• Guy Martyr

'La Dolce Vita' a novel by Guy Martyr 8


La Dolce Vita, instalment 8 of 20


7.

Victoria’s Story

Victoria’s parents had wanted her to marry a man with prospects. All that expensive schooling should have marked her down for the Diplomatic Service at least, or a Captain of Industry, instead of this struggling young architect. If only she hadn’t gone off on that foolish art history course in Continental main. But if that's what she wanted, well . . .

With such as this had Victoria to contend throughout her life: the constant, constraining voice of her mother: “It’s so easy to get left out these days, consigned to a miserable life, fall through the layers; we are very fortunate, but you have to work so hard to keep it; once you’re out, you’re out; getting back in is practically impossible, look at uncle Billy; don’t throw it all away.” Under this drizzle Victoria had lost a string of friends, boyfriends and opportunities, so by the time she was twenty two she was clueless as to her life-goal, her self-being, was still a virgin and had never got drunk. She was prim and proper, dressed like a country gel in clothes several centuries out of date - still wearing wool if you don’t mind! (Sheep, of course, long having been banned from England as a disease risk.) OK, taking Horatio on had been a bit of a rebellious gesture: he was only ‘middle class 3’, educated semi-privately, with no background and whose parents knew no-one. But he was amusing, quite handsome, a little more worldly wise than the few men she had met, and had some prospects. I mean, it’s not as if he were an art-actioner or anything! Architecture - it’s a proper profession, isn’t it?

Since marrying Horatio, Victoria had moderned up a bit - was wearing designers, though not with much confidence; had taken the Police-Actioneering course, much against Mummy’s wishes, but it was good for Credit, and didn’t have to be used much; and had taken on a part-time job in public relations.

She and Horatio had both decided not to have children yet: well, she had mostly - she felt there was something more to do, or discover, though she knew not what - and Horatio agreed, though having children might have delayed his call up, oh well.

The call up was a surprise, though perhaps on reflection it should not have been: all sorts of people were getting called up; even she might be, but she had a feeling not. Getting to know somebody in the Resource Allocation Office was everyone’s ambition: though she did not, she had heard rumours of her somehow protected position.

When Horatio had gone, after their rather pleasant last night, the house had seemed empty, but her life otherwise seemed quite usual. Their friends seldom met; in fact Horatio had hardly any friends, and was a decidedly lack-lustre host of dinner parties. And whilst she favoured lunch in town, or weekends chez parents, Horatio was forever working.

Going to rest in Berkshire seemed perfectly natural, and convenient.

8.

“Hallo, Sir.”

Horatio had arrived at Heathrow airport, and found a gaggle of his platoon hanging around one of the check-ins. All ten were there; only Sergeant Sparrow was missing. They looked refreshed, apprehensive, a little bored, somewhat pleased to see each other.

“Hallo, Jack, how’s your mother?”

“Fine, thank you, Sir. But she doesn’t want me to go. She’s afraid it will be Fighting, this time.” Others nodded in agreement.

“Do you know, Sir?” asked Darren, still 19, still fresh, freckly, curly like a boy.

“No, I don’t.”

Two men approached from behind the check-in counter; they wore civilian clothes, were not old, or young, a small moustache and shades in evidence, American styling, blank expressions.

The leader picked me out straight away and put his face very close to mine: “Special Commando? ”, while he flashed an ID card too quick for me to see.

My face betrayed the lack of comprehension which produced: “Special Wylie Commando? “

The smile across my face confirmed the efficacy of the password: while I tried to flash my ID card in return, I was virtually pulled by the elbow, my men herded by the accomplice, through the barrier, past all commercial doings, onto the wind-washed concrete.

We were taken to a hangar where there were arranged several tables piled with things: as we were led past each, a piece of kit was issued: clothing for a hot climate, but temperate boots - “the proper ones’ll be issued when they come in“; some warm items of clothing -“it gets cold at night” we were told helpfully; survival rations; ominously, some small weapons.

“Maps?” asked Horatio, in hope. “No” and after a hasty change into new uniforms, without more ado all were reherded towards a large military transport aircraft.

Horatio felt mildly sick standing at the rear of the beast waiting to board, as the fumes from the running engines perfumed the air: the last smell of England. A green-overalled crew member beckoned the line of men on board. Horatio looked round and raised a smile at this motley collection of green faces. Was this how you went to war these days? Anonymously, out the back of an airport, no fanfare, no reason, merely the exhortation to do as you are told, lest your supply system be turned off?

They sat in the row of tubular metal seats, festooned with straps, and belted up as instructed. Eventually, the aircraft took off.

After a while, a crew-man passed round pre-packed meals: this was like going on holiday; magical mystery holiday.

Horatio surveyed again his men, just discernible in the safety-lit gloom: more uniform in appearance now, hair at a level, regimented, ranked. With difficulty he regained a little story of each: Jack’s tales of the girls he had met, which ones he had shagged, etc etc; Giles’ discussion of the hunting season; Gary, worried about his wife and small child; Richard, inscrutable, saying little, back in the world of sound recording; Darren's ruddy complexion, invigorated by his return to the agri-land; Paul, in some respects the meek Christian, quiet, but not weak and somehow always cheerful; Javed, from Manchester, a scientist, enthusiastic, with a touch of scepticism; Alan, carpenter and joiner and building installer, unphased, taking it all in his stride; Steve, from Salesforce, as sharp as you would expect; Simon, from a city bank, as sharp as you would expect. Not at first sight a crack Fighting squad.

They had been fed again, at a time appropriate only to air travel, fallen asleep and been woken, by the time the aircraft landed. The rear door opened: they were hit by a wall of heat and blinding glare. The glare subsided soon, to reveal bare sand expanse, flat except for a few rocky outcrops. This was apparently no more than an airstrip: a couple of tents, a few dotted oil drums, a vehicle or two. A group of local men hung around a little way off. Horatio scanned and estimated, eyes adjusting: the bare expanse, hardly any vertical remark, a scene as if prepared . . .

They stood on the sand a group aghast at the aesthetic shock.

The air crew wore sun glasses - they were in the know.

Shortly the dust of vehicle, lorry, lorries appeared in a distance.

The air crew returned to the aircraft; the aircraft took off.

The lorries, led by a jeep, turned onto the airstrip and along now discernible pathways, where each, guided by the waiting hand of one of the local workers, dispersed to a prearranged spot and disgorged its load. Piles of poles, coils of wire and metal sheeting now dotted the landscape.

A figure appeared from the leading vehicle: Wylie! Of course! Beaming, hand thrust forward.

“Horatio.”

“Sir . . . “

“Glad to see you.”

“And you, Jack . . . “ Horatio was a little less surprised to see Wylie than the last time this happened. “It’s just like . . . “ he began, indicating the surroundings.

“Yes, I know, isn’t it? . . . “ Wylie stepped off at a pace to inspect the deliveries. “Prisoners of war,” he said “coming here. You’re to guard them.”

“Who? What war?”

“Hard to say. You’ll be told in time, I dare say. In the meantime, you’d better get your chaps organised into making something of all this” waving at the piles. “The local men will help. Plenty of supplies about. If you need more, give me a call.”

And he was off: he fell into his jeep and began to drive away.

"Where are we?" yelled Horatio at him, but he was gone.

"Where are we, sir?" as Horatio returned to his charges.

"I don't know, Jack. We've got to build a camp, and guard prisoners of war."

"What?"

"What?"

"What?"

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