International Writers Magazine:
air around the soldiers was filled with a frequent and incessant
distant clapping sound and an equally incessant but much nearer
metallic pattering sound, almost as if a demonic and somewhat industrial
thunderous rain was falling down upon them. In actual fact, the
clapping was the sound of high velocity weaponry being fired from
insurgent lines and the metallic pattering their bullets hitting
into several things almost at once; the earth, kicking up dust with
such a flurry that the men became increasingly mobile, their vehicles,
specifically the tyres, rendering them immobile and ultimately one
young Private Collins whom Colour Sergeant Simon Hunter had just
told to run like fuck the result of which rendered Collins
Simon Hunter now
stood on the scorched Basra ground in a state of shock as the rest of
his unit continued to retreat. This sudden immovability on his part
was not a wise choice as a man such as he, standing at 6 foot 8 inches
in large fitting British Army combat fatigues, would make a very easy
target for the rebels, yet still he stood for several seconds until
a superior officer grabbed him and manhandled him away at speed. Asked
later what thoughts went through his head at that point, Simon Hunter
recalled that in exact order they were as follows; Shit,
Hes dead and I want to leave the army now.
Six months later Simon Hunter had had his wish granted and was sat in
a van in a small side street back home.
"Did you kill anyone?" the younger man in the passenger seat
Simon sighed, when was he ever going to shut up; "I dont
want to talk about that, anyway no one should ask that question of someone"
"Yes they should" the passenger replied.
"Like policemen to suspected serial killers, theres an example
of when you should definitely ask that question"
Simon Hunter turned to face his passenger and asked with incredulous
amazement. "Are you autistic?"
"Well yes as a matter of fact I am" the younger man said simply
He immediately felt embarrassed; after all hed only really just
met the guy so he wasnt to know. He offered up his apologies;
"Oh, right, explains a lot then. Look Im sorry."
The younger man in the passenger seat still wanted to talk it seemed;
"My teacher said I should have gone to college but I was like whats
the point? I want to earn real money, see the real world."
"What?" asked Simon Hunter completely confused and at the
end of his tether.
"My art teacher," explained the passenger, "he wanted
me to go to art college he thought I was that artistic."
Simon Hunter could not believe it. Hed never met anyone so stupid.
He turned in his seat; "Jesus, look if you simply have to, you
can ask me anything about the army right anything that isnt to
do with actual warfare or battle ok?"
The man in the passenger seat thought for a moment whilst Simon turned
back to look through the windscreen.
"Ok, um" the younger man paused to think of something to suitable
to ask. Going from his track record so far in the brains department,
Simon presumed this may take some time.
Finally he finished the question; "Um, did you get to hold a lot
of officers balls?
"Only during initiation." He replied without looking, but
clearly this humour went straight over the young mans bald little
"Look erm Dave," Simon began.
"Derek," the younger man said
"Sorry?" Simon said.
"Derek, my name is Derek."
"Sorry, well Dere.k"
"Thats quite all right," Derek added.
Simon ran a hand through his greying light brown hair in quiet frustration
"Erm yeah, Derek why dont we try and sit in silence for a
bit eh? Weve got a job on, best to be vigilant" Simon Hunter
"Oh ok" Derek agreed and with a sigh of relief he could barely
conceal Simon Hunter returned to his view from the windscreen.
"Can we not have the radio on then?" Derek asked
"No!" said Simon curtly.
Jesus, Simon Hunter thought, how had it come to this? A career in the
army, Colour Sergeant in The Royal Fusiliers with a family history of
soldiers serving back to Charles I, only to jack it all in after one
too many bullets getting far too bloody close and to end up in civvy
street making ends meet working for a bailiff firm that your old mate
from school runs and having to work alongside the bosses dopey nephew
whilst waiting for some poor mug to come out of work so they can repossess
him of his car. Brilliant, genius, he thought bitterly.
"When Uncle Frank said his squaddie mate was joining us, I expected
something very different," Derek droned on. Closing his eyes briefly
and offering up a little request of give me strength to a Lord that
in all fairness Simon Hunter had shunned some 20 years previously, Simon
eventually replied with; "Well were not all Rambo you know"
"No, I suppose not. But like, youre very intelligent?"
