A man walked into a bar. What followed should have been amusing.
The bar was the Moreton Arms in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and the man was a serving Royal Marines Commando. In nineteen-seventy-six, Belfast wasn’t the best place to be if you happened to be in the British military.
He closed the door behind him and took a look around. It was a typical seventies pub. A long wooden bar, several pumps and a shelf of optics with mirrors to make the stock look more abundant. A faded red and gold carpet on the floor. Nine leather topped bar stools. A few blackened tables with high backed chairs. Wooden beams criss-crossed the yellowed ceiling. Horse brasses that needed cleaning. Dim lighting. A smell of stale cigarette smoke permeated the air. There were two people in the room. Himself and the bartender. Not surprising really. Tuesday lunchtimes weren’t the busiest of days for any pub.
The man gave a slight nod, as though to acknowledge that everything was in order. All exactly as he remembered. He took a seat at the farthest stool from the door and sat with his back to the wall.
He moved easily, each joint and tendon and muscle doing its job without complaint.
‘What’ll it be?’ The bartender was an old man. Well into his eighties. He had a thin coating of grey hair and thick grey eyebrows over an affable expression.
The man ordered a lager and watched as the amber liquid filled the pint glass. The bartender placed it on the counter and took the proffered coins.
‘Don’t often get your type in here,’ the old man said.
‘What type is that?’
‘I’m not a soldier. I’m a Royal Marine.’
‘There’s a difference?’
‘Yes. Soldiers are much nicer.’ He took a drink of his lager. ‘How did you know?’
The barman looked him up and down. Well over six feet tall. Broken nose. Scar over his eye and built like a brick outhouse. The English accent clinched it. He smiled. ‘Short hair,’ he said.
Then the door opened again. The second time that day. Two men walked in. One was younger than the man on the stool, but not by much. One was older. In his early thirties. They were definitely not military types. They both had long scruffy hair and both wore black donkey jackets and denim jeans and black boots. Workmen. In the construction industry from the look of their hands. The older of the pair ordered two pints of stout. Strong black ale that offered a meal and a drink in one glass.
‘Where’s Sheena?’ said the younger man.
‘She’s out the back. Preparing food,’ said the bartender.
‘Tell her I’ll have a ploughman’s.’
‘Make that two,’ said the older man.
They took their drinks and sat at the nearest table. It didn’t take long for Sheena McAllister to appear with the two cold platters. She wore a long patterned skirt and a light green blouse that matched the colour of her eyes. Her strawberry blond hair hung in loose waves that flowed across her shoulders.
The man on the stool watched as she came out from behind the bar carrying a plate in each hand. He noticed her slim waist, long legs and the curve of her hips as she laid the meals on the table. She was exactly as he remembered her. A bright breath of fresh air in the musty grey of the city.
The younger of the two men didn’t watch. He leered. His mouth open, his eyes undressing her as she moved. The older man wasn’t much better. His eyes lingered on her breasts for too long. It made her feel uncomfortable, but she made an effort and smiled and spoke pleasantly.
‘Enjoy your food,’ she said, moving away from the table.
‘I’d enjoy you, darling,’ said the older man.
Sheena paused as she walked away. Not enough to be seen by the two at the table, but enough for the man on the stool to notice. A slight hesitancy in her step, an almost imperceptible tensing of her shoulders. A micro second of thought. A decision reached. Not worth the effort. She moved on, behind the bar and towards the man on the stool. She smiled as she approached.
‘Can I get you anything?’ she said.
‘What’s on the menu?’ he said.
‘The usual,’ she said, pointing at the far wall. ‘It’s on the board.’
‘In that case I’ll have the stew, please,’ he said without turning.
She smiled. ‘You’re English.’
‘In the army?’
‘No. Royal Marines.’
He glanced down at his dark blue polo shirt, his blue Levi jeans and his tanned bomber jacket and smiled. ‘No.’
She took a step forward. Glanced momentarily at the two men sat at the table. ‘You ought to be careful,’ she said, quietly.
‘You don’t want any trouble.’
‘Not around here,’ she said. ‘I thought you had your own pubs near the barracks?’
‘I fancied a change.’
‘It’s not safe.’
He took an exaggerated look around the bar. Lingered for a moment on the two men and then came back to her eyes.
‘Looks safe enough to me,’ he said.
She looked at him for a second before moving away to prepare his food. He waited until she was gone and then took another drink of his beer. His hands felt hot. A reaction to her presence. Not so much to do with his mind as his body. Happened every time.
