– The Third Chapter –

 

 

The third chapter was much longer than the first two.  There seemed to be a lot happening in it.  There were six sub-chapters.  He took a deep breath and began with the first one.

 

1

 

Legs apart and chubby hands held behind his back, Commander Joseph T Bradley, Royal Navy (Retired), stood on the veranda of the gaudily painted clubhouse and surveyed his ‘troops’.  In all, forty-three men and fourteen women, their ages ranging from as young as fifteen to as old as seventy, had gathered there in answer to the call for volunteers.

            ‘My God!’ thought Bradley.  ‘What a bunch – and they’re all mine!’

            His small dark eyes narrowed and his round pink face looked stern as he resumed his inspection.

 

When the attack came, Joseph Bradley had been happily engaged in the most enjoyable activity of his retirement: fussily weeding in the verdant, sweet-scented garden that surrounded the large, four-bedroom cottage known as ‘Forthview’, the beautiful and enchanting old house on the hill, which he had purchased five years ago, only one week after his retirement and only two days after he had fallen head-over-heels in love with the quiet fishing village that lay at the foot of the hill.  His cottage, along with many other buildings in the village, was practically flattened by the force of the blast from the exploding gasometers.  Because he had been busy at the far end of the garden behind the house and away from the seafront, however, his life had been spared.  The blast had actually knocked him off his feet, but he had been dazed only slightly and had recovered quickly.

            Only a few hours later, as he helped tend some of the injured and distressed members of the village, who had been brought together in the local schoolhouse, a building that remained unscathed by the explosions, General Caldwell Saunders, Commanding Officer of the Army Barracks at Craigiehall, situated some ten miles further inland, had come looking for him and had asked him to take charge of the Cramond and District Volunteer Defence Unit.

            ‘You’re the only man in the village who can do the job, Joe,’ the General had assured him, almost pleadingly.

            Poor Sandy.  How gaunt and grey he had looked.  His normally ultra-neat uniform was torn and dust-covered, and his deep-lined face was smeared with oily sweat.  The precise and proper manner that he always displayed was replaced by the hunched, despairing appearance of a fatigued and near-broken man.  Joe Bradley had known General Saunders – ‘Sandy’ to his colleagues and friends – for a long, long time, ever since those colourful and boisterous undergraduate days at Oxford, and their friendship had never waned throughout the years.  After Oxford, they had gone their separate ways – he to Naval College in Portsmouth and Sandy to Military Academy at Sandhurst – but their paths were destined to cross twice more: once in Sicily in 1943, and again, ten years ago, up here in Scotland.  Both men had remained bachelors, and their respective companies were most welcome to each other as they grew old together.

            Over a steaming mug of strong tea, Sandy had relaxed a little, and he was able to quickly explain the situation.

            ‘We’re in one hell of a mess, Joe,’ he had sighed.  ‘The barracks received a direct hit, almost razing them to the ground, and my command has been practically decimated.  HQ have ordered me to draft the majority of what few men there are left into Edinburgh and to deploy the remainder around this side of the estuary, operating in liaison with the half-dozen Defence Units along the coast.  Yours will be by far the smallest Unit, old boy, so I can only spare one man for it.  Sergeant Wilson is a good man, though, a fine soldier: he’ll see you all right.

            ‘In addition, I can let you have one hundred rifles and enough ammo to keep you going for a little while; ‘fraid I can’t give you anything bigger.  I’ll also give you some steel helmets and, what’s more important, two radios.

            ‘What I need most of all, Joe, and this will be your primary task, old boy, is a direct radio link-up between each Unit on the coast and myself in Craigiehall.  Readiness is the essence of this game, and if we can anticipate a landing attempt at any point along the Forth, then I can arrange to push the big guns that we have left up to that point as quickly as possible.

            ‘What to do, therefore, is to keep one of the radios here in the village – I’d use the Golf Club as an HQ if I were you – and to put the other radio and four or five observers out on that island there.’

            As he spoke, he had pointed to the narrow island of Inchmickery, set about a mile out from the coast and directly opposite the village.  The island commanded an excellent view of the mouth of the estuary; indeed, it had been used for gun emplacements during the Second World War.

            ‘If your observers do spot any activity on the estuary,’ the General had continued, ‘they can contact you, and you in turn can contact me.  Sergeant Wilson will instruct your men – and yourself, if necessary – in the use of the radios.  And also the guns, of course.

            ‘There will be no time for laying barbed wire or land mines or anything like that, and I’m afraid I can give you very little else in the way of supplies for the time being – you’ll just have to do the best you can for a while as far as bedding and food go.  By and by, I’ll let you have most of the things you’ll need ... when we’re a little more organised.’

            He had stopped and looked squarely at Joe Bradley.

            ‘Well, Joe, that’s what the job entails.  Can you do it?  Will you do it?’

            Save for the odd grunt of assent here and there, Joe Bradley had remained silent while the General spoke.  When the General finished, he stayed silent for a few moments longer, only returning the stare of the other man’s piercing blue eyes.  Finally, with a wry smile on his lips, he replied:

            ‘You know damned well what the answer to that question is, Sandy.’

