Bill's Diary 1946 (Part 1)
First edition: 2012
Publisher: EB Society
Illustrator: not illustrated
Category: Bill's Diary 1946
Type: Continuation Books
Publisher: EB Society
Illustrator: not illustrated
Category: Bill's Diary 1946
Type: Continuation Books
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Permission to include one participant's name was initially declined and on being referred back to the tribunal, consent was still refused. The decision had been made in light of the fact that the person in question was engaged in top-secret activities. It was only after an intervention by Det. Inspector Cunningham himself that the examiners recapitulated. As the information supplied was apparently out of date, Det. Sinclair's help can therefore be acknowledged.
August 9th (Friday)
Kado's status is that of a Senior Superintendent in the Japanese equivalent of the CIB and he's been helpful to the extreme despite the undercurrent connected with the war trials. "Japs display an inbred sense of courtesy," Matt had told me during the briefing and I'd say his advice was good. "Don't mention the war!" I didn't, but Kado actually brought it up himself today when we were chatting. Just a brief reference but in a way it drew us closer because it demonstrated that we could communicate honestly with each other.
Visited an emporium just up from the New Grand where an appraiser friend of Kado's gave an expert's valuation of two necklaces. One's composed of graded, high-quality Ceylonese sapphires and is definitely the front-runner. Returned to the hotel for a light breakfast and a brief glance through my notes. Kado called in later and dropped me off at the camp where a few bright young USAF instructors have rigged up a gym. Worked out for half an hour and then lunched with some of the officers and learnt a little more about what to do and what not to do in the city. Admittedly this trip's a bit of a junket but it's essential (cf: Aug. 6th).
Went through more papers at the hotel and wrote up a few things. Sent off a couple of telegrams and then had dinner downstairs round 20.30 there were only five others in the restaurant. An enormous chandelier lit up the central area and tables placed round the perimeter had wall-lights although only one was on where a chap was reading a newspaper. Asked for a typical Japanese meal ... thought it'd be nice to immerse myself in as much of the cultural essence as possible so I was treated to a platter of short-grain rice and a colourful selection of seafoods. Not bad at all and quite filling because the portions were large. Followed that with a microscopic cup of tea in the lounge where there were current copies of 'The Japan Times' and 'Herald Tribune.' (22.23)
Strauss who does some translating for the allies arrived from Tokyo this morning and rang to introduce himself seeing a Foreign Office sanctioned interpreter was required to interview the Specie Bank president. "I'm from Manchester," he stated, then hastened to add "Manchester, Connecticut" and told me his decidedly English accent was due to parentage and that he'd been based in Japan for almost two years. I went to meet him downtown and although finding one's way around unaided is a pretty hopeless exercise, an old map of the waterfront enabled me to locate him at the Medical Centre. An artist would class Strauss as the ideal model for a civil servant with his grey suit, grey shoes and white shirt. His hair is sandy-coloured with matching eyebrows and he wears horn-rimmed spectacles with the only contrast being a yellow tie with red designs that drew my attention before I took in his chubby face. He accompanied me to the bank and we walked up some narrow stairs to the second floor where the "upper echelons" reside.
While we were waiting in a side room I happened to glance out of the window and spied mounds of rubble in a clearing that reminded me of our own bombsites in various parts of London. Construction is booming however and at least three buildings I could see were in advanced stages of completion. Shortly we were ushered into a large sparsely decorated office and Strauss who prefers to be called by his surname rather than "Ulrich," introduced me to the bank president, one Hee-Ichi Takada. ; a title that had to be the first thing I wrote on my clipboard - simply to remember it. The president had somehow got hold of a western style suit that seemed a little big for him but he looked sartorially elegant with a gold watch and chain hanging from a pocket in his waistcoat. Black hair swept back and a small wispy goatee made him resemble a shopkeeper rather than an executive but his eyes put him firmly in the latter class. They were piercing yet friendly and his manner put me completely at ease. He bowed and apologized through my interpreter about the lack of fittings and comfortable chairs but I reassured him on that count.
We sat down and Strauss plunged into the reason I was here. The Combined Services investigation had added this bank to a list of similar institutions in five countries where money gained from the sale of plundered artifacts was being deposited. South American ties are rife and German marks are predominant ... the suspects are travelling widely ... I didn't have to go on. Hee-Ichi knew all about it and confirmed our suspicions were well founded. After examining an inventory of stolen property that had been compiled by agencies in Europe and passed on to various organizations for their experts to peruse, he produced a folder of papers from a desk-drawer and generously allowed me carbon copies of three sheets that could be vital. He also passed on some extra information that Strauss skillfully translated and after nudging him I listened to my gratitude being made very plain. "Arigatou gozaimasu" Strauss quoted several times and as it sounded like one of the few phrases I've picked up, I felt that I'd "expressed myself" adequately. Fierro and Diaz are definitely connected with the Project and any ill-gotten goods hidden away somewhere, are definitely war related and in the form of books and art together with other priceless items. Moving the money from one country to another has put the hounds off the scent temporarily but our department has access to hard won intelligence.
The bank president called for tea and we partook in semi traditional style. Three teaspoons of green powder into a small bowl and whipped with a bamboo tea whisk. "The bubbles represent the evanescence of life," Hee-Ichi informed us. He was an admirable host and later I practiced a little of my pigeon Japanese with a few Sayonaras and even contemplated a Mata Aimasho but doubted I would ever see him again. In fact he may be working for new owners in a month or so and end up being transferred. After the 'farewells,' a minion escorted Strauss and me to the street. A taxi pulled up and we shook hands. I told him I'd keep in touch and he set off bound for Tokyo while I returned to the hotel without managing to lose myself. Began packing up my few belongings but ended up staring out at the magnificent view of the harbour. (Approx 17.35)
Kado called as arranged just after 19:00 wearing his trademark green overcoat with zips and buttoned pockets and from underneath his slouch hat he looked up at me expectantly. He's in his fifties but with no grey in his hair ... clean-shaven, with pronounced eyebrows running into the bridge of his nose - I think he could be mistaken for a Burmese and I've told him so! We had a meal date seeing I was leaving tomorrow and we set off to visit a restaurant in one of the back streets near the wharf. On the way, Kado took me along an alley adjoining our venue and round a corner so that I could view a particular section of the docks and I'm glad he did because it was a scene I'll retain forever. Blue was the keynote and it was just the right time to be watching because the evening sky was a shade of turquoise that reflected in the water. Adding to the picture was a mass of blue lamps that lit up ancient sheds and some nearby fence railings. There were other lights coming from buildings on the quay but the blue section was like an oasis with a character of its own.
