Prose ~ Fiction

Prose ~~ Fiction

The Researcher

The way she approached her research
tenacious
never gave up
thorough.
It was always a pleasure
to work with her.
Sense of humour
confident in her abilities
professional.
Yet…..

The way she ate a melon
had always made him
smile
she knew the effect on him.
He needed to have her
at his table
on a picnic
by a pool
on a train
in his car
in his bed.

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My Back Pages (for Sharon)

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        Everyone has a soulmate …

….somewhere; only problem is that we could be dealing with thousands of miles of travel as opposed to someone who lives just around the corner.

For some, their soulmate might be in the middle of Moscow. Not cheap or easy to get a cab back home to Blighty from there.

I did Moscow by bus once to see a soulmate: not too difficult.
You take the 32a from Victoria, a 33 out of Paris Nord, change at Stuttgart to 7b, then a Moscow bound 2A. Though the last time I did that journey my soulmate was out!

It was along time ago, as Dylan said, ‘but I was younger then than now..’

I was a man of action: climbing mountains, dangling from helicopters, fighting wolves…
…. and that was just to get to my job at the BBC studios in Shepherds Bush.

Was it worth it for the romance? Er, not after three days on a bus. There was a long way to go before the caring, loving, sharing would start or surface.

On the Moscow bound bus we had dogs, monkeys, tramps all riding for free on the roof…. and that was just the number 49 bus from Sheffield to Victoria.

Moscow Monica was kind though, she shared food, she would have meat, fish, fresh fruit which was rare for Moscow. I sometimes survived on cornflakes and fruit.
Her house was modest compared to St Johns Wood but it was home for her and at times the garden shed was where she she wanted me to be …. but I’d rather not say what went on there. Though I can tell you, I soon got rid of the goats, I wasn’t sharing a bed with those characters.

Anyway, as you the reader (well I hope you’re out there somewhere) will have guessed it didn’t work out. Love is all you need is not true, you need a shower, bed, cotton sheets, a kitchen and food other than cornflakes everyday. Though at times breakfast was romantic apart from the one eyed cat sitting on the table waiting for you to finish your food.

I did the journey six times. Monica did warm to me eventually but then two guys, hunting types, from Outer Mongolia arrived. Is was either me or them. They had guns, knives, horses. I had two out of date copies of the Radio Times. Who would a girl choose?

I returned to Blighty, head intact, heart in one piece, my foot in plaster.

The Plaster?

Well, we did have sex in the garden shed but have you tried that with six goats looking on and and a scythe hanging from the wall? Don’t try it, it was a foolish idea.

As the Russians say,..

goats in the shed,
comrades in the bed.

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Start of an occasionally series of writing short stories in one session with little editing.

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Tom Liston – opening chapters

tom-liston-cover-2

______________________

Slate1eBooks

ISBN – tba

2017

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Tom Liston

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Novel is dedicated to:

Ignaz Semmelweis (1818 – 1865)

and the NHS

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England, 1855

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The Arrival of Steam

         A steam engine pulls two carriages packed with passengers and the railway’s shareholders as it thunders through the Cotswold Hills. All are there to celebrate the ‘first run’ of the railway built and paid for by an enterprising public and shareholders.

         Inside a carriage a tall man stands to pass a drink to one of his fellow passengers. Suddenly outside of the carriage there is the sound of a large crowd screaming in horror.

        The steam engine flashes by; well wishers on a nearby hill watch in horror as the steam engine’s brakes screech, railway lines bend, a wheel rolls off the engine, one of the carriages sways off the rails, glass windows shatter, metal snaps.

Men, women and children who had gathered to see the first run of the train turn and flee for their lives.

         The train slides to a halt, steam floods through the carriage windows, passengers look terrified. Screams, sound of twisting metal and cries for help can be heard off and on the train.

Silence.

        The steam engine now rests in its side. The man who had risen to pass a drink to a friend lies dead on the grass.

        The crowd who had gathered to celebrate the arrival of the steam train now scramble to help the injured and recover the dead.

