Jeremy’s War: Chapter 29 “A Missive “
Posted on March 31, 2008
12000 feet… Cold. Bright.
Seven machines in loose formation.
He missed her. A thousand times, he tried to forget her, and stamp out the memory firmly. A thousand times the echo of her footsteps reverberated through his mind.
It was no use, he had to admit ruefully. He missed her.
Had she really spurned him? Or had he reacted altogether too hastily, misinterpreting her reaction? It was hard to know. Easier by far to wallow in a melancholic rut, and waft self sympathy in copious amounts around his battered ego. Or was it self pity? He shook his head. What the hell, anyway. Did it matter? Did anything matter?
They would all be dead soon, anyway.
It was easier to fight when you were cold at heart, with nothing and nobody to live for.
He had ceased to care about dying. It was also easier to kill that way.
His roving eye spotted a tiny speck. He moved his head slightly. The tiny speck didn’t move. It was no oil splatter. Then he spotted another. He started counting.
He reached eight, and groaned. It was going to be one of those days…
* * *
She patted Pecadillo absently on the hindquarters, and wondered what – if anything – to do about it. Should she just forget him? In moments of anger, she would decide never to go out with a man again. Never. Ever. The intensity of the emotion would comfort her, make her feel hard done by. Men! They were all the same. Hard. Selfish. Untrustworthy. Sexually rampant. What woman in her right mind would possibly want to get lumbered with such a pest? The grief wasn’t worth it.
Time would pass. Hours later, she would suddenly realize that her anger had burnt itself out again. She would pause in the midst of grooming her hair, or reading a novel, or munching an apple, and suddenly become aware that her thoughts had returned to Jeremy.
Occasionally she felt guilty. She had no right to inflict her inner turmoil on him. He was fighting a war! He might, even now, be dead or dying, somewhere up in the blue sky above. It was a discomforting thought. She had been wrong to behave so emotionally. It was clear that he had seen right through her. Why had she not composed herself? He was the man who was really up against it! She was not fighting a war!
A little voice would argue that point. She would become restless. Was she fighting her own private war? An inner war, the result to determine the shape of her character, her outlook, and her life to come?
* * *
For him, a seasoned veteran, a dogfight now always involved the same emotions. Doubting. Worrying.
He checked the formation around him. Seven machines.
No reserves. Eight enemy identified. Anybody else lurking?
They got closer and closer, and then – as always – the ordered symmetry would fall apart. The familiar routine ceased. The sky would be full of weaving, diving, screaming aircraft. Tracers and bullets would chase each other around the sky. In some odd way, he was relieved at that stage. He could fly instinctively. Change course at a moment’s whim. Follow for himself the course of battle. As he had grown in experience, he had learned to evade his attackers more easily. They would peel away from him, searching for easier prey. He knew their game, and read their minds. On two occasions before, he had successfully latched onto an enemy machine that was attacking one of his squadron. In an instant the black crossed machine had been relegated from attacker to victim. He had learned how to direct his fire, hosing the enemy cockpit with lead. How many victories had he now?
Seven? What did it matter?
He hauled back on the stick to evade a pursuer, half rolled easily off the top of the loop, and immediately saw another target passing beneath. He dived after it, aware that his emotions were cold.
He felt empty.
* * *
She rode Pecadillo past the airfield, by chance, with no deliberate forethought. Then she would crane to peer over the hedges and fences, to catch a glimpse of the activity. Sometimes she saw machines taking off, or landing. Was he in one of them?
It was no use pretending. She wanted to see him again.
How? A note? He might not get it, or ignore it.
Should she call? She might see those idiots of that terrible night. That was more than she could bear.
Should she send someone? Aunt Agnes? That idea she dismissed as utterly ridiculous straight away.
* * *
Sky. Earth. Tracers…
Thoughts that whirl. Detached thoughts. Urgent thoughts. Cruel thoughts.
Shoot! Too late! Damn.
