Sunday, February 19, 2012
Charlie Briggs, Chapter 6 by Roisterer
The man behind the desk was looking down at some papers, I could see his narrow sharp parting. He was as old as some of my teachers from school.
Then he looked up at me with piercing intelligent eyes. "Briggs, eh? All right, what have we got here..." He looked down again at the papers.
"I'll assign you to Officer Hughes on reconnaissance. He needs a new co-pilot. Ever done any high altitude?"
"Well, I've done the training, sir."
"Good, good. I'm sure you'll fit right in. George is a good man, he should be able to show you the ropes." He sat back and put his hands behind his head.
"Well, we've advanced so fast against the Eyties that we need to move up to Beghazi. I'm heading out there tomorrow. Would you like a lift?"
"Thank you sir, it's most welcome." I was wondering if we'd be in a truck or he rated his own car. It seemed I never stayed anywhere long enough to fit in.
"Good, so meet me here at 0700 tomorrow."
"Thank you, sir, I'll be there."
"One more thing, Briggs. We don't have cadets here in active service. Consider yourself Acting Pilot Officer. I'm sure it will be official soon enough. Carry on, and send in Cadet Burrows." He looked down again at the papers.
That sounded like a dismissal, so I saluted again. "Sir!" I said, and turned to walk out. I got to the door but my head was reeling. Acting PO already?
Walking out of the building, I tried to remember what the Squadron Leader had said. Officer Hughes? I wondered what he was like.
Next morning of course I went down with the trots. I was feeling dreadful when I got to the Squadron Leader's office. Stan was there as well, but he was only feeling slightly better.
So I didn't enjoy the journey as much as I should have. The Squadron Leader did indeed rate his own car and driver. We went along the coast road, which was alright for a few miles, but then descended into dirt with the occasional stretch of tarmac. At first there were people everywhere. Donkeys, horses, carts, and a few bicycles. Sometimes the smell became overwhelming, which didn't make me feel any better. The driver kept shouting for people to get out of the way. Then it was off into the desert, and only infrequent villages.
Two days later we drew up at the new air base. I could see some activity, and some aircraft, but where were the buildings? I looked more closely, and saw some Nissen buts surrounded by sandbags.
We came to a stop. Sqdrn Ldr Barker looked at us. "This is where you two get out. Go and find your pilots."
"You'll probably find him in the mess. Why don't you go and look for him?"
That was another dismissal, so I saluted. "Thanks for the lift, sir!"
Must be the officers' mess, of course. I found a passing crewman and asked him the way. I rather liked the sharp "Sir!" at the end. Life was looking up.
I found my way into an improvised building with sandbags around. It looked like a bomb shelter. There was guard outside, but he stepped aside and let me enter. It was dark and smoky inside, but I saw several officers around tables, and a few more propping up a small bar.
I asked at the first table, and somebody pointed towards the bar. "Beaner's over there, with his back to you. The man in question was deep in conversation with another man.
Beaner? Well, I suppose everyone had a nickname. I drew myself up and strode over. The man whom officer Hughes was talking to noticed me, and my new boss noticed and turned round.
He was like a younger version of the Squadron Leader, with a sharp parting and small moustache. To me he still looked ancient, older than Joe, but I suppose he was about the same age I am now.
"Yes?" he said slightly irritably.
"Cadet Officer ... er ... acting Pilot Officer Briggs reporting, Sir."
His face fell further. "Don't tell me you're my new co-pilot."
His colleague was equally amused. "I say, Beaner, you'll be teaching them to shave next."
He looked back at me. "How old are you, lad?"
"I'll be eighteen in three weeks, sir."
He rolled his eyes. "Christ! So I lose Dusty to his own aircraft, and I get you. Biter must have it in for me."
I must have looked crestfallen. The other one continued, "never mind, you can teach him all your bad habits."
"So, what's your name, Briggs?"
"Err, Briggs, Sir." I wasn't catching on.
Officer Hughes rolled his eyes again. "I mean, what's your first name?"
"Hah, you should be the rear gunner then. Tail-end Charlie."
I'd heard that a thousand times before, but laughed with him anyway.
"OK, gunner, see you tomorrow at 0500."
My jaw must have dropped.
"We start early on recon. Need to be over the target site at dawn." He pointed a finger at me. "Don't be late."
The Hunter and the Hunted completed novel
A Slice of Life short story (horror)