It was January, just above freezing. The winds came from Siberia. Relentlessly sweeping over the land like a Mongol horde, biting flesh with icy fangs. Dark shadows trudged up the hillside.
“Why he brought us all the way out here?” Said one, fighting for voice over the gale.
The question was lost to the wind, none of his companions heard the words as they approached a lonely building. The rain, it fell like daggers, rapping off the tin roof of the stone shed.
They were south of Wooler, close to the Scottish Border. The Cheviot Hills loomed in the darkness. The howling weather battered the already beaten barn, but there was an orange glow radiating from lights within. Like an inn on a long, remote road, the glow offered warmth and shelter.
The heat from the assembled men appeared like smoke, rising from rain drenched coats inside the confines of the shelter. It escaped from the barn and expanded into the air briefly before the wind whipped it away.
There must have been a hundred ruddy farmers rammed into the byre. The smell of silage wafted through the space. A muted hullabaloo filled the airwaves. A man named Rowell addressed the crowd. He farmed near enough four hundred acres outside Hexham. Almost eighty, the passage of time struggled to age the old man, he was rotund and red-faced but strong as an ox. His three sons flanked him.
Old man Rowell was yelling above the din. He was finishing a passionate speech. Slamming his fist into his open palm repeatedly, he boomed,
“...We’ve farmed, sweated blood and tears on this land for generations...”
“Aye...damn right...” And other, similar cheers rippled across the floor.
“...We must resist the government’s treachery,” he continued, to rapturous cheers, “we must fight the reforms!”
The men in the barn stamped their feet and bashed whatever they could that would make a noise. The man-made racket defeated the thunderous noise from the weather outside. Dust fell from the roof as the building shook at the mercy of the farmers’ energy.
“...If necessary!” Rowell shouted, “If necessary, we must fight the men they send.”
Again, fever gripped the crowd, the room was bristling with physical electricity. Rowell stepped back to allow the throng to vent. As the reaction to his words died down, he stepped forward again.
“The end of the world for one man is the beginning for another.” He said, then turned to look at his sons. “I will not let it be the end for you.”
In a dark corner sat a hunched figure, his head down with white hair loose, meandering around his weathered brow. His hands clamped together, resting on his lap, swollen and sore from pulling sheep out of snow.
His face slowly rose to face the room. He opened his eyes. He looked at the throng. Although he knew every face, he had nothing to say to one. Many looked to him for direction. He bowed his head again. With gritted teeth, he picked at a scab on his hand. He drew blood from the wound. His eyes met the crowd once more, but only for a moment. The man stood up and pulled his hood over his head. Nat Bell turned without a word and threw the heavy door aside.
The violence of the weather, as it invaded the barn, silenced Rowell. Every man turned to watch the figure vanish into the thrashing rain. After he was gone, two men stepped forward to heave the door closed against the wind.
Three hundred and twenty-two miles to the south, another man hunkered down amid the frenzy. His office was grand. He stood at a sash window, itself at least nine feet bottom to top. Ben Baines rested his forehead on the cool glass. He was watching the chaos in the street four storeys’ below. His eyes absorbed the revelry but his mind was miles away.
Another man was with him in the office. He was leaning against the antique side board. The mahogany creaked under his elbows. He had his back to the furniture, his barrel chest pushed outwards and his meaty face was red. He knocked back a glass of whisky, then rolled across the sideboard to pour himself another generous dram.
“And we thought leaving Europe would give rise to fascists...” Said Baines, without looking away from the window.
Lucas Start didn’t acknowledge the words. Then Baines snapped from his thoughts and turned to his colleague. He stepped over to his desk and slumped down in the leather chair. He Leaned back, his legs splayed, and his arms hung at ease by the sides of the chair.
“Cheers!” Said Start, raising his glass and gulping the liquid down.
Baines’ face offered a moment of irritation. But he didn’t bother, instead he reached forward and picked up the remote control. He pressed the little plus button and the sound from the street below filled the room via the television’s speakers.
