If I Retreat, Shoot Me

If I Retreat, Shoot Me

by Dave Baker


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781482809510
Publisher: Partridge Africa
Publication date: 11/06/2015
Pages: 292
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.66(d)

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If I Retreat, Shoot Me

By Dave Baker

Partridge Africa

Copyright © 2015 Dave Baker
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4828-0951-0


December 1938

Jan barely noticed the evening breeze that was wafting off the Indian Ocean as he slammed shut the cottage door, flicked his cigarette onto the grass and strode back to the dance. His need for more cabernet sauvignon had been prompted by the infuriating sight of 'big brother' Pierre doing his best to charm the knickers off Deidre on the dance floor. Hell, he was fully five years older than her – and to make matters worse she seemed to be enjoying it! And trust Pierre to question his ability to hold his liquor when he was setting off to fetch more wine.

As the lights of the Coffee Bay Hotel came into view, joyful shouts and laughter reached him over the band's rendition of 'Red Sails in the Sunset' and the steady throb of the power generator. He was finding it difficult to think straight. While everyone else at Coffee Bay appeared to be having a fabulous time celebrating another New Year's Eve, he was having a bloody miserable one. He lengthened his stride.

The music stopped as he was approaching the hotel steps. Pierre and Deidre had been on the dance floor when he'd left and he expected them to be making their way back to their veranda table. But tension seized him on seeing that the rest of the party were already settling back in their places and there was still no sign of them.

As he scanned the area, Deidre's older brother Luke called out above the din, 'They're probably at the cloak rooms. They should be back soon.'

Jan ran his hands through his hair and said, 'Thanks. Luke, I think I'd better pay a visit there myself,' before striding off.

A busty woman with peroxided hair wearing too much makeup emerged from the ladies' toilet and smiled at him. 'No, if it's your blonde friend you're looking for, she's not in there.'

He dived into the gents but it was empty. Aware of Pierre's reputation with women, he was beginning to fear the worst. As he strode through the foyer, lounge and card room he was plagued by images of his brother taking advantage of the innocence of his seventeen-year-old childhood sweetheart. True, Deidre had never allowed him to do much more than hug and kiss her, but he recognised that things could be a lot different with Pierre exercising the full force of his charm and experience.

He stopped a waiter. 'Have you seen my brother and the young lady in a blue dress? Did they go this way?'

The waiter's eyes were wide as he shook his head. 'No boss.'

Jan's search became increasingly desperate. Rounding a corner, he almost collided with a portly middle-aged man. 'Excuse me,' he said, 'have you perhaps seen a young couple pass this way recently? She's tall and blonde and –'

'Sorry,' he said with a wink, 'no such luck!'

Jan's heart was pounding. Perhaps they'd gone to the Kyles' cottage to fetch something – a stole? But the cottage lights were out and there was no sign of life.

He was about to extend his search to the laundry and garages when it struck him. He stopped in his tracks. The beach! ... Of course! That was it! The moonlight would have provided Pierre with a perfect excuse! He pulled off his shoes, ripped off his socks and jogged down the path, along the winding path through the bush and onto the gleaming sand.

The peaceful sounds and pristine beauty of the scene were wasted on him as he scanned the length of the beach, strained his eyes for a sign of movement. The tide had obliterated the earlier pattern of footprints in the sand. Plodding along the beach, he nimbly avoided the more assertive waves as they swept hissing up the sand in foamy sheets of water before receding just as smoothly.

Suddenly the glow of a cigarette caught his attention. Focussing on the spot, he was able to make out the shapes of a man and a woman, perhaps a hundred metres ahead. Could it be them? He strode deliberately in their direction and as the gap narrowed he could see that they were strolling hand-in-hand. His concern turned to anger, then rage, when he realised that it was Pierre and Deidre. Jislaaik! he thought, just as I bloody well suspected!

Jan saw their heads turn briefly towards each other and heard a murmur followed by a low chuckle as they released each other's hands, moved slightly apart but kept coming. It wasn't difficult to guess the reason for the chuckle. He could feel his blood rushing to his head.

When the two were still about forty yards from him, there was a mocking tone in his brother's voice as he called out, 'Is that you, Boetie?'

Jan stopped, feet astride, hands on his hips. 'Ja, it's me alright!' he shouted, 'and I'm wondering what the hell you two are doing down here!'

He noticed Deidre hold out a restraining arm as Pierre shouted back, 'What are we doing here? ... Liewe land! Who or what gives you the right to tell us where or when we're allowed to take a walk?'

'You know exactly what I mean!' As they came face to face Jan spotted a large smudge of sand on Deidre's neck. 'I suppose you think now she's all of seventeen you can treat her like all those tarts at your so-called college!'

By now Pierre was confronting him with his feet astride, his arms at his sides and his fists clenched. 'Listen, you little twerp, she's a big girl now. She's perfectly capable of deciding what she wants to do and when – and with whom!'

