The New Australian Storyteller
The New Australian Storyteller
Patrick Ford has had an interesting and varied life. At eighteen, his ambition was to be a regular army officer, but his family circumstances prevented this. There was his widowed mother, two farms to run, and he was an only son. So, he studied agriculture.
He was disappointed, but later he said in his unique Australian way, "With my luck, I'd have probably been the first poor bastard shot in Vietnam". He assuaged his ambition by becoming a part-time soldier in his University Regiment.
He has been a farmer, a farm consultant, a teacher and an accountant, but most of all, he is a son of the soil, with a deep attachment to the land where he grew up. Patrick loves history, particularly military history, and he has travelled extensively in North America, Europe. Malaysia, and the Pacific. His experiences have left him with a deep well of knowledge from which to draw on as he writes his stories.
He credits his mother for his love of reading and writing. His current ambition is to share his stories with many people in the hope that they will enjoy reading them as much as he has enjoyed writing them.
Start your journey right now with "The Queen's Irishman", the first book in the Jack Riordan series. Read ‘em all! They’re bloody good yarns!
G’day, all you book lovers out there. Thank you for your interest in my work…
I think you will enjoy the Jack Riordan series. The first Jack Riordan came to Australia from Ireland after many years service in the British army. His adventurous life mirrors that of one of my ancestors. Each generation of my family has provided material for the Jack Riordan stories. I hope you will enjoy the reading experience.
Please feel free to contact me about anything to do with my life and my stories. I’d like to get to know you. I welcome your feedback, so feel free to take me to task if I stuff something up!
The Queen’s Irishman- Jack Riordan joins the British Army to avoid starvation in Ireland in 1825. He serves in Australia, India and New Zealand. Then he goes to Australia and becomes a mounted policeman. His descendants will contribute mightily to the development of his new country.
Sawdust and Prickly Pear - Edward (Jack) Riordan serves his country in two wars and founds a farming dynasty. A story of hardship and endurance as he battles Boers, Germans, the Depression and the noxious prickly pear, building his family and a new country. Through his story, we can see and understand the pioneers who took Australia towards prosperity with hard work and vision and the remarkable women who worked alongside them.
Into the Dark Night, Falling - Edward's son Jack Riordan disappears on a bombing mission over Germany in 1944. No one knows what happened to him. More than twenty years will elapse before his fate is discovered. This is his story and the story of two remarkable women.
Drowning in Her Eyes: A story of young lovers separated by circumstances beyond their control. Will their love overcome loss and war? From Brisbane to Boston, Sydney to Saigon, this story will tug at your heartstrings. A story of true love and the strength of the human spirit.
The House that Jack Built - The sequel to ‘Drowning in Her Eyes’. Jack and Susan battle drought, collapsing markets, and terrorists as they strive to build their family and their farming empire. Affirmation that peace only comes through vigilance, and prosperity through initiative and hard work.
Whither Blows the Wind- Jack Riordan and his son Patrick go to Europe to find evidence to free an old German friend, arrested as a war criminal. There, a group of old Nazis who want the truth to remain a secret threatens them. If they don’t reveal the truth a monster will go free. Will good triumph over evil?
Invisible - Patrick and Michael ('Young Jack') Riordan go on a hiking trip to Europe with their girlfriends. They stumble upon a lost cache of WW2 gold and set in motion a chase across Germany, where they uncover a blackmail attempt on the USA by a former Stasi General. A thrilling intrigue that takes mystery to a new level.
The Golden Eagle - A fast and furious race across Europe to discover a lost statue. Two heroes, neo-Nazis, love, danger and a fabulous prize! From Columbia to Spain and the civil war, to Paris at the height of the German occupation, to Switzerland and France, the gilded bird brings evil and disaster to all who possess it!
Casey’s Island - Action and romance set against the background of the beautiful Torres Strait and the vast Australian outback. Mysterious invaders, devious lawyers and trustees, a stolen inheritance, all combine for a captivating story of love, danger, courage and determination.
Horses - One man’s story of love, war, and loss, and his incredible love of horses. from the beautiful ranges of northern New South Wales, to the battles with the Turks on Gallipoli and in the Sanai and Palestine, George Gillespie loses his brothers and his sweetheart to the war. Home again, he resumes his unique relationship with his beloved horses, until an unlikely love finds him once more.
Lonely Road - An Australian Military Policeman and a Canadian Mountie work to uncover a plot by terrorists to damage the United States. From Afghanistan and Iran, and Canada to the USA, it becomes a race against time to foil the plot, An erotic and fast-moving thriller!