A Journalist’s face occupied the screen and it sparked Baines’ attention. He jumped up and moved to the sofa in front of the screen. His elbows rested on his knees, absorbed as a toddler in front of cartoons. The remote control remained in his grasp.
Over past decades, he had watched economies crumble. He had seen Islamists threaten the western world, and the right-wing backlash. Now he was the centre of the storm - Ben Baines and his New Socialist Order.
On-screen, the crowds were blowing horns and cheering at the camera in an ecstatic outpouring of joy. The shot panned around to a chubby-faced reporter. He had thinning wispy hair. It refused to cooperate with gravity, drifting up, off the top of his head.
Baines raised his hand to quiet the other man in his office. They listened to the reporter speak; his voice, raised so the party did not drown him out. Excitement drenched his speech. His vocal chords were raw from the hours spent covering the celebrations, but the young journalist performed like a seasoned correspondent. Baines would have liked him on the payroll, but his colleague would never sanction such an impartial report. It continued,
“...As you can witness from the crowds around me, the mood here on the streets of the capital is jubilant. Today’s results are overwhelming. They have sanctioned the peaceful revolution! The Baines-era of politics is on us. At least for tonight, the NSO can enjoy their victory.
“The New Socialist Orders’ meteoric rise to power was unimaginable a few years ago. But it is now, that Baines will need to make good his promises with action. Yes, their support is unquestionable. But Baines has inherited a country on its knees. We are bankrupt financially. We are at loggerheads with our neighbours.”
The journalist stared into the lens. Ben felt his stomach turning, he held a biro lid to his mouth. His teeth, clenched to the soft plastic, chewing it beyond recognition. The journalist continued,
“While everyone cheers in collectivism, what of Land Reform. The policy that is integral to our glorious leaders’ dogma. The policy that is causing unrest…even violence. How long can this charismatic man persuade those generations, born of Capitalism, that his ideology will work? What we know for certain is that only time will tell. This is Rory Jones for cha...”
Baines pressed hard on the red button. As the picture closed in on itself, he threw the remote onto the table at his knees. Resting in his seat, he stared up at the regency plasterwork, thirteen feet above his head. His mind raced to form a more palatable package for the delivery of his land reforms.
“We need a better strategy.” He said.
Start, leaned across the cabinet, the lamp caught his face creating dark shadows across his features.
“People just don’t like change, Ben. Show them strength. Softening the change is weak.”
“Yeah thanks, this isn’t Romania in the twelfth century.” Ben replied with a snigger.
“Ok…” Start pushed away from the cabinet, shrugging and raising his hands in resignation. “But mark my words, landowners are capitalists, every last one. We can’t change the system unless we do it from the top down. The sooner we reform, the sooner people will forget the old ways.”
“We must show restraint, Lucas. The Scots just cut off any diplomatic contact. The Arc is watching us.”
“The Arc can’t move against us Ben, we are as legitimate as it gets...”
Ben nodded agreement, as he ran his hands through his hair. Lucas moved back to the sideboard where he snatched up another tumbler and poured two large drinks.
“...Anyway I have made some good friends around the world.” He said.
“The Russians? They will not come to our aid, they have their hands full in Eastern Europe.”
“Baah! Forget the Russians, the South Americans have offered us any help we need. And of course, the Chinese won’t leave us in the lurch considering they own the country’s damn infrastructure.”
Start walked casually over to the sofa. He stood behind it, looking down at Ben. Ben rested his head back. He was facing up towards the ceiling. The two men look at each other. Start offered the drink without a word. The amber liquid glinting in the desk lamp. Ben ignored the drink. But Start was persistent.
“Come on Ben, not tonight eh? Enjoy the moment.”
With reluctance Ben grasped the tumbler, resigned to the moment and the hour. Their eyes met again, and their glasses clinked together, before they took a drink.