We retraced our steps and Kado directed me into a small establishment that didn't look at all like an eating-house. He assured me it was no Celestial Palace of a Thousand Delights but added that the food was beyond reproach - and he wasn't kidding. The well-dressed clientele looked out of place in the stark and dimly lit surroundings because they were obviously not short of a few bob but wherever there's good dining to be had, it'll be sought out by those who appreciate fine food. We watched a chef with a tall hat preparing a fairly new kind of dish on a grille. Kado told me it was Teppanyaki and insisted I try it ... an excellent suggestion. Melt in the mouth fare accompanied by several dishes containing vegetables, pieces of marinated beef, and other oriental delicacies that kept us going for a good hour or so. Afterwards, small bowls of green tea were served without the ceremony.
Finished up round 21:00 hours and as the night was still reasonably young we went for a stroll on the docks. Rather quiet in the section we visited although peering through the open doors of a few large sheds I could see a motley collection of workers. They were heaving boxes around and stacking them whilst others stood at small counters, and in one of the warehouses there was a small group of rough looking individuals sitting in a corner playing cards and using a large cable reel as the table.
Kado and I wandered along exchanging information of mutual interest when a couple of men approached. They were unshaven and typical of the scruff one sees in the more shady bars located in the streets bordering the wharf. They both wore black and white striped shirts and the taller one had on a leather jacket. He went up to Kado and spoke rapidly while his partner kept glancing up and down the length of the docks. I edged back slightly and moved to the left thinking that if these characters meant trouble, Kado would need an ally although I surmised he could look after himself. Probably had a revolver secreted in his coat and I know he's deep into the Samurai fighting arts so the odds are he could have put both men out of action with his bare hands. Didn't understand what they were saying of course so I just watched them jabbering to each other until suddenly the detective pointed back down the wharf. The ruffians looked at each other and then suddenly turned and bolted back the way they'd come, disappearing through a large iron gate that led out into the road. I looked at Kado who threw back his head and laughed at my puzzled expression "Do not worry," he said. "They wanted money and cigarettes and were about to use force but when they learnt who I was, they thought better of it. I have memorized their description and the local people will know who they are because we have eyes and ears all over the docks." He added, "We take it a little easier here than you British lawmen."
I agreed and we continued strolling the timbered platforms, smoking and enjoying the night air before heading back towards the gate from where we'd entered. Kado needed to check in with the wharf police and disappeared into a nearby doorway that was lit up by a wrought iron lamppost, one of a string that run along part of the docks to supply shadowy light for the night workers. Through a barred window I could see him addressing someone in a brightly lit reception room as I sat down on a wooden mooring post and turned to gaze out over the harbour where black hulks of ships occasionally interrupted a view of still more blue lights shimmering where the coast jutted out a little way. Thick mooring ropes stretched from a large tanker nearby and a metal door clanged on deck as a ship-worker emerged with a bucket in his hand. He looked of Berber descent and rather underfed. Weaving down to the stern he disappeared round a corner.
I ran through the progress of my assignment and figured out some priorities for when I get back to Blighty. Also noted I have to get away before 08:30 tomorrow - Kado's taking me to the airport like the good chap he is. Nothing else requires urgency until I'm back at the office with the fruits of my trip and whether they'll yield anything is up to the Gods. Found myself thinking of Alison! Was it her or was it the children that entered my mind first - had to be honest with this one. Thinking hard I realized it had been Alison but with good reason because one has to admit there's a little chemistry after two or so years despite the intermittent contact.
I'll purchase the necklace tomorrow and keep it either for a one-off gift or perhaps a birthday seeing she remembered my own although the kids might have put her up to it. Looking out over the black water and seeing more radiance twinkling in the distance made me decide - it has to be the sapphires. If anything when I see them on her, they'll always bring to mind the Blue Lights of Yokohama.
A tap on the shoulder halted my reverie - Kado had finished his briefing and it was time to leave. Walking back down the wharf to the street we shook hands as a police car came into sight. It stopped when Kado raised his arm, and he was whisked away towards the city central. Returned to the hotel and went straight to bed after room service produced a coffee. (23.55pm)
Packed up early this morning and left the hotel briefly to become the owner of a necklace that emptied my wallet somewhat but it's worth the pain - glad I chose the more enchanting sapphires rather than the garnets. Passed from the back room where the pricey stuff is stored, into the area that displays the general goods and after surveying the knick-knacks, chose a varied selection for the children. Should be appreciated seeing the novelties are bound to be unavailable in their local stores.
Back to the hotel, fixed up the usual things, tipped the man at the desk and also the bellboy who didn't do much except accompany me to a seat in the foyer. Kado arrived in a car chauffeured by an associate from the Kanagawa Prefecture. I got in the back with my case and we fairly hurtled through the streets only avoiding one or two near accidents because the car was recognizable as a police vehicle and thus given space. Got to the Haneda Base in record time and Kado ushered me into a bar where we had a beer during which I shoved a wrapped gift from HQ into his hands (Pete said it's a fairly expensive chronometer). The police driver came in after a few minutes and Kado had to go. Goodbyes were said and unexpectedly I felt sad; hope to see him again some day - in fact he'd told me there may be a visit to London in the near future. That was a thought to savour as I grabbed my case and made for the departure area.
Arrived back in London after a pleasant flight. Taxi dropped me at the flat round midnight and as they'd fed us well I went straight to bed. (01:03)
Thought I'd lost the first part of the month but luckily found it screwed up in a fold at the bottom of the travel bag when unpacking this afternoon. I'll transcribe the relevant sections for filing when I get the chance. Glad it turned up, otherwise there'd be only a few photographs to stimulate the memories. The necklace is everything it should be a string of miniature sapphires that resemble blue sparks. It's in the bottom drawer for now but I'll lodge it in the safe deposit as soon as poss.
