Intermittent bright flashes were followed by a dull rumbling echo lighting up the distant horizon. The three men on the bridge of the boat glanced at each other.
The older man, the boat’s Skipper, leaned on the side of the bridge, gestured angrily. “The bastards are butchering that convoy.”
The other officer, a mere youth of eighteen, the boat’s executive officer, gulped. “Can’t we help them sir?” His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down.
“No son,” the Skipper retorted bitterly, feeling impotent. “We’ve our own job to do.”
The third man followed the byplay with detached indifference. The Ensign had to toughen up or he wouldn’t make it. David Walker looked at the fluorescent hands on his watch. He straightened up. He was as tall as the navy commander at 6’3”; the two hundred pounds were lean and trim. His black hair curled out under the stocking cap, but these days it had traces of grey. In this job, thirty-two was old.
“Ten minutes, Skipper,” Walker prodded.
“Right,” Commander Godfry stood and moved to the wheel.
“Mr. Thomson, go round the boat, make sure Mr. Walker’s team’s ready.”
The youth nodded, “Aye, aye sir.”
The boat crept along at a slow ten knots. Suddenly, the night was ripped apart by the thundering crash of gunfire.
“Damn! E-boats!” The Skipper frantically spun the helm to port and slammed the throttles to their stops. The boat leapt forward like a bullet. Ensign Thomson caught the cannon shells as they tore into the bridge. He twirled about as if dancing and fell into Walker’s arms. David caught the stricken officer and now he too felt a tearing pain of his own.
The commander yelled, “All guns, open fire as you bear!”
The young officer tried to crawl forward in slow motion. His high-pitched screams, echoed over and over.
Walker stared at the mangled body in his blood-soaked arms. He was transfixed in horror as Thomson drew his sidearm and in slow motion lined it up between David’s staring eyes. Thomson began to laugh like a maniac as blood trickled from his mouth.
“See you in hell, sucker,” he cackled.
Walker closed his eyes to lessen the impact as he saw the hammer fall forward. He was drenched in a cold sweat and jerked upright. The screaming, gun-wielding officer turned into a man in a green flight suit and headset, tapping his shoulder. Walker could barely see him through his sleep fogged mind. He wiped his hand over his sweating face. Above the endless roar of the droning aircraft engines, he caught something about ‘twenty minutes.’
David waved to the crewman; who turned and coiled the black cord attached to the headset, then moved to the next passenger. Walker staggered off to the window in the paratroop door. The sun was blinding off of the icy glare below. He snuggled deeper into his parka. Six months in the hospital in New Zealand and now he was going south once again. The cold in the Hercules made his shoulder ache. He flexed it tenderly. Shrapnel from the shell and wood splinters from the bridge had torn up his back. The doctor said he was okay, so he must be, right?
That damn dream, it just wouldn’t go away. He could still see Ensign Thomson’s wild eyes shocked, not understanding what happened, appealing for help even as he died from terrible wounds.
David shook his head. ‘Maybe I’m bomb happy. The damn shrinks thought so.’ He dug into his parka pocket and brought out a small flask, Medicine.