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Authors: Chris Ryan

One Good Turn

BOOK: One Good Turn
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Chris Ryan was born near Newcastle in 1961. He joined the SAS in 1984. During his ten years in the service he took part in many dangerous missions, some of them in secret. He was also Sniper Team Commander of the anti-terrorist team. During the Gulf War, Chris was the only member of an eight-man team to escape from Iraq – three colleagues were killed and four captured. This was the longest escape and evasion in the history of the SAS and, as a result, Chris was awarded the Military Medal. During his last two years in the service he selected and trained recruits.

Chris wrote about his experiences in the bestseller
The One. That Got Away
which was adapted as a film. He has written many other bestsellers, including
Ultimate Weapon
and Strike Back.
Chris Ryan's SAS Fitness Book
Chris Ryan's Ultimate Survival Guide
can be bought from bookshops. Chris Ryan also writes the Code Red and Alpha Force books for younger readers.

Chris is currently working as a bodyguard in America.

Also by Chris Ryan


The One That Got Away
Chris Ryan's SAS Fitness Book
Chris Ryan's Ultimate Survival Guide

Stand By, Stand By
Zero Option
The Kremlin Device
Tenth Man Down
The Hit List
The Watchman
Land of Fire
The Increment
Ultimate Weapon
Strike Back

In the Alpha Force Series
Desert Pursuit
Red Centre
Black Gold
Blood Money
Fault Line

In the Code Red Series
Flash Flood



This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

ISBN 9781409035510

Version 1.0

Published in the United Kingdom by Arrow Books in 2008

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

Copyright © Chris Ryan, 2008

Chris Ryan has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

This novel is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product
of the author's imagination and any resemblance to actual persons,
living or dead, is entirely coincidental

This electronic book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

First published in paperback in the United Kingdom in 2008
by Arrow Books

Arrow Books
The Random House Group Limited
20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London, SW1V 2SA

Addresses for companies within The Random House Group Limited can be found at:

The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009

A CIP catalogue record for this book
is available from the British Library

ISBN: 9781409035510

Version 1.0

Chapter One

The man hurt in his dream and he hurt when he woke.

He was lying on a metal bed frame in a dark cellar. He was cuffed to it by the wrists and ankles. High up towards the ceiling, a cracked airbrick let in a little light so that he could see the bare walls, piles of rotting furniture and a wine rack along the far wall. The floor was puddled with water and the man could hear things running around in it.

Something moved at the bottom of the bed. Before he could react, a weight moved up his leg and onto his chest. He lifted his head and saw a big, greasy rat squatting on him. He bellowed and threw himself from side to side. The rat flopped off onto the wet floor.

He didn't go to sleep again. His head was splitting. The rats were everywhere and behind their grunting and scratching he could always hear the guns.

Crump. Crump. Crumpcrumpcrumpump-mpmpmpumpcrump. Crump. Crump.

That sound came from the big French guns down the line. You didn't just hear them. You felt them loosely in the gut.

The war taught you to recognise the different guns.

Eighteen-pound field guns went whizzzzz-BANG, depending on how close they were to the target. Once you heard the whizz, there wasn't much time till the bang. The German field guns sounded the same.

Mortars, which lobbed bombs high in the air to land on an enemy's head, made three distinct noises. POUM as the round was launched, EEEEEEE as it flew through the air and CRACK as it landed.

The big shells, the Pissing Jennies or Whistling Percies, screamed, then cracked the heavens open when they burst. They came from the heavy artillery as far as six miles behind the lines. A big gun might fire a sixty-pound shell but they were tiddlers compared to the big howitzers. These massive weapons slid along on special railways and fired 700-pound rounds.

His personal nightmare was the enemy's Mil mortar – a huge brute that fired an 850-pound shell, practically the weight of a horse. The Ml 1 could blow a hole through four feet of reinforced concrete, or make a crater twenty-five feet deep. When you heard one of those screaming overhead, you knew men were going to die. Because the British Army thought concrete protection was cowardly and, anyway, you couldn't dig more than eight foot down into the Belgian mud without drowning.