Diary entry for July 8th is a reminder that I've had access to the Douglas for about a month and Henry's faith in me is such that he'll probably move me up shortly so that I can be part of the regular staff when air transport is required. Feel "At Home" in the cockpit so, maybe I was a pilot in a past life but my early "suggestion" that I do the London/Japan trip to build up my hours had met with an Absolutamente No! "It's a thirteen hour flight," Henry had gasped and I'd hastened to add that it hadn't really been a serious proposal. The converted aircraft is only a stopgap until a better one comes along but it's still in good condition and two trips across the channel plus one to Ireland have proved I can handle international flights.
Tried to contact the Sullivans but the phones were playing up over on the coast so after calling in at Bow Street and finishing some business I visited the Yard and traipsed down to the communications room where I managed to soft-soap Dennis who obligingly flicked a few switches and produced a clear line like - Hey Presto! Thrown for a loop when the old man answered. Somehow I couldn't place him and a telephone in the same picture but it was definitely his voice at the other end. Had to re-introduce myself and when it had sunk in he made some very handsome remarks which goes to show he's not quite as isolated as I'd always thought. He's obviously getting out a bit and by that I mean "out of his study!" Said his wife was absent and then enquired as to how I was and once again piled on gratitude for the help bestowed in the form of advice when he and his better half had moved from their lonely outpost. I told him that it'd be more fitting to point the kind remarks towards his relatives because it was they who'd apportioned a generous share of the Royal Mint's monetary gratitude in his and Polly's general direction. I'd just been doing my job with a little follow-up included.
Changing the subject, I explained that last week Polly had said the Mannerings were due for a telephone number and had promised to pass it on after I'd settled into the new flat. Poor Jocelyn ... I might as well have asked him for the formula to the atomic bomb. Sounding very eager to please he told me to wait and I heard him shuffling off to search for a piece of paper with the number on it leaving me wishing I hadn't initiated what could be classed as a futile exercise. I imagined him tottering about the bedroom looking in his wife's drawers (her dresser) or groping amongst ornaments on a mantelpiece. I held on for about five minutes and just as Dennis was judging as to how long he could allow a "slightly against Scotland Yard rules" call to continue, I heard Polly's voice. She'd obviously returned from wherever she'd been and, seeing the phone off the hook, had picked it up. I received another warm welcome but had to cut the chat short as time was definitely "up." She had the number handy and after reciting it to me, I bid her farewell and said I'd pass on regards to all and sundry. Told Dennis I'll shout him a drink next time we're together and cleared out.
Called in at Bow Street again and collected a few papers for tomorrow's talk before heading home and brewing a cup-a-cha. Got comfortable before making the call I think "apprehension" was overruling any hunger pangs. Dialled the Mannerings' number and after some weird noises, I heard faint ringing sounds but no one answered. Put it down to the time being a few minutes after 17:00 the hour when active persons are being active elsewhere. To be honest I wanted to hear her voice again but why the urgency? It's been just over a year since we last talked because we were all moving about ... me in the Big Smoke or else travelling on assignments, the kids at their new schools, and Allie having to arrange accommodation. They should be looking upwards all the way now seeing the debts are almost paid - compliments (on two occasions) of a grateful Government, and their house should be mortgage free in the very near future; Alison can now devote more time to the children although I can't see her living a Life of Leisure yet. My bet is she'll concentrate on her watercolours and, judging by what I've heard, she should be able to bring in a reasonable amount of money for herself and the kids. On a frivolous note ... if the four adventurers ever manage to repeat their embryonic skill at summoning up storybook exploits on cue, the entire family could probably retire.
Round 21.00 made a light supper and flipped through the paper. Apart from the Queen injuring her leg when she fell into a stream somewhere near Balmoral, and the 243lb Aga Khan having his weight matched with diamonds, there's nothing else to cause a mild panic.
August 13th (Tuesday)
A "Lecturer" they called me! Hadn't looked at the programme until I got back from Hendon and there it was in Royal-Blue letters
Principles and Procedures of Investigation Involving Crimes Against the Government.
Lecturer: Detective Superintendent William (Bill) Cunningham.
Had originally visualized it as a semi-informal chat with a selected group of recruits but instead they led me to a small auditorium that was filled with five classes of eager trainees - it's possible my visit was preceded by whatever publicity I've gained over the last couple of years. The talk started well and I had their complete attention while taking them through various aspects of crime connected in the main with instances where Crown interests were predominant. I thought I'd touch on the last two major operations before finishing up and they looked quite "spellbound!" Despite the large audience I felt completely relaxed perhaps I have the makings of a lecturer after all, or maybe it was just that the subject matter involving Gloom and the now soon-to-be-demolished castle was "too exciting for words!" I'll go for the latter.
Arrived home round five and sorted out the flying manuals. Need a few updates. Charles had some extra tickets to the Hippodrome and invited me to join him and Gwen for the evening. Perchance to Dream had been on the short list for a while so I was all for it, but it fell through. Charlie rang and told me his fiancιe's caught something or other and she's been ordered to bed. Nothing serious thankfully. Turned to the cinema and narrowed the choice down to the Pavilion for the lighter side of life or the Tatler for the educative prospects. The Tatler won by a small margin and the Marx Brothers descending on the unsuspecting citizens of Casablanca had to make way for Vivien Leigh. Took a bath, and changed into Fancy Duds for a solo night out. Tried Overton again just before leaving but it seems as if it's "trouble night" as far as telecommunications go. Considered sending a telegram first thing in the morning but as it'd be nice to hear a Mannering voice I'll make another attempt to phone them tomorrow.
Thought of a good way to increase my flying hours ... now that the Mannerings are settled in I'll offer them a treat! (Updated-19:30)
Woke just after seven. Terribly long movie over two hours but it was colourful and could be described as "Spectacular." Must've cost a fortune to make. Next time Canteen George tries one of his quiz questions on me I'll take his money if the subject's anything to do with 'Caesar and Cleopatra.'
Attended a meeting with Pete and Matt at the Yard and went over all the information we have on Project Artifacts. The papers that Hee-Ichi had presented me with are laced with information as to where various deals have been made and there's also confirmation of a customs seizure in Genoa. This was extra information that had somehow found its way into the file and will add to the evidence once the ring leaders come to light. It also made us aware that Hee-Ichi's banking institution chases after every bit of information it can when dealing with overseas investors. The consensus is that there must be at least a dozen in the syndicate and art treasures are the main targets. The perpetrators are hopping round the world searching out the best financial institutions with facilities for converting their ill-gotten gains from shady collectors. Pete thinks they made an error of judgment choosing the Yokohama Bank and we were in agreement the Japanese are thorough and had probably demanded extra information from a not-so-alert syndicate member.