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South China Sea

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HMS Hyacinth

        HMS Hyacinth cuts through a rolling sea. She is armed with sixteen 32-pounder carronades, the sails from the twin masted brig sloop billow as she catches a fresh wind.

In the distance flames and smoke rises from several Chinese villages as Hyacinth continues her service in the Second Opium War. She had a proud, efficient crew and an excellent surgeon the Captain liked to boast about.

Ten soldiers lie on the deck, some cry out in pain, a few are bleeding to death. Blood runs over Hyacinth’s main deck and seeps into the wood of the ship.

Mr. Christian, mid teens, blood stains cover his hands and arms as he gives first aid to the casualties on the deck. With some difficulty he carries a bucket of water as he scurries along the length of the ship’s deck; occasionally he stops to give water to weary, tired, dying men.

A soldier’s body wrapped in a white sail is lifted by four battle scarred sailors. They rest it on the top of the ships rail.

A Sailor steps forward to push a needle through the dead soldier’s nose which finishes the stitching of the sail. A short silence, a few words of a prayer, then the soldier’s body is slipped over the side of the ship. It hits the sea hard with large splash, then a silence. For a moment the body floats, the white sheet slips away from the dead soldier’s head revealing his face; hIs eyes are fixed on the cloudy sky. Then he slips quietly into the sea to join his comrades who had died earlier in the day.

Tom Liston

        A small cabin below Hyacinth’s deck. Neat, tidy, clothes near to the bed. A shirt hangs over a chair with trousers and shoes close by. Nothing is out of place.

Tom Liston sleeps but he is not at peace, he is restless, agitated, the dream of a railway accident sears through his mind.

‘No! No!…..’

Tom, full of sweat, wakes violently from his dream. He pushes himself onto his elbows, then sits up. Tom is mid thirties, a handsome man, clean shaven, he swivels around to sit on the edge of the bed. He looks like he needs another twelve hours of sleep; he contemplates the day ahead.

Someone starts to hammer on Tom’s cabin door, which then slowly opens.

A thick set black African man slowly enters, medium height, mid thirties, he looks like he would be useful in a fight. He steps into the room. Sees Tom on the edge of the bed, he quickly moves towards Tom.

Tom moans at him, ‘Francois.’

Francois is alert, bright, he looks like he has been awake for hours, he speaks with a French accent.

‘Get up! Get up!’ Francois puts on a bad English accent, ‘your services are required.’

‘How many?’ Tom asks.

‘Who knows?’ Francois shrugs his shoulders, ’there’s a rumour we’re going home!’

Cool Under Pressure

Tom is a tall man, cool under pressure, never flinches when they are under attack. His staff trust him, nothing is to too difficult when Tom gives an order.

They often joke that Tom would carry on working even if a cannonball dropped into the corner of the room.

      Tom hovers above an injured British Soldier who lies on an improvised operating table. Tom’s apron is splattered with blood. He sweats profusely as he fights to save the life of the soldier.

The ship suddenly lurches to one side. Tom and his assistants manage to stay on their feet, continue to work. Suddenly blood squirts from the soldier’s body toward Tom’s face, he sways to avoid being hit. The sailor’s body writhes in pain, then stops.

Tom grabs a wooden stethoscope, he listens to the sailor’s chest.

‘He’s gone! Over the side with him. Next!’ Tom strides across the blood-stained floor.

The soldier’s body is dragged off the operating table. Immediately the body is replaced by another injured soldier.

Tom slips his hands into a bucket of water, Mr. Christian watches Tom as he washes his hands thoroughly. Francois throws Tom a towel, he catches it.

‘I’ve never seen that before, Mr. Liston,’ says Christian.

‘Seen what?’

‘A doctor wash his hands.’

Tom smiles.
‘Tradition,’ Francois from across the room, a smile on his face, ‘Mr. Christian, it’s a French tradition.’

‘Hungarian’ smiles Tom as he examines the injured soldier who is half conscious, ‘not French.’

Francois mops blood from the floor, he comes to stand by Tom.

