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Three Eyes

Kevan Youde

Captain Valois

Kevan Youde (pen name) was born in Derbyshire and has spent most of his professional career in Europe, working as a marine scientist and writing fiction in his spare time. He has had work selected recently for publication in Dream Catcher, Bunbury, Spelk and Winamop among others.

     Pride, envy and avarice were Greg's engines and they had taken him far. As his car glided to a halt outside work, it did so in a parking bay that was separated from the main entrance by only four other spaces. He was working on moving into the top spot.


     He liked his car. It was a premium marque, the kind that teenagers have on posters on their walls. The model wasn't the bottom of the range – that was for losers even if it had a six-figure price-tag. Nor was it the second cheapest – that was for mugs who paid a twenty percent mark-up for a five percent improvement. He'd chosen one from the upper-middle of the range. It had stretched his budget but it was worth it to make a point: here was a man who knew what to do, how to do it and when to do it.


      Those qualities were going to get him The Old Man's job when he retired soon. The race to replace him was two-horse and Greg was the favourite. The other runner was Rosenthal, whose bay number six was still empty when Greg arrived. Bays two, three and four were old-guard: the same generation as The Old Man. If they'd been the right material to upholster the top chair, they would have done it ten years ago.


     The Old Man said that leaders needed the three I's: the intelligence to see what was happening, the imagination to decide what to do about it and the incisiveness to do it. Rosenthal had intelligence and imagination in bucketfuls. In fact, he was double-first, batshit-crazy bright. But he came up short in the third criterion. He danced on the grey line between analysis and paralysis, didn't know when to stop thinking and start doing. Greg had no such problem. He was master of the down-and-dirty, sweaty-balled business of the bank. 'Incisive' meant 'cutting' and when Greg cut, somebody bled hard and long.


      In the office, his team were in a knot by the window.

     “What's all this? Have we already got enough money?”

     “Morning Greg. We were looking at Rosenthal's new car. It's a beauty.”

     Veronica smiled. She was new, talented and beautiful so a few months ago Greg had established dominance by taking her out for a meal that had turned into a borderline date-rape – his fourth. If she smiled, he shouldn't. Greg looked down to see bay six filled by a sleek new car: the same marque as his but the model two places up in the range.


     Rosenthal had made a move. He'd come onto Greg's home turf and shat on the lawn. Rosenthal was letting The Old Man know that he could make it to the top. This could not stand.


     Greg and Rosenthal met in the restaurant at lunch.

     “Saw your new car. Very nice. How much did that set you back?”

     “More than I could possibly afford,” said Rosenthal, smiling. “On my salary.”

     There was a significant pause between the two halves of that sentence. Rosenthal was spending the money that he'd earn when he moved to the top floor. Greg's place in the bank rested on him being Jack The Lad but Rosenthal had laid a queen on his jack. Now Greg had to ace it.


     Two days later, Greg parked his new car and got out, pale and sweating. He'd bought the top-of-the-range model: a barely road-legal monster more suited to the racetrack than the London streets. His calf twitched with the effort of controlling the car's psychopathic power. He looked at the monster and wondered how he was going to pay off the loan he'd taken to get it. As he did, Rosenthal arrived, driving his old, sedately luxurious, executive saloon.


     “Nice car Greg. Must have cost you a bit.”

     “What happened to yours?”

     “This is mine. I told you I couldn't afford that other one.

     I liked the look of yours so I hired one for a day just to feel what it'd be like.”

     Someone was going to suffer and the first person that came to mind was the man who'd sold Greg the monster. There was only one dealership in town and the salesman had said that he'd sold Rosenthal the good as. Greg drove – with difficulty – to the dealership where he found the salesman holding forth to a group of acolytes.


      “So this geezer – Jewish as a bar mitzvah buffet– comes in with a contract; all legal. Tells me that if I don't sell a Rampant in the next week he'll give me five grand. Now, if I sell a Rampant I make twenty-g in commission straight in the trouser, not to mention a shit-load of kudos for being the only bloke outside Dubai to sell one of the bastard things. So I can't lose. All I have to do – the four-by-two tells me – is sign the contract to say that if someone asks me if I've sold an Excelsior, I've got to say that client confidentiality means that I can't confirm that I sold one to a little Jewish geezer last week.”


      Greg drove back to work a broken man. On his way out that evening, he met The Old Man at the lift.

