About your Book:
Chris is a confused man. Brought up a British baby boomer, he is surprised to find he has a connection with Fritz, an orphaned German boy who was found dead in the boot of General Patton’s Cadillac at the end of World War 2. Chris discovers the link through a meeting with Jimmy Lucas, an American GI, who he believes could be his father. But the surprise turns to horror when he learns that Jimmy was involved in the death of both the orphan and the General.
The meeting, and subsequent confrontation, between Chris and Jimmy takes place in San Francisco, decades after the Cadillac incident, under duplicitous circumstances of Chris’s own making. The tragedy that follows this confrontation causes Walt, the loyal comrade-in arms of Jimmy and the man who saved his life, great pain and distress. Unable to face up to this Chris is frightened back to Britain, where he buries the details in the back of his mind. Diminished in his own eyes, ashamed and full of self-reproach Chris cannot find the courage to discuss it with Wendy, his wife.
He concentrates for many years on leading a decent life, respected by the community and loved by his family, but struggles to balance this with what he feels is his own flawed inner character. When Walt contacts Chris he is eager to see him again. He hopes, deep down, to make amends for what was done back then in San Francisco. Walt is the only man who has come close to being the father figure that Chris sought throughout his earlier life. Could his devious actions, painfully and inadvertently revealed to Walt, have destroyed any chance of friendship with this, his new hero?
Targeted Age Group: YA and adult
Genre: Contemporary fiction; coming of age
The Book Excerpt:
Chapter 1: THAT LIMEY SOB
Why the hell did I agree to see that Limey SOB?… Does he know something about the accident?… I must be crazy!… Jeez!…
Jimmy Lucas lit up a cigarette, walked across his first floor apartment and picked up his World War Two medals for the fifth time that morning. Gazing at the two medals that caused his heart to swell, wiping his forefinger lovingly across them, his vision blurred and moved through the medals, taking his presence first to Sicily 1943 and then on to Ardennes 1944. He tried to swallow the amorphous mass that crept from his heart to his throat as memories of comrades and events from those years crowded for a place in his consciousness.
…One day, one day, one day…
Once again Jimmy carefully put down the lumps of metal, as he would delicate porcelain, onto the highly polished side table. Unconsciously, he once again lightly stroked the medal ribbons with his finger tips; ribbons of red, white, blue, black and gold. Once again he sighed. He removed his hated reading glasses from his nose, polished the lenses with a sparkling white handkerchief, and returned them to the drawer in the side table. This mirrored wood sat beside his favourite armchair where he settled for all of twenty five seconds, before rising for the tenth time and walking to the window. He looked out onto the deserted Concord street.
What the hell was I thinking? Jeez! I must be crazy! Who is this Limey SOB?… Says he writes for the BBC… The Brits ain’t the same no more… They had pride in the war… Now they got nothin’… Had an empire for Chrissake!… This commonwealth crap don’t count… Bet he’s late… They’re always late the Brits… Like they still owned half the world… Jeez! We won the war for ’em!…
Sunset Avenue looked pristine in the late morning sunlight. The shadows were short and the heat haze lazy and long. No vehicles; no people; not even a stray dog to litter the street. It was the end of April and already the garden sprinklers were needed. As he dreamily observed the recurrent rainbow in the rotating sprays of the sprinkler across the street, Jimmy felt grateful for the cool air that issued from the air conditioning grid on the adjacent wall; then guilt.