‘You still haven’t told me why, in the name of God, you wear odd socks?’

Christian laughs.

‘My mother’s tradition,’ he replies with a smile on his face. He turns to Christian.

‘Mr. Christian! Water, we’ll need more water!’

Christian grabs a bucket and runs from the room.

  A  blood covered soldier strapped down to the operating table. He sweats, moans. Tom examines the patient’s mangled leg, he leans over him to whisper in his ear.                   

‘Be brave, boy, be brave,’ Tom hesitates then slowly leans over the soldier, ‘I can’t save your leg.’

Tom nods to Francois who turns to a cupboard and pulls out a metal saw and a long sharp knife.

Tom takes the knife into his hand then moves towards the patient on the table.

‘Time me gentleman, time me!’

Tom quickly makes the first incision, he works at speed, confident, assured. God knows how many amputations he has performed on this tour of duty. All the days roll into one, has he been away from home for three months or one year….

  The previous patient from Tom’s operating table is now wrapped in a sail. Four crew members lift the body and drop it over the side of the ship. It drops with a deep and heavy splash into the sea.

The gulls circle above.

Scream

        HMS Hyacinth rises and falls through a rolling South China sea. Her route lit by a full moon.

Through the darkness a scream rings out from the ship.

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England

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Memorial

        A stone memorial within a wide circle of stones. Three statures adorn the plinth: a man, woman and child. On the side of the plinth ten names, ten deaths remembered for a Railway accident.        

Mary Liston, smartly dressed, wears a hat, carries her gloves and a small bouquet of flowers. She is a  young woman, mid thirties.

She bows her head, closes her eyes. For a moment she drowns in a sea of emotions. A soft wind blows through the surrounding Laburnum trees.

Mary lifts her head, steps forward to lay her flowers against the plinth. She whispers a prayer, gently runs her fingers over two names on the plinth:

Robert Liston           Margaret Liston

        Mary turns, pauses for a second then walks away.

School

        A dilapidated warehouse masquerading as a school. A horse and cart are parked outside, a battered sign hangs by a thread on the side of the cart: “Piano Hire, Buy or Sell.”

A mother with her child run towards the school, she drags the boy through the front door.
A classroom door slowly opens and the boy creeps into the room and sits at his desk. He is the last to take his chair. The children are aged eight or nine. They sit at desks which are arranged in a semi circle.

In front of the children stands Mary, confident, independent, warm. She is a schoolteacher who has built her own school from local donations. She starts to move amongst the children who have slates to write on, a few have books. All the children could do with a decent set of clothes.

Mary sees her assistant Anne walk past the schoolroom door.

‘Anne, I disagree,’ shouts Mary, ‘our first principals are …’

Anne shouts back, ‘I disagree…’ She then enters the classroom with pencils, writing pads. As she comes through the door she trips up, drops the pencils, books onto the floor.

The children laugh. Mary helps Anne pick up the books.

‘Learning should begin with the child’s own experience, Anne. We should teach dance, singing…our first principle…’

Their discourse is interrupted by the sound of a large crash down the corridor, something heavy is being moved.

Anne steps back to the hallway to see:

two men pushing an upright piano on a trolley. She turns back to Mary.

‘Excuse me, Mary. I think our first principal is to save the piano.’
        Mary moves quickly to the door to see the school’s upright piano being removed from the school. She walks quickly down the corridor to rescue the instrument.

An ageing Mr. Duckett, the local piano tuner, and his young assistant push a trolley with an upright piano perched on the top. They are walk  towards the exit.

Mary walks quickly down the corridor to catch up with the men.

‘Mr. Duckett, wait! I thought we had it for another week?’

Mr. Duckett and his assistant stop. He looks at Mary.

‘Sorry Miss Mary, afraid we’ve have an offer.’

‘My brother can pay for it when he returns. How much?’

‘Seven and six a month,’ whispers Mr. Duckett.

‘How much to buy it?’

‘Twenty-three shillings.’

Mary hesitates.

