Back in Harness

THUNK!...clunk, thud.
That's the best way to describe the sound that awoke me. I sat up immediately and tried to locate the source of the sound. It seemed to
be coming from not too far outside my window. Rising with speed, I moved the curtain a fraction to allow view to the outside world.
I had to blink a few times as my eyes adjusted to the morning sun's glare.
THUNK!...clunk, thud.
I breathed out a held lung full of air in relief and smiled at the way Max was swinging the axe to chop firewood,
doing a pretty damn good job of it as well. Despite her small frame, she sure could give that wood nugget what for. I waited until the
axe landed, then tapped on the window to get her attention then opened it. I mustered the best and obviously mock annoyed expression
that I could and spoke in a low growl, still mindful of noise.

"What the bloody hell do ya think you're doing waking me at this hour!?" Looking at my watch, I could see it was just past 7am
"Have you no consideration woman!?"

She immediately caught on, smiled broadly and replied. "You should have been up ages ago lazybones!"

I raised my hand to point and opened my mouth as if to reply, but stopped suddenly and settled for slumped shoulders and meekly
replying, "All right then..." and closing the window in defeat with a grin spreading across my face. I could hear her soft laughter so
that got the day off to a decent start for me at least. I pulled on my clothes and headed for the bathroom for a wash, brush up and
physical necessities. After attending to all of those, I headed for the kitchen and found Martha all present and correct.

"Morning Ben, breakfast?"

I accepted the offer gladly and was presented with a cuppa and a bowl of porridge, after being seated at the table, both went down lovely
and in very short order.

"You sleep ok?" was the next question and a solid nod was made in response.

"Excellent thanks, out like a light and stayed that way...though the short lumberjack alarm clock leaves something to be desired."

It took her a few seconds to figure that one out then burst out laughing.

"She's always been an early riser it would seem, when the sun is up, so is she."

I refrained from telling her my personal up and about time was about 5am under normal circumstances but appreciated the lay in this
morning. I sat in thought for a few moments going over last night's mental gymnastics.

"Penny for your thoughts?"

Martha's question brought me back to the here and now.

"Oh I was just going over what I was going to do with myself, one has a plan, just have to enact it and then the fun begins."

Her brow furrowed and cocked her head in questioning fashion but before I could respond, Max came in through the door adjacent to the
room I had been sleeping in, obviously the back way in and out. She beamed a smile at both of us and a seriously cheerful good morning
greeting, gave Martha a hug and then myself which was happily received.

"Sorry about waking you Ben." She said earnestly, I gave her a sideways, smirking look.

"Oh no you're bloody not!"

And then returned the still beaming smile. She laughed and Martha rose to get her much the same breakfast she had served me but a
slightly smaller portion. Once seated she dug in with gusto to the porridge bowl. Martha seated herself, indicated toward me with her
tea mug and spoke in a lofty tone.

"Ben was just about to tell me of his grand master plan!" Max took a gulp of tea and looked at me quizzically.

I spoke of the first part to get some required items then clear and secure the island. Made the point that if it was all secure then at least
there would be some supplies to stretch out what they already had and less need for foraging trips for a while. While they seemed fairly
well stocked, supply of some items would not last forever especially if I stuck around for a while which was not beyond the bounds of
possibility. They both saw the sense but Max pressed for more details.

I explained that in my view, there were a few things I'd need which were of necessity, changes of clothes and the like considering my
physical stature. They were all waiting back at my place. She understood that and asked where my home was, I told her that Martha knew
where it was, right outside where she found me laying like sack of spuds on the pavement.

"I remember." Said Martha "that big old three storey house."

I told her correct but that it was only the top floor flat that was mine. There was stuff there that would be useful and if possible, my bike
would help but that would have to wait until I cleared the island so the foot bridge could be used. Max made a suggestion about carrying it
on the boat back here. I informed her that was problematic at best seeing as how it's a 500cc bike and it would mean waiting there on dock
under the assumption I could get it started and the little boat could carry it safely back without capsizing.

Also I thought to myself, running that lovely woodwork was out of the question. I had the idea she'd want to try anyway but it presented
more problems than I would have liked to deal with. I nipped that thought in the bud before Max suggested it and made it appear like it
would have been nice but not really necessary. Clothing and personal stuff was the first priority from my point of view.

"So Captain Max, if your good ship is ready to set sail, I'm ready when thou art me dear!"

