Chapter 4

Written by: Rosemary Wakelin

Children caught in warfare often exacerbated the situation.

Powell knew that better than most.

Regardless, shots bulleted the air, snapping, cracking, slicing into their tiny bodies. Shock froze the children first before they collapsed; some mercifully killed instantly, others writhing and screaming.

Then the sirens began… loud, blaring shrieks. But, as so often before, the sirens had come too late. Africa’s dry earth soon strewn with its bloodied dark-skinned victims. 

“Powell… answer me dammit….”

Powell blinked several times until he refocussed his thoughts to the here and now. Miss Day was fussing over a freckled-faced girl with thick, red bangs of hair. The girl giggled. Relief surged through Powell’s body.

The children were safe.

“I’m here,” Powell said into his phone, surprised at the sudden curtness in his voice.

“Since when did you give a damn about your targets… children or not,” The Boss hissed. “You're not going soft on me, are you?” 

Powell didn’t answer. 

“Just get the damn thing done.” And he immediately rang off.

A boy with large ears and thick-lensed glasses tripped on his unfastened shoelaces. He fell, smacking his cheek against the floor and began screaming.

Powell forced his eyes shut, wanted to slam both hands over his ears. Inside, his heart pounded furiously. A screaming child never failed in conjuring snapshots of a time he long wanted to forget. Snapshots of a small, helpless African village in need of his protection from rebel invaders, of himself kicking soccer balls with the village children, absorbing their innocent squeals of laughter. 

Of his troop’s inability to protect the villagers when the rebels finally struck.

Of his own inability to protect the children.

Mothers, fathers ran, crawled to their dying offspring, many of them perishing in the attempt.  

'No, children only exacerbated the situation.'

Outside the rain intensified. Powell smiled, wished his Boss luck in observing the café in such inclement weather.  

He caught Miss Day watching him. Not once, but several times. There was a ‘knowing’ in her eyes he didn’t much care for. Was she onto him? The consequences of such a catastrophe would be enormous. Especially if The Boss was watching. 

He imagined a bullet wound sporting the centre of her forehead. The image quickly dissipated. Miss Day was young, pretty, in many ways still a child

'No, her life would be spared.' He’d make sure of that. And he wondered. Perhaps The Boss was right; perhaps he was getting soft.

Powell coughed into his fisted hand. After this job, he decided on taking a well-earned holiday; do a little mental re-booting.

The shuffle of happy feet and contented giggles anchored his gaze to the toddlers. Their tiny hands gripped the ‘walk-in-line’ rope once more, escorted from the café by their caregivers appearing as every bit harassed as before. The father with his two children held back the door as they trooped past, and then he ushered his own pair outside.

Powell observed the now childless café.

And again, he wondered.

Comments

Oh very good Rosemary. The child tripping on his shoe lace is a perfect foil. Powell is distracted and his mind goes to another time. So well done. The boy's description - thick-lensed glasses and large ears immediately gave the reader a picture. Now the children are gone... what now?
Thank you Suraya. Nice to hear.
Great chapter, Rosemary. You've done a great job at balancing the present and flashbacks -both are just as compelling.