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Out of the Woods

Chapter 2.

When Murph, who was counting, came to Doyle and whispered, 'That's the three thousand, corp,' Doyle just nodded and they did the next hundred yards.

They heard it before hearing it, suffering again the reflex action of going down to earth. Machine-gun fire, a burst, and whatever the zipping bullets over their heads beside him Doyle felt Bodie suck in a breath, tight and hard.

He's been hit, Doyle thought. He could have imagined it; had imagined it before, himself being hit or Bodie, but this time he knew it for sure, reeling lightheaded, heartbeat drumming against the dirt as though Bodie's adrenaline was his. He grabbed the man's rifle instead of his hand, clenched it tight, saw Bodie's eyes roll towards him in the dark with the barest glint.

Eventually the gunfire died, the others rising stealthy in the dark. Doyle couldn't move, lying there clutching the length of Bodie's gun, willing him to laugh it off, rise.

''m all right,' Bodie whispered, heard by Doyle alone. 'I'm all right.'

'You've been hit.'

Bodie sat up abruptly. The others were gathering, ready to move on, Bodie whispering at Doyle, 'I'm all right! Let me go!'

'Shh, mate. Course you're all right. Just a bit nervous, stray fire, I know.'

'Brown trousers time.'

'Don't have to go telling the other side that. Come on, come on.'

Doyle saw Bodie's hand then, darkness dripping like rain from the fingertips, making no sound in the dirt. Bodie was gritting his teeth, tendons in his throat and jaw popping, swallowing, swallowing.

Hoarsely, Bodie said, 'You lot go on. I'll just – snoop around here for a bit—'

'I'll come,' Doyle said.

'No! For fuck's sake, you stay with them—'

'Murph can get them back easy enough. All right, Murph?'

'Sure, Doyle.' A hesitation. 'What do you want me to tell them—'

'We're just staying out here for an eyeball. Not long. Just a moment or two.'

'Bodie—'

'Fucking piss off, Murph.'

Murph took Doyle's forearm and squeezed it firmly, the only gesture they really allowed to escape the censorship of their fellowship — except for Bodie, who liked to provoke, with intent or not. Bodie, who was shaking now against Doyle's side, under a hill in a chunk of sparse French forest, never more alien than now.

A rustle, light and almost inaudible, then they were alone in the darkness.

Bodie sank to his knees, wrist held tight by his good hand, rocking. There were tears in his eyes from the pain, catching sparse starlight. Doyle sank with him.

'Let me look at it.'

'Fuck off!' A gasp. 'God. Hurts.'

So much for great fortitude. But the words turned in Doyle's stomach even as he thought them, shame and bitterness. All well and good to lie there smoking a cigarette after a mortar blew off half your leg, but it was shock, wasn' t it? And shock was a refuge that Bodie failed to take. The blood was running fast, the smell thick. Doyle had to force Bodie's hand high, letting the blood run over his own fingers as well as Bodie's cramped grip.

'S'a Luger in my pocket,' Bodie said. 'Ray?'

'What?'

'I'm going to die out here, I always knew it. France is as good as Africa. I'm going to die right now. Get the Luger for me, Doyle. Won't ask you to take the shot, would never ask that. But just get it out for me.'

That Luger. Always loaded. When others saw Bodie with it, he'd give one of his patent grins, say he was hanging on to it just in case he ran out of ammo. It was true, too, he'd killed two soldiers with it not three days ago, joked about taking them down with their own gun. Doyle had even tried to laugh, too, but it was getting harder every day.

'Not a chance.'

'I never took it for the ammo,' Bodie told him. 'I've seen what happens, out in Africa, I know, mate, and I'm not going to go back — broken, you hear? Whole or not at all. There's a bleeding great hole in my hand, and they'll have to cut it off, you hear, this hand with a bleeding great hole in it, so just get me the Luger out, and go, get the fuck away, leave me to it. And if you or our mob have to come back out, well, you dig me a hole here and that'll be all anyone's got to know of it, I'm not going back like this—'

'One day, mate, you and I are going to have words about your tendencies for melodrama.'

