Battle Lines by John Lary

Warrant Officer Class 2 (Retired) Martin Chester received his police caution at the station. It was delivered by a grinning desk sergeant who all but slapped the elderly ex-soldier on the back as he did so. Collecting his pet greyhound, now suitably muzzled and back on the leash, WO Chester turned and marched back towards home.

The day had started for WO Chester with reveille at 0530 as usual. After showering, shaving closely with his cut-throat razor and raising the union flag on the flagpole in his front garden, he took his dog, Sapper (once known at Walthamstow Greyhound Stadium as Westmead Flyer) off for their daily 5 miles brisk walk. The dog, like his owner, was also long retired. The pair of them looked as fit as in their glory days with not an ounce of spare fat between them. WO Chester, dressed smartly in ex-army fatigues and combat boots, looked as if he had just stepped off the parade ground.

As they passed the garden of number 13, recently let to a family of scrap metal dealers, WO Chester looked with distaste at the piles of rubbish strewn across the lawn. The family who were renting the house had moved in just a week ago, but already WO Chester had had reason to rebuke the two men of the family – father and son – for parking their scruffy pick up truck across his driveway, for scattering beer cans around the street (his street) and for their loud bad language. In return he received a barrage of abuse. The matriarch of the family, a big blowsy woman, dressed perpetually in pyjamas whatever the time of day, joined in from her front door, telling the silly old ”Chelsea Pensioner” to mind his own business.

There was no sign of life at this hour, however, and so WO Chester and Sapper continued on their way. As he marched along, the old man was seething inside. He could not tolerate indiscipline or untidiness, as many a squaddie in the Scots Guards who served under him had learned to their cost. He still kept the same standards in his own life and maintained that any inspection of his person, his bungalow or indeed his wife would find everything as it should be.

And so the arrival in the quiet street of the scrap merchants had upset WO Chester and he determined to keep a close eye on them, as indeed the local police were doing already.

Man and dog reached the far point of their route, and turned for home, Sapper trotting along beside his owner, just as he did in the parade ring so many times at the dog track. Breakfast would be waiting on their return at 0800 precisely.

Also waiting for them were the scrap dealers. The two men had decided to give the silly old man who thought he was still in the army a fright. They knew when the old soldier would be returning home from his walk and had secreted themselves in the large hedge by No. 13. They heard his steady footsteps approaching and as he passed their hiding place, they jumped out at him, yelling.

WO Chester had a flashback. He reacted in an instant. He was no longer in his quiet suburban street, but in the jungles of Malaya and faced by the enemy. Five seconds later, both of his attackers were on the ground, with WO Chester’s walking stick pressed across the throat of the father – the larger of the two. The younger man scrambled to his feet and ran into the house, from which burst the huge angry mother, dressed as usual in her nightwear and sporting large white fluffy bunny slippers. As she flapped her way down the garden path, the white bunny slippers
caught Sapper’s attention. The dog had a flashback of his own. He was back in trap 6, Walthamstow Greyhound stadium and the hare was running. Westmead Flyer had always been a fast starter and he had those slippers in his jaws within seconds. Their owner ran squealing and barefoot back indoors, where she telephoned the police, screaming blue murder.

WO Chester and his pet enjoyed a late breakfast. Being in action again had sharpened their appetite. The old soldier patted his dog’s head fondly.

And Sapper was allowed to keep the bunny slippers as a trophy.

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