Airspeed! Nose down! Behind you! It’s okay… here! Roll over hard. Go for it! Who’s that? Idiot! Look behind you! Blimey! The sky’s black with aircraft again! What’s that!? Sod it! Where is he shooting from? Ah… pull up hard! Wait… wait for it… now! Kick on hard right rudder! That’s better. He’s giving up… Oh, no you don’t! Go for easier prey, eh?… Fat chance!… here I come!… turning right?… nice of you, I can close the gap now… tracers… where the hell?… that looks like Baxter… give ’em hell, chief!… how am I for fuel?… plenty of ammo… daylight?… engine running smooth… bloody oil… gets right up your nostrils… warm the guns… Emmy, if you could see me now… I think I’m going to kill that sod… closer… closer… warm the guns… haven’t seen me, have you, you silly bastard?… too busy trying to kill little English boys…
God!… bloody noisy… smell… and again!
Got you!… serves you bloody right…
I bet that hurt…
He knew he had hit the pilot. It was easy to see, the sudden stiffening, the unnatural response from the aircraft. He checked over his shoulder. All clear. Only novices got carried away with chasing their prey.
He fired off a final five second burst. It was unnecessary.
Yellow flames licked back along the enemy’s fuselage.
Ruptured fuel line. He peeled off. The explosion, despite its violence, failed to shock him in the slightest.
I just killed somebody… and I couldn’t care less… Emmy, I couldn’t care less… you’d never believe that, would you?
* * *
She reached the decision one afternoon, when the day was quiet, and the sky a thin, cold shivery blue. She gazed up, and vowed she would try again. She wanted him. He was kind, and gentle. She found herself whispering to the clouds, hoping he would hear.
Jeremy, my love… be careful. I love you, and I want you to come back safely. Fly cautiously, mon brave. I am waiting for you. I don’t know what happened, but I know I want you… come back to me.
* * *
He taxied in, switched off, and relaxed. After half a minute of silent reflection, he peeled off his goggles and flying cap. They had suffered losses. ‘A’ flight had lost their section leader. Another machine of theirs had gone down, but he had been too far away to recognize it.
A tear stained face appeared at his cockpit. A very distraught Bernhard Mann appeared, gushing thanks. The man was beside himself with emotion, shock, and gratitude. Jeremy took very little interest. He gathered he had shot away a German from Bernhard’s tail, and also that Alan was dead. He was not surprised. Alan Campbell had been a lousy pilot. Jeremy climbed stiffly out, wishing the weepy Bernhard would go away. He left him in mid-gushing-sentence, and headed for his room. He was quite oblivious to the stares that followed him. Somebody summed up the thoughts of all the airmen there:
“For a queer, he fights like the devil! ”
His combat reports were brief, and he did not exult in victory. Even the fact that Baxter seemed very pleased with him, failed to raise his spirits. He accepted the occasional clap on the back, and said no more.
Baxter regarded his phlegmatic pilot with more than interest, but said nothing.
The day came that Jeremy was sitting slumped in a chair in the mess, reading a two day old newspaper with an air of boredom. He had already flown – and fought – once that day, and was expecting to have to go up again. He hardly cared.
The tap on his shoulder caused him to look up, and he frowned when he discerned the blunt features of Corporal Smiley. The man was singularly mis-named. He rarely smiled, resented any wisecracks on the subject of his name, and was the source of lots of gossip. He also had a pronounced predisposition towards alcohol.
“Yes? What is it? ”
Jeremy tried hard to keep the irritation out of his voice. He had become solitary, almost surly, and resented the intrusion.
What the hell do you want, man?
Smiley’s face gave away nothing.
“Begging your pardon, Sir, but there’s a young lady at the gate what wishes to speak to you, Sir! ”
Jeremy started, his brain racing.
“She was very insistent, Sir! “, Smiley added in his melancholic voice, deliberately pitched loud enough for the entire mess to hear. He was enjoying the discomfort he could see in the Lieutenant’s face. Serve the snooty bastard right. Maybe she was pregnant…
“Thank you, Corporal “, Jeremy muttered.
He stood up, and his gaze traveled for a split second around the room. Every face was turned towards him, and each visage registered a huge question mark. He stumbled out, trying hard to look nonchalant and composed. His pulse was racing, and he tried to figure it all out.
Genevieve? It had to be.
