James and McKinley have orders to kill Oberstleutnant Schmidt-Meyer. The German is interrogating a British officer who has with him a unique coding machine. Now read on:-
The fighting in the orchard intensifies. McKinley provides some measure of protection when he explodes a white phosphorous grenade nearby. Within moments of this, another troop of Germans arrive. They mistake James and McKinley for comrades and set up a machine gun position to defend against the patrol of Allied troops. As their own forces begin firing mortars at them, James realises he has to adopt a different mentality.
James says goodbye to the man he is when not in combat. To stand any chance of survival, he needs to change. And fast. Unlike living with the few seconds of adrenalin rush that comes with an accident – where a person’s body can react to sudden noise and terror by loosening the bladder and bowels – he has to overcome that natural response and switch off, become desensitised, blot it out.
He has to become a dead man.
And he doesn’t like it. Because each time he finds it a little more difficult to return to that man he is in everyday life. And soon, James knows, it will be impossible.
Yet, McKinley, not flinching like James to the unexpected event, seems able to slot into that role with ease. James can’t decide if he feels envy or hate. Or remorse.
Even McKinley must have people who love him.
The next mortar lands less than twelve feet away, just as James laughs to himself at the unlikely possibility of anyone even liking his fellow officer. The rise in air pressure is so great that, to James, it feels as if he has had his stomach pushed in by a torrent of water and the sensation in his ears is of having been clouted with a cupped hand – a technique he has found useful in unarmed combat. Again his body reacts as though a surge of electricity has flowed through his nerves – every muscle tenses as if suffering cramp and then tingles like pins-and-needles. The shrapnel misses him, but he doesn’t know how.
We’re going to be shredded.
As the smoke stings his eyes, James marvels at the fact that he is still alive, and has suffered no great wounds, and knows they have to make a decision about which direction to travel and make it now.
But which one?