Before attending a Customs Office appointment I tried the West Country again and received a stroke of luck. Recognized Dinah's strident voice sounding as if she'd been interrupted right in the middle of something important. Pleased as Punch when she realized who was on the other end and after telling me it was a half-holiday we sounded each other out as to what was happening in our worlds. No one else there ... the boys were out somewhere with school friends and Lucy-Ann was in the village with Allie. I asked Dinah if she'd like to "soar into the sky" and elicited a very excited response when she learnt I was now a pilot although I had to spend a few moments convincing her I wasn't pulling any legs. Said she'd pass on the proposal to her mother the moment she returned and after saying I'd confirm before the weekend we rang off.
Managed to fit three more engagements into the latter part of the afternoon and finished up at the Aldwych Club with Henry who rounded things off beautifully by letting me know the DC-2 could do with an "airing" on Saturday - meaning I can add a few more hours to my record.
Attended usual Thursday meeting. An edict has come down from Scottie that Matt's and my "pigeon" has been classified Top Priority, which means palms will be greased to ensure I'm given every reasonable facility to further the investigation. That's good news and when I had a few minutes I was able to call up Jim in Aberdeen and let him know about it seeing he's my Second in Command on that front.
Day off. Tidied the flat after a fashion. Emptied rest of the boxes, packed clothes and stuff away and took the cartons down to the basement to be collected in the morning. The dry cleaner Henry mentioned is the one to use from now on (Ebury St) - suit looks brand new. Work had to raise its head in mid afternoon when Jim, taking advantage of the "Every Reasonable Facility" benefit, called from Aberdeen to chew the rag a while - the justification for the call was that he'd located some information. It apparently came to light via a private agency; one of their ruthlessly thorough investigators went over a property connected with the operation and examined the garden minutely after the police had Okayed it as "clean." His diligence paid off with a discarded scrap of paper that has references to the South Coast. No dates, but drawing a few conclusions from an associated flight manifest, there's a strong possibility that two of the principal suspects may be in Britain sometime this month. An examination of airport traffic lists, coupled with data in our possession, points to the 20th or thereabouts although their ultimate destination is presently unknown. If it gels, the agent who passed it on will be handsomely rewarded. Jim's also managed to confirm that both suspects have Spanish backgrounds and before settling in Chile they resided in Brazil (Rio). "Ordered" him to Keep At It before hanging up.
Loafed about in the afternoon - pleasant experience seeing it's been rather a busy period. Had a cuppa, listened to the first episode of an Edgar Wallace thriller at 16.30, and later sorted out the diary foolscaps before stapling them up. After supper, managed for a second time to contact the Mannerings. Alison answered and after the formalities I allowed her to talk with no interruptions because I simply enjoyed listening. Possibly it's the inflections in her crystal-clear voice mingling with the northern accent that make it sound as if she's inside the receiver rather than 150 or so miles distant ... found myself thinking it'd be a pleasurable experience to sit in a comfy chair and just listen to her reciting poetry or perhaps reading from a book. Not sure why I'm dwelling on this! After a minute or so I "came to" when she asked if I was still there. Said I was taking in all she had to tell me and then gave her my side of the news. Popped the question (flight) and she sounded terribly enthusiastic about my recently acquired skill saying it'd me marvellous for the kids to be taken up. Sadly, she couldn't join us as a bout of flu is lingering and she doesn't think the environment of an aircraft would help matters. Still, I'm sure there'll be other opportunities to take Mrs. Mannering up into the clouds. Told her I'll arrange for a car to collect the kids and return them after the flight. Allie revealed that Jocelyn's long awaited book on the history of the Hartland-Devonshire coast is due out shortly but it'll be a limited print directed more towards historical societies and affiliated associations. Good for Jock! Chatted some more about everything under the sun and even included some friendly sparring. Haven't met anyone for a long time who could place me up against the ropes where logic is involved but it happened twice as we spoke and I had to literally fight my way out. A very enjoyable conversation with an intriguing woman - looking forward to seeing her again (21.47)
August 17th (Saturday)
A day to look back on. Great weather, great company, and I've just consumed three pieces of delicious homemade shortbread for supper. That and a large fruitcake were presented to me out of the blue.
Left early this morning and headed off at a fast pace. The car's in peak condition and it got me to the outskirts of Yateley just after 07:30. Continued on to the aerodrome and identified myself which wasn't really necessary as Henry had been in touch. It's good that I'm due for some extra flying time courtesy of the state although it's not an entirely altruistic gesture because it simply means they're short of pilots for ferrying goods. Consulted a few maps, familiarized myself with regs and a plan of local airfields, and filled out a flight plan.
Just after 10.00 I was glancing out of a window that looked onto the car park side-entrance and spotted four kids confronting an airport employee. Couldn't help smiling at the demeanour of a very determined young lady laying down the law to the rather nervous looking official and then realized that although they'd passed through the entrance unhindered, this section of the airport was restricted. They must have wandered off to find me. Hurried out to join them in order that a "situation" might be avoided. As I approached, Lucy-Ann detached herself from the group and flung herself on me with an excited shriek. Hugged her tightly, shook hands with the boys who were looking terribly excited, and patted Dinah on the head to distract her from making mincemeat of the harassed airport employee. Lucy-Ann, her face glowing, shoved a package into my hands, "Something from all of us" she told me, and then issued an invitation for lunch tomorrow - if I can make it. Can do! She stepped aside for the boys to assail me with questions as they picked out various aircraft lined up in the distance. It took me a few seconds to realize why Jack looked a little different - at first I put it down to the fact I hadn't seen any of them for months but it wasn't that. He was minus his bird (Kiki) that always sits on one of his shoulders and this made him look a trifle "incomplete!" Dinah told me the driver was waiting near the car park for instructions so I sent the airport man off to arrange collection for the kids at 15.00 and after nipping inside to pick up a few papers, and a hamper brought up from London, the children were escorted to the plane.