Start smiled and slumped back into the Chesterfield which stood in front of the desk. He sat back, whisky in hand and crossed his legs. His pot belly perched in his lap. He took a long deep breath and exhaled loudly, exaggerated and bullish.
“So, how are you settling into the new house?” He asked.
“You know, I haven’t really thought about it; it’s a house. Same old problems with moving in and no wife to sort them out while I’m here. Can’t see me spending much time there anyway.” Baines replied.
“Jesus Ben! You mustn’t forget how to live. Enjoy your position a bit, get some women, have a party...don’t spend your life here creating problems for yourself.”
“Unbelievable! Our message is common ownership of the nation’s wealth! You want me to live like a bloody playboy.”
“If you have some fun Ben, the world will keep on turning. Look at me - I manage the balance.”
Ben burst into laughter, when he stopped, he looked as though he was about to have a dig at Lucas. Ben was no fan of Start’s Machiavellian side. But the moment faded, he slugged what remained of his whisky and slid the glass back across the desk towards his colleague.
“Fill me up then party boy.”
Both men chuckled as, with no small amount of huffing and puffing, Lucas Start began to heave his portly frame out of the chair.
Esme Bell looked at her hands. They were poking through ragged linen cuffs. The cuffs belonged to her husband’s jacket and the hands chapped and red, showed the signs of hard work. She straightened her fingers from around the steering wheel. Her fingernails were short, the skin around them toughened by work. Her hands were slender though, she was aware that her femininity was unyielding to the assault of her physical work. She liked that. Her mind returned to the road ahead, and she stamped her foot hard on the breaks.
“Shit!” She uttered out loud. The dogs’ heads poked up from the back.
The old Land Rover squealed and shuddered to a halt on the roundabout that crossed the border road. Esme looked at the traffic in front of her. She was fifty miles from the border. The queue of cars stretched back towards Corbridge. Possessions and people filled the cars to their limits. Belongings were in trailers, strapped to roofs, and stuffed on laps.
Esme’s eyes vacuously scanned the queue. She had never seen so many cars. She ran her hand through her hair before gripping the wheel with more conviction. She transferred her foot from break to accelerator and lurched out onto the junction. She heaved the wheel to the right. Steering the truck up the wrong side of the roundabout, she u-turned back in the direction from which she had come.
Carlins Law was a grand old farmhouse. It stoically faced the full force of the prevailing winds. They swept in from the South West. The farmyard and outbuildings on either side protected it from the ferocious northerly winter gales. To many, the old house standing atop a rugged hill engulfed by the infinite sky would be a lonely desolate place to live. It was to this house, her home, that Esme now gunned her engine.
The Tyne Valley rolled away to the West. A breath-taking mishmash of organic matter bisected by the churning waters of the river. From this distance, just a glinting ribbon winding its way around the undulations of the valley floor.
The truck bumped and jolted as it climbed the long straight driveway to the house. She watched her sheep flee the racket of the grunting engine to either side of the track. Thick matted fleeces wobbled on their backs as they ran.
As the tyres hit the gravel of the parking area, the truck skidded to a stop. Esme jumped from the cab and the dogs followed quickly behind. Two collies, they darted away to the farmyard behind the house.
The wind was tearing over the orange and browns of the rugged countryside to the valley sides and the lush greens of farmland on its floor. The trees shaped by this persistent wind bent and arched like claws tearing at the ground. Across the endless sky, a mass of belching clouds fought their way to the farmhouse perched on top of the hill.
The weather was closing in. The rain was falling across the valley like swarms of locusts. Large dashes of water were falling from the sky at an angle with the wind. Esme paused for a moment. She turned her face into the squall and her long red hair whipped behind her back. She breathed in the weather, her eyes closed for a moment and the rain splashed off her pale, freckled face.
Then, as though she remembered something her eyes opened suddenly. She turned and ran towards the house. Her husband’s green military jacket flapped around the knees of her muddy jeans and her work boots kicked up gravel with every step.