That was when the younger of the two men spoke up. His voice louder than it needed to be.
‘Bloody Tans,’ he said.
There was no reaction even though both men looked in his direction. The man on the stool didn’t show any sign of having understood the insult.
‘It’ll be grand when they’re all dead,’ said the older man.
His voice held a heavy accent. An Irish lilt. Dead had sounded more like ‘ded’. Again, the man at the bar didn’t react. Nothing. He didn’t even glance in their direction.
‘Now then, boys,’ said the barman. ‘We don’t want any trouble.’
‘Then you shouldn’t allow the likes of him to drink in here,’ said the younger of the two. ‘English scum.’
‘I’m telling you. No trouble. Just eat your food and be off with you.’
‘Or what, old man?’
‘Or I’ll be calling the peelers.’
‘You do that and you won’t be having a pub at all. You know what I mean.’
‘Ach, I was only joking with you. You know that, you do,’ said the barman, flustered.
‘You watch your mouth, pops.’
The two men seemed to calm down after their bluster had failed to get a rise out of the man on the stool. They finished their food and sat back to enjoy their drinks.
Sheena returned with the stew. A steaming hot bowl of meat and vegetables and dumplings. One of the delights of serving in Northern Ireland. There weren’t many, but the thick Irish stew was definitely one of them.
‘Looks good,’ he said, stirring the contents with a spoon.
‘It is. Made by my own fair hand.’ She smiled. ‘Let me know if there’s anything else you’ll be needing.’
‘A dinner date,’ he said, before she had a chance to move away.
‘A dinner date. With you,’ he said, smiling. ‘It’s what I’ll be needing.’
‘That’s not on the menu,’ she said. ‘And, anyway, how do you know I’m available?’
‘No ring. Working with your grandfather. A dislike of the local yokels.’ He indicated the two sat at the table. ‘I guessed you’d like a night out with a well bred Englishman.’
‘And what makes you think I like the English?’
‘You’re still standing there. Still talking.’
‘I’m curious, that’s all.’
‘You,’ she said. ‘A soldier on his day off, miles from where he should be. In one of the most dangerous parts of the city and trying to get a date with a local girl. Either you’re completely insane or extremely brave.’
‘Which is it?’
‘Could be both.’
‘How would that be?’
‘Well, it could be that I’m completely normal, but infatuated enough to take risks.’
‘With me, you mean?’
‘Don’t you think I should be?’
‘That’s your concern. I’m just curious as to why a man like you would take such a risk.’
‘A man like me?’
‘Yes. English. In the military. It’s not safe,’ she said again.
‘I woke up this morning, took a shower, got dressed and stepped out into the fresh air. I started walking and ended up here. Nothing bad happened. Perfectly safe.’
She looked at him. Not handsome, but certainly good-looking. Amazing eyes. Deep blue. A scar above his eye. A nose clearly broken at least once. Perhaps a bit rough around the edges. A tad hard in places, but attractive all the same. A man she might normally be interested in getting to know. Normally.
‘I can’t have a date with you,’ she said.
‘People would talk.’ She glanced at the two men. ‘It wouldn’t be safe for me or my grandfather. Anyway, I don’t know you.’
‘Tercaronni,’ he said with a smile. ‘Ian Tercaronni.’
‘Yes, my family originated fro-’
He was suddenly interrupted by a voice from the table. ‘Sheena! Are you going to bloody well serve us, or stand chatting with your English boyfriend?’
Before Sheena could react, Tercaronni stood up and walked over to the table. He’d had enough with the safe issue. Time to prove there was nothing to fear.
‘You’ve had enough,’ he said.
The older of the two men was about to say something, but as he glanced up, he hesitated. He had reached an age when he knew that it didn’t matter how tough you thought you were, there was always someone tougher. He had a feeling he was looking at that someone right now. The man had shown absolutely no unease as he’d walked over. Not even a glimmer of nerves. There was an air of confidence about him. An aura of conviction. A belief in himself and his capabilities.
The younger of the two didn’t have the wisdom that a few more years would bring. With a smirk he looked up at the big man in front of him.
‘Bejesus,’ he said. ‘What’s that smell? Smells like shite.’
Tercaronni looked down into his face. He didn’t say anything. Just looked. And waited.
‘What now, big man? You fancy your chances, eh?’
‘Better than yours,’ said Tercaronni.
‘You want to mess with us? In this town? You’ll be dead before you reach the end of the street.’
‘Really? How come?’
‘We have friends.’
‘You know who.’
