It’s all in the voice.
by Anton Wills-Eve
<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/daring-do/”>Daring Do</a>
in response to a prompt to write a rescue story.
It was late in April 1970 when, on a balmy summer’s evening in a jungle clearing in Cambodia , Mike and I sat down to enjoy a bottle of really good Australian wine. Somehow being a war correspondent did not really matter much to either of us. We were still alive and grateful to be. Our salaries were mounting up at a great rate in bank accounts back home, and everything in the garden was lovely.
“What do you miss most about not being back in Oz, Mikey?” I asked him as I downed my second glass. His reply was instant.
“Easy mate. Cricket. More than a year without seeing a single ball bowled or hit. It’s getting depressing.” Just how depressing he demonstrated by finishing his third glass and starting to open a second bottle. “Gee, life’s hard in this place. Only enough wine for six glasses each and then we have to get back to Pnom Penh to stock up again. How have you put up with it for so long ?” I smiled and explained that the seven years I spent in Paris from 1960 had made it possible for me to add a bottle of Pernod a day to my diet and this helped to create an unreal world in which nothing scared me any more.
I reckoned my body could take another couple of years of this without hinting I might be making myself ill. I was still only twenty eight and had the constitution of a water buffalo. I had been shot twice, in the lower leg and the upper arm, been blown up three times, survived a helicopter crash and, luckiest of all, actually caught a knife just as it was about to enter my rib cage. I swear I could never have done that sober. But booze sharpened rather than slowed down my reactions. Life was not that bad as Mike said. We were really quite lucky but agreed that if we missed one thing more than anything else it was female companionship. He put it very well when he mused,
“You know, fellah, it’s just not worth the risk of serious illness buying sex in the local knocking shops. So what else is there? I hope my Sheila back home will still love me when I return, but her letters are arriving much less frequently and if I lose her I’ll have to start looking around all over again. Gee, life can be a pig at times. What a pain to look forward to!”
I loved listening to his raw but realistic view of life. But when the second bottle ran out we got up and returned to our saloon car which we had hired at vast expense, to our newspapers not ourselves, and started to drive back to the Cambodian capital. It was the second bullet that made us flinch. It went through the windscreen and my delightful companion remarked, “I can’t even see if the bastard is on their side or the Americans.” He was Australian but did not support his country’s stance in the war. Like me he thought wars were just shows put on by world powers to make young journalists like us rich and nothing else. At least we could not think up a better reason for starting one.
The third and fourth bullets were more subtly aimed and punctured the two back tyres. This really infuriated Mike as he stopped the car, leaped out and threw the empty wine bottles in the direction of the shots. “Wish there was some petrol in them”, he shouted. But as a salvo of shots then sent us both diving for cover in the bushes by the roadside I began to wonder if we had drunk a bit too much or maybe the soldiers were actually trying to hit us. That is not something a journalist ever thinks in a war zone. Bullets are things shot by other people at other groups of people, but never at the press. Heavens, without us there would be no reason to have a war because nobody would ever hear about it. No question about it, bullets were never aimed at journalists.
That is, until they were. Three large American riflemen suddenly appeared before us and were definitely aiming at us. I could hardly believe it. Two troopers and a sergeant. Who the hell did they think they were? I was not having this. So I got to my feet, very obviously white skinned, very obviously casually dressed in a dark blue beach shirt and white slacks, and with no arms of any sort any where near me. I think what froze those gunmen into stunned, rigid silence was when I spoke.”Look, I say you chaps. Don’t you think all this is a bit thick. Eh?What? Here are we, a Colonel and a Lieutenant Colonel in your army, observing this fascinating punch up between you three and the rest of Asia, and all you can do is pick on two fellows who are very obviously on your side. Do you think you could put your weapons down, change the back wheels on our motor car, and speed us on our way. Please?”
My English Public school accent astounded even Mike who had never heard me talk like that before. And as we drove away, waving gratefully to our saviours, I explained. “Well on my first assignment after university in Paris, and six years in all in France, I pulled the same stunt in fluent Parisian slang to a bunch of foreign legionaries in Algeria. And as you can see I am still here!”