She clunked the latch on the kitchen door and burst into the room. It was awash with a golden hue, from the fire which crackled on the far side. A steaming brew, lengths of wire and a shotgun lay on the huge oak table. As Esme appeared, the young woman, sitting at the table raised her head from the wire she had been toiling with. Her explosion of auburn curls bounced around her face, and vivid green eyes locked onto her mother.
“Aw Mam! You frightened the life out of us. I’ll not be a minute here…” She said nodding at her wire traps. Then she looked again, “You weren’t long…everything alright?”
Esme pointed across the room.
“Put the radio on love, where’s your Da?”
Amber Bell pushed herself up and away from the table. She turned the radio on. It fuzzed and crackled to life. She turned the dial until she heard the dreary tone of an NSO newsreader.
“Where did you say your Da was?” Repeated Esme, as she moved across the room.
“He said something about the tarp…What’s happened now?” Amber asked as she turned back to face her mother. She rested the small of her back against the kitchen side and watched her mother dash to the kitchen window.
Esme looked out over the farmyard. The darkness of the storm had enveloped their hillside. The wind was gusting and there with his heels grinding into the dirt was her husband. Nat gripped a rope that attached to a tarpaulin. The wind filled the underside of the Tarpaulin like a parachute, lifting it off the haystack. It billowed, flapping up high into the air with each blast of wind.
Nat was near horizontal, his dogs barked around his legs enthralled by the action. Esme watched him confronting his problem head on. That was what he did best. Then she focussed on her own reflection in the window in front of her.
“They’re all leaving.” She said, “You should see the cars at Errington, hundreds of ’em heading north.”
She struck the fear from her eyes as she refocused on her husband. He was winning his battle with the tarpaulin. Hand over hand, he pulled the rope in. The parachuting material was closing in on the hay stack.
“Will the Scot’s let ’em in?” Asked Amber.
“Aye probably, they’ll take all the good ones, leave us with all the nutters.” She replied absently, deep in thought.
Nat tied off the rope. Turning he allowed his foot to take a lazy swipe at the dogs and they scattered. Then she watches as he turned his face into the squall. He jutted his chin into the weather and allowed it to beat down upon his face. Esme rubbed her hands over her face. Turning to face her daughter. They looked at each other momentarily.
“He’ll know what to do.” Said Amber, nodding her head towards the kitchen window behind Esme’s shoulder. She pushed off the side and sat back down at the table.
“I hope you’re right lass.” She said. “Your hands won’t solve some problems though…” She mumbled to herself as she crossed the room again. She left by the door she had entered.
Nat’s eyes were closed. The rain was lashing his skin. Esme put her arms around his waist and rested her head on his back. It was plenty broad enough to form a capsule of calm against the wind.
“There’s hundreds leaving for the border Nat, there all going.” She said.
A shadow crossed his brow as he heard the words. His jaw tightened as his mind began to process the changes.
“What’ll we do?” Asked Esme.
The farmer turned to look at his wife. His piercing sapphire eyes absorbed her face and softened briefly. She cupped his granite jaw in her hands. The weather left his skin leathered and tanned. He had a thick shock of white hair and grey whiskers. Wrinkles encased his eyes from years of squinting into sun and gales. But to Esme, his eyes were a window into the soul lying under that gnarled surface.
As she looked at him, she could see him struggle inside. She could see his teeth clamped tight and his jaw stiffen. She could see the anger bubbling under the surface like molten lava. She stroked his face to calm his frustration. She could see his eyes searching for words that she knew would never come.
“We better go and get that feed Mam…”
As they heard their daughters voice, Nat looked up past Esme and smiled at his girl.
“Maybe Scotland?” Esme whispered faintly up at Nat.
His eyes darted back to her, determined.
“Over my dead body.” He growled.
A smile washed over Esme’s face. The relief was like a cloud clearing.