Mr. Duckett nods to his assistant and they begin to push the piano out of the building.

Mary sighs, returns to the classroom.

Good News

A small teenage boy, Oliver, runs out of a shop, jumps on to a small buggy with a horse in harness. He speeds off.
        A man in his sixties rushes out of his shop, waves his fist at the departing buggy. He shouts!

‘Oi!’ he then smiles, ‘I want it back in an hour.’

Oliver drives the horse and buggy with skill, he speeds down the street.

After half a mile he is out of the town, he speeds past a disused railway station, half a mile further on he speeds towards Mary’s school.

Oliver approaches the school, he pulls up outside the front door, jumps off the buggy. He rushes past Mr. Duckett and his assistant as they struggle to get the piano onto their cart.

Oliver runs down the school corridor, finds Mary’s classroom and enters.

‘Mary,’ he catches his breath, ‘Miss Mary!’

Mary, a book in hand, quickly turns to face him.

‘What is it, Oliver?’

Oliver coughs, he can’t get his words out.

Mary moves closer to him to see if he needs help. He clears his throat.

‘Hyacinth, she’s back!’

Mary drops her book. Turns to Anne.

‘Go,’ shouts Anne, ‘go!’

‘ Oliver, this is not one of your tales?’

Oliver crosses his heart.

‘Hyacinth is home!’

Mary turns to Anne, ’the children?’

Anne grabs Mary by the arm, drags her towards the door, ‘just go, go!’

The children cheer.

Mary screams for joy; she runs out of the classroom with Oliver.

Dash

        Oliver drives the horse and buggy at speed away from the school. Mary hangs on for her life as he turns into the main road and narrowly misses running into a beer wagon.

‘Hey…’ shouts the drayman, as he swerves to get out of the way of Oliver.

Oliver and Mary speed on past open farm land, stables, isolated cottages,  a small church.

Oliver takes a short cut which takes them past a disused railway station. Mary glances at the station as they thunder down the road on the way to the docks.

Arrival

        Several ships are tied up at the East India Docks; all available space is crowded with tea traders, porters and labourers who push sugar from the West Indies, timber from the North, tea and spices from the Far East.

Mothers, wives, lovers, brothers and children struggle through the traders as they make their way towards the dockside to meet their men who have returned from the Far East.

Oliver is unable to get close to the dockside. Mary can’t wait, she jumps off the buggy, runs toward the ships. Mary runs as if her life depends on it. Dogs bark, young boys with dirty faces call out to her as she runs past.

Oliver stops the buggy and scrambles after her. He runs through the crowd, he dodges past a drunk with a dog, crashes into a trader and his fish cart.

HMS Hyacinth tied up to the quayside. Men have already started to disembark. A noisy crowd cheers, waves, smiles and cries tears of Joy as soldier’s leave the ship. Lovers kiss, families hug, happy to see their men home.

On the deck of Hyacinth Tom and Francois pick up their bags, walk down the gang plank.

‘Thanks for taking care of me,’ murmurs Francois.

Tom smiles, ‘where should I send the bill?’

‘Any tavern in town…’

Tom laughs.

       Francois rummages in his pockets, pulls out a note, he hands it to Tom. It contains the address of a pub:

Lamb and Flag, Covent Garden

‘Come into town, anytime, we’ll talk about the good times….’

‘That will be a short conversation,‘ remarks Tom.

They both smile, shake hands.

Francois throws his bag over his shoulder, walks away. Tom looks around, he had expected to be met. He walks off.

In the distance Mary sees Tom, she shouts out: ‘Tom! Tom!’

      Tom looks up to see her, he smiles. Mary runs towards him. He catches her in his arms. They hug and kiss on the cheeks.

‘Thank God you are safe,’ she whispers.

A crew member from Hyacinth who Tom had treated for a minor wound runs up to him and grabs him by the arm.

‘Mr. Liston, thanks for your help, thank you, thank you’

Tom shakes his hand.

The crew member walks away, then turns, ‘if you ever need a favour, look me up…’

Oliver finally makes his way through the crowd. Tom sees him approach, he holds out a hand which Oliver firmly grasps.