Other Peoples’ Lives – A volume of short stories, including the partly autobiographical ‘Born 1946…Died 1964…Buried 2019’. These are people just like us, our parents and our grand=parents, trying to make sense of life’s vicissitudes and the rare and precious rewards life occasionally offers us. You will identify with all or some of them, laugh at their comical errors, grieve with them for lost love and opportunities, wonder at the adventure and danger random events can bring to ordinary lives and applaud the courage and steadfastness of some of them in the face of unaccustomed difficulties. Most of all you will savour the satisfaction you will get from a damned good read. Enjoy!
Born 1946…Died 1964…Buried 2019: An old man remembers his youth and the love that he lost. His experience will haunt him for the rest of his life. For him, love is the prime emotion. If this story doesn’t move you to tears, you have no heart!
The Khyber Pass, April 1842
The troops made a forced march through the innumerable rugged passes leading to Kabul. This time, unhindered by baggage trains and camp followers, they set a fast pace. Although harried by tribesmen with their long-range jezails and the advantage of the high ground, they pushed through with remarkably few casualties. Jack commanded one of several designated squads whose task was to seek out the attackers and neutralise them. It was dangerous and arduous work. His squad had to identify the source of the fire and make a hazardous climb up cliffs and steep gullies to outflank them and then attack from behind. They did not take prisoners; they had seen the mutilated corpses, genitals hacked off the men, breasts from the women, tiny babies with their brains dashed out.
Long before they debouched onto the plains, the enormity of the massacre revealed itself. They found soldiers, naked, their skins flayed from their bodies, genitals thrust down their throats, and the hundreds of dead women and children. Once they found three babies skewered on the same lance. A fierce determination to visit awful retribution on the savages who had done this grew in their hearts.
Late one afternoon, the rear of the column came under heavy fire from the top of the gorge they traversed. Jack took his section in a roundabout scramble up the cliffs via a steep ravine. They reached the top, breathing hard, for the air was thin at this altitude, and the winter snows still lay cold on the ground where the sun did not reach. For a moment, they halted, listening. Then Sean said, "Over dere to der roit. I kin see some o' dem!"
Jack saw them too. "Don't fire until I say," he said. "Let's come up on 'em a bit." He led them in a stealthy advance, using every bit of cover available, until they peered over a large boulder and saw their quarry. Below them was a group of the turbaned, bearded men. Four had their jezails mounted on crude supporting sticks, pointing to the valley below. "Open fire," he shouted.
The range was short, and the men were experts with their muskets. All four of the crouching men went down, one falling over the cliff with a desperate wail. Another two who were standing went down too. "Reload!" Jack shouted. Then he saw ten or more of their attackers materialise from the boulders and, shrieking, come charging towards them, swords drawn. Jack had formed his men into two ranks by now. He began the litany, "First row, fire, second row fire, first row, fire, second row fire, first row, fire, second row fire!" Now his men reached their perfect rhythm and the fire, at first a ragged volley, became a continuous roar. Their Brown Bess muskets had a limited range but fired a large ball and it hit with devastating effect. After several volleys, the ground in front of them lay littered with bodies and the last few tribesmen had fled. Jack shouted, "Reload! Watch your front!"
He sent two men forward to see if the tribesmen were still there, beyond the rocks. They came back after a few minutes. "Sarge," said one, "none of th' bleeders in sight. Looks like a few was 'it and got away. There's blood on de grarnd."
"Right," he said, "Let's move forward a little. Climb up aways first so we have the high ground. Jenkins, you lead. Barrat, watch the rear." They climbed higher and found a ledge running parallel to the pass below them. About a hundred yards along, they spied another dead Afghan. One of the bastards didn't make it, he thought. After a bit, the hill levelled out, and in the distance, they spied a group of small fires. Sean said, "Must be dare camp. Will ye be goin' after dem?"
"No," said Jack, "There'll be too many of them. Besides, this threat has passed. Move along the cliffs until we find a place to go down."
The sun had dropped out of sight by the time they found a suitable path downwards and the frigid night came rushing onto them, black as a coalmine. They slipped and skidded in the shale and scree as they descended. If possible, it was darker down in the bottom of the pass. Jack drew his men together, ten strong. "This will be hard," he said, "we daren't show any kind of light, so none of you smoke. We will have to tag along here all night, or we'll find ourselves alone when dawn comes, and we want to be close up to the column by then, or we'll be hunted down in a moment."
