Sounds of Soldiers

Sounds of Soldiers – Drop

I spent a long time staring at the body of the man I’d strangled to death. I didn’t feel sick. I glanced at the bodies of the three man who’d entered the forest with me and felt glad not to be one of them. After a while I began to get a detached feeling, like an out of body experience. That was the point where I knew I had to start moving or I’d be a zombie’d sitting target for any of the American’s friends who were out there.

His gun lay close by, where it had dropped from his grasp as he passed out. I picked it up and studied it, but took a minute to realise what was strange about it. It was brand new. There was almost no wear on it, except where it had hit the ground as he thrashed around. It still had the thin sheen of oil it had been wearing when it left the factory.

Studying the body I could now tell that the webbing he wore was new as well. The pouches that hung off it held spare magazines, boxes of ammunition and a tracking device. I rolled him over and, without looking him in the face, removed the webbing. After a bit of adjustment it fit me. I reloaded the gun and surveyed the hollow.

It was obvious where we had entered from, the path came down from the trees, ran around a small boulder then headed out again. A shallow gouge, and the wounded tree, showed where our attacker had fallen from. Crouching, and with the gun at the ready, I climbed to where he had been standing.

I hadn’t expected to find anybody at the top of the short climb, but a little paranoia was appropriate. I scanned the trees and soon found the direction he had come from. Branches had been broken and the ground was disturbed, he had run to the vantage point so he could be waiting for us. I turned tracking device on, it indicated that something was slightly to the right of where he’d come from. I started to trace his steps back.

The paranoia resurfaced and I tried to keep the gun at the ready. That didn’t work with the tracker in one hand, until I found how to mount it where the sights would normally go.

The pod had been slowed by a parachute, which had tangled in the branches to hold it upright with the tip jammed between roots. This wasn’t a bomb or a fuel tank, it had panels which opened along its length to reveal the cargo inside. Weapons, lots of them. I approached slowly and checked inside. There were more submachine guns like the one I carried, grenades, slabs of what was probably C4, sniper rifles, webbing and lots of ammunition.

I’d carried a hunting rifle early in the conflict, and become quite good with it. It would be nice to have another one, so I shouldered one and grabbed a few boxes of ammunition.

The beacon had to be somewhere inside the pod. Not the nose, because that would hit the ground first. Somewhere in the tail then. The skin was thin, and the pod was hollow all the way to the end. I craned my head round and stared up the inside. There was a red light up there. It took a bit of fussing to get the gun in and aimed, then I let off a couple of bursts. They were horribly loud in the confined space, but the light went off. The tracker wasn’t detecting anything any more.

I made myself absent, jogging back to the clearing as fast as possible. It was only when I was back with the bodies that I realised I should have tagged the location with my GPS.


“What happened to the town?”

“The same thing that happened to Paris, I think. Twice.”

Jean-Luc looks across at me. “You were in Paris, weren’t you? This is what they did to our capital city?”

“The blast radius looks the same. There aren’t many bombs that can do that much damage. It looks like the one to the east hit second.”

“But why destroy this town? There’s no heavy industry, no military base.” The question came from Georges, one of our younger volunteers.

Jean-Luc pointed down the river to the road bridge. “Probably because of that. They wanted to be sure there was no resistance when their group crossed the river.”

“The last time I heard of them doing something like that they sent another B2 to destroy the bridge once the squad was across so they couldn’t be followed. Perhaps your air force got the second wave.” I offered.

Jean-Luc made a very French dismissive sound. “They got the wrong ones. It is something, though, to get any.”

“Stealth bombers aren’t as undetectable as they’d like you to believe.” We’d seen an example of a development in stealth detection not long before. Army trucks with arrays of directional microphones mounted on the bed. The microphones swept the sky, listening for planes. It was practically a nineteenth century technology, albeit with a bus full of electronics to analyze it and aim guns based upon the data collected.

“Why don’t we just drop a nuclear bomb on Washington?” Georges Asked.

“Because then they would drop nuclear bombs on us. They haven’t hit us with any nuclear weapons yet because they know French submarines have to be sat off their coast ready to destroy some of their cities. So far whoever is in charge of their nukes has had the sense not to start the end of the world.”

“There are still fires burning down there.” I didn’t want to think about apocalypse, so I brought the subject back to the present situation. “It can’t have happened that long ago.”