     “Evening Greg. I hear you've got a new car. There's no way you can afford it on what we pay you. I hope you haven't done anything reckless, Greg. I wouldn't like to think that you'd been taking any of my forthcoming decisions for granted. There's no I in reckless, Greg.”


     “No I. You remember the three I's?”

     “Oh yes sir.”

     “There are another three eyes that you need in this game you know, Greg.”

     “And what are those, sir?”

     “Two to watch where you're going and one to watch the guy behind you.

       Goodnight Greg.”

The sergeant is down but not finished. He has seen too many prisoners from other armies to have any illusions about the treatment he can expect if he doesn't escape. It's different for officers. They give their parole and are treated like guests. If they have money and connections they can still live well but the other ranks do not fare so well. They're pushed around and robbed of anything of value – down to and including their boots. They sit at the bottom of the pile when it comes to food and billets and only the strongest survive long enough to be thrown into stinking prisons from which only the strongest of the strongest will emerge. No, the sergeant has no wish to be kept prisoner and although his situation is not good, he has not yet given up hope.


At least he no longer has to suffer the prattle of his fellow prisoners. Since two more of his men arrived – also bound and hooded by split hats – there has been a guard in the room with them. This guard only communicates in two ways: he shouts for silence in his strange accent and he makes his point with the butt of his musket. The sergeant has not enjoyed the feel of that musket but at least the silence allows him to think.


Although he remembers nothing between being hit on the head and waking up on the floor, he is now sure that they are being held in the hut where he had been posted. The hat over his face muffles his ears as well as blinding his eyes but he can still hear the creak of a loose slate that he remembers from earlier in the night. There are five of them in the hut now and when two more arrive, that accounts for the entire section that he was given as pickets. The Portuguese are cleaning up like a proud wife before a visit from the priest and are keeping everyone alive when they could easily have slit their throats. That means that the prisoners are needed for something and soon they will have to be moved. That is when he will have his chance.


The time to move comes quicker than expected. The door opens and gruff voices speak in rapid Portuguese that he cannot understand. He is hauled to his feet and stands waiting for an opportunity, an opening, anything. It doesn't come. A rope is looped twice around his bound wrists then passed between his legs. Ahead of him he hears the other prisoners going through the same process so that they are tied together in a line. They are taken out of the hut and he senses they are being led uphill towards the farmstead.


His movements are awkward. If anyone in the line lags, the rope becomes taut and hits him in the balls. It is a very good way of keeping the prisoners quiet – it keeps their mind occupied and means any escape attempt would mean gelding himself. The sergeant doesn't mind too much, though. From the lie of the land beneath his feet, he is now sure that they are heading towards the farmstead and he knows what is waiting there: Captain Valois.


Despite his name, which he shares with a royal house, Captain Valois is as common as the mud on a corporal's boots. He rose to his rank from the bottom, in the new way of Bonaparte's army where the talents of leadership and survival count more than name or title. He is a bastard of an officer and because he was once a sergeant, he knows every trick in the book. The only thing that stops the sergeant from stabbing him in the back at his first chance is that he is good at his job. There isn't a man in the company who doesn't owe his life to the captain. On more occasions than he can count, the sergeant has seen him steady the line with a shout or a quiet word when needed. He is happy to interpret stupid orders to the point of disobedience and prefers simple, effective tactics to clever, dangerous ruses. When he sets sentries around a post, Captain Valois sets them so that they watch each other as well as the land around them. To take one of his sentries without raising the alarm, a man would have to take all of them at once. When the Portuguese run up against Captain Valois, that will be the sergeant's chance to escape.


They halt and the wind in branches tells the sergeant that they are in the copse near the farmstead. The land ahead of them is open and they will be kept here until the Portuguese have dealt with the sentries. Soon, he will hear muskets as the alarm is given. He quietly brushes up against a nearby tree trunk, finding a branch that he can use to prise the hat from his head so that he can see what is happening.


Before any alarm, however, the Portuguese move them again. The sergeant was not expecting this and he is disoriented so he can't be sure where they are going. Before long, he hears a door being opened and he senses that they are being led inside. The rope is taken from between his legs but his wrists remain bound. He is pushed roughly, trips, falls and lands on something soft lying on the floor.


“Watch where you're going, you fat oaf!” the soft thing says in a voice muffled by a hat slit at the back and pushed down over the face. It is the voice of Captain Valois.

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