One of the men said, "Do the devils 'ave 'orses too?"
"I don't know," said Jack, "but we have to think so. Now, make sure your muskets are charged, and drink a little water. Then we set out, keeping extra quiet for if we come up behind sudden, like, the rear guard might shoot us."
It was slow progress. Sometimes the snow was deep and dragged at their boots. They tripped on rocks and the remains of the retreat, discarded equipment and other objects they didn't want to think about, but onwards went their little column. Presently, a ragged moon rose, revealing a black sky sprinkled with a million stars, and it became a little easier to find their way. Then the forward man, Barrat, came back along the line halting each man as he came. Jack whispered, "What's afoot, Barrat?"
"Sarge, Ah kin smell 'orse shit, an' Ah seen some on't track."
"From our mounted men, perhaps?"
"Nah. It be fresh, for sure. Ah knows."
Barrat would know. He was a former stable boy from Glamorgan, and he had shovelled many tons of this material.
"Right. I'll come up with you, lead on."
Jack and Barrat went to the point. There, Jack could smell it too. As they moved along another hundred yards the aroma grew stronger until he saw a mound of horse manure on the ground; he knelt to examine it, finding it still just warm to the touch. He gathered his men around him. Barrat said, "Ah jest seen a few tracks. No shoes on't nags, Ah'm sure." It was the conclusive proof. Somewhere in front of them was a party of mounted tribesmen.
Jack said, "It looks as though they are between us and the rear guard. If our column has halted for the night, they cannot be far away. I wager these Afghans are following, waiting to attack at dawn. If so, there must be more than a few of the devils. Somehow, we must get by them to warn our people."
"Tis a foine piece'a work ye'll be askin' us; 'ow can we get boy dem widout bein' seen?" Sean sounded afraid, a tremor in his voice. "Oi doan want to be cut up and foind me balls in me gob."
Jack said firmly, "It's not going to happen. I'll shoot you first. We are going to move along now, cautious like, and if we see or hear anything, we'll reassess our position. I'll lead with Private Barrat."
As they went, the piles of horse manure grew more frequent, and then, as the path wound away to their left, Jack spotted the faint glimmer of a fire. It seemed to be in a strange place, until he realised it was somewhat higher than the track. He paused his column, puzzled about the fire. Then Private Johnson came to his enlightenment. "Sarge," he whispered, "P'haps th' fire is on top uv th' cliffs."
"Tis too low," said Sean. They fell silent for a minute. "No," said Jack, "Jonno's right. We must be almost through the pass. Here the cliffs have fallen away towards the plains. I'd wager our friends have moved their camp up there. They will be able to see our campfires across the plain. I wonder how many there are?" He thought again for a brief time. "We must assume they have left a piquet down here on the pathway, to prevent any passage. We will have to kill them before we can get past." Only then he realised there was a subtle lightening of the sky. Dawn was coming, and time was running out.
"Come on," he said, "if we find them we will charge them in silence, after sneaking up as close as we can. Don’t fire a shot; use your bayonets. Good luck."
They crept around one corner, then another, and then Barrat spotted them, three men leaning on their jezails, looking away, towards the end of the pass. Jack thanked God for their inattention. Closer they crept, closer, to almost twenty feet, and then one looked their way. They charged. The tribesman had no time to use their firearms, only to reach into their robes for their daggers. Jack bayoneted the first in the chest, knocking him to the ground, and then leapt upon him to silence him; the others would look after the remainder of the enemy. In seconds the task was done. Jack led them away at a trot. It was light enough to see the mouth of the pass now, and a quarter of a mile away, the smoke of the British cooking fires.
He called out to his men, "Jaldi, jaldi, run as fast as you can!" He could hear his laboured breathing in the cold thin air of the high plains, and his chest was on fire, but he could not hear any sounds of pursuit. They stumbled into the rear guard's lines and fell to their knees. "An officer, quick!" gasped Jack.
The young Ensign who came to him was nervous, indecisive. Jack ignored him. He spotted a captain and a sergeant in conversation and roared, "Get some cannon up here, now! Bring grape, Jaldi! Jaldi! Come on!" He looked around in desperation, seeing a mass of horsemen burst from the pass and hurtle down towards them. He turned to his men, "Form up, two ranks, form up!" Now the rear guard was stirring, officers and NCOs shouting orders, men running. He saw a squadron of cavalry heading out to the right of their position to outflank the attackers. They’re too late he thought. He ran back to his men. As loud as he could, he shouted, "Prepare to fire, front rank first, wait for it, wait for it!"