‘Leave it alone, Patrick. He’s not looking for trouble, I’m sure,’ said the older man, realizing that the man stood in front of them was not intimidated. Far from it. He had a sudden feeling that the man wouldn’t care if he found trouble or not.
‘Too late, Stevie. He’s found it,’ said Patrick.
‘Not from you two, I haven’t,’ said Tercaronni.
‘You’d like to meet some of my friends, eh? Is that what you’ll be telling us? You want me to call them, do you?’
‘Yes. Right now.’
‘You’re not worth the effort,’ Patrick said, his tone of voice changing.
‘And you’re bluffing. The IRA, the Provo’s, even the UVF wouldn’t want a little oik like you. You’re a coward. And a bully. Want to prove me wrong?’
‘Go easy now, man. There’s no need for this,’ said Stevie, fully realizing they’d got in beyond their depth.
‘I am going easy. You don’t want it any other way. Just finish your drinks and leave.’ He made a show of looking at his wristwatch. ‘Say five seconds. That okay with you?’
‘That’ll be fine, sure enough.’ Stevie reached out to his glass. ‘We’ll be getting back to work.’
‘And you?’ Tercaronni said, looking at Patrick. And then, for no particular reason, added, ‘Gutless.’
The younger of the two men didn’t say anything. He picked up his glass, swallowed the remainder of his drink and stood ready to leave. His face crimson with embarrassment or anger. Or both.
Tercaronni walked back to his corner. He sat down and spoke to Sheena. ‘Now, where were we?’ he said.
She looked at him. Then she looked at the two men as they paid and left. She began to think that perhaps this particular part of the city had just become a lot more dangerous than before.
‘Ah, yes. That’s right,’ Tercaronni said. ‘My name. Yes, my great grandfather was originally from Italy. He settled in England and married my great grandmother.’
‘What have you done? Those two will have friends. They’ll be back when you’re not here.’
‘No, they won’t, Sheena. They have no connections at all. Just a pair of laborers from across the way. From that building site down the road.’
‘How can you be so sure?’
‘If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me.’
‘I will. Over dinner.’
‘No. Not over dinner. I have to work here.’
‘On Thursday morning, then. We’ll go for a walk.’
‘A walk? That’s a date where you come from, is it?’
‘As good as anything else. Better than sitting in a cinema watching a boring film without a chance to talk. Or trying to make a coffee last an hour.’
She laughed then. It was difficult not to. He certainly had a way about him. A beguiling smile. ‘I can’t on Thursday,’ she said.
‘That’s when I buy stock for the bar.’
‘You could do that in the afternoon. We’ll be back by then. I’ll even give you a hand.’
‘You’re persistent. I’ll give you that’, she said. ‘Alright then. But I’ll have to be back no later than two. And no, I won’t be needing your help.’
‘I’ll meet you here at nine. We’ll take a picnic. Walk up to Cave Hill.’
‘What if it’s raining?’
‘We’ll get wet,’ he said, smiling. ‘But don’t worry. It won’t be. The sun will shine and a gentle breeze will blow from the South. It’ll be warm, dry and beautiful.’
‘You’re sure about that, then?’
‘One hundred percent.’
She shook her head in amazement. For a second he had her believing him. She decided, right there and then, that she liked him. Something she didn't normally do. Normally she took a long time to like anyone.
‘You be here. I’ll prepare the picnic,’ she said. ‘And if it’s raining, I’m not going.’
‘Fair enough,’ he said, smiling.
Archie Edwards wasn’t a dunce because that would only assume he was incapable of learning, which he wasn’t. And he wasn’t a fool because a fool only lacks wisdom and Archie had his own ideas regarding wisdom. He wasn’t an ignoramus either. That would have meant he was uneducated or ignorant, neither of which was true, he’d been educated just as much as anyone else in his neighbourhood. No, Archie was none of those. But he was an idiot. A complete and utter idiot. A man who’s stupidity was only matched by his extreme folly.
There was one tiny part of his brain that still managed to reason, however. A tiny packet of cells that allowed him to do slightly more than just function. Unfortunately for Archie, and those around him, its reasoning was defective.
Over the last few months, since he’d turned twenty-one in fact, Archie Edwards had made it well known in the Shankill district, where he lived with his mother and her cat, that he wanted to be a part of a paramilitary force. He didn’t really care which force. Just one of them. Politics and nationalism had gone right over his head. All he really knew, and all he really cared about, was that members of paramilitary forces carried guns. And Archie wanted a gun. A real one. If he had a gun, he reasoned, nobody would ever call him an idiot again.
