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War Stories by John D. MacDonald

A collection of four early stories by John D. MacDonald, of private wars fought against the larger backdrop of World War II.

Book Details

Book Details

War Stories – a collection of four early stories by John D. MacDonald, of private wars fought against the larger backdrop of World War II.

Interlude in India (1946)

Blame Those Who Die (1946) – Adventure in Ceylon Opens with the Young American Making Off with Someone Else’s Airplane and Ends When the East Closes One Account

The Flying Elephants (1946) – Bill Drucker Liked His Job in Ceylon With Its Weird Contrasts of Civilization and Savagery; Now It Seemed He Was to Lose It

Coward In The Game (1946) – Battlefield or Football Field, They Both Take Guts – But Maybe a Different Kind

John D. MacDonald (1916-1986) was one of the best crime and mystery writers of the era. His most famous creation was his series of Travis McGee books.

MacDonald’s writing career began by accident. He was a Harvard Business School grad who had joined the Army in 1940 where he was commissioned as a first lieutenant of the Army Ordnance Corps. From 1943 to 1945, he was stationed in the China-Burma-India theatre of war, first in India and later in Ceylon.

In Ceylon he served with the OSS and his letters home were heavily censored. At one point he wrote his wife Dorothy (1911-1989), a story instead of a letter. She typed up the story from his letter and submitted it to Esquire magazine, which rejected it. Then she sent it to Story magazine, which accepted it for $25, good money for that time. She kept this a secret until he returned home in 1945 and presented him with the $25 check Story had paid for the tale. It was then that MacDonald made the decision to try writing as a profession.

Interlude in India, included in this collection, is the story that launched the writing career of John D. MacDonald.

War Stories has 10 illustrations.


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Excerpt: Blame Those Who Die

A  YOUNG man with pale blue eyes and a shy smile entered the offices of the Hindustan Aircraft Works at Bangalore and asked the clerk if he could see Mr. Duton. The clerk typed busily, and in about five minutes the stranger came back out of Mr. Duton’s office. He and Mr. Duton stood at the door a moment. The young man held a sheet of paper with Mr. Duton’s distinctive scribbling on it in his hand.

Mr. Duton was saying, “—and if your people find the installation doesn’t suit them, fly the aircraft back here and we’ll try a slower reverse gear in the drum.”

“I’m certain that it will be acceptable. I merely take this sheet to Building 18, they’ll wheel it out and I can fly it off?”

“Quite right. And we appreciate being able to do business with you.”

The young man said a polite good day and left. Mr. Duton stood for a few moments after the outer door had closed behind the straight back, a pleased look on his face. “Nice young man,” he murmured.

The clerk looked up into Duton’s bland face and asked, “Sir?”

“Oh, was I speaking aloud? That’s the young man from Harver-Crescent, Limited. He came to pick up that Norseman that we bought from the Americans. The one they had us install the special equipment on. He’s flying it down to Ratmalana.” The clerk tried to sound interested as he said, “Yes, sir.” Mr. Duton frowned down at the clerk in an absent-minded way, turned and walked back into his office.

The next act of the drama was at a big bungalow perched near the crest of a wooded hill about twelve miles south of Kandy, Ceylon. The heavy brush had been cleared from a wide level lawn in front of the building. Many round-clipped shrubs dotted the lawn. It was a quiet place, sleeping in the late sun of afternoon. Several groups of natives were working in the geometric rows of tea bushes that marched in straight columns down the cleared hill behind the house. At the sound of a distant motor, a stocky bearded man ran out onto the wide porch, shaded his eyes and looked off into the sunset glow. He stooped and picked up a large bell and a short iron bar from the porch floor. He beat on the bell, sending a harsh clanging down across the green tea. The workers looked up and came running toward the house. They ran out onto the wide lawn and in a few minutes had cleared off the rounded shrubs. The shrubs were growing in squat heavy pots.

The small plane circled and swooped down onto the lawn. It bounced and taxied to a stop near the western fringe of jungle. A man with yellow hair climbed down from the cabin, stretched, and then supervised the natives as they rolled the small aircraft into a small cleared spot in the jungle where the trees grew high overhead.