‘Oliver, thank you for coming.’

The three of them walk away from the ship.

Mary puts her arm around Tom, ‘how long will you be home?’

‘A few months,’ he replies, ‘how is the school?’

‘Good..’

‘I’m back at the hospital.’

‘Good, a safe, quiet life.’

‘Yes, safer than your school.’

Mary gently punches his shoulder. They walk arm in arm.

‘Have you managed to press gang more children?’

‘About a dozen, on a good day twenty.’                           

Mary looks at Oliver, ‘this one here is still thinking about it.’

Oliver smiles.

‘How was it?’ asks Mary

Tom hesitates, he lies, ’easy, not too many problems.’ 

‘No, really, how was it?’

‘Same as usual.’

Mary gives up on trying to get an honest answer. They walk away from the ship. Oliver runs ahead towards the buggy.

Mary looks at Tom with her best angry teacher’s face, ’Dr. Liston, you have my permission to take tomorrow off!’

‘And do what?’ he replies.

A woman and her small child run towards the ship to find their man.

Bingham

A man hides in a narrow alleyway close to Christ Church, Spitalfields. He is mid fifties, a short man, large spectacles. He wears a hat and a well used overcoat which is one size too large for him.

Bingham wears the overcoat more by habit than it being a necessity. Down the street he sees Francois walking at pace towards the church. He steps out of the alleyway, shuffles towards Francois. They meet, shake hands.

        Francois and Bingham steadily turn and walk slowly back into the alleyway.

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End of extract

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Ron Taylor

If I get Inspired

TRY MY HANDS 6B

If I get inspired I’ll write you a short prose piece, something to turn you on, words to prepare you, excite you, entice you, To make you sigh, to fly to a higher place as fingers explore, seduce, slip inside you.

I want to initiate, facilitate, escalate your desire to make yourself breathless beyond your illicit dreams. Oh, to take you, lead you to a long perfect release.

Pause.

Busy fingers find you, tease you, slip away. I wait for any movement, any slight inclination.

The pleasure rolls on, until it dissipates your need.

Hearts and Minds – part two – opening only

David logs into his trading account, the computer screen flickers into life. Straight away he is swamped with information. Too much information. His heart sinks, his mind wants to switch off.

He hates the job but loves the money. He feels he has a secure job; though in a world where the markets have seen profits disappear under a sea of debt, many of his colleagues doubt whether ‘secure’ has any present day meaning.  David is assured by his manager that his skills are highly thought of, he should be with the bank for another year.

David assumed none of the other offices performed like his. He felt it was solely his office which brought in most of the profits. They all had a job because of him, his office. So they owe their jobs to his traders, no one else. At least that is what he thought. Of course, if the management were straight with him he would know that is not the truth.

David’s office did not carry the company, he was simply another worker, one of thousands worldwide. If all the computers in the world were hit with a virus he and his colleagues would have nothing to do. None of them had grown up in a paper office. They owe their existence in the company to computers and market sentiment. It is a business which fails to acknowledge the individual.

Seven hours later he was out of the office standing on the street by Bank tube station.

He could either go home or spend an hour in a bar. Some of the staff from David’s office were heading to the local pub which in the past had Shakespeare as a regular drinker. Though only a few of the bank employees would know that.

David flicked open the morning newspaper.

‘A bit late to be reading that,’ said a passing colleague, ‘haven’t seen one of those in years’.

‘Really?’ replied David, ‘It’s a newspaper, remarkable things. They don’t need a battery. You simply turn them one page at a time.’ He and the colleague laughed.

David flicked through several pages and stopped on a page of personal adverts. He quickly glanced down the first column. At first he couldn’t find any site which interested him. He looked again, nothing worth his time. He threw the newspaper into a nearby rubbish bin.

Thirty minutes later, with his feet under a table in a wine bar, he glanced at his phone, scrolled through bookmarks to find a particular dating site. Again he scrolled down past the more ridiculous named sites till he found: ‘Out of the Blue’ which had a strapline, ‘love will happen when you least expect it.’ He doubted that but set up an account and logged in.