            The General looked relieved.

            ‘That’s settled, then,’ he said.

            ‘But before you pop off, matey,’ the Commander spoke eagerly, ‘I’d like the answers to some questions of my own.’

            The General winced.

            ‘I thought you would, Joe,’ he murmured.

            He paused for some seconds.  Then, with a shrug, he continued in a louder voice:

            ‘I don’t suppose there would be any use in trying to keep anything from you.  So fire away.’

            ‘Right,’ said Bradley.  ‘First of all, who the hell are we up against?’

            ‘That’s an easy one, Joe,’ the General grimaced in reply, ‘and its answer is certainly no secret.  We are “up against”, as you put it, the combined Russian and Chinese forces.  The PM will be announcing this himself in another broadcast, probably tomorrow.’

            ‘Oh, my God!’ uttered Bradley with bulging eyes.  ‘And how long has this little get-together been going on?  You lot have kept it very secret up to now, haven’t you?’

            The questions were hurled out angrily, accusingly.

            ‘That’s just it, old boy,’ retorted the General.  ‘We didn’t know.  We never even suspected it, believe me.  And neither did the rest of the world.  One thing’s for sure, though: it’s been going on for some time now.  This little caper must have taken years of meticulous planning.  Do you realise exactly what the sneaky bastards have managed to do?  They’ve paralysed practically the whole of Western Europe in five minutes.  Five minutes, by God!  It’s incredible!’

            ‘And do they intend to invade us, then?’ asked the Commander.

            ‘Oh, yes, you bet they do.  They’ve already issued a communiqué to the Government, advising us that it would be in our best interests to meekly lay down our arms and quietly surrender.  They didn’t bother to issue one to France or West Germany or any of the others; they just pushed right through and took over.  Now we’re the only stumbling block in their plan to infest the whole of Europe with their stinking creed.’

            ‘Christ, Sandy!  It’s bad, isn’t it?  But what about the Yanks?  Aren’t they going to come along and do their usual swaggering saviour bit?’

            General Saunders shook his head and stared at his feet.

            ‘No, Joe,’ he said softly.  ‘Not this time.’

            Bradley went pale.

            ‘You see, Joe,’ Saunders continued slowly, ‘the inevitable has happened.  The Americans also received a communiqué.  They’ve been warned off, old boy.  If they try to interfere in this, the Commies have threatened a real war, a nuclear one.  The Holocaust, Joe.  And, if today’s events are anything to go by, they’ll have no qualms about carrying out that threat.’

            ‘So much for all those wonderful SALT agreements,’ Commander Bradley remarked bitterly.

            ‘Yes,’ agreed Saunders.  ‘I never had much faith in them either.’

            ‘What are our chances, then, Sandy?’

            ‘None,’ the General replied flatly.  ‘Not a snowball’s chance in hell.’

            Dejected, Joe Bradley stared blankly into space for some moments.

            ‘And the Prime Minister?  What’s he going to tell us?’ he asked.

            ‘Oh, the old Churchillian routine, I should imagine.  “Fighting in the streets” and all that.  What else can he tell us?’

            Joseph Bradley had given no answer.  Grey-faced, he watched his old friend return wearily to the waiting jeep.

            ‘I’ll keep in touch,’ shouted Sandy as the jeep roared off out of the village.

            For the remainder of that day, Commander Bradley had worked like a Trojan.  As suggested by General Saunders, he had taken over the rambling wooden edifice of Cramond Golf Clubhouse, converting it into his headquarters.  There was enough room in the clubhouse to comfortably billet about forty men, and it contained its own kitchen, along with a small office that he could use.

            Next, he had set about collecting supplies from the village.  The villagers knew and respected Joe Bradley, and their response was excellent.  By nightfall, forty-six volunteers had rallied to him, and he had enough food supplies for each person for one week.

            Sergeant Wilson had arrived at six o’clock that evening in a lorry containing all of the things that the General had promised.  Jock Wilson was a stocky, red-haired Glaswegian in his late thirties, a silent, confident and tough-looking man, who had made the Army his life more than twenty years ago.  He looked and acted every part a soldier, and he and the Commander, himself a serviceman for most of his life, found an immediate and mutual respect for each other.

            There was still a lot to be done, however, and the two men set about the task methodically and thoroughly.  Maps of the area had to be found, lookout points designated, rifles checked and cleaned, sleeping arrangements made, and so on, and so on.  By three am, the majority of the preparations had been carried out, and both men, utterly exhausted, had lain down to catch a few hours sleep.

            At noon the following day, trickles of volunteers were still arriving from the surrounding countryside, and Commander Bradley had decided to speak to the assembled Unit at two o’clock.

 

The sun rode high in the sky, and the day was hot.  It was almost two o’clock.  Tiny beads of perspiration had formed on the wide expanse of Commander Bradley’s shiny forehead and dark, damp patches had appeared around the armpits of his shirt.  At his request, the group of volunteers had gathered on the gravelled driveway of the clubhouse.  All of them wore concerned and serious expressions, and all were anxious to hear from him.

