Ten-minute thrillers!

Thought I would start something new to keep all of my avid followers amused, pending the publication of my most recent mystery/ crime thriller. Stories with a twist are always a lot of fun. A quick fast read with a mug of coffee to start or end your day. Here is a “Ten-Minute Thriller” to tantalize you with the sort of thing to expect. This is the first of many. There will be one every week for you to enjoy absolutely free. Please share with your friends if you enjoyed the read. Feedback would also be greatly appreciated.

“A Fight to the Death”

By Stephen James

At a time when the plague of greed was paramount…
The foolhardy rantings of a diabolical madman, who instilled sufficient lies to persuade his cohorts to follow, demolished the peaceful harmony of society. It desecrated the very fabric of common decency. Think of the smell of death wafting through the cold night air’s shadows, chilling your every fibre into a sleepless paranoia of fear. How would it plague your mind ─ not knowing who or where your real enemy is?
But I am getting far too ahead of myself. This story begins way back in time…

When Harry Cayuga emigrated from England with his bride Shirley, way back during the freezing-cold winter of 1922, the happy newly-weds had no idea exactly what was in store. Harry, a qualified carpenter, just like his own father before him, had adhered to his Yorkshire-born dad’s advice, taken the generous one hundred and fifty-pound incentive and purchased two second-class tickets to Australia. The steamship Aryanise had delivered them safely to the docks at Sydney, and from there they had caught a train to Melbourne. The capital city of the state of Victoria had been chosen because its weather most-closely matched that of the north of England from whence they’d come. Shirley, now six months pregnant, had pushed for the opportunities on offer in the Land Down Under as it was referred to by the British of the day. Umbilical-to-his-family Harry, had at first objected to the lifestyle upheaval, but eventually came around after his father’s kind financial enticement. Shirley Cayuga gave birth to identical twin brothers on 20th February 1923, she named one Eric after her own father. Shirley’s parents had long since left England’s hustle ‘n’ bustle, and settled in the delightful hamlet of Baiersbronn, nestled in the Black Forest of Bavaria ─ not far from the French border. This was the town in which the couple enjoyed their wedding and honeymoon. Harry had the pleasure of calling his other son Harold in honour of himself. In a strange sort of irony, the two jet-black-haired boys both shared a common middle name. That being Derek because their parents both liked Vaudeville star Derek Sherrington, the popular celebrity of the era. Baiersbronn was so picturesque and romantic that it had proved to deliver the very seed of the twins’ inception.

As youngsters, Eric and Harold were inseparable. They shared a bedroom, ate together, played together, walked to kindergarten hand-in-hand with their mother, and whenever necessary ─ told little white lies to mum and dad to defend the other. As they steadily grew up this pledge never waned, if anything it tightened. Their teachers often remarked to their peers about the incredible bond between the brothers as if they shared a common soul. The outskirts of St Kilda, where the family rented a humble abode, proved to be a rugged upbringing for the without-sibling pair of healthy boys. The suburb had been selected for its healthy beachside environment. Melbourne was a multicultural city. It always had been right from its earliest inception as Australia’s potential Capital city. Most groups in this era, including the small children, were encouraged to stick to their own kind, but talkative-pair, Eric and Harold wanted to acquaint everyone in their first year of Primary School. Sometimes welcomed and sometimes scorned, the persistent pair accepted life for what it offered, black-eyed days and all. Each day, Harry would trundle off to work on one of the many housing construction-sites surrounding St Kilda’s fast-developing fringe areas. Never a drinker, in the evenings he would play with his sons and encourage their education, an area of absence in his youth, until their bedtime. After he’d tucked them in, he would discuss the family’s future in Australia over a late cup of tea with Shirley.