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To be continued ….

e-mail: slateonefilm@gmail.com — to be updated when the story is complete.

Dr Zeno’s Pigs – opening to the novel

Dr Zeno's Pigs

The opening to a novel which is a spoof of the film ‘Apocalypse Now’.

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, to be a pig

Sometime in the future

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West Riding

Two feet splash through dirty shallow water as a young man in his twenties flees for his life. He struggles to stay upright as his feet slide on stones beneath the water. Soon he is out of the river and onto the safety of the bank. He tries to keep on running but eventually loses his grip in a marshy field. He stumbles to the ground, breathless.

The sound of the helicopters are louder, closer. He looks around to see if he can see them. With all his strength he struggles to his feet and tries to keep himself upright and moving.

The helicopters approach over a distant hill he has recently scrambled over. If he is to get away from them he needs somewhere to hide. He looks around; to his left a pine forest offered what might be his best chance of survival. It was a fifty yards away, his heart sinks, it seems miles away. He takes a deep breath and yanks himself into action and heads for the security of the forest. After a few yards he falls over, picks himself up but is soon on the floor again. He attempts to get a foothold but slips back into a pool of mud.

The helicopters close in on him. In the distance he can hear dogs bark; they approach from the opposite side of the field.

He picks himself up, crawls over a wire fence. He staggers toward the comfort of the trees and slumps against a giant pine. The ground is wet but he is too tired to stand or crouch. He slumps to the floor and prays they do not find him. To his left the dogs bark louder, to his right the sound of a helicopter which hovers above the fence where he entered the forest.

A line is thrown out of a side door of the helicopter and four armed men in red jumpsuits drop to the ground. They immediately see their prey and close in.

The young man is too weak to put up any meaningful fight and is grabbed by two men. Within minutes they drag him along the floor and throw him into the back of the helicopter. The side door is quickly closed as the helicopter takes off.

________________________________

      After thirty minutes in the air the helicopter makes a low level approach toward an eighteenth century country house. It flies over a high metal perimeter fence and then over armed guards who control access to the house. As the helicopter comes into land in the middle of a court yard men and women in medical uniform rush toward it. The young man, now unconscious and strapped down to a stretcher, is off loaded and taken into the house. One of the female medical staff inserts an intravenous drip into his arm.

Once inside the building the unconscious body of the young man is moved to an operating trolley and pushed quickly down a corridor; on both sides are rooms which hold pigs in aluminum pens, only one pig to a pen. The rooms are bathed in white light, clinical, spotless. The staff who work in these rooms can often be heard muttering, ‘you can eat your dinner off the floor.’ There is not a single piece of dust, dirt or blood on any of the surfaces.

The young man on the trolley is quickly wheeled into Theatre One where a team of surgeons and nurses wait for him.

The leather straps which bind him are undone and in a single move he is moved from the trolley onto the operating table.

A tall unshaven medical assistant looks at the young man’s medical notes, ‘the kid works as a lawyer’ he says, then flicks through a couple of pages of the medical notes.

‘A lawyer doesn’t need a heart,’ says the surgeon, who then makes a few hasty cuts into young man’s chest. His hands move with the speed of a butcher in a shop. His bedside manner would not have been out of place in the days of Roman Britain. No one in the room is under any illusion that the health and safety of the patient is important.

There is the sound of cutting and then a long squelch; finally the surgeon’s blood smeared hands pull out the young man’s heart. The surgeon smiles as he turns to the nurse with the beating bleeding heart firmly in his hand.

‘Get this on ice immediately.’

She moves confidently toward him but suddenly trips and falls into the back of the surgeon. The heart flies out of his hands and spins through the air like an American football. It seems to fly in slow motion; spins, turns and unfortunately loses height.

In his haste to regain a grip on the heart the surgeon knocks over the bag of ice which is there to keep it at a regular temperature. Other members of the medical team also slip on ice cubes.