He emerged into the outside air, and walked briskly towards the gate. Disappointment hit him like a sledge hammer. He could see a small, almost mousy little girl, with curly hair and a shabby overcoat. She was standing beside a rusty looking bicycle, looking uncomfortably around her. The two soldiers in the guard hut were studying her with undisguised interest. Jeremy felt the beginnings of anger in his chest. What the devil…? He could do without this. He marched up to her, and inquired her business in a peremptory manner. She regarded him with a nervous smile, that flitted across her face, and then disappeared.
“For you “, was her only comment; she handed him an envelope. He took it, dumbfounded, and stood there, awkwardly. She said nothing, turned, and, without another word, mounted the battered machine and pedaled off. Jeremy became aware of the staring soldiers, stuffed the letter in his pocket, striving to look nonchalant, and stomped off to his room.
He was unaware of the curious looks from the windows of the mess, and the excited speculations going on inside the fevered minds.
“It’s his girlfriend! ”
“Rubbish! His boy friend’s sister, more like! ”
“Or his mother! ”
“Don’t be an ass, ….! ”
“Ass… ass!? Who said ‘ass’? ”
“Oh, shut up! ”
Jeremy slammed his door, and flung himself onto the bed. He tore open the letter with hands that shook, and read the three line missive hungrily.
I would like to see you again, and talk.
I think of you a lot.
Maybe we have a misunderstanding?
He read it again. Then he sank back, and lay still, thinking, for a long time.
* * *
“Didn’t he say anything? “, she asked anxiously, searching the face before her for any trace of a clue. Marion, the daughter of the proprietor of the ‘Cafe Brittanique’, shrugged her shoulders expressively. “I tell you, he said nothing. He just looked… ” She paused, not wishing to hurt her friend’s feelings.
“…vacant. ” She could have said ‘irritated’, but didn’t.
Genevieve thanked her kindly, and half regretted embarking on the venture.
Maybe I should just try and forget him. Maybe he just … laughed at my letter. Maybe he’s showing it around, and just making fun of me. Why on earth am I still interested in men? They’re all animals. What on earth possessed me to write to him?
* * *
The object of her confused thought processes was lying, at that moment, stretched out, flat on his back, gazing up vacantly at the ceiling. Following the patterns, the cracks, the rivers and the glaciers. He watched a fly buzzing around the room, and wondered idly if he would blunder into the tiny spider’s web that waited in the corner. His thoughts were roaming far and wide, and he felt he was drifting along on an invisible sea. He was tired. He needed to sleep.
So… the saga of Jeremy Armstrong’s love life.
He studied the new lecturer who had come to address his class of students. His attention was heavily focussed on the lecturer, and he ignored the chaps around him. Odd. He knew that face. The features of a stranger – was it Captain Kershaw? – changed mysteriously into those of McAllister, before resolving themselves fluidly via Baxter’s into the catlike face of Mimi.
The dreaded Mimi… she wore a huge black mortar board, with her hair curling down from under it. An equally black teacher’s gown, from which her massive breasts poured forth, suspenders, and black boots. She wielded a long wooden pointer, which she waved around dangerously.
Triumphantly, and completely aware of her power, she crashed the base of the pointer on her desk, and there was instant silence. Jeremy could not take his eyes off her. She regarded the room full of men – all were pilots, he realized – with utter contempt. Her gaze swept around the room, and everyone in the beam flinched and shriveled up. Onwards her haughty look swept, until she settled on him. He felt his blood run cold. The sneer was unmistakable. She crashed the base of the pointer on one of the front row of desks, and the pilots sitting there made themselves as small as possible.
When she spoke, she started quietly, but there was no mistaking the edge to her voice. All the time, she stared hard at Jeremy.
“Today, we shall look at the Saga of Jeremy Armstrong’s love life! ”
A titter ran around the room, and Jeremy froze.
“We shall study the psychological profile of a degenerate weakling in the affairs of Love, and contrast and compare his sexuality, such as it is… ”
She rolled her eyes to the heavens, and there was more tittering. Jeremy felt himself turning beetroot red.
“… with his career as a methodical killer “.
Jeremy’s thoughts raced.
Where was he at?
In the school of murder and destruction, he had scored quite well in some ways. How many men had he killed? Allowing for the two seaters, about ten for certain. How many men had succumbed to his trench strafing, he had no way of knowing. Say, another twenty or so? That made thirty men killed. If there was a God, then he had broken the seventh commandment in rather grand style.