The DC-2 sitting patiently on the tarmac was an impressive sight from the kids' point of view and before we mounted the gangway they stood there in awe, adjusting no doubt to the reality that this was a special trip. No co-pilots or stewardesses, no announcements booming over speakers, and no queues of passengers. Sensed that Lucy-Ann was a little overcome when she grabbed hold of my arm and looked up at me. Couldn't abort the trip at this late stage but managed to soothe her with a few comforting words to the effect that one person can handle a plane even as large as this and air transport is statistically the safest way to travel. I even said I'd dig out a parachute for her so that she'd be absolutely safe although there's more to parachuting than just strapping one on. This offer struck home and it was good to notice she relaxed somewhat. Called to the boys who were tapping the tyres in a very professional manner, and we all climbed in.
Didn't mess around as time was passing rapidly so after switching everything on I got the kids settled into their seats. Went to the back and found a couple of parachutes in one of the lockers - must have been left over from a training exercise. Told the passengers they didn't need them at all but as Lucy-Ann had specifically requested one, and as she's the smallest, I'd let her keep it beside her just for the experience. I think the others sensed the true reason but there were no comments. Shut the fuselage door and strapped in before flipping more switches and starting up the engines. Followed radio instructions from control and a minute or so later we were taxiing down the runway with the kids chattering nonstop and their eyes glued to the windows. Reached the decision point, turned the plane slowly around, and then we shot forward as soon as the words came - "Cleared for Takeoff!"
A textbook launch if I may say so myself. The airport buildings flashed by, then suddenly we were airborne and climbing higher and higher with some minor buffeting as we entered an airstream and, adjusting the throttle, I took the plane through clouds up to about 17,000 feet, retracted the wheels, and began cruising at approx 160mph. Told the kids they could undo their seatbelts and move about a bit to admire the view while I concentrated on the flying. Apart from the occasional exclamation and the odd question directed towards my way they had the good sense to talk amongst themselves and not distract me too much. It was a pretty clear run as we headed further west and last night when planning the route I'd included a view of the sea - so a visit to their "famous" island seemed an obvious choice.
My homework had been done pretty thoroughly as far as the route was concerned so it was a treat for them to fly over their new home. Everyone laughed when Lucy-Ann waved from the window hoping that her Aunt Allie might hear the noise of the plane and come outside but she didn't appear although I flew as low as I dared. There were Ooooh's and Aaaah's as we passed over Stonehenge before crossing Exmoor, and when we reached the coast I got them to look for their Fortress of Old - Craggy Tops. Philip spotted the place first and pointed it out to the others, but I got only a brief glimpse as we reached the coast and continued on towards the island. The boys were generous with their field glasses and handed them to the girls every now and again so that they could look down on their "Isle of Gloom" as we circled round and headed back. Jack thought of his parrot as they viewed the location where he, Philip, and I had almost lost our lives and I heard him wondering out loud how Kiki was coping with being away from him for so long - they're practically inseparable.
Their old home came into view again as we re-entered Britain and this time I was able to observe it more clearly. Looks much the same except that a small shed has been erected near where the main door is but, as it's been only a year or two, we hadn't expected to see any major changes. According to Polly, the owner has put it on the market. The girls opened the hamper and distributed food to all and sundry although, not feeling very hungry, I just ordered a pork pie from Dinah seeing I was concentrating so much on navigation and the associated rituals essential for a good flight. I'm trying to make each one "perfect."
Took a slightly different route back and would like to have flown over the old homestead but it's a bit far south and anyway, if I can get permission to take them there for a few days they'll see it all right - and Jack can immerse himself in the bird life which should be at its best right now. Lucy-Ann was holding up extremely well and even intervened quite diplomatically when Dinah and Philip started quarreling over a particular window they'd both been using. The children were obviously enjoying the trip and kept up a continuous conversation with each one vying to spot something the others hadn't noticed, and continuing to ask me the odd question. As we were making good time I sidetracked a little and we received a good view of the cathedral as the plane flew over Winchester before locking onto a route that steered us towards Blackbushe once again.
Felt very confident, which was good, seeing it had been a while since I'd last used my skills. Got the kids to buckle up and Dinah found some sweets for them to suck. Made contact with the desk to receive clearance and then began descending into a 20 knot wind with landing gear down. Sailed over the edge of the airfield and within moments we were back on terra firma and taxiing towards the hangar where the plane rolled to a stop. Switching off the engines, I looked round at the kids and their faces told me all I wanted to know they'd thoroughly enjoyed the flight, which had lasted just over 2Ό hours. Lucy-Ann's parachute was still pristine and a paper bag (which I'd passed to her very surreptitiously) was unused.
Marched into the main office with the excited children making a contrast to the orderly groups of travelers, mainly military personnel, who looked over with amusement at my retinue. Managed to get hold of some iced ginger beer, which was heartily consumed as we sat in the lounge area watching the activity. Hinted that I might be able to take them up on a night flight if things fall into place and four pairs of eyes lit up. Discussed it with them until their chauffer arrived whereupon we trooped out to the car park and, after extricating myself from Lucy-Ann's bear hug, I saw them into the car and waved vigorously as it pulled away.
Just back from a session with some of the off-duty staff and right now I'm in bed at the hostel on the airport perimeter. Paged earlier whilst in the cafe it was Matt calling from HQ who said they're still waiting for information on the Project from the intelligence network so meanwhile, could I take some radio equipment to Southampton? It has to be there by the 20th so if I'm happy about it, I could deliver the stuff and then take a few days leave. Now that's timely and I certainly don't mind playing "message boy." Better still, if I can cajole him into allowing me to use the plane for a little side-trip, I could make the delivery and then shoot off with the kids to my old place where we could stay a night or two. Just worked out that over the past seven years I've missed the annual visit to Swanage only once, so I'm quite happy to forgo my fishing break a second time for such a worthy cause. (23:23)
Oversaw some maintenance on the Douglas this morning and then had the rest of the day to myself so after filling the car, it was off to the West Country just after eleven. Approached the outskirts of Basingstoke round the half hour and drove in the Mannerings' general direction. Should have brought a map but managed to elicit directions from a woman who was pushing a large pram into a park off the High Street. Wasn't far out in my calculations and it was easy enough to locate a picturesque cottage with an impressive thatched roof in a state of repair just past the Southington turnoff. There were ladders lying around in the garden and materials stacked neatly beside them no work for the thatcher on a Sunday obviously. Parking in the driveway, I grabbed my bag and strolled up to the open front door where I was almost bowled over by Lucy-Ann who was on her 10th trip to see if I'd arrived, according to Dinah who was close behind having heard the car outside. Di. gave me a peck on the cheek (surprisingly) and I received the usual hug from L.A. then with her hanging onto my arm and assailing me with chatter trying to fit in all that had happened since yesterday, we moved down the hallway.