“There may still be people to rescue from the ruins.” Jean-Luc didn’t sound that convinced of what he said, “We should go and offer our help.”

Neo nazis in the US military

This is another of the elements that went into Sounds of Soldiers. There is evidence that a small, but significant, number of US military personnel are members of hate groups. The Southern Poverty Law Centre, cited in the report, have done other investigations into the problem. It seems they’ve mostly been ignored.

As a folow up the Stripes site has this- White supremacist leader says half of his group has served in the military.

Sounds of Soldiers – Passing Judgement 1

Notes Quite rough, and straight off the keyboard. The soldier is named for Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly, two of the highest profile idiot right wing commentators in the USA.

I heard the crunch of running feet on the gravel fire track early enough that I could lay the long gun aside and raise the sub machine gun. I stepped back so I was partially shielded by a tree and waited.

Seconds later he rounded the corner a hundred or so metres away at a full run. He had the look of someone who had been surviving in a forest for weeks and he didn’t have the orange armband that was the daily colour for friendly forces. “Halt!” I shouted as loud as my suddenly very dry throat would allow.

He hardly faltered as he raised his gun- a submachine almost identical to the one I’d snatched from an air drop the day before. I got off a three round burst, but judged it badly. All three kicked up dirt in front of him. But one kicked up and caught him in the right shin. He fell and tumbled, ending up sprawled on his back far from his weapon.

“Don’t! Fucking! Move!”

He was still dazed. The pain from his shattered shin hadn’t started to register. “Fuck you! Show yourself, coward!”

“Hands where I can see them!”

“You’re English? Ain’t you? You fags are next when we’ve finished with the French. We’re going to wipe all you islamofascist lovers out!”

“Haven’t you heard? Your country doesn’t exist any more. You won’t be doing anything more than dying.”

“I’m not afraid of dying. The Lord my God will judge me.”

“Will he? What will he think of raping a ten year old after making her watch her family being killed. What will your Lord God think of that?”

For a moment there was fear and doubt on his face. “That wasn’t me.”

His right hand had been moving around all the time. No doubt he was going for his back up weapon. I’d steadied my aim after the first burst and was now confident I had the middle of his chest perfectly targeted. “Tell that to the folks coming to meet me. Some of them are related to that girl. All of them have lost someone to you cunts.”

He stopped on the way to his weapon. This time I fired a three shot burst into his chest. And then another to be certain.

When the squad found me again I’d laid him out for burial and taken his name for the records.

I killed Corporal Glenn O’Reilly in a forest in the South of France five days after his countrymen detonated nuclear weapons within their own borders. The country he had been fighting for had ceased to exist in a dozen mushroom clouds.

Apologies for the lack of activity on Spinneyhead

But I’ve been busy with various things, as the reposted tweets may have made obvious.

Okay, admittedly I lost most of Sunday to a hangover, but for the last two days I’ve spent a lot of my time editing together 60, the short for the Not Part Of festival. The timing’s settled, but there’s still a bit of colour correction and the old split screens to put in.

I’ve also done a little bit of work on Shall We Take A Trip?, my erotic comic project. I’ve got one page left to draw, and front and back covers, then I’ll go through and re-letter it before packaging and selling it.

And I’m still working on Sounds of Soldiers, trying to get the first draft finished. I’m currently struggling with rewriting one of the chapters and there are a few that still need writing from scratch. When the first draft’s finished I have an idea for getting it edited and copy checked. I’ll tell you more nearer the time.

There’s going to be a rash of Spinneyhead product soon, but for now it’s all a bit quiet.

Sounds of Soldiers – You can’t choose your family

Notes Between driving students home from revising in the library all last night I scribbled this and I’ve typed it up today.

I don’t know who’s more nervous, Sally or me. The house is spotless, we’ve borrowed a table and chairs for dining and there’s rabbit and veg ready to roast. We sit in the living room and wait.

“Your family does know about us, don’t they?” Sally asks.

“Yes. Well…. I’ve implied.”

“Implied? Oh great.”

“I haven’t told them about petit Robert yet. I couldn’t work out how to.”

“Bloody hell.”

“I told them there was some stuff that was too complicated for the phone. I think they’re used to me telling them there’s stuff I can’t tell them until I see them.”

“My parents know about your son. I think Dad’s looking for a shotgun. They want to meet you, but they’re even further away than your family.”

