ExtractRead section 1 of the novel Dead Men's Fingers

"Was it really the war?" Christian asked then.

"Was what the war?"

"My father. That was what you always told me, that it was the war. But was it?"

"Why do you suddenly think it wasn't?"

"I don't. Not exactly. I just - I always had an idea...." He stopped. "It's childish, but I always had an idea there was something else. That there was another reason, a worse one, only you couldn't tell me because I was too young."

George let his restful, fatherly eyes settle on Christian again. "It changed him," he said simply. "You never knew him before, of course, but it did. It destroyed him, or anyway a part of him, a very vital part. He was never the same after." He hesitated a second. "This is still about Malcolm Briggs, isn't it?"

Christian couldn't meet his gaze - wanted to lie and couldn't, couldn't meet that honest penetrating gaze and lie. "How could he do it? What made him do it?"


"No, not Briggs. I don't care about Malcolm frigging Briggs."

"What then?"

"My father. You always said, one day, you'd explain. You always said, one day, you'd let me have his letters and they'd explain it. I had half an idea that that was what you were hunting around for, just now."

"The letters don't explain anything. No more than I can. Honestly, I couldn't tell you the reason why. I never understood why. If I told you I did, I lied." George was staring down at the floor, fixedly down. "You have to forget," he said at length, quietly, as if speaking only to himself. "That's the secret of it. Forgetting." There was that simple honest frown on his mouth; there was that look of self-deceit in his eyes, that told of forgetting and told of no forgetting. "That's how I dealt with it, anyway. Maybe not the others, maybe not your father, but me, certainly. Even back then. Convincing myself that whatever it was I was doing, I wasn't killing a man. Or else convincing myself that what I was killing wasn't really a man. Not someone with a mother, brothers, sisters, perhaps a wife, even children. Not someone like me. Just a thing, no better than an animal. If you can do that - if you can dehumanize a man like that - you can kill him. If you can forget he's a man, you can do it." His brows for a moment became troubled, stormy, as if for the very first time he realized that what he was trying to forget could not be forgotten. "That's the secret of it. The forgetting. Imagining you never did those things. Imagining it wasn't you." He fell silent. Then faintly he laughed. "I remember," he said, grinning tamely, "one time, your father was...."

So that was how it was done: by forgetting. By dissociating the cause from the effect, pulling the trigger without letting the mind envisage the hunk of metal that would be sent hurtling through the air and into a man's living flesh. That, or dehumanizing the man.

He took up the gun from the table and tried it both ways. First he aimed it at the empty doorway and imagined Briggsy there and himself pulling the trigger. It didn't work: always, as he squeezed that imaginary trigger just below the real one, his mind would delight in the imagined kick of the gun and the controlled explosion of it and the red gaping wound that would appear in Briggsy's chest. The second way worked better: forgetting Briggsy was a man, aiming the gun at where he would stand and pulling the trigger without stopping to think, My God, that's a real live man there I'm killing. That way was easy. Because it was easy, so easy, to dehumanize an imaginary man, to imagine the man who wasn't really there wasn't really a man.

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The novel is also available as part of an omnibus edition with Sheldon's other novels, Delhi Deadlines and Virtually, via Amazon.co.uk (UK readers), and Amazon.com (North America).


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