'Ray—' Broken and desperate.

Doyle flinched, scrubbed ferociously at his nose, which was dripping in turn. 'Shut up, you half-Irish son of a bitch. Where's your bloody tourniquet?'

Hysteria, restrained by the circumstance, the unseen guns lurking in the darkness. 'Same pocket as the Luger.'

'You daft fucker.'

'Never pretended otherwise.'

Training took over, bootlace fumbled from about the cool metal of the gun, twisted tight with a nail and pinned to Bodie's jacket sleeve. Bodie let go of his own wrist slowly, the limited blood pounding fit to make him cry out, muffled against Doyle's shoulder. It wasn't enough; they were flattened against the dirt again, by instinct and habit, clinging to sanity as the dragon raged overhead. Then they were going, silent as they could, Doyle not wanting to think about what would happen if they stopped.

They were challenged at the wire. 'Bodie? Doyle?'

'Yeah,' Doyle said.

'Murph said you were nosing around something.'

'That's right.'

'See anything?'

'Sweet fuck all.'

Bodie surprised him by stepping up. 'These commando stunts might be good for some. Me and him, we've got a pair of birds waiting for us in Barcelona.'

'Yeah, don't we all.'

They went down into the posts, Bodie leading the way, Doyle shadowing his bloodied side. Doyle instinctively knew Bodie was looking for somewhere to hide, and grabbed him by the shoulder, stopped in the corridor, low lamps at eye height and glaring.

'Look, you've got to go to the doctor.'

'I'm not.'

'Oh, come on—'

'I'm not! If they know about it, they'll send me off to hospital, my name will hit the papers in the list of the wounded — I got a bloody mother back in Liverpool, Doyle, she's not seen or heard of me for six years, how'd you think she's going to feel when she sees my name with the wounded? Have a heart!'

'She'll feel a damn sight better than if she sees your name in the list of the dead!'

'You can't, Doyle. They'll send me away. This was my last chance!'

Stilled, by the pain in that last desperate sentence. Delusional or not, there was something wretched and truthful resounding. Doyle closed his eyes, pained, rested his head against Bodie's shoulder. 'This is a funny place to find redemption, mate.'

'Yeah, well.' Bodie's good hand, brushing over Doyle's l imp curls. 'I didn't ask for it.'

'Some might beg to differ. Oh, Bodie. You're going to be in a world of pain when that tourniquet comes off.'

'I know.'

'We've got to get it treated. Cleaned. Jesus, let me look at it at least—'

The mangled limb was ceded with such trust Doyle felt dizzy. The lights were never right down here, played funny games with the eyes, made everything feel surreal. Their stumbling progress through the wood, even stranger, as though it had happened to strangers. Bodie's ridiculous plea, that cursed Luger weighing heavy in his pocket even now; had to have been another person. Had to. Bodie would never—

Oh God, Doyle thought. If I hadn't been there, would he have—

The bullet had gone in at an angle, come out of the palm. The parts not clotted with blood were paper white for the lack. Doyle's vision swam, bile rising.

'Should've put a field dressing on it. I just completely forgot.'

'So it'll be all right? Slap some sulphanilamide about, good as new—'

'The bone's bloody shattered. You need to see a doctor.'

'Let's get this straight, Ray, are you my friend?'

'Yeah, and I'm also your corporal, and I say you're going to the doctor.'

'I'm not going to—'

'You're a mad, conceited, headstrong, stubborn bastard, who is going to the doctor, you hear me? And they will not send you away. I promise you. Go to the doctor. I won't let them send you away.'

Bodie's desperation softened, slumping, warm, against Doyle's side, until he said almost sanely, 'All right, Ray. Do what you want with me.'

'Oh, let's see,' heavy with mocking. 'Put you in silk knickers and spank you for a conceited virgin?'

A tired, willing laugh. 'No, you fool. Take me to the doctor.'

'Now that's a clever idea. Where'd you come up with that?'

'I bet you thought I'd never ask.'

January 2012

Continue to Chapter 3


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