Which never came…

By 1929, with the boys scarcely six, a dreadful disaster overcame the world. After America’s initial stock market crash, the black cloud of depression spread like an out-of-control epidemic. It engulfed the western world, thrusting it into a suppression of industry never before encountered on such a grand scale. Labelled ‘The Great Depression’ for obvious reasons, the jobless numbers soon began to challenge the employed. Harry’s career, collateral damage like so many stalled to a crawl, then his company crumbled altogether. Australia was hit as hard as the rest, with queues of men lining up for hours for hand-outs. Harry became one of them. The dowry left by his father, which they were rebuilding during the late 1920’s, after it at first shrank whilst they established a foothold in the country, had been reduced to a poultry twenty-five pounds. A reasonable sum for the time, but it would barely see the year out.  Shirley found some work as a domestic for a wealthy banker but the meagre one-day-per-week wage did little to assist matters. They grew hungry and desperate. Arguments soon overwhelmed the once-happy family. In his frustration, Harry left himself with little option other than to take to the bottle. A shattering mistake. It led to more intense arguments. As the year dissolved into 1930, it appeared the one and only highlight was a thoroughbred called Phar Lap. The horse’s winning ability gave all Australians something to cheer about. He blitzed the field every race, also claiming the Melbourne Cup of that year, and it appeared that there wasn’t a distance he couldn’t win at. This became Harry’s saviour. He’d bet his last savings on ‘Bobby’ and did quite well. It fuelled his drinking habit, fed his family and quelled the quarrels temporarily, for a year. However, the odds were getting shorter and the handicap-weights were getting heavier. Shirley hated his new ‘punter’ lifestyle but with no other option, kept her mouth shut and fumed silently to herself in private. They ceased to be affectionate during this period. The last straw broke on 3rd November. Harry bet all his remaining reserves on Phar Lap in the 1931 Melbourne Cup and lost the lot. Phar Lap came 8th carrying a ridiculous combination of sixty-eight kilos. It nearly killed the horse.

They now had nothing…

It was all too much for Shirley.  She decided to leave him for the security of a life with her parents in Europe, which was less affected by ‘The Great Depression’. With her she took Eric, leaving Harold with his father. It seemed only fair not to strip him of everything. Devastated, the boys waved goodbye just after sharing Christmas 1931 together. For Harry, it meant doing whatever he could to support young Harold. They share-housed with other unfortunates. He laboured on the roads. He quit drinking. He even stole for him. After peaking in 1932, the depression slowly lifted. Father and son became a unified force. Young Harold did not hate his mother for leaving but struggled with forgiveness for her. His memories of childhood faded as the boy became a man. With the passing years and drop-off of letter writing, the two men galvanized strongly. Education had been substituted for a carpentry apprenticeship, and at sixteen, young Harold Derek Cayuga had it all before him. That was until September 1939 and the outbreak of war…

The Axis forces led by Adolf Hitler needed to be stopped. Great Britain and her allies surged in to assist Poland, France, Belgium and Europe’s other invaded countries. USSR, USA, Australia and New Zealand combined with forces globally to thwart the threat. Initially too young at the outbreak, Harold quickly volunteered for the infantry when permitted, without a whim of dissuasion from his dad. Photographed in his proud uniform and donning a slouch hat, the nineteen-year-old set sail for battle in July of 1942. Harold became part of a special covert group of volunteers who supported the Canadians. He fought in the beach assault at Dieppe in France, where the Axis forces won very swiftly. The allies were lucky to escape alive, many died. He went to The Netherlands and served for month after month, toughening and hardening his resolve as the troops around him fell. Friends were made quickly and lost even faster. He had witnessed bloodshed at its most extreme and was a far cry from the lad who had learned to saw timber for his dad for a living. As a corporal two years on, he was sent back to France to engage at The Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front during World War II. It was launched through the densely forested Ardennes region of Wallonia in eastern Belgium, northeast France, and Luxembourg. It was one of the most significant battles of the entire six-year ordeal.