            Commander Bradley cast his eyes over their upturned faces.  Most of them were already familiar to him.  There was the long, pinched face of Reverend Cattenach, the local Minister; the pale, sombre face of Miss Docherty, the schoolmistress; the flabby-cheeked face of Mr Robertson, the shopkeeper; and the unmistakable, plump and ruddy-complexioned countenance of Jack Fraser, landlord of Cramond’s only pub, ‘The Fisherman’s Tryst’.  There was the ruggedly handsome Dave McKay, local mechanic and general handyman; old Mr Waterson, the confectioner; and one-armed Sam McLeod, ex-seafarer and teller of tall tales.  There were ‘old soldiers’ like Robbie Sinclair from the Estate and Bill Lees, the barman.  The village’s ten fishermen were there, and so was big Jimmy Curtis, the harbour master.  Mrs Riley, the chairwoman of the Cramond Branch of the WRI was there, imperturbable as usual, and Mrs Harvey, the postmistress, had come along with her two comely daughters.  Most of the young lads from the village were there, and several very old members of the community stood bewildered at the back of the group.

            ‘Not a bad bunch really, I suppose,’ the Commander remarked to himself.

            There were, however, a few faces in the crowd that were not familiar to the Commander, and these were the cause of some concern to him.  The Prime Minister’s warning of infiltration by organised bands of saboteurs had not been dismissed from his thoughts.  Indeed, alarming reports from Sergeant Wilson of happenings in Edinburgh had made him more wary than ever.  Almost a thousand Communist sympathisers had amassed in the city, and their ranks were swelling still.  Groups of them were openly marching through the streets, distributing pamphlets containing Marxist propaganda, and with loud-hailers were attempting to persuade the citizens towards peaceful surrender.  Many key buildings which had survived the explosions of the previous day had already suffered great damage at the hands of bomb-toting traitors.

            ‘Where did all these damned people come from, Sergeant?’ the Commander asked.

            ‘They’ve been around all the time, sir,’ came the reply.  ‘Most o’ them are students – members of left-wing organisations, like the International Socialists’ League, the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, and so on.  You know what Ah mean, sir, jist fancy names to cover up their real identities.  They should’ve been outlawed a long time ago.

            ‘The Polis and oor ain Army lads are trying their best to keep them down, but Ah shouldn’t wonder if the order doesn’t go out soon tae shoot them on sight.  It’s drastic, Ah know, sir, but we’ve got oor hands full enough as it is already.’

            ‘Oh, God,’ Joe Bradley had observed, ‘what a mess.’

            And now, faced with the possibility that his own small group had been infiltrated, Commander Bradley hesitated.  As he saw it, there were two plan courses of action open to him: either to single out the suspect strangers and interrogate each one, or to forget the matter altogether and just hope for the best.  The first carried a number of distinct disadvantages.  What if the men in question turned out to be completely innocent?  Surely, they would sorely resent having had any suspicion cast on them; after all, they had volunteered.  Anyway, how could he possibly check on their stories?  Its main disadvantage, however, lay in the fact that it entailed the use of time – and time was precious.  No, he would choose the latter course, but he would try to be extra-vigilant where those men were concerned.

            Hot, grubby and unshaven, dressed in his old gardening clothes, the trousers of which were still tucked into Wellington boots, his battered panama pushed far back on his sweaty, balding head, the plump, red-faced figure of Commander Bradley evoked a rustic, Farmer Brown-type image; an image that was quickly dispelled, however, by the precise, polished tones of his public school voice as he began his speech:

            ‘May I have your attention, please!  Thank you!’

            An immediate hush settled over the crowd.

            ‘Now, my name is Joseph Bradley – most of you will know me already – and I have been asked to take command of this, the Cramond and District Volunteer Defence Unit.  You have all come along here of your own free wills – a fact which I appreciate, and which I’m sure your country appreciates, too – and you have come here to do a job.  A very important job.  There is not much time in which to do that job, so I shall be as brief as possible.

            ‘Before I begin, however, I would like to introduce Sergeant Wilson, who has been seconded from the Army Camp at Craigiehall and who will be helping us out during the time our job lasts.’

            Jock Wilson, standing rigid and serious at the Commander’s side, nodded curtly to the group.

            The Commander continued:

            ‘We are at war, ladies and gentlemen, and our country has been threatened with invasion!  That invasion may take place anywhere or everywhere, but it is certain that it will take place very soon.  Our task is simply this: if a landing attempt is made at this point on the Forth – and it is a very grave possibility that such an attempt will be made – we must do all that we possibly can to assist the Armed Forces in thwarting that attempt.  Units like this are being set up all along the coast, so we shall certainly not be alone in our efforts.’

            ‘But whae are we at war wi’, Commander?’ piped up the shrill voice of old Sam McLeod.  ‘Is it definitely they Communists?’

            A loud murmur ran through the group.

            ‘Aye, naebody’s telt us yet, sir,’ shouted Jimmy Curtis, and all heads nodded in agreement with him.

