Miles From Home is a co-production between Lee Carey, an American writer from Virginia and myself. The book will be published in 2017.
The story is about three friends Jacob Webber, Tom Green and Jane Bernard. Jacob and Tom have been friends since Kindergarten and Jane came into their class at primary school, when her family moved from England to Virginia. We follow them as they grow up, quite happily and without too much problems to go university. Then 9/11 takes place and the boys decide to enlist. Tom and Jane are meanwhile a couple.
This is a story of loss, promises, heartache and friendship.
A taster ….The Prologue:
“There is no greater fraud than a promise not kept.” – Gaelic Proverb
Alabama, November 2015
Fourteen years earlier, in the twenty-first century, Jacob Webber joined the Marines; motivated by the death and destruction rained on America three months prior. Two twenty-year-olds left Choctaw County, Alabama, entered to serve with pride, love of country, and anger…Jacob exited four years later with nightmares, love of country, and raw images running unchecked through his brain. Jacob’s best friend, Tom Green, came home in a box.
The most horrific memory contained Jacob cradling Tom in his arms as his life departed his ripped-up body.
On that dreadful day in Iraq an IED exploded on the narrow dirt road, flipping their Hummer high into the air after tearing it apart. Not only was Tom killed, but also the other two in their team of four. Jacob suffered massive shrapnel wounds to his mid-section. After his rescue, the previously carefree, fun-loving man from Alabama remained in the hospital and in shock for several weeks. However, his determination to avenge the death of his comrades energized him to return to the battlefield where he fought fearlessly and killed many opponents for the duration of his tour. Jacob returned to Choctaw County minus his childhood friend, his hopes, and his youth.
During the nine years since his honorable discharge, Webber experienced a few brief runs of up periods, such as promising, but short relationships with a few local women, a good-paying mechanic job in the heavy equipment business, and an overall positive outlook on life; but inevitability, and much too quickly, those periods were always shortened by dark, down times.
Today qualified as another of those slap-down periods. Life had again forced a double-dose of crap down his throat. His final thread of dignity snapped like a dry-rotted rubber band.
The cruel words of his boss pierced the background noise of Butler Heavy Equipment Repair as Jacob walked out, lunch pail slapping his thin, jean-covered leg. “I gotta let two employees go. You’re one of ‘em, Webber. For the past six months…your work’s been slower than molasses in winter, and sloppy. Your head seems somewhere else. Wouldn’t hurt ya to see a shrink.”
Beneath the gloomy November sky, Jacob moseyed toward his ’99 Ford pickup, hoping the rusted piece of junk would start without having to bum a jump from nosey co-workers. If the truck started, he prayed there was enough gas in the tank to carry him ten miles into the country woods to his single-wide trailer. “If it gets me that far, hell, it ain’t gotta take me ta work,” he mumbled.
Inside his small soup can on cinderblocks, Jacob Webber opened the kitchen cabinet and removed an unopened bottle of Jack Daniel’s best Tennessee sippin’ whiskey. He held the bottle up to the window, allowing a dim sunset to kiss the golden liquid. “Bought you with last year’s Christmas bonus for a special occasion,” Jacob muttered, filling a Marine-logoed shot glass with Tennessee courage. “Hell, shows what I know. A good occasion doesn’t need a few belts of whiskey, so it seems you’re better for me after life hits me between the eyes.” In a flash, the glass was empty. After a full body shudder, he whispered, “Life, this is your last opportunity to knock me around. No, sirree…you’re finished.”
Outside, Jacob stood on the rickety porch for a moment, looked off into the distance,
then aimlessly wandered into the darkening forest. Out of sight from all humanity, he sat on a stump and placed the bottle between his legs. He drew in a deep breath of cool, pine-scented air through his nose and finger-rolled the full shot glass of whiskey. “Here’s to you, Montel, Randy, and my longtime friend, Tom. Times like this, I wish y’all were here so I could talk to ya. You ain’t forgotten, brothers.” Jacob held the glass in front of his eyes. Crystal tears tracked down his tan, rugged face. “You gave your all, and all I got was shrapnel. Why in hell was I spared?” Lifting the glass to his lips, the warm liquid slipped down Webber’s tight throat. He closed his eyes, bowed his head, and slipped the barrel of his Grandpa’s .45 revolver into his mouth. As his index finger caressed the silver trigger, the loud ‘knock-knock-knock’ of a Pileated woodpecker split the silence, then in a gentle whisper, Jacob heard, or did he feel?, ‘Brother, you still haven’t delivered my final message to Jane and my baby daughter, Angelika. And you promised.’
Jacob quickly removed the barrel from his dry mouth, let the revolver slip from his nervous fingers, hearing it hit the ground, and opened his blurry eyes. “Tom? Where are ya?” Silence. After running a hand through his thick blonde hair, Jacob repeated his questions. No response. He inhaled a deep breath of cool air and very slowly nodded his head. “I’m sorry, brother. After my discharge, I tried to find them, but didn’t give it my best. Please forgive me.”
In slow motion, the thirty-four-old’s trembling fingers unscrewed the black cap on the whiskey. While watching the golden liquid soak the maple leaves, Jacob vowed, “If I only do one more thing in this rotten life, I will give your final words to your wife and daughter.”
