Since the first day of school one of Gordie’s best friends is Melody Hilston. When her family first moved to View Port she was very shy, but he soon got her actively involved with the rest of their classmates. She turns out to be a very lively, active, witty, and funny person; they become great friends. Her father is in the Guards and he was recently posted to detached duty in Carmel, he’s from the 3rd Claymore. Her mother is a high-school teacher.
In February, 1999 her father, Sergeant Oliver Hilston, is involved in a traffic accident. A drunk tourist driving a speeding car knocks him down on a pedestrian crossing. He has an opportunity to get out of the way, but he expends the time by making sure two frightened children get to safety by tossing them to two other Swords on the footpath. He’s almost clear of the vehicle’s path when it reaches him and slams into his back leg while he runs for the side of the road. The impact spins him around and tosses him against another vehicle parked in the street, his leg is very heavily damaged and he suffers other injuries to his body.
He’s in a hospital for four months while recovering. Melody is upset and depressed by the incident. She only starts to recover her outgoing self when he’s released from the hospital. Although physically healed Sergeant Hilston is a long way from being fully healed. He can’t reconcile himself to the loss of his left leg. It was so badly damaged the doctors had to amputate it at the knee. The only things he’s ever wanted to be were a Royal Guard and a father. For a while he was both. Now he can’t be a Guard, and he feels he can’t be a real father, not with only one leg.
He’s hardly out of the hospital when they discover Mrs Hilston has an advanced cancer with only a few months to live. Since the doctors can’t halt or effectively treat the cancer she declares a wish to be at home with her family and not in a hospital. Having just been released from the hospital, and still recovering his own strength, Mr Hilston is unable to care for his wife. The Claymore Association (CA), the ex-Guards body, pays for a nurse to see to their care. Two months later Mrs Hilston dies.
October, 1999 sees Mr Hilston very angry and very worried. He couldn’t care for his dying wife, and he can’t get a job because all he knows is soldiering. Also, he now feels he can’t care for his daughter properly. He becomes very withdrawn, and he starts to drink too much.
The whole year has been a heavy trial for seven year old Melody, but watching her father vanish inside himself is just too much. She goes very quiet, and stops interacting with any of the other children. Gordie becomes very worried about her. She goes to school, goes home, goes to school, goes home. She no longer plays or talks to anyone.
One afternoon in late October, about an hour after school has ended for the day, Gordie fronts up at Melody’s home. He rings the doorbell. She answers the door, and refuses to let him in.
He gives her a hard stare, then he pushes past her. The house isn’t quite a mess. It’s clear Melody has done the best she knows how to do to keep it clean and tidy. There’s no rubbish lying about, nor dirty clothes, but it can do with a proper clean. Mr Hilston is on the lounge, half drunk, with a bottle of cheap whisky on the floor beside the lounge. He has a severe look on his face. Gordie can sense a very strong determination in him, and he can see the end of a pistol butt under the cushion he’s lying on.
Mr Hilston sees him, and says, “Be a good boy and take Melody out to play, son.”
Gordie walks over to him, and asks, “So you can kill yourself while she’s gone?” Melody gasps, and he jerks as if hit by a strong punch.
He shakes his head, “No, I won’t do that.” Gordie can tell he’s lying, and he intends to kill himself. That’ll destroy Melody, and Gordie can’t allow it. He must do something to stop this happening.
He walks over to the telephone, but it’s disconnected. He doesn’t dare leave the room. He pulls out his radio, and Mr Hilston’s eyes go wide at seeing such a small boy with a radio like that. Geordie activates it, and he waits for a response.
At Clay Comm Jenny Smith has listening watch on the emergency alert channel again. She responds when the activation signal beep occurs. She immediately hits the button to initiate the triangulation of its origin, and responds, “Clay Comm Emergency Desk, go ahead.”
Gordie says, “Falcon Nine, I’m sorry to trouble you, please patch me through to the Nest.” The Nest is the code name for Highcliff, the Royal Palace. He’s asking for a phone link to it. Mr Hilston recognises the code name and the call sign too, the Falcon series is reserved for the King’s personal agents. He begins to wonder who this boy is. Jenny makes the link. The palace switch operator answers, Gordie says, “Falcon Nine, please patch me to General Mannheim, it’s very important.” A few minutes later, “Good afternoon, Sir, it’s Falcon Nine. Sorry to disturb you, but I need your assistance here. I’m at the residence of medically retired Sword Hilston. He’s drunk, has a pistol, and he intends to kill himself when he can talk his daughter into leaving the house for a while. I need your help to convince him things aren’t that bad.”
Melody is looking at Gordie and her father with a very shocked expression while she switches her attention between the two of them like a tennis spectator. Mr Hilston is very surprised this young boy has the ability to get through to a retired general at the palace, and so fast. And how does he know he intends to commit suicide.
At the palace Gordie’s father understands, from the way Gordie has contacted him and the words used, he’s on an unencrypted line while worried about interception and he requires his help in his military persona. He says, “Right, Falcon Nine, I’ll be with you shortly.” His wife, Lara, is checking the Guards database for information about Sword Hilston. She shows the display to her husband. He nods to her, and he leaves. She does another search of the database to find a retired Sword who served with them both. She contacts him and asks him to go to the Hilston house after giving him the address. Only then does she set about reorganising the appointments the King is about to miss before she arranges to deal with the few matters she can handle for him in his absence.
About twenty minutes later the front door of the Hilston residence opens, and a tall well-dressed man enters. He calls, “Gordie?”
“In here, father.” Mr Hilston’s eyes go wide. Well, that explains a few things, being Granite Mannheim’s son means he can contact him and he’d be a prime candidate as a royal agent for his age group.
Gerald‘Granite’ Mannheim enters the room, and Mr Hilston thinks, Even in civilian clothes he looks the General. Melody looks at Gerald with pleading eyes while he crosses the room. He reaches down to remove the pistol, and he places it in his pocket while saying, “You won’t need this.” Gordie brings him a chair and he sits down, “Gordie, take Melody out for a walk and an ice-cream.” He looks at Hilston, “Now talk to me.”
Motioning with his head Gordie signals Melody to leave the room, but she’s reluctant to go. Gordie takes her arm. While they’re walking to the front door it opens. A retired Guard stands in the doorway. Gordie smiles, and says, “Hello, Sterling. They’re in the second room on the left.”
Retired Senior Warrant Officer Stephen ‘Sterling’ Silver smiles at Gordie while saying, “Thanks, I think the General and I can sort this out.” He passes them on his way to the designated room. Melody looks at the wooden club he has in place of his right leg. Yes, another amputee will help!
Despite their concerns over Mr Hilston the children enjoy the fifteen minute walk to the town centre. While they sit there having a sundae each Gordie sees the orphanage across the square, and has a thought.