“Wanna hear the story ‘bout how I was in the army for a week?”

“Oh, don’t get him started,” groans the man in the corner, nursing a generic beer of the type favoured by men-who-sit-in-the-corner-of-the-bar-and-groan everywhere.

You ignore him, anyway, and nod at the man sitting next to you. You could do with a good story, and this guy looks like a good storyteller. His white hair is pulled back into a ponytail that drops to his waist, tied with a fraying piece of thin rope, and his beard is almost as long. He’s wearing dirty jeans and a t-shirt that’s more holes than cloth, and his pale blue eyes twinkle at you from within their mess of crow’s feet. When you nod, he grins at you, downs the last of the scotch in front of him – which is immediately refilled by the bartender – and launches into his story.

“I enlisted when I was 19. Didn’t wanna go, but my mama thought we’d hit the jackpot when the recruiter came round and told us I could get a free ride to college. No-one in my family had been, ya see, and I’d always been good with seein’ how things worked, y’know, and she got her heart set on me doing one of them fandangled electrical engineering degrees, but she couldn’t afford it. Gods, I used to drive my old man mad taking apart his watches. They always ran better after I put ‘em back together, though! Anyway, I went through all the first set of training, they decided I was best off being a bomb tech, one of them who goes out and defuses the bombs. Went out to the trainin’ centre for that – six of us living in three bunk beds, taking apart bombs in a huge auditorium every day. That room was a damn jungle, man, a bunch of kids from the sticks who’d never even listened to their parents suddenly being given a hundred rules to follow. Mostly the sensible ones got followed, but not always. This one guy, my bunkmate, kept on smoking in the room. Anyway, there was a tradition that every bomb you managed to defuse, you’d sneak a piece of it out and keep it in your locker. Strictly against regulations, you understand, but we all did it anyway. They musta known, but I guess they figured it was good for morale or something, ‘cause we never got stopped. I basically had two whole bombs in my locker by the end of the first week, and I couldn’t just leave them in there, could I? So we was out defusing a nasty messy big bomb together Friday morning – we stopped it, but we all ended up with gunpowder all over us. Got the afternoon off after that, all went back to the room. We crashed out, my roommate smoking above me in his bed, and I was fiddlin’ with my bomb parts underneath. Put ‘em all together trying to make one with a bigger spread than the originals, twisting it around, and wouldn’t you believe it, it jammed. So I had to stick my fingers all inside it to pull out the problematatic bit, and I’d just got it all back together when we got called out again – some lesson in never being able to relax, I guess. My bunkmate flicked out his cigarette, I left my device on the bed, and out we went. Then a few hours later, back we went. Wouldn’t ya know it, all that was left there was a few black bricks and two very angry generals. Turns out cig butt plus gunpowder plus more or less fully functional bomb equals, well.”

He gives a crooked smile and snaps his fingers. “Bang!”

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