            ‘Yes, Sam, we are at war with the Communists,’ answered the Commander, and the murmuring resumed.  ‘But,’ he shouted over the noise, ‘ the whole situation will be explained by the Prime Minister when he speaks on the radio at half-past two.  I’ve arranged for the broadcast to be put through on the loudspeakers that we’ve rigged up out here, so you’ll all hear it perfectly clearly.’

            The murmuring abated.

            ‘Now, to continue.  In the clubhouse, which, incidentally, shall be used as our eating and sleeping quarters, there are one hundred rifles, given to us by the Army.  Later on this afternoon, Sergeant Wilson will issue one rifle to each of you who feels that he or she would want one – you are not under any obligation whatsoever to take one.  There will also be, later on, a short demonstration by the Sergeant in the use of the rifles, and thereafter ten clips of ammunition will be issued for each rifle.  I need not remind you that these weapons are extremely dangerous, and I would ask you, especially you younger men, to handle them with great care.  We certainly don’t want any accidents.

            ‘After the Sergeant’s demonstration, duties will be allocated to each of you according to your age and ability.  Most of the duties will involve observation, and we’ve tried to work out some kind of rota system for them.  Please don’t hesitate, though, to let us have any suggestions of your own that might help.

            ‘Finally, there will be a hot meal served at five o’clock, after which the various duties allocated to you will be taken up.

            ‘Now, are there any questions?’

            The group remained silent.

            ‘Fine,’ beamed the Commander, ‘then we’ll wait for the Prime Minister’s broadcast.’

            With a brisk flurry of movement, he and Sergeant Wilson swept into the clubhouse.

 

Well, that was it, then, he thought sardonically.  The country is in grave danger.  It’s about to be invaded by the evil Commie hordes.  So let’s send for the toffs to save us all.  And along come a pair of old, posho queens, straight from the pages of Evelyn Waugh, to organise the hoi polloi and to get people like Jock Wilson – ‘The salt of the earth, old boy’ – to call them ‘sir’.

 

He was shocked.  He couldn’t believe that he had introduced two characters like Joe Bradley and Caldwell Saunders into his novel.  It went against all his principles nowadays; it was a betrayal.  He wondered what he had been thinking back then, all those years ago.  Did he really believe that the toffs would become the heroic leaders of the nation’s defence, just like in the old British war films?  Was that his understanding of the order of things and of his place in that order?  Or was he playing to the gallery again, writing what was expected in a story like that, being commercially aware?  He supposed that he would probably never know which was the case.

 

Anyway, he was sure that both Saunders and Wilson were made-up characters; more stereotypes, he was afraid.  Bradley wasn’t, though.  His real name was Joe Bray, a Lieutenant Commander in charge of one of the minesweepers at the Port Edgar naval base next to Queensferry and a regular patron of that hotel where Bill and he worked.  Joe Bray was a likeable man, really.  He was often to be found drinking pink gins after hours with the boss of the hotel.  He sweated and giggled a lot when he was drunk.  Bill had recognised him immediately from the description of Joe Bradley.

 

Overall, he felt that the writing was going well.  He found himself being drawn into the narrative and wanting to read more.  But he was surprised at the amount of detail that he had gone into in the story and at how well he seemed to have thought things through.  Being as meticulous as ever, he smiled to himself.

 

The second sub-chapter was very short.  He proceeded to type and edit it and the following sub-chapter without pausing.

 

 

2

 

When it came, the Prime Minister’s speech was long, informative and inspiring.  As predicted by General Saunders, there was a definite Churchillian ring to it, and a great deal of reference was made in it to conditions prevailing in Britain during the turbulent years of the Second World War: the wonderful esprit de corps shown by Londoners during the horrors of the Blitz; the valiant octogenarians of the Home Guard; victory against all the odds in the Battle of Britain.  No hint or mention was made of the hopelessness of the situation, however, and perhaps that was just as well.  For, if the reaction of the Cramond Defence Unit to the broadcast could have been used as a gauge to measure reaction generally throughout Britain, then the speech had most certainly succeeded in fortifying and uniting the people.  Armed with Foster’s courageous words, they were ready to meet the foe.  The Communists might succeed with their invasion, but, one thing was for sure, they weren’t going to succeed easily; no, sir!

 

 

3

 

            ‘Right, then!’ bellowed out the harsh voice of Sergeant Wilson.  ‘Gather round me and pay close attention!’

            The novices shifted about nervously on the short-clipped grass in the centre of the first fairway, awkwardly handling the heavy weapons that had just been distributed to them.  Forty-nine of the fifty-seven volunteers had agreed to accept the rifles, and these included ten of the fourteen women, led, of course, by the intrepid Mrs Riley.  At first, it was thought that all of the women would decline the guns – that was until Mrs Riley stepped forward to receive hers.  Her entourage quickly followed suit, and even frail and timid Jean Cattenach, the Minister’s wife, had eagerly reached out for one.

            ‘This,’ continued the Sergeant, holding his own gun aloft for all to see, ‘is a Standard British Army 7.62 millimetre twenty-shot rifle.  It is known commonly as “the marksman’s rifle” because of its high degree of accuracy over long distances.

