My completed titles published to Kobobooks.com include
Horses, Trails and Trophies (Biography of father, Del Burk.
Stonechild and the Minotaur Maze
Stonechild and the Emperor
Stonehild in Abyssinia
Stonechild and Mamluk Treasure
With two or three more titles the series will be complete
Following are the first two chapters of the novel Haifa, copyright 2014. Novels on Kobo should be considered drafts needing some tweaking before going to Amazon for publication into Kindle and Create Space formats.
RussellStonechild dozed, life a misty, unreal movie reel. He’d heard strange voices coming from a great distance as he’d fought an unresponsive body and fog-laden mind. A strange place he’d never heard of. Haifa,Palestine. Then British Military Hospitaland mental ward. Words having nothing to do with him.
Gradually, though, he’d come to vaguely understand those voices were describing his place and condition.
He squirmed against a hard surface probing his backbone and, without opening his eyes, ran his fingers over a slatted, wooden surface. Lounge chair? Something creaked beside him and he opened his eyes to see another man on a neighbouring chair. The man shifted and moaned, his chair creaking again.
Russell sniffed the air, bombarded by fragrance. He saw a stone wall covered with bougainvillaea vines. Rose bushes bloomed in well-cared for plots, and he recognised peonies among a host of unrecognised and colourful plants.
The man beside him moaned, shifted again, and the word “Mother” dribbled from his lips. Russell searched for signs of visible wounds and found none. Mental ward, the words hammered home and bile fluttered in his throat.
Russell felt simply tired, not ill, and certainly not mentally deranged or candidate for a mental ward. Why am I here? Will they forget about me and leave me locked up until I really lose my mind? He’d heard of that happening.
He shut his eyes and began replaying the vivid images flooding his mind while he lay in darkness, struggling towards a faint, distant light. He’d pictured the moment when he and a British major had discovered the mummified corpse of the long dead Mamluk, Alfi Bey. That image had been replaced by the almost real experience of burying over three hundred massacred British troopers at a pass in the strange, elongated mound of rock called the Gilf Kebir. He’d pictured leaving his two companions, a disabled major and an Italian POW in order to reach the Kharga Oasis where he hoped to find British troops. He’d heard again the musical hum of tires turning over endless miles of desolate Egyptian desert sand. Tires belonging to the Model A Ford truck he’d named Winston.
He recalled entering the Kharga Oasis village and seeing evidence of wreckage left behind by fleeing British troop. His stomach had churned again while reliving his confrontation with angry Arab villagers ready to wreak vengeance on any British uniform within range. While understanding the villager’s anger he hadn’t been prepared to offer himself as a sacrificial lamb to their understandable rage.
He’d escaped Kharga by the skin of his teeth, fought a running battle over miles of sand and rock, eventually having to abandon Winston. Leaving that transport behind he’d embarked on a desperate trek over one hundred miles of barren rock and sand sea seeking the Farafra Oasis and a final hope of reaching British troops. He had reached Farafra and his hoped-for contact with English army personnel.
The final image in his delirium had touched on a debriefing session in Cairo with General Auchinlech, the new commander of the 8th army in North Africa. He’d been dismissed from the session, rose from the debriefing chair, saluted and turned towards a closed door. He remembered grasping the doorknob, turning it and falling into the darkness still clouding his mind.
His next conscious thoughts came after opening his eyes and looking around on row on row of hospital beds seemingly an extension of the visions and dreams through which he’d come. A nurse with a large hypodermic needle and a demand to turn his butt to the ceiling identified his location as a hospital.
Shock struck when information penetrated his fog and he realised he’d been carted all the way from Cairo to a place called Haifa, Palestine. And, not only did he lie in a strange place, he’d been placed within the secure confines of a psychiatric ward.
He knew this to be his third day in hospital after waking, still too drained for protest but feeling energy creeping back. He lifted his head and examined the restraining walls surrounding the courtyard. Behind the wall, a range of hills marched to the Southeast. Palm branches beyond the compound walls swayed gently in a cooling breeze. He thought he could smell the sea.
He experienced a passionate sense of denial. I don’t belong in a mental ward. What if my battalion mates find out.
He swung his legs over his chair edge, feeling as shaky as a new born moose calf. For a moment he swayed in rhythm with the palm fronds leaning over the compound walls, afraid of his first step. He grasped the chair back and tentatively moved one foot and felt a small energy burst.