On Thursday morning he awoke early. He had formulated a plan. A plan that would not only get him what he desired, but also place his name in the annals of history.
He couldn’t help but smile as he opened the back door and made his way to the wooden shed at the bottom of the garden. With the feverish mind of a simpleton, he set about constructing the only piece of equipment he would need.
Tercaronni arrived at the front of the pub at five minutes to nine. He walked around to the rear and knocked on the back door. It was opened a few moments later by Sheena’s grandfather.
‘Good morning, sir,’ said Tercaronni. ‘Is Sheena up yet?’
‘Sir, is it? Fancy that.’
‘Okay. Good morning, Jack. Is Sheena up yet?’ Tercaronni said, smiling. He always liked the old man.
‘She’s up, sure enough. Been up for hours. Clattering every pot and pan she can find.’
‘Would you let her know I’m here?’
‘It’s okay. I’m almost ready,’ Sheena said, calling from behind her grandfather.
‘So, where are you off to on such a glorious day?’ Jack said, killing time.
‘Up to Cave Hill,’ said Tercaronni. ‘See the sights of the city. Would you like to join us?’
‘Ah! Catch me climbing that thing? Not likely.’
‘You look fit enough, Jack. I’d bet you’d be on Napoleon’s nose before we got to his chin.’
Local custom had it that the hills overlooking the city, when viewed from a certain angle, portrayed the facial profile of the late French emperor.
‘For an Englishman, you’re full of blarney, right enough. Kissed the stone I expect.’
Tercaronni smiled. ‘It’s not just you Irish that can flatter, you know. The English know how to kiss arse, too.’
‘Well now, I can believe that,’ said Jack, laughing until he coughed.
‘Don’t get him started, Ian,’ Sheena said sternly as she came to the doorway. ‘Get inside with you, gramps.’
Jack pulled a face that only Tercaronni could see. A raise of the eyebrows and a quick look skywards before he went back inside. The look of a hen-pecked man, but with a twinkle of the eye that implied he was a willing participant.
‘And don’t touch the whisky!’ Sheena said before closing the door and turning to Tercaronni. ‘Here we are then. This is for you to carry.’
He took the handle of the basket she held out.
‘Did you bring your raincoat?’ he said, looking up at a clear blue sky.
‘No, I didn’t. You said it wouldn’t rain.’
‘Yes. It signifies trust.’
‘You think I trust you?’
Tercaronni smiled. ‘I hope so,’ he said, walking beside her.
‘Maybe I just trust the weather forecast?’ she said.
They fell into an easy step as they made their way down Antrim Road. Tercaronni couldn’t help but inwardly smile. This was one of his favourite days. Beautiful sunshine, beautiful views and a beautiful woman. Correct that, a stunningly beautiful woman!
Archie finished his work two hours after he’d started. A person with a fully functioning brain would have taken much less time. He held it up to the light for inspection. In his mind it didn’t look too bad. He’d made a bit of a mess with the black paint, gotten it all over his hands, but from a distance he decided it would fit the bill. Two pieces of wood, cut and nailed together to look a bit like a pistol. He’d gotten the idea from some gangster film he’d watched at the cinema. He couldn’t recall the name.
He held his pretend gun in his right hand and pointed it at his mother’s cat as it cleaned itself on the rear step.
‘Bang!’ he said aloud. ‘Bang! Bang!’
In his imagination the cat exploded into pieces, blood and guts flying through the air, splattering against the faded yellow paint of the door. In reality the cat gave him a disdainful stare before continuing its ablutions.
He put the homemade pistol in his jacket pocket and closed and locked the shed behind him. He walked down the remainder of the garden, opened the back gate and stepped out into the alley running the length of the terrace. He turned left and headed towards the main road.
His mind fast-forwarded through the thoughts in his head like a trailer for a film. His character was a hardened battle veteran up against impossible odds. Enemy forces advanced towards him with evil intent. One after another he gunned them down until he stood victorious. His still smoking weapon held by his side, countless dead and dying at his feet. The images made him grin inanely and he quickened his pace to get where he needed to be.
Tercaronni and Sheena turned left off Antrim Road into Innisfayle Park. They followed the road until it swung away towards the foothills of Cave Hill.
‘Go right here,’ Sheena said, leading the way. ‘It’s a shortcut up to the castle.’
