Loyal and True.

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“What I value most in my friends is loyalty.”
David Mamet

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This story is now published as part of the anthology ‘Loyal and True’.

There were four of us; as far back as I can remember.
Keevil and the O’Briens were older, but for some reason they let me tag along.
I guess I made ‘em laugh.
A sense of humour opens many doors.
 
We weren’t exactly model citizens, then or now, and we got into a few scrapes but nothing heavy. I could run fast and this came in handy as I always seemed to be the last one to work out that things had gone pear-shaped.
I lost count of the number of times I heard “run!”.
This word was usually uttered by all three of the blokes who were supposed to be looking out for me.
They probably thought that it was obvious that the time to run had arrived and felt that it was unnecessary to say so, then one or all of them would notice that I was still standing there with my mouth open.
 
I still have dreams about being a kid and a voice from many yards away yelling ‘run’.
 
Considering they had several yards head start you would think that I would be the one who got nabbed.
Not so.
I could run, and usually not in a straight line. I worked out that adults were faster than I was, except for the fat ones, so it was only a matter of time before they caught up to me. Not running in a straight line was the key. If I suddenly changed direction often enough they gave up and went after someone else, someone less slippery.
I was usually carrying something we had nicked. “Here, you hang on to it they will never suspect a little kid”; and they didn’t until they did, which was usually not my fault.
 
Most of our ‘hasty retreats’ were caused by Keevil’s inability to hold his nerve. You would never know it to look at him now but back then he lacked a bit of ‘bottle’.
 
This sudden need to ‘head for the hills’ only increased my anxiety.
These days I wouldn’t associate myself with such unreliable accomplices, but i was a kid and the rules were different.
If a bunch of big kids wanted to have you around then you didn’t say no.
 
My other friends were way to frightened to get into any serious adventures.
They were frightened of getting hurt, frightened of what their parents would say and frightened of the police.
None of these fears were unreasonable, but it made for very boring friends and long school holidays.
 
As the years went by Keevil and the two O’Brien’s dropped out of school and went looking for work.
 
Keevil joined the railways as a clerk, W.T got a job in a shop on the High Street and Jimmy O’Brien got a job as a builder’s labourer. You’ve seen the photo of Jimmy, he’s huge, so lugging stuff around all day was easy for him.
 
I stayed at school and eventually went on to University.
I was the brains of the outfit.
Well, that sounds better than it actually is, what I mean to say is, ‘brains’ is what I bring to the gang, I’m not actually the ‘brains of the outfit’, William T. O’Brian is.
 
It was Billy who came up with the capers right from the start.
 
He knew that if we stood out the front of old man McKenzie’s house and threw stones on his roof it would give Jimmy time to scale his back fence and steal a bag of apples.
Billy even remembered to supply Jimmy with the bag.
Old man McKenzie had a big dog that guarded his orchard but Billy knew that the commotion would keep the big dog and his owner busy just long enough to pull off the caper.
 
We sold some of the apples and we ate the rest.
Best tasting apples you could possibly imagine.
 
As we got older the capers got bigger, usually to do with the railways, courtesy of C.J., or building sites that Jimmy had been working on.
 
My job was to keep us all out of goal.
 
I finished my law degree at Melbourne University. Finished second overall for the State of Victoria. The bloke who beat me into first place became a high court judge.
I always hated that bloke.
 
I got a position with Cohen, Cohen and Cohen, Melbourne’s top criminal law firm.
 
I became so successful that the firm offered me a partnership but my name didn’t make it onto the letterhead. I guess Cohen, Cohen, Cohen and Hipshein was just too long to fit on the door, but I didn’t care.
My day job, as successful as it was, was just a diversion. My real firm was O’Brien, Hipshein, Keevil and O’Brien.
 
We were making a lot of money; only money was not the point, it was just a way of keeping score.
 
The photo shows the only time we were all brought in for questioning at the same time.
It was a ‘usual suspects’ round up.
A pointless exercise, but it kept the politicians happy.
It gave us a chance to catch up with some old contacts, and a few new capers were duly planned. It saved us a lot of time because we didn’t have to do the usually running around to plan upcoming jobs, with the usual precautions about being seen and being followed.
 