The doorbell rings. “And so it begins.” Sally sighs as she heads into the kitchen and I go for the door.

My big brother’s put on some weight and there’s more grey in his hair. And he’s holding a baby. “You have four years of uncling to catch up on. This is Becky.” He passes me his daughter. She stares at me, all serious, then reaches for my nose. I shift her around until I think I’ve got her in a safe hold. “And this is Ivan.” George beckons his son forward. He’s a pale child with hair so blonde it’s almost white- he gets that from his mother’s side. He cocks his head to one side and studies me.

“I’ve seen pictures of you.” Ivan announces.

“And I’ve seen ones of you. It’s nice to meet you at last.”

“Yes.” Ivan looks around. “Have you met my Mummy before?” he asks.

Miranda’s still stick thin, despite two children, and gorgeous. The short hair suits her. I never had an embarrassing crush on her, not even for a moment. “You’re not allowed to leave the country again. Bad things happen. And I get pregnant.”

Sally’s come back from the kitchen and is standing nervously at the foot of the stairs. I carry my niece over to do introductions. Ivan and Miranda come with me whilst George fights to get a stroller over the threshold.

When we’re close enough Becky makes a grab for Sally’s hair. “Hello there.” Sally takes the baby from me. “Your family does make beautiful babies doesn’t it?”

Miranda’s looking at me. “There are a couple of….” I don’t get to finish my explanation because I’m suddenly in one of George’s bear hugs.

“Five years man! We’ve missed you. Why couldn’t you have come back sooner?” Now Miranda’s hugging me and we’re all crying.

After a minute or so we’ve all calmed down again. I’m about to start explaining when a little voice pipes up, “Bonjour Papa! Qu’est-ce qui se passe?”

“I’m an uncle.”

“I’m an uncle too.”

“Yeah. But you already knew you were an uncle. This is…. a bit of a shock.”

“If it’s any consolation, I’ve only known I’m a father for a week and a bit.”

“Long enough to warn me.”


Robert and Ivan, watched over by Miranda, are teaching each other words from a big bi-lingual children’s dictionary. They’re very different cousins. My boy is gregarious and jolly, George’s reserved and serious. I suspect there’ll be character clashes.

“What time are Mum and Dad due?” George asks.

“About half an hour.”

“You haven’t told them either have you?”


“I think I might disown you. You’re trying to make our parents die of shock.”

“You need a drink?”

“Hell, yes.”

George checks on Becky, asleep in her stroller, before we head through to the kitchen. Sally and Marianne are conspiring. At least, that’s the impression I get by the way they stop talking as we enter.

“Drinks, ladies?” I bought a trailer full of beer from one of the local microbreweries and got an interesting selection of ales. They both shake their heads.

We take two random bottles to the bottom of the garden, where there’s a bench under the apple tree. George takes a big swig from his bottle. “Fuck sake Robert. Five fucking years! I know you wrote, but…. Fuck.” He takes another swig. “Are there any more bastard children I’m uncle to?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Five fucking years. Mind, you’re looking good on it. And that picture of the Eiffel was everywhere. You must be minted.”

“If the government ever gives me my money back.”

We drink in silence for a while. He stares up through the branches. “Don’t ever do that again. No more chasing danger.”

“I didn’t chase danger. It found me.”

“Don’t bullshit your big brother. I’m out of beer.”

Marianne has brought consular wine and is plying Sally and Miranda with large glasses. George and I crack open more beers. By the time the parents arrive we’ve all got a happy fuzzy glow going on.

There are family hugs all round, then Mum turns to Marianne, “Sally?”

“I am Marianne. This is Sally.”

“My dear. It is so nice to meet you. Is he being tidy? He never could manage to keep his houses tidy.”


“He’s doing fine.”

“Why don’t you say hello to your grandchildren.” Miranda suggests.

“All three of them.” George stage whispers.

I could punch him. If it wasn’t so great to have all my family together.

Your own personal currency 2

I’m in research mode for Sounds of Soldiers, but this article on DIY currencies came along of its own accord. Most of the currencies discussed in the article are virtual and tradeable by mobile phone. In the first draft of Sounds of Soldiers the Levenshulme based currency- the Levy- has been imagined as a tangible item, paper chits or coins. Perhaps it might work better as an electronic unit. I shall have to consider how it will best fit into my story’s world.