            ‘I am going to show you how to load and unload it, and how to fire it.  I will then fire off one practice clip so that you will be able to see its range for yourself.  Afterwards, I want you to get to know your own weapons, and then, before you go off on duty tonight, I will issue you with ten clips of ammunition each.  That’s two hundred shots per person.  And if you manage to get the same number o’ Commies wi’ them, Ah’ll be right proud o’ youse.’

            The last words, spoken jocularly in the vernacular, caused wide, nervous grins to break out on the faces of the crowd.

            The Sergeant carried on with the demonstration, barking out the various actions as he went along.  Soon, the stillness around the links was shattered by the sharp, reverberating reports from his rifle as he loosed off his twenty shots at a number of safe targets which he had chosen at random farther down the fairway.

            ‘If and when you use your own rifles,’ Wilson concluded the lesson, ‘try to remember one important thing: don’t fire away indiscriminately.  Choose your targets carefully.  Aim for just below the heart.  And make every shot count.’

            Sergeant Wilson slung his rifle over his burly shoulder and marched back to the clubhouse.  Toying with the mechanisms of their guns and firing with dull clunks at imaginary targets, the volunteers straggled along behind him.

 

Fifteen minutes later, Commander Bradley had completed the assignation of duties to the members of his Unit.  Apart from the women members, who had readily agreed to deal with the catering and other necessary tasks around the clubhouse, he had divided the Unit into groups of three or four volunteers.  To each small group, he had allocated a lookout point to be manned constantly for the duration of the invasion.  The groups were supplied with enough provisions for three days, and the Commander had explained to them the wisdom of introducing a system of watches throughout the night hours so that each man could obtain sufficient sleep.

            Robbie Sinclair had been appointed as head of the observation group to be positioned on Inchmickery.  As a result, he had been given a very rapid course of instruction by Sergeant Wilson in the operation of the radio with which he would be entrusted.  Joe Bradley and Robbie Sinclair were old companions.  They had spent many pleasant hours together, fishing and chatting idly, at the end of the pier adjoining the gatehouse.  Joe had always felt completely at ease in Robbie’s company and could listen indefinitely to the older man’s sing-song voice as he reminisced on his long and varied life.  The Commander’s knowledge of Robbie’s War experience had prompted him to assign the ex-corporal to the most important of the lookout points, and he had sufficient faith in Robbie’s judgement to permit the old man to choose the three other members of his group.

            When Robbie arrived at the clubhouse earlier that afternoon, the Commander had greeted him with a warm, friendly handshake.

            ‘Glad to see you, old boy,’ he had said, grasping Robbie’s extended hand with both of his own.  ‘I’ve been expecting you.’

            ‘Hello, Joe,’ the old man had replied.  ‘A sad day.’

            ‘It is that, Robbie,’ the Commander retorted mournfully.

            He regarded the pale, young man who accompanied Robbie and asked:

            ‘And who do we have here?’

            ‘Sorry, Joe,’ said Robbie, ‘this is Jeff Wheeler.  He got caught up here yesterday after the attack, and now he would like to help.’

            ‘Pleased to meet you, my boy,’ smiled the Commander.  ‘Any extra help is most welcome.’

            Jeff, still rather shaken by his experience at the boathouse, had smiled back politely.

            ‘We brought some supplies with us, Joe, if you want them,’ mentioned Robbie, indicating the two rucksacks.

            ‘Fine,’ said the Commander.  ‘Just hand them over to someone in the clubhouse.  Oh, and you can hand in your rifle as well.  We’ll issue you with a better one later on.’

            Robbie hesitated for a moment.  Then, clearing his throat, he went on to relate of the old poacher’s death at the hands of Callum Mackenzie.

            ‘That silly, little bugger!’ Joe Bradley had exclaimed after listening to the story.  ‘But if you say it was an accident, old boy, I’ll take your word for it.  It is wartime, I suppose, and there’s not much that we can do about the incident now.  Don’t worry, I’ll get someone to take care of the burial.’

            He made a mental note to brief Jimmy Curtis about the situation, since he had already chosen Jimmy to head the boathouse observation group.

            To complement the Inchmickery group, Robbie chose Jeff Wheeler, Tom Anderson and Ewan Ferguson.  Tom and Ewan were cousins, but, because of their almost identical appearances and their usual inseparability, they could be easily taken for twin brothers.  Both were dark-haired, broad shouldered and quick witted, and, like Jeff, were in their early twenties; two healthy, good-natured, young men, who had worked since boyhood with their fathers in the village’s small fishing fleet.  Robbie knew them to be hard-working, enthusiastic and entirely reliable, and the Commander had approved of his choice.

 

He didn’t have much to say about those sub-chapters; they served to build up the story, he supposed.  He liked the detail about the Army rifle.  He had a vague recollection of a folder full of newspaper clippings – his ‘research’ for the novel – and of a description and an illustration of the rifle in one of those clippings.

