Sara Barratt was coated with sweat and grime after digging a shallow grave for Sharpe. She helped Pete to drag the body into its grave then said,
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“I’d like to clean up and change clothes before we carry on.” She disappeared around the other side of the AV. O’Donnell heard splashes and was tempted for a moment but shook his head.
Instead he arranged Sharpe’s hands across his chest. Then stared at Sharpe's face and the finger marks left by his killer and whispered,
“No, it can’t be.”
He lifted the corpse’s head and examined the underside of its jaw. Releasing it O’Donnell sat down by the grave and muttered,
“Oh bloody hell, it’s him – always knew he was too nasty to die.”
Sara reappeared in clean t-shirt and combats. She pushed her dog-tags inside her shirt, having added one of Sharpe’s. Looked at Pete and smiled,
“Talking to yourself Pete, it’s a bad sign y’know.”
Sher saw his expression and the smile faded,
He stared bleakly into middle distance then said,
“Let’s do this first. Afterwards we have to talk.”
They shovelled soil over his body and Sara placed his remaining tag under a stone atop the grave, walked back to the AV.
Rations and beer was a hell of a wake, reflected Sara, but needs must. She raised her tin, O’Donnell nodded and they drank a silent toast to John Sharpe.
“Okay Pete.” Sara said, “What’s the story?”
O’Donnell drew in a breath then,
“I served with Morris in the Fear Wars, we were both at the Hill. There was a corporal in our platoon – his name was Smith. God he was a bastard, we killed for survival, Smith actually enjoyed it. Everyone was scared green of him.”
“What’s that to do with John’s death?”
“It’s Smith. He was in charge of our martial arts training. Showed us his technique for grabbing an enemy from behind. Hand over mouth, cut the throat and that was that.”
“So what? Doesn’t prove it was him.”
“Smith had a way of clamping his hand over the face and placing the pinkie finger underneath the jaw and he wore a ring turned inward on that finger. Two raised bars inside a circle. I checked John’s face before we buried him, same marks, same place – it has to be him.”
“And now he’s after Jenny.”
“That’s not the worst of it.”
“Just before Bilford Hill, we were out on patrol. Me, Morris, coupla others and Smith. We found a church with a bunch of kids. They were surrounded by another of them doomsday cult members. Last Day Defenders or some such crap. We’d just waded through a shit load of critters and went in there for cover. They scarpered through a doorway that lead down into a vault. Smith left one bloke to guard the door and the rest of us followed them. Seemed obvious these kids were dreaming up the fearies, so we….”
Sara placed a hand on his knee as he hesitated,
“Go on Pete.”
“God help me, we shot every last one of them. But Smith, he wasn’t going to be happy with mere killing. He got his victims to beg for mercy then shot them anyway.”
O’Donnell stood and walked away, Sara went after him and eventually he stopped at the edge of the woods, facing away from her. He spoke haltingly,
“We all got Medals of Valour for that y’know. What a fucking world eh?”
“Oh Peter, it wasn’t your fault.”
“I could have shot him instead.”
“And now you want to put things right?”
She kissed his ear and he started,
“Hey, what was that for?”
“Just being friendly.”
She turned him around and kissed his mouth this time,
“It’s what friends are for.” she murmured, “And no, I’m sorry but I don’t want to go any further.”
“That’s okay. It really doesn’t matter.”
“We’d better get ready to go after them.”
He nodded his agreement and they walked back to the AV.
In five hundred years time, most of us will be forgotten dust. But Hitler will still be remembered, God loves irony.