Research reading for Sounds of Soldiers

I’m entering the editing and ordering stage of writing Sounds Of Soldiers. Today I started printing out all the first draft chapters I’ve written so far (including some bits that weren’t finished and haven’t made it to the blog yet). AbiWord on the Elonex did some wierd things to the formatting, so it’s a more involved process than I’d like.

When the printing is done I get to sit with a red pen, tidying up phrases and writing notes whilst working out the order the chapters should be read in. All the while I’ll be doing some research. I’ve just ordered Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air and The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience to go with Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century. It should all prove to be quite interesting.

There may be more first draft snippets on the blog, as I fill in the gaps I spot. But they’ll be irregular. Eventually there will be an rtf file of the results of my first go through at revision and then evolving versions until I make the final version available to buy/ try to sell it to a publisher. Stay tuned.

Sounds of Soldiers – There’s Always A Morning After

Notes This one slots in quite early, and contradicts an already published bit.

I’d got into the habit of lying in. So last night I set the alarm on my organiser for a sensible time and vowed to get up with it.

In the chilly dim of morning that doesn’t seem like such a good idea. Especially as it’s waking Sally up. She’s gently strolling up the slope to full consciousness- no sudden leap to wakefulness for her. There’s a reaction to the noise, gentle stretching. She tries to roll onto her back and rubs against me as she does. She has wonderfully soft skin.

My organiser’s in my trousers, which are on the floor on Sally’s side of the bed. I’m up against the wall, so I either have to sneak out of the bottom of the blanket or over the warm naked girl. I decide to take the scenic route.

I’m halfway over, and obviously enjoying it, when she comes fully awake.

She looks scared for a moment as I come into focus. Then she looks confused. Eventually her gaze travels down and she laughs. “What’s all this in aid of?”

I nod toward my trousers, “Trying to stop that before it woke you.”

“Nice work on that. I’ll get it.”

She pushes me back toward the wall, so I take the covers with me. I’m rewarded with a morning moon as she leans far over for my trousers. Rather than fuss through the pockets she just tosses the garment at me. “Sort it out then.”

“There.” It’s a tough device. It’ll survive the flight back to the floor.

She clambers back onto the bed and stretches out. I push the covers down and join her. It’s still colder in the air than I’m used to, but I’ll live with it. She lays her head on my shoulder. “Are you getting up then?”

“I’m already up.” She shakes her head, then steals a glance at the subject of my poor joke and smiles.

We lie in silence for a while. I try to match my breathing to hers, but I swear she keeps changing rhythm every time I get close. Just when I think she’s gone to sleep she stretches again then runs a hand through her pubic hair.

“It’s a bloody forest down there. How did you ever find anything?”

“Oh, that was easy. It was just down….” She bats away the hand that was heading for a landing below the forest.


We lie for a little longer. After a while I pull the covers up to our chins and we both drift off for a while.

An hour later we’re both awake again. “I really should get up.” she says. “I’ve got a commission to complete.”

“Okay. I’ll get up if you get up. Ready?” We sit up together. “That wasn’t so hard.”

With a squeeze of my arm Sally gets out of bed and heads for the bathroom. Resisting the temptation of warm blankets I pick up my clothes and head for my own room.

It takes the morning to unpack what little I’ve brought and find homes for it all. The last time I was anywhere long enough to do this with confidence the room was owned by the French government. Hopefully I haven’t fucked up my chances of staying here by fucking my landlady.

It’s lunch time. I head downstairs to see how much stew there is I can reheat.

We didn’t make any effort to tidy up after last night’s meal, so there’s some washing up to be done. It’s as I’m putting the last bits onto the drying rack that I feel arms around my chest.
“We should talk.” she mumbles into my back.

“We should.”


She doesn’t say anything for a while, so I stroke the back of her hands. “What should we talk about?”

She releases her grip on me, but takes my hand and leads me through to the living room. We sit on the sofa and don’t talk.

“I keep wondering what Keith would think.” Sally manages after a long minute.

My first thought for an answer is probably too flippant, so I store it and start again. “He might not be so happy. He was your brother after all.”

“You could never tell. Some of his closest friends, I got the impression he’d kill them before letting them touch me. Others…….” she shrugs and lets one hand land, and stay, on my thigh. “You, the subject never came up.”

“If we can’t rely on your brother we’ll just have to make it about the way we feel.”

“I guess.”

“How do you feel?”