Belfast Castle, presented to the city by Anthony Ashley-Cooper in nineteen thirty-four, was in a state of ruin. The old dilapidated pile looked lifeless and abandoned as they approached. The facade of faded paint, broken windows and rusted ironwork was a far cry from the glory of the architect’s original vision.
‘That’s a bit sad, don’t you think?’ Sheena said, pausing to look.
‘Bloody greedy,’ said Tercaronni. ‘Why one family needed something that big is beyond me.’
‘For show,’ said Sheena. ‘To prove they were wealthy.’
Tercaronni thought back to some of the lives he’d lived in the past. During the dark periods when he didn’t care, hadn’t wanted to care, he’d done some pretty stupid things, but he couldn’t ever remember feeling the need to erect a monument to the world. His particular lunacy had been more about fast cars, fast women and an even faster life. He shook his head to clear his thoughts. He didn’t want to go there again.
Now he had a plan. A way to live without going insane. Sheena McAllister was another piece of the jigsaw he was trying to complete. A jigsaw with millions of pieces and all of them blank. No clues as to how they connected. In truth, he sometimes felt he was attempting the impossible, striving for the unthinkable, but those bleak feelings didn’t come often. Not so often as to divert him from his goal.
He glanced at the woman beside him as she looked at the ruin. And there were some benefits to living his life over and over again. Sheena was definitely one of them. A woman who made his hands sweat and distracted his mind.
‘Maybe they’ll restore it?’ he said, knowing full well that in two years time the local government would spend over two million pounds returning the castle to its former glory.
‘I wouldn’t think so,’ she said with a sigh. ‘Too expensive.’
‘Well, it’ll be sad if they knock it down. It would make a great tourist attraction. A visitor centre for the city. They could have a cafe and a souvenir shop. And field trips to the caves. That sort of thing.’
‘That’s a good idea,’ she said, turning and looking at him. ‘Not such a dumb grunt after all?’
‘I may be dumb, but I’m no grunt,’ he said, laughing at her attempt at army slang. ‘I’m a bootneck, ma’am. A Royal Marines Commando, at your service.’ He did a mock bow.
‘A bootneck? Is that what they call you?’
‘Yes. From the early days when marines served onboard ships. They carried their boots around their necks to stop the Jacks from stealing them.’
‘What’s a Jack?’
‘A sailor. Poor buggers that couldn’t afford shoe leather. Of course, another theory is that marines cut a strip from their boots and tied it around their necks to stop the sailors from cutting their throats. But that’s just stupid.’
‘A Royal Marine being bested by a Jack Tar? Ridiculous idea.’
Sheena smiled as they continued the journey towards the hills. It was quite nice having a man like Tercaronni with her. Very nice, actually. He was a welcome change to the drudgery of working in a bar and a lot different from the usual young men that tried their luck. Tercaronni hadn’t spent much time on flattery or small talk. He’d just come straight out with it. A dinner date. No awkwardness. No embarrassment. Not like the other men who had asked. His confidence, his positivity and self-assurance were very appealing. And, besides all that, he had a to-die-for body. Not for the first time she wondered what he’d look like without his shirt.
Archie crossed the road when he reached the junction of Hopefield Avenue and Antrim Road. He leaned against the low wall surrounding the compound where the Ulster Farmers Union had its headquarters. Not much more than a collection of scattered buildings on the far side. In front of the buildings things were in full swing.
Traders from various parts of the city and outlying districts came together to sell their produce at the farmers’ outdoor market. Their brightly decorated stalls offered prospective customers everything from fresh eggs to locally grown turnips. Archie had yet to see what he wanted. He fidgeted, stepping from one foot to the other, as he scanned the heads of the people wandering around the stalls. A few people gave him a sideways look, but quickly dismissed him as a simpleton and carried on about their business.
A few minutes later, what Archie had been waiting for, arrived. A dark green Land Rover pulled up at the kerb. There were eight marines in it. Two in the front and six in the back. The two sat nearest the tailgate jumped down onto the road. They said something to their mates before smiling and turning towards the market entrance.
Archie stared at them. He took in their camouflage uniforms, their polished black boots, their emblems and badges of rank. He saw the green berets and the various pouches the two men wore on their canvas belts. He noticed it all and, just as quickly, dismissed it. He was focused on only two things. His eyes flickered slightly as he ogled first one and then the other. Each of the soldiers carried a self loading rifle. Archie couldn’t take his eyes off the darkened metal and wooden stocks. Real weapons. Made for one purpose and one purpose only. To kill. To project a piece of lead into the body of an enemy. Or a friend. Or a cat. Archie didn’t spend too much time thinking about that sort of thing. All he wanted was the ability to shoot anyone or anything that mocked his stupidity. With one of those rifles in his possession, no one would ever call him an idiot again.