But where was he at in the school of Love and Seduction?
Nowhere. He knew that. Everybody knew that. They all laughed at him. Everybody laughed at him. They thought he was queer. But he wasn’t. He couldn’t help being shy. He wanted a girl friend. But…
They were all laughing at him. Great gales of laughter. Tidal waves of derision. They were all looking at him, and pointing. He wished he was dead. It was so humiliating. So awful. He wanted to escape. But he couldn’t. For some reason they had tied his hands together, and tied something around his neck.
“Let me go! ”
They laughed all the louder.
Desperately he searched about for an escape. The door was closed. Then it opened a fraction, and a face peeped through. A shy, beautiful face.
He knew that face.
They all jumped on top of him, and the big black girl grabbed him by the nose. He fell over backwards… backwards…
He woke with a start, and the fly departed his nose quickly, buzzing angrily. The ceiling was still there.
He was soaked in perspiration. It took him a few minutes to calm down.
Where the hell was he in the league of Love and Seduction? Compared with his flying?
Not even at the first solo stage, he decided.
Not even at the first solo stage…
He wrinkled his nose in disgust as he remembered the sordid session in the seedy company of Mimi and her lesbian slaves. Mimi’s expression floated in front of him. The way she had looked at him, as she had approached him for her final onslaught. The horrible smile, almost a sneer, that she had bestowed upon him, just before she had closed her mouth around him, and driven him frantic.
He had struggled desperately, but in vain. The giggly one had been in hysterics of delight, and Mimi had kissed him incessantly, her tongue rolling around inside his mouth. When he had tried to stop her by clamping his jaws together, she had simply pinched his nose until he had run out of air. He hadn’t dare bite her tongue, for fear of her retaliation, and in the end he had been forced to yield to her. The black one’s attention meanwhile to his loins had been equally irresistible. He had felt his erection grow harder and harder, regardless of his fear and disgust. That astonishing look she had thrown him!
He had felt so vulnerable, so used, so utterly taken.
So dirty. Even before she had let go with her hands, and had changed her position to sit on him.
He had struggled helplessly, watching like a spectator.
She had wriggled and squirmed until he had been inside her, and then she had driven him nuts.
He had felt a sudden amazing release then, and it had been as if he had surrendered to her… She had laughed horribly, and sneered at him again. He had felt completely in her power…
Was it time to come to terms with it? It had happened several weeks before. He had been gutted by it. Infuriated with his mess mates, humiliated, and angry. Disgusted.
Was that what love making was all about? Was that what women wanted? If that was so, then he would stay a bachelor, that much was certain.
But was it? He thought of Emmy. He couldn’t possibly imagine her indulging in oral sex. Bondage. Emmy?
He tried to figure out what making love to Emmy would entail. It was hard to imagine her naked, never mind lusting for her private parts. Weird. Utterly weird.
He liked Emmy, and he was jealous as hell of… Robert?
What was he like? Would he take Emmy to bed and make love to her?
He contemplated the matter, and found it hard to imagine, but knew he would be insanely jealous if he found out.
Why was it so hard to imagine Emmy naked? She was far from being frigid. Reserved, yes. But she was not above a gentle flirt. A very feminine lady. He liked her dresses.
What would she be like in bed? He had no idea. A guess?
Probably stunningly good.
He pondered the enigma. How about Genevieve? She was different from Emmy. Genevieve positively oozed sex out of every pore. The way she dressed. Tight clothes. The way she wore her black hair long and luscious. The way she rode her horse. No elegant side saddle for her!
He thought of her soft breasts. Her face smiled at him.
Was she a virgin? Probably not. With a body like that?
No, more than her body. It was her confidence with men.
Emmy had none of that. She was much more… retiring?
What should he do in the wake of Genevieve’s letter?
He missed her, and they had only met a few times!
Why had they quarreled? Had they quarreled? What had happened? Was she interested in him? It seemed that way.
Why him? She must have loads of men friends!