I can see her fighting the urge to go “You first.” She leans in closer. “I haven’t had sex for a long time. I liked it. No. I loved it.” I’m waiting for her to go ‘But’, but she just moves closer. “I’ve got muscles that ache that I’d forgotten I even had. And I want to do it again.”

Some time later Sally stretches out on the floor, naked but for a sock. I’m still mostly clothed, but I have been giving her a lot of attention. “I love it when a guy goes down on me. It always makes me come.”

“I noticed the forest has been trimmed.”

“You caught me out. I already knew what I wanted, so I prepared a little. There are condoms in the front pocket of my dungarees. I think the commission can wait.”

Resilience Economics

I haven’t given up on Sounds of Soldiers, but I have reached a point where I need to get everything written thus far into a format where I can organise chapter order and set about revisions and plotting the ending. So there probably won’t be many moe chapterlets in the near future.

This piece by Jamais Cascio reminded me of some of the themes of Sounds of Soldiers, so I’m bookmarking it to refer to when I begin the edits.

If you can’t say it with flowers then don’t say anything

This is the song that donated the title for Sounds of Soldiers. There are too many books that aren’t very good that take their titles from the Bible or works of great literature. I’ve always wanted to write something better than a Tom Clancy (I’d say better than Dan Brown, but that would be aiming low) then take the title from something supposedly low brow like the indie music I love.

The Christmas cards and greetings are arriving
Across the shifty sands to the war
by the time I get to read them she’ll be rising
To a 50/50 chance and nothing more
Through the sleet and drizzle
You can hear the sounds of soldiers
The Kalashnikov and splutter
On a sunny day
From the east of the middle
To the north and south of nowhere
People earn their bread and butter
In some funny ways

In the corridors of power
Where the talks are in full swing
If you can’t say it with flowers
Then don’t say anything

Because I want to see my children
Grow up into healthy human beings
I want to see them walking, running
Playing, laughing and singing


I’m just outside the home
of Christmas now
And I’m dying
All across the shifty sands there’s blood and guts
By the time I get to Jesus she’ll still be crying
I guess a 50/50 chance wasn’t good enough

Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine – Say It With Flowers

Also- This Is The Sound Of An Eclectic Guitar – A Collection of Other People’s Songs

Sounds of Soldiers- Two Kinds Of Safe

I can’t sleep.

My parents, and my brother and his family, arrive tomorrow and I’m going to introduce them to my girlfriend, a former lover and the grandson they don’t know about. I should have told them, I know, but communication’s been a bit ropey. I miss my student days, when the most I had to worry about when they visited was hiding my housemates’ joints.

The gun’s keeping me awake as well. I’d forgotten the paranoia that being armed generates in me.

It’s a nice piece, a mongrel constructed from at least three weapons. The actions are all smooth, trigger pressure is about right and there’s been a little bit of machining and weighting to improve the balance. Robinson’s lady friend is an above average gunsmith. There are three magazines- one left empty on a rotating basis to rest the spring- and a box of rounds.

I thought about keeping it a secret from Sally. But there’s no way a piece that well hidden could be any use.

We sat at the small table in the kitchen and I stripped it down whilst we talked about being armed. “Do you really think it will make us safer?”

“No. And yes.”

“You can’t have it both ways.”

I started putting the gun back together again. “It’s sort of two different kinds of safe. When I came off the bike the helmet saved my life. It didn’t prevent the accident, but it made the difference between being alive and functional and being dead or brain damaged. That’s why I wore a helmet in the first place. No matter how careful and vigilant I was I couldn’t change the fact that there were a lot of idiots on the road.” I handed the reassembled, unloaded gun to her. “Fully loaded it’s a bit heavier” She pointed it at the floor and pulled the trigger, jumping when the hammer fell on an empty chamber. “The gun’s a bike helmet. I’ll do everything I can to stay out of trouble, keep us out of trouble, but the gun is there just in case.” I slid the magazine into position, but didn’t chamber a round.

Now the gun’s in the bedside table, where I can get at it easily if I have to. It’ll go somewhere safer if Robert junior ever stays over, but otherwise it stays close to me at all times.

Sounds of Soldiers- A little light reading

Notes Very, very rough this one. I was lost for inspiration for a while. I think I’ve reached the point where I print out everything done so far and start editing and shuffling around chapter orders.