‘Sgonna be a scorcher… Gettin’ soft these days… Just mud in the war! Mud, mud, mud!…
He picked up the framed photograph of a group of US marines and stared through the black and white images for a few seconds, as he smelt the oil fumes and the smoke of burning buildings and heard the sounds of that day; tanks and trucks being loaded up and heading west to the outskirts of Mannheim. His younger self smiled back at him from the group and Jimmy proudly approved of this militarily smart marine. Despite all of the mud and rain and cold of that Bavarian winter he had maintained the standards expected of a US marine. To this day he still sported a neatly clipped pencil moustache and a slightly Bryllcreamed, combed-straight-back short hairstyle. It had cost him a lot of cigarettes and contraband to get his hair cut properly at the end of the war. But it was worth it – his standards were what kept him going through the chaos and terror and death, through the last few days of war madness, through his life afterwards – through the last few years. And didn’t it just show in the other photograph that he now held. Blowing away a speck of dust, that only Jimmy could see, from the edge of the frame he stared fondly at the picture of General George S. Patton and himself. The general had one arm around the shoulder of Jimmy’s best comrade-in-arms, Walt Sheppard, and the other around Jimmy Lucas. The sun had shone briefly on that cold December day; shone long enough for a decent photograph and thirty years later all three soldiers gleamed at him with military precision and smartness, from out of the black and white bleakness.
Course that was before… Before the accident… Before Fritz was killed… Before OBAG… and the Cadillac… and…
A tear fell to the carpet, after bouncing off the edge of the photo frame and surprising Jimmy out of his nostalgic musings. He sniffed, blinked away a second tear and murmured, ‘What a loss. What a loss to the country. What a loss to the world.’
Returning the photographs to their place on the side table next to the medals he straightened up and glanced in the mirror to check his appearance again. Yup – he was still the same upright, immaculate guy in the photographs – OK a lot greyer round the temples and with a few wrinkles across his forehead, and around his mouth and eyes – life experiences. But the grey-green eyes still stared fiercely back at him, challenging, causing those who met him to pause and think, ‘Does this man know me? Does he know something about me? Have I done something wrong? Why do I feel like this?’
Jimmy Lucas lit up another cigarette.
Jimmy Lucas was a veteran of World War Two and in his fifty-fifth year. He took a soldier’s pride in his bearing and attire and he wanted you to know about it. Always insisting on a neatly trimmed hair cut, he was painfully clean-shaven, and preferred a fresh, crisp pale blue or ice white shirt, with grey flannel trousers whose creases could slice apples. He could never understand why so many US vets, fresh from Vietnam or Cambodia, let themselves go when they returned to the States. The first time he saw them on the TV News with their long hair, sideburns or beards he had shouted at the screen: ‘Damn hippies! A disgrace to the uniform! Turn it off!’ He continued yelling at the blank screen long after his daughter, Julie, had obeyed this commanding outburst. She glared at her father, speechless and powerless, then stormed out of the room. He lit up a cigarette and thumbed through his Sousa records.
‘How do you put up with him, Momma?’ she demanded of her mother in their spotless, Formica and chrome kitchen; the sharp frustration in her voice glancing and pinging off the sparkling range of technological gadgets her mother had just shone clean. Patiently Miriam wiped her hands dry and held Julie gently by the shoulders. ‘He’s probably in pain again, dear,’ she said. ‘You know what it’s like when his leg hurts.’ Julie looked up to the ceiling.
Oh no! Not his damn leg again! He uses it, Momma, to make us both feel guilty or ashamed when it suits him… The son-of-a-bitch! He’s just a bully… Always has been!… Julie tried to smile at her mother.
Miriam smiled her most understanding smile and the worry lines around her brow, eyes and mouth were emphasised further, settling into their permanent spots.
‘I know,’ said Julie. ‘But he orders us around like we were in the army. It’s been twenty five years since the War ended and he still gripes about his injuries! It’s not my fault he still has a bullet in his leg! And he goes on and on about lost comrades – and Patton! That’s a whole different thing… I’ve lost friends in this Vietnam thing, Momma!… Brad, Wes, Jonathan – such a sweet boy – I went to college with them – and now they’re dead… And he’s worse with you, Momma. How do you stand it? How have you stood it – for all these years!’ she pleaded.
Miriam grew angry at this. At least she allowed an edge to her, usually tired but kindly and understanding, voice. ‘No, Julie! Don’t speak like that about your father.’
… Papapapa papapapa papapumpumpum!
‘He’s a good man. He’s always made sure that we had a comfortable life.’
