ExtractRead section 1 of the novel Dead Men's Fingers

Christian stepped back and watched him finish off. The sun was fierce on the other man, glistening on his sweat-beaded forehead and swarthy, thick grey-haired arms.

"Was it really as bad as all that," Christian asked, "the fighting?" The sun beat down from a perfect blue sky in perfect June; it was a lovely, lively day; his questions didn't belong. All the same, he asked them. "I mean, most of them there got over it. You got over it."

"Yes," George agreed, "most of them did."

"Was there a lot of killing? Did my father... was there a lot?"

George moved back to Christian's end and finished nailing there. "What makes you ask?" he said.

"I don't know. I was just thinking. About things."

The last of the nails was driven in and that was that, the shed was repaired and put together again, all bar the roof.

"Ready at your end? Got it? Okay - easy."

They heaved it up between them in one go, George - the fitter, stronger man despite his age - doing most of the heaving. They inched it back and forth till it was exactly in place. George went inside, began hammering. He stopped, yelled out, "What did you say?"

"I didn't say anything."

"Oh." He carried on, stopped again. "Is this about Malcolm Briggs?" he asked.

Christian sucked at the end of his right index finger - it was sore, there was a splinter in it. He tried to get the splinter out by pinching and squeezing it between two nails, like a blackhead. "He shouldn't be allowed to get away with it," he muttered.

George came out from the shed. He tucked the hammer into his work-belt, unbuckled the belt, looked the shed over and nodded approvingly to himself. "Not bad for a morning's work."

Christian responded vaguely, sounded distant. George regarded him in silence, with the sure steady gaze a father usually reserves for his son, pride and a certain indefinable fear commingled. "This is about Malcolm Briggs, isn't it?"

"In a way," Christian confessed, "yes."

George hung his work-belt on a nail in the shed, shut the door and locked it up - despite the fact that the shed's contents were still strewn all around the yard. "Come inside a minute. There's something I meant to show you, last time. Forgot. It might help you work things out."

He led him in and into the study, a room Christian always found fascinating for its debauched variety: a stuffed leopard head mouldering away on one of the walls; on another, faded framed black-and-white photographs of army units; lurid magazine shots of bloody modern battle scenes were pinned up here, there; and then of course, there was the exotica, carvings and paintings and Chinese dragon masks and Thai silk banners, perversely bright and colourful memento mori of a man's youth wasted in the tropics, offered up there on the altar of jungle warfare.

Christian always, whenever he was in the room, found his eyes drawn to one object, one of the photographs, propped up on a cabinet. Its frame was broken, askew. A hole in the wall above it showed where a nail had once held it. It was an informal army camp snapshot, with the barracks in the background, half-naked soldiers lounging around in the foreground, laughing, smoking, though a few poor souls had their backs bent in dusty, sweaty toil. Christian's father was there, one of the men off-duty. George was amongst them too, in the foreground, grinning at someone off-camera, but it was never him, always Christian's father who drew his eye, stern and harshly grimacing, a stark contrast to those around him.

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Buy the e-book version of Dead Men's Fingers online via Amazon.co.uk (UK readers), and Amazon.com (North America).

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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