The bookshop is now my bitch. On returning from lunch the owner was even more horrified than his assistant. It’s possible my amiable demeanour and calm manner perturbed him more than a loon screaming about theft would have.

Their print on demand library contains a lot of recent history stuff, and they printed me many free copies whilst I went to lunch. The down side is that I returned home carting more books than I had left with.

Sally is taken by Sounds of Soldiers. “Who knew my boyfriend was so good looking.” she giggles.

“Yeah, but look in his eyes. Don’t they seem a little dead to you? Like there’s not really anything behind them.”

“You’re spoiling my fun. But you’re right, this isn’t the face of a man who could impregnate a sexy spy whilst nuclear bombs are going off.” She starts flicking through the book, “Does he mention that?”

“As I didn’t I’d bet he doesn’t.”

“I think I’ll compare the book to your blog’s archive. Am I bad for not reading it all already?”

I kiss her forehead, “Hardly. I haven’t looked at it for a while either.”

So we have a quiet night in reading. Except when Sally finds something to giggle about. “Whoever’s done this has tried to simplify the continuity for thicker readers.” she points out at one point, “He’s changed the names of the guys in Apt to match the ones you travelled down country with. And did you know you had a torrid on again off again romance with a resistance leader called Isabelle?”

“Really? You’d think I’d remember stuff like that. When I find the person who released this I’m going to mock them soundly.”

“Not beat them to withing an inch of their lives?”

“Not my style any more.”

There are a lot of histories of the war- specific and general- and I have a representative sample of them. Only one of them isn’t a print on demand. None of them is going to be entirely correct, but I should get some new perspectives on my experience.

I go looking for the Battle of the Mediterrannean in all the books. Two are dedicated completely to it, the rest give it a long chapter. None of them agree on the details, beyond the date and the sea it happened in. The time of the first explosion varies over three hours. I don’t know which one is nearest to correct, and I was there. There is even more dischord over whose the bombs were and how they were delivered. The French, the Americans, the British, renegade Americans, Iran. It seems everyone had a hand in the fireworks. The truth, or something a lot closer to it than this, will out eventually I guess. But for now everyone has their own conspiracy theory.

I should get a pad and start comparing the different claims. My own take is pretty much what Marianne was told the following day- that elements in the US Navy had taken matters into their own hands and stopped the imminent bloodletting. “This will all make sense one day.”

“But not right now? It’s still too soon?”

“Yeah. Nowhere near enough perspective. And the government’s haven’t started opening up their files. There isn’t even a US government to have files, as far as I can tell. The Battle of the Meds going to remain an enigma for quite the while. My head’s beginning to hurt.”

“Let’s go to bed. The past can wait for another day.”

Sounds of Soldiers- Guns

Notes There isn’t a continuity error in here, just things Robert hasn’t told us about yet.

I pay for the bullets and Robinson and I go hunting for rabbits to feed to my family. Afterwards I clean the gun- it’s been a few months and I’m getting out of practice.

“Would your friend be able to get me a hand gun?”

“What would you be looking for?”

For a while in France I ha a Caracal sub-compact with the adapter for full size mags. Never used it in anger, but it was accurate at the sort of range you’d expect to be using it at.”

“You’re not planning to do anything silly are you?”

“It’s been suggested that I’m on a list. Certain people think I’ve been naughty. The sort of people who like to car bomb shoppers.”

“No gun’s going to be any use against a boot full of IRA mix.”

“I’m hoping common sense, or paranoia, will protect me from that. I’d just like something just in case.”

“Have you ever killed a man?”

The cleaning is done. I put the gun back in its case. “Three.”

Robinson looks surprised at that, but he believes me. He nods. “I’ll ask.”

Sounds of Soldiers- Piracy

Notes Licenced or licensed? I’ll sort it out later.

Second time lucky on part-exing my old books. I stop by the storage unit to pick up a few more then head for the market.

The load’s so heavy this time that I drag along the trailer as a hand cart, trying not to be too antisocial about it. If possible it’s always good to do a little reconnaissance before committing to anything, so I head for a wander around the book alleys.

Mostly, this load consists of non-fiction- war library stuff and that fine fighting book on Second World War aircraft. The third shop along seems to stock the right kind of books. But it’s not that that makes me stop.

Beside the till is a display of new books, the paper still white and the spines stiff. The sign in front of the pile says “Top Seller!” and the picture on the top copy is very very familiar.

