Short Story. Cell 27. Baranovichi Prison WW2.

Cell 27. Baranovichi Prison WW2, from Ron’s novel and US Cultural and Heritage Award-nominated screenplay; Where the Devil says Goodnight.

Six filthy, rough, open cubicles each with a battered, rusty metal bucket were the only toilets for the entire floor, that would have to be used by several hundred people. There was no toilet paper. Now Beata understood why the soldier had said vehemently that this would be her God.

Spirits were lifted for the first time in five days. All the women laughed and joked about their ablution visit. None rushed the event. Soldiers looked into the cubicles, supposedly for ‘security’, but the ladies had other ideas.

“Dirty old man!” they shouted.

“If you want some, come and see me later,” taunted the high society call girl Suz; formerly an accountant. “It’ll cost you a packet of cigarettes. But you might catch more than you bargained for.” The young soldiers slunk away without saying anything. It was an almighty one-up for the women.

Matches were always in short supply; quite deliberately, Beata and Yaga reasoned, by the soldiers. Getting one required ‘favors’, but Suz supplied a slimmed-down version for free. She had perfected the skill of splitting a match in two, sometimes three thin strips. Her sharp-edged right thumbnail became the perfect tool. This young lady never paid for a cigarette.

The next morning, she noticed one older woman remained in the end parasha cubicle.

“This one is used to pass messages,” she whispered as they waited. “Ones crudely scratched with a spent match’s carbon”. It took several to ask if so-and-so was alive. These small pieces had been scrounged from the guards. Dry cigarette butts were unwrapped and used for notes, the black tobacco re-rolled to satisfy a craving or to relieve depression. Until imprisonment, Beata had never held a cigarette, but after only a few days she pulled hard on one as it passed around the cell. Through these messages, she learned that Kaz was alive in cell thirty-one, but many had their hopes crushed by these small pieces of creased, grubby paper.

Morning came and Beata was told it was her turn to empty the cell’s small bucket.

“The last one to use it always does,” Yaga explained. Everyone looked at Beata’s horrified face and laughed. Two women handed her tiny scraps of paper.

“Messages. Place them near the broken sewer, you will find a loose stone, bring back any you find,” Yaga said. Beata nodded, picked up the bucket and left the cell.

“Get rid of it,” yelled a soldier when they arrived, “and be quick about it.”

At the broken pipe Beata inhaled, closed her mouth, pinched her nostrils, emptied the bucket then quickly lifted the stone. She removed two small grubby pieces of paper, then stuck her two pieces down. After she carefully replaced the stone, she curled her fingers around the messages.

“Well tell us, any messages?” Yaga asked excitedly when Beata returned to the cell.

“Two. One for Maida, one for Sophia.” Beata handed them their messages. Maida began crying immediately because her eager fingers had smudged and destroyed the writing.

“My husband is dead,” Sophia screamed in despair and wept uncontrollably. Most women did their best to comfort her. One who was on the bed slid off, and a few ladies lifted Sophia up onto it.

“Maybe mine too, I can’t read my note. I can’t read the note!” Maida screamed.

Suz, the young scrounger, rolled a single cigarette in the thick ragged-edged newspaper and took the only match in the cell. Displaying it like a gold medal, she waved her fingers.

“No one breath,” she ordered, as she rubbed the door hinge to dry the edge, placed the match against it and pulled gently down. It buzzed, flickered and went out. She stared at the reduced head, wondering if there was enough left. Yaga stepped forward and rubbed the metal hinge.

“Fingers crossed ladies,” she whispered.

Failure was surely the only result. Nevertheless, forty-one women prayed like never before. Turning the head – or what remained of it – to face the metal, Suz cupped her right hand and pulled again, but not as strongly or quickly. It smoked more this time, then they could smell the fumes. Her timing was not precise and she lifted the match too soon, not wanting to break it in two. As it dimmed, she quickly cupped the other hand around the glow and, had she not blown very gently into the flame back along with the stick, it would have died. Suz quickly put the crude Sobranie to the glow and drew long and hard on the stiff, browned newsprint. Then, with two quick puffs, the match expired. The women pulled on their first drag in three cold days, each careful not to pull more than their routine share, but it soon became a soggy stump. It was carefully unrolled, the damp tobacco placed on the high windowsill to hopefully dry. The piece of the match was also left; the perfect tool to dig out uninvited guests. Rummaging for fleas in hair now so matted and tangled, made difficult by poor light and with many women without glasses, meaning that cell twenty-seven had a big problem.

Disclosing their lives in chats encouraged by Yaga had a marked effect on the cell’s spirits creating quiet, muted laughter that crushed despair. The criminals, the prostitute, the ill-fortuned and the sole aristocrat were now bound together.

One day, the door opened and a parcel was kicked into the cell. The nearest lifted it and said, “Irena, for you.” The middle-aged woman pulled from the opened parcel what the soldiers hadn’t stolen; a piece of salty uncooked hind of bacon and two packets of cigarettes, but no matches. From the parcel’s size, it was obvious most of its original contents had gone. This kind lady stripped off pieces of meat and passed them around. The cigarettes lasted several days. Suz was again scrounging the matches.

Some comments from Production Companies (Prod-cos.,) and publishers I submitted work.