He watched the oncoming horsemen, estimating their numbers as close to five hundred. Christ! We'll never stop them! "Steady," he yelled, "steady now. Wait for my command!" The horsemen came on. Away to the right, he could hear isolated shots from soldiers in panic, for the attackers were still out of range. On they came, five hundred yards, three hundred, two hundred, and then he heard the thunder of cannon. The ground in front of the horsemen began to ripple as if churned by heavy rain, and then the tribesmen were in the killing zone. He saw them swept away by the grapeshot, hundreds scythed down as if by a gigantic mowing machine. Still they came on, a ragged shapeless mass now, and the cannon boomed again, a second one in action. Now they were less than a hundred yards away, their screams bloodcurdling. "Front row fire! Second row, fire! Front row fire! Second row fire!” He heard the crash of cannon again and the horsemen seemed to melt into the earth. Fewer than fifty turned and galloped away. Jack shouted, "Cease fire!"
He checked his men. They stood there, faces blackened by powder, shoulders sore from the recoil, but steadfast. "Well done boys," he said, "Stand easy, drink or smoke if you want." He felt his hand begin to shake, God, it had been close. If the guns had been a minute later, they would have been over-run, maybe all dead. Then his head cleared, and his hand became steady again.
They droned on without incident, then Davie, now in the front turret, called, “I can see the glow ahead, skipper, the flak is almost thick enough to land on.” Flak began to buffet the aircraft. They could hear the rattle of fragments on the bomber’s skin. Alf saw a line of flak bursts approaching. Too late he realised they were flying into a fixed gun firing into the same piece of sky, hoping someone would fly right into their shells. He called, “Dive port, GO!” Then- disaster! Jack had just begun his dive when a shell burst just above his starboard wing. The aircraft lurched and began to dive steeply. Frigid air rushed into the cockpit. Both starboard engines were on fire.
He called, “Keith, fire extinguishers quick.” There was no response. He looked for Keith. He was lying on the cockpit floor. His right shoulder was shattered, and his head was covered with blood, its right side pulped. “Nav,” he called, “get to the cockpit, I can’t hold her!” Chuck was at his side in a moment. “Fire extinguishers, both starboard engines,” he called. The aircraft was still diving, shuddering. He watched the air speed indicator needle racing around the instrument face, 250, 275, 300 knots. The aircraft was shaking and banging. It would begin to come apart soon. Then Kiwi was at his side, helping him haul back on the control column. The needle slowed, and then began to wind back, 300, 275, 225 knots. The nose was coming up. He had her. He looked to starboard. The flames were flickering out, the result of his dive and the extinguishers. The engines were still running.
Davie had come back from the front turret. He helped Chuck to check the engine instruments. “Oil pressure is down on the starboard inner,” he said, “and the coolant temperature is off the dial. I think it’s going to blow up soon. The outer is running ok, just a slight increase in temperature.”
“Right,” said Jack, “shut down the inner and feather the prop. Keep an eye on the starboard outer. Davie get Keith back to the rest bunk. Kiwi, you should stay here to help me. Robbie are you ok – Robbie?” The mid-upper gunner did not reply. “Davie go back and check on Robbie. Nav, course and time to target, please.” He was determined to reach the target and bomb while ever the starboard outer worked. “Twenty minutes to target, you should see it soon,” said Chuck.
Davie returned to the cockpit. “Robbie’s had it,” he said. He was near to tears. “He wanted to fly with me, and now he’s dead.”
Jack was firm. “You can’t help him now, Sergeant. Get into his turret and do your job!” Davie clenched his jaw and moved back to the mid-upper turret. They felt vulnerable. They only had three engines, one of which could fail at any time. The rear turret was u/s. Their engineer was dead and one of their gunners was dead. It had become a nightmare. The flak suddenly stopped. The fighters were up. “Davie, you’re all we’ve got now. Keep your eyes open wide.” They could see tracer all over the sky. To port they could see three aircraft falling, creating graceful curves of fire. To their starboard, a Halifax exploded in a huge ball of flame. Jack saw two of its engines fall away as separate pieces. Green and red target markers fountained from the funeral pyre of seven more young men. It was too far away to tell if the others were bombers or fighters.
“Target coming up, Skip,” said Alf, “Bomb doors open.” The familiar rush of chilly air filled the aircraft. Alf began the litany, “Left, left, steady, good… hold her steady, right a bit, nice and steady now…” Their nerves were screaming. Drop them, Alf, drop the bastards, COME ON, were a sitting duck, drop them!