Amsterdam, November 2015
Dark-grey clouds with billowing patches of frosty-white gathered over the North Sea, speeding with rapid intensity across the flat countryside towards Holland’s capital. It was a dull, wet winter morning, one of those routine days when the daylight simply refuses to break through and nothing grand seems to be planned by the universe. Commuters huddled deep in their damp winter coats, cursing the eternal bad weather as soon as they hopped, dripping wet and miserable inside their bus or tram. They took a seat wearing a frown, placing their wet laptop case on their knees, while balancing a Starbucks paper cup in their outstretched hand.
On the second floor of a luxury three-bedroom apartment at Southaven in Amsterdam-West, one of the newer quarters in the city, 33-year-old Jane VandenBerg was facing the mirror in her bedroom, applying coral red lipstick with a routine movement and pressing her full lips together. She didn’t take time to look at the effect but hastily tucked her white blouse into the navy-blue skirt of her suit, while struggling into her blue high-heels. She rushed out of her bedroom, when suddenly she remembered something. Instead of going into the living room to pick up her bag, she opened the door to one of the smaller bedrooms that had been turned into a study. “I’ve gotta make my own way.”
The day before, when files had once again piled up on her desk and her Dutch colleagues had continued to chat and joke with each other at the coffee machine, Jane, who was a lawyer with BP Netherlands, a function she had with the same company back in Butler, Alabama, decided she had had enough. She wasn’t feeling happy among the all Dutch staff that refused to let her into their circle, and not to mention, always performed below Jane’s standards. She was supposed to be their boss…but, from the day she walked into the office, two years ago, there had been an undermining of her position.
Today she planned to upload a copy of her MBA diploma from University of Northern Alabama on her LinkedIn profile and start searching for a new job. She wasn’t in any kind of a hurry…but the time for a change had come.
Trying to remember where she had put the file with all her official documents, Jane sank onto her hunches and opened the bottom drawer of the old chestnut cabinet, an heirloom from Sylvester’s old-aunt Maria. At that moment she heard her husband screech her name from the living room.
“Jane, where are you?”
“Coming!” she shouted back, while staring at the small black box in her soft, manicured hands. Her whole body shook. A mist fell over her eyes. Some unknown force gently wrapped itself around her, guiding her fingers to open the box. Slowly, she picked up the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal from its black velvet cushion with its red-yellow ribbon above the bronze coin that features a 1920s era Marine in full combat gear, advancing with one foot in the water and one foot on land, bayonet at the ready, with the word Expeditions, and pressed it to her heart. At that moment, Tom’s youthful voice, always upbeat and jocular, whispered in her ear: ‘Oh honey, look at you, miles from home and miles from us. By God, I wish I could comfort you now!’
“Tom,” Jane whispered back, looking around her with an eagerness that stabbed her in the heart. “Where are you, Tom? I miss you so! I miss our baby! I can’t go on like this!”
Sylvester’s booming voice, real and very much in the here and now, was coming closer:
“Jane, for heaven’s sake, what are you doing? Are you taking me to the station, or not? We’ve got exactly 20 minutes before my train leaves.”
Quickly Jane replaced the precious round medal on its cushion, snapped the box shut and dropped it back into the drawer. She closed it with a gentle push, feeling unable to get up; afraid she would keel over and create a scene. She remained crouched before the old cupboard, her heels planted in the woolly white carpet. Momentarily time seemed to come to a halt on that grey and rainy morning in Amsterdam when – instead of finding her diploma – she had found Tom’s medal. A huge wave of pain and remembrance brought back the past, cracked open the present.
But there was no time.
“Coming,” she shouted again, but it sounded dim, not her own voice. A doll in a toy shop.
Sylvester, Jane’s second husband, stuck his head around the corner of the sitting room, a stressed look on his beardy face, those dark-rimmed glasses as always slightly irregular on the bridge of his beaked nose, and the grey eyes piercing…as if he had to solve the mystery of man’s life on earth completely on his own. He opened his mouth, ready to spur his wife on. Letting her know the only thing that mattered to him, Professor VandenBerg, that morning was that he would deliver his lecture on Mathematical Science at Leiden University at 10:00am sharp. But seeing the expression on Jane’s face, as she slowly rose to her full 5ft-10inch height, with a lost, almost frightened look in her clear-blue eyes that made her feel her soul had evaporated, Sylvester, without notice, involuntarily startled.
Jane staggered for a split second on her high heels, quickly collecting herself, while straightening the expensive skirt with arms that seemed to have lost their purpose. With a slight smile, she said, minus inflection, “Let me get the car keys and my handbag. I’m ready.” That came out alright.
Brushing past Sylvester, walking as straight up and as confidently as possible, Jane proceeded with the charade. Why was this suddenly a charade? This is my life now. There’s no Tom, no baby Angelika. They were together at Brightwater Cemetery. Me! I’m Jane Bernard Green VandenBerg and I live in Amsterdam, with kind-hearted, foolish, but ever-so-intellectually clever Sylvester, who never asked one question outside the scientific scope. He wouldn’t know how. Reality, the real world, would scare the life out of the old man.
The past was dead, dead and empty.