The Land Rover pulled away, leaving the two soldiers guarding against trouble at the market. It was a duty they had been assigned for the last three weeks and one they’d been lucky to pull. Watching people shop was a hell of a lot better than dealing with riots on Falls Road. They certainly didn’t expect any trouble. Especially from the young man approaching their position.
Archie advanced towards them with a grin. He pulled the wooden pistol from his jacket pocket and pointed it directly at the face of the first soldier.
‘Hands up!’ he said in what he thought was a commanding and powerful voice. Exactly as he remembered from the film.
The second soldier reacted quickly. He raised his weapon and took aim at Archie’s chest. The first soldier looked at the stringy young man and gave a distinct order.
‘Drop the gun!’
His tone was the opposite of Archie’s high-pitched squeak. It barked across the space between them. A sound that demanded compliance.
Archie hesitated. Almost lowered the pistol. His outstretched hand dropped ever so slightly, almost of its own accord. He blinked in the bright sunshine. People scattered. He stood alone, with a pretend pistol, facing two fully armed English marines. An SLR pointed directly at his chest.
The colour drained from his face. In the gangster film everyone did as they were told. He couldn’t understand why things were suddenly going wrong. In his mind’s eye, the two soldiers meekly lowered their weapons and stood back with their hands raised. Why weren’t they doing that now?
‘Drop the gun!’ The voice of the soldier barked again. Even louder. Causing more confusion in Archie’s already weakened mind.
Corporal Jonathan ‘Taff’ Williams looked at the face of the man in front of him. Hardly a man, he corrected himself. More like a boy. There was something odd about him. Something wrong with the picture. He gave him the once over. A mop of greasy black hair. A thin face. Eyes that at first had appeared bright, but now looked dim and distant. Skinny arms and legs. A red button-down shirt, every button fastened, with what looked like splashes of black paint on the front. Brown mohair trousers. A size too big. Maybe two sizes. White trainers, scuffed and old. A thin arm outstretched holding a black pistol. Black paint on white fingers. The pistol. Pointing at his colleague.
‘Hold your fire!’ he said, suddenly seeing what it was that was wrong. Suddenly putting all the pieces together. The man in front of them wasn’t normal. The pistol wasn’t real! The man was some kind of dummy. Not right in the head. An idiot!
He reached out and dropped his hand on the barrel of the SLR pointing at the man’s chest.
‘Stand easy, Tony. The lad’s a looney.’
Marine Tony Richards was still on edge. His first tour and the first time he’d come close to action. His training had done him proud. His reaction time had been faultless. His rifle brought to bear, the safety switch dropped, all in a split second. He heard his corporal’s voice and felt the weight pull down on the rifle. He jerked in reaction to the extra burden. His right wrist twisted. The muscle of his forefinger tightened. The trigger moved back. The firing pin sprang forward. The detonating cap exploded and ignited the compacted powder in the casing. The bullet left the barrel at almost three thousand feet per second. The copper-alloy jacketed piece of lead slammed into the concrete at Archie Edwards’ feet. Bent and twisted from the force of the impact, it ricocheted off to the right and passed through a point in the air in front of a vegetable stall before burying itself deep into a wooden cross beam.
The point in the air had been exactly five feet and two inches above the ground. Exactly the same height as Sheena McAllister’s chin. If she had been standing there, as she had been so many times in the past, the bent and twisted metal would have burst through her lower jaw, smashed through her palate, passed through her nasal cavity and entered her brain. She would have been dead before she hit the ground. Luckily, she was nowhere in the vicinity. Not this time.
‘Bloody hell,’ Corporal Williams said, when the noise from the explosion had finally abated.
‘Sorry, corporal. My finger slipped,’ said Marine Richards.
The corporal took a look around. People were watching him. He had to get moving. He approached the idiot first.
‘Give me that!’ he said, snatching the toy from the man’s shaking fingers. The paint hadn’t even dried properly. ‘You’re bloody lucky nobody got hurt, young man. Believe you me! A bloody miracle that was.’
He turned to the crowd.
‘Alright, ladies and gentlemen,’ he said loudly. ‘All sorted. Nothing to worry about.’
Archie Edwards began to cry. Tears ran down his face and snot bubbled out of his nose. All he wanted to do was go home. A large wet patch appeared on the front of his trousers. He needed his mum.