A look of worry crossed Martha's face but Max was already rising and said "I'll go check her over and we'll be off" Then left with more
than a bit of enthusiasm. I caught the look on Martha's face.

"Don't worry; I won't push my luck, especially since Max will be with me. One shot at getting my gear and if it's too dodgy,
we'll be on our way back sharpish and I give you my word on that."

The look softened slightly but I could tell she would not be happy until Max was home and safe. I shared the sentiment and left to get my
gear together. The pack Max had given me held the club, some water, the seemingly omnipresent snack bars and spare magazines.
One was locked in to the MP5 and the Glock and spare clips placed in the belt and strapped that on. All geared up and Max was waiting
in the living room when I came out, both her and Martha eyed the weapons.

"Just in case" I said in an upbeat tone.

"See?" said Max, "I'll be just fine and Ben will look after me." Both of them showed a measure of confidence in me.

Max somewhat more than Martha admittedly but that made it all the more imperative for me that I not let either of them down.

The journey was uneventful and Max moved the runabout slowly toward the Westminster Boating Base jetty. This placed me less than
150 yards from my home on St Georges Square. This was one dock that was gated but Max had told me that the gates were open so she
had always elected to use one with secured entry ways, the closest being Westminster Pier and it had the most open ground between the
river and where I was spending my enforced long nap.

She related on the trip that it was always easier to see them on open ground than built up areas, since avoiding them was always the better
option and I was inclined to agree. It was an open dock but we approached with care to make sure there were no unwelcome persons or
former persons there to greet us. It turned out there was no-one around so she tied up the boat and I got the club out of my pack, slung
but readied the MP5 so as ready as I would be for this little jaunt. Taking the lead, I moved up the walkway from the dock to the glass
fronted single storey pavilion building.

To the right and connected to this via an atrium, was a function room building with a covered balcony facing the Thames. This place was
like a party/reception/bar place thing for hire, quite large and well laid out. The first thing I noticed was that the doors leading from the
pavilion directly at the end of the walkway were closed. So far so good then. A covered walkway extended around the outside to the left.

Moving slowly up the sloping walkway until I could see through the full length windows in to the pavilion, where I halted and took a good
look inside, the sun was high enough for the walkway covers to block direct sunlight in to the windows but that gave more than enough
ambient to see the innards of the building.

Thankfully, it appeared empty. Moving onward and the windows gave more than enough view to see the walkway around the corner was
also clear. This led to an open yard, a parking area for this place and the Vila de Cesari nightclub/restaurant place next door.
This area was occupied however. A single walker dressed in less than squeaky clean evening wear and right in our bloody way.
Getting over the walkway fencing in any manner would have attracted its attention I believed.


We both crouched and I looked at Max; she saw what I was guessing used to be a man and had that 'What are we going to do now?' look
about her. I was hoping to avoid this for a while yet but sometimes, you just don't get the option. I whispered her to stay put for a bit.
She looked worried and placed a hand on my arm, I think she was about to tell me to be careful but must have decided it was a redundant
statement. I just grinned, unsung the pack, withdrew the club and moved toward the end of the walkway.

The shabbily dressed individual was just standing there and staring off to my left. I paused and made a visual sweep of the rest of the area.
Just I, Max and our stationary friend seemed to be the only occupants of this little corner of London. Looking past the end of the walkway,
about a two foot drop to the gravel covered ground then 30 or so yards of open ground to cover before I got to where grey and gruesome
was standing.

For some reason, the words "Time to nut up or shut up" went through my mind. I was sure I'd heard that in a film or something.

I moved one leg, and then the other over the top rail, paused then dropped to the ground in a slightly dainty fashion, or what passed for
dainty as far as a lump like me was concerned.

Yep, that did it.

Though it wasn't my movement that seemed to attract his attention and there wasn't much noise but as soon as my feet hit the gravel but
I might as well have just whistled at him and started waving. The head snapped around like it had switched on it's own radar tracking.
For a few seconds he or it looked at me then began shuffling toward with one arm waving, and then it started to groan.

Well it would have done so in the manner I was expecting if most of his throat hadn't appeared to be AWOL.

The grey skin and dirty clothing in contrast to the large patch of red brown over the front of what must have been an expensive shirt and
jacket. It got only slightly quicker as it closed the gap and out of politeness, or just wanting to get this done, I moved a few steps closer.
Also I thought it was a really good idea to have some maneuvering room. Closing the gap to about 10 feet, I stood my ground and made
ready for a good swing with the club. I noticed that its left arm was just hanging limp and its right was doing the entire waving thing.

