Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the author of 24 historical fiction and non-fiction works and the winner of more than 53 literary accolades. More than 34,000 copies of her books have been sold. For a complete list of her books and awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight into historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

CHARACTERS OF "COLD PEACE" -- MEET "KIWI" MURPHY

 No character in "Cold Peace" captures the situation of many veterans in the post-war era better than Kiwi. After six years in the RAF and a credible war record, he finds himself floundering. Demobilized into an economy that is struggling, the only job Kiwi can find is as a salesman. He isn't good at it and soon he's not only struggling to make ends meet, his wife has left him as well and he increasingly turns to drink.

Excerpt 1:

Kiwi was discouraged but knew that much of his glum mood stemmed from the disastrous weekend he’d just put behind him. The weekends tended to leave him feeling lonely and full of regrets about losing Betty, but this past one had been particularly rocky. He’d asked Betty to meet with him for lunch, hoping he could show her he was on a new path. When she refused, he’d pleaded with her, and she’d become angry and insulting. He’d answered in kind, and it turned into a shouting match until she hung up on him. How had it come to this? They had been so in love in 1944…

 

The engine started coughing, and having crested the hill, Kiwi disengaged the gears and coasted. It was like gliding a Spit in after the engine stalled, he told himself. Luckily, he could see the petrol station at the foot of the hill. Unluckily, it was on the other side of the road, and there was oncoming traffic. If he had to put on the brakes, he’d never be able to roll into the station.  

 

Concentrating and talking to the car at the same time, he judged the distance, his speed, and the speed of the approaching lorry. Just when he thought he was going to be able to turn in after it had passed, it slowed down. Kiwi had to slam on his brakes, and he came to a halt in the middle of the road, while the lorry continued obliviously on its way. 

 

Traffic converged on Kiwi from both directions. Cursing colourfully, Kiwi tried to restart the engine, causing a bang followed by ominous hissing. The cars on either side of him started hooting their horns. Idiots! Surely, they could see he was dead in the water? One of the drivers started inching cautiously past his stern, but the other stuck his head out of the window to shout rude things at him. 

 

Kiwi climbed out of his car and started pushing it off the road. He was relieved when a young man from the petrol station darted out to help him. The station attendant pointed to a garage behind the filling station, and they pushed the car in there. After putting on the brake, they looked under the hood together and Kiwi explained what he’d done and heard. As the young mechanic tinkered with this, that and the other, they chatted. The rapport between them was instantaneous, and in no time, Kiwi had his hands dirty as he helped. 

 

They were so absorbed in their task, that neither of them took any notice of a car hooting behind them until a fat man came storming over shouting. “WOODWARD! What do you think I’m paying you for? Get out there and pump petrol!”

 

Too late, the helpful young man realised three cars were in line for petrol. Apologizing profusely to his boss, he rushed out to do his job, while Kiwi waited, feeling guilty for distracting him. After the customers had driven away, the young employee returned and remarked in a low voice, “If you give me another half hour, I think I can get her fixed up enough for you to get to Petersfield on your own power. The problem is the cylinder head gasket, and you’ll need to get it taken off and reskinned at a proper garage.”

 

“Thanks, mate, but I’d hate to get you in more trouble.” 

 

The attendant shrugged. “If it hadn’t been you, it would have been something else. Mr Babbit doesn’t think I’m worth the time of day let alone a shilling an hour! As he never tires of telling me, he only hired me as a favour to his sister, who happens to be my sister’s mother-in-law.” He shook his head in a gesture of apparent helplessness. “Problem is,” he explained, “I’ve got no formal training on automobiles, and Babbit thinks a ‘Merlin’ is a mythical wizard rather than a wizard machine.” He cast a disgusted look in the direction of the station office. 

 

Kiwi laughed. “Fitter?”

 

“That’s right. You with the mob, too?” Chips asked hopefully.

Kiwi nodded. “Best years of my life, but time goes on."

Kiwi is a New Zealander who fell in love with flying as a boy, scraped his pennies together to learn how to fly and then made a living (of sorts) flying any job he could find -- in flying circuses, barn-storming, crop-dusting, fire-fighting, instructing, and offering joy-rides to paying customers. He didn't earn much, lived rough but was happy. Then the war came and a sense of patriotism combined with the desire to fly modern aircraft induced him to pay his own way to England and volunteer for the RAF. 

Given a short service commission, trained on Spitfires and sent to Fighter Command, Kiwi gets his baptism of fire in the Battle of Britain. He is once shot down over France but evades capture and returns to fly and fight again. By the end of the war he is a Squadron Leader and a decorated hero. But his service commission expires with the end of the emergency and he finds himself looking for work in "civvy street" just like tens of thousands of others. The only work he can find is as a salesman, and fails miserably. Misery leads to excessive drinking which adds to friction with his wife, and by late 1947 she has left him. That's when he encounters David Goldman, a friend since 1940, and David gives him the chance to join his fledgling air ambulance company. 

Kiwi isn't a freeloader. He brings important skills in the cockpit and on the ground. David really couldn't succeed without him, but that doesn't mean they don't have their differences -- and Kiwi's demons haven't entirely released him....

Excerpt 2:

Sunlight penetrated the room and Kiwi groaned. His head was throbbing, his mouth dry, and he needed to pee. But when he rolled over to get out of bed, he bumped into something. There was someone else in his bed. Oh, God! Where did she come from? The pub, of course; drinking with Chips and Ron. They’d chatted up those girls — well, not really girls anymore, Kiwi reflected as he eased out from under the covers without waking up his bedmate.

By the cold light of dawn with most of her make-up on the pillowcase, she looked older than he was. Her heavy breasts sagged shapelessly to either side, but her belly swelled up in two thick rolls. She lay on her back, her mouth hanging open, and she snored softly. She looked forty if she was a day, but who knew? Too many late nights, too many cigarettes, too much alcohol, too many lost friends and too many disappointments had left them all looking older than their age. Did anyone look “their” age anymore?

Kiwi stumbled over the cold floor to the bathroom, embarrassed to realise he was as naked as the woman in his bed. Their clothing was littered on the floor in a messy heap all mixed up together. He vaguely remembered the excitement of it, but the call of nature allowed no lingering.

He slipped into the bathroom and his reflection in the mirror made him groan. He looked an absolute wreck. God, he had to stop drinking like that. He couldn’t handle it anymore — or the consequences. How the hell was he going to get rid of her? And what on earth was her name? Not to mention that his head was killing him!

After relieving himself, he turned on the tap and filled the basin with cold water. He leaned over, dipped his hands in the water and threw it at his face. He had the feeling he’d forgotten something — besides the name of the woman in his bed. What day of the week was it? What was he supposed to be doing?

Jesus Christ! He stood up so abruptly that he almost blacked out and had to clutch the washbasin to stop himself from losing his balance altogether. It was Friday! He was scheduled for his flight test today! At 9:30 am. What time was it?

Jesus! Jesus! He ran out of the bathroom and started frantically searching for his watch. Where had he put it? His hasty search made the stranger in his bed turn over with a little moan, but Kiwi didn’t care. He had to find out what time it was. Finally, he spotted his watch lying atop the chest of drawers. 8:35!

No, no! He couldn’t be late! His future depended on passing the qualifying exam on twin-engine aircraft. If he couldn’t get his certificate for twins, he couldn’t fly the Wellington, and he was no use to Banks, and he’d be tossed out of the company on his ear. Jesus! Jesus! The first objects he could put his hands on were his socks and he pulled one on after the other, then his undershorts and finally a pair of trousers.

The woman on the bed made a sound like she was awake.

 


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