They covered the ship with heavy green nets. In a few minutes the shrubs had been replaced, the natives had returned to their last half hour of the day working in the tea, and the young man had gone into the bungalow with the bearded man’s arm around his shoulder. Dusk began to settle as the sun dropped behind the distant peaks.

WEDLEY hadn’t much cared for his visitor. The man had stalked into Wedley’s office in the New Delhi Secretariat as though he contemplated buying the building. His manner had been that of a master speaking to a bearer, and Wedley didn’t like it at all. So Wedley had let the man stand and fume while he deliberately filled his pipe and lit it. When it was burning nicely, he looked up at his visitor and said, “Mr. Brown, I see no reason why I should grant your request.”

The big man’s face had purpled and he dropped heavily into the visitor’s chair. “Now look, Webley, or whatever your name is. I flew over here from New York for the single purpose of speaking to this man Haidari Rama. When Rangoon was evacuated he had charge of hiding nearly five million dollars worth of merchandise which belonged to my firm. I find that you’ve got this man stuck away in some silly prison in Ceylon awaiting trial on political charges. Helping the japs during the war or something. I don’t give a damn about your silly politics or about the whole British Empire. I’ve waded through two weeks of your miserable red tape trying to find you, the man who can give me permission. And you start to get huffy. I won’t stand for it. I want ten minutes alone with Haidari Rama and either you’re going to make it possible, or I’m going to raise such an unholy stink through my associates in London that you’ll spend the rest of your life explaining. My time is valuable, and I came over here myself because I thought something like this would crop up. Now, as you limeys say, hop to it, but give it a little thought first, because if you give me another no, you’re going to be the most unhappy man in India. That I promise.”

Wedley sucked on his face and glanced over into the dark hot eyes of the American. The man was big and he was angry. He talked as though he could do just what he had promised. Wedley shuddered at the directness of the man, shrugged his shoulders helplessly and wrote out a note of permission for Mr. J. Haggard Brown to visit Haidari Rama, now held by the authorities in the political stockade on Island Seven near Galle, Ceylon. He shoved it across the desk to Mr. Brown.

A grin split Mr. Brown’s face showing Wedley a line of tobacco-stained teeth. He picked up the note, glanced at it, shoved into his pocket and left, without a word of thanks to Wedley. The thin man sat at his desk for a time, biting hard on his pipe stem. For a time he thought idly of sending out some cables to test the truth of Mr. Brown’s boasts. Then he sighed and turned back to the work piled high in his in-basket.

BACK of both the foregoing events were two men seated near a desk where they could look out of the window, down at the ceaseless roar of traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue. A gray-suited man who looked like a banker from the Midwest frowned at his younger nervous friend, and said, “Dammit, Bill, I wish you’d talked to me before you sent Harder to India on this case. He’s only a kid, and if he scrapes our British cousins the wrong way, we are going to hear some loud angry noises from the State Department.”

The younger man lit a cigaret and said, “You underestimate Ken Harder, Mr. Lee. He’s smart and he’s hard. Also, with that Rhodes scholar background he can melt into the picture over there. I told him that he has no authority to make any arrests, or create a stink. His job is to bust up the combine over there before they get into operation again. Since it was the biggest dope setup we ever ran into before the war I thought it would be a risk well taken.”

“But I know something you don’t know, Bill. J. Haggard Brown left for India by air ten days ago. You well remember that he was the one we had begun to suspect as the head of the outfit before the war put a crimp in their operations. His reputation is still snow white, but he’s my bet for the brains behind the ring. And I think that he’s smarter and harder than your fair haired boy, Harder. I think you better call Harder back here, and we’ll go back onto the old basis, checking their methods of getting it into the country, and checking the banks and cash balances to see if we can tip them over with the help of the treasury boys on a tax basis.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Lee, but I can’t call him back. He’s out of touch. I don’t know where he is or what he’s doing.”

Excerpt From: John D. MacDonald. “War Stories.”

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