Entered a room, which I'd be happy to relax in on any occasion. Dark beams in the ceiling, rustic fireplace to the side, various carpets on a polished wooden floor, plush suite with multi coloured coverings, and a side table with an elegant looking lamp. On some high shelves against the wall there are photos and ornaments plus some framed pictures Lucy-Ann pointed to one I'd sent them a while back that brought back a few memories. It was the shot I'd taken of the kids and Alison outside the Sullivans' old home on the coast. The boys clattered down the stairs just then and more welcomes added to the noise especially as Jack's parrot flew straight over with a loud screech and alighted on my shoulder to rub her beak up against my ear. Extraordinary bird and very human in her ways. Jack and Philip were smartly dressed as were the girls so it appeared as if my visit was a bit of an "occasion." Out of interest I asked Philip if he was supplying shelter to any waifs or strays but at this particular period in time, he wasn't.
Led by Dinah, we all trooped into the kitchen and there was Alison stirring a pot on the stove. She turned and smiled brightly at me and it seemed the most natural thing in the world to slip my arm round her waist for a hug. She gasped and then laughed as she resumed her chore whilst plying me with questions as to what I'd been up to the last several months. I must put it on record that she looked positively "smashing" and when I asked how she was faring health wise it was good news - the flu had flown! What with the kids enquiries and Allie trying to get a word in not to mention Kiki the parrot making her presence felt, it was just a little short of pandemonium. Managed to restore some order by handing out the gifts I'd purchased in Japan and it was rewarding to see the smiles on the kids' faces as they thanked me and examined their newly acquired booty.
Lunch was almost ready and Allie directed the girls to lay the table. I was wondering if I had done the right thing to be so familiar with her because I'd noticed Dinah and the boys looking at one another with grins on their faces when we were in the kitchen. Lucy-Ann seemed to think everything was perfectly normal but she would of course. Set my mind at rest however with the thought that I'd done what I really felt like at the time and that's a pretty good excuse as far as I'm concerned and, as for Allie, she had responded very positively.
When everything was ready, we sat down to a first class meal. An enormous ham was sitting by a vase of flowers near the centre of the table and close by there were separate tureens containing boiled potatoes sprinkled with parsley, green peas, and halved boiled eggs. Next to a bowl of shredded lettuce with dressing there were side dishes of beetroot, baby carrots, coleslaw and potato salad. A colorful plate imprinted with orange flowers (family heirloom Alison told me) contained tomato and asparagus club sandwiches and on a nearby trolley were Chelsea buns, muffins, and some marshmallow-topped shortbread that Lucy-Ann had made "Especially for Me" because she knew I liked it. That girl's got an excellent memory - she must have recalled our visit to a little village on the coast once (Clovelly I think) where I'd treated them at the local bakery. I remember purchasing a stock of "specialty" shortbread to keep me going in my little cave and Lucy-Ann had obviously taken note.
It wasn't only the good food that made for a pleasant day. The atmosphere was very relaxing after working so hard on the current investigation and the company was utterly charming. Kiki supplied the floorshow with her attempts to chant nursery rhymes and made me wonder how she managed to say the word "three" in "Three Blind Mice" but she made a praiseworthy attempt. I took in various items of news. The kids are going to independent schools run by the same board of directors and their summer break has only just begun because of the need for major renovations that weren't able to be started until a few days ago. The timetable was changed to keep the kids in their classes right up to the last minute and now they won't be able to return until the work's completed which'll be about two or three weeks after the rest of the schools have gone back.
The proposed night flight was brought up and although Allie was a little apprehensive about the children leaving for the airport so late she went along with the idea after I'd assured her they'd be well looked after. On reflection, I can understand her slight reluctance towards the proposition when thinking back to previous school holidays, but there's nothing I can see that might go wrong. House the plane at the airport and grab a taxi to the homestead. With a bit of luck we may be able to save on that by wangling a lift from Cecil if the timing's right - his night mail delivery route includes Saltmarsh Lane. I'll show the kids round and then they can do pretty well anything they like whilst I have a bit of a laze, and then we can head back after a couple of days. No problem.
The meal ended and as we relaxed with hot drinks I finalized a few details. The bird will need to be enclosed. Warm clothing is required and sponge bags, as well as macks, sou'westers, and rubber boots. Field glasses of course and Jack will no doubt, take his beautiful camera. In a way it's good he didn't end up with the one I'd earmarked for him when we were in Scotland because it would have been far too cumbersome. Made more sense when they presented him with the latest (and most expensive) Leica they could lay hands on.
I'll arrange for them to be picked up and taken to the airport on Tuesday evening and after attending a briefing at Blackbushe I'll head south. The children presented me with a large bag of peppermints on my departure and after instructing them to be ready by 10.15pm for the hired car, I was seen to the door where there were more handshakes from the boys, another peck on the cheek from Dinah - and I'm wondering if Alison nudged her into it because she followed suit. I'll have to drop this detective habit of observing and speculating on each and every action I'm party to, but anyway there wasn't time to dwell on that because Lucy-Ann took her turn as always, and then I was off. Awfully nice to have met up with them again. Drove back to London and threw a few things together. Contacted Pete for instructions and also got hold of Henry at his home. He's Okayed the extra use of the plane and Matt's confirmed that my few days' leave commences on Tuesday.
Henry rang this morning. The equipment for Southampton is ready to be taken - there's not all that much but it's an essential delivery. The flight goes down as "training in part" and I'll duly enter it into the log, which means the department will fund the wherewithal. Put a call through to Newport and told Marge to give the homestead a bit of an airing and a quick dust. She said that three people were taken around on Friday and one's apparently "interested" according to the agent. Also rang Direct Airport Services in Basingstoke before going into the Bow Street office to clear up some outstanding paperwork connected with the Project. Returned home after lunching with Pete and spent half an hour checking out a few accounts that need paying, tidied up a bit - gave the kitchen its long awaited clean, and then brought the diary up to date for the last day or so. (09:40)
I'll get the facts down with a reasonable amount of detail for the record and also to retain a clear picture of what's happened since yesterday morning.