“Right answer. This is our home.” She said as she tugged the front of his old wax jacket as though to straighten it. Then she slapped her palm into the middle of his chest and patted him there. Turning she ran to catch up with Amber, who was walking to the Land Rover.
“Hang on Amber, I’m coming with.” She called out.
Esme skipped a step, hurriedly, towards the truck. Nat watched her fling the door open and hop into the passenger side. It creaked as she slammed it behind her. She smiled at him, where he stood in the lashing rain. He wiped the back of his hand across his jaw and winked at his wife, before turning back towards the farmyard.
Twenty minutes later, the Bells Land Rover arced into the warehouse yard. Amber performed the manoeuvre precisely and routinely, as though she had done it a thousand times before. She pulled up, close to the warehouse. Amber and Esme, crossed the yard together. Amber, a head taller than her mother, bent down to stroke a scruffy dog that ran to greet them. She recoiled as it went for her with teeth bared. Recovering her composure, she feigned to attack it and the hound scurried away. She looked at Esme,
“New arrival…” She said.
“Aye, not too friendly though.”
As she looked back towards the wide-open doors of the warehouse, she became aware of six or so figures appearing from the shadows. One of them approached. Amber looked at him, he needed a good bath, she’d never seen him before.
“Where’s Jon?” She asked.
“Jon’s gone, I’m here now.” He replied.
“Where’s he gone?”
“Scotland probably.” He said, adding, “Unimpressed by reform, that’s where they’re all goin’.”
“Who’s them?” Ambers back straightened, her green eyes narrowed. The man showed no concern as he stared back.
“Hidebound bastards.” He said.
Amber was unaware that Esme stood at her shoulder, until she felt her mother’s hand gently grasp her forearm. The men did not notice the secret restraint, as Esme stepped forward. Now her eyes fell unwaveringly on the man.
“Go fetch the feed, Amber.” She said without looking at her daughter.
Amber carried on staring for a spell, before breathing out loudly.
“No need love, you relax, there’s ten of us here now. A collective see...profits back in.” Said the man, with a toothless smile, his hand gesturing as though he was stuffing something in ‘the top’.
“Jon’s family built this business. What about them?” Said Esme.
“...And you’ll find everything’s cheaper. Everything’s changed for the best...unless you’re one of ‘the few’.” The man continued, ignoring Esme.
Three labourers walking out of the open warehouse doors distracted them. They had two sacks each, one on each shoulder. The women watched them as though it was an alien event. The man in charge nodded towards the others.
“Six enough?” He said to Amber.
Amber followed the men to the truck. She lowered the tailgate. With a cold face she grabbed the first sack from one of the men. The men waited impatiently, making hard work of it under the weight of the bags. Amber worked fast, showing no effort as she stacked them neatly on the flatbed.
They watched Amber work. Standing in silence as the rain continued to fall. The man in charge gestured Esme to follow as he ducked back under the cover of the warehouse.
“I need to fill out some papers...” He said.
“Er, ok.” Replied Esme, confused.
The pair wondered through the dusty warehouse. The smell of animal feed and saw dust hung in the air. The rain drummed on the roof of the building. Esme tried to piece together the changes. She feared the men, the new regime. She dreaded the papers she was about to fill out.
The office was a tip. It had been forever. It was a reminder of Jon, the man who had supplied them goods for the last forty years. The man whose father had done the same for Esme’s. The thought of Jon gave her shivers. The room was a sad reminder that he had gone, disappeared.
There was paperwork everywhere. Old product boxes, twenty to thirty years old, full of junk. More paperwork stacked against every wall. An old office chair, the felt was all patched up and worn through again, foam burst out of the holes. There was dust everywhere.
The man in charge sat at a desk. The surface of which was invisible below the papers and junk which covered it. He searched hurriedly through piles. Esme’s face hardened as the man rushed to find his ledger. She could see that his hurry made him take twice as long to find the paperwork he was looking for. Finally, he pulled out a book, with a grin and a sigh. Esme’s eyes fixed on the formal looking document.