He began a series of hesitant steps toward the compound wall when a nurse rushed from the building’s interior. “Mr. Stonechild. Please!”
She gripped his arm. “Here, lean on me and we’ll get you back to your chair. It’s time for your injection and nearly dinner time. The cooks have a nice fruit salad on the menu.”
He would have foregone the fruit salad for a good look over the wall.
That night, in his narrow cot among row on row of shell-shocked and traumatised soldiers he considered his dilemma. Thank God, I’m not in the same shape as these other poor blokes. I’m not shaking or jumping out of my skin at every loud noise. I just got over-tired; had too much sun and not enough water. A little rest and I’ll be fit as a fiddle. I can’t stay in this place. I haven’t been back to my regiment in over a year and they’re facing the forces of Hitler and Mussolini without me.
He’d already checked the psychiatric ward and breathed easier at finding no familiar faces. He still had the rest of the hospital to check, though. Some wounds were not mental.
Too exhausted to think further he fell asleep.
He woke the next morning feeling stronger. He dressed, stood by his cot and for the first time analysed his surroundings. A folder hung from a bedpost. He opened it and saw the name Dr. McPhee. Maybe he can get things straightened out, he thought. He stopped the first passing nurse and asked to see Dr. McPhee. She made a note on her pad and continued to her next patient. It took that nurse and three others two hours to finish rounds and begin reporting to the matron in charge. Two hours later the matron began her report to a tall man in white coat who occasionally lifted a monocle to read the matron’s notes.
Russell’s eyes followed every move and gesture. At the very end of the matron’s report, the doctor began selectively examining patients, talking, checking pulses, noting reactions and making notes. He left before reaching Russell.
Still too lethargic to really care, Russell accepted an orderly’s offer for aid into the enclosed garden. He dozed. Soon a volunteer made rounds offering books, newspapers and magazines from the hospital library, but Russell lacked energy for even that. He finished the day with no visit from the tall, monocle-using doctor or anyone else able to address his situation.
The next morning showed no break in routine, and Russell’s growing strength stoked his worry furnace. He ate from a tray brought to his cot then walked unassisted into the garden. He selected a lounge chair near the wall with palm branches rustling above him. He slept again. Woke for lunch and wished briefly for a visit from the hospital library volunteer. Once more, no Dr. McPhee.
He woke on his sixth morning feeling restless and grouchy. He requested another helping of the scarce breakfast offered. A “no” made him even more edgy. Once more he found his way into the garden and found the lounge chair he’d used the previous day. He took a couple of circles around the garden, before exhaustion pushed him down on his chair where he napped again. Late that afternoon, after a couple of garden tours, Russell woke from another nap and began examining the walls from his horizontal position.
If I had to get out of here, how would I do it? Should do a practice run. Out and back with no one the wiser.
Then another sight drew his attention. The man he’d begun calling Dr. McPhee stood outside an open door leading into the garden. The doctor began moving Russell’s way. Russell started to rise to make sure the doctor saw him, but the doctor motioned him down. McPhee pulled an empty chair near Russell’s lounge and folded down onto the low surface. Questioning eyes looked into Russell’s own.
“Hold your hands in front of you.” Russell tried, but shocked by the trembling, dropped them to his lap.
McPhee smiled. “Not quite a marathon runner, wouldn’t you agree? What did you think of Cairo?”
The change of topic dropped into Russell’s fogged mind like a bag of sand. He paused. Cairo? “I know less about Cairo than most places I’ve been,” he answered. “Why do you ask?”
“You’ve been around, then,” the doctor said, before probing with another question. What are some of the places you remember better than Cairo?”
Russell’s mind raced, bypassing Canada, Scotland and Europe, pausing only when it touched Africa. “Remember best,” he mumbled as memory piled on memory.
“Khartoum, Addis Ababa, Debra Marcos, Asmara, Wadi Halfa.” He paused, hands trembling in his lap. “Would you even call the Gilf Kebir a place?”
The doctor’s gaze fell to Russell’s lap.
“What should I recommend?” the doctor’s question threw Russell for a loop?
Russell’s tongue stumbled over an answer, still shocked by his trembling hands. He wanted back to his regiment, back to the fight, but knew he would be no asset.
He answered slowly, “I know you have a busy hospital and I’m not ready for any marathons as you noted, but I do need out of this ward.”