“Bombs gone.” said Alf. There was a collective sigh of relief. They felt the bomber lift away as the bomb load left her. They had to run straight and level for a further 15 seconds while the camera did its work, then Jack executed a diving turn to starboard, dropped his nose, and fled for home. He decided to take her down, away from the main bomber stream, away from the fighters. He dropped to twelve thousand feet. The three engines were running sweetly. Not far now, he thought, ‘til we’re out of the shit. Chuck called a course correction. “Turn 10 degrees to port. The coast is about ten minutes away.” Then three things happened in an instant. The starboard outer emitted a gout of smoke and flame and stopped. Jack fought the torque of his port engines, and Davie cried, “Fighter - dive port, GO!”
The fighter came in from the port quarter, cannon blazing. The rear turret and the tail fins were riddled. No doubt he was going for the rear gunner, but Davie was not there. He followed the fighter up and over his turret and held down his triggers. He did not have to worry about deflection here, the bastard was coming straight at him. He saw flames burst from its belly and then it was gone. He saw a trail of flame rushing toward the ground and a tiny mushroom of orange as it hit and exploded.
“Good shooting, Davie, you can claim that one.” said Jack, “But I’m afraid we’re in trouble.” The flames from the starboard outer were spreading. The extinguisher had no effect. Jack could see the surface of the wing beginning to buckle and twist with the heat. There was no way he could get her back in one piece. They crossed the coast like a comet in the sky. Jack tried to ease her down gently and managed to get her straight and level. ‘Ditching stations,” he called.
Y-Yankee kissed down on the water like a seaplane landing, but, as the speed washed off, her nose started to dig into the water. She slowed dramatically, and then one wingtip hit the surface and she stopped in a great half circle of foam. For the moment, she floated. The fires were out.
The Tatra Mountains, South of Kraków. Poland 1944
Swirling snow almost obscured the small convoy as it pushed further into the foothills, a Kubelwagen leading a medium size Opel Blitz - a four-wheel drive truck of the SS. Although the truck carried only four soldiers and a couple of packing cases, it rode low on its suspension as it churned its way along the rough road. Visibility had dropped to barely fifty metres when the two vehicles came to a stop. A stocky officer climbed down from the Kubelwagen and moved to the driver's window of the truck. "Wait here," he said, and walked away between two large pine trees towards what looked like a solid wall of rock. He moved left to right along the rock face until he found what he looked for, a cave entrance where two rock faces overlapped. The cave was about twenty metres deep with a high roof and a dry sandy floor. He smiled to himself; Gut! Just as I remember.
He went back to the truck and guided the driver into the opening, making sure he drove the vehicle as far forward as he could, its front bumper almost touching the rock wall at the rear of the cave. Then he ordered the occupants to form up behind the vehicle. "You have done well," he said. "Der Führer will be pleased with you. Now, one more task awaits you. You have sworn a sacred oath to die for him, and now you shall." He raised his Schmeisser machine pistol and cut them down with a long burst. Then he came to attention and raised his right arm. "Heil Hitler!" He turned and walked back to the Kubelwagen.
His driver awaited him, busy with some small explosive charges. Between them, they placed them around the mouth of the cave, affixed detonators, and retreated to their vehicle, spooling out cable as they went. Taking shelter behind the Kubelwagen, they fired the explosives. They were only small charges, calculated with care, intended to collapse the cave entrance just enough to seal it. After the rock dust settled, the officer approached to inspect his work. Gut, es ist getan! He turned to his driver, only to find himself staring at the rock steady barrel of a pistol. "Gottfried," he said," You knew this was going to happen. You have nothing to fear from me."
The young Scharführer smiled. He inclined his head towards the cave entrance where some loose rock still dribbled down the slope. "That is what they thought too, Standartenführer," he said, and shot the officer in the forehead. He picked up the body and heaved it into the Kubelwagen; he would find a convenient place to dump it later. Then, he took a last long look at the rock wall and the trees to fix them in his mind and drove away.
Inside the cave, it was pitch black, like a coal mine, but light would have shown the last traces of smoke from the explosion, four crumpled forms in Waffen-SS uniform, and the two packing cases on the bed of the truck. They were made of heavy timber, reinforced with iron bands; stencilled on their top surfaces were the words:
Horses: Bill Allen and his gentle wife were pleased to see him. At once, George could see Roseanne had inherited her mother’s good looks and figure, and her father’s strong character. Constance Allen took him in her arms. “Oh, George,” she said, “She told us all about you, how you were to join our family here at ‘Clarendon’. How sad you must be.”