My mouth went like parchment as I adopted my best 'Casey at the bat' baseball stance and prayed that, like the aforementioned fellow,
I wouldn't strike out.

The walker got down to some 6 feet from me then a split second of hesitation from yours truly just as I was about to swing, Its face
contorted to a look of sheer rage and absolute malevolent hatred as it made a final and seemingly very determined lunge. I wasn't expecting
that at all from a creature such as this. None the less, I swung and possibly put a bit more effort in to it than was required after what I had
just seen.

Actually now I think about it, I put everything I had behind that swing.

An almost simultaneous dull thud and squelching crunch sound, oddly reminiscent of digging a spoon in to the shell of a soft boiled egg,
came and went quickly as the club tore most of its upper skull away and sent bone and red-grey sludge matter arcing through the air.
I spun almost 360 degrees myself and staggered back a few steps.

The body had already hit the floor and I was keenly aware of my breathing having quickened rather a lot. I had to stand for a few moments.
I have killed before, many times, but not one of those who had fallen had that look on their faces. Rage and hatred yes but not at the level
this one had displayed. As I think a somewhat Anglo-American expression would put it, that creeped me out and then some. Rather
unpleasant gunk dripped from the end of the club and I gave it a quick rinse in a nearby puddle. I became aware of a presence close by
and turned to look, Max stood looking at me from the walkway.

It may have been seconds or minutes, I am still not sure before she asked the predictable but in quiet voice "Are you ok?"

I nodded, straightened up and almost automatically adopted a calm voice.
"Yeah, still a bit out of shape I reckon." then forced a smirk "Almost screwed meself in to the ground with a left hand thread there...
Shall we?"

I don't know if she believed the show of calm but let it pass without comment and joined me as we made our way to Grosvenor Road.

The quiet desolation of London without her people descended on me like a weight once more as we crossed the road and made our way
down the narrow street, almost directly opposite the boat club dock, which runs behind the row of town houses until I arrived at the rear
of the one that held my top floor flat. The back gate to the small yard that all these houses have was still secured. I placed my ear to the
door and knocked lightly. I heard no sound after a few seconds and then punched in the four digit code on the mechanical door lock,
gestured to Max to stand back and turned the handle.

Pushing the door open and then taking a few steps back, the door swung inward without sound and I stood, waiting. Nothing but silence
greeted me and I made my way in. Looking around, nothing was disturbed and nothing moved. I beckoned Max in and shut the door.
I looked at the back of the building and up
to the top floor. No windows open as far as I could see and the fire escape that zigzagged up the outside was clear. We slowly climbed
the stairs to each platform, keeping a wary eye on the windows for movement. None was forthcoming so we continued and I only hoped
the bedroom window I had left open just a smidgen when last here, was still that way.

Lady luck was with me this day it would seem.

Arriving at the top floor, I advised Max to wait half way down the last flight of steps. I took a look in through the window at the familiar
surroundings and slowly slid the sash window upwards. I waited, laid down the club and brought the MP5 to bear. There was no swinging
room here and it's a long way down if I mess up so the lesser of two evils. I whistled a few notes then waited. No sound came in answer.
I could see the door to my flat still ajar as I must
have left it.

Deep breath then stepped in, over the lone chest of drawers underneath the window and started to make a room to room sweep.

Kitchen next to my bedroom clear, closing and locking the door to the inside staircase down to the second floor as I went past, along the
short corridor, bathroom devoid of visitors, the front room and lounge likewise so I quickly went back to the bedroom and called Max in.
Home and safe I allowed myself to relax and smile at being back in familiar surroundings.

"Make yaself at home my little angel" Glancing at my watch, it said 11am.

I went through to my lounge room at the front of the place and sat in my oversized easy chair for a few moments and surveyed the room.
Everything was just as I had left it, the small wall mounted book cases to each side and full floor to ceiling and side to side one behind the
chair still held all my precious printed matter. Large screen TV still connected to the left wall, it was as though I had only just left and all
was righteous with the world as the familiar scent of paper filled my nostrils. A temporary feeling as I would with no small regret have to
leave but I intended to make the most of it. The walls were typical for this kind of building, just flat plastered and painted in pretty much
neutral light colours.