McPhee checked Russell through his monocle and lifted his stethoscope. “Open your shirt.” He moved the sensor around Russell’s chest and took a deep breath. “Well, we didn’t know what to do with you when you came in. You were either blubbering and talking crazy or so comatose we could barely find your pulse. At the moment you seem to be no danger to yourself or to anyone else. Beautiful garden, though, and a regular ward might prove worse. There, you would be surrounded by wounded and dying soldiers and the stress might exacerbate your fragile condition.”
Fragile condition indeed. Russell resisted the diagnosis but didn’t respond to the unintended insult and listened.
“I believe your best medicine would be a private home or a convalescence centre where you could simply rest and take things easy. One of our volunteers will look for something suitable. If you have the funds you could rent a room and come to the hospital for meals. Be patient. It may take a day or two.”
I am a patient, Russell thought, what else am I supposed to do.
Dr. McPhee’s promise of change occupied Russell’s ever waking second. The night following the doctor’s visit proved the worst of Russell’s experience. Groans, moans and the occasional shout beggared sleep. Able to endure no more, Russell picked the door lock and took his blanket into the garden, returning just before daybreak.
He began his day as usual, pacing and sleeping. Pacing and sleeping. He paused in the midst of his nervous circling at sight of a man threading his way through the forest of lounge chairs. He seemed familiar. Shortly he recognised the face. Avram Akavia, Colonel Wingate’s secretary and aide during the march through Ethiopia towards Addis Ababa.
What is he doing here? Wonder if he’ll recognise me? He remembered looking in a mirror that morning. I wouldn’t.
Akavia turned towards him and an unfamiliar smile broke the stiffness he had worn while serving Wingate. Russell noted no surprise as Avram’s eyes met his own, swept over his sun-blackened, emaciated face, and across the ill-fitting clothes hanging from his sunken frame. Avram, did hesitate before extending his hand as though fearing he’d break fragile bones.
Russell answered the other man’s hesitation with a genuine smile, pleased at this chance meeting. When Avram reached into a pocket and presented an envelope, Russell realised the meeting to be no coincidence. Russell split the seal, noted Dr. McPhee’s signature, and read a message releasing him into the care of Major Akavia.
“Major,” Russell questioned?
“Ah, yes. You’ve seen me as master of a typewriter, not a gunslinging soldier. Or so your western movies would call me. Every Israeli soldier in Palestine is a guntoter. We face danger everyday.”
Akavia responded to the unspoken question. “We can have this discussion later. Right now you need to gather your kit and come with me. That is, if you want to.”
“Got no kit,” Russell answered. “I do have my money belt though, and enough to pay my way.”
Russell followed Akavia into the mental ward to take a final walk among cots, occupied by men too weary or fearful to venture outside. The over-solicitous nurse from three days previous unlocked the security door and smiled as Russell walked by. Russell smiled in return, said, “Thank you,”and stepped into freedom.
Akavia pointed to the range of hills Russell had noticed from inside the compound. “That’s Mount Carmel where Yahweh delivered Elijah from the prophets of Baal.”
Swinging about he pointed down the hill. “And there’s Haifa’s port. The ship you see loads oil from a pipeline originating in the British oil wells of Iraq. Without that pipeline the British war effort would starve. The array of metal towers you see belong to our oil refinery.”
Akavia continued his rapid monologue. “I learned of your meeting in Khartoum with the red-haired lady from Lord McAlpin. Suggests you have clearances beyond my pay grade, which suggests you’re the type to handle secrets. I am in charge of a centre for training undercover agents? You’ve been around enough to offer valuable advice, and I need all I can get. I’ve started the training process by selecting men from the Haganah, but have one volunteer from Greece and hoping for more. If you’re up to it, I’d like to give you a tour. I’ve got an auto and driver from our motor pool waiting out front.” He set out walking fast. Russell tried to match the pace but couldn’t.
Akavia turned. “Sorry, I’m used to thinking of you as the superman everyone talked about in Ethiopia.”
Superman,Russell thought, Not me. I had an awful lot of luck, and better men than me at my back. He’d tried explaining that fact to others without any success, and didn’t try now.
Akavia’s transport turned out to be an elderly Austin hearse. “It’s old,” Akavia said, “but it runs better than new. We have our own mechanics and a good machine shop. If we can’t order a part, we build it.”