“I loved her with all my heart,” he said, “and I will love her until I die.” He shook Bill Allen’s hand and they entered the house.
It was a grand affair, with a sweeping staircase and wide foyer, paved with black and white tiles. A maid approached. “Thank you, Millie,” said Constance, “Please take Mr Gillespie’s bag to his room.” They took tea in the elaborate drawing room. George felt uncomfortable in such surroundings. He was wearing a new blue suit, especially bought for the occasion, and his collar seemed to be choking him. Bill Allen looked at him, mirth in his eyes. “Don’t be embarrassed, George, we’re new to this kind of thing too, you know. We’ve only been here for ten years. Made a lot of money with the horses and Connie decided to have her first nice house. We started in a bark hut, you know.”
Constance changed the subject. “Please tell us about our dear Roseanne; you are the last one we know who saw her. Was she happy? Was she brave and strong?”
For a few moments, George could not speak. He saw Roseanne’s sweet face, her smoky eyes as he loved her, heard her cries of passion. He choked back a sob. “She was brave and clever and very happy,” he said. “We were deeply in love and we planned to marry as soon as we could. She was a wonderful nurse too. Apart from anything else, she saved my life and my sanity.”
Bill Allen said, “Did she tell you about her plans for you and for ‘Clarendon’? She told us about the horse you gave her. She said she had never seen anyone who could handle horses like you could.”
“Yes, she did. I am devastated our plans are no more. I am not asking anything of you, Mr Allen; I came here to tell you of Roseanne and of how much I loved her. I will be off home again tomorrow.”
“There’s no need for that, son. Stay for a couple of days while I show you around the place. I’m sure we can find you more than enough work if you wish to stay.”
George had already made up his mind. He knew he could not stay here where she had lived, where she had grown up and where she learned to love her horses. The nearness of her would be too much to bear. He would see her every time he looked at her mother, hear her in every word her father uttered; he could not do it. In the morning, he spent some hours with Bill Allen, admiring his operation and his livestock. In the afternoon, he caught the train to Melbourne; there he would take another train north, back to Glen Innes.
Twenty minutes later, Peter hunched down in a position about one hundred and fifty yards from the cabin. He had a good line of sight, well concealed where a large pine tree’s lower branches almost touched the ground. He looked down on the cabin below and made mental adjustments about light and trajectories and wind speed and direction. Then he became almost motionless, feeling his stomach contract, his whole being concentrated on only one thing, away in the mountains again, waiting for the Taliban. Behind him, facing out towards the west and covering his back, Lucy lay concealed in similar fashion, making a final check on her Smith and Wesson. They had saddled the horses and left them hitched to a rail near the cabin, and they had lit a small fire. The place looked occupied. That was all they could do.
However, the men from the embassy were good, and Peter almost missed them. Darkness was approaching and he could see the flames of the small fire, stark against the deep shadows in the canyon. They came from the east, from where they least expected them to come, and they moved with practiced speed towards the cabin. Three of them, he though, not bad odds, provided they didn’t spread out too much. He watched them approach the cabin in bounds, each one covering the others in turn. Thirty yards from the cabin, they grouped up together. Two of them began to move slowly and cautiously towards the cabin door. Once there, they followed standard procedure. The leader kicked in the door and went to ground while the man behind him stepped forward and discharged a full magazine from his MPT9, spraying the cabin’s interior. Peter heard the shattered glass and the impact of the bullets on walls and cupboards; he could see muzzle flash, bright against the gloom, and then he went to work.
He took the man furthest from the cabin first. He was the most dangerous; he was on his feet and he had a full magazine. The leader was next; he got halfway to his feet before his head exploded. The man who had fired first was still trying desperately to change his magazine when he was smashed to the ground by a high velocity hollow point .308 Winchester that shattered his right shoulder.
It had happened so quickly that Lucy had trouble putting together the sequence in her mind later; she had never witnessed such shooting. Before she registered it, Peter was on his feet and racing for the cabin; he wanted the third man alive. He needn’t have worried. The man’s shoulder was a mess. The exit wound was massive, bone and muscle fragments forced out of the joint by the impact of the bullet. Blood was pulsing slowly from the fingers of his left hand as it desperately struggled to stem the flow. He was going to bleed out soon, and he had no strength left to resist. “You’re a dead man, mate,” said Peter, “unless you talk to me first.” He went through the pockets of the dead leader and found what he expected, a sterile field dressing. Swiftly, he packed the wounded man’s shoulder with it and then found a second one to bind up the wound. The bleeding slowed, and then stopped, and a little colour seeped back into the man’s face. “Right,” said Peter, “Do you speak English?” He saw a flicker of fear in the dark eyes. “Of course, you do, you wouldn’t be here in an English-speaking country if you didn’t. Where is the helicopter?”