The sound of one shell bursting was bad. Two was enough to bring tears to your eyes. Bombardments could often last for hours – days even – with the shells bursting every few seconds.

It was odd that he knew these things but did not know who he was. It was odd that the bed had no mattress and he was lying on its metal base. And it was odd that he was cuffed at the head and the feet so he could not move. In fact, everything was odd.

He heard a scraping sound and turned his head.

Christ, that hurt. His skin felt as if it had been scoured with sand and then dried until it cracked. His head was splitting. His jaw was loose. His tongue felt rough stumps where teeth should be. The entire length of his back felt raw. And the rawness went all the way down the backs of his legs. A distance away and above him, light flared as the cellar door opened.

A figure appeared, a dark shape against the light, and footsteps sounded on creaky wooden stairs.

'Mate. Mate,' he called out hoarsely. 'What's going on, mate?'

The voice was cold and cruel. 'Don't "mate" me you horrid little man.' A face loomed over him, twisted with hate. "You're lucky you weren't shot on the spot."'

The man watched as the figure turned, pulled a bottle of wine from a rack and left. The man on the bed started to cry. That was odd too. He cried himself back to sleep.

He dreamed he was up to his neck in filthy water in a shell hole with sides of slippery clay. He was holding onto what he thought were tree roots, but when he looked again, he saw they were human limbs. The thirst was torturing him, but he couldn't drink because the water was a stew of rotting flesh and mud. He felt movement near him in the water and a body bumped up against him, swollen by the gas of rot.

He held his breath and sank down. Immediately he was lost in a chaos of twisting guts and grasping hands. They felt round his neck. They felt in his pockets. He tried to kick himself free, but every time his face broke the surface he was dragged down into filth. He opened his mouth to shout but a hand clasped his mouth. Tighter. Tighter. Tighter.

He woke up to find a lantern shining in his face, a hand over his mouth and a rough voice telling him to shut up. The ties were taken off his wrists, and he was made to sit up.

'What's going on?' he whispered. He was so thirsty he could hardly speak.

'Scrubbing you up, mate.' An impossibly clean sergeant stood by the bed. Behind was a corporal with his Lee Enfield rifle at the ready.

'I'm thirsty.'

'All in good time. Here. Wash your face, then wash your hands,' the sergeant said.

'Tell me what's going on. Please.'

'You're a prisoner – that's what's going on. Now get a move on.'

A bowl of soap-scummed water was put in his lap but, instead of washing, the man dipped his face into it and drank. It was beautiful – the best thing he had ever drunk in his life. Only then did he splash it on his face. As the water grew steadily more filthy, he felt as if were washing away some of the horror.

'Now, you're a pretty boy again, we'll take you upstairs,' the sergeant said. 'My advice is to say as little as possible. It'll only piss them off.'

But when the man tried to stand he fell over. So he was supported by two privates up the stairs, down a dark corridor and into a long, cold room which was so full of light it hurt him. Through his tears, he saw three men sitting at a table at the end of the room, and felt himself being carried towards it.

'Why are you holding him up, Sergeant?' a voice snapped.

'He's prone to falling over, sir.'

'Nonsense. This is a field court martial, not a bloody rest home. He's a little coward with no spine. Let go of him, and if he falls, stamp on his hand or foot or something until he stands on his own. Christ and all the angels, he stinks! Let's get this over and done with.'

The sergeant put a chair in front of him. He leaned his weight on the back of it, and stared at the three officers who sat behind the long trestle table straight ahead. From their expressions, they didn't much like him. The lieutenant on the left had slicked-back fair hair, a thin moustache and looked younger than him, but then you could never tell with officers. The officer in the middle, a major, was balding and red-faced with heavy jowls. The officer on the right, another lieutenant, had a centre parting, a monocle and looked appalled.

The man did not grasp anything that followed. It concerned a man called John Stubbs and he didn't see why that should bother him.

'Right,' the major said. 'Let's get this going. Which of you is going to be the prisoner's friend? Hmm. Lieutenant Burton – I'm appointing you. Has the prisoner had time to prepare his defence?'

