed almost into smithereens.  Growing more afraid, he limped outside.

            It was then that he remembered the sole reason for his and the others’ presence on the island in the first place.  Chalk-faced and breathing hard, he scrambled up past the emplacement, past the dead body of old Robbie Sinclair, until he reached the spot where he had kept watch only hours before.  A light drizzle had begun to fall.  The grey mistiness of the sky, coupled with Jeff’s own hazy vision, made observation extremely poor.  Frantically, he retrieved the binoculars from where they had fallen when he had been attacked, and, jamming them hard against his eyes, he scanned the estuary.  His heart stopped, and a muffled cry escaped his lips.  The wet binoculars almost slipped from his trembling hands.  His already wobbly legs turned to jelly.  Again and again, he peered into the horizon, until he was absolutely certain.  Finally, despair-stricken, the binoculars swinging loosely from his right hand, his body went completely limp.  He slumped to his knees.  From the very pit of his stomach, a loud, bitter wail erupted.  Hot tears flowed from tightly closed eyes, mingling with the dark-red blood that seeped from the large gash in his forehead.

            ‘Oh, God!’ he cried in utter anguish.  ‘Oh, dear God!’

            Lurking ominously on the blurred horizon, like faceless Riders of the Apocalypse, were the dark shapes of a score or more warships.

 

4

 

And so it happened.  In the damp grey early morning of June 4th 1980, advance warships of the Communist invasion forces appeared in the estuaries of the Forth and the Clyde in Scotland, and at the mouths of the Humber, the Mersey, the Tyne and the Thames in England.  Under the black cloak of night, they had penetrated far into the Bristol Channel, grouped menacingly in the Irish Sea and taken up strategic positions all along the English Channel.

            As a result of the almost complete breakdown in communications, the dearth of resources within the country and the heinous efforts of organised saboteurs, resistance to the first landing parties was only light and sporadic.  Very soon, the vast, marauding armies of the Black Bear of Russia and the Red Dragon of China were everywhere.  Rape and plunder were the orders of the day.  The shattering ring from the steel-capped boots of invading troops on the quiet streets of towns and villages struck terror into the hearts of their numbed, uncomprehending inhabitants; death and destruction, they knew, would soon follow.

            Only two days later, Prime Minister Foster, realising the utter futility of continued struggle without American help, and despite his earlier pronouncement of a courageous stand, admitted total defeat, and the last, stubborn bastions of the British Armed Forces capitulated to the supreme might of the New Communists.  A National Government was formed soon after; the People’s Republic of Britain was born.  Slowly, the British people awoke to bleak life under their Communist masters.

            Then came the witch-hunt.  Politicians, clergymen, royalty, a whole host of former dignitaries, were ruthlessly hunted down and exterminated.  Dissidents were imprisoned in Siberian-type work-camps.  Conspirators were subjected to horrible atrocities.  The dark reign of fear that existed in all other parts of the Communist Bloc had begun.

 

He liked those last passages, but he sensed a note of finality about them.  He checked the manuscript.  Yes, he had come to the end of what he had originally called Part One of the novel.  Part Two was made up by the next six chapters and Part Three by the last six.  Sixteen chapters in all, he noted.  Still a long way to go.

 

He saw that he had also come to the end of the retyped pages.  The remaining pages looked older and had those handwritten changes in blue pencil on them.  In amongst them, he found a photocopy of a set of typewritten notes that he appeared to have prepared for Bill.  The notes detailed the amendments that he had planned to make when he redrafted the manuscript.  He noticed that he had resolved to take ‘the advice of the publishers’ by removing what he referred to as ‘highly loaded passages of propaganda’.  He had gone on to write: ‘In effect, therefore, I hope that the narrative itself will provide a sufficient instrument of propaganda, serving as a timely and ominous warning – a premonition, if you like.’

 

That explained to him why he hadn’t found anything overtly propagandist in the prologue and the first four chapters: they had already been cleansed from the offending passages.  But the business of acting on ‘the advice of the publishers’ puzzled him.  Some faint memories stirred in him.  He got up and left the room.  He wanted to have another look in that old box file, the one that had contained the manuscript.  He returned a few minutes later with a thin blue folder.  Inside it were some letters that he had kept alongside the manuscript.  The first one was the polite, but helpful, refusal from that nice Managing Editor.  The next one was from the Literary Editor of the same newspaper, to whom he had obviously written for advice.  That letter was polite and helpful, too.  It advised him to submit a synopsis of his book, together with a specimen chapter, to ‘a newish paperback publisher’.  It also suggested two such publishers, both of which were based in London.  He must have proceeded to send them Part One of the novel, because there were letters back from them referring to it.  The first reply was a standard letter of rejection, but it was polite enough.  The second was less polite; almost vitriolic, in fact.  The writer stated that he couldn’t be encouraging about the novel, having found ‘the storytelling style to be completely without conviction’.  Well, he thought, that must have really pissed him off at the time.

 

There was one more rejection letter in the folder.  It came from a publisher in Edinburgh – a quite recently formed one, he seemed to remember – and it was much more encouraging.  It read:

‘Thank you for sending us the first part of your novel, which we have read with interest.  I think it is perhaps a pity that you have decided to include the more propagandaish sections, which don’t really enhance the novel.  The fiction itself seems to be going quite well, but it seems to me you still have to decide whether you are writing a novel or something else.’

That, then, was the advice which he had referred to in the notes and which he had taken into account in the redraft.  But it was such a pity that he hadn’t finished the retyping of the manuscript.  If he had, he could have submitted it again, perhaps even to the same chap who had written that letter.  Who knows what might have happened then?  He shook his head.  The business of life just got in the way, he supposed.

 

He felt quite depressed after that, but he cheered up again when he saw the last document in the folder.  It was a blank sheet of paper, along the foot of which was pasted a cartoon strip that had been cut out from a newspaper.  Yes, he remembered, this was the letterhead – letterbottom, he supposed – that he had concocted to accompany his submissions to those publishers.  The cartoon strip was one of the ‘Peanuts’ series by Schulz.  It showed Snoopy studying a letter that he had just collected from his mailbox.  The letter read:

‘Dear Contributor,

We are returning your manuscript.  It does not suit our present needs.

P.S.  We note that you sent your story by first class mail.  Junk mail may be sent second class.’

He smiled, recognising that streak of self-deprecating humour; it had stayed with him throughout his life.  Then he closed the folder.  He would return it to the box file later on.

 

He thumbed through Part Two of the manuscript.  All those pages, all those blue pencil marks: it seemed like a mountain to climb.  He would have a go at it tomorrow, when he felt fresher.  Meantime, he would go out to the patio for some air, perhaps sit on the bench and enjoy the autumn sunshine – and think of what might have been.

 

 

– o –

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