With that Jan muttered 'Bliksem!' and lunged forward swinging a powerful right cross at Pierre's chin. But Pierre swayed back and it glanced off him and Jan felt a crushing blow to his midriff.

As he staggered back, Deidre cried out, 'No, stop it! – both of you!' But Pierre was already advancing in a boxer's stance and he only just managed to block a haymaker. Out of the corner of his eye, he glimpsed Deidre sprinting off.

They squared up again, Jan staring intently into his brother's eyes in an attempt to anticipate his next punch. Feinting with his left, he caught Pierre with a vicious right hook but seconds later a vicious incoming blow split his lip and he tasted blood.

They'd fought several times before and Jan was fully aware that with his longer reach and age advantage, Pierre had generally won their fist fights. However, he also knew that his superior upper body strength had given him the upper hand whenever they'd wrestled. He had to wait for a suitable moment to make the switch. Meanwhile he drew on all his boxing skills in an effort to gain at least some sort of parity. But his brother kept landing with solid punches to his head and body. A right cross to his head spilt his eyebrow. The pain didn't concern him much but his vision was blurred in that eye until he had a chance to step and wipe away the blood with his forearm. He had to repeat the process a few times as the fight continued.

Their brawl left the sand churned up over quite a wide area until eventually they found themselves in the swirling shallows. Painfully aware that he was taking more punishment than his brother, Jan realised that a determined change of tactics was his only hope. Ducking under a vicious straight right, he lunged forward and tackled Pierre around the chest with all might, causing him to crash onto his back in the water. He then leapt onto him and pinned him down, pressing both of his wrists into the wet sand. He felt Pierre's hot breath on his neck as he used all of his weight and strength to keep him on his back. Then, in a pre-planned attack he then suddenly released his hold on Pierre's left wrist, wrapped his right arm around both his head and freed arm and shifted his body across his brother's chest, giving him a perfect choke-hold.

Pierre kept struggling violently but each time he did, Jan applied more pressure, shouting, 'D'you give up?'

With Jan's forearm pressed against his larynx Pierre could only make gurgling sounds. But he kept shaking his head vigorously and making fresh attempts to break the hold, until a wave washed over them and his face disappeared under foaming water for several seconds. Jan didn't dare release his hold. Luckily the water soon subsided, allowing Pierre to breathe once more.

Jan was about to demand yet again that his brother surrender, when over the roar of the surf he heard a man shouting. It was Deidre's brother, Luke.

'Jan! Pierre! Stop it! Don't be bloody crazy!'

Seconds later Luke and two others came splashing up to them and Jan felt Luke tugging at his arm as he screamed, 'Jan, let him go! You'll kill him!'

By now Jan's initial fury had subsided. He released his hold and clambered up, shaking and soaked. But as he did so he kept a close eye on his victim in case he should attempt to retaliate. He didn't. Seconds later the five young men were all standing with sea water swirling around their legs, not quite knowing what to do next.

Any feelings of relief and conquest Jan may have harboured came close to being obliterated by the shame he felt as he looked at his bedraggled, bloody and soaked wreck of a brother. And he then realised that he probably looked at least as bad. He caught sight of Deidre in the distance as she turned and began to run back up the beach towards the hotel. Luke made to follow her but changed his mind.

Turning back, he looked at the brothers. 'Listen guys, you'll have to sort this all out properly later. But right now I want you to shake hands.'

Standing with his hands on his head, Jan doubted that he would ever forgive his brother but convention demanded that he comply with Luke's suggestion.

The handshake was swift but if nothing else it signified the end of hostilities – for the night anyway.

Jan turned to their mediator, mumbled 'Sorry Luke, thanks' and began to splash his way back to the cottage and bed, feeling totally bereft.

Pierre continued standing there for a moment, gingerly fingering his injured eye. But to his relief, Luke then stepped forward, placed a hand on his shoulder and said, 'Come on, pal, let's get you cleaned up. We'll go to my place. Dee will be in bed by now.'

Pierre turned to the other two, 'Thanks guys – appreciated.'

They looked embarrassed and one mumbled something Pierre didn't quite catch as they ambled off.

Luke asked, 'How are you feeling?'

'Tired ... and sore.'

'Yes, you do look a mess. But Jan wasn't looking any better, was he!' Pierre fingered his injured eye, which had closed completely. 'Ja, I suppose so. He doesn't often get the better of me but he's a good wrestler.' He turned to Luke. 'But listen, Luke, I'm helluva sorry – I mean, to get you involved. I was –'

Luke brushed aside his apology. 'No, don't worry about me. But what were the three of you doing on the beach anyway?'

Pierre stopped, attempting to stem the flow of blood from a cut on his cheek with a sodden handkerchief. 'Well, Dee and I were dancing and she said something about the moonlight on the ocean. And, well, I suggested we take a walk on the beach.'

'That must have gone down well with your brother!'

'Ja, he would have jumped to conclusions – but I really don't know why he had to make such a huge fuss about it. It's not as though Dee's his girlfriend.'