 

He moved on to the fourth sub-chapter.  He began to squirm when he recognised the introduction to it.

 

 

4

 

It was during the Sergeant’s demonstration that Jeff first noticed her.  Standing just in front of him on the fairway, about six inches lower than his own six feet, she had turned and grinned alluringly at him, showing a full set of small pearl-white teeth.  She was about nineteen years old and she was extremely attractive, with champagne-hued, shoulder-length hair, brushed back from a perfect face; wide, almond-shaped eyes that sparkled like pure sapphires; soft, rose-petal lips; and an enchanting snub nose that crinkled delicately when she smiled.  Her young, tilted breasts showed fully and invitingly through the scant material of her striped tee-shirt, and her faded Levis were stretched seductively over the rounded contours of her firm buttocks.

            ‘Gosh!  These darned things are awfully heavy, aren’t they?’ she had declared, struggling with her rifle.

            The cultured voice and the tanned face and arms signified expensive boarding schools and long, sun-soaked Mediterranean holidays.

            ‘Y-yes, they certainly are,’ Jeff had stammered.

            His stomach had kicked violently when she spoke.  An uncomfortable redness seemed to spread upwards from his neck, quickly enveloping his whole face.  Hot and bothered, he had averted his eyes from her and had tried hard to concentrate on the Sergeant’s words.

            He saw her again in the clubhouse as she helped the other women to serve up the evening meal that the Commander had promised.  Although conditions in the building were rather cramped, the food was wholesome and filling, and everyone seemed to enjoy it.  The air in the clubhouse was hot and stifling, however, and, after clearing his plate, Jeff had stepped outside.  He was leaning against one of the veranda posts, inhaling the cool air that wafted in from the sea, when she approached him, taking him completely unawares.

            ‘Hi,’ she said breezily.  ‘I’m Sue Knowles.  My word, it’s warm in there.  Much cooler out here, though.’

            With her left hand, she deftly pushed back the damp hair that had fallen over her perspiring brow.

            ‘He-hello.’

            Jeff was stammering again, and his stomach had given another lurch.

            ‘I’m Jeff Wheeler.  How d’you do?’ he said politely.

            With a quick, nervous movement, he pulled out his pack of cigarettes and asked:

            ‘Smoke?’

            ‘Thank you,’ replied Sue, taking a cigarette from the proffered packet.

            When he bent over to give her a light, Jeff noticed that she, too, was trembling.

            ‘Listen,’ she spoke brightly, ‘why don’t we go for a walk?  It’s such a beautiful evening.’

            ‘Okay,’ Jeff assented, wondering vaguely if his legs would give way under him as he attempted to descend the veranda steps.

            ‘You don’t come from around here, do you?’ she asked as they walked slowly down through the golf course towards the beach.

            ‘No, I’m English – from London, actually.  I’m a student at Edinburgh University.’

            Jeff was a little more relaxed now.

            ‘Do you live here?’ he asked.

            ‘No, I’m from Barnton – that’s just on the outskirts of Edinburgh.’

            ‘Yes, I know it,’ said Jeff.

            ‘We were just visiting yesterday – that is, Daddy and I were – when all this happened.  Daddy had come over to look over a small summer cottage he planned to buy when the darned thing practically fell on top of him.’

            ‘Good Lord!’ exclaimed Jeff, stopping abruptly.  ‘He’s not d- ?’

            ‘No, silly!’ laughed Sue, taking up his hand in her own and pulling him onwards.  ‘He’s just concussed.  He’s down in the schoolhouse just now – recuperating.  He’s all right, really, but he’s such a frightful coward!’

            The touch of her hand was electric to the young man, and a warm, exciting sensation was emanating from his groin.

            ‘You seem to be taking all this quite well,’ he said breathlessly.

            ‘Do I?’ asked Sue with some uncertainty.

            They remained silent for some time.  Jeff could almost hear his heart as it pounded furiously against his ribcage.  His breathing was quick and loud.

            ‘Jeff?’ Sue broke the silence.

            ‘Yes.’

            ‘Are you frightened?’

            ‘Very,’ he replied, almost whispering.

            ‘Me, too,’ she said and shivered.

            They had stopped at the edge of the links.  Jeff turned to look at his companion.  He could see that her wide, tear-brimmed eyes were full of fear.  Suddenly, Sue threw her arms around his neck.  Clasping him tightly, she began to weep on his shoulder.

            ‘Oh, God!’ she sobbed.  ‘I’m terrified, Jeff!  I’ve heard about those Russians.  What they’re like.  They’re sadistic beasts, Jeff!  Sadistic beasts!’

            ‘Calm down, Sue,’ Jeff said soothingly in an effort to console her.  ‘Everything’s going to be okay, you’ll see.’

            After a short while, Sue’s sobbing abated.  Gently lifting her head from his shoulder, Jeff asked softly:

            ‘Are you okay now?’

            ‘Yes, thank you,’ she replied and rested her tear-stained cheek on his chest.