Enigma Productions London (Lord David Putnam). Ref Cast of Eagles. There are a couple of projects I would dearly love to produce, and sadly I’m unable to help you develop this further. I do hope you understand and appreciate my decision, and I wish all the luck in the world with this project. (Lord Putnam took up two government Task Force appointments)

Kenneth Branagh-now Sir. Mad Mike, a Chindit. Dear Ron Shears, Thank-you for bringing your script MAD MIKE, A CHINDIT to my attention. It’s a very clear synopsis and the story sounds ambitious and intriguing. I am not, however, drawn to the subject matter and therefore I shall decline your kind offer to participate in bringing it to the screen. Thank you very much for considering me and my best wishes for the project. Kind regards, Kenneth Branagh (Now Sir)

Lucy V Hay (Bang2write) Ron, you clearly know loads about your time period – as always – and you have a great visual style. Thank you for this, it is not the concept I’m looking for currently.

Short Stories. Through the Keyhole. editor, writer Michelle Goode. You have an interesting collection of stories; it’s fascinating how much you have experienced, and the stories you have learned from others. I don’t see why they shouldn’t deserve to be shared with the world. I also think that you write in a manner that is lovely to read; it feels like we’re sitting in the same room telling stories over a log fire.

Launching Pad Productions Perth, W. Australia Your work very well written, most lends to the traditional animation style. Tae and Kwon could look brilliant if well animated, try an Asia partner. Saddle the Wind has distinct possibilities, the one best suit our age group at a letter stage, and I like the idea of Garbage bins coming to life. The company moved I lost contact

Maverick Television UK Thanks for your various proposals it was a pleasure to receive so many stimulating ideas, I’m discussing proposals with the BBC and will see what they are looking for. (Never heard from ‘em again, the writer changed companies)

Blue Heaven Productions London. I want you to know I have read all this material, buried in here are some very good stories; there is so much it is difficult to know where to begin. Why don’t you send The Ghost and the Harley or Saddle the Wind? Choose the best.

Barron Entertainment Perth, W. Australia Unfortunately the epic scale of many of your submitted projects prohibits our company supporting further development. In fact, almost all the historical stories (particularly those set in WWII) could not proceed without the backing of a major Hollywood studio. That said let me say how much I enjoyed reading such a diverse range of story ideas.

Penguin, Australia. Ref; Saddle the Wind. However, the editors have seen your work and feel it shows real promise; we trust the fact we are unable to publish will not discourage you from continuing to write. (My m/s is 35,000 words they want 60,000 min) As I’m writing the 2nd story I didn’t add more words.

Hammerwood Producers, UK May I say the diversity of some of your storylines provoked me into a rare occurrence I read them all avidly and am impressed top keep them all on file for future reference. Is Where the Devil says Goodnight, based on a true story?

Seifert Dench London. Though some of your ideas show real potential: Saddle the Wind and The Ghost and the Harley. I am afraid we are not expanding our writer’s list.

British Screen I see from the numerous log lines you have a good imagination. However, it may well be that some of these ideas fall somewhat outside for our remit. If you’d like to send me the script of THE GHOST AND THE HARLEY, I’d be happy to take a look at it. Emma Berkofsky, head of development. (I didn’t send)

Working Title Films London. Where the Devil says Goodnight and Cast of Eagles. Whilst I found both intriguing and commercial ideas, we are currently developing two WW11 projects and as such, I can’t see a way in which we’d be able to pursue these with you. Press on with Cast of Eagles.

BBC Commissioner S. West, Sue Daziel. I’ve lost the commissioner’s letter, the gist after I sent; The Ghost and the Harley and Saddle the Wind. The lady said they were both better than a Hollywood feature script she and her locations manager had just read. Please send the completed scripts. I didn’t as I’d never written one before in Final Draft.

Bill Kerr, Australian Actor: Cast of Eagles, “Best script I’ve read in years. Ask Russell Crowe to read.”

Andelko Jurin, LA-based award-winning West Australian Director: Cast of Eagles. “Just gone through your scenes again and they are unreal. You are on the gas. We have got a script on our hands.”

Oxygen Films. Canada.  Thanks for this. It sounds like a great storyline. I won’t say move forward just yet, but I will run this concept past a few people! I love your zeal and ambitious writer’s spirit!!

Oxygen Films Canada. Where the Devil says Goodnight. I believe the more concise version (97page) was ultimately the better script. And I sent it. I was torn though because the 107-page script had a lot of different details, it was more-wordy and used perhaps a more PROPER ENGLISH which may have given it more credence for Oscar potential…That said, ultimately after comparing it line by line, page by page, I think the shorter one runs a little smoother. It was a tough choice because both had certain aspects which were better than the other. But, as mentioned, I’ve made them aware a longer version is also available, and they may choose to read both.

Mabel Kaplan, Editor, Saddle the Wind. This story has strength and charm, and enough magic and mystery to lift it above the mundane.

Competitions. Where the Devil says Goodnight, 5th 2001 entries, glowing critique with suggestions to improve. In another comp nominated for a US Cultural and Heritage award.

A Smuggling We Will Go-quarter finalist. Jungle Katz-quarter finalist. There are more, but the above gives you the gist.

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