“Name?” He said.
Esme rubbed her forehead.
“Carlins Law, Great Whittington...What is this?” Suspicion cracked her voice.
“What’s this...err, this is just a record of our business, look.”
The man showed Esme the information he was writing, speaking as he wrote.
“Six bags, feed.” He flashed a brief look at Esme, with a smile to put her at ease. The man forced the smile. She looked at him with scorn. Her eyes flashed back to the ledger where she saw the previous customer’s details. Farms, acreage, employees all listed there. Information given by unwitting landowners.
“Now we’re almost there. Can you tell me the acreage of your far...”
He didn’t manage to finish the question. Suddenly a grubby well-worked hand, slammed down on the sheet. The hand closed on the piece of paper, tearing it from the book as it retreated. The man jumped back in shock.
“You wanna know how much we got; you better come and see me Dad on the farm.” Said Amber looming over the worker, her face red with anger. She clenched her fists. The page of the ledger crumpled in her right hand.
The man seated below her, regained some composure as he saw his colleagues appear out on the shop floor. They were surrounding the office. Esme searched their faces, she saw a mix of aggression and enquiry.
“Amber.” She said quietly. “Come on Amber, let’s go.”
The hammering rain was cacophonous as they stood in silence. Esme tugged gently on Amber’s sleeve, all the while her eyes darting back at the men who were behind them. Amber was stock still, simmering violence echoed through her eyes. The man, seated below her, gazed upwards. He did not speak, his face was blank but the droplets of moisture beading on his forehead betrayed his inner nerves.
“Amber, don’t be stupid. Let’s not buy more trouble!” Said Esme, with motherly bite. After a few more unbearable seconds, Ambers manner relaxed. She looked at the piece of paper in her hand. She ripped it up into many pieces and threw it at the man in the chair. Then she turned and nodded at her mother that she was ready to leave.
Then the man spoke.
“Looks to me like change has been easier to accept for some of us.” He said.
Amber tensed again, but Esme had hold of her jacket and pulled her away from the office.
“Come on lass!” She said, “That’s not worth the strife.”
Amber ran a hand through her curls, staring back at the man. Reluctantly, she followed her mother.
“The old system has gone Bell...get used to it!” He taunted.
The women walked between the workers. They had closed in on the warehouse floor. Esme, intimidated, increased her pace with a skip, to move beyond the men. Amber walked slowly, staring at every one of the men. Passing the last, she dropped her shoulder into his chest. It was enough to knock the man back a step.
The man recoiled with balled fists and a vicious grimace. Amber stood ready to fight, staring down at the worker. His eyes flickered around the other men and back to the woman standing before him. He broke into a nonchalant chortle, but the violence remained in his eyes.
As Amber climbed into the cab of their Land Rover, she heard the man in charge shouting after them.
“You can’t swim against the tide Bell. There’s no place for Hidebound’s in Tynedale!”
Just over a mile away, and up the hill to the south, men between the ages of eighteen and fifty, gathered in the hall of the local high school. There were military types and students. Office workers and labourers. Many looked like they had no choice but to be there and others as though they had been out burgling houses not too long before.
They waited patiently. Their muted voices echoed off the wooden floor and up high into the rigid steel roof. A man appeared on the stage, he attracted the attention of the gathering. He dressed in black and walked with grand strides to the centre of the stage. He turned to face the crowd, clasping his hands behind his back. His golden hair was swept back off his tanned face. He cast an eye over the assembled men, with a faint smile at the corners of his mouth.
The noise from the crowd died as the men became aware of the figure on the stage. Yet he stood, silent and still, looking from man to man. Finally, it was silent in the hall, just an occasional cough, or creak of trainer on wood. But still the golden-haired man stood silently, the men began to shuffle uncomfortably.