            Jeff lifted her face up towards him again and tenderly kissed her forehead.  Sue responded by hugging him closer to himself.  The intimate nearness of their young bodies seemed to arouse an urgent excitement in the two.  Very soon, their lips met and they were locked in a passionate embrace – an embrace which seemed to last for an ecstatic eternity.

            ‘Make love to me, Jeff,’ Sue whispered when the embrace was over.

            Jeff went weak in the legs.  A tremor ran through his body.  An intoxicating numbness filled his head.  He grabbed her extended arm, and they ran through the bushes to the beach.

            Moments later, they lay clasped together on the soft, aromatic turf that fringed the beach.  Jeff had discarded his shirt, and he was tugging urgently at the girl’s tee-shirt as he hauled it roughly over her head.  Soon, his head was buried in the sweet-scented softness of her breasts.  He could taste the salty tang of one of her hard nipples as it slipped deliciously into his mouth.  Sue’s hands dug into the flesh of his back.  Her whole body arched towards him violently.  Her hands moved down to caress his buttocks.  Seconds later, she had unzipped his jeans and was eagerly reaching into the aperture to clutch at the hardness that she knew would be there.  Jeff groaned loudly when he felt the rapturous touch of her hot hand on his penis.  He grabbed at the zipper of her jeans, almost tearing them from her.  She was naked underneath.  Swiftly, feverishly, he peeled off the remainder of his clothes.

            ‘Hurry, Jeff, hurry,’ Sue whimpered, panting loudly.

            He was on top of her again, his hand swiftly groping between her legs to feel the wet softness of her vagina.

            ‘Oh, please, Jeff, please,’ she intoned.

            Her legs were opened wide.  Jeff thrust himself into her.  Half-squealing with pleasure, Sue clawed viciously at his buttocks.

            ‘Harder!  Harder!’  She seemed to gasp out the words in a mist of sheer ecstasy.

            Their taut bellies slapped together rhythmically: once, twice, three times, again and again, until the fever within them reached its pitch, was uncontrollable.

            ‘Oh, God!  Now, Jeff, now!’ Sue shouted, sinking her teeth into his neck, burying her sharp fingernails into the soft flesh of his shoulders.

            They came long and spasmodically, Jeff deeply groaning and she half-screaming, half-sobbing, her head thrown back wildly and her firm breasts heaving frenziedly.  When the fever within them was spent, they lay side by side, exhausted, but content.

            ‘Thank you, Jeff,’ Sue murmured drowsily.  ‘Thank you.’

            It was only when the coolness of the sea breeze made their skins prickle uncomfortably that they stirred.  Jeff was first to move.  He jumped up, feeling refreshed and invigorated.  Unashamed of his nakedness, he declared:

            ‘Come on, Sue, we’d better get back, or we’ll be missed.’

            Sue got up, and quickly they dressed.  One long, final embrace later, they were running hand-in-hand back through the bushes towards the clubhouse.

 

He needed some time to compose himself after that.  It was as embarrassing as he had dreaded.  Looking back now, it was his opinion that the scene was unnecessary; gratuitous, even.  He could only think that he had included it for one reason – and that was to popularise the novel.  He was sure that the girl wasn’t based on anyone in particular; in fact, she could have been a composite of a number of girls whom he had known when he was in his twenties.  He had made her a jolly hockey sticks type, however, a nice, middle-class bird for Jeff.  The popular choice again, he presumed.

 

He was rapidly coming to the conclusion that what he had begun as a straightforward, and probably naïve, political crusade had by this stage turned into something altogether different, something much more cynical.  The creation of a middle-class hero and of a posh girl for him, the inclusion of the two toffs and of the other stereotypes: it all seemed to fit a pattern.  Rather than to act as a warning to people of an impending Communist threat, whether real or imagined, his novel now seemed to be designed to shock and thrill and entertain – and, ultimately, to sell.  If that was his new quest, it wouldn’t surprise him; even back then, he must have known that money and recognition were far more important than airy-fairy political convictions.  But was he succeeding in his quest?  It remained to be seen, he decided.

 

One thing was for sure, though: with all that fainting and retching and trembling, young Jeff may have shown a lot of weaknesses earlier on, but there was no doubt that his wedding tackle was in perfect working order.

 

The last two parts of the chapter were relatively short and seemed to run together.  He proceeded to type and edit them.

 

5

 

The large vermilion orb of the setting sun had inflamed the evening sky, bathing the quiet landscape in a warm blush; the motionless sea was coloured salmon-pink; and the dark silhouettes of the surrounding hills wore halos of deep crimson.  The chaste tranquillity of the scene seemed to still the nerves of the four anxious men in the old barge that chugged slowly on its way out to the island of Inchmickery.

            Standing erect at the helm of ‘The Caledonia Maid’, doleful eyes shielded from the red glare of the dying sun by the sharp brim of his steel helmet, Jeff Wheeler gazed sadly back at the ever-diminishing figure of the young woman, who, equally sad, waved silently from the edge of the harbour wall.

            ‘Look after yourself, Jeff,’ she had whispered tearfully to him as he had been about to embark.  ‘I’ll be waiting for you.’