The man remained silent. Peter pointed to Lucy. “This young lady is a policewoman. She’s about to arrest you for attempted murder and a host of other things. You won’t be going anywhere but to jail. Surprisingly, even the criminals are patriotic in Canada. I doubt you would survive there for long. However, if you co-operate, you might just get deported and see your family again; or I guess I could always remove your field dressing; that would end all your problems; you’d be in Paradise with all those virgins or whatever. What’s it going to be?”
The man hesitated for a moment, but then he said, “West, about a mile, a little more.”
“Thanks,” said Peter, “I knew you would see the light. How many people?”
“One,” he said, “Please get me some help. I don’t want to die. I was only following orders. I didn’t want to kill you.” Peter was sorely tempted to shoot him there and then; the bastard had intended to kill them both, but he let it pass.
“Ok,” he said to Lucy. “We’ll tie him up and then you better take the radio and get up to the top of the ridge. You might be able to raise the ranch.”
Will had long ago given up hope of any romantic future. He would not ask any woman to accept a monster such as he imagined himself to be. When the pressure became unbearable, he let off steam in the bawdy houses of Cheyenne and Laramie, but he took solace from the magnificent forests and the mountains, fishing, hunting for deer, camping in the wilderness.
Late one summer evening, he was sitting on the ranch-house stoop, watching the bright silver moon and a billion stars above. The sky was so clear and the stars so bright he imagined he could reach out to touch them. Laura, his employer, came out from the house and drew up a chair. She looked at the sky along with him. They could hear the quite movement of horses in the corral, their snuffling, and sometimes a low whinny. Away in the distance, a coyote yelped, and then the night closed in around them again. Will, she said, can I talk to you?
Sure, he said, what about? She twisted the gingham of her dress in her hands, nervous, almost frightened to begin. Go on, he said.
Will, do you ever get lonely?
Yes, he said, I do. I’m a long way from home, and I cannot go back to my family, they all think I’m dead, and my sweetheart has married another.
She came down to sit beside him on the stoop, placing her hand on his shoulder. Oh, Will, she said, I have seen how lonely you are. I get lonely too. Since Marvin died, I have had no loving, and I used to enjoy loving so much. Her hand felt warm and soft on his shoulder and he could sense her beside him, feel the warmth coming from her body, and smell her perfume. He had never noticed the perfume before.
Laura, he said, I am fit for no woman. Most would run a mile at the sight of my face. I cannot ask any woman to consider me.
Will…Could you not… love me? I won’t hold you to anything. I just need your body, need it like the prairie needs rain. I am sure you need me too. Could we not help each other? She placed her head on his shoulder and took his arm, wrapping it around her. He turned to her, gazing into her eyes and seeing the longing there, then he picked her up and carried her into her bedroom.
He would never forget that night. She came to him with a passion he had never experienced, giving herself to him without reserve. He felt as though he was drowning in her, that she would take him into her body and hold him, imprisoned there always. Within his limited experience, he had never known a woman to climax before; now her cries of pleasure would ring in his ears for a very long time.
In the morning light, he looked at her lovely body, scarcely believing that she had done what she had done last night. He hoped that she would not regret it, for he knew it grew from need, not love. In any case, for the moment he was glad to live in the present, not in the past, as he had been doing for so long.
‘Connemara’, Julia Creek, Qld, Australia: 1972
Eamon arrived in Julia Creek late in the afternoon, a week before Christmas. It was hot and steamy; the wet season was about to break, and the expectation of the much-needed rain was palpable.
He stepped down from the bus and headed for the Royal George Hotel. He was dry, he needed a cold beer. This was the hotel he had frequented with his friends and the stockmen from ‘Connemara’ in his recent youth. As he entered the bar, he looked up at Suzy, the barmaid, in her usual place, and at the men lining the bar, most of whom he knew. All the conversation stopped; Suzy looked worried and, coming around from behind the bar, took him in her arms and hugged him. “Jeeze, Eamon,” she said, “We’re real sorry about your mother, so close to Christmas as well. It’s a real bugger.”
“What do you mean, about my mother?”
