The Glory Boys

Gerald Seymour


There was quiet in the car now, attention riveted on the twin headlights far behind in the darkness. The man in the back seat had swivelled round, wiped the condensation from the back window, and peered hard into the void of the retreating road. The passenger in the front had also twisted round in an attempt to follow the passage of the lights, while the driver scanned the tilted mirror to his front. The road was not straight, and on the sharp curves where the high hedges came close to the tarmac they would lose the lights, and then find them again as the course of their route levelled out.

For the three men the tension had begun some fifteen kilometres back. The driver had been the first to speak, but that was long after his companions had noted his continual and hurried glances up at his mirror. He had spoken in the slow, high-pitched dialect of the pure Palestinian Arab.

'It's been with us a long time, the car behind. I've surged three times, pushed the speed up seven or eight ks an hour.

It doesn't affect him — he's just maintaining the same distance. By the big farm, near the wood, you remember, I slowed then. Right down, cut back by about twenty. He didn't close up.'

That was when they had started to take notice. Picked up the two powerful beams away in the distance, begun to sweat a little, allowed the nervous silence to take over.

The front passenger pulled the glove hatch open and rummaged for the plastic envelope containing the maps that had been supplied with the car. He felt in his pocket for his cigarette lighter, and then with the maps and the small flame he bent double, the papers down on the floor and the light shielded by his body. He ran quickly through the pages that showed in detailed and intricate pattern the road system of northern France. He hesitated on one of the maps, his finger tracing a line with difficulty in the flickering, shaking light.

'We're just past Bethune — that was the last town.

Another two or three kilometres there's a turn-off to the left. Runs through some villages. Auchy… Estrees. It's difficult to see like this. It looks as though the road winds round the villages, a by-pass. It's a broken line on the map, not for lorries. We can get through that way, and still be in good time for the boat. We have the time?'

'There's time enough.' The man in the back spoke, his words carrying away from the other two as he continued to search the road behind. 'He's still there. I lost him a moment, but he's there again.'

The road was straight now. Clear and fast, high trees on either side, the headlamps swinging past the tall trunks and melting away into the night across the fields. There was an occasional lighted cottage or farmhouse, but that was all. Three in the morning, and with the soulless cold of the early hours settled deep on the countryside. The men in the car shivered, the fear they felt accentuating the chill. From the back came the request for the heater to go on, declined by the driver.

'We've just cleared the mist on the windows. I don't want it again. I want to be able to see all the windows. I want to be able to see all the way round.'

As if to emphasize the point he wound down the window on his door, letting the bitter night air flood into the saloon. There was a howled protest as the wind and draught cut in from the space above the glass.

'Don't worry,' shouted the driver, lifting his voice above the noise. 'The turn-off is very soon now. He'll be gone then. Look for the signs and remember the names of those villages.' Optimism, the way they all wanted it.

The man beside him said, 'Auchy and Estrees, those are the two we want.'

They came too fast to the junction, and the driver had to brake hard to avoid overshooting the narrow road that curved away to the right. The car protested fiercely as it was swung round, tyres indenting the gravel chips. The man in the back was flung across the wide seat. To steady himself he clung to the heavy grip-bag that shared the seat with him. When he looked again the twin lights had disappeared.

It was a winding, delaying road now. An uneven surface, pocked by the use of tractors and heavy farm machinery.

Hay from the fields showed up high in the overhanging trees where it had been whisked from the carts by the branches. The speed came down. The driver still returned to his mirror, but saw only darkness.

'We'll not know for a bit yet. The curves are too quick

… he'd have to be right up our bottoms for us to know he was there. Right up.'

He laughed, and the others joined him. Too loud to maintain the pretence that they were still calm: the apprehension came through with the successive giggles. It had been a long drive, three days of it already gone, across hundreds of kilometres of Italian and French roads. So little distance left. Less than two hours to the ferry port, far less. And now the first crisis, the initial moment of the unexpected.

The minutes went by as the driver carefully threaded his way along the centre of the road. The man in the back allowed his eyes to wander, the compulsion of his vigil at the rear window waning.

'Can we have the window closed now? I'm frozen here.

All right for you bastards, but here I'll die of cold.'

'Just a few more minutes. Till we're sure we will keep the air coming in and the windows clear. You should not feel it that hard. You said you spent your winters in the Jordan mountains, you will have known the cold then, the snow on the hills — '

'Not the Jordan mountains, the mountains of Palestine.'

The laughter spread through the car. The driver turned behind him, his face huge with the smile.

'Accepted. There was no snow, no mountains for it to fall upon in Haifa. Palestine Haifa. No cold there.'

'What can you know of Haifa? Too long ago when you left for you to have memories there.'

The driver said, 'No, I have a slight memory of it. I was four years when we left. There is a memory, though it is faint. One does not know how much is memory and how much is the image of what one has been told in the camps of the former life.'

'I have been to Haifa,' the front passenger interrupted.

'I went by lorry to work there on a site, a building project.

They took us daily from Jenin. It must have been beautiful once. They were spreading concrete over the earth when we came. It was stop-gap work before I went to Beirut to study, just to fill in the time while I waited.'

They drove down a gentle incline into a tight-knit, snug village. Big church, civic building, market across to the right, and a ribbon of houses. Few lights. A grey, hostile, closed hedgehog community, battened down for the night to repel strangers, no movement except for the long-legged dog that scurried from their path. They laughed again as they saw the animal race away into the shadows. This was a private place, offering no refuge to visitors. The road ran straight through, without hesitation. There was a bridge and then they were past the village and climbing again.

The driver was still smiling as he looked again into his mirror. Two bright circles of light, perfectly and sym- metrically framed in the chrome fitting. He stared hard, watching their progress down the same hill they had travelled over on their way into the village. He said nothing, but flicked his head between the view in front and the mirror. The man in the back saw his movements and swung round heavily in his seat.

'It's still there,' he said. 'The bastard is still with us.

Coming into the village now, perhaps three, four hundred metres behind us. Go faster, while he's dawdling through the village, get some distance between us.'

The car surged forward, the power of its engine pulling it over the road surface. There was no consideration now for the ruts and holes. The chassis jolted and bounced as the wheels undulated on the uneven tarmac, lurching where the deeper pits had been half-filled with stones. The driver was totally concentrating now, his hands far up on the wheel, feet alternating between brake and accelerator, body deep into the well of the seat. The new speed communicated his anxiety to his passengers.

'Get me a route mapped out,' he snapped, eyes not diverted from the front. 'We don't want to find ourselves

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