            He had made no reply, had just smiled bravely.

            Robbie Sinclair, seated alongside Jeff and operating the barge’s rudder, looked up knowingly at his young companion.

            ‘Don’t worry, son,’ he said, ‘we’ll be back soon.’

            ‘Sure we will,’ Jeff spoke softly.

            Reluctantly, he drew his eyes away from the harbour and turned to focus his attention on the looming island.

            ‘Sure we will,’ he repeated.

            Inchmickery was one of an archipelago of islands strewn down the length of the Firth of Forth, from the tiny, ridge-shaped Inchgarvie in the west to the bulky Inchkeith in the east.  About one thousand feet long and only forty feet broad at its widest point, it was low, rocky-shored and uninhabited.  After tying up at the rotting, slime-covered jetty on its western side, the observation group was suddenly and painfully made aware of the island’s overwhelming, pungent smell: the acrid stench from an eternity of gull droppings – droppings that squelched and slithered underfoot, making progress on the rocky surface slow and hazardous.  The initial assault of the stench on their nostrils made the four reel back, gasping, but soon, eyes streaming, hands cupped over their mouths and noses, they were disembarking.

            ‘God Almighty!  We’ve no’ goat tae pit up wi’ this, hiv’ we?’ shouted Ewan Ferguson as he almost skidded on the white mush into which his gumboots had sunk.

            It wasn’t too long before they had gotten used to the smell, however, and by that time the preparations for setting up camp were well underway.  They discovered that the island contained four identical buildings, which formed a rough diamond shape on the flat terrain above the shore. Debris left over from a previous war, the buildings had been used to house anti-aircraft guns.  Each one measured approximately thirty feet by ten feet, and on its seaward side exhibited a number of small, oblong slots, through which the barrels of those guns had once protruded.  Entrance to the emplacements was from low, narrow openings in the side walls.  Choosing the emplacement that faced directly onto the mouth of the estuary, the volunteers found that its interior was relatively dry and not too badly fouled by the ubiquitous excrement.  Cheerfully, they set about cleaning it up.

            ‘Well, at least we’ll have shelter if the weather turns nasty,’ remarked Robbie.

 

 

6

 

The flaming magenta sun finally disappeared from the horizon.  Silently, stealthily, pale dusk fell.  In the musty dimness of the decrepit building, the old man spoke into the transmitter:

            ‘Inchmickery calling Cramond.  Are you receiving me?  Inchmickery calling Cramond.  Come in, please.’

            Seconds later, the faint but unmistakable voice of Commander Bradley crackled through the earphones:

            ‘Cramond Defence Unit receiving you, Inchmickery ... Come in, Robbie ...’

            ‘Hello, sir,’ said the old man.  ‘The observation camp has now been set up.  We’ve got a braw view of the estuary.’

            ‘Fine, Inchmickery,’ came the response.  ‘Report back to me at two-hourly intervals ... Your next report, therefore, will be at twenty-two hundred hours ... Keep your eyes peeled ... Over and out ...’

            ‘Over and out,’ repeated the old man.

            He pulled off the earphones and turned to his three young subalterns:

            ‘Right, lads.  It’s near enough eight o’clock.  Time to start the watch.

            ‘You two,’ he said, pointing to Tom and Ewan, ‘take the first watch until eleven o’clock.  Jeff and me will take the next three hours, and so on.  Keep your eyes skinned now.  There’ll be a mug of tea and a bite to eat waiting for you when you get back.’

            ‘Right,’ said the two in unison, eagerly shouldering their rifles and heading for the exit.

            ‘Ewan!’ Robbie called him back.  ‘Take these with you.  Mind and look after them now.’

            And he handed the young man his binoculars.

            ‘I don’t know about you, son,’ Robbie spoke to Jeff when the other two had gone, ‘but I’m fair puggled.’

            But Jeff was already fast asleep.

            The long vigil had begun.  All along the Firth of Forth, a makeshift network of communication had been created, and sleepless watchers breathlessly awaited the signal that would herald the presence of enemy warships on the estuary: the dreaded signal that would come from the transmitters of lonely island sentinels; from the leaping flames of primitive hilltop beacons; from the powerful radios of skulking fishing vessels, gliding like black shadows in the stillness of the night.

 

The two sub-chapters were fine as far as he was concerned.  They seemed like necessary steps in the narrative, helping to build up the tension before the action that would take place, presumably in the next chapter.  He knew that Inchmickery, the island they were set on, was based on a real island of that name, which is located in the Firth of Forth opposite the village of Cramond and which was used for gun emplacements during the Second World War.

 

He decided to finish there for the day.  Although the weather hadn’t improved since the morning, his mood had.  Since realising that he was preserving a thriller, which had begun to read well, and not a dense and unwieldy political diatribe, which he thought that he had written and which he had shunned for more than three decades, he was much more settled than before – with the writing, with the characters, even with the stereotyping.  He was looking forward to what would unfold in Chapter Four.

 

 

– o –

My Blog - writer's block
Foreword
Foreword
The Barman (2009)
Foreword
Synopsis
Synopsis