Lieutenant Burton, the one with the monocle, said: 'When was he arrested, Sergeant Major?'

'Two days ago, sir.'

'Plenty of time then,' the major said. 'Prisoner, I'm the president of this court martial. Lieutenant Burton is referred to as the Prisoner's Friend, which means he's defending you. Lieutenant Carpenter here is prosecuting. Is that clear? Good. As the president of the court, I run things. Now, I'm going to read out a list of charges and then you tell us whether you want to plead guilty or not guilty. Is that clear? Good. Right.'

He looked down at a piece of paper on the tablecloth in front of him and read from it. 'Your name is Private John Stubbs of the London Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, 58th Division, etc, etc. The charges as they stand are that on the 23rd of September in this year of Our Lord nineteen hundred and seventeen, you did wilfully attempt to injure yourself to avoid discharging your duty as a soldier. At some point later in the day, you did steal from a fellow soldier leave papers and identification in order to impersonate same soldier. In other words you are a thief and a coward. How do you plead?'

The man was aware that all the officers were staring at him. He smiled at them vaguely.

'The man's an idiot,' the major said. 'Lieutenant Burton, will you enter a plea, as the prisoner's friend?'

'Guilty,' the lieutenant said.

'Very well.' His pen scratched slowly across the paper. 'Um, Lieutenant Carpenter, can you take the court through what happened in greater detail, as it will have some bearing on the sentence? And for God's sake talk slowly and keep it brief because I've got to write it all down.'

The officer started talking about the war, but the prisoner was not interested in that any more. He was staring at the view outside the high windows. Heavy rain in northern Europe had made the summer of 1917 one of the wettest on record, but today the sun was out. The flowers in the overgrown beds glowed brightly. Rooks circled the crown of a huge chestnut tree. Beyond the garden, a wheat field was turning gold. Next to the wheat was a green meadow where a brown cow with gentle eyes rubbed its neck on a gate. And above it all, white clouds drifted peacefully across a pale blue sky.

To the prisoner, the view outside the window was like medicine. For almost a year, he had been frightened of the sky because of all the awful things that fell out of it: shells, poison gas, or more of the dreadful, smothering rain.

The only bright colours he had seen had been the acid white of flares, the dirty yellow of shell bursts, the crimson brightness of blood and the purple of spilled guts. The only trees he had seen were blasted stumps. The only fields he had walked on had been turned into a sucking, poisonous soup of brown mud by years of bombing. The only harvest from these fields were the bodies of his comrades and enemies, mown down by machine guns, buried by mud, blown up by shells, buried again, blown up again.

The sergeant was bellowing in his ear.

'Have you got anything to say, Private? Answer the court!'

'I'm so sorry,' the man answered. 'About what?'

'This is the clearest case of contempt I have ever seen,' the major said. 'I've never seen the like. At present we have no findings to announce. We will be taking evidence with regard to the prisoner's character. But in my opinion, Private Stubbs, you are a thief, a coward and quite possibly a murderer. Unless defence has anything to add, I now pronounce the proceedings in open court to be over.'

It was only as he was being marched out that the penny dropped. He was John Stubbs. That seemed to be the gist of it. And if he were John Stubbs, then he had done all those terrible deeds.

What strength he had left his legs again and he collapsed.

'Pick him up, lads and get him out,' the sergeant said. The prisoner was lifted up again by the two privates and they began to drag him out of the room. At the door he managed to turn his head.

'Wait,' he said. 'Wait! There's been a mistake! I'm not John Stubbs!'

He expected the world to stop but the three officers who had been seated at the table ignored him. The prosecutor and the court president were talking and the other, his defender, had got up. Now he was standing at the window, whacking his riding boots with a crop. He stopped, put his monocle back into his eye and looked at the prisoner.

'Are you saying we've been wasting our time?'

'Yes! No. I don't know.'

'What are you saying then?'

'Just that you've got the wrong man.'

'Who on earth are you then?' the officer asked.

The prisoner shook his head. 'I can't remember.'

The officer laughed like a horse. 'Well, you'd better try. Because if you're not John Stubbs, I don't know who is.'

BOOK: One Good Turn
9.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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