He went to the rear and opened one of the swinging doors. He held out his hand and helped Russell duck under the roofline. A bench ran along each of the side walls. Handholds hung from the roof. Akavia grasped one of the handholds as he sat down. Russell managed to get a partial grip before the hearse accelerated away from the curb. Strengthening his grip he found a seat opposite Akavia.
Akavia waited until Russell’s breathing settled before apologising. “Sorry, I should have warned you. We’ve got more engine than most hearses and we try to offer a moving target whenever we can.”
Russell interrupted what might become another monologue. “How did you know I was in the hospital?”
Akavia shook his head. “Every question you ask demands a history lesson, so I hope you like history.”
Russell lifted an eyebrow. “Never had much chance, but go ahead,” adding under his breath, You’ve got an itch, scratch it.
“First off, we’re not great friends of the British. They’ve been two-faced in their dealings with us and are the greatest barrier to my Jewish people attaining statehood. In 1917 the British published a document declaring support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. But as soon as we began acting on that policy, the British began to arbitrarily limit immigration. Now, with Hitler killing Jews right and left, the British send shiploads of desperate people back to Germany and certain death. The supposedly civilised world doesn’t care, after all it’s only Jews. We also have our immediate problem as the Arab occupiers see British actions as an invitation to kill Jews. We value Orde Wingate as being the only British soldier appreciating our dilemma. He came to Israel, led us, and taught us how to organise and protect ourselves. I felt honoured when he requested my support in Ethiopia.
“My family and I are Zionists. We believe God has given us this part of the world as our birthright. And just as God commanded our ancestors to fight to get it, so we must fight for its return. In order to fight we must organise and that brings me to your question about knowing of your arrival.”
“We have organised The Haganahas a tool to obtain by force what the Balfour Declaration promised in 1917. I am a member of that group. We keep track of all British soldiers coming into our territory and circulate a short biography. Your name caught my attention.”
“Whew! I’ll have to chew on all that for a bit,” Russell said. “But now you’ve collected me, what are your plans?”
A sparkle lit Avram’s eyes. “We’re going to circumcise you and turn you into a Jew.”
“No, you’re not,” Russell protested. “I’m Cree and none of my family have ever had that done to them.”
Avram raised both hands. “Joking, of course, but my talking seems to have tired you. I think we’ll postpone our tour of the training centre and I’ll take you to my house. You can meet my wife, have something to eat, and relax in my garden.” He crouched, moved forward and spoke to the driver.
As Russell left the hearse, Akavia, presented a burlap bag. “Dr. McPhee gave me this. Stuff accompanying you to hospital.”
Russell grasped the bag and felt the familiar weight of his pistol and shoulder holster. He followed Akavia through a locked metal gate leading into a shrub-filled courtyard. Akavia knocked and the door opened. Akavia kissed the lady opening the door and turned to Russell. “Welcome to our home. Please make it your own.” He turned to the tall, heavy-boned woman by his side. “Mrs. Akavia, Deborah to her friends, meet an old comrade, Russell Stonechild from Canada, the Sudan, Ethiopia and who knows what other parts of the world. A warrior of the first order.
He felt the weight of Deborah’s appraisal as Avram pulled back a curtain to a small cubicle off the living room. A narrow cot filled most of the space.
“Take your time. Get settled and then join us for our evening meal. Avram drew the curtain.
Russell emptied the bag onto the cot. Just as the pistol and shoulder holster were not part of a regular soldier’s kit, neither were the remaining items. He found the knife, special scabbard and lanyard enabling him to conceal a throwing knife behind his back and still have instant access. He unfolded newspaper wrapping from the last item in the bag and revealed a leather gauntlet wrapped around a wristwatch. He held the watch toward a small window; as always admiring the intricacy and craftsmanship. He surveyed the Longines inscription and the complex numbering around the three rotating dials. He had yet to learn the watch’s full use, and still wondered at the identity of the one making the gift. He placed it on his wrist and adjusted the gauntlet to protect and disguise its existence, finding it loose on his shrunken fore-arm.
Russell spent the next day lounging in Avram’s small, walled courtyard surrounded by fragrant flowers and shaded by a eucalyptus tree. Deborah gave names to each of the flowers whenever her strange hours brought her into the house. Russell found his mind unable to hold the detail