Got away after eleven and arrived at the aerodrome round 12:40. Went straight to a room that branched off from the examination area and found Matt already there with a Mediterranean looking chap who runs an office somewhere in Whitehall and who was introduced as Del. Some of these "Behind the Scenes" people like to be addressed by a nickname but I happen to know he's Gianni Della Franca. Never met him before but he's a Deputy or Assistant Commissioner who handles Continental cases and acts like a dog after a rabbit when he's on the trail of smugglers and their ilk. Genial looking chap, with a few wrinkles on his forehead, hair greying at the sides and a personality that's warm and expressive ; he chain-smoked while the three of us discussed the latest intelligence supplied by Jim and another agent up in Scotland. The area to be observed had definitely been narrowed down to either Southampton or Portsmouth. I wasn't involved myself seeing I'm off for a few days so Matt and Del were to accompany me on the flight in an official role to act as advisors when we reached the coast.
Talked airworthiness with a mechanic while the plane was being loaded, filled out a flight plan, leafed through dispatches, and round 18:00 I joined Matt and Del for a meal before heading out to the plane and taking off with no ceremony. Sun was low and shone into the cockpit as we flew west and veered to the south while my passengers pored over a sheaf of departmental bumpf. Speed was roughly 200mph. and we landed at Eastleigh round 20:20 just as darkness was closing in. They knew we were coming and when we disembarked, a local detective known to Matt and myself as Al, beckoned from a door that branched off the main walkway. Entering the room, we saw a constable and another plainclothesman standing next to acting Chief Inspector Griffith who was sitting at a desk with a green-shaded light directed at some official looking papers. He got up for an introduction to the man from Whitehall. Matt and I had met him before and I also knew Joe, the other detective. The lone constable was also familiar.
A frank discussion took place to which we all contributed and it went on for about an hour and a half. Del filled us in on some interesting snippets of information that dealt with sightings and seizures that had taken place in Trieste, Ravenna, and Zurich as well as records of travellers whose previous port of call had been Munich. At about 22.30 Matt, said I might as well get off seeing the plane had been unloaded so, leaving him Del, and Griffith still studying maps and other papers, I left the office accompanied by Al, Joe, and also Vince Walshe, the constable.
We exited the terminal and walked out the back way onto the tarmac towards their vehicle that was parked by a barred gate and as we stood round discussing the new information I spotted the kids. They had alighted from a car that had stopped at a drop-off point further down, and were heading towards us. All bundled up, they looked like any youngsters who are about to fly off into the night sky... excited to the core. Jack was carrying his parrot in a wicker basket. The driver passed by loaded with luggage so he'd obviously been given the instructions rung through earlier and, no doubt, knew the plane was in Number Three. The kids held back a little when they saw I was engaged but carried on after I'd yelled a greeting and told them to cut along to the plane although Lucy-Ann looked as if she wanted to wait for me. My recollection was that the cabin lights hadn't been switched on but I was sure they'd feel their way in all right and the conversation was almost finished anyway. What I hadn't noticed was that there were now a couple of other planes near mine, and one of them was a Douglas.
Just as the chaps were about to get into their car and drive off, a member of the senior airport staff came running up. Apparently a couple of men who'd arrived in their own aircraft had been apprehended in the customs area and were acting nervously while being questioned. They had become obstreperous and additional back up was deemed necessary. The Chief Inspector who had accompanied Matt and Del to another part of the aerodrome had already been notified via coded public address but in the meantime, as the staffer seemed quite distraught, we hurried back with him and were guided to an interrogation room from where we heard raised voices coming through the half-open door. Suddenly, two swarthy looking individuals tore past us just as an airways officer appeared at the door and yelled after them. The detectives hesitated momentarily and then tore off in their direction together with the constable. I'd recognized one of the men who were now haring up the ramp - Fierro's features without a doubt, despite the dim lighting but hadn't managed to catch his companion's face.
Feeling obliged to provide support I raced after Vince who had caught up with the detectives where the passage leads out onto the tarmac. Just as we emerged there was a flash and the sound of a gun. I felt as if someone had run a branding iron up against my leg as we dropped to the ground. Al and Vince immediately seized hold and dragged me back down the passage while Joe raced off to the security area for a weapon. Felt blood on my leg but the wound was superficial so I pulled myself free and turned back with one thought in mind the children! Would they have ventured out of the plane on hearing the shots? The area was well fenced so there was a chance the ruffians were running in their general direction where the tarmac veers off into a field.
Al and Vince caught up with me and we moved to the exit once again. Our hopes of locating the men were dashed however because as we came out into open air, the sound of engines could be heard nearby. No one was visible except for a tiny figure or two in the distance where there were floodlights but suddenly a Douglas near where the department's aircraft was parked, started taxiing towards the runway with its wing lights flashing. I recalled that the men had their own plane and while we stood there wondering if this was it, the engine tempo increased abruptly and without following any of the standard manoeuvers according to my knowledge of airport procedure, it moved forward and reached the runway stopping for only for a few seconds. ATC must have been wondering what was happening because the p.a. system relayed an urgent message intended in part for us no doubt - "Douglas approaching runway zero-two not cleared. Operators are requested to establish contact immediately." There was no sign of anyone nearby so the men had to be in the aircraft and their abuse of procedure made it a certainty. As we watched, the plane began moving at increasing speed, narrowly missing a fuel tanker as it shot down the runway while we looked on helplessly. There was a thunderous roar as the thrust increased. The nose lifted and next moment the plane was in the air with wheels retracting and heading east. I made a beeline for my own aircraft and clambered up the ladder expecting to hear voices as I entered but there was no sound at all and that fairly rattled me. Then (optimistically) I decided the kids must have fallen asleep after their journey.
"Total Shock" describes my feelings quite aptly. There was no one in the seats or at the space in the rear. I yelled out names and searched under the seats and in the small storage area but it took no more than a half minute to confirm that the kids were nowhere on the plane. I got down and staggered back towards the exit where Al was waiting. The leg was hurting quite badly now so he helped me down to the security area where Griffith was talking to several officials. He was aghast when I reported the disappearance of the children and Al immediately went back with a couple of men and made a thorough search that took in the enclosed area directly around my plane and the one next to it. A booking agent informed us the second was locked so it was no use bothering with that one.