Realisation dawned on her face. “Oh, Gawd,” she said, “You don’t bloody well know, do you? Oh Eamon, she passed away yesterday. Oh hell, I’m sorry!”
He felt as if he had taken a heavy body blow. It took him a moment to register what he had just heard. “No Suzy, I didn’t know. I’ve been on the road for two days. I must get out to the station, right away.” He looked beseechingly at the bar. Ron Taylor tossed him a bunch of keys. “Take my Tojo, mate. I won’t need it for a couple of days.” Ron’s truck was a near-new Toyota Land Cruiser. It was a long drive out to ‘Connemara’, and it was dark when he arrived. There were lights on everywhere. He climbed down and walked into the homestead, banging the screen door as he went.
A loud voice roared, “Don’t any of you pricks ever knock? I could have been having a root!” Eamon walked into the kitchen to see Barry McCloud at the table, glass in hand, a near empty bottle of whisky in front of him. He looked up belligerently. “Well, well, if it isn’t the returning hero. You took your time!”
“I didn’t know. What happened?”
“She took a fall from that creamy mare and hit her head. We got the flying doctor out and they took her to Mount Isa. She died this morning.”
Mount Isa! He had been there last night. If he had known, he could have seen her. “Why didn’t you notify me right away? A telegram would have reached me before I flew out of Brisbane.”
“It wouldn’t have done any good. She never woke up, poor bugger. Maybe just as well, she would have been a vegetable anyway with her head like that.”
Eamon wasn’t too happy about all this. McCloud didn’t seem much like a grieving husband, and Eamon knew that his mother rarely rode a horse. She had had a back strain a few years ago, and only rode if it was necessary. He said so.
“What the fuck do you mean, you little bastard? Do you think I knocked her over?”
“Did you?” said Eamon. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you had. You are not my idea of a gentleman.”
“Gentleman? You’ve got a lot to learn, you young pup. Some women need a bit of a heavy hand. Keeps them in their place!”
Eamon walked to the table and looked him in the eyes, but McCloud wouldn’t meet his gaze. He said, quietly and distinctly, “If I find out you had anything to do with this, I’ll be coming for you, you bastard. I’ve killed plenty of men; one more won’t make any difference to me!”
He turned to go. “Where are the stockmen?” he asked. McCloud looked at him furtively. “I pissed them all off months ago. That old boong and his young bucks were nothing but trouble makers anyway. I bring a few of my boys over when we need to muster.”
“Listen to me you prick. If you refer to old Billie like that again, I’ll knock your block off. He’s twice the man you’ll ever be.”
McCloud got to his feet and came around the table at him. “It’s time you got a lesson in good manners, you young bastard.”
Eamon had been trained in unarmed combat; he had learned to fight dirty. It had saved his life once or twice. As McCloud rushed at him he delivered a kick at his groin, reinforced by anger and frustration. The man went down clutching his genitals, moaning, trying to draw breath. Eamon drove his boot into the man’s ribs.
“I’d piss on you McCloud, but I don’t think you’re worth the effort. You get out of my house and don’t come back, ever.”
McCloud gasped. “It’s not your house, sonny boy, not anymore.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Go see your solicitor, boy, he’ll tell you. You’re finished here.”
Eamon walked to the door. As he drove away, he could hear McCloud roaring, “You’re finished here, finished, finished, you bastard!”
Giessner had not received the daily phone call from England. He was troubled, because he thought it would be a simple matter for his two best men to snatch a mere girl from the streets of a sleepy English town.
He detested the English. They were so casual and disorganised. How had they ever managed to win the war?
Just then his aide knocked on the door. “Ah, Siegfried,” he said, “have our men reported from Oxford?” The man didn’t answer, and instead handed him a sheet of paper. It was a typed report from the BBC wire service. It told of a strange incident in Oxford. A man had fallen from the Magdalen Bridge onto the boats below. He was dead. There was a large contusion on his left temple. It was assumed he had struck his head on one of the punts. Another man had been found and taken by ambulance to hospital. He had a serious knee injury and could not walk. A large knife of foreign origin was on the roadway. The man refused to say anything to the police. Furthermore, a stolen car had been found a couple of miles away. Police thought the incidents were almost certainly linked.
Giessner was furious. A simple task gone horribly wrong. God damn their stupidity! One was dead, the second could not be allowed to talk. He summoned Siegfried. “Send Kurt over there and have him clean up this mess. Tell him to bring the woman if he can. And make sure the others know I will not tolerate failure.”
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