He decided he wanted to see her. There only remained to decide how…
The fly crashed spectacularly into the tiny web, and immediately set up a loud, panic stricken buzzing. An astonishingly large spider for such a tiny web exploded into view from nowhere, and reached the hapless fly in an instant. The tone of the buzzing changed abruptly to a higher note. It lasted for thirty seconds, and then slowly died away.
Jeremy felt sorry for the fly, and debated climbing up and swatting the spider.
* * *
The shooting party had been Baxter’s idea. He had invited Jeremy to accompany him on a duck shoot, and had refused to accept any excuses. Jeremy had done very little game shooting, and had not been very keen. His protests had been waved away though.
He now found himself in knee length waders splashing through a reed bank. His mood was less than euphoric. He was cold and wet, and had missed two good chances so far.
Baxter on the other hand had bagged three ducks and a wood pigeon with only four shots. He had also snickered quietly at Jeremy’s misses, which had only made matters worse. Jeremy was by now determined to score a kill, if only to prove he could. He bore no malice towards ducks in general, and had little or no desire to kill game. He would normally rather have watched them. It was different when they mocked him however.
He stumbled, and swore quietly.
Baxter was to approach from the opposite end of the reed bank, but had promised Jeremy the first shot.
It was all or nothing now. He simply had to get his shooting sorted out. Three successive misses was more than he could bear.
He stepped into an unseen hole, and plunged almost to his hips in the water. His waders couldn’t cope, and a horrible cold sensation worked its way down his thighs, past his knees, and on downwards towards his feet.
He forgot himself and swore loudly this time. Instantly, a duck flew up, and quacked loudly. It looked like a very old duck, the way it feebly beat its way up into the air.
Jeremy aimed quickly, fired, and the lake reverberated with the dull boom of his shotgun. The old duck turned to look at him, throwing him a look of indignation and disgust. Then it quacked loudly, as if to say: “Mind what you’re doing, young fellow! ” Jeremy gasped in amazement, and aimed again. The duck continued its flightpath without swerving. With desperation in his heart, Jeremy fired the other barrel. The duck continued on its way unswervingly, slowly and arthritically, quacking indignantly and casting looks of poison at Jeremy.
A voice at Jeremy’s elbow snapped: “Here,take mine! “, and Baxter handed Jeremy another gun, whilst hurriedly grabbing Jeremy’s. Jeremy obeyed, and as he squinted up the new barrel, he noted that the geriatric duck was – amazingly – still well within range, passing rather stupidly from left to right across his field of fire.
His fifth shot boomed out loudly, with the same demoralizing result: disgruntled quacking and zero deviation from intended flight path. An unusual strangled noise reached Jeremy’s ears from behind him. He dismissed it, and concentrated all his energy, skill, determination and prayers on his last -sixth – shot.
The boom of the explosion alone should have been enough to frighten the duck to death, but as Jeremy watched in awe, the old duck just shrugged, flew on, and added a farewell quack to its look of disdain. Jeremy, open mouthed, could only stare in astonishment. It was altogether too personally insulting. What had he done wrong?
He wished fervently for a machine gun. He turned to communicate this desire to Baxter, only to discover his leader red faced and suffering an attack of hysterics.
On seeing Jeremy’s hurt face, Baxter finally let forth his pent up laughter, and ended up with tears pouring down his face. Jeremy reloaded his gun, thinking pure death was too good for that old duck…
“Are you leading with your gun? “, Baxter wanted to know.
“Yes “, an embittered Jeremy answered.
“Are you allowing for the shot falling? “, was the next question.
Jeremy wondered. It was like a bullet dropping below its target. Had he allowed for it?
“I’m not sure “, he replied honestly. The more he thought about it, the more he thought he probably hadn’t.
“Well, Jeremy, something else for you to think about. ”
The jocular voice had suddenly gone serious. Jeremy looked up sharply. Baxter was eying him closely, all traces of mirth gone.
“Because you’re going to need all your shooting skills with a Lewis gun when you lead ‘A’ flight! ”
So that was it… Jeremy wondered if he was surprised.
I’m going to be in charge of ‘A’ Flight…
Suddenly he was a lot older.
* * *
On the way back, a young duck beat a hasty retreat, speeding as fast as he could. Jeremy swung his gun up, aimed, allowed for the shot falling slightly, and fired.
The duck fell like a brick, without even a flutter.