Luke cleared his throat. 'Well, as long as that's all it was ... and you two patch it up.'

'Of course we will; we always have before! But you know that Dee's always been like a kid sister to me. Sure, she's growing up fast and is looking lovely but I wouldn't dream of spoiling what we have.'

As they were making a wide loop around the front of the hotel, the band struck up with the opening bars of 'Auld Lang Syne' and they heard the revellers pitching in with what Luke described as 'more raw enthusiasm than musical skill'. As they trudged towards the Kyle's cottage, he again broke the silence, saying, 'You and Jan seem to have been at loggerheads all your lives.'

Pierre grunted. 'Ja, we never seem to agree about anything – especially politics. It used to be about domestic politics, the old Nat-Sap conflict but now it's the conflict building in Europe.'

Luke lowered his voice as they approached the cottage. 'Hell yes, it's looking bloody grim, isn't it?'

Pierre kept touching his face. 'Eina. Sure is. And it all seems to centre around one individual. 'You know, Luke, that's something else I can't understand about Jan. I mean, how can an intelligent, educated person like him admire the man? Only the other day I came across him reading Mein Kampf!'

'Honestly? What did you say?'

'I told him he was mad to waste his time following the ravings of a lunatic like Hitler. You should have heard how he shouted. He said that if I stopped reading the propaganda in rags like The Friend and The Star, I would have a far better –'

He was interrupted by the appearance of Luke's father, Patrick Kyle. To Pierre's relief he was smiling and looking surprisingly relaxed.

Luke was the first to greet him. 'Morning, Dad. Happy New Year.'

Pierre followed suit but wondered how happy 'Uncle Patrick' would be on learning about the brawl – particularly what had caused it! At least the Kyles were due to return home the following day.

Limping up the hill to the family cottage, Jan was still plagued by feelings of humiliation and remorse, which were aggravated by a sharp pain in his split lip and an ankle. All he wanted to do was to splash cold water over his face and get into bed without having to explain anything to anyone – especially his mother.

There was no light on in the cottage. He tiptoed into the rondavel he shared with Pierre, closed the door and reached for matches to light the paraffin lamp next to his bed.

A torch flashed outside and he heard his mother ask, 'Jannie, is that you?' The door opened. It was his mother, wearing a dressing gown and nightcap and holding a torch. He shielded his eyes from the glare as she kept the beam directed at his face.

'Goeie genade, Jannie! Look at your face!' she gasped. 'What happened?'

Jan flopped down on his bed, resigned to enduring the embarrassment of telling her all about it.

But she gestured to him to stay put. 'Anyway, sit son, I'll get the first aid box.'

Marie shuffled out and Jan lit a paraffin lamp, limped to the washstand, filled the enamel basin, drew up chair for her and sat down on a stool. Minutes later his mother returned, rummaged in the first aid box and produced cotton wool, dressings and bottles of Dettol and gentian violet and sat opposite him. She leaned forward and peered anxiously at his face. 'Your lip may need stitches but I think when I've made sure everything's clean the rest can just be patched up. But what about your ankle? You were limping.'

'Ag, it's a bit sore, Ma, but it'll be okay.'

It hurt a lot when his mother attended to his lip but Jan's main concern was that he would have to parade around for several days with purple patches on his face – and that he was about to receive a stern lecture.

Marie completed her ministrations, re-packed her first aid box and turned to look him in the eye. 'And? I suppose you and Pierre had another fight?' Jan lowered his head. 'Ja, Ma, we did.'

'What was it about this time? Not politics again?'

Jan hesitated. 'No, not this time. It started when I went to fetch something from the cottage. When I came back Pierre and Dee had disappeared.' Jan touched the dressing on his lip. 'After the way Pierre had been behaving towards Dee I was worried about her and went to look for them. And after searching all over I eventually found them on the beach ... Anyway, when I saw them, I just lost my rag. And we fought.'

His mother stared at him. 'Pierre and Deidre alone on the beach? Why?'

'Well that's exactly what I asked him. But you know what Pierre's like with girls. All he was interested in was –'

'Nooit! He's much older than her. Deidre's still a baby!'

'Exactly! But he just told me I was being stupid and said I must mind my own business.'

'Where's he now?'

'I don't know. I left him on the beach – with Luke.'

'And Deidre?'

'Ran off. Probably to their cottage.'

Marie Rousseau held her hands over her mouth and stared at her son for several seconds before saying, 'You know, Jannie, I really don't think that they would have done anything bad.' She paused, still frowning. 'But I'll speak to Luke later. But in the meantime I want you to know how disappointed I am at your behaviour. How often have I told you that you're now –'

Jan held up a hand. 'Sorry Ma, but you don't understand!'

'Understand? Of course I understand – only too well. But you're a grown man now. You simply can't go around sorting out problems like that any more.


Excerpted from If I Retreat, Shoot Me by Dave Baker. Copyright © 2015 Dave Baker. Excerpted by permission of Partridge Africa.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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