I licensed the image of the Eiffel Tower’s destruction to an agency. They sell it on, take a cut and tell me who’s using it legitimately. I don’t recall them mentioning a book called Sounds of Soldiers, by someone with the same name as me.

I pick up a copy and flip it around to read the blurb on the back. There’s a picture of Robert Jones. It’s entirely unlike looking in a mirror. Apparently alternate me is blonde and vacantly good looking. I wouldn’t be surprised if, like the cover, this image has been stolen.

Robert Jones was trapped in Paris when the Americans bombed the Eiffel Tower, capturing one of the iconic images of the conflict between the USA and old Europe. He then spent over three years covering the war on his blog, witnessing both the atomic battle of the Mediterrannean and the final surrender of American forces.

And, no doubt, all that time he looked good in a poncey sweater, chinos and deck shoes.

I should know better, but I look inside. The chapter titles are familiar enough. No doubt the prose would be as well if I paused to read any. What I can tell from skimming is that the layout is awful and inconsistent and the internal black and white photos are very badly reproduced.

The guy behind the counter looks down at the trailer and nods, “Selling or exchanging?”

“Probably exchanging. If I can find anything interesting.” I put my book down in front of him.

“Yeah. That one’s real popular right now. He tells a good story, but, y’know, no way he did all that stuff.”

I can’t help but smile. I flip the book over and tap the portrait, “No way he did all that stuff. He’s not Robert Jones.”

“How do you know?”

I’m still in the habit of carrying identification. The photo driving licence comes out of my back pocket and I lay it on top of the book. The guy does a double take from the card to me then back to the card. “No. Fucking. Way.”

“Oh, fucking way. Trust me. So, where do you get these from?”

He’s looking very nervous. “We….. uh, we print them ourselves. We’ve got a printer and binder and we download the files and make copies.”

“You pay people for the files?”

“Yeah. And then for copies we sell. As many as we want to tell them we’ve sold, anyway.”

“A trust system. Nice. You’ll have to tell me all about the site you get your files from. And I’ll be taking a few copies for myself. The rest will have to go into storage, or the recycling bin.”

He nods dumbly. I point at the trailer, “So, what can I get for these?”

Sounds of Soldiers- Dancing in the Dark

We watch the reports on the bomb for far too long. The television is the only source of light in the room. More deaths, I really thought I’d left all that behind.

Sally can’t seem to settle. She tries lying with her head in my lap, then curling up against the cushion at the other end. After a while she gets up and walks through to the kitchen to check something. I take the opportunity to check again the locks on the front door and move the bike trailer so that the first thing anyone coming through will do is tip it over.

We both get back to the living room at the same time. She heads over to the television. “That’s about enough of that.” she switches it off.

It’s dark. I’m loving how little light pollution there is in the city nowadays. Of course, it does mean I can’t see where Sally is. Our only guide as we home in on each other is radar on our shuffling and voices.

“Was every day like this in France? Overpowered by knowing you were only streets away from death?”

“Not every day. But too many, for sure.” Let’s see. One, two steps and I’m up against the side of the sofa. Now, there’s no table in the middle of the room, but that also means there’s enough space for us to walk past each other. I make a guess and head off for where I think the television is. I adjust my direction slightly when I hear a giggle.

“I never thought I wanted babies, until I met yours. Now I don’t know, maybe one day. If things ever get better. But tonight I just want to fuck.” After a moment she adds, “If I can find you.”

I take another step toward the voice. A hand brushes against me, stops and grabs T-shirt. Then she’s right against me, one hand pulling my head down into a kiss, the other struggling with my belt.

Sounds of Soldiers- Bomb

I don’t flinch. There’s a twitch of my head at the noise, then the old reflexes tell me the explosion was at a safe distance. I’m the only adult on the street standing upright.

Little Robert is looking up at me. I pick him up and we scan the sky above the rooftops. “There.” The cloud is rising, a darker grey than the others and with flecks in it that glint in the weak sun.

“Was that a bomb?” Sally asks.

“Yeah.” There’s not a lot else it could be.


“F’ck.” says Robert. He’s learning all the wrong English words. Sally goes red.

“That’s…..” I do some triangulation on landmarks. “Right on Market Street.”

There are sirens. People are moving, to and from the explosion. Time was, I’d have been heading for the bomb site. But I have more important people with me today.