Derek said with that rising inflection that Simon had began to notice
everyone of a certain age using back in England. It really got on his
"Only comparatively," Simon replied and then realising this
swipe had not been understood, he added. "And?" he immediately
cursed himself; why was he even replying?
"Well I expected a, well macho dickhead and although youre
very big, youre not like, a-a-"
"A what?" Simon asked
"Spazzy meathead" Derek said leaving Simon Hunter stunned
at his tact and diplomacy.
He raised an impressive quizzical eyebrow; "A spazzy meathead?
Look Derek mate, I was a professional soldier, a Colour Sergeant, my
family have a history in soldiering dating back hundreds of years; I
was educated privately for a time too"
"Oh," was all Derek could answer
"And I watch BBC4, so yknow, it all helps to not becoming
a spazzy meathead," Simon concluded in his defence with a little
chuckle at Dereks choice of phrase. Bloody hell, hes annoying
but Im warming a little to him, he thought.
"And what is a Colour Sergeant then, what was your job?"
"Shouting at people," Simon said and leaning in to show some
steel added, "I did it very well"
Derek, still not getting the message continued blithely on; "Well
yes, I can see that, you have a powerful voice, very distinctive. What
does your father think then? About you leaving I mean?"
"Well, he was a bit disappointed to be honest; I think hed
rather Id have stayed til retirement"
"You came close though."
"You cheeky fucker Im 38!"
"Oh" said Derek with sweet innocence.
Simon sighed once more, just ignore him he thought, but for some reason
he charged on in, much like his entire military career in fact; "Dads
70 now, so its not like I need his approval. I did twenty years
in the Fusiliers that was enough, here look" he said and lifting
his bum up from the passenger seat he proceeded to lift out his wallet
for a photo.
"I dont want to see any wounds!" Derek said and turned
to face the passenger window before sneaking another look to see what
direction Simons hand was going in; "Especially on your arse!"
he yelled with his eyes firmly shut.
"You daft prat Im getting my wallet, Ive some photos
in here, look, there you are" he said and passed over a picture
of him from a few years back in full military dress. They both looked
down at the barrel chested man in the photo, standing proudly in the
black uniform, medals gleaming and the visor cap pressing firmly down
upon his snout under which a moustache, now long gone, bristled.
"Aw," Derek said. "And was this fancy dress?"
"What? Thats the correct military dress of a Colour Sergeant
in The Royal Fusiliers you dumb fucker! Jesus you halfwit have some
Derek meekly pulled a face. "Im sorry, honestly you need
some help to control that temper. Im not one of your privates"
"No but you are a bit of a dick," snapped Simon and he ran
a hand across his face and counted to five. It wasnt Dereks
fault, he was only a kid, and clearly with borderline special needs
to boot; he couldnt possibly understand what the army was like.
"Sorry son and actually for your information yes I am getting help.
I see a counsellor as a matter of fact for post traumatic stress. Iraq
isnt a holiday you know, and seeing a young lad, a couple of years
younger than you even get shot down in front of your very eyes is not
an experience Id wish on anyone. Id had enough fighting
to last me a lifetime. I did my tour I got back and I bought myself
out, and look what Ive come home to? Not exactly a home fit for
heroes is it? When Robin Hood came back from the Crusades I dare say
he had it tough fighting for the freedom of his people but he didnt
have to go to the jobcentre every week and have his soul chipped away,
and I couldnt fight for the people there, they want to claim and
sit around watching Jeremy Kyle all day. Well not me. Its not
been easy, but yknow youve got to
." He trailed
off, at a loss and in truth a little overwhelmed at the outpouring he
had just done.
"Soldier on," Derek concluded for him with a big smile.
"Yeah, something like that," Simon said, returning the smile
and feeling a little relieved to get all that off his chest, even to
someone like Derek. As his counsellor had been telling him, its
good to talk and get back into society again.
