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Smoky Joe's Cafe - Bryce Courtenay

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Published: August 2006
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Published: 28th August 2006
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A Vietnam vet returns to an Australia that regards him as a mercenary guilty of war crimes.

Thommo begins to develop all kinds of physical and mental problems, and thinks it must only be him until he finds that he is not alone. Ten mates, all who remain of his platoon, are affected in the same way.

Now Thommo and his mates are eleven angry men out for revenge. They rope in an ex-Viet Cong with 'special skills' and his own secret agenda. They're the 'Dirty Dozen', just like the movie. Only it's real life, and they're so screwed up they couldn't fight their way out of a wet paper bag.

That is, until a woman of character steps in. Wendy's infant daughter is dying and needs a transplant. She sets out to mould this bunch of ex-jungle fighters into a unit that will fight for justice, by fair means or foul.

Hell hath no fury …

'Courtenay's yarn about a whacky bunch of Vietnam vets keeps moving … it's dead centre in Courtenay's oeuvre, an easy read with a social conscience.' Weekend Australian

About the Author

Bryce Courtenay was born in South Africa and has lived in Sydney for the major part of his life. He is the bestselling author of The Power of One, April Fool's Day, The Potato Factory, Tommo & Hawk, Jessica, Smoky Joe's Cafe, Four Fires, Whitethorn and Brother Fish.

Chapter One

Nightmares, don't tell me about them. Every night as it begins to grow dark I open a bottle of Scotch. I tell myself, if I can get pissed enough they won't come. I'll be so motherless, so brain dead by the time I crawl into the misery of sleep that my subconscious will leave me alone, let me get through the night without the terror.

It works sometimes, but not often enough. It's the night noises; I wake to a noise, any noise, and the anxiety builds. Before I know it, I'm up with the knife and on patrol around our living quarters upstairs, then downstairs to the cafe, then into the backyard and the storage shed, I even check the pavement outside Smoky Joe's before I come back to bed and lie awake shaking like a sheila. I sleep with a Confederate Bowie, a real bastard of a knife, a copy of the standard army issue used by the Confederate troops in the American Civil War.

I took it off a Yank Marine at Vung Tau. He was so pissed he could hardly stand up and he reckoned he'd been dudded by a bar girl and it looked like he was about to use it on her. I grabbed his arm and took the knife just as the provosts, the military police, arrived. They took him away and I still had the knife. I reckoned I'd earned it anyway. The little whore lost no time demonstrating how grateful she was to me neither.

The Confederate has an eleven-inch blade forged from Damascus steel, it lies safe under my pillow where I can get to it fast. If the bastards come for me I'm ready. Wendy has begged me to throw it away. She's terrified I'll wake up screaming, like I've done a hundred times already, and use it before I'm truly awake. On her, me, the kid.

More than once I've wrecked the joint before I've woke up properly. Or I've grabbed her and covered her with my body screaming, 'Hold on, Mo, the dustoff's coming, you're gunna be okay! Hold on, please, Mo, I love you, mate! Don't fucking die on me, you bastard!' Looking down at Wendy, Nog AK47s going off, crackle-pop-crackle-pop-pop-pop, our machine gun, brrrrrrrr-bam-bam-bam, the noise all about me, grunts shouting, firing every which way, the noise of the dustoff blades putta-putta-putta-putta as the helicopter comes in to pick up the wounded, her head is missing, blood everywhere. Wendy's head is Mo's head and then it switches around again. But in the nightmare I tell myself, 'How can me mate live with no head?'

So here I am, a screwed-up Vietnam veteran. No better or worse than my mates and not quite knowing what's gone wrong. Flashbacks, nightmares, rage, dizzy spells, anxiety, paranoia, insomnia, depression, sometimes long periods of impotence, and a whole heap more, that's me. Bloody pathetic, isn't it?

The quacks at Repat shake their heads, say they've done all the tests and nothing shows up. Veterans Affairs, taking directions from Canberra, who, taking their brief straight from the Pentagon, simply repeat the official line. One bloke who interviews me has this half smile on his face, 'Mr Thompson, as far as the department is concerned your psychological problems are not caused by your war experience. You have been diagnosed with a personality disorder. Maybe it was something that happened in your childhood, something your mother or father did to you. And as far as Agent Orange is concerned it's about as harmless to humans as baby powder.'

Baby powder? Now that's real funny, but the bastard doesn't know it.

Once, we'd been out in the jungle for three weeks and we know exactly where we are, we've just used a smoke grenade and a passing chopper has radioed in to give us an accurate location. So we know from looking at the map that there's a lot more deep j ahead, at least four days of scrub bashing before the operation is over.

Then suddenly a couple of hours further into the boonies and it's not there, the jungle's missing, a miracle. Instead of visibility of maybe six yards we can see ahead of us for five hundred yards. Everything in front of us is dead and we're kicking up this fine white powder. Touch a dead tree and the dust comes down to cover your greens, smells weird too. (Unbeknownst to our intelligence, the Yanks had defoliated the area two weeks previously.) What was supposed to be in the middle of primary rainforest is like a dead world.

This was the first time I'd seen what Agent Orange could do, though, of course, I had no idea at the time what it was, or how the dense jungle came to be defoliated. Let me tell you, there was nothing left alive. We saw dead bats, birds, spiders, every kind of insect you could imagine and not a green leaf on anything, everything silent, all of it covered with this fine white powder that looked just like baby powder.

I'd have liked to have told the arsehole in Vets Affairs that story but he wouldn't have listened anyway, they're experts at nodding your life into non-existence.

ISBN: 9780143004738
ISBN-10: 0143004735
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 256
Published: August 2006
Dimensions (cm): 19.8 x 13.0  x 1.8
Weight (kg): 0.23