These precautions might have seemed unnecessary but it was important for staying out of gaol.
 
Victorian law had a ‘consorting’ provision, which meant that they could put you in prison just for being seen talking to a convicted criminal. It was an easy way for the cops to squeeze a ‘crim’ into talking about his associates, and it worked too.
The magistrates were onside and some stiff sentences were handed out to those who refused to ‘rat’.
 
The law had no effect on me as I’d never been convicted of anything. They had tried a few times but the charges were always dropped. You didn’t go after a top criminal barrister unless you had an airtight case. The legal profession looked after its own in the same way that the cops did.
 
You can see from the photograph that no one looks even a little bit worried. We all knew it was a wind up, but never the less I was worried.
 
This whole round-up didn’t make sense. 
Cops are creatures of habit and this didn’t fit the usual pattern. Something was up, and I didn’t know what it was, and that made me nervous.
 
My job was to stay one step ahead and now I was in the dark. Not a good place to be if we were to survive.
 
Within six months I was the only one still alive.
 
Yet again I was left behind just as I was when we were kids, just as I was at school after they all left.
 
Left to fend for myself.
 
It was my job to see the trouble coming and I had failed badly.
 
The police were sick of being made fools of and a hard-core group decided to fight back. The bosses formed the ‘Armed Robbery Squad’ which turned out to be a euphemism for hit squad.
They went on a killing spree that lasted for eight years before a Royal Commission had them disbanded.
Only after Police headquarters was bombed did the politicians decide to act.
A few of the squad ended up in Gaol but the rest simply retired.
 
My crew was never into armed robbery but that didn’t matter in the long run because a lot of the really dangerous crooks believed that someone was feeding the cops information, which was probably true and my mates got caught in the middle.
 
They shot Keevil dead in his driveway. We knew who did it but the cops didn’t care, so we decided to sort it out ourselves.
The resulting gun fight saw the O’Briens mortally wounded.
We had managed to wipe out the gang that killed our friend and at the end of it all I didn’t have a scratch on me.
My ears were ringing and I had a bullet hole in my hat and a lot of blood on my shoes, but that was it. 
 
Last man standing
 
This wasn’t the revenge I was hoping for, but it would have to do.
We could have let Keevil’s murder go by without doing anything about it and we may have survived but that was never going to happen.
It had been us against the world ever since we were kids and we were not going to abandon that now.
My friends paid a heavy price and I’m left to wonder how it might have been.
You probably think that we deserved what we got, that we were outside the law and that we should not have expected it protect us, and you would be right.
 
We lived by our own rules and we achieved something that is precious and rare.
 
We were loyal and true, right to the end. 
 

Turn Left.

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 This story is now part of my new short story anthology, PASSERBY.

You can purchase a copy HERE

If you like what I do, you can help me to keep on doing it by buying one of my books.

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The small white  van dropped her off with the following instructions.

“Make sure that the children turn left and head for the top of the hill.”

This was Sarah’s assignment.

The one she had been training for.

If the emergency arose, all the children were to be taken to safety.

Taken to higher ground.

Volunteers had been called for.

“DO YOU WANT TO HELP YOUR COMMUNITY?”

Sarah did, so she came forward.

When the van left she was the only adult for miles. Sarah had not been an adult for very long. She felt the weight of her assignment.

The children must make it to safety.

The corner she was on stood at a reasonable altitude but the children needed to be higher.

By the time the van had dropped her off there were children all over the place.

It was a bit of a mess.

All day long she said the same words over and over. “Turn here and head to the top of the hill. Good people will be waiting for you.”

The same words again and again.

From her elevated aspect she could see the rising water off in the distance, and every child who went past her and made the correct turn was one more saved.

This went on all day.

A continuous stream of diminutive humanity. Many holding hands, but not a lot of singing.

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Each child was carrying a small box wrapped in brown paper and tied up, rather expertly, with string. If her job had not been so important and if she had not been concentrating so hard it would have reminded Sarah of the line from that song, “and these are a few of my favourite things….’