I'm not one for adornments as such, just the things that mean a lot to me. In the lounge, I had pictures of times past with a surly bunch of
wayward ne're-do-wells from both the Para's and SAS. Two small wood backed shield plaques with the Parachute and SAS Regiment
badges and some little trinkets if you will, of my life. Two of my favourite things are a good indication of my character I have heard it said
and had pride of place on the shelf above my TV.

One was a large pottery figure of Pooh Bear scratching his chin while deep in thought. The other is a china figure I had made of someone
who I suppose it could be said I emulate at times and is emblazoned with the words:
'A Terrorists Worst Nightmare'

It's the Warner Bros. Cartoon Tasmanian Devil in 80's style SAS assault gear.

That was made by a young lass who did stuff to order and sold other things she'd made at the regular Sunday market at Camden lock.
I looked at it and hoped Jane was safe and sound elsewhere, far from this. Max laughed out loud when she saw it and sat on the sofa
against the right hand wall and then looked somewhat wide eyed and smiling at the book shelves.

"Yeah, I do got a few of 'em don't I" She merely nodded in agreement.

"Well, I'll go get me kit together, have a browse why don't ya!"

I left her alone and went back to my bedroom.

I knelt down and pulled the large trunk from under the bed. Opening the lid, I checked the gear over as I removed it a piece at a time.
Several sets of Multicam ecu2 trousers and shirt with smock, head wrap and floppy bush hat, Wiley X green gloves, Oakley wind jacket
glasses, Adidas gsg black boots, my seriously comfy brown Lowa mountain boots, and Leatherman MUT. The Gerber Prodigy combat
knife, still good in its sheath. The MOLLE low profile rig with integrated Pegasus airborne belt, ever useful Karrimor sabre pack and a
Yukon Spartan night vision monocular.

With some reverence, I undid the wrapping on my Kukri and scabbard. The true Nepalese blade was a favourite amongst the old guard in
the SAS. As useful as it was to the tribes of Nepal, we had found it just as useful in almost any circumstance where a good blade was
required. Including close quarter combat as the Ghurkhas had used them to great effect in more than a few close engagements over the
years during and since the Second World War. Granted that was never its primary purpose, it was a tool for all seasons to them and
likewise to us, just used in slightly different fashions.

As was the standard opinion in the Army concerning Ghurkhas, be ever afraid of a small smiling bloke that carries a fucking big knife.

I quickly changed in to my combat gear and suddenly felt all the better for it. Took what stuff I require on changes of clothing, cleaning
gear, toiletries and so forth which were packed in to the Karrimor. Finally I went to the wardrobe, opened it and looked to the top shelf;
a small shallow cardboard box about the size of a dinner plate was taken down and opened.

It may not seem a lot to some but to those who have won it and know what you have to do to get it, it means a hell of a great deal. I
removed the sandy coloured beret and gave it a brushing that it didn't require. I looked at the cloth badge sewn on the front. Very often it
is referred to as a winged dagger, I could see why, though it is supposed to be Excalibur wreathed in flames. The downward blade pointed
to the motto underneath that said all it needed to.


I placed the beret on my head and shaped it as a matter of pride, it still fitted exactly as it should despite just a bit more hair under it than
I normally would have. I placed the MP5 magazines in one pouch and the Glock ones on the belt pouches. Holstered the Glock and slung
on the MP5. In the small kitchen, site of many a culinary success and disaster, I relived the cupboards of all the tinned and dry goods I
could carry, loaded up the pack tightly as possible to prevent any noise as best I could. It left some space but I really had nothing to fill it
with, it would do though.

One idea sprang to mind and I grabbed my coin tubes, a left over souvenir from one of my many overseas jaunts. They were short at
about three inches long, chrome plated steel tubes made to hold spare change in a spring loaded mechanism. I loaded them up with as
many two penny pieces as I had in my spare change pot and filled all four. I had a use in mind for them later if required. Took one glance
in the bathroom mirror, had a final kit check and mentally announced I was good to go.

I stepped back in to the front room; Max was looking at book I knew so very well. She glanced at me then did a double take. I suppose
I must have looked like someone ready to go to war and thinking about it, that wasn't far from the truth. I smiled and gestured to the
large book she was holding.