‘Catch it,’ screams the nurse.

The surgeon pushes one of the male nurses out of the way so that he can get to the heart.

‘Leave it to me!’, he yells to his subordinates.

The heart flies for a few more yards before it lands with a soft squelchy noise on the floor. In his haste the surgeon slips on a stray ice cube and falls on top the heart squashing it completely. The male medical assistant lets out a cry of despair, a nurse screams.

Oh no, oh no, oh no…’ whispers the surgeon as blood trickles from his cut mouth.

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Washington DC, USA

      Three thousand air miles away the Stars and Stripes flutter in a warm breeze. The White House, a strong emblem of a great nation, stands proud and defiant since the day it was built in seventeen hundred and ninety-two. A symbol of absolute power which has been ready for anything which the cruel world can throw at it.

Inside is a conscientious President who serves his country well, who meets Triumph and Disaster and treats those two impostors just the same; though during the last few months he is not quite as fit as the American people have been led to believe. His future, his life, now firmly rests with the efforts and medical help from a friendly nation. He is a man in need of a new heart …

An ill looking President Rush in bed. He looks older than his fifty years of age. He is know as man who thinks like a forty year old but moves like an eighty year old. Two nurses help the President sit up. One of the nurses straightens his pajama jacket, he doesn’t like her fussing and gently pushes her away.

A Black American, Tina Johnson, mid forties, runs into the bedroom clutching a piece of paper. She has been close to the President since the first day of the Primaries. She looks worried. In her haste one of the heels on her shoes breaks. With great difficulty she tries to prevent herself from falling onto the President’s bed but fails. The President and his two nurses wince as Tina hits the foot of the bed and slumps to the floor.

‘Mr. President, we have a problem,’ she says, as she pulls herself off the carpet.

‘Tina,’ barks the President, ’the whole world has a problem.’

He grabs at the television remote control by the side of his bed and presses a button. The widescreen on the wall flashes into life.

‘You’re going to watch the news?’ Tina asks, ‘when did you last have a briefing?’

‘This morning but I didn’t like what I heard.’

A newsreader, with a Texan accent and a grim expression, brings the American public up to date: “Today the World is in panic as the Human Heart Virus spreads” booms out from the television set.

A gasp rumbles around the President’s bedroom.

‘Damn it!’ The President shrugs, then throws a book at the TV.

A fast paced montage of images from around the world are shown on the news programme accompanied by stern matter of fact reporters from various locations.

A young female reporter dressed in a bear skin suit struggles to keep her balance in a snow storm and shouts into her microphone,”in Alaska today it was reported that an Eskimo who was fishing by a hole in the ice cap had a heart attack and fell through the ice.”

A male fresh faced reporter in a smart suit stands by the London Eye and delivers his piece to camera, ‘many dealers are going down with heart problems and the stock market is crashing……’

‘Not much change there…’ mumbles the President.’

The news programme cuts back to the studio presenter, “The heart virus is believed to be caused by the wheat in bread, millions of people could be affected.”

People burning bread in India appear on the screen.

The President cries out, ‘Enough, enough …’ he turns to Tina, ‘call a meeting in the Situation Room.’

________________________________

         The oval shaped desk which dominates the Situation Room is surrounded by men and a few women. A couple of the men remove their jackets, they look like they have only had a few hours of sleep between them; one or two of the women, all heels and skirts, stagger into the room as if they just got out of bed.  A White House photographer works the room grabbing all the public relation shots he can get. Most of the men have discarded their ties, many of them have furrowed brows, worry lines are in sharp focus. One of the women thinks about adding a touch more make up but decides it can wait. Briefing papers litter the desk, glasses with water are scattered around files marked ‘Top Secret.’ The TV screens which adorn the walls are all black save one. On the wall opposite the President’s seat a large screen shows a twenty-four hour news feed from World News Channel. On the screen a news anchor reads news no one wants to hear; the TV sound is off.

The President drums a fast beat on the table with his fingers, a slight exasperated look on his face. A Doctor enters the room, slightly embarrassed that he is late. He gives a childish smile to everyone in the room before making his way to the head of the table.