Finally, he took a step and Rudi Truter spoke. His guttural Afrikaans accent was combative.
“Welcome! I know you must be wondering what life holds for you going forward.” He barked, “Today you become Reform Enforcers for the New Socialist Order. You will soon realise the honour involved in our work.”
He looked searchingly across the faces. They looked back, with varying degrees of understanding, enthusiasm and spark. Some of the faces were just plain fearful.
“Some are calling us wolves.” He paused, turned and began paced back across the stage. “Yes, we are here to hunt down the hidebound scum who have been the cogs in the machine that kept us down. But in doing so, we are ensuring reform! Ensuring a fairer future for everyone!”
The rabble rousing worked, hard faced men began to filter to the front of the room. There were murmurs of approval. They were standing taller, nodding, looking around their equals with pride. They were taking ownership of Truters’ words, attracted like moths to a candle. They felt empowered and dangerous. There was nothing like a lofty cause to mobilise the mob. Truter ploughed on with his monologue,
“Now. I want three groups, military, university and the rest. If you fit into two of the groups don’t let that confuse you, just choose one...Now men!” He shouted clapping his hands together.
The room erupted in an inharmonious melee as the men frantically tried to organise themselves.
“Once you’re sorted, we’re gonna separate you into mixed groups. Once that’s done, I suggest you go and get to know your team as you’ll be spending a lot of time with them after this!” Truter shouted over the chaos, then he stood back and watched as the leaders came to the fore.
The five men walked silently towards the cheap seats and hard wearing table in the cafeteria. They were the men of the NSO’s Northern Division Enforcement Squad Two. Four of them were gripping cans of fizzy pop. The other, Roland, had a bottle of water. As they took their seats his eyes passed over the new faces. His stomach rolling with nerves, but something compelled him to take the lead.
“Right well, um… My name is Roland,” he slapped the man next to him on the arm, “I know this guy here from London. We met at the rallies in Parliament Square. I was studying politics and history at LSE.” With a little disbelief, he continued, “Now I’m here doing my stint of compulsory service to the party. Nice to meet you all.”
He saw immediately, the suspicion in the eyes of the big lump of meat who sat across the table.
“You don’t sound too happy about being here.” He said in a rough deep voice.
“Hi er…” Replied Roland.
“Conor, I’m Conor”
“Ok, hi Conor, I’m all for the cause, been a party member for six years, but I’m not sure I’m made for the front line.”
The man who occupied the seat next to Conor butted in.
“Don’t worry son. Me and Conor felt the heat in Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria, Greece and Spain. Bootnecks see.” Said Steve, “We’ll keep you safe.” He said with a wink, before turning to Conor and the two men nodded at each other brimming with pride.
“What about you?” Said Conor, nodding at the oldest member of the group. Gerry was muscular for his age, but his face betrayed his demons. He had thick stubble, but it hardly disguised the ragged scar that ripped across his face from chin to cheekbone.
“First Battallion, ‘The old and the bold’, long time ago now though.” He said with a distant pride. His hand involuntarily brushed the wound across his face. “Seen out by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, the first time we were there.”
Steve and Conor nodded their respect to Gerry. Then all eyes turned to the other man, fidgeting at the end of the table. His thin, pinched face, looked back at the men. He had a grey complexion. Roland imagined, it was the result of a bad diet, late nights and probably recreational drugs. Davey couldn’t sit still under the others eyes.
“Alreet, me names Davey. I’m from Consett and I’ve never had a job in me life...wahey!” He said with a broad accent and an insecure chortle.
“Are you simple son?” Asked Conor.
Davey took a moment, then realising the big soldier was serious, he sniggered to hide his embarrassment.
“Nah am fuckin’ not man! Don’t ye worry man.” He replied a little too late.
The other men looked at one another blankly. Roland gave Davey a reassuring smile as Conor leaned towards Steve.
“That’s cannon fodder right there.” He said in a hushed tone.