La Dolce Vita instalment 10 of 20
But Horatio found out no more. Jack's story: Jack came from a rough estate on the edge of a small city, a city which appeared affluent and attractive, but which harboured significant poverty - a common profile. Jack had had to pull himself up by his bootstraps to get himself out of the estate, and on to a half decent path; he had not thrived at school, though looking after his alcoholic mum and two younger brothers had not helped. He was made of determination, though. School? A bother; he had things to do. He had a very quick mind, which was soon spotted by the bookie to whom he used to take his mother's paltry bets. "What's the winnings on that, then?" the bookie would ask, of the numbers bet against the awkward odds. Jack always knew, even though some of the school teachers liked to make him out a dunce. As soon as he was 16, Mr Bellamy took him on at the bookies. As well as his facility with the numbers, he could charm the ladies; so at his young age, Mr Bellamy was getting value for his quick brain, and the twinkle in his eye. Jack's favourite days were race days, out on the race course, everyone dressed up, lots of girls, all the fanfare and the bustle.
Jack's mum nearly fell down when he turned up in a carriage, their first, his own, and they all went on an outing to the Safari Park.
Jack's happiest day was when he bought his mum's house for her from the housing association. Still only 22, he handed her the keys, with great ceremony and floods of tears, of a symbolic new front door lock.
"Dad'll never be able to come back now" said Mark, the youngest, in hope and as much certainty as he could muster.
"He ain't never comin' back. He's bloody dead" said Gareth, the other.
"Shut up about that fuckin' man" said Mum, and they drank bubbly.
But Jack had done a wheel and a deal too many, or a twinkle in his eye too far, for though it wasn't his convict father who battered the door in, it was a burly group of coppers early one morning, just as the sun was rising, who arrested him and searched the house. They found nothing as it happened, but gave him a good hiding and let him know that there was more where that came from if he stepped out of line again. So it was a relief when his call up came, and he left in a second.
Sergeant Peters got the men moving, the shelters built, while Horatio thought and calculated.
"Do you know who we're catering for here, Sergeant Peters?" asked Horatio one time.
"No mate. I've heard it's eastern front terrorists. But then I've also heard it's home terrorists; or we might be contracting in. No idea."
Horatio half believed him.
Noises emanated from Sergeant Peters' tent at night: strange bleeps, squelches, pops. But Horatio didn't dare to enter: the solitary tent bore an 'out of bounds' aura. An aerial of sorts had been erected at the entrance, at least so hinted the odd arrangement of wires.
"What do you make of all that ?" Horatio asked Richard in passing one day, hoping that his sound recording experience might shed some light on the mysterious array surrounding Sergeant Peters' tent. "Short wave radio" was all he got in reply.
Richard, in sound recording: What you could do these days! The technology was amazing, and so small. Tiny microphones, placed almost anywhere. Whole studios run in virtual space. Recording media with massive, but massive memory. Every nuance captured, clean as ice, peaked, compressed and tweaked to your exact requirements, the sound-shape mixed and analogised as you like - a chart, a wave; or pictorially, reinterpreted as a tree, a view, your favourite picture, your woman. Nothing couldn't be done. It was all better than, well, the music. The wonderful technology could hold you in thrall for ages, days, all by itself.
Richard had worked in television advertising for a while, but had sort of fallen into the music scene during a lull, when his mate had dragged him down the pub to see a group whose girl singer the mate fancied. The sound they made - horrendous! The music was all right, but
the . . . noise, the sheer, vulgar emanations of their ancient amplification equipment - big, bulky, stone age black boxes, some even looked, ergh, analogue, getting hot, vibrating,
humming . . .
He had taken on their sound - it was a challenge more than anything else; resolving an affront. The band became known for their, well, incredible sound. Richard was very good at his job. The band became successful too, and Richard became settled as a sort of part-member, as well as settled in with the singer, which his mate took to not very well at all.
In a way, the call up had come as something of a relief. Perhaps it was getting time to move on . . . a new challenge beckoned . . .
The only communication equipment Horatio had was the camp telephone, an old thing in a hutch, on a pole, by the road. With this he could order food and supplies, though who answered he knew not, nor where they be, nor whence came the supplies. On one occasion, he had picked up the phone's receiver - heavy bakelite plastic! - dialled '0' as normal, only to find himself speaking to Wylie. "My boy, nice to hear from you - how are you doing? Nearly finished, I hear. Victoria says hello. Must go." Gone.
Horatio tried the phone again, but only reached the usual clerk. Enquiries about a Mr Wylie, or Colonel Wylie, fell on stony ground.
Trucks began arriving early one morning, soon after the huts had been completed. They kept coming all day, in dribs and drabs, each disgorging a cargo of sad prisoners, dusty and chained, to be signed into the custody of . . . Horatio.
"But I'm not responsible for all these men . . . am I?"
Piles of food arrived for the prisoners, too. Simon was put in charge, with some relish, of practically a platoon's worth of prisoners in his cookhouse. He must have imagined himself in his restaurant-to-be, with the yells of 'chef', by which moniker he taught his prisoners to address him, and which they reproduced in uncomprehending mimicry, with clatters of pots and pans accompanying the production.
Horatio assigned Paul as the prisoners' welfare officer, a task which he undertook with sensitivity and understanding, underscoring his vocational bent. Paul. Paul had wondered, briefly, upon receiving his call up Paper, whether he were a pacifist, - isn't it part of the Christian thing? Now 32 years old, he had only just become clear in his vocation, and had begun the round of interviews and assessments designed to test a person's suitability for the priesthood.
The paths of God's calling are abstruse: Paul felt sufficient pull from the call up to Service that he surmised in it God's Will, Fighting or no. "I'm sure I can make my mark on them" he had thought, but was still biding his time until God told him to Act.
The local workmen departed, job done.
Sergeant Peters had become by now a totally separate agent: he communicated nil with Horatio and his men; instead he busied himself with extending the boundaries of his tent-kingdom, till it surpassed the platoon's quarters in acreage: a cluster of tents, a rigid container hut or two, piles of stores, barbed wire.
" 'Morning Sergeant Peters. What's all this for, then?" received silent reply. Sergeant Peters had gathered forces, too: a staff of men now did his bidding; un-named, un-known, more-or-less uniformed types, who had appeared out of the desert dust over the days and nights. They collected prisoners from Horatio's camp from time to time, and secreted them inside their citadel, for hours or days at a time. Interrogation, supposed Horatio, but he never knew for sure. But they're my prisoners, aren't they? he thought, since he had signed for them.
Still Sergeant Peters spoke not, gave up nil, opened nary a crack.
Horatio was reduced to camp routine surrounding guarding, which was little enough, but did include he and his men attempting to teach the prisoners cricket, a sport to which they took with enthusiasm. They put up a good show against the platoon’s team, which was gamely led by Gary who played to quite a good club standard, once having had a trial for Middlesex.
Camp purpose, nay intrigue - that was all Sergeant Peters'.