‘Late again, Henry,’ the President smirks, ‘you’ll be late for your own honeymoon.’

The doctor quickly opens his medical bag and takes out a stethoscope. The President opens his pajama jacket and the doctor listens to his heart. You could hear a pin drop then the silence is broken by a crash as one of the men knocks over his glass of water. The President gives the offender a stern look. The doctor continues to listen.

‘Sir, you’re all right for a while but try to take it easy.’

Tina enters the room. She has changed her clothes and looks a million dollars. All the other women hate her. She carries a large folder and has several documents in her hands. One of the men gives her a certain look. She knows what he wants but is not prepared to sacrifice a single kiss for a mere West Wing speech writer.

Tina approaches the President.

‘Sir, the heart which had been reserved for you has…met with an accident.’

‘What the hell happened?’

‘They gave it…’ Tina puts on a brave face, ‘to a young British guy by mistake.’

The President looks exasperated, ‘So, get it back….’

‘They tried that…’

‘And?’

Tina shuffles on her feet and prepares herself for a critical blast from the President then thinks it might be better to withhold the truth.

‘You don’t want to know the rest.’

The doctor steps forward with a sense of urgency.

‘Sir, a better option would be a transplant of a pig’s heart.’

At that moment an overweight man clutching an extra large salad sandwich breezes into the room. He looks deeply harassed, no tie, shirt sleeves rolled up, a cigar tucked behind his ear.

“Robert!’, the President smiles as the tie-less man grabs a seat, ‘Thank God you’re here. Give me all you’ve got.’

Robert breathes deeply, he slowly gets his breath back then hesitates.

‘Sir, the supply of pig’s hearts….’ Robert clears his throat and takes another breath, ‘the pig’s hearts for transplants has run dry. All the pigs in the USA have been affected by a clinical malfunction …’

The President slams his right hand hard down onto the table. All the White Staff jump as the President’s hand hits the desk.

‘So, fix it!’

‘Sir, they’re working on it.’ Robert shuffles the documents in his hand and passes a piece of paper to the President, ‘my guys have located a good source of pigs hearts and heart stem cells. They’re held by a Dr. Zeno …..’

The President glances at the paper, looks up at his staff, ‘where the hell is West Riding?’

‘England,’ replies Tina.

The President passes the paper to the doctor who then hands it back to Robert.

‘Robert,’ the President stands and paces up and down, ‘is this the best the CIA can come up with?’ He turns on the doctor.

‘What about Gorilla’s hearts you were playing around with? You did the first transplant two years ago…what happened to him?’

‘Well, it didn’t quite …’ stutters the doctor.

The President holds up both his hands, ‘Stop! ‘I’m tired of hearing about failure.’

The President looks at his CIA Chief.

‘Robert, you had a lab in Argentina messing about with Kangaroo hearts …’

‘Don’t ask Mr. President…..’

The sound of a door slammed shut somewhere in the West Wing highlights the intense silence of the Situation Room.

Robert moves close to the President and whispers, ‘Sir, we should ask the British for help.’

The President looks Robert in the eye and hopes for a sign of reassurance which isn’t forthcoming. He then beckons Tina to come close.

‘Tina, politely ask the Brits for their pigs and don’t mention the Revolutionary War.’

The President slumps back into his chair. A silence. No one wants to speak.

Tina breaks the silence, ‘let’s assume …they won’t play ball.’

Robert stands up, ‘that’s right, we won’t be able to just walk in and get them.’

‘Then we do it our way! The American way!’

With a single look Robert hints that he needs to be elsewhere and clears up his documents. The President waves him away.

As Robert reaches the door he receives an order from the President.

‘Robert, get a guy over there quick. A top man. Delta Force, a Navy Seal, someone who will get a result.’

‘What do we call the mission?’

Everyone in the room looks at the President apart from a few of the men who look at Tina.

The President thinks for a moment then …

‘Operation-Pump Blood.’

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to be continued …..