As we walk away the paranoia starts. Over there is a row of recycling bins. How deadly could a bomb dumped in a bottle bank be? All that flying glass. There’s a lone car parked outside the Central library. Have I seen it there before?

We are down a side street- no parked cars, no suspicious packages- when my phone starts ringing. I put Robert down. “Hold Tante Sally’s hand.” He’s picking up on my fear, I have to calm down. I know who’s calling without even looking at the phone’s screen. “We’re alright.”

“Thank goodness. Where are you? I can send a car for you.”

“No, that’s…..” actually a really good idea. This isn’t a time for bravado. “We’re just off Portland Street. We can wait at the junction with Oxford Street.”

“Very good.” There’s the crinkly sound of a hand over the mouthpiece, as instructions are passed on. I swap the hand I’m holding the phone in and reach out to Robert. With a nod to Sally we set off for our rendezvous.

“Did you see anything?”

“No, we were quite a few streets away. I reckon it was on Market Street. Large enough to be a car bomb I’d say.” The Americans, logical first choice for any violence, don’t like sending suicide bombers. They prefer booby traps- one repurposed anti-tank mine buried beneath one town’s main square nearly finished the work started by the raiding party that planted it.

Marianne would ask me more questions, but she knows that I’m not in war zone mode and won’t have the answers.

“I have to make some more calls. Thank you for looking after Robert.”

The car arrives at the junction a few minutes after we do. It makes a sweeping U-turn and pulls up next to us. It’s one of those gorgeous multi-fuel hybrids styled after the Citroen DS of old. Up to now I’ve only seen pictures so, despite everything, I just stare for a moment before opening the door.

“I could never send a car for you.” Sally bitches as she settles into the plush seats.

“I’m sure you would if you could.” There’s a rear facing child seat behind the driver. I buckle Robert in and fuss over the straps until I’m sure he’s secure. “C’est bien Papa. Merci.” he eventallty says when it gets too much. I’m still not used to being someone’s Papa.

As we silently roll back to the French consulate Robert regales us with details of how the driver sometimes lets him sit in the front and all the other cars have the steering wheel in the wrong place. The consulate is in Salford Quays, occupying a former hotel. Marianne is waiting as we pull up at the door.

She’s calmer than I managed earlier, but that doesn’t keep her from checking her son for damages. He tells her all about the big bang and exploring empty streets. He’s dropping the occasional English word into his speech, which is gratifying until he punctuates a sentence with “fuck”. Marianne looks at me, trying for a severe expression but failing. “I see you are teaching our son good Anglo Saxon.”

“That was me I’m afraid.” offers Sally, “Sorry.”

“He is a Navy brat. He should know how to curse. And he hears far worse from his grandfather.”

That trips a few connections in my hand. “Oh. My parents are visiting next week. They should meet him. I haven’t told them about him yet.”

“Absolutely. He should know his family. May I meet them as well?”

“I look at Sally for the answer to that. It will all be happening at her house after all. She shrugs, “The more the merrier I guess.”

“Thank you. If you leave now the driver can take you home before he ends his shift. Say goodbye to Papa and Tante Sally Robert.”

He hugs my legs, “Au’voir Papa.”

I pick him up and kiss the top of his head, “Au revoir, petit Robert.”

The proper goodbye performance is saved for Tante Sally. My son is such a tart and I love him even more for it. He reaches up, demanding to be picked up, and they have a long goodbye chat in Franglais.

Marianne turns slightly away from Sally and Robert to talk quietly to me. “This is the first bomb in Manchester in a long time. I have been hearing rumours.”

“About the true identities of some of the Brits returning from the continent?”

“Indeed.” She’s impressed. “Of course, they couldn’t cause long term damage by themselves, but they could create a lot of suffering.”

“I’ll be on the lookout Though I’m sure some folks will be suspicious of me as an incomer.”

Sally puts Robert down and he bounces off through the doors. She gets that broody look again. Marianne turns to her and opens her arms for an embrace. Sally’s taken aback and doesn’t know how to react for a moment. Then she accepts the hug and a kiss on each cheek. Neither says anything. They’re both navigating their strange relationship and can’t think of any phrase that couldn’t be taken the wrong way.

Sally and I sink into the seats in the car and wave to Marianne as we drive away. Then Sally takes one of my hands in both of hers and smiles at me as we hum along empty roads.