Part Four of my Latest Free Serial
Breaking Ground is a Darkeningstone novella – it's a standalone book: a bonus story. I'm presenting it here in weekly parts. Each part on this site is tagged ‘breaking ground' so you can find all the published episodes easily. I'll add a link at the end of this episode. I hope you enjoy it.
On the morning of the day he died, Wing Commander Butterworth stood at the edge of the runway and watched the single-engine Miles Messenger come in to land. He rocked back and forth on his heels and smiled as the pilot executed a perfect landing, the plane almost gliding to the ground. Good man, he thought. And a nice little plane too. Butterworth looked up into the clear autumn sky and scanned the horizon. Not a cloud in sight. He was looking forward to this. Looking forward to this trip, looking forward to his tour of the airbases in the North. He’d shake them up and get them moving. He took a deep breath, baring his teeth to the cool, crisp air. This is it, he thought. At last, they were getting somewhere. The tide of the war was turning. He could almost taste it. There are great days ahead, he thought. Great days. And he’d play his part to the full, starting here, with this perfect day to be up in the air.
As the Messenger taxied to a standstill, Butterworth turned to the two men who’d be travelling with him. Harvey, his batman, was already bending over their bags, checking the leather luggage straps were fastened securely. This other chap was a bit of a mystery – an aircrew sergeant, urgently needed up North, apparently. So when his Group Captain had mentioned they could give him a lift, Butterworth had been happy to agree. It was always good to keep in touch with the NCOs – they were the ones who could tell you if the men were battle ready. And they’d need to be.
Now, what was his name – Cornet? No, that wasn’t right. Butterworth gave him a nod, smiling to himself as the man snapped to attention for the umpteenth time. “Ready to go, Sergeant?”
The man stared straight ahead as though on parade. “Yes, Sir.”
“Very good. Stand easy, Sergeant,” Butterworth said.
“Yes, Sir,” the man said. He relaxed his shoulders slightly, moved his feet apart a little, but remained upright and alert.
Butterworth gave him an approving glance. He looked like a solid character, salt-of-the-Earth type. “Sergeant,” he said, “could you just remind me of your name?”
Startled, the man shot him a sideways look. “Sergeant Corbett, Sir.”
“Ah yes.” He gestured toward the plane. “So tell me, Corbett, what do you think of the Messenger, eh?”
Sergeant Vincent Corbett turned to the plane. The doors were open now, and a small knot of ground crew fussed around the fuselage while the pilot stood to one side, stretching his legs. “Very good, Sir,” he said. “Very reliable.” He hesitated. “I believe Monty, I mean Field Marshal Montgomery, uses them, Sir.”
Butterworth laughed. “Well, if it’s good enough for Monty, it’s good enough for us, eh?”
Corbett smiled uncertainly. Had he made a joke? He’d no idea. There was no understanding these officer types.
Harvey cleared his throat. “They’re ready for you now, Sir.”
“Very good,” Butterworth said. “Harvey, you ride up front. I’ll share the back with Corbett.”
Corbett opened his mouth to protest, but Butterworth slapped him on the shoulder.
“Come on, Corbett,” he said. “Let’s not keep them waiting.” He turned and strode toward the plane.
Harvey looked Corbett up and down, pursing his lips. “Certainly, Sir, I’ll just stow our bags, Sir.” He picked up their luggage, pointedly leaving Corbett’s bag on the tarmac, and marched off toward the plane.
Corbett bent down and picked up his bag. Riding with a Wingco? If the lads could see him now, they’d take the mick and no mistake. He sighed. The pilot was already in his seat. What choice did he have but to go along with it?
As the plane levelled off, Butterworth turned away from the window and raised his voice over the thrum of the engine. “Well, Corbett, we’re on our way,” he said. “So tell me, why are you going up North in such a hurry?”
Corbett swallowed hard. His ears hadn’t popped properly. “Operational Training Unit, Sir. I’m to train navigators.”
“Good man,” he said. “Can’t sort the buggers out if we can’t find them, eh?”
“No, Sir,” Corbett said. He wanted to say that there was a bit more to it than that, but he knew better. He folded his arms and stared ahead. It would be good to be back in the North, good to be near his hometown. He could probably get some leave and pop over to his house and give it an airing. He closed his eyes and tried to picture his front room. What colour was the carpet? He shook his head. It was no good. He should’ve visited earlier when he’d had the chance. But first he’d been stationed down South, and then Africa and Italy. Since he’d been back in England, he’d made excuses and stayed away. Now his little house would be damp and neglected. He’d been away far too long.
Butterworth cast his eye over Corbett’s morose expression. It looked like the sergeant wouldn’t be such good company after all. The man was in a world of his own, staring into space and moping like a love-struck lad. And that may well be the problem, he thought. Woman trouble. He’d seen it all too often. The man needed cheering up, that was all. Butterworth sniffed. No need to get involved. Best to let the chap’s CO sort him out when he gets there. After all, he thought, I’ve plenty of my own work to do. He pulled his leather briefcase onto his lap, undid the straps and pulled out a bulging cardboard folder. His heart sank at the thought of all the documents inside. And they were all to be sifted, read and mastered. He picked up the first piece of paper, a memo from the War Office, and stared at the mass of close-set typing. Impenetrable. He glanced toward Harvey in the front, but he’d be no help there. He needed him by his side. Damn it. He’d have to plough through it all himself. He scowled and returned to his papers. There was no doubt about it – insisting that this man, Corbett, sit next to him, had been a terrible mistake.
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I think Ralph Fiennes could play Vincent – what do you think? I could see Sean Connery playing the WingCo, although he'd have to have just a moustache and no beard.
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Ralph Fiennes: http://www.listal.com/list/yeah-ralph-fiennes
Miles Messenger: http://www.pixstel.com/miles-m-38-messenger-2a_urlt5778.php