I am proud to announce that King of the Outback should now be available.
I found writing a book can be a little like making a film. Sometimes you have to make cuts, chopping out a section that just doesn’t work. Or even sometimes, a section that works, but doesn’t serve the story.
The narrator of King of the Outback is an American named Laurie McCann, who settled in Australia after being injured in World War II. In an early draft, I wrote a flashback prologue that showed how he came to be injured.
The problem was, McCann, while being a very active participant in the story, he is not the hero. This heroic detour into his past was not necessary and only served to muddy the plot. Furthermore, as a boxing story, I really wanted to start the story in the ring – even if it was only a brief flash-forward to a fight that happens much later in the story.
But for your enjoyment, and amusement, below is the deleted prologue.
USS Hammerhead, Arifura Sea
Laurie McCann opened the hatch and walked out on to the deck. The air was clean and fresh, unlike the choked fumes and stale heat of the engine room below. The USS Hammerhead was sailing into Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea to restock supplies and rotate some of the injured crew. The last few months had been pretty hairy with the Japanese fleet pressing down hard through Indonesia towards Australia.
McCann walked to the rail, leaning on it and staring out to sea watching the white caps. It was good to be above deck for a while. A brief while anyway, before catching a few hours sleep. He was dead tired after spending the past ten hours in the engine room as first assistant to the chief engineer. It wasn’t a role he was suited to, but when the commissioned first assistant was killed in action, someone had to step up to the plate and do the job.
“Looks like you could do with a coffee,” said a voice behind him.
McCann turned, and faced the man behind the voice. It was First Officer William Grant, known as ‘Wild Bill’ to the crew. Wild Bill was tall, with tanned weathered skin, and a big smile, with teeth so white that they were blinding. He was also one of the best officers in the fleet. The Captain was a good man, but he really lucked out when Grant was assigned as his first officer. Grant held the ship and the crew together like glue. Grant held out the enameled metal coffee cup. McCann declined.
“I’ll pass. It’ll only keep me awake. I have another shift in four hours. I need the sleep,” McCann said.
Bill nodded in understanding. “Well, don’t let me keep you.”
That was enough. It was time to hit the bunk. McCann turned and starting walking along the deck to the companionway.
The crew heard it before they saw it; the whine of the engine as the Jap Zero dived at the Hammerhead from out of the sun. As it swooped down, it strafed the deck with bullets. Grant pressed himself tight against the hatchway, extracting his sidearm, and in what was essentially a futile gesture, started firing at the aggressor above.
McCann threw himself to the deck and rolled out of harm’s way as a line of bullets stitched the deck. Then he sprung to his feet and ran towards the stern, as the plane wheeled overhead, the pilot preparing for another strike. The deck was was pock mark with bullet holes from the previous run. McCann followed the trail to where the big twenty millimetre cannon was mounted. Gunnery officer, Archie Clemment, lay sprawled next to the weapon, with his glassy eyes wide open, and his chest a bloody mess. Archie had been a good man. The Zero had stitched him up on the first run.
McCann stepped up to the twenty millimetre, and turned the turret, aiming at the Zero as it swooped across the ship again, running down the port side. He loosed a string of fire at the aircraft, but they trailed off behind the assailing aircraft. This wasn’t his usual seat, and he wasn’t used to aiming in front of his target.
The Zero flew out of range again, twisting into the sun, making it hard to spot. McCann swung the cannon around and waited. He had lost sight of the Jap, but he knew that he would make another pass. The sound was deafening as the plane flew out of the sun again. McCann opened up. This time the plane was coming at him head on, rather than from the side. He didn’t have to aim in front, judging speed and distance. It was almost as if the gunfight happened in slow motion. He kept peppering away at the plane as the twin steams of machine gun fire tore up the deck from the Zero. The bullets were chewing their way towards the cannon where he was seated. But he couldn’t take cover. It was either him or the Jap.
The housing of the cannon sparked as the stream of bullets hit home. Three bullets caught him in the leg. The explosion of pain was instantaneous, but he didn’t release his finger from the trigger of the cannon. He followed the Zero round, dousing it in a deadly hail of lead. He felt dizzy, but kept firing, and he would keep firing for as long as he could.
There was no sign that the plane was in trouble at all, not even a puff of black smoke. But suddenly, it blew up; a bright orange fireball lit up the sky. The explosion shook the ship, the concussion wave knocking men off their feet. The blackened twisted remains of the Japanese fighter hung in the air for a second, then plummeted from the sky into the sea below.
However Laurie McCann never saw this. By this time he had lost consciousness and now lay slumped at the base of the gun beside Archie Clemment.
May sees the launch of King of the Outback, the sixth book in the popular Fightcard series – and my literary debut (writing as Jack Tunney). Accordingly, in a month long celebration, Permission to Kill will be looking back and some of the highlights – and lowlights – of boxing in film and literature – and in music too.