"Sorry if I bothered you before," Derek said. "I tend
to go on a bit I know. I dont know when to shut up really. Uncle
Frank only gave me this gig I think to get me out from under peoples
"Its ok Derek," Simon answered and kind of meant it.
"Your Uncle Frank has been good to me getting me this job and saving
me from the dole queue. Its not the best job in the world, its
not what I really want to do, but it is a job, money coming in and a
sense of pride in working for a living again. My counsellor says it
all helps and it does, it really does. And anyway, a relation of Franks
is a mate of mine"
"Really? Thanks Simon," Derek said.
From across the road, a short man with dark hair and stubble was leaving
the office. "Hang about, I think thats him," said Simon.
"Just check for me Derek"
Derek looked at the docket and the attached photo; "Yes, yes thats
"Right," said Simon unhooking his seatbelt and opening the
van door. "Come on before he gets in the car and gets away."
Both Derek and Simon got out of the van and slamming the doors shut
proceeded to walk across the road steadily towards the man, Simon taking
the lead and pulling up the zipper on his leather bomber. "Stand
a little bit back Derek when we get there, Ill do the talking
"Ok," said Derek
"Mr Harris?" Simon called as he got closer to the man and
the car, a black Vauxhall, "Mr Steven Harris?"
"Yeah" Harris replied his eyes shiftily and warily taking
in the two figures. "Who wants to know?"
"My name is Simon Hunter and this is my associate-"
"Derek Buckley. hello," said Derek cutting in.
"Yeah thank you Derek" Simon said raising a hand to his opposite
number. "Yes, look, we are bailiffs Im afraid Mr Harris and
our firm has taken on your unpaid debts and have the power invested
in us by the courts to today seize goods to the costs of, well in short
Steve mate" Simon said leaving the script, "we are here to
take your motor"
"What?" said Mr Harris incredulously, "No, you cant
do this! No fuck off!" and then sizing himself up against the well
spoken authority from the 6ft 8 broad figure in front of him, proceeded
to lunge at the bald 5ft 10 mostly silent and gormless looking figure
that was Derek, sending him crashing to the road with a yelp.
"Shit," Sighed Simon wearily and he threw himself down upon
the figure of Mr Harris and yanked him up from the prone Derek and,
above the grunts and cries shouted. "Look mate play the game and
just give us the keys yeah?" Unfortunately and, albeit accidentally,
Mr Harris elbow went into direct contact with Simons nose
with some considerable force which subsequently broke it sending the
giant frame of Simon Hunter down flat, his jean covered arse hitting
the kerbside with a thud.
Realising that his luck was in and time was of the essence, Steven Harris
seized his opportunity, he licked his lips, scratched his head and ran
round to the Vauxhall door, and fumbling with the much desired keys,
he managed to open up the car and sped off from the scene leaving Simon
sat on the floor, hands on his face, and Derek slowly getting up from
"I think that may be broken," Derek said with a wince and
an upward inflection as he saw Simon Hunters bloodied nose. Simon
spat "Fucking brilliant isnt it? I pack the army in to get
away from aggro and the only gig offered to me after six months is one
where I get my nose broken for the first ever time in my fucking long
and dangerous career"
"Yes" Derek said still staring in a transfixed state at the
blood. "It does seem a bit ironic doesnt it?"
Simon looked in wonder at Derek. For a moment it looked like he may
get angry but it passed and with a grunt he managed to say, "Shut
up Derek theres a good boy and get the van"
"Shall I take you to hospital then?" Derek asked.
"Yeah" said Simon getting rather unsteadily up on his feet.
"But first, were going round to Mr Harris house at
a speed that would get Lewis Hamilton shitting himself, take the fuckers
car keys, get the job done and then and only then will we go to casualty"
"Oh" said Derek. "Ok" and they walked towards the
"Unbelievable, absolutely brilliant." Simon Hunter cursed
to himself bemusedly whilst holding his nose.
And an hour later they were sat waiting in the local casualty department,
and Mr Harris was, indeed, without a car. The eternal soldier was true
to his word and soldiering on.
© mark cunliffe
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