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Just as she was remembering the line, ‘….when the dog bites…’, the little white van stopped and out jumped a dog.

An Australian Shepherd, if she wasn’t mistaken, and she wasn’t.

Sarah wasn’t frightened of dogs.

The van sped off.

No instructions this time.

Sarah thought that they had probably sent her the dog to help her with her task.

She explained to the dog what she had to do and she used the sentence, ‘herd the children up the hill’, because she deduced that the dog would know what ‘herd’ meant and probably had a good idea what a hill was as well.

Dog took to the task with gusto. She loved herding stuff and in the city there were very few things that needed herding.

She had tried herding people but mostly they didn’t like it, and there was a bit of yelling and throwing of stuff. She tried bringing back the stuff that they threw but that seemed to make things worse. Next she tried cars, but they just ignored her and it got a bit dicey a few times so she packed that it.

But here, she was actually being asked to do the thing she was born to do.

She was gentle but firm and on more than one occasion she had to use her nose to make some small human keep moving.

Small humans smelt good, all ‘pockets full of sweets’ and sticky hands, and they didn’t mind if you licked some of it off.

She enjoyed that part but she tried to be professional.

 

It was starting to get dark and eventually the line of children dwindled down to nothing. Sarah was exhausted but Dog could have gone on a bit longer.

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There was a small park on the corner which had running water from a rainwater tank and a toilet. Sarah didn’t fancy going behind a tree but Dog did not mind, but even a dog wanted a bit of privacy.

They slept together on the soft grass, but not before they ate the food that the little white van had provided.

They never saw the little white van again but next morning, at first light, the children started coming up the hill again.

Dog kept things going while Sarah washed up and used the facilities.

“Turn here and head to the top of the hill. Good people will be waiting for you.”

Days turned into a week.

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Sarah and Dog survived on tank water and the contents of those little boxes wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string.

Children being children, they would occasionally drop a box and forget to pick it up.

The boxes contained a type of army field ration. Not very appetising but it was food, about enough to keep a child alive, but only just.

If you have ever had a job requiring a repetitive action you will know that after a while your body carries it out without you having to think about it and your mind can concentrate on other things.

Sarah’s mind was thinking about those little boxes tied up with string.

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They didn’t look like they had been prepared by a machine so Sarah imagined a long table with ladies loading those tasteless food bars into those little boxes, wrapping then in brown paper and then expertly tying string around them and leaving that clever little bow that acted as a carry handle.

“Who taught them how to tie that bow?” Sarah thought.

Sarah also wondered why the little white van did not have any markings on it and why she wasn’t given one of those cool orange ‘fluro’ vests.

Maybe they had run out by the time they got to her. Maybe her task was not important enough.

They could at least have given the dog a vest.

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Maybe they would give her a T-shirt when this was all over.

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One week turned into two and Sarah could see that the water was still rising but not as fast. She was tired all the time and her clothes were very dirty.

She tried to wash them, especially her ‘smalls’, as her mum used to call them, but without soap nothing really got clean.

Sarah was not at all sure that she smelt good either, but it was hard to tell with no other adults around and she didn’t want to ask one of the never-ending line of children. Children always thought adults smelt bad, it was part of their thing.

Dog didn’t care how she smelt. All humans had their own distinctive odour, it made them easier to find in a crowd.

Dog noticed that Sarah’s odour was changing.

She was very weak and not very well. Dog worried about her as she was the leader of her pack now and she wanted her to be strong and decisive.

Sarah got weaker and the children kept coming.

There did not seem to be as many of them but they still kept coming.

 Sarah lay down next to Dog. She needed her warmth; she was very cold.

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Sarah did not wake up the next morning.

Dog nudged her a few times, the way she always did but she knew it was no use.

Her leader was gone.

Dog got up, stretched, went behind her favourite tree and headed off to work.

That night Dog lay down next to Sarah and guarded her body.

It was the least she could do for such a brave pack leader.

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PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS STORY IS NOW THE MIDDLE STORY IN A TRILOGY CALLED ‘And In The End You’ll Hear Me Calling.’ If you enjoyed this story you might want to find out what came before and what came after.

Terry