A nurse was summoned and I was taken into a side room where the wound was dressed. Griffith entered and the only conclusion we could reach, although I hated to think of it, was that the children had boarded the wrong plane - the one belonging to the escapees. There was no other explanation and as soon as my leg was bandaged a call was made to the car hire firm and an enquiry sent through. We had to hang up and wait twenty long minutes for a reply because it appeared the driver had gone home. He was contacted by the agency and he rang us saying he'd deposited the children's luggage outside the plane and left the airport. When I enquired as to where exactly he'd placed the stuff he reported what he could remember of the plane and said it was in No.2 section. I felt the last vestige of hope flying out the window when I heard that. The children could hardly have been blamed for not recognizing anything in the darkness and must have simply carted their stuff up the gangway and settled themselves in the wrong plane. When something like this happens there have been accounts that a kind of dreamlike feeling descends - and it does. I felt disembodied as if my voice was coming from someone else for a moment or two.
Had to face up to it. The children may have been taken away to goodness knows where by two of the very people the police and customs are searching for "Dangerous" people. The manager of the car hire firm had been notified by now and he was almost as concerned as I was. Said he'd dispatch a car gratis to take me anywhere I wanted to go. They're a reputable company and it was a pure mistake on the driver's part although there'll be some explaining called for, as well as an examination of the man's record. Griffith then showed me just why he's a Chief orders were barked out left, right and centre, and I was whisked off to where a private call could be made.
Dialled the number and shortly Alison's voice came on the line sounding extremely surprised seeing we were supposed to be en-route to Cardiff. I felt more apologetic than I've ever been in my life. The kids had been entrusted to my care and had disappeared despite it being only yesterday that I'd promised they wouldn't get mixed up in an "awful adventure" or anything remotely dangerous! I relayed the news and heard Alison gasp momentarily and then a brief silence followed before she asked me to go through it again with as many details as I could muster. I related exactly what had happened, and my suspicions as to the cause. I held nothing back save that the men possibly belonged to a cartel of looters we were tracking, and were armed. There was no need to tell her that right now. Allie showed her strength of character by accepting the facts point blank and I could almost picture her smiling a little resignedly as we thought in unison: "Those kids seem to attract danger - look what happened to them last year ... and the year before!"
Griffith, who'd been giving orders to his remaining staff, stuck his head in the door and told me a car was waiting outside. I told Allie to expect me within the hour and I may have heard a faint sob as she hung up. Someone handed over my case and I was escorted out to the vehicle. Just before it pulled away Griffith looked at me straight in the eyes and said, "All Stops are Out, Bill!" The watchtower staff were being interviewed as we spoke and several other airports had already been contacted as well as the armed services transport division. He assured me that if it's a local flight the abductors will be run to ground pretty quickly. My place right now was with the parent, and then London.
Eastleigh to Overton took us about forty minutes. The driver was apologetic on behalf of the firm, and told me a fairly new employee had made the error but I hardly listened because my thoughts were for the kids and Allie. As the darkened countryside whizzed by I questioned myself over and over about everything that had taken place and tried to be as honest as possible as to whether there'd been negligence on my part. Ended up concluding that it was just one of those things that happen to all of us every now and again but, in this case, the "thing" was tinged with gravity. I had been there when the children arrived. They had walked past and gone over to where the aircraft was moored. It was dark. Their luggage was outside a plane, which they'd naturally think was the right one. They had climbed in and it's hardly likely they knew where the light switches were so they would have settled down to wait for me. Negligence? No, I couldn't really see it in that light because it wasn't as if they'd been sent over to the other side of the airfield or anything. Just a hop, skip and a jump from where I was and I had been only a couple of minutes from joining them. The driver? In the driver's case it was a mistake on his part ... a moment of carelessness which he'll regret for a long time especially if something untoward happens to the kids. I didn't want to think about that and wondered rather lamely if there could be any other explanation for their disappearance but the reality kept gnawing at me. I had to accept that the children had indeed climbed into the plane nearest where the luggage had been dropped, and were now somewhere in the Never-Never. Don't think I've ever felt so low in my entire life.
Eventually the streetlights became more regular and when the car turned down a lane I was informed we'd just entered The Lynch. I told the driver to pull up and he jumped out to open the door and hand me my case. Asked him to send another car in an hour and tipping his cap, he got back in and raced off into the night. A good firm is now saddled with at least one incident that'll mar their record. Walking the short distance down to the Mannering house I noticed a car in the driveway and just as I was wondering who it belonged to, the front door opened spilling light out onto the garden. Allie appeared, framed in the entrance. I walked swiftly up and gave her a reassuring hug followed by a few comforting words before we moved into the kitchen where a kettle was boiling on the hob. She looked directly at me, her eyes searching my face as if she was trying to sense the slightest indication that things weren't so bad after all and that maybe the kids had been found or were stranded somewhere but unfortunately, the news was still bad. I saw she'd been crying so I held her close and we stood there for a minute as she took in all that I had to relate and not once did she lay blame on anyone for what had happened. Judged, rightly I think that it would be wise to tell her everything so I ran over all that had happened - the fleeing men, the gunshot, and the consensus that the children had boarded the wrong plane. I felt her shudder and I hugged her even more tightly and repeated to her what Griffith had said, "All Stops are Out!"
That seemed to convey a little positivity because when she looked up at me I could sense a degree of confidence flooding in to replace the desolation of a few moments earlier. It was a mutual feeling and I nurtured it as she poured water into a teapot before we moved into the sitting room where I was surprised to see a middle-aged woman sitting in an easy chair by the standard lamp. She stood up, and after Alison introduced her as Irene Johns, a close family friend, the visitor shook hands very firmly with me. Looks a trifle older than Allie with curly dark hair framing a pleasant face, honest eyes, and a toothsome smile. She was wearing a brown tweed skirt with matching coat and a cream blouse set off by a cameo brooch that was pinned to the centre. This woman reeked confidence and good sense. She gave me a warm smile saying she was aware of the bad news and that Alison had been invited to stay a few days with her and her husband as support whilst coming to grips with the children's disappearance. I thought this was just what Allie needed - backing and comfort from people who were close to her. Mrs. Johns smiled again saying she'd been told a few things about me and that she hoped we'd meet again and after giving Allie some instructions, we both saw her to the door. An outside light was switched on and we watched as Mrs. Johns started up her car, and purred off down the lane.