Page 9 - WTP VOl. IX #1
P. 9

 step taken carefully: the slightest creak, and you’d try the next one: and if that made something of a creak — the one above it. All those stairs creaked. If they creaked too badly you’d make a noise as of the land- lord going late to bed. Ponderous, unsteady, drunken footfalls. Honestly. I learned Italian sighs and yawns. If you want to know the truth I learned Italian farts
as well. But you walked in step, the two of you, socks over boots, as I say. So you were just one, in step on the stairs. The third man — the translator — re- mained on watch in the shadows of the door into the moonlit street.
‘It’s the truth. I wish it were not. And then you faced the bedroom door. The geography of the place was just as you had been told.
‘Are you listening?’ ‘Yes, I’m listening.’
The railway wall-clock ticked in the background. The landlord, in shirtsleeves, was reviewing his order to the brewery. He paused over the order-form with a ball-point pen, looking out of the window. The sky was clouding over. Soon the bleak hillside would be dark beneath the overcast. How the rain would come down.
‘Me: a sergeant with a Welrod .32. That’s a pistol with a suppressor. Good for this kind of work. Made for silent killing at close quarters. Looks cheaply made, and clumsy, but it does its job. The corporal with the flash-lamp, not yet turned on. Silence. Semidarkness. Always a moon. We always killed by moonlight.
‘Then the door was kicked in.
‘Do you follow me?’
‘Yes, I follow you.’
He regarded me attentively. ‘Do you wish me to con- tinue?’
‘Please continue.’
‘I wish I could forget it, but I can’t. Their faces —’ We sat for some time.
‘I can’t forget their faces,’ he said, suddenly. ‘When the door was kicked in, that was it. The bedroom.
The officer and his woman. They’d had their love,
and they were sleeping in an embrace.’ He raised his eyebrows and put his head on one side. ‘Perhaps they truly loved each other. Perhaps it was a transaction.
Who knew? What did it matter? However. The end was all the same. At the sound of the crashed door they both sat up like animals. Startled. Then the flash- light steady on the man’s face. A single round: a sound no louder than a snap of the fingers. The instant red- dish mark on the man’s forehead. The slumping of the body. And then the screaming from the woman. And then the checking the death by feeling for a pulse at the wrist, as instructed: a pulse still present: another round to the temple, point-blank. If that didn’t work,
I had a knife. Stone dead. Then we scarpered, as you would. A quarter of an hour and we were in safe ter- ritory.’ He paused. ‘We never touched the woman. We left her to the partisans. I guess they weren’t that gen- tle. But that was their business. Ours was the killing of the officer assigned to us.’ He paused for some long time. When he spoke again his voice was wondering and pensive. ‘I thought it cruel, the way they treated Mussolini’s tart. She was innocent enough. What had she done wrong? But that was their way.’
He looked at me in a judgmental, even a censorious way.
‘Me, a boy from a Cambridgeshire village near Kim- bolton: I envy you your nose, unbroken, you that’s never known a fight,’ he said. ‘Probably as a child I had an unbroken nose. But now, you see, I don’t.’
He sat, his spine straight, and looked around the par- lour of the quiet little country inn. His face held a haunted, agitated look. ‘Eight of them. And, at night, each startled face comes before my sight.’
Wheldon was the author of four novels. The Viaduct was published by The Bodley Head in 1983; it won The Triple First Award, from final judges Graham Greene and William Trevor. This novel was shortlist- ed for the Whitbread Award, and was published in the United States by George Braziller. The Course of Instruction, A Vocation, and At the Quay followed. Most recently he was published by Confingo, Nightjar Press, and The Woven Tale Press. Sadly, he passed shortly before this publication date. You can see his previous stories in Vol. V #1, Vol. V #7, Vol. VI #8, Vol. VII #6, and Vol. VIII #3.

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