"I see you have my favourite book there me darlin', Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas, the proper title one Mr Verne
gave his story, 1873 Osgood Smith edition with the illustrations"

She looked at the large book and run her hand over the tooled leather front cover; I think she shared my appreciation for the printed word.
"It's beautiful Ben."

We exchanged smiles and I stepped forward and unslung my pack, taking the book from her, I carefully wrapped it and placed it inside.
Closed the pack and re-slung it on my shoulders, it was getting a bit lumpy weight wise but nothing I couldn't handle.

"Well best take it with us so you can read it eh?" She seemed to appreciate the thought "C'mon then, let's be off my little angel!"

Max stopped and looked around. "It's a lovely place Ben, I'd like to come back and visit sometime"

I gave her a quick but gentle hug considering all the kit I had strapped to me.

"You will be welcome anytime, my home will always be open to you me blossom."

I do have the habit of using terms of endearment like that toward women, so far none have objected. I pocketed my keys on the way out
and it was with no small regret I left my home but there was a job to be done. Standing on the top fire escape balcony, I looked at the
street below and out to Grosvenor Road. Nothing living or otherwise in sight so began the slow walk down the steps with club in hand and
weapons secured.

I stopped when we reached the yard and went one side where a rigid wooden cover was fixed to the wall. It looked like one of those large
garden cabinet tool keeper things and was about four feet high, three foot deep and some seven feet long. I used my key to undo the
padlock on the doors and opened them.

There sat my MT500, a 500cc Rotax engine Armstrong/Harley Davidson British Army dispatch rider motorcycle, worn in all the right
places but still solidly functional. I preferred the older type of Army stuff as it wasn't bogged down with modern electronic doo-dads.
The left handed Kick-start on a MT500 took some practice but once that was mastered, she turned over first time, every time. I dearly
wanted to take her with us.

I think Max caught on but bless her heart, said nothing to that effect other than "I'll bet that's fun to ride."

My grin was all the agreement she seemed to require but I shut the doors, locked them and moved on. We retraced our steps without
incident, boarded the Chris Craft and were away in short order. I slung my pack in the rear seating well just so the boat remained on as
even a keel possible with a lump like me in it, all bombed up and ready to spoil someone's day.

It was just past midday, the weather was bright and warm for our trip back and Max put a bit of speed on for this. Little more than an
hour and a half later, we were back in the little house on the island and sorting the food out to replenish the cupboards. Max was all talk
about the flat and the books; apparently she very much enjoyed the trip and why not. The talk didn't stop much between mouthfuls of the
late lunch either bless 'er. This seemed to make Martha very happy so I said nothing to dampen Max's spirits. I stayed in my combats but
grounded my gear in my room. Over lunch and in to the afternoon, I got a word or two in edgeways about a visit to Teddington Lock
which Max had told me has a large hardware place not too far from the docks, which she had visited often.

The change in subject was enough to get her in to a slightly less foaming at the mouth excitement mood. I think for Max, what we had just
done was almost like a fun day out which she apparently needed without knowing she did. I was happy to have provided the catalyst for a
slight distraction from reality, even if only for a little while.

I went out for a jog about and exercise for the rest of the afternoon. The place was well geared up for the self-sufficiency deal. They had a
small but well-kept vegetable garden; I checked the shed near the house, an absolutely spotless tool-shed come workshop. Tools were laid
out in quite precise fashion on a shadow boards around the walls so no worries about finding a screwdriver when needed.

While going about, I envisaged an area for chickens to be kept as I would have currently committed murder or something close to it for a
fried egg sandwich. A simple thing but it's amazing what you suddenly have to do when you can't just go out to a local greasy spoon and
get one. And yes, the question of bread for said sarnie was not missed out either. That also went on the mental 'to do' list. One has to
have some goals in life after all. I had no idea how long this situation would continue but was not holding on to any illusion that it would
all blow over by the weekend, sadly.

After an excellent dinner liberated from the stuff I'd brought along of Chilli con carne by way of a can of ready done Stag Chilli and pouch
of Uncle Ben's Mexican bean rice, we relaxed. And yes, my nephews had brought up the subject of rice cooking skills with their Uncle Ben
on more than one occasion being the cheeky and lovable little buggers they are.

My sister did nothing to discourage them in this, which came as no surprise to me.

Max decided to get comfy in my lap for reasons best known only to herself but I wasn't objecting and read the book aloud to me
and Martha. I was happy to spend an evening in excellent company and mentally telling the world outside to piss off for a while.