Just prior to his injection into the desecrated, snow-covered, wintery landscape, he had enjoyed a lengthy furlough from action. This temporary leave of absence saw him enjoy a much needed romantic interlude in the small French town of Vesoul. Julienne Du Manseau was a waitress at a small café. Pretty, dark-featured and petite, he fell for her elfin good-looks and pleasant personality like an anvil out the sky. Her sexy French accent only added further to her captivating charm. Harold promised Julienne that at war’s end he would return to Vesoul for her, and take her back with him to Australia if she desired it. She agreed to his offer. He carried her photograph next to his heart into battle and dreamed of her kisses when lying exhausted in the slushy freezing tent called home. He pictured her face in his mind all the time and convinced himself that it was the German army keeping them apart. It nourished his fervour. By 3rd January 1945, Harold had been away from home for over thirty months. He was mature beyond his years but longed for Melbourne, like a kid craves hugs.

Harold was now twenty-one. He had become resilient friends with Patrick Williams, a tall strong farm-boy from NSW who was in his regiment. They had shared many stories about their homeland during the halts in fighting. Pat seemed, like Harold, to be a bullet-dodger. “Just lucky I guess” they would often agree, upon the sight of one another, after a relieving embrace. It was only three months but to them, it felt like three years. Life was so knife-edged out there. The war was hell. Corporal Cayuga saved Pat’s life after a botched raid left him bayonetted in a sodden ditch. Harold shot the Nazi then carried his friend to safety under mortar fire. It went unnoticed but neither cared much for medals. Following that, machine-gunner Pat had a month’s reprieve from active duty but couldn’t wait to see his mate again. Once reunited, after the mobile hospital unit had patched young Williams up, Harold glared sternly. “Still dodged the lead… you lucky bastard! You’d do the same for me Pat,” was all Harold’s pockmarked-from-shrapnel expression said. And he was right.

Side-by-side they slugged out the long days together, always filthy, always upbeat, keeping each other sane. “You’re the best mate a bloke could ever have!” Pat would say every time their eyes locked…

One moonlit night after a bitterly cold day in mid-January, the two mates lay against a bullet-ridden shed wall sheltering from the wind. “Have I ever shown you this?” asked Williams.
“What is it?” replied Harold, taking a small square piece of cardboard from his friend.
“She’s my girl. Only known her a while ─ but we’re in love…” He smiled like a lottery winner.
Harold instantly recognized Julienne’s every feature staring back from the photo. He knew it happened when Pat was on furlough. He saw scarlet-red and immediately attacked Patrick physically, calling him all the abusive names for betrayal and disloyalty. Pat, totally perplexed, had to fight back. The two soldiers hammered each other to pieces, punching and choking comprehensively while ignoring their surroundings completely. It was boots and all. Bigger stronger Pat was getting the better of the jealous corporal. He held him against the crumbling brickwork and beat him to a pulp, trying to explain his ignorance to Harold’s previous involvement with the French lass but it seemed to matter not. When Pat let him go, Harold came back at him, but this time he’d drawn his bayonet. “You lousy bastard! I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you!” he shouted swiping the blade at Williams’ throat. It was as if all the torment of his first twenty-odd years had exploded inside his head. The pair came together once more with Pat taking a stab in his belly. Ironically it pierced the very same point where he’d received the one which put him in intensive care for weeks, just prior to his tryst at Vesoul. As he fell to the ground, Harold moved in for the death blow. The double-edged blade sat inches from Pat’s face ─ his sorrowful eyes twinkled under the moonlight. “No, please mate,” he begged. “I swear I knew nothing, and she never mentioned a word of you!” The bayonet was raised high, Pat closed his eyes grimacing, knowing what was coming.

When suddenly nothing happened!

“Halt! Don’t do it soldier!” was the next thing they heard. It was a German accent.
Harold spun around, unable to move his arm being gripped by the hand protruding from the German uniform. No weapon drawn. “Back-off you Nazi swine!” he blasted. “This has nothing to do with you. We’ll fight afterwards if you like.” His eyes froze still at the face which was his own. Next to the face was a crumpled photograph. It was of two little boys beside a Christmas tree.
“I could hear your voice, yar vould… plain as if it vas yesterday, Harold,” uttered Eric with a tear. “We’ve lost… and I had comen to give myself up, yar. Don’t murder your friend, please. We have got so much to discuss, my brother!” Pat Williams was spared…

 

 

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