An excerpt from Chapter 7 of Major BS Comes to the End of his Rope. BUY THE E-BOOK
AFTER his long flight from London, all Bax wanted to do was lie down. So this was the last thing he needed.
Bax had opened his backpack for inspection, hoping the customs officer only wanted a cursory peek. But he wanted to see his carry-on bag too. Worse, he told Bax to unpack both bags on the counter.
‘You see a geezer with only one ear and you immediately think he’s up to no good?’
Bax had endured some rough flights in his time, but this one had really tested his nerves. What soldier hasn’t been bounced around in the back of a transport aircraft flying at low altitude? But you expected fewer white-knuckle experiences on a commercial flight. Other pilots try to avoid air pockets; this one seemed to aim for them. And why did he go through his Skippy impersonation every time he landed? He certainly wasn’t Australian, judging from the broken English he used over the intercom. Bax’s mood hadn’t brightened even once he returned to terra firma. By the time his luggage finally dropped on to the carousel, everyone else had already got theirs, and all the trolleys were already gone. With his carry-on luggage hanging off one shoulder, he slung the backpack over his other shoulder and followed the signs to the immigration and customs hall, only to find himself at the end of a very long, slow-moving line. And now this!
He watched the customs officer pick through his things — pausing to inspect and/or shake any item that looked big enough to conceal a diamond or a small python or a sizeable chunk of Moroccan hashish or maybe a compact rocket launcher. When the customs officer got to the bottom of the bags and saw Bax had nothing to hide — except, perhaps, unfashionable white Y-fronts — he bundled everything back into the backpack and bag and finally wished Bax a nice stay.
Bax grunted, slung the backpack back over his shoulder and picked up the carry-on bag. He could see there was another door to pass through to where the public had to wait.
The major was the only one left waiting and his body language told Bax he wasn’t happy.
‘Your plane landed a good hour ago, Sergeant. This way.’
Bax followed him out into the car park. The much taller, unburdened, major, took three steps to Bax’s two.
They stopped at the pedestrian crossing.
‘If I had known you were going to be so late, Bax, I would have waited out here and had a puff.’
‘How much of a way to go, guv?’
‘Shhh, keep your voice down, will you? Do you want everyone in the country to know you come from Streatham?’
‘You come from South London too.’ Bax looked up with an expression of indignation.
‘I cannot believe anyone still speaks like you do, even back in Streatham. Bleedin’ this, guv that. You sound like a sing-songy refugee from The Sweeney.‘
Oh, this was typical! Bax had not heard from the major in nearly a year, then he rings in the middle of the night and plays the come-help-me-because-you-owe-me card yet again. But would a ‘Did you have a good flight, Bax?’ or ‘Can I help you with those bags?’ kill him? Same old guv, same old insults.
Major BS returned to his own deep voice. ‘For your information, Bax, Rowbottom is about an hour-and-a-half from Canberra, and Canberra is maybe three hours from here.’
‘That’s another four-and-a-half hours. Christ!’
‘I don’t know what you have to complain about, Bax,’ the major snapped as he set off again now all the cars had passed. He turned his head back as he loped away. ‘I’ve already been driving for nearly six hours while you’ve been sitting back being pampered by some girlie hostie. Do you want to take the wheel, so I can have a pipe or two?’
‘I’d fall asleep at the wheel.’ Bax struggled to keep up again. They came to another halt as they joined the queue in front of the parking-ticket machine. ‘I’m knackered. How far is it from London to Sydney anyway?’
‘Oh, about 10,000 miles, give or take.’ The major patted his pockets and the line shuffled forward.
‘Seemed like further than that.’ Bax looked at his watch. ‘I make my total travel time 45 hours. Is that normal?’
‘Yesssss,’ said Major BS, stretching the word about as far as it could go without it becoming two words. ‘Quite reasonable, I would think.’
‘Really, guv? I reckon the pilot must have touched down on every airstrip he saw on the way to tout for passengers. We were flying into different time zones for most of the morning. I can’t tell you how many sunrises and breakfasts I’ve seen today.’
‘Good, we won’t have to waste valuable driving time by stopping for a nosh.’
‘I didn’t say I ate the breakfasts. Food on planes isn’t what it used to be. Mind you, I had never heard of the carrier…’
‘I found the fare on the internet. I thought it was very good value for such a short-notice ticket.’ By this time they had shuffled to the front of the queue and were standing in front of the ticket machine. The major coughed. ‘I don’t suppose you have any change, old boy?’
Bax put both his bags down and dug into his right-hand pocket. He had changed some money over at Heathrow Airport and was able to help out with a $2 Australian coin.
‘I’ll need more than that, old boy. Parking costs here are outrageous.’
Bax extracted two more shiny bronze coins from his pocket.
The major inserted the ticket into the machine, and it whirred as it tallied the tariff. ‘I presume you brought that little thing I asked you for.’
‘You mean the gun?’
‘Ssshhh, man, do you want everyone to know?’ The major frowned as he inserted the coins.
Bax lowered his voice to a whisper. ‘I decided it was too risky to bring.’
‘Good thing, too. They went through my entire luggage. I would have been a goner.’
‘Really? I might have known you’d lose your nerve. I could have been carrying anything when I arrived at immigration. I suppose they were just dumbstruck to have someone arrive from the Mother Country without a criminal record.’ He looked down on Bax with disdain. ‘ Maybe if you had been a tad bit more presentable?’
The major ripped the ticket from the slot and set off again across the car park. Bax picked up his bags again and followed. They stopped at the rear of a mini-bus and the Major opened the back with an angry jerk.
Bax lifted his bags onboard and the major slammed it shut and glared at him.
‘Look, I’m sorry, OK? But it wasn’t just the gun I left. I decided not to bring my cut-throat razor either, just in case they thought it was a weapon.’ Bax ran a hand over his whiskered face. ‘I hope you’ve got a spare, guv.’
‘You’ve let me down already. And now you say you want to share my toiletries? Unbelievable.’
For the first time, Bax focused on the bus. ‘It’s a bit big for just us, innit? Did you close all those curtains like that so I could have a kip in the back on the way home?’
Major BS rolled his eyes. ‘I remember the days when you could go days and days without sleep. But have it your own way. I’ll drive. Just remember you have come here to work, not sleep.’
Bax headed to the passenger side.
The front bucket seat was upholstered with soft black leather which he sank back into with a small sigh of satisfaction.
Bax fastened his seatbelt. ‘So why am I here, guvnor?’
Then he heard talking behind him. He turned his head around and saw two rows of black people smiling at him. ‘Christ.’
They just smiled. He turned back to the front and spoke from the corner of his mouth.
‘You never said nuffin’ about any mercenaries, guv?’
Major BS raised his eyebrows. ‘Good heavens, do you really think this motley lot are soldiers of fortune? You really have lost your touch.’