Moments ago Jimmy had been pleading for his life. Now, kneeling in the dark amongst the filth of the street, he had become silent. Behind him Freddy’s cigarette ember burned a hole in his silhouette. Freddy finished his cigarette by crushing it against his boot sole, walked over to Jimmy, put the pistol to the back of his head and fired.
Jimmy’s brains hit the floor right before he did.
Freddy stared at Jimmy’s body a few seconds. The gunshot had knocked the eyes from his head and they stretched out from the mess that was left by two stringy cords. Jimmy’s last words to Freddy had been, ‘You’re no fucking hero’. He jammed the pistol down the back of his pants. The barrel was still hot. The air smelt of gun powder and the contents of Jimmy’s head.
Later that night Freddy dreamt of the war. He dreamt of the trenches and the rain and the mud and the smell of mustard gas and the screams of the dying. In his dream he was afraid and shivering. His helmet played a tune to the rain drops and he could hear the whistle blow and then shouting and smoke. He dreamt of carnage and rage and fear. When he awoke his bed was damp with sweat and tears. The sheets, twisted. He lit a cigarette. While he smoked he thought about Jimmy. He hadn’t really known him. Only by reputation. No hero. Just a straight razor in a cheap suit. Like Freddy.
He walked to the window and blew smoke. ‘Yeah, I’m no hero.’ He stayed there until dawn staring out the window, thinking and smoking.
A knock at the door and a voice said, ‘Telephone.’ Freddy shouldered his suspenders and threw on his jacket. Downstairs, Freddy picked up the ear piece and spoke into the phone, ‘Yeah.’
‘Yeah, it’s done.’
‘We’ll see you tonight.’ Click.
Freddy hung the ear piece up on the phone and went back upstairs. He collected his things into a small suit case. Just a change of clothes, shaving kit and a box of rounds. He picked the pistol up off the dresser and secured it back down his pants and grabbed his hat and left.
Somewhere, in an office, a man hung up a telephone ear piece. His thick hand rested on the the receiver. ‘It’s done. Apparently.’ Another man sitting across a desk from him, with blonde short back and sides, frowned. His lips sewn together in a granite line.
‘Apparently?’ said short back and sides.
‘I should just take his word for it?’
‘Kid’s a war hero.’
‘Pppht. Fuckin’ war hero. He’s not all there ya ask me’
‘Your a fucking tough nut to crack Hank. Give the kid a break. And who fuckin asked you anyway?’
‘Got sent home with shell shock is what I heard. A fuckin’ nutter.’
‘Oh yeah? Shell shock ay? Who told ya that?’
‘Just heard it. Dunno who from.’
‘Didn’t take you for a gossip Hank.’ Short back and sides stood. He walked over to a bottle of gin and poured. He looked at Hank and raised an eyebrow with a question mark. ‘It’s only 9 in the mornin.’ From Hank.
‘Fair enough.’ He corked the lid and he sipped and he sat. ‘Believe me if he didn’t knock ‘im off we’ll know about it soon enough. Jimmy’s too fuckin’ stupid to keep his head down for long unless its been permanently caved in.’
‘Either way I’d keep a short fuckin leash on this Freddy cunt. War hero or no.’ Short back and sides listened. He stared into his glass. Swirled it. Drank it.
Australia, post WW1, where for some, the war never really ended.