… Papapapa papapapa papapumpumpum!…
Oh no! Not that military music again!
The unrestrained sounds of a brass band demanding attention blared from their living room. Miriam tried hard not to look at the ceiling. Julie kept her head perfectly still but the pupils of her eyes were drawn to the ceiling like ball-bearings to a magnet. She forced the ball-bearings down again – but too late – Miriam had seen them. She pursed her lips, about to scold this young woman that she loved more than life, but it was no good. As soon as they both made eye contact again their private joke was out – and they collapsed laughing, in the spotless kitchen, hugging each other.
Miriam got back her composure first: ‘It’s not been easy for him you know. He wanted to stay in the army. It could’ve been his career. But, no… that bullet…’
Oh I love you so much, Momma. I love your patience with me – and with him… And I love the way you defend him – come what may. Such loyalty… Makes me want to weep… I suppose I love him too. I hope I get to feel that way about a man one day… But he is a bully!
‘He’s a good man. It wasn’t easy you know for the first ten years of our married life. They didn’t want to take him back at the garage – thought he couldn’t get under some of the cars to fix ’em. We could see the pain he was in just walking. I don’t know how he did it. It was much worse then. The bullet’s…’
Yeah, Momma, I know already. You told me a hundred times. The bullet is too close to a main artery to operate… at the top of his leg or somethin’…
‘He’s just got strict standards and ideas. You could not find a more honest man, Julie my dear.’… Now please let it drop, Julie. I feel so tired… so tired.
‘No person – apart from you, Momma – could ever live up to his ideas, his ideals!’ Julie retorted. ‘Don’t I know it. Don’t I just! I know, I know, Momma. I do understand, but it’s so difficult sometimes. I’m gonna be twenty seven next birthday and what with these wars – Cambodia, Vietnam – and Daddy’s attitude there are no young guys around to date – let alone marry! I am never, ever gonna forget how his attitude scared away any boy that was interested in me! Now they’re either dead, or in a wheelchair or with some other girl. I don’t…’
Oh my poor baby! And he loves you so much. What can I say? What can I do?
Miriam gently placed her finger on Julie’s lips and whispered, ‘Sh! I know, I know, my dear. Please be patient with him. He only wanted what was best – what he thought was best – for you.’ Julie sighed and they kissed and hugged each other, before continuing to prepare supper. From the living room it continued: Papapapa papapapa papapumpumpum!
Jimmy enjoyed the music of brass bands immensely – particularly the marches of John Philip Sousa. Would it have made any difference to him if he had known about Sousa’s Bavarian mother? Probably not – even considering the hardships he and his comrades of the Third US Army had suffered during bitter Bavarian winters, when serving under Patton in 1944 and 45. Jimmy did have a conflict of loyalty when his hero, as the Bavarian Military Governor, wanted to appoint Nazis to various administrative posts in the autumn of 1945…
What was Patton thinking? It was betrayal of his country, of everything his men had been fighting for! Was I fighting for Old Blood and Guts or for Ike and the USA? Jeez what a problem!… Still it got sorted… Yup! I think it worked out in the end… Except for the accident… Poor little Fritz. What was he doin’ in the trunk of that Cadillac?… Jeez!
Jimmy could not understand why the two women of his family always walked out of the room when he played the music of the man who wrote The Stars and Stripes Forever. He knew they were loyal to their country. He reckoned it was too loud for them and things had improved when he bought a music centre with a headphone socket. Julie bought her dad just the right birthday gift – a pair of stereo headphones! For a while everyone was happy. Sure, Julie and her mother could still detect a tinny-sounding papapapa papapapa papapumpumpum while they tried to watch I Love Lucy on the TV, but it was worth it. And for a while – only a short while – everyone was happy.
But he no longer needed those headphones. Those beautifully cushioned, left and right independent-volume-controlled bringers of family happiness became objects of regret and discord with the world. Jimmy had not used them for the past five years. Now there was no need to consider the other members of his family, however grudgingly, however grumpily, however sheepishly – not since the accident.